England’s a country with a lengthy, diverse history, so it’s no surprise that it’s home to some of the world’s finest museums. And happily, they’re not all confined to London either. 

From epic Victorian warships at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to poignant documents and memories at Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum, there are a wealth of important and distinct museums up and down England. Here’s a look at some of the best.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard: Best for maritime history

You’d be hard-pressed to find a maritime museum anywhere in the world as vast and fascinating as Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard. Part of an existing Royal Navy base, it houses the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The real stars of the show, however, are the enormous historic warships available to explore. 

1860’s HMS Warrior was the world's first iron-hulled warship, while the immaculately-restored HMS Victory was Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Listen to the gripping audio guide while exploring Victory and recount Nelson’s last moments before he was fatally wounded. The Historic Dockyard is also home to the delicate timber remains of Henry VIII’s legendary sunken warship the Mary Rose and is now included as part of the museum's excellent value Ultimate Explorer ticket.

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British Museum: Best for world history

It's a well known that the British Museum houses thousands ancient treasures plundered from other countries – how much longer items like the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone will stay in the British Museum is anyone’s guess, but for now this catalog of human history in the heart of London is where you will find them. 

Just arriving at the place is an experience in itself as you wander in beneath the cavernous tessellated glass roof of the Great Court.

A stegosaurus skeleton stand in an exhibition as tourists walk around it
Don't miss the nearly complete stegosaurus skeleton at Natural History Museum in London © Andrei Tudoran / Shutterstock

Natural History Museum: Best free museum

Who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Whether you’re a wide-eyed child or a seasoned museum veteran, it’s hard not to be amazed by the enormous Diplodocus cast skeleton welcoming visitors into the magnificent Hintze Hall of London’s Natural History Museum

Housed inside the ornate terracotta facade of a building dating from 1881, the museum’s collection includes more than 70 million botanical items, 55 million animal exhibits, nine million archaeological relics, and 500,000 rocks and minerals. Of course, you won’t have time to see it all, but look out for the most intact Stegosaurus fossil skeleton ever discovered and a cross-section of 1,300-year-old giant sequoia. And don’t forget to pay a visit to the famous Charles Darwin statue on the main staircase of Hintze Hall. Not bad for a free museum. 

Black Country Living Museum: Best open-air museum

“Black by day and red by night” was how American visitor Elihu Burritt described the Black Country in 1862, such was the intensity of manufacturing in this industrial region of the West Midlands. These days you can get a window into what life was like back then (albeit with a lot less smoke and soot) by visiting the Black Country Living Museum

Explore a painstakingly recreated 19th-century industrial landscape featuring 26 acres of reconstructed shops, pubs and houses filled by (almost) real life personalities explaining their lives. Fans of Peaky Blinders will recognize the famous canal-side filming location. 

Tourists walk around a red and blue locomotive at the National Railway Museum
See historic steam locomotives and coaches up close in the National Railway Museum, York © Kaca Skokanova/Shutterstock

National Railway Museum: Best for train fans

The beautiful Medieval city of York holds many reasons to visit (not least its claim of 365 pubs – one for each day of the year), but the National Railway Museum is one of its true gems. For anyone enamored by the romance of 19th-century and early 20th-century steam trains, this is unmissable. 

In addition to some wonderfully-restored locomotives arranged around the turntable of the Great Hall, the museum also showcases the sleek blue curves of Mallard, which famously set a never-surpassed speed record for a steam train in 1938 of 126mph. The most unique item here isn’t actually a steam train, however. The museum affords a rare opportunity to see an original 1960s Japanese Shinkansen – otherwise known worldwide as the Bullet Train. 

International Slavery Museum: Best for gaining a deeper historic perspective

Despite Britain’s deep and shameful ties with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, there are few spaces that tell the story of slavery and educate along the way. Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum does a superb and harrowing job of depicting the horrors of the slave trade and acknowledges Liverpool’s own significant role as a port city during that time.

Spread across three large rooms inside the Royal Albert Dock’s Merseyside Maritime Museum, the museum's documents, mementos and anecdotes of the dangerous ocean crossings (the Middle Passage) offer powerful insights into this most egregious of events. 

People sit in front of a large disco-ball-like sculpture at the We The Curious Museum in  Bristol
Explore the big questions at the We The Curious Museum in Bristol © stockinasia / Getty Images

We The Curious: Best for kids

Want to engage kids and get them thinking about the world around them? Bristol’s We The Curious is a science museum that goes beyond the usual exhibits to bring out young people’s natural curiosity on all sorts of subjects, even encouraging them to leave their own questions pinned to the wall as a way of expanding the conversation.

Whether it’s big questions like what the future will look like or more abstract concepts like why rainbows make people happy, this unique science center asks visitors questions in an interactive, visual and playful manner. And don’t forget to check out the spectacular 3D Planetarium shows on the first floor. 

Coffin Works: Best unusual museum

A fabulous (if slightly macabre) time capsule, entering the Coffin Works in Birmingham is to step back in time to when this proud industrial metropolis was known as the "City of 1000 Trades." 

With the dusty shelves, tools and workbenches at Newman Brothers left as they were when the company ceased trading in 1998, visitors can get a glimpse into inner workings of a 19th-century factory that produced elaborate brass fittings for coffins. Funerals were big business in Victorian England and the passionate guides at this quirky museum do a superb job of explaining why. 

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