Catching the attention of both adults and children at the same time, museums are a winning way to pass the time. They promise to expand horizons, spark the imagination and shelter visitors from driving rain or brutal sun.

Which is probably why they are having such a good year. Recent figures released by the government show that a total of 10 million people visited museums and galleries in the UK between January and March 2024 – 11 per cent higher than the equivalent period last year.

Our world-famous giants, like the V&A, the Natural History Museum and the Ashmolean, are all well and good. They deserve the praise that is heaped upon them. But we’d like to remember for a moment the tireless creatives who work in other, smaller establishments to provide us with unforgettable cultural experiences.

Here, we’ve tracked down the best small museums in the land.

The Army Flying Museum

This charming museum, near Stockbridge in Hampshire, tells the story of British Army aviation since 1878. With over 35 fixed-wing and rotary aircraft on display and wonderful interactive helicopters, it is as fun as it is instructive. A couple of small GWG visitors describe it as ‘the best museum in the world’. Visit here for more info.

Garden Museum


This museum, which explores and celebrates British gardens and the art that goes into creating them, is food for the soul. Opened in 1977 in a converted church in Lambeth, it was the first ever museum of gardening history in the world. Careful refurbishment has paid off and the collection of garden implements, famous gardeners’ plans and letters, paintings and more has never looked so appealing. There is also a 131-step medieval tower to climb if you’re feeling energetic – the reward is a stunning view of London. Visit here for more info.

Soldiers Of Oxfordshire Museum


Among the many reasons to visit the dreamy town of Woodstock is the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum. This military museum, which opened in 2014, is a tribute to the county’s (historical and contemporary) soldiers and their families. The permanent displays, imaginative exercises and opportunities to dress up please the most truculent children. But the highlight is a recreated WWI trench, which is chilling, moving and gripping – whatever your age. Visit here for more info.

The Dickens Museum

Visit Charles Dickens’s London home, 48 Doughty Street, to see it laid out, over five floors, just as it was when he lived there. The whole experience, enlivened by so many of Dickens’s possessions, is a tantalising step back in time but there is something particularly emotive about the nursery and the dressing room. There is no need to book – but the museum is only open from Wednesday to Sunday. Visit here for more info.

The Wisbech & Fenland Museum

If you're in the East Midlands (twenty miles east of Peterborough), the Wisbech & Fenland Museum is worth a visit. It opened in 1847 and was one of the first purpose-built museums in the UK. This is a museum that evokes collections of a bygone age, all charmingly displayed. The Museum collections originally concentrated on natural sciences and local flora and fauna. Today, in addition to incomparable literary documents of international significance, the museum has a substantial archive, including parish registers, local government records, manorial records, directories, photographs and maps. Don't miss Charles Dickens’ manuscript of Great Expectations and a campaign chest belonging to Thomas Clarkson, leading campaigner against the slave trade. Visit here for more info.

Dolls House and Toy Museum

Small Museums Dolls House And Toy Museum Wales 2

Head to Pembrokeshire for unspoiled beaches and great food; don’t dream of leaving without a visit to The Dolls House and Toy Museum. Sisters Val and Pam Ripley, who holidayed in the area as children, opened the museum in 2010. Their collection of vintage toys includes a dolls’ house from every period since 1840, complete with furnishings from the date of the house, as well as stables shops, theatres, schools, room settings, teddies, tin and mechanical toys and vintage games. Visit here for more info.

The Story Museum

The staff at this Oxford gem are so friendly, imaginative and passionate that they restore all faith in humanity. An interactive journey through the first gallery, The Enchanted Wood, traces the origins of the children’s story. The second gallery, The Enchanted Library, recreates scenes – with incredible detail – from favourite children’s books. Everything, from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, via Harry Potter to Horrid Henry, is there. Our GWG guinea pigs were entranced throughout their visit. The Times does not exaggerate when it calls The Story Museum ‘a world-class wonderland’. Visit here for more info.

The William Morris Society Museum

Sitting in the basement and Coach House of a glorious privately owned home on Chiswick Mall, the William Morris Society Museum showcases an enchanting little collection of the early designs of the great craftsman’s wallpapers and fabrics. Planning ahead is essential, as the museum is only open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons from 2pm to 5pm. Visit here for more info.

Jane Austen’s House

The Hampshire cottage where Jane Austen lived for the last eight years of her life and wrote her novels is so pretty, it’ll have you house-hunting in minutes. The treasures on show include her jewellery, paintings, letters, first editions of her novels and her (strikingly small) writing table. Booking ahead is advisable because they only allow in 10 guests per 15-minute slot. Visit here for more info.

By Becky Ladenburg
Updated October 2022