Maritime Museums

Great Britain has a world famous maritime heritage. It boasts many seafaring heroes, from Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, to Lord Admiral Nelson and intrepid Antarctic explorer Captain Scott.

Although Britain is no longer the naval superpower it once was, there are still many interesting and entertaining museums located around the country’s coastline for those interested in exploring Britain’s rich maritime history.
A lot of these attractions offer GTOs discounted admission prices for pre-booked groups, private group guided tours, excellent parking facilities, and even special group catering options. Many more meet the needs of the twenty-first century group visitor with multi-lingual audio tours, exhibitions and special events too.

The ss Great Britain in Bristol

The ss Great Britain in Bristol

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is the country’s leading maritime museum. Encompassing the Royal Observatory, this UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts more than two million objects, including maritime art, maps, model ships, navigational instruments and the world’s largest maritime library. Must-see exhibits include the battle-scarred uniform worn by Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, the famous Meridian Line and the stunning golden state barge built in 1732 for Frederick, Prince of Wales. There are also some exciting changes in the pipeline. A new main entrance, a library and archive, a permanent exhibition and 800 metres of temporary exhibition space are being planned as part of the museum’s new £35 million Sammy Ofer Wing. Set to open in 2012 in time for the London Olympics, the project was made possible by a huge donation of £20 million from international shipping magnate Sammy Ofer. While the new wing is being constructed, a number of areas of the museum have been closed permanently including the Nelson Gallery (Nelson’s uniform has been moved to the Maritime London gallery).
Also part of the mix is the nearby 17th century Queen’s House, which was commissioned by James I’s wife Queen Anne of Denmark. This houses the National Maritime Museum’s extensive fine art collection, which runs to over 4,000 paintings. One of the highlights of any visit to the Queen’s House is ‘Art for the Nation’ – a selection of 200 of the museum’s finest oil paintings, including scenes of shipwrecks, seascapes and battles from famous artists such as Hogarth, Reynolds, Turner and Van de Veldes. Admission to the National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory and Queen’s House is free but group visits and guided tours should be booked in advance.

The new Discover Greenwich cultural centre

The new Discover Greenwich cultural centre

Greenwich is also home to a new maritime attraction – the £6 million Discover Greenwich cultural centre, which opened this March at the Old Royal Naval College. A mix of museum, exhibition centre and tourist information centre, the venue uses rare artefacts, film footage and models to tell the 500-year history of the Old Royal Naval College, as well as the other major Greenwich maritime attractions. Admission to Discover Greenwich is free and guided group tours can be booked in advance.
Also in the capital, why not book a visit to the Thames Barrier Information Centre, where you can learn about the River Thames, the role of the Environment Agency and the Thames Barrier. Free coach parking is available onsite.
In the south west, The National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth positively welcomes groups. Guided tours are available on a number of specialist subjects such as Cornish history. Discounted entry is available for groups of 10 people or more, and there are dedicated drop off and pick up points for coaches.
At the free-entry Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, the story of explorer Ernest Shackleton’s famous 1915 voyage to the Antarctic on the Endurance is the fascinating subject of a major new exhibition, which runs from 16th July this year to 3rd January 2011. ‘Endurance: Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure’ comprises more than 150 images taken by the expedition’s official photographer and puts a new slant on Shackleton’s epic attempts to rescue his crew from the doomed, ice-bound ship.
In the north east of England, Hartlepool’s Maritime Experience expertly recreates the sights and sounds of an 18th century British seaport. It is home to the country’s oldest floating warship, the ‘HMS Trincomalee’. The attraction also boasts a restored paddle steamer, the ‘PSS Wingfield Castle’, costumed guides and a high-tech recreation of life aboard the fighting frigate ‘HMS Prosperity’ using audiovisual aids. GTOs are offered a free familiarisation visit and admission on the day of the visit.
Portsmouth’s D-Day Museum tells the epic events of 6th June 1944 when the Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches. It houses some of the craft used on that momentous day, including a Beach Armoured Recovery tank and a full-scale reconstruction of a Horsa glider, as well as the Overlord Embroidery. The museum offers GTOs a complimentary familiarisation trip, and discounted admission prices are available for groups of over 15; every ticket includes entry to nearby Southsea Castle. There is free parking for coaches.
Also in the naval city of Portsmouth is the Royal Marines Museum. Based in a lavishly decorated former Royal Marine Artillery officers’ mess, the museum charts the Royal Marine’s origins in 1664 through to their recent deployments in the Falklands and the Gulf. The museum offers a number of group incentives, including a 10% entrance fee discount for 10 or more people, free coach parking and entry for the GTO and coach driver, a free optional welcome talk, and access to the museum’s grounds and gardens.

Captain Cook's travels are depicted at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum

Captain Cook's travels are depicted at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum

On the Yorkshire coast at Whitby, The Captain Cook Memorial Museum is currently mounting an exhibition called ‘Northward Ho! A Voyage Towards the North Pole 1773’, which finishes at the end of October this year. It shines light on a little-known polar expedition led by an associate of Cook, Captain Constantine Phipps. Visitors to the museum will also find original letters written by Cook while on his voyages, paintings and drawings by artists who went with the explorer to the Pacific, as well as maps, charts, models and native artefacts brought back from his expeditions.
Hull was the most important port for whaling in the entire country and in the East Yorkshire city’s Maritime Museum visitors can explore in-depth this fascinating part of the town’s industrial history. Attractions include ship models, maritime art, a full-sized whale skeleton and examples of ‘scrimshaw’, the whaler’s craft of carving whalebone and ivory. Based in the city’s old Dock offices in Queen Victoria Square, admission to the Maritime Museum is free.

Between 17th and 18th of July, Hull will host its annual Maritime Festival, which coincides with the finish of the 35,000-mile 2009/10 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. A presentation will be made to the winners and the city’s waterfront will be the stage for a range of food stalls and entertainment, including a jazz festival.