This blog may have been quiet of late, but our house has been very noisy day and night – welcome Museum baby! With museum dad on paternity leave, the tweenager away at camp, and not wanting the toddler to feel like life as he knew it was over thanks to the new arrival, a family museum trip was in order.
As the toddler is crazy about all things transport related, we chose to visit Imperial War Museum Duxford, a historic airfield which tells the history of aviation. This is our second attempt to visit – a few months ago we inadvertently rocked up at the end of an air show, but weren’t prepared to spend £150+ to take our party (including grandparents) in for the remaining 45 minutes. This time, a weekday in school holidays, we were sure we wouldn’t make the same mistake!
From the moment we arrived and the toddler saw the Hurricane aircraft in the car park, his main phrase of the day was “Wow! Look mummy, air-plane!”
We were greeted with the rumble of old planes regularly taking off and landing on the airfield – a wonderful surprise as we had expected only to see static displays.
At £17.50 per adult entrance initially seemed high – but children go free, and the large site is definitely a whole day out. The size also means it didn’t feel crowded at all, despite being the summer holidays. It’s a bit of a suntrap with few trees, so after buying our tickets we grabbed a shady picnic spot near the entrance* and checked out the action on the runway.
We then got closer to the airfield – although you’re better off being a little further away as there’s a dark mesh across the barriers which up-close obscured the toddler’s view.
There are a number of hangars across the site – we headed to the largest, called AirSpace.
It is ENORMOUS – the fact that it replaced a smaller structure called SuperHangar might give you a clue as to how big!
It houses over 30 aircraft – from helicopters to Concorde and the Spitfire – some suspended from the ceiling. You’re recommended to start your visit on the first floor, an exhibition about the story of aviation and the role Britain and the Commonwealth played in developing aircraft. At the entrance you can see an original piece of fabric taken from the Wright brothers’ Flyer, which made the first proper air flight.
The exhibition includes a large hands on section – think push buttons, flight simulators and levers – which was extremely popular with families of all ages. The variety of fun activities explained the science behind flight – from mechanisms to drag – if there was a science project on aircraft, this would be the place to come!
There was also a substantial exhibition looking at the development of commercial and military aircraft. Unfortunately we were too busy trying to find the runaway toddler to spend much time reading – it is a bit of a warren and quite easy to lose sight of kids! You can then descend to the main atrium and take a closer look at the aircraft – some of which are open for the public to go inside, depending on the availability of volunteer staff.
I tried to take the toddler onboard the fastest ever Concorde – he was fine with the steps up, but the cockpit and instruments freaked him out, so had to take him back down again!
The conservation space in the hangar housed a family activity – making and painting free Airfix models of First World War aircraft, plus a colouring in competition. We hadn’t known it was on* so as we arrived at the end with a very tired toddler we didn’t take part – you can take home the finished aircraft but not the unmade up kits, which they sell in the shop. In truth, the kit making is more appropriate for older children, being recommended for ages 8 and up.
We then had an ice-cream/ baby feeding break, with more activity on the airfield to watch. We even saw a helicopter take off, which sent the toddler into a frenzy, and a bi-plane do a loop-the-loop, which impressed us adults!
We managed one more hangar – where we saw an incredible collection of private planes, some being restored in front of our eyes – when the tiredness hit us and we called it a day.
Before being bundled in the car, the toddler enjoyed running around in the airplane themed playground.
Despite the severe sleep deprivation, we had a great day out. Or in the words of the toddler – “wow!” We’ll definitely visit again to see the remaining six hangars/exhibitions, and bring the tweenager too. We saw families with children of all ages, and as the toddler gets older I think he’ll get even more out of it.
*note to visitors – check out the board directly in front of you as you leave the ticket hall/shop to see what is going on where on the day. Don’t just run past it to the shaded tree area like us.
THE BARE BONES
Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire CB22 4QR
Current opening hours: (check website before setting out). Open daily from 10am (closed 24, 25 and 26 Dec). Closes 6pm summer season (15 March to 24 October 2014) and 4pm winter season (25 October 2014 to 14 March 2015).
Cost: ‘Normal admission’ – check website for prices/date of special events
Concessions (Senior, Student, Disabled, Unemployed) £14
FREE for children (under 16), Friends, disabled carers, Museums Association members
NB – These prices include a voluntary donation.
Booking: We just showed up and had a short wait, there is no restriction on numbers.
Recommended length of visit: We did 3.5 hours, would recommend the whole day.
Buggy accessible?: Yes, flat level entrance, lifts to exhibition in AirSpace.
Baby changing: There are five baby change facilities throughout the site, the ones we checked out in the entrance and AirSpace were separate rooms with changing tables (but no straps).
Breastfeeding friendly?: There are some quiet, secluded benches throughout AirSpace, although few picnic benches in the shade outside.
Toddler time from gallery to toilets: In AirSpace, I’d say 2 minutes if you take the stairs.
Nearest playground: There’s one on site!
Food: Three cafes are available on site, see here for more information. The mess cafe offers a children’s pick and mix lunch box for £5. Picnic benches are plentiful throughout the site, although if you want shade, bring a rug and grab the trees near the entrance.
Want to make more of a day of it?: It’s a whole day out in itself! This map gives a suggested family route, or why not download a family trail in advance to give the kids something extra to do onsite?