Top Cambridge museums

Best museums in Cambridge

Much quieter than its scholarly rival, Cambridge is replete with gentle greenery, amazing architecture and magnificent museums.

  1. The Whipple Museum of the History of Science
  2. The Museum of Zoology
  3. The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
  4. The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
  5. The Botanic Gardens
  6. The Fitzwilliam Museum
  7. The Polar Museum
  8. The Duxford Imperial War Museum

Cambridge has a wealth of world-class museums to explore – from the outstanding collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum to the awe-inspiring aircraft at the Duxford Imperial War Museum (and that’s to say nothing of the many University Museums dotted throughout the city). There’s all this to discover and more with our Cambridge holiday packages.

1. The Whipple Museum of the History of Science

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science is home to a fascinating selection of scientific and navigational instruments dating back to the 14th-century. The ever-growing collection also contains instruments formerly used in the Colleges and Departments of the University of Cambridge. The Upper Gallery contains a grand collection of globes, planetaria and other related objects, while the Victorian Parlour evokes the home of a 19th-century family interested in science.

Don’t miss:The interactive exhibition space with hands-on activities and games with a scientific theme.

2. The Museum of Zoology

The Museum of Zoology contains thousands of specimens from every corner of the animal kingdom, from elephants, giant ground sloths and giraffes, to birds, reptiles, insects and molluscs. The museum was reopened in 2018 by Sir David Attenborough after a £4m redevelopment. The project included renovating the displays, adding new exhibits and moving the famous fin whale skeleton to hang from the ceiling of the glass-fronted foyer. Among its best exhibits are specimens discovered by Charles Darwin on his 1831 voyage on the Beagle: most famous of these are some of the Galapagos finches.

Don’t miss: The skeleton of the extinct Dodo, and other displays showcasing the weird and wonderful from the Museum's stores.

3. The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences

The oldest and most extensive of the University museums, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences is home to about 2 million fossils, minerals and rocks. A walk through this ground-breaking museum will take you on a journey spanning 4.5 billion years of history, from meteors that explain the birth of the planets to plant and animal fossils that illustrate the evolution of life we see today. Exhibits also include the skeleton of one of the smallest known dinosaurs, the compsognathus – no, we don’t know how to pronounce it either…

Don’t miss: The dazzling mineral collection, which houses some 55,000 glittering jewels.

4. The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

This important collection covers nearly 2 million years of human history, containing objects from all six inhabited continents. However, the museum isn’t just about ancient history, it’s also a celebration of modern culture, displaying works by modern-day indigenous communities. The museum is also famous for its collection of objects from the voyages of Captain James Cook.

Don’t miss: The museum’s oldest object, a 1.8-million-year-old stone tool from Olduvai Gorge.

5. The Botanic Gardens

An evergreen attraction, if you will, the Botanic Gardens contain a huge variety of plant species to discover. There are glasshouses full of tropical plants, a Woodland Garden, a Winter Garden and a Genetics Garden, which illustrates how genetic variation plays on the appearance of plants. There’s also a summer plants festival and various tours, so check the website to see what’s on during your visit.

Don’t miss: Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree!

6. The Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum holds the city’s premier fine and applied art collection in an imposing Neoclassical building, which was built to house the vast hoard bequeathed by Viscount Fitzwilliam in 1816. The museum contains everything from the Egyptian sarcophagus and mummies, to 5th-century BC Greek vases, as well as an eclectic variety of mostly eighteenth, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European paintings and sculptures, (with more modern pieces by Lucian Freud, David Hockney and other famous names).

Don’t miss: The fascinating collection of literary manuscripts, including the original draft of Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale and Virginia Woolf’s hand-written draft of A Room of One’s Own.

7. The Polar Museum

The pocket-sized Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute begins with a section devoted to the native peoples of the Arctic, with an especially enjoyable collection of Inuit soapstone sculptures. It continues with pen sketches of the European explorers who ventured to both poles with varying degrees of success and it’s here you’ll find a substantial set of documents – original letters, incidental artefacts and so on – relating to the fateful expedition to the South Pole led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, after whom the institute is named.

Don’t miss: The museum’s ever-changing special exhibitions.

8. The Duxford Imperial War Museum

The giant hangars dominate the Duxford Imperial War Museum. Throughout World War II, East Anglia was a centre of operations for the RAF and the USAF, with Duxford being one of the more important airfields. In total, the museum holds nearly 200 historic aircraft, a wide-ranging collection of civil and military planes, from the Sunderland flying boat to Concorde and the Vulcan B2 bombers, which were used for the first and last time in the 1982 Falklands conflict. The Spitfires, however, are the enduring favourites. Most of the planes are kept in full working order and are taken out for a spin at Duxford Air Shows.

Don’t miss: There are usually half a dozen air shows a year (and temporary exhibitions); advance bookings are strongly recommended.

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