21st March, 2017

With hundreds of marvellous museums and galleries dotted all over the United Kingdom, it can be an overwhelming task knowing where to start. A quick google will provide you with the big names, but some of the smaller, lesser-known gems, are just as good – if not better – in our opinion. So, to narrow down the long list and share some of our insider knowledge, we’ve picked five of the very best, spanning art, architecture, literature and natural history, all of which can be factored in around one of our unique cycling or walking tours for the perfect combination of culture and exploring.

1 Sir John Soane’s Museum

Tucked behind Holborn underground station, in a leafy square edged with terraced houses, you will find the former house and museum of pioneering English architect Sir John Soane. This unique, awe-inspiring space, built and lived in by Soane, remains exactly as it was left at the time of the architect’s death almost 180 years ago. Soane was an avid collector and his home is brimming with antiquities, furniture, sculptures, paintings by Hogarth, Turner, Canaletto and more, as well as architectural models and drawings. We recommend seeing the museum by candlelight, an experience offered on the first Tuesday of each month. Why not combine a three-night stay in London with a trip to the Cotswolds with our ‘Quintessential England' cycling tour for a wonderfully diverse adventure?

2 The Turner Contemporary

The seaside town of Margate is one of England’s most exciting locations, boasting a dreamy combination of old world nostalgia and blossoming contemporary culture. There are shops, attractions (like Dreamland, the renovated, old-fashioned amusement park) and fish and chips galore, as well as plenty of great galleries, but the absolute must-visit is the Turner Contemporary, situated on the seafront in the same spot that Turner himself once lived. The wonderfully curated space, designed by Sir David Chipperfield, is geared towards making “intriguing links between historic and contemporary art” – and it certainly succeeds. Whether you’re looking for a fabulous foodie holiday, a seaside jolly or the chance to soak up Kent’s delightful scenery, we have an array of holidays in the area offering something for everyone.

3 Jane Austen’s House Museum

The village of Chawton in Hampshire is well worth a trip to visit the idyllic cottage where English author Jane Austen spent the final eight years of her life, creating some of her most important work. The red brick abode contains a collection of enlightening Austen artefacts, as well as retaining its modest, 19th-century charm. You can bring a picnic to enjoy in the lush garden where Austen would spend her time pottering and picking potatoes! The museum is just one stop on our ‘In the footsteps of famous writers’ walking tour, a remarkable excursion from London to Edinburgh, shedding light on the worlds of Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas, William Shakespeare, The Bronte sisters, James Herriot, William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter and Austen along the way.

4 The Oxford University Museum of Natural History

This museum in Oxford is a natural history lover’s dream come true. It comprises the prestigious university's extraordinary collection of geological and zoological specimens, from dinosaurs to dodos to moths and minerals, housed in a majestic Neo-Gothic structure built in 1860. The museum is free and is attached to the Pitt Rivers museum of anthropology and archeology, if you’re looking for a double dose of fascinating historical discovery. You can visit the university town and its myriad sites on our ‘Ramble and ride on downs and meadows’ walking and cycling holiday. Beginning in Oxford, this magical tour takes you along the Thames Path and out to the dramatic White Horse on the downs and the ancient Ridgeway path, before returning you to your starting place by Thames boat.

5 The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

A hub of brilliant modern and contemporary art, this gallery in Edinburgh is one of the city’s finest. The museum is set in beautiful leafy grounds, which house a sublime sculpture park featuring the award-winning 'Landform' by Charles Jencks, a geometric land artwork constructed from grass and ponds. Inside, the collection spans such 20th-century greats as Andy Warhol, Bridget Riley, Rene Magritte and Picasso, as well as contemporary artists like Duane Hanson and Tracey Emin, and a reconstruction of the studio of Scottish-Italian pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Wend your way to the Scottish capital on our ‘Lochs and glens to Edinburgh’ cycling tour, taking in the dramatic landscape of the Trossachs National Park and Pitlochry in the Highlands as you go.