Put this on your to-do list, because the Royal Armouries are amazing.
From the moment you arrive at this museum (free entry, donations welcome), you are immersed in the history of warfare and combat – with a focus on England, yes, but the collections span the globe, with some great pieces particularly from Japan. From the actors dressed in Saxon armour at the door, to the shooting simulators that let you see what it’s like to shoot a Lee-Enfield Rifle or a machine gun, there’s things to see and do before you even get to the exhibition halls.
And then you get to the staircase.
Suddenly you are thrust face to face with a display of weaponry that is impressive, breathtaking, and a little frightening. The craftsmanship is stunning, but the sheer scale of these things for use in battle . . . it’s staggering.
The museum is arranged over 5 floors, and is well designed to be bright and spacious. The space and the exhibitions are marvelous, and I could have easily spent a few days there reading about warfare and arms. I am particularly interested in Medieval history, as you can probably tell from my selection of pictures, but there were also large collections that outlined the development of guns and cannons, Victorian hunting weaponry, and contemporary weaponry and policing tools (though not so much about contemporary warfare, noticeably. Though there was one room dedicated to worldwide peace movements).
There were also plenty of live performances and presentations, from a storyteller reciting the tale of Beowulf and Grendel with vigorous use of props, to a talk about Saxon blacksmithing, to a demonstration of medieval swordfighting . . . there were more things to do than time to do them in. And they were all top quality, presented with passion and knowledge.
But for me, the absolute highlight of the day was having a go at the crossbow firing range.
Yes, that’s right – for a small extra fee (I think it was £3.50 for 8 bolts) you can try your hand at shooting a crossbow. There was a bit of a wait in line, but so, so worth it.
Ridiculous amounts of fun.
A great and very full day out, and plenty of interactive elements for all ages to enjoy. There are a couple of cafes in the Amouries, a little picnic area and some lockers if you prefer to bring your own food, and some restaurants just outside (we enjoyed a Pizza Express before driving home).
To finish, I will leave you with this delightful picture of Henry VIII’s tournament armour (sorry about the reflections in the glass case).