The summer holidays are the perfect time to visit one of Cambridge’s world-class museums: here’s a taster of some of the city’s most illuminating institutions
Image Museum of Zoology © Julieta Sarmiento Photography
Museum of Zoology
The Museum of Zoology showcases the diversity of animal life – from moths to monkeys, mammoths and manatees – bringing to life stories of extinction, survival and exploration. On arrival, you will be greeted by an impressive 21m fin whale called Bobby, while other collection highlights include a giant ground sloth, a dodo skeleton and Captain Cook’s conch. Special exhibitions over the summer include Butterflies Through Time, which runs until 18 September and uncovers how the natural world has been affected by environmental change over time. Plus the LGBTQ+ Bridging Binaries Guided Tour, which promises an enlightening look at gender and sex in the animal kingdom – tours are available on select weekends until 20 August.
Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
The oldest of the university’s museums, the Sedgwick provides a suitably historic backdrop to a collection that turns back time nearly 4.5 billion years to the origins of life on Earth, with dinosaurs, meteorites and fossils waiting to be explored. Showstoppers in the collection include a complete replica of an iguanodon skeleton – and a megaloceros (a giant prehistoric deer). This month, there’s also the chance to see a touring miniature statue of Mary Anning, a little-known pioneer of palaeontology, with events aimed at sharing her story over the holidays . Visit sedgwickmuseum.org for more info.
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
With a lens on human history over hundreds of thousands of years, the terrific Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is the place to go for broadening your understanding of our planet’s diverse, fascinating cultures through the centuries. On the ground floor, it houses an exhibition dedicated to the archaeology of Cambridge and the surrounding area, with around 1,200 objects telling the story of the region’s past. It’s here you can find the Arbury coffin, containing the bones of a woman, a shrew and a mouse, which famously inspired Sylvia Plath to write the poem All the Dead Dears. Upstairs, you’ll discover items from Oceania, examples of Asian sculpture, a Maori flagpole, plus unique objects from North America and the Arctic, collected on the voyages of Captain Cook.
Museum of Classical Archaeology
Ignite a sense of awe as you walk among the gods and heroes at the Museum of Classical Archaeology. With 450 plaster versions of some of the most iconic sculptures from classical antiquity, it holds one of the largest surviving collections of Greek and Roman statue casts in the world. On display until the end of the month, this year’s summer exhibition sees the Cast Gallery transformed. A series of installations created by Danish artist collective Guirlanden, in response to the permanent collection, sparks creative conversations across time and place.
The Polar Museum
Take a trip to the Antarctic at Cambridge’s very own Polar Museum – finding out about science, discovery and endurance at the most extreme ends of the earth. Covering everything from penguins to sleeping bags, Inuit art and explorer diaries, you’ll gain unique insight into British Antarctic Expeditions and life in the polar regions.
Whipple Museum of the History of Science
Educate yourself about the scientific instruments that made groundbreaking discoveries possible, dating from the Middle Ages to the present. From a papier mâché anatomical model of a human created around 1890, to the grand orrery (an ornate mechanised model of the solar system), and Charles Darwin’s very own microscope, the Whipple Museum is an extraordinary cabinet of curiosities, detailing the development of mankind’s knowledge.
Cambridge University Botanic Garden
The perfect place for a stroll in the sun – and a guaranteed hit for children in need of letting off some steam – the Botanic Garden is a treasure trove in the summer months, overflowing with lush wildlife and floral scents. Home to over 8,000 plant species and its very own arboretum, the gardens have much to offer for budding horticulturalists. Families can get stuck into special activities on the first Saturday of each month – keep an eye out for the free Petal Potions session on 6 August in the Schools Garden between 10am and 1pm. You’ll have the chance to use scented shrubs from the garden to make your very own concoction for bath time.