Whether you are a fan of history, cars, or both, the UK has a rich motoring history that is waiting to be explored. While we may have lost some of the most iconic UK car companies to foreign investors or, sadly, to financial ruin, the mark that British companies, designers and cars have made on motoring will never be erased.
This rich heritage is celebrated across the UK at country homes, warehouses and more traditional museums. Here are our choices for the best motor museums in the UK.
Location: Gaydon, Warwickshire
Take a trip back through the history of UK driving when you visit the British Motor Museum. There are over 300 classic cars on display across the museum, making it the largest collection of historical British motor cars in the world, including many historic examples from Jaguar. From the earliest models that were just horse carriages with an engine, to stunning examples like the Jaguar E Type.
As well as cars, the museum has 1 million items and artefacts that give you an insight into what makes British motoring so special.
Check the calendar before you travel, because the museum also plays host to a variety of different motoring events.
September has the retro truck show, while you can also learn more about car photography and car art at events throughout the year.
If you love British cars, then this should be at the top of your “to visit” list.
Location: Brockenhurst, Hampshire
If you want cars from a broader spectrum, then the Beaulieu National Motor Museum has a collection to cater all sorts of tastes.
Want to see some beautifully maintained classic cars? Beaulieu has classic cars dating back as far as 1875. The National Motor Museum Trust has a collection of 285, with many on display at Beaulieu at various times over the year.
Want to explore the world of motorsport and get up close to Formula One cars and Le Mans racers? Beaulieu has F1 cars from the past, as well as rally cars and hill-climbing classics. But there is also something very special waiting at the museum, a car from all our childhoods.
Yes, here at Beaulieu, amongst the classics and sportscars – you can also see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
And if you are bringing some people who aren’t that keen on cars, Beaulieu is set in the grounds of an old country estate with beautiful gardens to explore, as well as the famous Victorian Palace House.
Take a look at how the man who bought the car collection lived in the opulent, historical surrounds of his family home. And if you are travelling a long way, there are many campsites and holiday homes in the New Forest where you can stay.
Location: London and Duxford
The Imperial War Museum in London records the military history of the UK, with particular focus on World War One and Two. As well as exhibits showing what life was like for soldiers on the frontline, you can see some of the vehicles used by the British Army across the years.
While the main museum in London has plenty to take a look at, it’s the Duxford exhibitions that should interest petrol heads the most. Based on an old airfield, you can find a huge array of classic British warplanes to take a look at. From Spitfires and Hurricanes, to newer fighters like the Tornado, you can get up close to the warplanes that have been a key part of the RAF for decades.
As well as airplanes, there are land vehicles too. You can see some of the tanks used across the years, in particular the machines of World War Two. As well as the armour-plated machines, you can see old 4x4s and trucks that helped keep the war effort going.
Location: Yeovil, Somerset
The Haynes International Motor Museum has the UK’s biggest collection of cars from around the world, with over 400 motors currently on exhibit, and many more being featured in temporary special exhibitions across the year.
The sheer variety of cars on show is staggering. Want to get a closer look at a Delorean like the one used in Back to the Future? Or perhaps you want to see some of the strange, rarer models like a Gaz or a Bricklin?
Aside from cars, the museum also has a large collection of classic motorbikes. From BSAs to Nortons, you can indulge your passion for all things 2-wheels, as well as 4.
Location: Backbarrow, Cumbria
Regularly awarded as one of the best classic car museums in the country, the Lakeland Motor Museum has some of the most unique vehicles in motoring history as part of its collection. Starting with some of the earliest cycles, motors soon make an appearance as the museum traces the development of cars across automotive history.
One of the most unique items among its 30,000 strong collection of cars and artefacts is a 1939 Campbell Blue Bird, celebrating the work of Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell as they attempted to break the land speed record.
Location: Weybridge, Surrey
Situated at the site of the world’s first ever purpose-built racing circuit , the Brooklands Museum celebrates motorsport across the years. It takes a look at the way the engineering and the technology has developed across the years, and how British drivers and racers have dominated motorsport from its inception.
Away from motorsport, there are a number of other classics on display, as well as events held by historic car clubs. Brooklands also plays host to races across the year, so why not combine your visit with a race or two?
These are just some of the best motor museums in the UK. There are many more smaller, more niche museums around the country ready to be explored. But if you want to see the best and rarest of the bunch, these are the museums to head to first.
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