Yorkshire Museum

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Ancient history has never been more interesting than in the Yorkshire Museum.

This treasure house of pottery, jewellery and statues had a multi-million pound update a couple of years ago.

Now families can do far more than simply look at the old relics in glass cases.

I last visited the museum several years ago and I remember, despite liking ancient history, being a little bored.

It was like the British Museum, but without as many showpiece exhibits like the Elgin Marbles.

The museum has been modernised: not just a facelift, the entire museum has been gutted and lovingly put back together.

Every gallery features a host of imaginative techniques to make exhibits relevant and interesting, from games, puzzles and dressing up to actors on video.

Couple it with visits to the excellent York Castle Museum and the Jorvik Viking museum and you have a packed day covering every era of history.

Even the youngest children will be fascinated with lots to pull, push or play with.

The focus of the Yorkshire Museum is the early history of York, particularly medieval times, the Roman occupation and the millennia before man.

Through the foyer and you find yourself in a Roman hallway with a large screen showing dozens of citizens wandering by.

One or other of these life-size costumed actors will stop to talk to you -- the effect is bewitching and sets the scene for the rest of your visit.

The first port of call should be the cinema where a 10-minute multimedia film takes you backwards through York's history.

Then it's on to three very different galleries each packed with inspired displays that make the most of museum's collections.

The museum is particularly proud of its Roman collection, and the artefacts are displayed in a section showing every aspect of life in what was then called Eboracum.

Trade, warfare, religion, romance, domestic life and death are all covered, and even children that "don't like history" should find themselves enthralled.

As in the rest of the museum, there are lots of hands-on activities that will keep young ones occupied while you take a deeper examination of the written displays.

The museum is built on the site of a medieval abbey, and most of the ruins can still be explored in the grounds.

The museum's basement has been laid out as if that part of the abbey is still intact, providing atmospheric setting for the pictures, information and real medieval treasures.

Updated for a second time, since the museum's relaunch, this gallery is now themed "Capital of the North" and shows how in the medieval kingdoms of Britain, the north was ruled from York.

On display are some of the most significan medieval objects ever found in Britain, alongisde films, animations, activities and trails to interest younger visitors.

On our recent visit to the Yorkshire Museum we particularly liked the natural history section -- one of most interesting examples of this subject in the North -- which focuses on pre-history and extinction.

The centrepieces are two fossilised skeletons of sea monsters, along with dinosaur footsteps and lots of stuffed animals.

Extinct A Way of Life is an excellent exploration of why animals have died out, from dinosaur times to the modern day.

Alongside the drama of mass extinctions and examples of lost creatures such as the dodo and passenger pigeon, is the black squirrel that now threatens our greys in the same way they almost killed off red squirrels.

On the top floor are several activities for young children, an excellent reading room packed with history books, and a timeline around the walls of the balcony.

In short: no more old dusty relics!

Duration: two to three hours.

Age suitability: some activities for pre-schoolers; lots for primary-age children and younger teenagers; history buffs should be in seventh heaven. Access: fully accessible to wheelchair users.

Open: 10am-5pm, closed December 25/26 and January 1.

Prices: £7.50 adults, children under 16 free, concessions £6.50. Tickets valid for whole year -- "come back for free".

Getting there: museum and gardens are next to Lendal Bridge, the main crossing between York railway station and York Minster; alongside the Park and Ride bus stop.

Website:yorkshiremuseum.org.uk

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