Sunday 27 May 2007

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Set in a grand 18th century building, which used to house the Royal Hospital School, this well-heeled museum places a heavy emphasis on education. Many of the exhibits, such as the large wave tank on the ground floor and the nearby interactive displays, appear to be aimed at 10 to 14 year olds. Their younger siblings will enjoy the regular tours, recently run by a witty, enthralling and very green Neptune and his trident, and craft activities, such as drawing maps, making model long-boats or constructing monster masks. On the third-floor is an interactive area, where even toddlers can get to grips with a mini-crane for loading ships or a wind machine for propelling a model yacht across a steel rod.

For adults, the museum's highlights include an extravagant 18th Century barge, decorated extensively in gold-leaf, used by Prince Frederick to cruise up and down the Thames. Also on the ground floor is a long glass cabinet containing a row of intricate and detailed models of cruise liners and other large passenger ships from the 19th and 20th centuries. Nearby are life-size mannequins of passengers, strangely painted all white, which capture the sense of adventure and risk involved in Edwardian emigration. The museum, which contains many more model boats, naval uniforms, nautical paintings and paraphernalia, should fill an afternoon for the casual visitor and far longer for any enthusiastic seafarer or history buff. Better still, entry is free, but donations are encouraged. 8/10