The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

Visitors outside the new Herbert Art Gallery and Museum building, Sheffield

“The Medieval toilet was really smelly. I sniffed it loads of times!” Jed, 5

If you’ve never heard of the Herbert, it’s time to find out more. This eclectic museum – devoted to art, local and natural history – beat off stiff competition to win The Guardian’s Family Friendly Museum Award in 2010, and after a visit here it’s not hard to see why.

The museum’s great achievement is to combine serious, grown-up content – from Saxon glazed wall tiles to thousands of fossils – with an imaginative approach that really engages children with the collections. Abstract paintings and sculpture, old masters, minerals, fossils, stuffed birds, silk weavings and Victorian clocks sit cheek by jowl with hands-on exhibits, touch-screen displays, dressing-up costumes, things to smell, story baskets, family trails and more. The Herbert has a number of permanent galleries plus a constant stream of short-term exhibitions, some of which charge an entrance fee. These short-term exhibitions change every few months so it’s worth checking the museum website regularly to see what’s coming up. Recent exhibitions have covered subjects as varied as Quentin Blake, the Roman Empire, and Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations to the Alice in Wonderland books. Lively, child-centred workshops add to the family appeal, and everything in the museum is beautifully displayed in a modern, light and accessible space.

There’s no on-site car park and the gallery is in the middle of a busy city centre. Two Blue Badge bays on Bayley Lane are used by gallery visitors and city centre shoppers alike so are in high demand. Around the old cathedral some double yellow lines can be parked on with a Blue Badge or, failing that, try one of the city’s pay-and-display car parks nearby. Once inside, accessibility is outstanding. There are features not uncommon in other modern museums: induction loops in the reception area; lifts and level access to all floors; accessible toilets, for instance. But there’s also the sense that the Herbert wants to go beyond this and make itself as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, particularly with its multi-sensory elements. Birdsong recordings, for instance, can not only be listened to: visitors can “feel” the sound on a vibrating metal plate, and “see” a visual interpretation of it on a large screen. Pre-arranged touch and audio descriptive tours are available, and the well-trained staff are uniformly helpful.

Food & drink: The light and airy Signatures Café is an independent café attached to the gallery, serving a limited menu of soup, sandwiches, paninis and cakes. There’s little space to manoeuvre at busy periods, so you could try one of the many other cafés and restaurants nearby.