Hailed by historian Dan Snow as “the best museum ever”, IWM Duxford (formerly the Imperial War Museum Duxford) brings together a dazzling collection of aircraft from World War I to the present day, displayed to stunning effect in a series of vast hangars.
The museum is set on a historic former RAF airfield where the roar of planes taking off and landing creates an atmospheric scene for your arrival. At the main entrance be sure to pick up a map – there’s a lot to see here so it’s a good idea to isolate a few targets. One thing that shouldn’t be missed is the Battle of Britain exhibition, which recounts the air campaign waged by the German Air Force in the summer of 1940, intended to crush the RAF – an objective it failed to achieve. The Blitz of 1940–41 is also covered here, brought to life with evocative personal mementoes and accounts. Other highlights include AirSpace, where you can climb on board Concorde (no lift access); the Exhibitions Gallery, packed with child-friendly interactive exhibits; and the American Air Museum, housing the largest collection of US military aircraft outside America. The Historic Duxford exhibition and heritage trail tells the airfield’s own story, featuring personal stories of the men and women who served here.
Much thought has gone into making the museum as accessible as possible: there are nineteen disabled parking spaces; wheelchairs and mobility scooters can be borrowed free of charge; entry to all the main buildings is wheelchair accessible; a free assistance vehicle is available to transport visitors around the site; and there are plenty of disabled toilets. The hangars are connected to each other by good, level paths and most have automatic doors. There’s lift access up to the 1940 Operations Room, from where RAF fighter planes were directed during the Battle of Britain. To operate the lift, you’ll need a key, which is available from a member of staff, who can be called from the help point next to the lift. In addition, visitors with visual impairments are allowed to touch the aircraft and audio-description is available in the AirSpace exhibition. All the audio-visual presentations have subtitles and induction loops, and some include BSL-interpretation. The heritage trail won the Access Planning and User Engagement Award at the Jodi Awards in 2013.
Food & drink: On-site restaurant The Mess serves jacket potatoes, soup and a daily special, and can cater for any dietary requirement with advance notice. The hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream is highly recommended – especially on a cold winter’s day.