One of the best military museums in England is the Imperial War Museum in Duxford. If you have a WWII or aviation buff, this is the museum to visit!
IWM Duxford is located at the Duxford Aerodrome, the site of a WWI and WWII military airfield. During WWII, it was a hive of activity, serving as the home of the squadrons that defended the Midlands and parts of northern England. The aircraft also participated in the defense of London in the Battle of Britain. Several US Air Force squadrons were also stationed here during the war.
After the war, Duxford was abandoned by the Royal Air Force and became the backdrop for many movies, including the 1969 film, Battle of Britain. It’s now one of the branches of the Imperial War Museum.
IWM Duxford is a huge museum that is a must-see for aviation and military history enthusiasts. Plus kids will love its planes, the runway (still in use!), and its fun, hands-on activities.
The museum is located just ten miles south of Cambridge, a destination itself! We fit the museum in as a part of a day trip to Cambridge while we were staying in Northampton.
After parking, you’ll enter the museum and get a map and activities guide – be sure to note the times of any air shows and special events. The museum is spread out over eight buildings that encompass the side of a massive airfield. You’ll definitely get your steps in at this museum!
You’ll start in Building 1, the AirSpace exhibit.
This gigantic hangar houses many planes and aircraft from history – including a Concorde!
You can even go inside the Concorde, much to my older son’s delight. This Concorde was built as a test plane and wasn’t in commercial use.
There’s also the first plane to make the transatlantic flight from New York to London in 1958.
This building also houses the Airborne Assault Museum.
Leave this building and head to building 2, passing the adorable playground for little kids. It’s the perfect place to get the wiggles out!
As you walk, keep an eye on the airfield and runway. You just may see a plane take off or do loops above your heads!
Building 2 is full of historic aircraft (skippable if you’re running short on time).
As you walk to building 3, be sure to enter the small building in front of it to learn more about historic Duxford. It’s a good prelude to the Battle of Britain exhibits. Be sure to read the poignant story about Peggy and Jack – he was killed in the war and she only remembered him through a sketch until she came to the museum and saw him in a movie!
Building 3 contains the Air and Sea exhibits (skippable if you’re running short on time).
I loved seeing an airplane painted like former President George H.W. Bush’s plane from his service in WWII – it’s even named Barbara!
The old German one man submarine was fascinating!
Building 4 was my favorite – it contains exhibits on the Battle of Britain. For almost four months, the citizens of England were bombarded with attacks from the German Luftwaffe (Air Force). Citizens had to take shelter in Tube stations or in bomb shelters in their own homes or underground (see one replica here!). The airmen stationed here at Duxford took to the air to defend the country. This wonderful and poignant exhibit has many of the aircraft used in the battle and even some of the civilian items. Your child can even sit in a Spitfire cockpit and pretend to shoot down the enemy!
There’s also a section about the aircraft used after the war in the Cold War.
We skipped building 5 (the restoration hangar) due to time constraints but did pause to watch the filming of a BBC show on the runway! Very cool!
Building 7 contains some of the most impressive aircraft displayed in the American Air Museum. You can walk along its large ramp to view the planes from above and below. The museum does a good job at explaining the US and Britain’s special relationship and how we have worked together for the past one hundred years to ensure the world’s freedom.
Don’t miss the steel from the World Trade Center on September 11th.
Building 8 is the last hangar to explore, but my youngest son would say it’s the one not to be missed. This building houses the Land Warfare vehicles – tanks, jeeps, guns, etc.
Its real draw, however, is its realistic and immersive exhibits on WWII, particularly D-Day. It gave me chills to walk through the recreated D-Day shore as simulated gunfire pinged all around me. There’s even a recreated German street and jungle from the Pacific theater.
Your military-loving child will not want to leave! We could have spent hours in this building but since it was the last one, we had to leave soon. It might be worthwhile to take the shuttle bus to this building first, beginning your visit here and then hitting the other buildings as you walk back.
IWM Duxford is an experience that your children won’t forget. From its interactive exhibits to going inside the massive planes from history, all ages will be enthralled with this museum!
- Cost: £25/adults; £12.50/children 5-15; free/under 5
- Recommended: all ages
- Tour time: 4 – 5 hours
- Check out its amazing onsite and online gift shops. I think my son wanted to buy out the entire shop!
- Transportation: Most easily accessible by car, you can also visit via train or bus (or air!).
- Dining options: There are several restaurants and cafes onsite. We opted to eat lunch in Cambridge before coming to the museum.
- Nearby hotels: There are several recommended hotels in nearby Cambridge, most notably the luxurious Varsity. Check out Plum Guide (affiliate link), Baby Friendly Boltholes, or Kid & Coe for rental homes and apartments in the area.
- Nearby attractions include: Cambridge (town and university), Bottisham Airfield Museum, Audley End House and Gardens, Oxburgh Hall, and Denny Abbey and the Farmlands Museum
Books to Read:
See my Bookshop.org shop where I list my favorite WWII books for additional recommendations.
All images below are Amazon affiliate links.