Museums & Attractions: 20 of the best - Venues with a difference

From amusement parks to aquariums, Abigail Wills rounds up alternative venues with a twist.

BLETCHLEY PARK

Contact: Kay Davenport, 01908 631129

Website: www.bletchleypark.org.uk

Function spaces: 10

Largest space holds: 100

Nearby Hotels: Beales Hotel; Moore Place

Home to the famous code breakers during the Second World War, the mansion at Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes has seven function rooms, a licensed bar and in-house catering. The extensive grounds can be used for events or groups can hire the Grand Ballroom.

BLUE PLANET AQUARIUM

Contact: Danielle Harrington, 0151 357 8803

Website: www.blueplanetaquarium.com

Function spaces: Various

Largest space holds: 400

Nearby Hotels: Holiday Inn Ellesmere Port; Radisson SAS Liverpool

Delegates at this Cheshire venue are guaranteed close encounters when they come face to face with the largest collection of sharks in Europe. The aquatheatre, with a Caribbean Reef as its signature backdrop, can hold 120 delegates theatre-style during the day and 400 for evening events. Conference equipment includes AV projectors and staging facilities.

BRITISH EMPIRE AND COMMONWEALTH MUSEUM

Contact: Katie Webb, 0117 9254 980

Website: www.empiremuseum.co.uk

Function spaces: 3

Largest space holds: 940

Nearby Hotels: Ramada Plaza; Bristol Marriott

One of the larger museum spaces that is available for corporate hire, the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol can host up to 940 guests for a reception in the Passenger Shed, while its unrestricted views make it ideal for awards ceremonies. Delegates can take tours of the galleries, which can also be used as event spaces, and the original 19th century boardroom of the Great Western Railway can cater for small meetings or private dining for up to 30.

CHURCHILL MUSEUM

Contact: Nicola Butler 020 7766 0149

Website: www.iwm.org.uk

Function spaces: Various

Largest space holds: 350

Nearby Hotels: Thistle Royal Horseguards; Hilton Trafalgar

The Churchill Museum is the newest addition to London's Cabinet War Rooms, which works in partnership with catering firm Sodexho Prestige. It is the first museum dedicated to the wartime prime minister, and opened in February to mark the 40th anniversary of Churchill's death. The museum can be hired from 7pm to 11pm and the 10,000m2 space is available for exclusive use and can be combined with space in the Cabinet War Rooms.

DIGGERLAND

Contact: Paul Jenkins, 08700 344 437

Website: www.diggerland.com

Function spaces: n/a

Largest space holds: 40 for activity days

Nearby Hotels: Premier Travel Inn, Durham; Holiday Inn Rochester

Diggerland has venues across the UK in Devon, Durham and Kent. It offers an imaginative team-building or incentive option. Delegates can try their hand at Formula JCB racing. Participants must be 17 years-old or over and hold a UK driving licence but, unlike other museums and attractions, events at Diggerland can be booked both during the week and for weekends.

DRAYTON MANOR

Contact: 01827 287979

Website: www.draytonmanor.co.uk

Function spaces: 3

Largest space holds: 600

Nearby Hotels: Crowne Plaza Birmingham; The De Vere Belfry

Drayton Manor Theme Park in Staffordshire was once the ancestral home of Sir Robert Peel. The house is set in 280 acres of parkland, most of which is given over to an amusement park. It has a choice of three conference suites, each of which is self-contained with its own parking area. The Tower Suite can host 600 when combined with the Hamilton Suite, while the Missanda can accommodate 180 delegates theatre-style.

FAMOUS GROUSE EXPERIENCE

Contact: Amy Law, 01764 656565

Website: www.famousegrouse.com

Function spaces: 6

Largest space holds: 300

Nearby Hotels: Crieff Hydro; The Drummond Arms Hotel

Housed in the Glenturret Distillery in Crieff, Perthshire, the Famous Grouse Experience recently invested £100,000 in upgrading its facilities. Companies such as Morgan Stanley and Hewlett Packard have used the meeting spaces, which include a private auditorium for 70 delegates and the Famous Grouse Conference Suite and restaurant. Sean Winton, president of Fairways to Heaven Golf, took 16 clients to the venue for an evening function last year. "The service, presentation, and quality is second to none," he says.

HORNIMAN MUSEUM

Contact: Lee Smith, 020 8699 1872

Website: www.horniman.ac.uk

Function spaces: 8

Largest space holds: 250

Nearby Hotels: Premier Travel Inn, Croydon; Novotel London City South

The Horniman Museum in south London houses exhibitions of natural history, music and anthropology. It completed a £13.5m redevelopment last year and is available for corporate hire. Groups can make use of the Music Gallery, the Grade II-listed Victorian Conservatory, the African Worlds Gallery or the environmentally-friendly CUE Boardroom, which is made from sustainable materials and seats up to 15 delegates.

KENTWELL HALL

Contact: Events team, 01787 310207

Website: www.kentwell.co.uk

Function spaces: Various

Largest space holds: 300

Nearby Hotels: The Black Lion; The Swan Hotel, Sudbury

Delegates can step back in time and recreate Tudor life at Kentwell Hall in Long Melford, Suffolk. The Mansion is set on its own moated island, surrounded by gardens and parkland. Conference groups of up to 150 can use the Great Hall or smaller boardroom meetings can be held in the Library. Tudor activities, such as swordplay and longbow shooting can be arranged, while Tudor banquets are held in both the Great Hall and the Overcroft Room.

LONDON CANAL MUSEUM

Contact: Event Coordinator, 020 7713 0836

Website: www.canalmuseum.org.uk

Function spaces: 3

Largest space holds: 200

Nearby Hotels: Holiday Inn; Hotel Russell

Situated near Kings Cross, the London Canal Museum is an unusual venue with character. Its waterside location means delegates can arrive by boat, and a meeting can be combined with an evening or lunchtime dinner cruise.

MARY ROSE MUSEUM

Contact: Sue Judge, 02392 812 931

Website: www.maryrose.org

Function spaces: Various

Largest space holds: 150

Nearby Hotels: Marriott Hotel, North Harbour; Hilton National,

Portsmouth

Portsmouth's Mary Rose Museum is available for drinks receptions, dinners and Tudor banquets, while the theatre can accommodate up to 80 delegates. Marine equipment supplier Lewmar hired the venue in September last year. "We held our distributor meeting for 50 delegates, many of whom did not speak much English," says Jo Chambers, the event organiser. "It was an ideal venue with its multi-lingual technology and experienced staff. Everyone enjoyed the tour of the ship," she says.

NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM

Contact: Event coordinator, 01590 614604

Website: www.beaulieu.co.uk

Function spaces: Various

Largest space holds: 200

Nearby Hotels: Watersplash Hotel; Beaulieu Hotel

Managed by the National Motor Museum Trust, Beaulieu houses a collection of more than 250 vehicles such as the record-breaking Bluebird. Situated in the New Forest, the museum can cater for groups of up to 200 and can host a variety of different types of event. Groups of up to 150 can make use of Palace House or companies looking for a more modern setting can hire the Brabazon.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHY, FILM & TELEVISION

Contact: Jenny Kay, 01274 203351

Website: www.nmpft.org.uk

Function spaces: Various

Largest space holds: 300

Nearby Hotels: Hanover International Hotel Club; Hilton Bradford

Winner of the Yorkshire Tourist Board's White Rose Award for Conference Venue of the Year in 2003, the Bradford museum has a variety of spaces including the Kodak Gallery and the Imax Cinema. The Pictureville Cinema seats 300, while the smaller Cubby Broccoli Cinema can seat 100. EventTV is a team-building package that allows delegates to make their own TV programme.

NATIONAL WATERFRONT MUSEUM

Contact: Stephanos Mastoris, 01792 638964

Website: www.waterfrontmuseum.co.uk

Function spaces: Various

Largest space holds: 220

Nearby Hotels: Swansea Marriott; Fairyhill Country House

The £31m landmark attraction opens in Swansea's Maritime Quarter this summer. It will house an exhibition of Wales' industrial and maritime heritage and the part it has played in shaping the country today. Any space can be hired, but only for groups of 220 or fewer outside opening hours.

RHEGED

Contact: Hannah Streather, 01768 860008

Website: www.rheged.com

Function spaces: 9

Largest space holds: 300

Nearby Hotels: The Lakeside Hotel, Windermere; Westmorland Hotel

Europe's largest grass-covered building has nine Function spaces: and two purpose-built exhibition halls, making it popular for product launches. The Penrith-based venue has a 220-seat lecture theatre, break-out spaces and the Mountain Hall, an ideal setting for a dinner for 130. HSBC and Barnardo's are among those that have used the venue. It offers 24-hour delegate packages with local hotels.

ROYAL ARMOURIES MUSEUM

Contact: Chris Owen, 0113 220 1990

Website: www.rai-events.co.uk

Function spaces: 17

Largest space holds: 500

Nearby Hotels: Crowne Plaza; Malmaison, Leeds

The Royal Armouries is the largest exhibition venue in Leeds and has hosted high-profile product launches for Coca-Cola, Kellogg's and Land Rover in its hall, which can hold 800. Groups can choose from a variety of spaces, such as the themed galleries. The museum can also arrange live historical re-enactments from men in full armour demonstrating their sword skills to a narrative on Florence Nightingale.

ROYAL OPERA HOUSE

Contact: Anna Palmer, 020 7212 9660

Website: info.royaloperahouse.org

Function spaces: 7

Largest space holds: 1,000

Nearby Hotels: The Waldorf Hilton; One Aldwych

The Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden has a wealth of event space that can accommodate up to 450 guests for dinner and 1,000 for a reception. The Vilar Floral Hall has an elegant arched glass roof and wooden floors, while the Crush Room, with its chandeliers and 17th century Flemish artwork, offers a stunning setting for up to 100 dinner guests.

ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL

Contact: Duncan Smith, 020 7246 8346

Website: www.stpauls.co.uk

Function spaces: 2

Largest space holds: 350

Nearby Hotels: Threadneedles; London Bridge Hotel

Sir Christopher Wren's architectural masterpiece offers a unique venue for events. The conference room, with its vaulted ceilings, has state-of-the-art AV technology. The crypt is also available for hire and can host up to 350 guests for a reception and 300 for dinner. An in-house catering service and venue team will assist with all aspects of event management such as flower displays and lighting. Guests can also take part in guided tours.

ULSTER MUSEUM

Contact: Paula Talbot, 028 9038 3110

Website: www.ulstermuseum.org.uk

Function spaces: Various

Largest space holds: 400

Nearby Hotels: Europa Hotel; Express by Holiday Inn, Belfast

The Ulster Museum in Belfast offers 8,000m2 of gallery space with art, archaeology, local history and natural science exhibits. Its event space is available for presentations, product launches and meetings. The Lecture Theatre can accommodate up to 150 guests. The engineering and art galleries can also be hired to host receptions for up to 400 delegates.

WOBURN SAFARI PARK

Contact: Events coordinator, 01525 290406

Website: www.woburn.co.uk

Function spaces: Various

Largest space holds: 350 theatre-style

Nearby Hotels: Express by Holiday Inn; The Inn at The Woburn, Milton

Keynes

The Safari Lodge at Woburn Safari Park is a purpose-built event space with a large conference room for up to 350 delegates theatre-style or 200 in a classroom format, which can be divided into two smaller spaces. The Leisure Area can be used for team-building activities while the Safari Drive makes for an exciting ride-and-drive route for car launches.

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