The World Museum in Liverpool is quite simply one of the UKs premier museum attractions and a must see for any visitor to Liverpool. It is the jewel in the crown of one of the best city break and staycation cities in the UK, a veritable journey through the mists of history and the natural world to the unexplored reaches of space, but this epic attraction often doesn’t get the true recognition it deserves. The World Museum isn’t just an amazing UK day out but also happens to be one of my favourite places in the world! If you are looking for an amazing day out in Liverpool, here is exactly why the World Museum should be on the top of your list!
The iconic William Brown conservation area of Liverpool is one of the most impressive collections of neo classical buildings in the UK, including the Liverpool Central Library, the Walker Art Gallery and the famous St Georges Hall, but it is the grand, Grade II listed building that houses the World Museum Liverpool that really holds the crown in this majestic plaza. Opening it’s doors in 1860, the museum is second only to the Natural History Museum in London in terms of scale and renown, and coming from someone who loves museums is easily ranked as one of the greatest museums in the world.
Okay, I’m biased, but it is true!
And it also happens to be the place I used to bunk off school to go and visit to learn all about ancient Egypt and indulge my appreciation for Celtic and Japanese weaponry! The museum can be blamed not only for my poor school attendance but also my passion for Egyptology and world cultures.
Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 1000 – 1800 and admission is absolutely free apart for occasional special exhibitions which are still free for members.
Of all the attractions in Liverpool, and believe me there are a lot to choose from, the World Museum is one that is always at the top of my recommendation list for anyone visiting the city for the first time. The World Museum impresses from the moment you enter the grand atrium to walk under the skeleton of a huge Pterosaur and continues to wow through the Clore natural history centre and the awesome free Aquarium that can technically be counted as a destination in its own right.
From basement to roof the museum is five floors of world class, award winning exhibits and honestly it is easy to wax lyrical about how good each one is. Every person will of course have their favourite parts and their own interests but I want to tell you about my museum, the museum that captured my childhood attention and keeps bringing me back as an adult. I want you to know what I make a beeline for every time I visit and hopefully inspire you to do the same so that you can discover your own museum experience as you go.
Walking up the stairs to the museum’s third floor brings you out onto the world cultures exhibit, a winding pathway through the Americas, Africa, Oceania and Asia. Take your time and enjoy each exhibit of course, there is no reason to rush, but if you keep going to the end of the hall you will discover a glorious collection of Japanese Katana and Samurai Armour.
My childhood training in Japanese martial arts has always given me a deep appreciation of and love for Japanese culture and art, and that has allowed me to appreciate the collection here on a different level than many who pass through and give the collection no more than a passing glance, dismissing them as nothing more than old weapons, but they are much, much more than that. Each katana is an absolute work of art, each tsuba a unique sculpture designed to the taste, personality and status of the individual Samurai who wielded the sword.
The designs on the tsuba, or the sword guard part of the swords furniture are to me as beautiful and intricate as any sculpture, the hamon, the uniquely curved wave on the blade of each sword as much a mesmerising masterpiece than anything painted by Raphael or Botticelli. And this is exactly how they should be viewed. Yes these are tools of war, the armour was primarily their to protect the wearer and the weapons designed for combat, but to the Samurai they were so much more. The katana embodied the essence of the gods themselves and were said to hold the soul of the samurai who wielded them. There is a connection between warrior and sword that is hard to explain and at the same time obvious to anyone who has spent any time training in kendo or any art where weapons training is a part.
In Japan the possession and use of swords are considered as much a spiritual and cultural object as much as they are considered registered weapons.
For me sitting in this small corner of the world cultures exhibit, and it really is just a small corner, is akin to spending an afternoon in the neighbouring Walker Art Gallery staring at spectacular works of Renaissance art. If you ever get a chance don’t just glance at them as simple weapons. Let your eye flow from the razor sharp kissake, itself a work of art, down the undulating waves of the hamon and take a moment to appreciate the craftmanship and reverence that went into making each piece. You will never look at them in the same way again.
But that isn’t all that is on this spectacular floor of the museum. Walking through the world cultures exhibit eventually leads you to the highlight of the World Museum and the place where I spent far too many hours daydreaming over the exhibits even before it’s grand redesign in 2017, the ancient Egyptian exhibit!
It never used to be this grand of course, I remember it when it was barely more than a small section of the museum, unloved and largely overlooked, but it was enough to help foster my love for Egyptology and inspired me to study the discipline for years before I could actually travel to the country myself for the very first time. At the time this was my only physical link to the ancient history that I fell in love with. The small fragments of pottery and tiny ushabti making the history I spent hours reading about in the library next door tangible and real.
Now of course it is a much grander exhibition than it was when I was a kid sneaking off school to come and learn about something more interesting than crop rotation in the industrial revolution. Having expanded into previously unused space and taken up most of the floor, the journey through time starts at the very beginning of life in the Nile Valley and takes you through the life and afterlife of ancient Egyptian culture, finally ending in the impressive Mummy Room, which as the name implies houses the remains of ancient nobility themselves, including their sarcophagi and their small army of ushabti intended to accompany them into the world beyond.
Of course I wasn’t just interested in Samurai and ancient Egypt when I was younger, what kid doesn’t love dinosaurs and space exploration too? And the rest of the museum doesn’t disappoint. The next floor up from the Ancient Egypt exhibit has an awesome collection of dinosaur skeletons, fossils and a natural world exhibit, and the space exhibit on the fifth floor holds a collection of rockets, meteorites and moon rocks, but it is the Planetarium that is probably the museums crowning glory for tourists!
The immersive full dome experience is the UKs only free planetarium and is an absolute cinematic experience that has to be seen whether you are a space geek or not! The fact that anyone can come and enjoy this experience and all of these exhibits for free is an absolute wonder and a privilege, and is a spectacular jewel in Liverpool’s tourism crown.
A museum, an aquarium and a planetarium. Three family attractions rolled into one, and all for free!
I have a huge personal connection to this museum and a lot of fond memories here, but if I was just a visitor to Liverpool, someone visiting for the first time, I would still marvel at what a true tourism masterpiece the city has and in true Scouse fashion welcomes everyone in with open arms! In fact I envy the awe and wonder that visitors here must have when they see it for the very first time, and I just hope they all develop a fraction of the connection on their visit that I have to this truly amazing place.
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