What better place for a rowing and river museum than the lovely Henley-on-Thames, which is a world-renowned centre for rowing and hosts the famous Henley Royal Regatta. So when we were invited to visit the museum, I was at first thrilled, then a bit skeptical about going to a “museum” with a four year old, but after some positive reviews from you all, we decided to take a leap in faith and go…
I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised.. It is different, it is fun and it is educational– must do!
We were welcomed by the very friendly staff at the entrance. They have special designed activities for half term, which we decided to explore first. We were late, so missed the story session, but I know Mr Toad made an appearance, so it must have been huge fun. The room is spacious with full length windows and beautiful views outside. They had set up tables and chairs with lots of activities including wind and the willow themed colouring pages and counting activities. There were puzzles on the floor, indoor games like 4 in a row, hopscotch mat, building blocks, lots of card games, chalk and white board and small collection of reading books. There were also puppets and theatre model for imaginative play and winds and the willows costume for role play. All this is included in the price of your museum ticket.
Next up was the Wind in the Willows exhibition. It tells the story of the famous novel via a walk through tunnel with 3D models recreating the scenes in vivid beautiful colours. There is also a little caravan where children can climb into and have pretend tea. The attention to detail is just amazing and the music adds to the atmosphere. Some parts are a bit dark (like e.g. as you go through “the trees”) and Ay held my hand as we walked through, but it was not scary. You must read the story in advance to really enjoy the gorgeousness of this exhibition. An audio handset narrating The Wind in the Willows story is also available to support your visit, which I saw a few people carrying around.
The main museum gallery is located upstairs and is divided into different sections. You can also enjoy self-led indoor family trails while visiting these parts including Tiny Toad’s Treasure Hunt or Winter Family Trail: The Moonstone Door
The “rowing section” has lots of rowing boats, even on the roof, Olympic medal winning boats, Olympic medals, Olympic flame etc. Ay particularly took keen interest in the model where you can pretend to row and watch the bars of energy move up and high, to tell you how much effort/ energy is being used. There was another model where you could try to judge which oar (made of different materials) is the heaviest. After guessing, you could life them to see if you were right. It was these small interactive elements at different points which made it interesting for little ones. You can also find a unique installation of the iconic ‘Unbeaten Boat.’ The 2012 racing hull took Helen Glover and Heather Stanning to the 2016 Olympics without losing a race. British Rowing has generously loaned the boat to the Museum and the display recounts the ecstatic moment at the London Olympics when Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won the first GB Gold Medal of the 2012 Games.
Next up was the John Piper gallery with “Painting in Coloured Light: The modern stained glass designs of John Piper ” exhibits. There are some nice stained glass window displays which unfortunately we could not look into in detail. The “river gallery”again had lots of interactive elements to keep kids occupied e.g, there were puzzles to solve in the hands on Life area (about the animals, birds and bugs that live in, on and by the river), exhibits on how much water we use daily, try to build a food web, construct a bridge, recreate a cogwheel just to name a few. You could also wear helmets or dress up in Victorian costume for a day out at Henley Royal Regatta.
Then came the Discover Hands-On space. This is a big room where activities are constantly being updated. Some of the toys had been moved downstairs for half term activities but there were still stuff to enjoy like the DIY tool bench, grocery shop, books in the story corner, blocks etc.
We had our lunch at the cafe. Again the staff was so friendly and courteous and the menu a pretty good one (the full menu RRM Chocolate Cafe Menu Winter 2021.). They also had books in the cafe to keep children occupied while waiting for the food. I must say I love it when cafes are child friendly, it just makes the day hassle free!
Although most of the museum (like others) will cater to slightly older children (7+ I think), there is still plenty to keep the young ones occupied and considering under 4s are free, it is good value for money for the entire family. We spent about 2 hours here (including eating in the fantastic cafe) but if you go through the wind in the willows tunnel with the audio and read through all the information on the exhibits, you will definitely spend longer. The nearby area is amazing with two brilliant adventure play grounds (READ REVIEWS HERE), which coupled with a stroll by the river with weeping willows, feeding the duck and swans and a few fairground rides, including a bouncy inflatable slide (1.5£ for 6 slides), makes for a fantastic day out. You can easily spend a good part of your day here.
Watch all the real time fun HERE
View this post on Instagram
🗺 Address: River and Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows, Henley-on-thames, Oxfordshire, RG9 1BF
Opening hours: usually Thursday to Monday, 10am to 4pm, but open EVERYDAY during half-term (week of 21 February 2022) including Tuesday and Wednesday– Read more at River & Rowing Museum
📅 Different activities continue throughout the season. There are FREE Wind in the Willows themed activities on 19th-23rd, plus 26th and 27th February 2022, and they are planning on doing themed activity during easter too (please see WEBSITE for more details)
🎟 Entry fee applies (adult 9£, child 6£, under 4sfree)-please see website for more uptodate prices
🚘 The Museum has a large car park, offering car parking for Museum, Shop and Cafe visitors at a cost of £1.50 for up to 1 hour, £3.50 for 1-2 hours, £4 for 2-3 hours, £5.50 for 3-4 hours and £10 all day. The car park is open from 9am (one hour before the Museum opens at 10am) and closes at 5pm (an hour after the Museum closes at 4pm). This is a cashless, ticketless system and payment is made on exit. Blue Badge holders are exempt from parking charges. Please simply show your Blue Badge at the Museum’s front desk
There is also a lot of spaces outside the museum for Mills meadows, charged at the same rate, so you can park in either places
🚻 Toilets on site
🍕 Cafe on site, with really friendly staff – Click here to see the full menu RRM Chocolate Cafe Menu Winter 2021.
🧺 Picnic not possible within the museum but you can do so outside near the river
🐕 Only assistance dogs are permitted within the museum. Dogs are welcome on the terrace
You can also do Wind in the Willows Riverside Trail – available from the museum and downloadable to your phone.
What else can you do?
If you think something needs updating on this post, please contact us HERE