In a nutshell
The 2001 opening of this art and design museum in the centre of Sheffield was the first big project for independent charity Museums Sheffield. Big-name exhibitions, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings, sit alongside permanent displays of the city’s famous metalwork. Next up (29 May-15 Sept) is John Ruskin: Art and Wonder, celebrating the second centenary of Ruskin’s birth. An exhibition about a grumpy Victorian art critic may seem an unpromising attraction for kids but this is spiced up with crafts and carnivals. The show includes the iridescent rocks that first sparked his love of nature as a child, and his paintings of plants and animals.
Ruskin’s cats used to lap up the great man’s sherry, mess up his coin collection and leave paw prints on his paintings. Visitors can open desk drawers in the Ruskin Collection to discover aspects of his life, with his pets represented by a strokable toy cat.
Best thing about it
One of Europe’s largest urban glasshouses, with nearly 3,000 tropical plants, is just outside the doors at the far end of the gallery. The energy-efficient Winter Garden was created, along with the Millennium Gallery, as part of the £120m Heart of the City project. So, after crystals and cutlery, we strolled past bird-of-paradise plants and palm trees.
What about lunch?
New this year, and open all day, the museum’s revamped cafe, Ambulo, morphs from child-friendly restaurant to sophisticated evening bar. Not everyone is happy about the shift from canteen style to table service but the food is good, and there’s a clear commitment to families (high chairs, books and toys). An affordable, inventive kids’ menu features a breakfast pick and mix (from £2, base of yoghurt, porridge or toast, plus toppings). My teenager went for spaghetti with slow-cooked tomatoes (£7 on the grown-up menu) and a rich, elegant slice of custard tart with sorbet (£6). Coffee from £2.20, brunch from £7.
Exit through the gift shop?
It’s almost another gallery with its tempting displays of paints and colour wheels, local honey or Henderson’s Relish (the local answer to Worcestershire sauce). A big table of Ruskinalia includes mugs with quotes such as, “There is no wealth but life.” Apart from one or two pocket-money toys, it’s a tad pricey but then the museum itself is free.
A fun, five-minute walk from Sheffield railway station. Cross the road and head up pedestrianised, studenty Howard Street, past the half-timbered pub, huge murals and mosaic water feature. The Millennium Gallery has no dedicated parking but visitors can get 50% off the fee for the NCP Q-Park on Charles Street using a discount voucher from the museum.
Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm (8pm on Thursday); Sundays and bank holidays 11am-4pm. The Ambulo cafe is open daily 9am-9pm (10pm Friday and Saturday, 5pm Sunday)
Value for money
The Millennium Gallery (and its sister museums) are free – and so are the exhibitions. There’s a free quiz, too, in the metalwork gallery. Although it’s not a big museum, we managed to spend a happy afternoon exploring it, together with the Winter Garden and Graves Gallery (Sheffield’s art collection) over the road. We saw some toddlers enjoying themselves too, but, depending on their interests, young kids could be underwhelmed. It may be best to aim for an activity day. The creative half-term and holiday sessions suggest a £2 donation.
My son gave it “at least 8 out of 10” and loved the silverwork – geometric teapots, turtle soup tureen. Sheffield’s Doctor Who connections helped a bit; the brutalist apartment blocks at Park Hill, which featured in the latest series, were visible as we walked back to the station.
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