The Ulster Museum On Stranmillis Road in Belfast has historic origins, and was first opened to the public in 1833 for a small admission charge. The museum gained the status of a National Museum in 1962, and this prompted a sizeable extension to the original building as well as some sizeable art acquisitions such as a Gainsborough portrait of the First Marquis of Donegall, a Reynolds portrait of Theodosia Magill, later the First Countess of Clanwilliam, a 12ft high canvas of St Christopher by the 17th century Flemish master Jacob Jordaens and a 12ft wide 'veil painting' by the post-war American artist Morris Louis.
Today The Ulster Museum offers something for everyone:
The Ulster Museum houses an impressive art collection including paintings, sculpture, works on paper - watercolours, prints and drawings, furniture, fashion, textiles, silver and metalwork, jewellery, pottery and porcelain, glass, dolls and toys.
Highlights from this collection include paintings from the Continental Old masters such as Jan van der Heyden, Jacob Jordaens, Jacob van Oost and Lorenzo Lippi, and drawings from John Henry Fuseli, Polidoro da Caravaggio, and work of a more local nature by Andrew Nicholl.
The Ulster Museum also offers some great historical exhibits. The most notable being the exhibition Conflict: The Irish at War. The museum's website describes this exhibition as
"examining the history of warfare in Ireland from the arrival of the first settlers 10,000 years ago to the present day. This story is presented through a series of 'snapshots' focusing on periods and events, and illustrated using mostly objects from the collections in the Ulster Museum, with a few borrowed from other institutions and private individuals. "
You can whet your appetite for this exhibit by looking at the Ulster Museums Confilct Online Tour
The Ulster Museum is a great venue for a family outing. It is not just cheap but FREE! Child and adult alike will enjoy their time there. Children will be particularly interested in Tommy and his turtle buddies and the Egyptian collection which as well as many authentic Egyptian artifacts features a real life (?) Egyptian Mummy!
The museum hosts many family events and in the front Hall you will find the Family Activities board, where you will find lots of activity sheets and trails for younger visitors to take to different exhibitions and galleries.
The best time to visit the museum for families is the last Sunday of the month when the museum hosts a backpack tour in which children are given a free activity backpack which contains activities, quizzes and much more. The packs are colour coded for younger and older children and are aimed specifically at the exhibitions and collections within the museum.
We took my younger brother (then eight years old) to one of the backpack tours last year and the found that it was a great way to keep his attention while exploring the museum. He had to examine the exhibits closely in order to answer his quiz questions, and activities such as coin rubbings, colouring pictures, and using an Egyptian head rest (which by the way I would NOT recommend for sleeping on!) made the experience a fun and yet educational one for us as well as him! It was the first time that we actually got to take time to look at the exhibits without being hurried around by a bored child who wants to see the Mummy then leave.