The Bowes Museum

From £15.50 To £18

The Bowes Museum is a large museum in Barnard Castle that features an extensive art collection with a particularly impressive collection of Spanish paintings.

The museum is housed in a magnificent French-style château and was founded in the 19th century by John and Joséphine Bowes. The opulent building and its array of world-class exhibits means that the Bowes Museum offers much more than you would expect from a museum in a town the size of Barnard Castle.

The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham (Photo: Alden Chadwick [CC BY-SA 2.0])
The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham (Photo: Alden Chadwick [CC BY-SA 2.0])

What to see at the Bowes Museum

Visitors to the Bowes Museum can expect to see an extensive collection of fine and decorative arts, spanning various periods and styles. This includes an impressive selection of European paintings, including masterpieces by renowned artists such as Goya, El Greco, and Canaletto. The rich tapestry of art continues with an assortment of sculptures, ceramics, and textiles from around the world, each offering a unique glimpse into diverse cultures and artistic expressions.

The Silver Swan is one of the highlights of the museum’s collection. This 18th-century automaton, crafted with intricate precision, is a life-size replica of a female swan with a mechanism comprising 2,000 moving parts that allows for a performance that gives an illusion of the swan in a stream of moving water, complete with swimming fish, turning its head side-to-side and preening itself.

The Silver Swan is the museum’s most well-known exhibit. This 18th-century automaton contains 2,000 moving parts with a performance where the swan appears to swim in water, turn its head and preen itself. (Photo: Bowes Museum)
The Silver Swan is the museum’s most well-known exhibit. This 18th-century automaton contains 2,000 moving parts with a performance where the swan appears to swim in water, turn its head and preen itself. (Photo: Bowes Museum)

The Bowes Museum also lets visitors explore the world of fashion through its Fashion and Textile Gallery. Showcasing an extensive collection of historic and contemporary garments, textiles, and accessories, this exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the evolution of fashion and style over the centuries.

The museum's Fashion and Textile Gallery. (Photo: Bowes Museum)
The museum’s Fashion and Textile Gallery. (Photo: Bowes Museum)

Temporary exhibitions at the Bowes Museum

In addition to its permanent collections, the museum hosts a programme of temporary exhibitions. Current and planned exhibitions include:

A Collector’s Story: A Private Collection of Vivienne Westwood
This exhibition (until 4 February 2024) showcases the private collection of Peter Smithson, which represents more than 25 years of clothing and fashion accessories produced by Vivienne Westwood.

Visiting the Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum is around a 10-minute walk from the town centre of Barnard Castle and, while there is a bus stop right outside the main entrance (bus routes 70 and 79 stop here), most people choose to take the short and pleasant walk to the museum.

Admission costs £18 but you can also get unlimited entry with an annual membership, which is only £15.50. Entry is free of charge if you have a National Art Pass.

The museum is open 10am–5pm year round and is only closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day.

The museum’s Cafe Bowes is a great place to stop for a late breakfast or lunch with a menu that includes traditional British dishes such as a full English breakfast, ploughman’s lunch or Welsh rarebit.

Cafe Bowes is a great place to stop for a late breakfast or lunch with a menu that includes traditional British dishes such as a full English breakfast, ploughman’s lunch or Welsh rarebit. (Photo: Bowes Museum)
Cafe Bowes is a great place to stop for a late breakfast or lunch with a menu that includes traditional British dishes such as a full English breakfast, ploughman’s lunch or Welsh rarebit. (Photo: Bowes Museum)

It is a much larger museum than you would expect to find in a relatively small town and you should allow 3–4 hours for your visit.

Amenities
  • Free guided tours
  • Cafe/restaurant
  • Gift shop

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