Day trip to the Bletchley Park Museum

Can you keep a secret? Bletchley Park, the hub of WW2 codebreakers in the UK, is a fascinating day trip from London and Birmingham. Now a museum, showcasing the history of how decoding messages helped the allied forces win the war, it can easily be reached by train. I’ve put together this guide so you know what to expect at the Bletchley Park Museum – including how to get there, the highlights, the exhibition and what else there is to do in the area.

Bletchley Park Museum WW1 display CREDIT_ © Minka Guides

Location and how to get to Bletchley Park

The Bletchley Park Museum is in Bletchley, a small, satellite town on the edges of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England. The museum is across the road from the station, making it an ideal day trip by train. I caught a direct service from London’s Euston station, which took just under an hour, and this train also runs from Birmingham too.

There is free onsite parking if you fancy a drive, but considering how close to the train station Bletchley Park is, it’s definitely very convenient (and cheap) to use public transport, especially if you book in advance.

Address: Bletchley Park, Sherwood Dr, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK3 6EB
Phone: +44 (0)1908 640404
Opening hours: open 7 days a week.
Summer season (March – October): 09:30-17:00 (last admission at 16:00)
Winter season (November – February): 09:30-16:00 (last admission at 15:00)
Website

Bletchley Park Museum entrance CREDIT_ © Minka Guides

Ticket prices at Bletchley Park

Tickets to the Bletchley Park Museum can be booked in advance or bought on the day, although it’s highly recommended that you book just in case it’s a busy day.

Ticket prices are currently:
Adults – £20.00
Concessions (over 60s and students) – £17.50
Children 12 to 17 – £12.00
Children under 12 – FREE
Family Ticket (2 adults + 2 children aged 12 to 17) – £52.00

The best thing about your ticket is that it’s an annual pass, so you can return as many times as you like over the next 12 months if you’re really keen on WW2 history.

Bletchley Park Museum ticket CREDIT_ © Minka Guides

Bletchley Park also offers a free one-hour walking tour with your ticket. You can’t book this in advance but you can register for it upon arrival. Alternatively, pick up one of their Multimedia Guides – an audio tour with an interactive screen, that showcases the history and the stories behind different parts of the park. This was actually quite an interesting addition to my self-guided tour, with some quality video content. I’d definitely recommend picking one upon arrival.

Bletchley Park Museum multimedia guide CREDIT_ © Minka Guides

Where to stay near Bletchley Park

The Bletchley Park Museum is a great day trip, but if you’d rather stay overnight, here are some hotels located nearby:


Booking.com

Cafes and restaurants at Bletchley Park

The Bletchley Park Museum has two cafes – a small one in the Visitors Centre on arrival and a much larger one in Hut 4. The small one offered basic snacks plus tea and coffee, but the larger one offered a large range of lunch options, with ample seating both indoors and outside.

 

Housed in a former WW2 naval intelligence codebreaking hut, the food at Hut 4 looked great, especially as they offered a number of gluten-free and vegan options. I didn’t eat here (I went for a pub lunch nearby) but I’d definitely recommend checking out their menu online.

Bletchley Park also offers Afternoon Tea for £16.20 on selected Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, as long as you book 48 hours in advance. You can reserve this with your ticket in you’re interested and they are happy to accommodate any dietary requirements too, thankfully.

History of Bletchley Park

A large mansion was built on the Bletchley Park estate in the 1880s and was subsequently bought by the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (which would become MI6) in 1938. The unique location was its biggest selling point – the estate is close to a train station with links to London, Oxford and Cambridge. The Oxbridge universities were key to the SIS, supplying many of the code-breakers from among their students and academics.

Bletchley Park Museum mansion exterior CREDIT_ © Minka Guides

After the outbreak of WW2, the operation at Bletchley Park attracted some of the most brilliant minds of the time as codebreakers – both British and Polish. The most famous people to have worked there included Alan Turing (who developed the British Bombe Machine to crack the wartime Enigma code) and Bill Tutte (who deciphered the Lorenz machine code) from the UK, plus Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki from Poland, who were collectively the first to break the German Enigma code prior to the war.

At the height of WW2, some 9,000+ people worked at Bletchley Park, with 75% of the workforce comprised of women (including the ‘Wrens’ – Women’s Royal Naval Service). Despite the size of the operation, Bletchley Park was shrouded in secrecy, as was everyone who worked there, with details about what had happened there only emerging after Bletchley Park was declassified in the 1970s.

Postwar, Bletchley Park was used as a teacher-training college until it was turned into a museum in the mid-90s. In 2014, an £8 million restoration project was completed on the museum.

Bletchley Park Museum WW2 photo CREDIT_ © Minka Guides

Before you visit Bletchley Park

If you don’t know much about Bletchley Park’s role in WW2, I definitely recommend watching one of the films about it. Enigma, a 2001 thriller starring Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet and Saffron Burrows (plus a very young Nikolaj Coster-Waldau aka Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones), is based on a novel, so its a fictional story based around codebreaking at Bletchley Park. Sadly, the film wasn’t even filmed onsite but it is a really interesting insight into how fraught with tension and secrecy the lives of the staff were.

The Imitation Game (2014) is a very compelling biopic about the life of Alan Turing, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Mark Strong. The film really captures the pressure that was put upon the brilliant academics who worked at Bletchley Park to crack the codes and save lives. It also showcases how crushing the lives of LGBT+ people were before homosexuality was legalised in the UK. I definitely recommend watching this film.

My experience

I’d been really keen to visit the Bletchley Park Museum for a number of years. Partly because it provides a fascinating insight into how academics helped to the end the war early (experts say their work shortened the war by at least two years), but also because of the many women who worked here, at all levels, during WW2 and because of its association with LGBT+ icon, Alan Turing.

Bletchley Park Museum WW2 uniforms 2 CREDIT © Minka Guides

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so I was really surprised by how gorgeous the site is. Not just the glam mansion but also the lovely lake and lush grounds. It was an amazing place to visit on a sunny day in spring, with ample outdoor seating. While its an interesting place to visit during the winter, it has the added benefit of being a beautiful place to laze in the sunshine during the warmer months.

I nearly skipped picking up a Multimedia Guide, but I’m glad I grabbed one. As you wander around the site, they really add the experience, with both audio and visual information, history and stories. The Multimedia Guide is included with your ticket and can be collected from the Visitors Centre as you enter the park.

If there are two things I recommend doing at the very start, it would be to visit the pre-WW2 exhibition in the Visitors Centre, which showcases what intelligence gathering was like during WW1 and between the wars, setting the scene for how Bletchley Park rose to importance. The 11-minute D Day film, which is screened in a building near the lake as you enter, was also really good at contextualising a lot of what you see around the park. I didn’t watch it till the very end of my trip but it suddenly helped to piece a lot of information together and is actually a really well-produced multimedia screening about how the use of intelligence helped the allied forces gain the upper hand and win the war.

I expected there to be a huge focus on Alan Turing at the Bletchley Park Museum, especially considering his posthumous rise to fame since the release of the film about him. However, it seemed like the curators were keen to highlight that he didn’t work alone and was surrounded by a number of other brilliant minds who also made important achievements during the war. It was also really touching to see a monument to the Polish academics who worked there after Poland was occupied, sharing their knowledge in cracking the Enigma code.

Bletchley Park Museum Polish memorial CREDIT_ © Minka Guides

It was also really fascinating to see some of the technology from the period – including original Enigma machines, which were originally intended for coding financial transactions – plus a recreation of Turing’s British Bombe machines (which apparently took 13 years to recreate). It was also interesting to see how much work was not done by machines and how many people (particularly) women were used to do repetitive calculations every day.

Bletchley Park Museum British Bombe machine CREDIT_ © Minka Guides

The park is staffed by a number of local volunteers, who were more than happy to have a chat. They were really lovely and happy to answer any questions as you went around the park, telling you stories and history from a locals perspective, which was rather wonderful.

Things to do near Bletchley Park

While the restaurant at Hut4 in Bletchley Park looked really good, I was keen to see a little more of the area around Bletchley before jumping back on the train to London. I opted to go to The Three Trees for a pub lunch after visiting the museum. This pub is about a 20-minute walk from Bletchley Park and has a large restaurant and beer garden, both of which were packed with locals, which is usually a good sign.

I was really impressed by how many gluten-free options this pub had on their menu, and how huge the portions were. As they couldn’t guarantee that their chips were gluten-free, they gave two jacket potatoes with my burger. Suffice to say, I was absolutely stuffed after eating here.

Thankfully, across the road from the pub is a nature reserve that was the perfect place to walk off my lunch and immerse myself in a bit of wilderness before returning to London. The Blue Lagoon, as it is called, was originally a quarry or clay pit that flooded in the 1940s and gradually became quite a beautiful lake. It’s surrounded by some woodland and green fields, making it the perfect place for a wander on a sunny day and the perfect ending for a trip to Bletchley Park.

 

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Bletchley Park Museum @minkaguides

 

📌 Disclaimer: The Bletchley Park Museum kindly offered me a free ticket in exchange for writing a review and featuring it on my social media accounts. They made no editorial demands on me and this is a completely honest account of how I felt about my experience. As a general rule, I don’t write negative reviews: if I don’t like something, I don’t feature it. So, I obviously really liked it.

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