Six of the best: Historic ship museums

HMS VICTORY, PORTSMOUTH, UK

Admiral Nelson's famous warship was recently given an overhaul. You can now access the poop deck, both Nelson's and Captain Hardy's cabins and considerably more of the various interiors, while a new coat of new paint has returned the ship to the bright look it must have had in its Georgian heyday before it set sail for the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Informative volunteers are happy to chat about shipboard life for the 821 crew, and the workings of the incredibly cramped and claustrophobic warship. A nearby museum building displays further artefacts. See hms-victory.com

VIKING SHIP MUSEUM, OSLO, NORWAY

This small chapel-like museum is utterly wonderful, displaying three blackened Viking funeral ships dug up from peat bogs. The Oseberg ship is almost intact down to its serpent carvings and rows of oarsmen's benches, while the Gokstad is the largest original Viking ship in the world. Display cases are filled with the clothes, tools, game boards, jewellery, dragon carvings and other items belonging to the interred aristocrats on these ninth-century burial ships; there's even a ceremonial sledge and complete wagon. For anyone who loved Vikings as a child, it's a spellbinding look at the real thing. See khm.uio.no

HIKAWA MARU, YOKOHAMA, JAPAN

The tethered, decommissioned Hikawa Maru provides a fine glimpse of life on board a luxe 1930s cruise liner and later cargo ship, which served on the Yokohama-Seattle run until the 1960s. Visitors can wander around the decks before exploring the art deco dining room and cabins, which were the ultimate in luxe in their day. Ceilings and staircases are elaborate. You can also get a below-stairs glimpse of crew quarters and the engine room. A good video (subtitled in English) gives an overview of the ship's history, including a stint as a wartime hospital ship. See nyk.com/rekishi

VASA MUSEUM, STOCKHOLM

The royal flagship Vasa was designed to be the most powerful, state-of-the-art fighting vessel in the Baltic but, when it was launched in Stockholm harbour in 1628, it keeled over and sank. Salvaged in 1961 in a triumph of engineering, Vasa is considered the world's oldest identified, complete ship, right own to its gilded mermaids, gargoyles and an astonishing 700 wooden sculptures. The museum tells the tale of 17th-century warfare and gives an impressive account of naval life through the coins, tools, pewter ware, seamen's chests and even sailor's clothes recovered from the ship. See vasamuseet.se

See also: Worse than the Titanic: The huge ship that sank almost immediately

USS MIDWAY MUSEUM, SAN DIEGO

This aircraft carrier, once the world's largest ship, saw action for nearly 50 years, including during the Vietnam War and Gulf War. It's now one of the best-conceived (and hugely popular) ship museums anywhere, with multimedia shows and a host of family-friendly interactive exhibits, including flight simulators. The audio guide is narrated by some of the 4500 crew who served on board, and veterans-turned-volunteers are very informative. The Midway's vast flight deck houses 29 vintage military aircraft. You can tour the ship's bridge, jail and galley, and clamber into some of the aircrafts' cockpits. See midway.org

MARY ROSE MUSEUM, PORTSMOUTH

This museum has been comprehensively overhauled and the latest in CGI technology added to present this famous Tudor-era warship as never before. Mary Rose sank in 1545 after 30 years of successful naval action, and nine galleries adjacent to the wooden bones of the ship are an utterly compelling display of Tudor life, from intact medicine chests, uniforms, musical instruments and navigation equipment to minutiae such as silk ribbons and beer pots. The lives of some crew members are highlights alongside skeletons of archers and sailors that bring a moving human dimension to history. See maryrose.org

Brian Johnston travelled courtesy of Visit Britain and Visit Oslo, and visited other ships at his own expense.

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