The top 10 science museums around the world

1. NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM, WASHINGTON DC, US

One of the 19 museums which make up Washington's incomparable Smithsonian Institute, this holds the world's largest and finest collection of truly historic aircraft and spacecraft. Which rival can boast three Wright brothers' planes? Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis, first to cross the Atlantic? The Bell X-1 which was the first plane to break the sound barrier? John Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule? Plus the Apollo 11 command module? There's something stunning about seeing objects that have actually returned safely from space – and something uplifting about realising how German aviator Otto Lilienthal invented the hang glider in 1891. Did you know it's the fifth-most visited museum on terra firma? See airandspace.si.edu/2. DEUTSCHES MUSEUM, MUNICH, GERMANY.Founded in 1903 on a small island on the Isar river, the world's largest science museum (in terms of exhibits) is also possibly the most photogenic – which is why it has also hosted concerts by The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Elton John. Its most famous drawcard isn't German, but a replica of the Altamira cave in northern Spain – the first to be discovered (in 1879) with Stone Age paintings made some 15,000 years ago. Originally dismissed as forgeries because no-one could imagine Stone Age ancestors having such artistic sensibilities, the real paintings in Spain have now been authenticated and are off-limits to all but highly credentialled scientists. See deutsches-museum.de/en

3. CITY OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY, PARIS, FRANCE

"The biggest science museum in Europe" (in terms of floor space), Cite des Science et de l'Industrie in the Parc de la Villette (reclaimed from the site of Napoleon's slaughterhouse precinct) celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. Exhibits include scientific exploration, medicine, space, botany and industry. It also contains a planetarium and children's playground (Cite des Enfants), and attracts an estimated five million visitors a year. See cite-sciences.fr/en/home/

4. SCIENCE MUSEUM, LONDON, UK

Founded in 1857, the museum celebrates its 160th anniversary in 2017 – and as you'd expect it contains jewels of the Industrial Revolution (including Stephenson's Rocket). But it is far from dusty. Its latest blockbuster exhibition, Robots, charts the 500-year crusade to "make machines human". Meanwhile the new Winton Gallery brings four centuries of mathematics to life (subsections include the mathematics of navigation and Florence Nightingale's pioneering work as a statistician). A superb place to entertain children without them realising they are being educated. See sciencemuseum.org.uk/

5. SHANGHAI SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUSEUM, CHINA

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Photo: Alamy

Huge? Of course, and it attracts three million visitors every year to its 13 permanent exhibitions (World of Robots, Cradle of Design, Children's Rainbow Land and Spiders among them). If you're looking for something more specifically Chinese, head for Spectrum of Life which displays the diversity of wildlife in Yunnan province. The museum has four science theatres (two of them IMAX screens). However, many overseas visitors head for the two temporary galleries. One (Chinese Ancient Science and Technology) showcases Chinese inventions from centuries past; the other (Explorer's Gallery) focuses on the cutting-edge science from contemporary Shanghai. See sstm.org.cn/kjg_web/html/kjg_english/portal/index/index.htm

6. ACADEMY OF NATURAL SCIENCES, PHILADELPHIA, US

Is this the second best science museum in the US? Possibly not, especially if you listen to its many American rivals (San Francisco's Exploratorium, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, Boston's Museum of Science or Seattle's Pacific Science Centre all have their advocates). However, it is the world's oldest natural science museum, founded in 1812, with a collection of 18 million specimens (count them). Part of Drexel University, the visitor is greeted by the open-jawed, sabre-toothed and terrifying 13-metre long skeleton of its famous T-Rex. Yet it is equally celebrated for its butterfly collection. See ansp.org/visit/

7. SCIENCE CITY, KOLKATA, INDIA

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Perhaps not the Calcutta of St Teresa, this new face of India (opened a decade ago) displays modern Kolkata. Its Earth Exploration Hall – split over two floors (representing either side of the Equator) – is the highlight. Concentrate on the ground floor, divided into 12 longitudinal segments dissecting our half of the globe. Hands-on (and kid friendly) multimedia exhibits will lead you to unexplored knowledge of the flora, fauna, geography and geology of our half of the world. See sciencecitykolkata.org.in

8. ONTARIO SCIENCE CENTRE, TORONTO, CANADA

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 Photo: Alamy

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Unveiled in 1969, this was one of the pioneers of the "hands-on" approach to science museums (metal-working was an early favourite). The centre still has hundreds of interactive exhibits ranging from geology and astronomy – via the science of music and human anatomy – to modern forms of communication. See ontariosciencecentre.ca/

9. NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, LONDON, BRITAIN

F57JXB Visitors inside the Central hall of the Natural History Museum Exhibition road South Kensington London England GB UK EU Europe str4-trav10science

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Two neighbouring British science museums in the top 10? But who can resist Waterhouse's Romanesque architecture (with its terracotta tiles scientifically chosen to resist Victorian London's soot)? Or the museum's unique association with Britain's two most famous naturalists – Sir David Attenborough and Charles Darwin (specimens collected by Darwin on his voyage on the Beagle are housed here). The huge Diplodocus cast that used to greet visitors as they entered the beautiful vaulted central hall was replaced earlier in 2017 by the skeleton of a blue whale (the current exhibition Whales: Beneath the surface ends on February 28, 2018).See nhm.ac.uk/

10. ARTSCIENCE MUSEUM, SINGAPORE

E3T02H The Singapore skyline at night with the ArtScience museum in the foreground. Singapore - Singapore skyline at night with the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands in the foreground.

Photo: Alamy

As the "new kid" on the block, the world's first "art/science" museum strikes a bold pose in the shadow of the Marina Bay Sands resort. Its architecture (by Moshe Safdie) is meant to represent either a "welcoming hand" or "a lotus flower". Opened in 2011, the museum's 21 galleries are largely devoted to "top notch" travelling exhibitions, but it's worth visiting alone for its Tang Dynasty Shipwreck Treasure. In 1998, a New Zealand archaeological salvage team discovered the wreck of a large 1200-year old Arab dhow filled with some of the oldest distinctively blue-and-white Tang Dynasty ceramics left on the planet. There's also a replica of the dhow – Jewel of Muscat – donated by the Oman government. See marinabaysands.com/museum

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