Today we visited Fishbourne Roman Palace, just on the outskirts of Chichester, an easy drive from Portsmouth. Here you will find the largest collection of in-situ mosaic floors in Britain, laid around AD75-80, making them some of the oldest in the country. The attraction has a small museum, the main hall containing the mosaics, a recreated formal Roman garden, Collections Discovery Centre and a café.
From the moment we arrived we were impressed by the friendly and knowledgeable staff. We were directed to all the child friendly exhibits and told where to find baby changing facilities. Later on they were also extremely helpful in re-filling our children’s water bottles; I really can’t praise them enough.
The museum itself is small, but informative, and has plenty of child friendly interactive exhibits and games both of which kept my two children entertained. I took my son (20 months) and daughter (5) who each got something from the visit. The most popular by far of these were a chance to build a roman road, matching symbols with gods, dressing up and colouring. The museum has a lovely collection of roman clothes for children to dress up in and admire themselves in the mirror.
On hand was a member of staff dressed in costume explaining to visitors about Roman baths and giving them an opportunity to examine some exhibits more closely. Throughout our time at the museum, there were several talks and guided tours. Outside, spotted on our way in, was a Centurion putting a large group through their paces, on the grassed area near to the Collections Discovery Centre. The Collections Discovery Centre is home to all of the archaeological material discovered during the excavation of the Palace in the 1960s together with some of The Novium (Chichester District Museum) collection. You can arrange a guided tour of these collections by asking at reception. Not for us with such young children, but no doubt if you had older children this would be fascinating.
Lunch was a picnic in the grassed picnic area next to two grassed hillocks which I later discovered are the original spoil heaps from the excavations necessary to reveal the mosaic floors. The children spent quite some time expending energy running up and down these. There is a café on site offering reasonably priced light snacks and cakes if you prefer not to bother with packed lunches. The toilets are clean and there is a baby changing table in the antechamber to the ladies loo, which if not beautiful, is certainly functional. I am delighted to report that the museum is breastfeeding friendly, and there were at least two mothers spotted breastfeeding happily. The museum is also easy to navigate with a pushchair for the most part.
Duly fortified we headed into the main part of the building to examine the mosaic floors, and although I had previously seen pictures of them, were really quite breath taking. The suspended walkways allow you to view from a height and take in the detail. Towards the end of the hall, there are a number of children’s activities. As you might expect, there were foam tiles to make mosaics with, and building blocks for younger children. There were interactive programs on a computer, and a large exhibit on archaeology and some of the methods used, which my daughter in particular found extremely interesting. We had a go at coin rubbing and there are also a number of children’s books on roman history to look at.
Heading outside we walked around the gardens which have been recreated from the original late first century bedding trenches. Towards the end you will find a kitchen garden full of plants used by Romans in cooking and medicines including sloes, figs, artichokes and of course, grape vines. There are more interactive games and exhibits in the potting shed at the end of the garden.
Heading back for the obligatory visit to the gift shop we discovered some fun roman cut outs and spent some time posing as Romans and Celts. The gift shop carries a range of Roman, Celt and archaeology inspired gifts. books and souvenirs, with a good selection of items under £2 for the children.
All in all, a very enjoyable four/five hours or so, and well worth a visit. We paid for two adults (£8.70 each) and one child (£4.30) as my son is under 5 and therefore free. The total cost was £21.70. We attended on a non-event day and there was plenty to see and do. The museum runs regular events which you can check for on their website.
If you are planning to visit during the summer holiday then you can have some Summer Fun on Thursdays at the Museum during August. Summer Fun days will feature ancient crafts and things to make and do, roman costume, working with clay, Roman writing, food tasting and a chance to meet an archaeologist and hand some 2,000 year old artefacts. You can also see Gladiators in action on the 9th and 10th August when re-enactment group Britannia visit Fishbourne. They will be on hand to talk about their equipment and fighting tactics and there will be displays of gladiatorial contests in the formal Roman Garden. There will also be lots of hands on activities for the whole family. These extra activities are all included in the museum’s usual admission fees and will run from 11 am – 4 pm.
If you do visit, we’d love to know what you think – do leave a review on our listing and share your experiences with other local parents.