Visit England's Good to Go logo - a green tick on white backgroundGreat news! The Museum reopened on Tuesday the 8th of September 2020 – and it’s been great to have visitors back! During lockdown, it was a joy keeping up with so many people through our social media, and even though we can now have visitors back in person, we’re still sharing all sorts of entertaining and interesting content online.

Like so many of our favourite places, we have introduced several new features to the Museum, so that your visit will be as memorable and enjoyable as always, with extra safety and social distancing.

Below, find out everything you need to know about what’s new at The MERL, alongside information about getting here, our facilities, and more.

(Watch a version of this video with BSL interpretation on our Access page)


We want to ensure that everyone can feel safe and enjoy their trip to the Museum. So, to prevent the galleries from ever feeling too busy, we are introducing a booking system. We’re using Eventbrite, and you can now book a timed entry slot…


You can book a slot up to two weeks in advance.

You may arrive any time within your half hour slot, and stay as long as you like. If you arrive at the Museum without a booking, we will do everything we can to accommodate you, if capacity allows. But to avoid disappointment, we do strongly recommend booking ahead. Disappointment is the last thing we want anyone to experience here.

The Museum, shop, café and garden will be open from Tuesday to Sunday.

Please note: If you are a researcher intending to use the Museum’s reading room, library, or archive, then you will need to arrange a separate visit. Learn how to do this on our using the archive and library page.


Although there is no charge to visit the museum, we do encourage all visitors to leave a £5 donation if possible. Your donations are an incredibly important source of income for us, and help to fund our public programmes and other activities.

You can donate online now, or in cash or by card at the Museum shop.


We’re sorry. But you know we had to do it.

As with most places, we ask you to please be mindful of social distancing guidelines when moving through the Museum and to maintain a safe distance from people outside of your household or bubble. We have installed new, clear signs throughout the galleries that advise on this.



A shepherd leads his flock.
A shepherd leads his flock, just as our new shiny signage will guide you through our galleries.

To help everyone maintain social distancing, we have introduced a brand-new one-way system throughout the Museum galleries. Please follow it, and marvel at it.

The route follows a typical visit to the Museum, beginning in Shaping the Land and leading through the galleries until arriving at the Wagon Walk, where it exits onto the welcome space. You will be able to access ‘Digging Deeper’ and our open store from the welcome space. And if you are interested in viewing the Ladybird gallery, simply ask a member of our team.

The one-way route will be clearly marked out by signs, but if you have any questions about it, please ask a member of our team.


Photo of the sheep in the MERL.
Everyone in the galleries will be wearing a face covering – even the model sheep.

The latest Government guidelines state that everybody must wear a face covering when visiting a museum (so long as they are able to do so). We politely ask you to please follow this by wearing a face covering during your visit.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition that makes this impossible, then we completely understand.


Men after milking cows.
This photograph portrays two men cleaning their hands after milking the cows, which is exactly what you can pretend to do every time you visit the Museum.

We have installed hand sanitising stations throughout the Museum – at the entrance, at the toilets, and at the doors to the garden.

Please do wash your hands when you arrive and regularly throughout your visit.


Photograph of two women exchanging eggs.
After our reopening we will be requesting cashless payment throughout the museum. By which we mean contactless or card. If you arrive and intend to barter with a basket of eggs, your offer will certainly be considered but may inevitably be declined.

Our café will be reopening with a brand-new look. In fact, we think it’s even better than before. And it thinks so too. But we cordially invite you to join us and see for yourself!

Whilst you are here, treat yourself to a drink from the same range of delicious fair-trade teas, coffees and hot chocolates as always, as well as biscuits, snacks, cakes, sandwiches and ice-creams!

One important change is that, after our reopening, we will only be able to accept card or contactless payments. We are unable to accept cash payments moving forwards.

Alongside the café, we are excited to welcome you back to our shop, which will return with the same choice of artisanal products as ever, from a brilliant selection of local and independent makers and manufacturers.

To help with social distancing, we have removed some indoor seating in both the café and the Nook. However, there is lots of seating outside, thanks to the fact that you can…


Photo of the garden.
Welcome back to the garden – it has missed you just as much as we have!

The MERL garden is back! And there is plenty of space to picnic, play and relax.

To help everyone share the space safely, we have marked out different areas for your bubble or household to use. These may or may not resemble crop circles. Though we would like to assure you that there have been no UFO sightings at the Museum; only occasionally foxes, and curators.

We invite you to bring a picnic rug or a tablecloth to cover our picnic benches, which will be available for your use. In line with Government guidelines, the tractor in the garden will be available for our youngest visitors to play on, but the Shepherd’s Hut will remain closed.

Our two lovely chickens will be returning to the garden, but a little later on. Throughout our closure, they’ve been on (a rather luxurious) holiday at the home of one of our team, who built them their own five star coop and has been keeping us all informed of their antics and escapades. Once their holiday draws to a close, we will be sure to share the news of their return via our social media channels. Maybe they’ll post a selfie. And we can’t wait to see them too.


Photograph of a man
This photograph, taken by John Tarlton in Spain, depicts a farm worker keeping hydrated and taking a swig from an enormous jug. After our reopening we would ask you to please bring your own water with you, but we make no restrictions on the shape, size or style of your vessel of choice.

We have tried to keep open as much of the Museum as possible, only making essential alterations for health and safety reasons.

One change we have had to make is removing our water fountains. Instead, we encourage you to bring your own water. But please remember that we prohibit eating and drink in the galleries. The Museum objects really appreciate it.


A photograph of a shepherd holding two lambs.
The MERL has always had many different hands-on interactives for our youngest visitors to enjoy. We are exploring ways of altering these (and offering new online options) so that you can enjoy The MERL as much as always. More to be sheared soon!

Unfortunately, we have had to remove many of our lovely hands-on interactives, including the Museum’s wonderful toy farm, dressing up, touch-screen games and flip books. We are working hard to think of new digital ways of replacing them.

We will be unable to provide copies of our popular Museum trails, so we will be making them all available for you to download online for free!

We would love it if you could print these at home and bring them with you, along with any pencils, writing equipment, and/or clipboards that you might like to use.


Photograph of a woman painting a horse.
Whilst we have had to reduce the interactive interpretation in our galleries, we are thinking HARD about new ways for youand visitors of all agesto learn more about the collections and our objects’ stories. And you are always welcome to explore our online photos and paint at your leisure. Like this lady. We will manifest the energy of the donkey, cheering you on.

We’re delighted to say that all our galleries will be open as usual, alongside a brand-new exhibition featuring a spectacular farm toys collection that we acquired earlier this year!

We have had to remove touch screen interactives, information postcards and ‘paddles’, as well as locking the cabinet drawers containing archive information. However, we are exploring ways of making this information available digitally, so please keep an eye out for QR codes and links throughout the galleries, as well as new suggested activities for families to explore!

If you have any questions about accessing more details about our objects and collections, simply ask a member of our team!


A couple reading at home by a fireplace.
Welcome back to the reading room! Delve into our extensive library and collections belonging to both The MERL and the University of Reading. Dog, pipe and fireplace not included.

The reading room is back, and our library and archive collections are once again available for you to explore and consult.

We have reduced our opening hours, and we ask that you please book your space and request collections at least one week in advance. It means we can prepare everything for you in good time.

Learn more about planning your visit to the reading room.


Across the Museum we are all working tirelessly to ensure that a visit to The MERL will be as memorable and enjoyable as always.

If you have any queries about our reopening, or suggestions of things to include in our offer or changes to make, then we would be incredibly grateful to hear from you.

Please reach out to us by contacting our events team at or via any of our social media platforms! We would love to hear your thoughts.

You can find further helpful information on our reopening FAQs, or our brand new video!