The Bowes Museum

Barnard Castle Durham DL12 8NP

One of County Durham's most outstanding – and most unexpected – treats occupies a gloriously out-of-place19th-century French chateau in the heart of Teesdale, on the edge of the town of Barnard Castle. As The Bowes Museum (built by and named after avid, and extremely rich collectors John and Josephine Bowes), the building contains lavish collections of European fine and decorative art, from Old Masters to French porcelain – whether you're into textiles and costume, antique clocks and inlaid furniture or paintings and sculpture, there's bound to be something to here to capture your imagination. Generations of local kids have been brought here to see the museum's pride and joy, the preening 18th-century mechanical Silver Swan that's so precious it's only played once a day at 2pm. There's a really good exhibition programme – fashion and textiles are a speciality – and all sorts of children's activities, while if you head out in the pretty gardens and parkland you'll probably end up making a day of it. Picnics are welcomed, and there's a good café that you can visit without paying for entrance to the museum.

Places to stay near The Bowes Museum