Visiting a museum should be a pleasure, not an endurance test. It’s no fun for anyone dragging a tired, bored child around a museum. It’s not enough just to give them a worksheet to complete as they walk around – they need to be involved and engaged with what they’re seeing. If you’re looking for tips on how to make museums fun, read on…
When you’re travelling with children, particularly if you want to see the cultural sights, you need to find something to engage their interest. We always try and hunt out ways to make a museum come alive and turn it into a fun experience for all of us.
Luckily for us, lots of museums have already come up with brilliant ways to engage children whether it’s with interactive games or interesting workshops. We’ve gone one step further and searched out the best ideas for turning a museum visit into a fantastic day out. Whether you’re going on a dragon hunt, searching for treasure or having a sleepover here are our top tips for making museums fun.
Take it at their pace
Big museums like the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum and the British Museum are massive and can be overwhelming – no sane adult would contemplate seeing even half in one visit. When you’re visiting any museum with children, the best advice is to take it slow. Work out what they’re most interested in seeing and just do that.
Don’t try to fit too much in. It’s better to see one or two things well with an engaged or interested child than rush around with a child who is tired or grumpy. No one will get museum fatigue and you can spend more time looking at what you’re most interested in. It’s worth remembering that smaller and less well known museums are often less busy. When we were in Paris, we found that the Musée de l’Orangerie had a far more relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy the paintings than the Louvre.
Become a history detective
Lots of museums have fantastic activity backpacks for families to borrow as they explore the various rooms. The British Museum’s backpacks are filled with artefacts, dressing up clothes and things to do depending on which area you’re most interested in – Ancient Greece, Roman Britain or the Aztecs in Mexico. There are good backpacks at the Victoria & Albert Museum as well as a fantastic suitcase, Vincent’s Travelling Case, at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Go on a dragon hunt
Dragons are a big hit in our house. Our children love searching for unusual and fantastical creatures and museums instantly become more fun when you’re on a quest or a dragon hunt. We’ve found dragons and snakes in the opulent interiors of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, snakes and gargoyles at Pena Palace in Sintra, sea monsters and gruesome creatures in the cloisters of Lisbon’s Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and a dragon on the rooftop of the Casa Batllò in Barcelona.
Use a children’s audioguide
Most museums or historic houses have audioguides especially for children, usually narrated by a child. These can be a great way of engaging your child’s interest in what they’re seeing. We loved the audioguides at the Roman Baths in Bath and the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, where we were led around by a boy from the 17th century who was investigating a mysterious theft.
Go on a sleepover
Fancy sleeping next to a dinosaur? Children can have their very own sleepover at London’s Natural History Museum. Children aged from 7 to 11, accompanied by a parent, bring their pillows and pyjamas and follow a torchlit trail around the museum and watch a live science show.
Don’t let them get hungry
Hungry children (and their parents) can ruin a good museum visit. Several museums have picnic areas where you can eat a packed lunch and most museums have good cafés. We usually like to break up our museum visits by spending an hour there, then having lunch and returning for another hour.
Some museums have fabulous areas for a picnic or a café break. We recently discovered the wonderful Garden Café at the V & A Museum in London – a sunny courtyard with a shallow pond for children to paddle in.
Dress up in character
If you’re visiting a castle, dress up as a knight or a princess, if you’re going round the Roman Baths, why not dress up as a Roman centurion? Several museums have dressing up areas for children so it’s fun to try on lots of different costumes while you’re there. We particularly enjoyed visiting the Fashion Museum in Bath where you can try on lots of Victorian and Georgian dresses, top hats and bonnets.
Get creative in an art workshop
We love the fabulous art workshops offered in some of London’s best museums and galleries. The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery have family workshops inspired by the paintings on display. The sound pictures, where you create a piece of music inspired by a specific painting, are particularly good fun. The Design Museum has monthly Create and Make workshops and occasional three-hour design workshops for families.
For a guide to the best art workshops, take a look at The Ten Best Art Experiences in London.
Find a museum with a fantastic playground
Some museums are so interactive that they’re far more fun than any playground. Take the Science Museum’s new Wonderlab for example: you can go down a friction slide, make the Northern Lights in a tube and watch explosive demonstrations. At the London Transport Museum you can try the Tube train simulator or fly a cable car.
In the Royal Air Force Museum‘s interactive science gallery you can take the controls of a helicopter and test your reaction times and vision to see if you could become a pilot and at the Cité des Enfants science and technology museum in Paris you can play water games, fix a car and present the news on TV.
Let technology be your guide
If you’re struggling to persuade your kids away from their devices then let them be guided around the Louvre with a Nintendo or explore the giant atlas at London’s National Maritime Museum with a tablet which they can use to find out stories about explorers or set sail on an adventure. At the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam you can take part in a multimedia game to solve eight of the museum’s mysteries.
Search out the fun in the small and quirky
Quirky museums can be a lot of fun. We knew we were in for a good time when we walked into the Maisons Satie in Honfleur and saw a giant pear bouncing up and down on a pair of wings. The museum of composer, Erik Satie’s house in Normandy is packed with surrealist humour. My boys also loved the magic shows and illusions they discovered at the Musée de la Magie in Paris and at the Museu da Marioneta in Lisbon you can put on your own puppet show.
Take a family guided tour
Some of the larger museums offer guided tours aimed at families. The tour at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is particularly good – family groups are given equipment like magnifying glasses, torches and goggles to make the family experience that bit more fun and interactive.
Go on a treasure hunt
You can make any museum more fun by going on a scavenger hunt. THATMuse takes kids on fantastic treasure hunts around the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the British Museum in London. Teams of two to four people follow clues to various works of art around a chosen theme – beasts, animals and skulls are all popular choices for children aged 5 to 13.
Tailor the trip to the child’s interests
Your kids will be even more engaged if you make your museum visit all about their special interests so whether they’re into dinosaurs or dolls, dragons or aeroplanes you can find something that’s just for them. My two are really into Harry Potter so we’ve found Hogwarts-inspired cloisters at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon. We’ve gone hunting for dragons and pretended we were in Professor Snape’s Potions Class in the chemistry lab at Wonderlab at the Science Museum.
Try to avoid queueing
Long queues can spoil a good trip, especially with children. It’s best to book online for the most popular museums before you travel. If you haven’t been able to do this, try and arrive when the museum opens or later into the afternoon when it’s usually less busy.
Plan something relaxing to do afterwards
If you’ve spent a couple of hours visiting a museum, plan a fun but completely different activity to do afterwards, like searching for the best local ice cream, finding a great park to run around in or going out for cakes or hot chocolate.
Take a look at our guide to the Best Museums for children in London.
Have you been to any great museums lately? What are your favourite tips for successful museum visits? We’d love to know your tips on how to make museums fun for kids.
Take a look at some of our city guides which all have tips on how to make museums fun for kids in some of the best cities in the world.