5 Tips for Visiting World-Class Museums with Kids
With the news that ISIS bulldozed a museum near Mosul, holding some 173 Assyrian artifacts dating back 3,300 years in the ancient city of Nimrud, I showed my two children the pictures from the newspaper. We had just visited and taken pictures with the iconic human-headed winged lion at the Louvre Museum in Paris. “Wow,” they said. They remembered. A connection was made. While an art museum may not be the most popular destination with our two children, we try to inject some history and culture into each trip. The following are some of my tips for visiting large, world-class museums with children.
1. Manage Expectations
We schedule about two hours inside an art museum. There is a point when our kids get tired and need a break. If they can do more, we do more. But we have found that the tipping point happens around two hours for us. Complaining begins. Ice cream negotiations ensue. Every family has their limits.
You’re not going to see everything, and this is hard to admit. You travel halfway across the globe to finally see the British Museum, and jet lag happens. Give yourselves some margin and space for what is normal. It will not only relieve the tension but help everyone enjoy the family vacation.
2. Enter First or Last
There is a great line from the movie Margin Call in which the CEO played by Jeremy Irons advises on how to get ahead, “There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat. And I don’t cheat.” If you are visiting a world-class museum to see the most popular exhibits, get there first.
At the Louvre, we got a clear picture of the family and Mona Lisa before hundreds of people suddenly rushed in. At the Tower of London, we rode the conveyor belt three times to see the Crown Jewels before the small room felt like a subway train during rush hour. Being first is great when everyone is on board. Try it once and you’ll be hooked.
Conversely, the last two hours or hour is also a great time to visit popular sites. At the end of the day, the crowds thin out around dinner time. Museums such as the National Air and Space in Washington, D.C. close at 7:30 pm in the summer.
3. See the Other Exhibits
In reality, most people and tour groups visit only a handful of the most well-known exhibits. While you could be there first and plan your run accordingly, there is so much more to see with little or no crowds. The iconic human-headed, winged lions from the Assyrian Empire are great examples. It was almost like having our own private exhibit after seeing the Mona Lisa and Statue of David at the Louvre Museum in Paris. We enjoyed the exhibit, which was no less amazing in significance and beauty.
4. Find Special Events for Kids
If you like museums, visiting them when they have special exhibits for families makes them even better. We spent Halloween at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. For $10, children can go Trick or Treating AND see the museum in the evening. The museum staff were dressed in costumes and handed out candy and gifts. It made for one of the most memorable Halloween events for our kids.
On Wednesday nights, the Philadelphia Museum of Art offers “Sketching in the Galleries” for anyone to try their hand at sketching artwork on view. On our visit, we were sketching sunflowers in the Van Gogh room. In another room, we played board games among great medieval works. It felt like we were sitting in our own living room but surrounded by priceless works of art.
World-class museums are doing a great job welcoming families and making museum visits more interactive and suitable to younger audiences. Look for these types of events before your visit.
5. Let the Kids Decide
It’s always interesting to me what interests my kids. Take a look at a museum’s website before your trip. See what interests them. Check if the museum will have audio devices or tours for younger audiences. Researching a museum website not only piques kids’ interests before the trip but also saves time finding what you really want to see.
I am finding that more and more museums have audio devices and children-friendly brochures and tours. Asking children to document a trip is also something they know how to do. My 10-year-old son currently likes to take video more than photography. He uses a GoPro to shoot video and take pictures everywhere. As someone who does not take much video, I look forward to seeing videos from his perspective.
You may also enjoy:
- Tips to Avoid Standing in Line
- For Great Family Vacations, Plan Around Special Events
- Save Money on Travel with City Pass and Memberships
- Free Museum Days in NYC, San Francisco and Los Angeles
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Eugene lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife have taken their two children to about 15 countries for work and vacation. Eugene is…