Best European Museums for Kids
All museums are not created equally; some are artistic, some are historical, and some are just odd. It’s hard to tell if the kids will enjoy them, and it’s frustrating when they don’t. As Family Travel Bloggers, we have tried many museums with the kids and we know which ones worked, and which ones just did not make the cut. These are the Best European Museums for kids based on real kids’ experiences.
In Edinburgh at age 9 my daughter loved the National Museum of Scotland and the Camera Obscura. The former is their Smithsonian squeezed into 1 museum. She loved the science and technology room. We didn’t get to the Natural History room (we almost didn’t get to see anything else because she wouldn’t leave the science room), but kids would like that as well as the kids’ areas in the history section. The Camera Obscura is a small museum but we spent 2 hours there because it is so full of cool hands-on activities involving light, shadows, optics and electricity.
My kids will behave for weeks with the promise of a Dinosaur Museum. We took them to the SaurierMuseum, just outside of Zurich, Switzerland and it was incredible. There are 10 fully mounted dinosaurs on display at the SaurierMuseum and all but one have been discovered by Kirby (the owner) and his team. The building itself used to be an old cotton spinning factory, hence the unusual layout and overall feeling. It is currently the largest and most important Dinosaur Museum in Europe.
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The Neanderthal Museum in Mettman, Germany was a delight. They had excellent audio guides and presentations throughout. It had statues and scenes to paint a perfect picture of Neanderthal life as we know it. It even showed evolution in several media formats and had several hands on sections that both children and adults could enjoy. The basement level has a rotating exhibit; the photo here is from the Duckomenta exhibit, where famous art works were recreated with ducks, and we went a second time when they historical periods recreated using Playmobil. Truly a child-friendly museum.
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Venture out of London and discover the location of one of Britain’s most important archaeological finds and a fascinating museum that is brilliant for kids. Sutton Hoo in Suffolk is the site of several royal Anglo-Saxon burial mounds and an exhibition hall that houses the treasures found inside.
The museum at Sutton Hoo showcases the excavation of the site and the historical significance of the items found there. Through a series of videos and interactive displays, you learn about the lives of the noble Anglo-Saxon people who lived in the area over 1,000 years ago. The highlight of the museum is a recreation of one of the wooden burial ships that you can climb inside and a replica of the famous helmet now housed at the British Museum.
We enjoyed the broad range of family activities including dress ups, discovery trails, and crafts suitable for both younger and older children. Throughout the year, outdoor displays and reenactments bring the site to life. Our kids were impressed with the “King” who strode through the fields with his knights and the blacksmith making armour.
The “Dino Museum” of Brussels, Belgium was very exciting for both children and adults alike. Between the Dinosaurs, Evolution Hall, and Gem stones on the lower level, and biodiversity exhibits on the upper levels, there is a little (or a lot) for everyone. This will take you a few hours to explore fully, even with racing children pulling you along.
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The Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne, Switzerland, is every child’s dream. There is a separate hanger for each mode of transportation; Trains, Cars, Boats, Airplane, and an open wide section in the centre with a pedalo pond and construction site. I could easily see us spending a whole day here, considering this museum is also attached to the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Factory Tour and a Planetarium Tour.
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The Monaco Oceanographic Museum (Musée Océanographique de Monaco) is a fabulously child-friendly oceanography museum exploring all aspects of the marine world, spectacularly located on the cliff face looking out to sea on the rock of Monaco.
It consists roughly of three sections: the main area with historical displays, an aquarium and a turtle enclosure. The highlight of the museum for children is undoubtedly the excellent aquarium – not big but perfectly sized for young kids – with a touch pool, shark lagoon and times to observe the fish being fed.
The main part of the museum is stuffed full of marine world curiosities, displayed in a charmingly old-fashioned way, full of oddities to capture the imagination. Among many other things you’ll find a whale skeleton and an enormous polar bear alongside 200 year old diving gear and all sorts of pickled sea monsters!
Finally “Turtle Island” is to be found on the roof terrace with 360° panoramic views of Monaco, the mountains, across to Italy and the Mediterranean Sea. Up here you’ll also find a restaurant and fun marine-themed play area for children to climb on and run around while parents sit back with a coffee and enjoy the setting.
The museum hosts temporary exhibitions as well as activities for children during school holidays. It is open every day of the year except the weekend of the Grand Prix in May and Christmas Day.
The London Transport Museum in London, England was exactly was this little guy needed to end his busy day. A scavenger hunt booklet was provided at the beginning of the tour and he was tasked with finding all the numbered stations and punching his booklet. He was able to get in the vehicles, touch everything, and play around in the various centres throughout the museum. Not as amazing as the Swiss Museum of Transport, but a very close second place.
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You can’t visit London with your kids and not take them to the Natural History Museum. Arrive before the doors open and still be prepared to wait in line, we were greeted by a giant Dinosaur fossil in the centre of the lobby. We went to the Dinosaur section first, since we had first that it would be the busiest section in the museum later in the day (they weren’t kidding, it was crazy busy by the time we left). Evolution upstairs, Biodiversity on the main floor, and everything else in between, munchkin needed a nap by the time he was done touring.
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The Medieval Museum in the heart of the Viking Triangle of Waterford, Ireland is a fantastic venue to teach children about Ireland’s medieval history. From seeing a real ancient monk’s dining hall to actual artifacts being studied by historians, this is the place to see history come alive. Wandering all around the museum you will find costumed “locals” that will teach you all about medieval times and how people lived, worked ate and dressed. There are many interactive stations for children to color and learn with their hands as well as videos teaching the history of medieval Ireland and the phases of rule that happened in this country. Kids will love the life sized mannequins wearing medieval clothing and armor along with all the weapons displayed as well as some for them to “practice” with
The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde just outside of Copenhagen, Denmark is one of my all time favourite museums. Not only can you learn about the Vikings, the ways they conquered lands and navigated seas without any help, you get to see their wonderful boats. The timbers of these ships, set out like big creaking bones across the museum, are just fascinating to walk around and imagine them bobbing up and down across the ocean. As part of the museum you can try on different outfits, sit in a reconstructed ship and in the summer even take to the seas in a model Viking ship. It’s a wonderful place.
The Darwin Museum in Moscow, Russia tells the story of evolution through the medium of 400,000 stuffed animals. It sounds like an odd sort of thing to inflict on anyone, let alone children, but then kids are usually sold on the word ‘taxidermy’, and hearing that there are three large buildings full of it. There’s everything from full sized giraffes, walruses and elephants through wolves, horses and every type of bird ever to take wing to the smallest of tree shrews. The fact that they are artfully arranged to very successfully and visually get across various points regarding one of the most important scientific theories of the modern world is just a bonus. It’s not single minded propaganda though, with areas showcasing the biodiversity of marine habitats, tropical rain-forests, the savannah, seashores and mountains. If that’s not enough, the museum has a wealth of interactive elements to spice up the displays calculated to appeal to those who like to get hands on with their educational experience. And there are giant live cockroaches in the annex next door, which also contains a number of natural history-themed multimedia experiences. All in all, it’s an extremely child-friendly cut above your average natural history museum.