Taking children to a museum isn’t as easy as it sounds. Some museums are too boring, some are too big, some are just right. How do you know which is right for your family? Many factors play into the decision, but a big part has to do with hands-on activities. After asking our Traveling Mom community, we’ve come up with this list of the Best Museums in the World for Families.
Best Museums in the World for Families
As Teaching Traveling Mom, I am a firm believer of exposing children to as many museums as possible. Even if the content of a museum is beyond them, there is still a chance they will take something away from it. Our children have visited close to a hundred museums. They have loved some and hated others, but they remember something about each and every one of them. So take your kids because there’s always something they can learn from the experience.
Mass MOCA – Berkshires, Massachusetts
Mass MOCA was recommended by Mindful Traveling Mom, Robin Hutson who has this to say about the 16-acres of repurposed brick buildings in the Berkshires. “Kidspace is an incredibly conceived children’s area that offers art experiences ideal for every age. It is an ideal first art museum for families who are weary of taking their children to a museum. Parents can find easy conversation to discuss the colorful works in the room from early walkers to teens. It is the first museum where we had to tell our kids it was time to go (we had brunch reservations, or we could have stayed another hour in this room alone.)” Kidspace has an area for children to create artwork and Robin recommends giving your child a camera so they can create their own memories.
American Museum of Natural History – New York City
Children who have seen the “Night at the Museum” movies will be delighted once they realize this was the setting for all of the films. Here families can find a T-Rex skeleton, a hall of gems and minerals, a wooly mammoth skeleton, a planetarium, and a hands-on discovery room. There are over 32 million specimens throughout the museum so plan on spending at least a few hours exploring.
Children’s Museum of the Low Country – Charleston
Children’s Museum of the Low Country is “one of the best museums in the city for families with young kids” says Sarah Gilliland, Twins Traveling Mom. Children can play musical instruments, make art at a “Creation Station”, or play in the Medieval Creativity Castle. There’s also a garden, pirate ship, and water play area, so rest assured kids will not complain of boredom.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – Indianapolis
This museum bills itself as the “world’s biggest and best children’s museum” and it’s easy to agree with that claim. The museum has five floors of hands-on activities, so plan on spending some time exploring all of the exhibits. Some of the favorites include: the Dinosphere with actual dinosaur fossils, Beyond Spaceship Earth the story of NASA and the space station, Dale Chihuly’s glassworks and kaleidoscope, and the playscape.
Museum of Science and Industry – Chicago
The Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, but don’t think kids won’t enjoy it. Quite the opposite. Kids will want to spend endless hours exploring the U-505 submarine, or playing with the machinery in the idea factory. Others might like learning about the science behind storms, and investigating how food finds its way to our table.
City Museum – St. Louis
This museum is actually a former shoe factory that has been transformed into a 600,000 square foot urban playground. The entire place is made from recycle parts. Airplanes, old bricks, tiles, all re-purposed to make things like ball pits, ladders, and obstacle courses. Plan on staying awhile, the kids will never want to leave.
¡Explora! Museum – Albuquerque
¡Explora! describes itself as: “part science center, part children’s museum, part free-choice school, part grandma’s attic, part grandpa’s garage, part laboratory, part neighborhood full of interesting people, and part of many people’s lives.” Who wouldn’t want to go play there all day? Kids can build, create, and take part in scientific experiments. They’ll never want to leave.
Exploratorium – San Francisco
Desert Traveling Mom Karen Heffren says: “The Exploratorium is amazing and a must visit for all kids from toddlers to teens. It houses over 600 science, nature, art and technology exhibits. Everyone is encouraged to touch and play, even adults! I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite exhibit because they cover anything and everything you can imagine and more. With so much to do and explore, we easily spent 1/2 of a day there without trying. We basically had to peel the kids away when we left.” Sounds like a rousing endorsement indeed.
Canadian Museum of History – Gatineau, Quebec
Sarah Pittard, Solo Traveling Mom, recommends the Canadian Museum of History. The museum celebrates the history and contributions of the First Peoples of Canada. Children will be awestruck by the Grand Hall with its massive totem poles and native houses. It also houses the Canadian Children’s Museum. The museum is developed around a central theme, “The Great Adventure”. Children receive passports as they travel from country to country and use the different exhibit spaces for play. The museum provides props and inquiry-based learning experiences for kids to make a full day at the museum.
British Museum – London
First and foremost, the British Museum is free, which can be hard to find in this day and age. It also happens to house one of the world’s most impressive collections of artifacts. Here you will find the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures, and Egyptian mummies. The museum has a Families Desk, where families can find everything from age appropriate treasure trails to art materials to carry along while kids explore the museum.
Leonardo da Vinci Museum – Florence
While it might be a lesser known museum, it is one that will entertain children more than the nearby Uffizi or Academia. This museum features reproductions of Leonardo’s sketches, made to scale. Each one has a description (in multiple languages) detailing the machines use and how they function. Some of the machines are hands-on, and kids can play in a room of mirrors. They also learn how the famous inventor was quite ahead of his time. It’s not the largest museum, but kids (and adults) of all ages will be fascinated by what’s inside.
The Viking Ship Museum – Roskilde, Denmark
Located a quick train ride from Copenhagen, this museum will entertain kids for hours. Families that make a reservation ahead of time can take a tour on the Roskilde Fjord in a traditional Nordic boat. If this isn’t possible, don’t despair as there is plenty to do at the museum. Traditional craftsmen work outside, as part of a “living museum” displaying their skills and encouraging children to join in. Inside the museum are five Viking ships pulled from the fjord, now on display for all to see. Children can also dress as Vikings and play on a replica Viking ship, and visit the boat yard where they reconstruct Viking ships to sail in the waters outside the museum.
Deutsches Museum – Munich
The Deutsches Museum was not only one of the first science technology museums in the world, but it also the largest, at over 50,000 square meters of exhibition space. There’s a re-created mine, full size planes, boats, and trains. The museum also has a large play space called Kids’ Kingdom for children ages 3 to 8 can engage in a multitude of activities. They can climb on a giant guitar, build their own marble race tracks, and create building block houses.