When you think of including kid-friendly activities in your travel itinerary, the first instinct would be to think of adventure parks and play-oriented places.
However, I think we would be underestimating our children by limiting them to such things. While we do look out for such fun ideas, we also don’t shy away from immersing ourselves as a family in the culture of the country we are visiting. After all, there’s so much to learn from the world out there!
It’s also a good idea to expose children to cultural and historical trips, like taking them to museums and other places of significance. There is actually research that explains how taking the kids to museums are very beneficial to them! Visiting museums exposes children to ideas and concepts that they are not often exposed to and by doing so, they will be able to see how diverse thinking and expression can be. And when you’re pressed for time, which we usually are when we travel, museums and cultural centers give us a quick guide to the different perspectives of a land foreign to us.
Of course, you can’t take them to every museum in town. In our travels, we choose museums that would be appropriate for all our three kids and their different ages. These are places that feed their imagination and insatiable curiosity.
Sharing with you some of the best kid-friendly museums we’ve visited recently:
The Library of Congress in Washington DC
This is the first established cultural institution in the USA and the largest library in the world. The Library of Congress contains the largest and some of the most important books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections! And I think it is the most beautiful library we’ve ever seen too!
US Capitol in Washington DC
If you want a quick and comprehensive tour about the workings of a democratic government as well as the history of the USA’s political landscape, the US Capitol, where the US Congress sits, is a good place to start.
My kids and I had a quick but very informative tour about the country’s history, art, and government here – all in one hour.
The tour was interactive and my two boys really appreciated and enjoyed it! I highly recommend it (with or without kids). Plus, it’s free!
(Note: All museums in Washington DC are free, actually. I’m sure the others are worth exploring too.)
The Göreme Open Air Museum in Cappadocia
The Göreme Open Air Museum is a very unique museum and a must-visit when you’re in Turkey. Here, you will find rock-hewn architecture and amazing fresco technique.
This historical place began as an important Byzantine monastic settlement that housed some 20 monks. In the 17th century, it became a pilgrimage site from the 17th century featuring monastic Byzantine artistry in the rock-cut churches, chapels and monasteries.
Touring this museum is certainly a hands-on experience. Kids will enjoy exploring the dwellings, troglodyte villages, and underground towns that date back to the 4th century.
I do suggest that you get a tour guide to explain all the finer details about what life was like back then — particularly of early Christians of the area — and the beautiful frescoes on the walls inside the caves. All the cave-like monasteries were filled with beautiful wall art such as these. (Note that there were no “synthetic paints” back then.)
The Göreme Open Air Museum has been a member of UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984, and it is one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.
Göreme Open Air Museum
Müze Caddesi, Göreme, Turkey
Phone: +90 271 2167
The Underground City in Kaymakli
There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia and the Kaymakli Underground City is the widest one. It has 8 floors below ground, but only 4 of them are open to the public today.
Again, a guide will be helpful to have a better grasp the significance of these troglodyte cave-cities. They date back to around 1200BC (during the Hittites’ time) and expanded over the centuries as various marauding armies traversed Central Anatolia (present-day Turkey) in search of captives and plunder.
The caves were used by the local people until the 13th century AD. By then, they were being used mostly for storage on the first couple of levels. For the kids, they may feel intrigued by the maze-like spread, something like a honeycomb.
Exploration reveals ventilation shafts, a winery, massive stone doors, a food storage room, and various other large rooms and small tunnels.
Kaymakli Underground City
Kaymakli Kasabasi Kaymakli, Derinkuyu, Nevsehir, Turkey
(26km south of Göreme in the town of Kaymakli)
Best to coordinate with your travel agency or ask your hotel for assistance.
The National Gallery (Nasjonalgalleriet) in Oslo
The National Gallery, or Nasjonalgalleriet, contains Norway’s largest public collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures.
It may sound intimidating to bring kids (or even adults) to such an impressive place, but it’s worth it to bring them along here — especially since children below 18 get free admission!
Give them the time and space to explore and absorb the artwork.
And if they’re inspired to do so, let them pick up a pencil (choice of hard or soft) in the Drawing Room. They can create their own art by observing Gustav Vigeland’s sculpture Mother and Child (1907) which is positioned in the middle of the room. Or, let them draw from artpieces in any other room of the museum — it is not only acceptable, it is much encouraged.
Viking Ship Museum in Oslo
When in Norway, you must see the Viking Ships!
This place is especially perfect for those who love stories of adventure and have had an encounter with the Viking tales. They will come face to face with the world’s best-preserved Viking ship, this amazing Gokstad ship, which was used for voyages of exploration, trade and Viking raids.
For one of my sons, especially, this place was a dream come true! Here, we heard stories about the Vikings, their ships, and their conquests. (Of course, he needed to get a lot of Viking-inspired souvenirs.)
One impressive item on display is the Tune Ship, the first Viking ship to be excavated (in 1867) and is still the third-best preserved Viking ship in the world.
The Viking Ship Museum gives a peek to a very fascinating side of the Norwegian culture and clarifies a lot of our preconceived notions. Yes, both kids and adults, alike will enjoy this!
Fram Museum in Oslo
Oslo is certainly a wonderful city for cultural exploration. After the Viking Museum, we also had to see the museum dedicated to Norwegian polar expeditions: the Fram Museum. The polar ship, the Fram, used by Fridtjof Nansen as is the centerpiece here. It is the world’s strongest wooden ship.
The kids will enjoy learning about how this ship was the first one built in Norway especially for polar research and how it was used in three important expeditions in the late 1800s.
What’s more, they get to go on the ship and explore!
Polar Museum (Polarmuseet) in Tromsø
The Polar Museum (Polarmuseet) is one of Norway’s top ten museums, with exhibits featuring fascinating information about Arctic hunting and Polar explorers — and polar bears!
Tromsø was known as the “gateway to the Arctic” in the 1800s and for good reason. Here, many polar expeditions took place.
The Polar Museum exhibits this polar seafaring tradition, history, and culture. It introduces the men and women who are polar expedition legends, as well as the equipment and ships used for life on the sea and in the Arctic.
Tromsø Museum Universitetsmuseet, Universitetet i Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø
Phone: 77 62 33 60 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Website
If you want to find out more what you and your kids can do together (and make them smarter), I’ve got 101 tips for you! Just click here.