London: Navigating Museums With Kids

Tate Modern 

London’s museums make up six of the top 10 most visited attractions in the UK according to VisitEngland (nifty infographic of the top 50 by Perfect Stays UK).  The British Museum tops the list with more than 6.7 million visitors per year with several other favorites for families rounding out the Top 10: the National Gallery (#2), the Natural History Museum (#3), Tate Modern (#4), the Science Museum (#7), Victoria and Albert (#8).  The scope, grandeur and let’s face it – crowds – can be daunting with kids in tow.  The local’s secret to enjoying London’s best museums for kids?  Utilizing the fantastic family programs, ranging from free maps or even backpacks filled with missions to apps and multi-media seminars, and “Night at the Museum” style sleepovers.  As a general rule, family activities are on in full force on weekends, UK school holidays and summer.

The British Museum
The British Museum

The British Museum, does an amazing job of breaking down the behemoth (8 million items on view here!) for families. They offer child-friendly gallery maps and age appropriate (i.e. under 5s, 5 – 9, 7 – 11, 11 +) backpacks filled with activities that take about 90 minutes and explore one theme or area (Africa, Asia, Mummies, etc.).  From experience, kids tend to absorb and enjoy more if you focus on one section rather than dragging them to loads.  Favorite activity here, British Museum Broadcast: kids are invited to explore a part of the museum and create a news cast about it using equipment provided by Samsung.  They’ve mocked up studio with a green screen, professional video cameras, microphones and the teacher was a former BBC TV producer!   All of the digital workshops in the Samsung Center are fabulous, FREE and run monthly, but booking essential though surprisingly easy as not many people seem to know.  Shhh!  Six times a year, if you join as a Young Friend (25 GBP) there is the chance to sleepover at in the museum amongst the mummies (one adult required per two children.)  Overnights book up quickly, plan ahead.

Get there:  British Museum is in Bloomsbury, closest tubes:  Russell Square, Tottenham Court Road or Holborn. 

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No matter the age, Tate Modern is not to be missed with children, ticketed shows always amazing (on now is Calder and the permanent collection is colorful and engaging in broad, open galleries (ideal for strollers) and the whole lot unbelievably about to get much bigger with the new addition in June.  Top tip here: the 8 – 14s Studio,, free monthly sessions with the Tate artists in residence, currently sculptor Matt Shaw (!projects/c1fxi) the drop-in classes include all materials, make for an engaging, interactive break from looking around and tick the box for awkward tween-agers. Get kids excited before your trip with online TateKids activities (games, videos, projects)

Get there: Tate Modern is on the Southbank, closest tubes: Southwark, Blackfriars, St. Paul’s.

Science Museum, Natural History Museum and V&A:  these are all located in South Kensington within a few blocks of each other.  If you can’t manage all three (each could easily consume a day), the Science Museum probably wins by a hair over the Natural History, though if you have dinosaur lovers go directly there. Best way to navigate the Science Museum is to check the events calendar, on now is Cosmonauts, Leonardo da Vinci, and Churchill and Science, plus they have IMAX films, a flight simulator, gallery tours and shows ongoing that are free and very good. Top tip: Science Night, a sleepover for 7 – 11s held monthly (advance booking essential!) workshops, an IMAX film, behind the scenes look at exhibits.  Main highlight of the Natural History Museum is the Dinosaur area, it is spectacular, and here is where this museum offers a sleepover for 7-11s Dino-snores, (again, booking essential!).  If your kids are older, or not so dinosaur crazy, there’s plenty on offer, current exhibitions on solar system, wildlife, and butterflies.  The V & A is the most unique to London of all these museums, the tremendous collection of antiquities, paintings, and objects make it essential to utilize the maps and activities for families (mostly drop-in, so no need to book.)

Get there:  South Kensington tube. 

Not-so-obvious museums to try with kids:

Serpentine Gallery Compact and in the middle of Hyde Park, a perfect little dose of art for big or small, and in summer there’s the Pavilion, always stunning and catered by Fortnum & Mason. 

Somerset House the iconic historic building with its large courtyard and riverside location, is one of London’s most beautiful settings. Ongoing free and ticketed events for families, over Easter is a wildlife drawing class (30 GBP for one adult + one child).

National Portrait Gallery, with over 1,000 portraits from Henry VIII to Lady Di, this is one of London’s most fascinating and every Sunday there are free and well run family drop-in projects with all materials provided

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