10 Tips For Museums & Travel Tours With Kids!

August 17, 2010

family travel having fun in museum with kids best tips

How can you get the most educational value out of your family travel? Books and small, short, high quality tours have been keys for us that add so much in a fun, frugal and easy way. There are books for all ages about the places that you want to visit and reading them before, during and after travel helps keep it alive and more educational for kids.

Last summer we visited the famous Unesco World Heritage Site, the Melk Abbey on the Danube near Vienna in Austria's enchanting Wachou Valley wine country. We always try to add kid's books to the area we travel to, so before coming to Austria, we had our 8 year old, read "The Royal Diaries Marie Antoinette". She loved it and it effortlessly gave her tons of factual information and the essence of the Habsburg dynasty in the 1700's. It comes in handy again this summer when we visit France again & Versailles and as she studies the French Revolution.

family travel fun with mirrors in Europe Melk Abbey

Most of it takes place when Marie Antoinette was a young girl of 12 living in the Habsburg and Schonbrunn Palaces with her Mother, Empress Marie Theresa and family. The Royal Diaries is a fantastic series of historical fiction that is full of educational facts presented in a fun way for kids and we have many books in this series. It is geared for 9 to 12 year olds, but I even enjoyed it and learned things!

Reading  really pays off when it comes to travel, for kids and adults. After visiting the Abbey by ourselves ( by being the first to arrive) we did a one hour tour again with a guide in English. The Austrian tour guide was absolutely stunned that our 8 year old knew so much about the history of Austria! The tour starts with a picture of Empress Marie Theresa and her husband ( and Marie Antoinette's father) Emperor Frances of Lorraine near the  Habsburg crest and the royal wing where this royal family stayed when traveling from Vienna. 

Family travel museum tours for kids, books make the difference

 Our guide went out of her way to make it interesting for the kids and let them do hands on things like opening an old lock and having them guess and point out where they were in the abbey on a model of it. Mozart had read the book about a month ago, but the facts were presented in such an interesting way, that she still remembered most of it and had lots of great conversations with the tour guide because of it. She was thrilled to see the oldest book in the library that was hand written!

Family travel Europe museums, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world

We met another American family on the tour that made it extra fun for Mozart too as it is extremely rare that we run into American kids. They are living in Europe through the father's job in the military and were also big proponents of slow travel and taking advantage of the educational opportunities that come with travel and expat life. Their youngest child was only a few weeks older than Mozart and the next oldest was only a year older, so they became instant friends.

family travel kids having fun and learning in a museum tour 

Family travel meeting other kids in Europe 

family travel doing a fun museum tour in Europe adding to the educational value

A funny moment came when the guide told us about a reusable coffin that they used in the monastery during hard times. Mozart piped up as only an 8 year old can, " Wow, that must have really stunk!" Everybody laughed, even the tour guide. Smart history, historical fiction and tour guides for kids don't forget to add all the bizarre and human elements of history that appeal to kids.



family travel with kids museums, church icons add value and learning 

Family travel in Melk Austria enjoying the Abbey and views

We parked our RV just steps from the Danube in Melk,  in a beautiful, mostly deserted, park-like campsite for over a month  to explore this area. ( We had planned a week here). It is a popular biking destination with bike paths and places to park them everywhere, so we used our bikes as our main mode of transportation, including our trips to the Melk Abbey which pleased our Mozart to no end. She especially liked riding at night as a family over a a bridge with ducks below along a well lit large road with the Melk Abbey looking down at us from above.


Here are our top tips for getting the most out of tours and museums with kids. What are yours?

1) Read books on the subject before, during and after

 I can't say enough about books and what they add. I've talked about it before and have a list of books on our site as well as more on a post I wrote on Bootsnall's travel forum.

2) Buy a special book for sketches

Even the youngest child can draw in this special travel notebook and it not only is a great memoir to be kept forever ( remember to date them!) but also buys the adults more time in a museum! Always have colored pencils and paper or a notebook in your day pack like we did in Portugal.

3) Give them their own camera

Kid's see adults with their own bags and cameras, so feel very grown up when they are allowed this privilege. I let Mozart  even take pictures at two years old and she has had her own camera from the start of our world tour ( when she was 5) and has taken some great photo shots. Some from a perspective that we would never have thought of and some of the nicest ones of her dad and I as a couple.

As they get older, there is much one can teach them through photography plus video and using them online.

4) Ask for family tours or kid's tours or pick guides who are good with kids

It makes all the difference in the world if you have  a guide who likes and understands how to engage children. It does not necessarily have to be a special one, as we have found both males and females who were great with kids although they were not doing a special family only tour. If you have a choice of a few, pick the one that seems to have the best repor with your child.  Children or family focused opportunities can be special.

5 Make it fun

 Smart museums like the Guggenheim in Spain, have beautiful parks and playgrounds right next to or near their museums. Kids need to move and explore on their own, so always add free play time after a museum or tour ( . At the Melk Abbey they had gardens which became a playground of sorts for Mozart. It was a very hot day, so we even let her play in the garden's sprinklers and started a trend.

Inside the museum, you can pick 3 or 5 postcards and make a game of "who can find the post card pictures first". Kids often enjoy audio tapes in museums and sometimes they have them especially made for children ( although we have also used the adult ones for her even when Mozart was 5 at our start).

Family travel means kids at a museum in France

Use your creativity to find ways to keep them engaged by thinking like a child. Play I spy games. Play compare games. Many museums have special things for kids like scavenger hunts and more. Take part in them and use them to add ideas to other places.
6) Prepare for your visit, build anticipation & take your time once there.

 It really helps to plan ahead and include your child in the planning. Look up things online to add to your books. Teachers, homeschool parents, Youtube, travelers,  museums and educators of all kinds have lots of fascinating things on the web that can add to your child's "research" about their upcoming travels.

Watch movies that are set in the place or time period. Look for an after school class. Even for 5 year old Mozart, I found a great class for kids that taught French through a class that was based on the Madeline books and the students ( 5 years through 12) wrote and put on a play using what they learned in class.

It really helped and was one of the things I did to help Mozart ( at 5) to understand our world tour. I got books on world tours ( yes, even Babar took his kids on a world tour and there is a Phineous frog world tour for little ones! ) but I built most of the anticipation around her upcoming 6th birthday which we would celebrate in Paris at the Eiffel tower. Even her going away cake had a little Eiffel Tower on it ( kids love those icons).

For little ones, you need to start building a reality that they understand, about what exactly "Paris" ( or where ever your travels take you) is exactly. Books, movies, photos, games help you do this, so when you arrive they get a deeper sense of it and feel their own "anchors" to a place.

Less is more. If you only have a week, it's probably best to just go to one place. Better to know one place more deeply, than to rush here and there, then not be able to remember too much about any of the places. The longer that you can stay in a place, the more your child will feel a part of that place.

Become regulars at your local museums and don't be afraid to spend many days at one place ( we did that with the Melk Abbey and many other places including the Eiffel Tower and Granada's Alhambra). It can be a very different experience seeing them at night or at different times of the day. There are usually parts that you can visit without paying and may add to your ability to get more out of it when you do come back to pay or take a tour. 

Family travel kids at a museum in France having fun near an ancient statue

7)  Buy a small souvenir, book and/or postcards

We usually buy something small for Mozart where ever we go. She loves museum shops and souvenir shops, although we primarily browse and just window shop. It is fun to start a collection. Mozart has a collection of tiny pins from many of the places that she has been and really enjoys finding the "right" one.

Perhaps it is a bit of a bribe, but if kids know they will get some kind of treat at the end of a tour day or museum day, they tend to really look forward to these things. Mozart loves tour days!

8)  Encourage kids to keep a journal,  scrapbook or both

Kid's live in the now, so it helps to do a daily journal while traveling. When traveling make it a habit to always do it daily. Find a time that works for you. We tend to do it after supper and if we miss that slot of time then after breakfast the next day. ( We tend to schedule a relaxing day after a full day of touring).

Even the little ones can draw pictures of what they liked best in their day and encourage older children to do a certain amount of pages and to add drawings.

9)  Make fun rituals with pictures or videos

We like to do fun photos with mirrors as we did here, the Dali Museum and other places. We also often do videos of Mozart playing her violin at key spots. Some families always take a certain pose. We also often take along a little bear with us as we tour "for the children" as Mozart says, because we participate in Teddy Bears Around The World, when we have time, with school kids from around the world.

10) Go at a kid's pace not an adult pace and bring healthy snacks and water

 Kids do not allow you to focus in a museum or a church at the same pace as one can do as an individual or couple. It can be a lot of fun with kids, but it is just different and it's best to keep moving.  Bring a book and something for them to draw with. That can buy you time ( keeping them occupied) while you linger. Even an interested kid will not usually have the same intensity of interest that an adult does and boring them to death will be a good way to ruin museums for them.

With an "only" child we have advantages because we "outnumber" her and can take turns. Still family travel only works when everyone is happy, so it's always best to pace things around the youngest member. Be prepared for breaks and have water and healthy snacks at the ready. ( We usually take apples and almonds or walnuts along with water & talked about cheap healthy food for traveling in Europe earlier).

What are your best tips for doing museum and tours with kids? 

family travel in Spain kids learning and educational travel tips

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Fabulous tips! Many of our excursions have been saved by handing over the camera or offering a visit to the museum shop afterward. And my kids love pasting brochures and ticket stubs from places visited into a journal.


This was a very helpful post. I'm planning on visiting an art museum in the next week or so and I'll definitely be more prepared to have a successful outing.

I love the pictures, especially the first one. Getting there early and having the place all to yourselves seems like the way to go. Like you, we also read all the books we can find before arriving at our destination. We also look on wikipedia before or after to cement the information in our minds. This is homeschooling at its best.


Terrific tips!
These can be used when traveling abroad or visiting a museum in your own back yard.


Nicole - It is really easy to build in the love of museums, isn't it? My dad did it with us, so I'm happy to pass on this habit. ;)


Jo - I'm so glad it was a help! We started learning many of these tricks at home as we started with museums in babyhood since we love them. ;) Sometimes late in the day is good too. This morning in Paris we saw most of the train get off very early at the Louvre...all tourists. We know from experience that the best time to go there is late in the day. The crowds have all pooped out by then. ;)


Jamie - Thanks and welcome! So true! We first learned some of them at home. My dad and mom even taught me some of these tricks as they took us to many museums in the US.

In some ways it is much easier at home because libraries and things like Netflix are easier to do there than while in a foreign country ( with no permanent address).


We've been taking our four year old twins to museums since they were babies, too. I always try to head first to whatever they seem most interested in at the time. We have a pass to the Art Institute in Chicago, and just a few weeks ago, we stopped at the Chinese art section to look at sketches of dragons because that's what my son is into. They also had a classical African band performance which was a hit because of all the drums (my son has his own drum set).

We are planning at least two weeks in Greece next fall, so I plan to introduce tons to the kids before hand including going to the Greek Festival in Chicago, doing lots of hands-on projects from books like Spend the Day in Ancient Greece, cook Greek food, and have them listen in as I work on my Greek Rosetta Stone CD's. We'll also read the Magic Treehouse book on the Olympic Games since we will visit Olympia and watch DVD's about Greece.

I just realized they will be the same age as Mozart when she first went to Greece. Cool!


Christina - Cool! Those are exactly the kinds of things we did with Mozart from birth and still do. Little kids can really get a lot out of them and an grow an appreciation that lasts forever.

Mozart often incorporates museums in her pretend play. Recently she wrote about a dream home in one of her "books" that she was writing & of course they had a huge museum room in their home. LOL.

Do those kinds of things connected to travel before, during and after and it will help them remember it forever. Mozart still remembers here time in Greece and Turkey.

She still loves Greek & Roman myths & considers being an archeologist ( when she is not considering being a doctor, world traveler, actress, etc).


Amazing one! I’ve been reading your post for the last half an hour, and it all has been really informative and well written.
The Museums you show to kids is the best part of your article.

Thanks for sharing this lovely post!

Holy Land Tours

Wonderful in putting such great value to children. Introducing them to arts and music at early age is key to well development of children.

Dave and Deb

Excellent tips and very cute photos. It would be a treat to run into fellow Americans for Mozart. She looks like she had a great time.


Great tips and what a great attitude you have to travel and learning with your daughter.

I love that children see things from a different perspective and letting them have a camera really enables you to see that. We chose a standard canon camera for our daughter at £49 it was cheaper than some of the 'kids' cameras, is much sturdier and the shutter speed is much faster.

I wish I'd written down some of my daughter's comments following museum visits - they have no perspective of what they have to like just because it's old or expensive - like the painting in the Thyssen in Madrid of 'the lady that looks like she needs to go to a doctor'. Really enjoying reading your blog - thanks for sharing your experiences.


Great tips! My parents always used to quiz me and my sister after we'd been to a museum or similarly educational travel destination. I used to love it, and it really helped me retain the information!

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