In 1899, the world's first children's museum opened in Brooklyn, New York. By 1990, the Unites States had a total of 118 museums dedicated to kids, making the country's model the go-to for children's museums around the world. And while the focus of each and every museum may vary, there are common threads that run through all children's museums: education, interaction, and play. Of course, there are several museums that have kid-friendly sections or programming, but we've aimed to (mostly) focus on museums that are specifically designed for kids. With play-heavy, hands-on environments, these museums inspire kids -- both young and old -- to have fun while learning. However, like regular museums, not all are created equal -- and this is by no means an exhaustive list. We've picked out 14 of the best museums for kids around the world. Some are world-class heavy hitters, and others are smaller spots with big messages, but they're all worth a trip and kid-approved.
1. The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York
The Strong National Museum of Play is an absolute gem for kids of all ages, and is a must-visit for travelers in or within driving distance to Rochester, New York. This 285,000-square-foot space is a palace of play where kids can climb and slide, hang out on Sesame Street, and get hands-on with a variety of interactive installations and games that span decades. There’s even a mini Wegmans supermarket where kids can “shop” and learn about nutrition. Adults beware: This museum has a Toy Hall of Fame and a high nostalgia quotient that will take you back to being a kid yourself.
2. Children's Museum of Indianapolis in Indianapolis, Indiana
We’d be remiss not to mention the largest children’s museum in the world. At the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, kids have access to nearly 480,000 square feet of exhibits and activities, plus a seven-and-a-half-acre outdoor area that encourages fun, physical activity in the name of childhood obesity. The Sports Legends Experience is open from March to November and has 11 mega-sized sports zones where kids can play team sports like baseball or soccer, or climb up to the ultimate tree house. Back in the museum, kids can learn about dinosaurs, their own impact in history, geology, and more.
3. Le Musee des Enfants in Brussels, Belgium
Le Musee des Enfants in Brussels made the list thanks to its philosophy of discovery, learning, and play through tactile experiences, not technology like computer and video games. Exhibits and activities swap out every four years, but they always encourage visitors to taste, feel, smell, and explore their way through the interactive space. This museum is geared more toward kids ages six to 12, though there are on-site baby changing stations and bottle heaters available for infants.
4. CosmoCaixa in Barcelona, Spain
After six years of renovation, the Science Museum of Barcelona reopened in 2004 with a new look, new name, and new exhibits. CosmoCaixa has eight permanent spaces, from a fossilized walk through time to a green building covered in plants that aims to expound and educate visitors on the culture of sustainability. There are also traveling exhibits and a host of activities that help kids flex their brain, spark their creativity, and just straight up entertain. Entrances to the permanent spaces are free, and there’s a small fee associated with each traveling exhibit and activity. Because of the higher level of education and activities, this museum is best suited for children already in school and familiar with a learning environment.
5. Junibacken in Stockholm, Sweden
The Junibacken museum in Stockholm is somewhat of a unicorn in a sea of children’s museums. While several of the museums on this list focus on play or science or exploration, this Swedish spot is all about getting kids ages two to eight excited about reading — you know, that thing we used to do before video games, computers, and cell phones. Lively sets and interactive performances crack open the world of books, poems, fairy-tales, and more. Children and parents become engulfed in a fantasy world that gives life to (mostly Swedish) literary characters and stories. Don’t skip out on riding the wildly popular Story Train.
6. Children's Museum of Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia
At over 16,000 square feet, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta (formerly Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta) is a massive space stuffed with interactive exhibits, a two-story climbing structure, and tons of hands-on activities. Tours are led by lively professional actors who find creative ways to inspire kids and school them on art, science, fitness, finance, history, and more. The museum is designed for kids ages zero to eight, and unique features include a summer camp, sensory-sensitive programming on Saturdays, and original mini-musicals performed by staff.
7. Pavilhão do Conhecimento in Lisbon, Portugal
Pavilhao do Conhecimento – Centro Ciência Viva is a huge science museum located in northwest Lisbon. Originally, the space was built and used for Expo ’98, but it was repurposed and reopened to the public in 1999 as a museum focused on educating visitors about science, technology, and society. In English, the name translates into the Pavilion of Knowledge, and you can expect enough activities and exhibits for a full-day visit. Permanent exhibitions give kids the chance to suit up as an astronaut, flex their contractor muscles, tinker with hands-on innovation, and enjoy sensory experiences aimed at giving visitors a whole new perspective, literally.
8. Papalote Museo del Nino in Mexico City, Mexico
Papalote Museo del Nino is a great spot for families to have fun while they learn to work together. This Mexico City museum is good for a wide range of kids, though it’s mostly in Spanish. However, this isn’t a big problem since much of the museum’s exhibits are interactive and fairly intuitive for young, creative minds. In fact, there’s so much to do here — oversized climbing structures, Lego building, big bubbles area, an IMAX theater with bilingual shows, and more — that most folks tend to spend about five hours exploring, if not the whole day. Luckily, there’s storage, parking, and several food options on-site, including a Subway and McDonalds. This may be designed with kids in mind, but don’t worry adults — there’s even a special night dedicated just for us kids at heart.
9. National Museum of Agriculture in Prague, Czech Republic
It may seem odd to include an agriculture museum on the list, but we love the National Museum of Agriculture in Prague for a forkful of reasons. Not only does the collection of vintage tractors outside catch the attention of kids of all ages, but this museum gives children an oft-overlooked peek into the world of food, from farm to table. The Gastronomy exhibition gives kids the chance to check out some traditional Czech dishes, learn about food processing, gets hands-on in the workshop kitchen, and use multiple senses to help identify different foods and spices. There are also exhibitions dedicated to fishing, tractors, water, discovery, and the history of agriculture. This museum is best for older kids. We recommend grabbing food from the museum restaurant and enjoying it on the rooftop garden, which features fruit trees, beehives, and great views over the city.
10. Muzej Iluzija (Museum of Illusions) in Zagreb, Croatia
Zagreb‘s Muzej Iluzija (Museum of Illusions) is like one big fun house. Full of quirky exhibits focused on mind-bending illusions, it’s the perfect way to spend the day (or at least a few hours) with kids. Turn your world upside down in the Rotated Room, challenge your spatial awareness in the Ames Room, or just peruse the museum’s many mirages and optical illusions. Kids seeking even more brain benders can hit the museum’s Smart Playroom where there are plenty of activities and puzzles to give your mind a workout. Dilemma world offers younger kids the chance to exercise and sharpen their decision-making skills, which can help build confidence.
11. Seoul Children's Museum in Seoul, South Korea
Traveling with young kids to Seoul? Seoul Children’s Museum is a must-stop play zone for younger kids up to age five. Located within a park, this museum has both indoor and outdoor activities for kids, all with interactive elements that aim to nurture imagination and learning. They also all happen to be built with eco-friendly materials that are safe for children and the environment. Kids are encouraged to let loose with expressive play, family cooking classes, and unique temporary exhibits like a rain room and rotating plays.
12. SantralIstanbul Energy Museum in Istanbul, Turkey
The energy debate is imperative to our future, which is why Turkey’s SantralIstanbul Energy Museum made our list. Before it was a free museum in Istanbul, it was used as a coal-firing energy plant. Old generating equipment was integrated into the museum’s design, and the plant’s original control room has been preserved. The ground floor houses the Energy Play Zone, where kids can experiment with over 22 interactive exhibits to create their own electricity, build magnetic structures, and more.
13. V&A Museum of Childhood in London, England
There are a handful of great kid-friendly museums in London, including the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, though we’re particularly smitten with the kid-centric V&A Museum of Childhood. Home to childhood memorabilia (clothes, games, and toys), this is a great spot for both parents and kids. However, this museum goes even further with children’s furniture collections, teaching tools, and objects crucial to the development of kids throughout the ages. The robot workshop and sandpit are favorites among kids, and guests can purchase Montessori activity packs for different age groups.
14. Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada
The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is the ultimate spot for dino die-hards. This large museum functions as research center and boasts over 130,000 fossils, several of which are from the surrounding areas in Alberta. Guests can take a chronological walk through through 3.9 billion years of life on earth, eye 40 dinosaur skeletons in the Dinosaur Hall, and get a glimpse of life in Alberta on land and underwater millions of years ago. A small window even offers visitors a behind-the-scenes look at researchers prepping fossil finds. Dino digs, fossil casting, and overnight stays are popular activities.
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