Great European Museums – for www.takethefamily.com

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I admit to being slightly obsessed with museums and usually on holiday I sneakily plan to visit any museum in the vicinity, whether it’s a dry-as-dust, municipal cupboard or a sparkly, modern art wonder. The museums below are not necessarily the best children’s museums in Europe or indeed ones that are particularly child friendly, but ones that we have had a fabulous time in and that we feel do not get the credit they deserve. Give them a go, you won’t regret it.

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The new Acropolis Museum in Athens

Long anticipated, but worth the wait, the new Acropolis Museum finally opened in January 2009. It’s a magnificent space of marble and glass, allowing the actual Acropolis to be glimpsed through much of the gallery space. Its collection comes entirely from the Acropolis, so there are glaring absences where the Elgin Marbles should be.

It’s a wonderful place to introduce your children to the wonders of Ancient Greece, though unless you are a Classical scholar you’ll need a guide as the labelling is minimal. There is however, a movie to watch upstairs detailing the history of the Acropolis in English. Note of warning – wear trousers if you are a woman (or a Scotsman), the top floor is pretty much made of glass, leading to some embarrassing exposure in skirts. The guards seem to be very lenient about visitors stopping to take photos or draw, so bring some paper. A very good restaurant completes the picture and it only costs a euro to get in.

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Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon

This is a wonderful museum, though all too easily overlooked. Gulbenkian himself, was a fabulously wealthy oil magnate of Armenian birth who left much of his priceless art collection to a Lisbon based foundation. This museum was the result. It’s set in a lovely little park for the children to run around in and is like a miniature British Museum, being a great, eclectic collection of ‘stuff’. There are fabulous golden Egyptian masks and Persian cats and European masters and a world renowned collection of Lalique, (though that might appeal more to the parents). Get the children to devise a trail for you, where they choose a particular object and then set clues for you to follow.

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Nemo Museum in Amsterdam

This place seems to rate very highly with teenagers, but I’m sure little ones would love it just as much. A modern, interactive science museum designed specifically for children, its enormous fun. Health and safety issues don’t seem to figure so strongly in the Netherlands, so there are lots of exciting experiments to take part in and things to blow up and climb over. The museum has one rule, they say, and that is that you must touch everything… A welcome approach for British families who are more used to having to snatch children’s hands away before a guard arrives.

It’s an amazing looking building as well, something between a container ship and a car park located cleverly above a road tunnel. It’s quirky, educational, exciting and definitely worth a visit. It’s a little pricey, but I felt at the end of a full day of fun that it was worth it.

In the summer they transform the roof into a beach and let the parents rest there looking out over the glorious view, while the mini scientists go mad underneath.

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Jardin les Plantes in Paris

The main botanical garden in France, this beautiful place alongside the Seine, also houses four museums of the National Museum of Natural History: The Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum and the Etomology Museum. There is also a small zoo and a maze. This complex, although not as obviously fascinating as the Louvre etc, still deserves to be on everybody’s Paris itinerary. It’s perfect for children – when they get tired of exploring the displays, they can run around the park, visit the zoo, swelter in the greenhouses, visit the butterflies and get lost in the maze before visiting the Dinosaur bones. It’s located on Metro 5, so not difficult to get to.

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El Castell de Guadalest near Alicante, Spain

A fascinating little town, literally hanging from a cliff; although not strictly a museum itself, the whole town is in effect, a living monument and there are 15 museums within its walls. The main attraction though, is the ruined 12th Century castle and the lovely little streets leading up to it. This is an evocative and exciting place to take children, who love running through the ancient, twisting streets and popping in and out of some of the frankly bizarre little museums – some might have to be avoided – Museum of Torture anybody? Museum of the Magic Garden of Figures is a must. Maybe the best thing to do here though is take part in ‘Geocaching’ or in other words, ‘treasure hunting’. You start off in the town and armed with a GPS, walkie talkies and maps you hunt down ‘treasure’ hidden by other families. It’s lots of fun, especially for the teenagers and mainly takes place in the valley around the town. Contact Aktive Like for more details.

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Cites des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris

This is the biggest Science Museum in Europe – if you can imagine the Eden Project, the now defunct London Planetarium and the Science Museum rolled together and moved to Kew Gardens then you would be about there. It has a very well thought out and original youth department, where small children get to experiment, play with water and generally learn through having fun, while older children 7-12 have their own section and get to take part in all manners of science based madness. All the parents I saw there seemed to be having as much fun as their kids. After all the wonderful, but exhausting art museums that Paris has to offer, the chance to roll up your sleeves and get mucky is irresistible. There is also an IMAX cinema, a number of reasonable restaurants and loads of things to do. It’s on the Metro as well.

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The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland

For all those with budding Olympiads in their family, this museum, set in the beautiful City of Lausanne, right on Lake Geneva, is a must. It charts the history of the Olympic Games from its Ancient Greek roots to the modern game and houses many iconic objects: Carl Lewis’s Golden boots and Chris Boardman’s revolutionary bike for example. There is also a multitude of clever, interactive, multimedia features and a lovely park surrounding the museum which also displays sport-related art.

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National Musee des Enfants in Brussels, Belgium

A purpose built museum for children aged 4-12, this place is all about education, but the end result seems to be about having great fun. There are endless opportunities to plunge your hands into gloop, crawl through mirrored tunnels, play dress up in eccentric costumes and have a magical Alice in Wonderland ride. There are also workshops that you can sign up to at the front desk where in early 2010 we were able to follow the course of blood, take photos with an enormous camera and learn lots about the colour ‘red’.

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