Horaay! The sun is out and the summer holidays are on their way. In a dream world, you could while away the sunny days of relaxing by the sea, under a big tree, the waves lapping and a gentle breeze keeping you cool – perhaps reading a novel or having a snooze – but it’s likely your children will have other ideas.
My suggestion would be to take a day of your adventures to visit a beautiful museum or gallery as a family. You wander around in beauty, learn new things and then have a lovely ice cream in the sunshine feeling very pleased with yourselves. Here are some top treasures in museums around the world I hope you and your children will enjoy.
Tipu’s Tiger, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England
Tipu’s Tiger is a life-sized carving of a tiger crouching over a British soldier, biting his head off. He was made for Tipu Sultan, an Indian ruler in the 1790s who didn’t like the British taking over his country. The carving is a big musical automaton; if you wind a handle sticking out of the tiger it plays the sound of the man screaming as he’s gobbled up by the tiger, although it is too fragile to be played these days. The tiger used to live in Tipu Sultan’s home in India but he was killed by British soliders and his home was looted and eventually the tiger ended up in the V and A.
If you’ve still got the energy you could check out the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum next door – don’t miss Hope, the blue whale that soars above your head as you enter the epic museum. Remember visitors to London are very lucky because most of the top museums are free!
The Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, France
The Palace of Versailles is just a short trip out of Paris. Its most impressive room is The Hall of Mirrors, built by Louis XIV to show off his wealth to visitors, host parties and for courtiers to meet. King Louis XV of France met his lover Madame de Pompadour here when he was dressed as a Yew tree and she as the goddess Diana. The Hall of Mirrors has 17 floor to ceiling mirrored arches that run along one wall of the lavish room, opposite 17 huge windows that look out onto the beautiful gardens full of sculptures, flowers – there’s even a 1,670 metre long canal. If you time it right you can wander the gardens accompanied by 17th century music and dancing fountains and feel like you’re in the 17th century. The Hall of Mirrors has gone down in history because in 1919 it was the room in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed, formally ending the First World War.
Gaudi’s Hanging Chain Model, the museum of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
If you’re visiting Barcelona this summer you’re sure to visit La Sagrada Familia which is one of the city’s icons, a vast cathedral built by famous Spanish architect Antonia Gaudi. Gaudi’s buildings have shaped the city. Most architects work by drawing and doing lots of measuring with rulers but not Gaudi. He invented an ingenious way of designing buildings where he made scale models out of chains with weights on the end. He would design the space by moving the chains and weights around until he had the space just right. They created the space in miniature upside down but then used a mirror or photos to see how it would look the right way up. Not surprisingly Gaudi is the only architect to work this way. You can see his model for the Sagrada Familia in the museum on site: it is such a complicated building that it is still being built. Scheduled date for completion is 2026, one hundred years after it began – manana manana…
The Titanosaur, The American Museum of Natural History, New York, America
The American Museum of Natural History is famous amongst children all over the world because it is where Night At the Museum was filmed. If you visit you can see some of the real exhibits that star in the film including an Easter Island statue, a Capuchin Monkey, American Bison and a mammoth that lived 11,000 years ago. My top pick from this museum would be the Titanosaur. It’s the largest dinosaur that ever lived, and is so big his head sticks out the door of his room! After you’ve filled your brains with all the best things the museum has to offer, Central Park is right outside waiting for you to enjoy.
New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand
The Colossal Squid is the largest species of squid in the world. This is the only colossal squid on display on earth – it’s very rare to find a complete one like this as they live in the very deep ocean. This one was caught by mistake in 2007 in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. A fishing boat caught a toothfish that the squid happened to be eating; the squid wouldn’t let go, so it was dragged up to the surface too. The fishermen hauled the enormous creature on board and froze it, then brought it to the Te Papa Tongarewa museum where it was defrosted in a big bath of salty water and then dissected so that biologists could find out some secrets of the colossal squid. This was shown live online so children could call in with questions. They found out that she’s female and her eyes are the biggest of any creature on earths.
The Terracotta Warriors, Lintong District, China
When in China with your children you may well want to make the journey to see the world famous Terracotta Army, it’s quite a schlep from Beijing but it is an adventure they’re likely to love. Deep inside a hill in central China you’ll find an emperor buried in a tomb, which has yet to be opened. Around him is a city filled with everything an emperor might need to make his life in the afterlife a comfortable one, including a life-sized army made of clay – these are the Terracotta Warriors. They’re accompanied by acrobats, palaces, musicians and other useful things the emperor might need. They’re now the colour of clay but originally they were a brightly painted, colourful army.
Molly Oldfield is a writer. Her new book Wonders of the World’s Museums is a guide to the most interesting treasures in museums around the world, for children. It is packed full of stories and facts and is written to inspire little people to have big adventures in museums and in life. It is available in bookshops as well as on Amazon.