You’ll want to find a balance between seeing the cultural sites that brought you to your destination and having delightful experiences with your kids. We think it’s great to do both. You’ll probably be surprised at how much fun you have at the “children’s” attractions and what they teach you about local culture. If you work at making the “grown up” attractions fun for your kids, you’ll probably be surprised at how much they take in and how much they enjoy them.
It’s helpful to show up in each destination you are visiting with a list of activities along with their addresses. Here are some tips on putting together a good list
Cutting out the lines
Waiting in lines can put everyone in a foul mood. There are several ways to avoid the lines:
Visiting Art Museums with Kids
For example, I don’t expect my kids to take in the entire Louvre, but they do go with me to museums and we try to find an area that’s especially fun for them. For example, the Louvre has an underground castle. When we’re looking at paintings, I try to prioritize and move quickly (and don’t expect to take everything in within a single day) but I also try to engage the kids. One trick is to buy some postcards of the artworks in the museum bookstore, then ask your kids to match them up once inside. Here are some examples of things I might ask the kids as we tour the exhibits:
Mostly, though, I’m careful to respect their limits and take a break or leave when they get bored. An appreciation of art is a lifelong gift, and I don’t want to turn them off of museums as a whole while they’re young, there is plenty of time later for them to learn about the major art movements, famous painters, and techniques that they're seeing.
For more great tips, visit Visiting an Art Museum with Children
Visiting Churches and Temples
Churches and Temples can be lots of fun with kids. While you’ll want to keep the total number you visit to a minimum to avoid burnout, they often have cool crypts and towers to explore. Some churches (especially in Italy and Spain) also have rooms full of treasure to admire.
Learn something about the architecture and history of the church before you visit, have your kids guess how the huge stone walls are supported, point out any special architectural features of this church, and tell them about any interesting historical events that happened here.
You might make plans to visit one church while services are in session (even if you are not religious) so that everyone can get the full sense of the church. Even though I am not Catholic, Christmas mass in Barcelona is one of my great travel memories.
Visiting Archeological Sites
Archeological Sites can be fascinated, and even preschoolers can get caught up in imagining the lost towns (or at least appreciate the really big rocks!)
It can be difficult for everyone to imagine exactly how those old rocks formed buildings, towns and cultural centers though, so we find it helpful to get books that overlay drawings of famous monuments over pictures of the currently existing form. For example, we like the book Ancient Rome: Monuments Past and Present
It’s also helpful to read stories before you go that are set in the monuments you will be visiting and give insight into what life must have been like