Introducing your children to a world filled with art is a brilliant idea and an exciting aspect of travel. But let’s be honest: Even when you’re blissfully by yourself, hours of trekking through art galleries and museums can be an exhausting experience. When kids are part of the equation, it can be downright overwhelming.
Back in 1817, a term was even coined for those experiencing an art-fueled overload — Stendhal syndrome, also known as Florence syndrome, was named for a French writer overcome by his own expedition while on a tour of art in Florence, enduring an emotional response so powerful it manifested as a swooning giddiness and disorientation.
Since that sounds like zero fun, here are a few tips to keep your family art expedition under control.
Map it out. Know opening and closing times, book tickets online and print them out prior to arrival to avoid queues, and (especially if you have younger children), try to avoid peak busy times including weekends and public holidays.
Know your route. Note subway stops, tram lines or walking routes beforehand, including approximately how long it will take to get there and back. At the end of a long day, leading a group of tired 8-year-olds through puddles and rain to get to the nearest Tube station might seem less attractive than surviving a jaunt to Neptune.
Skip the museum altogether. Instead, stay outside. There’s plenty of world-class art that can be viewed without setting foot through a gallery door, completely free of crushing throngs. Examples include the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, public monuments and the sculpture garden at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian complex.
Do some homework. Make it a family project to research an exhibition or artist everyone’s interested in before going so your kids have context for what they’ll see.
Pace yourself. Especially in a large venue like London’s massive Tate Modern, or the Uffizi in Florence, plan which exhibits to see and which to skip. Acknowledge the shorter attention spans of children and don’t try to take everything in all at one time.
Schedule in a break. Especially in European museums, tea or other refreshments in a beautiful museum café can contribute to the pleasure of the overall experience while allowing time to catch your collective breath or discuss exhibits.
Be free as a bird. If you have a large group, remember lots of museums (like the aforementioned Smithsonian museums and London’s Tate Modern) are free. Some allow free access to permanent collections, and only charge for special or temporary exhibits.
Be thoughtful. Explain museum manners and protocol prior to a visit. No one wants to be the story at someone else’s dinner table about unruly behavior and noisy children ruining the experience of other travelers.
Consider a guide. Like historic sites, many museums offer guided tours of collections. Check to see if special tours geared toward children are available, and reserve your space in advance. Guides can help ensure major works aren’t missed, and provide insight on specific works that can help your children develop a deeper appreciation for what they’re viewing.
Be inspired. Be ready to break out the art supplies once you’re back at home, letting your children use their imaginations to expand on paintings or other works that caught their attention. Who knows? Maybe someday someone will plan their own family museum or gallery visit to view the works of your son or daughter.