What to Do with Kids on a Rainy Day in the City

The top of the skyscraper or TV tower observation deck you’d planned to zoom to the top of disappeared into clouds, the playgrounds in the parks where you’d planned to stop for a play break and a picnic are soaking wet, and the zoo is a sodden morass where the animals have wisely taken to their caves. But you can hardly curl up in your hotel room cave for the day when you’ve promised the kids a weekend in the city. Here are some tips to save the (rainy) day.

  1. Plan ahead. Before you go, know what museums and indoor activities that will appeal to your kids’ ages are available; know what’s in each and which ones require advance ticketing (so you can get yours before everyone else decides the same thing).
  2. Choose places with a lot of variety so kids won’t get worn out or come to the end of their attention span. Good choices for kids are those with a mixture of active and quiet activities, a mix of looking, learning and doing, with the emphasis on doing.
  3. Science and nature museums tend to be kid-friendly. Kids who’ve seen Night at the Museum will be sure to look for familiar faces at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and science museums are a natural for kids with lots of hands-on experiments. Boston’s Museum of Science and Maryland Science Center in Baltimore each have enough to keep kids curious and busy for a long, rainy afternoon.

    Delaware Children's Museum © Stillman Rogers

    Delaware Children’s Museum © Stillman Rogers

  4. Many cities have dedicated children’s museums. The Boston Children’s Museum was one of the first and is still a favorite with something for kids of all ages. The inventive hands-on exhibits and activities at the Delaware Children’s Museum in Wilmington are good for a long afternoon of fun and learning for younger kids.
  5. For older kids, look for those that will capture imaginations or satisfy some interest. Washington, D.C.’s International Spy Museum is a good example, with a combination of cool stuff and hands-on spy missions. Roboworld at Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh is the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibition, with robots to direct via touchscreens and hands-on exhibits on all types of robotic activity.
  6. Go for a ride. It’s probably not a good day for river and harbor cruises, but you can still ride the cable cars in San Francisco or streetcars in New Orleans. In some cities the means of transport is half the fun. Or don’t. When it’s raining hard and the streets are a mass of puddles, take a cab. It may end up being cheaper if the kids are too old to ride free on public transport. You’ll travel door to door and you’ll arrive dry.
  7. Be prepared. Bring waterproof rain jackets and spring for a locker to put them in when you’re indoors. (Remember to fold them inside out so they don’t end up wet on the inside). Toss a small towel in your tote bag to wipe them off before stowing in a locker. Museums aren’t fun dragging a wet coat around.