Vacationing parents, rejoice! Grown-up playgrounds around the world — art-nouveau atriums, museums of medical curiosities — don’t just offer all-ages entertainment, they help sharpen the growing minds of young travelers, too.Less
This quiet menagerie of taxidermied animals in Paris stands out from the kiddie-entertainment herd. Founded in 1967, the three-story museum is a love letter to humanity's relationship with animals, albeit stuffed ones. Everywhere you turn, there are murals depicting interspecies friendship and mounted polar bears, horned rams, peacocks and white tigers displayed in painstaking recreations of their native habitats— think an upscale Parisian boutique’s version of a natural history museum.
The oldest independent medical library in the United States, the Mütter Museum is a showcase for everything miraculous, terrifying and downright weird about the human body. In addition to detailed anatomical models, from individual organs to entire cadavers, the museum is home to a catalog of iron lungs and other bewildering medical instruments of yore.
Kids these days tend to believe that the pre-internet world was essentially a primordial one. But the “Powerhouse” collection here is a reminder of modern tech's origins— a curated mix of industrial antiquities and circuit-board curios span decades, from a 1905 Cadillac Model F to pre-Mario-Brothers gaming systems, such as a clunky '60s-era Magnavox Odyssey console and a “Space Invaders” arcade cabinet. Batteries not included.
Park of Monsters, a sprawling outdoor sculpture garden located just north of Rome, offers creature comforts for the kids who aren't afraid of what's under the bed. Walking along the Italian castle’s forest trails, expect encounters with a giant stone-carved war elephant or roaring lions that look like they're about to pounce from the surrounding woods. Go inside the stretched-open mouth of a giant face, or sit on a picnic table atop its large stone tongue.
The Imperial Butterfly House in central Vienna combines the dramatic architecture of a 19th-century European palace with the child-like wonder of nature’s most photogenic insect. Hundreds of free-flying tropical butterflies soar through this Viennese urban atrium, fluttering throughout a humid habitat of tropical plants, towering canopy of trees and cascading waterfalls. The “pupa box,” a hands-on look at larvae on the verge of adulthood metamorphosis, should feel familiar for young visitors.
The Inhotim Institute is one of the world’s largest open-air, contemporary-art playpens. A sprawling labyrinth of Atlantic-Forest botanical gardens, fields covered in mirrored orbs by Yayoi Kusama, and art houses illuminated by light sculptures by the Brazilian artist Lygia Pape, the park feels like a mammoth playground tailor made for the artistic imagination of children — assuming they have the stamina to roam the property’s over 500,000 acres.
The Natural History Museum in Tring, England has over 4,900 fascinating specimens on display. The star attractions, however, are the dapper band of “dressed fleas,” tiny blood-sucking insects decked out in tuxedos, wedding gowns, top hats and all manner of throwback fashion. The ragtag, taxidermied fleas were originally purchased from Mexico in 1905, where they were sold as collectible souvenirs.
If you're looking for some wild things, you'll find them along the trails of the United Kingdom’s deep, dark woods. 15 forests across the U.K. feature whimsical wood sculptures of beasts and monsters from Julia Donaldson’s much-loved Gruffalo book series. Finding each leopard-spotted snake or googly-eyed creature requires combing through the dense trees of the Alice Holt Forest, Dalby woodlands and other winding nature trails. The Gruffalo Spotter app helps bring characters to life.
About 20 miles northwest of London and accessible by rail, the Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, is located in the home where the writer lived and wrote most of his books. Just look for the sign that reads ‘Flushbunkingly Gloriumptious’ above the doorway next to a looming, Quentin Blake-drawn shadow of the B.F.G, or Big Friendly Giant. Inside, kids can step into Dahl’s famous imagination with over 40 interactive activities and daily storytelling sessions.
As one might expect from the studio of Hayao Miyazaki, there’s nothing too bombastic or noisy in this anti-theme park theme park; rather, it’s a series of picturesque, deeply evocative scenes and structures scattered through a vast forest, giving one the sense of being dropped directly into a Ghibli film. Dondoko Forest is complete with a replica of the house from My Neighbor Totoro, while Ghibli Grand Warehouse features a Park Güell-esque stairwell that leads to a Spirited Away-inspired tunnel.