Not being able to touch is sometimes as interesting as being able to touch. – Andy Goldsworthy
Within the first hour of our first trip to The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, my youngest son spiked a fever. It was one of the moments as a parent, when I felt exasperated. Lunch was packed for seven, we met my sister and my 2-year-old nephew, we circled for parking for 30 minutes, took everyone to the bathroom, and made sure the kids were snacked and ready. As we approached level one, the first signs of fever set in. Within the hour we were home with the picnic untouched, and my son was in bed. My daughter then shared her wisdom by pronouncing; “Don’t worry. We can go back every day if we want to. The museum lady said we could come and go as we please.”
My daughter was right, of course. Te Papa offers free museum admission to everyone, every day. The magnificent building, its prominent location on the Wellington waterfront, and the walls teeming with educational, interactive, and vibrant exhibits, humbles even the well-traveled museum-goer. Yesterday we returned to Te Papa with a clean bill of health for the remarkable Dreamworks Exhibit (since this was not a permanent exhibition there was a nominal fee). As our children wandered through the world of animation from idea creation, through storyboards, to musical scores, they were mesmerized. The exhibit culminated with a session using specialized Digitalfish animation software to create their own movie segment!
As we picnicked on the wharf after our day, we marveled at the things the world has offered us for free. Some of our favorites we have visited recently:
- The British Museum (make sure to ask for the scavenger hunt for kids at the family desk)
- All Ireland and UK National Museums are free (We especially loved The National Science Museum)
- The Dead Zoo (a branch of the Natural History Museum) in Dublin, Ireland
- Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain (free after 5PM and has Sunday is free once a month)
- The Prado Museum in Madrid (free 6-8PM every day)
- The first Sunday of each month the Louvre in Paris is free to everyone all day from October-March. Under 18 is always free!
- The first Sunday of every month, all state run museums in Italy are free. That means the Uffizi and Accademia!
There are too many to list and this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless small town museums we have visited that operate on donations only. I wrote articles dedicated to the educational resources available for free at the USA National Parks and Historic Sites.
Because we are on an open-ended journey, with three children who are world schooled, the free days give us, well, freedom. It does not mean we don’t invest in private tours at times, or book guides to lead us through overwhelming landscapes, as we did at the Vatican, and again at the Louvre, by booking a Paris Muse tour. We also regularly pay for special exhibitions or drop money in donation boxes as a way to support many of these remarkable institutions.
Museums are one of the magical places that have become points of connection and creativity for our family. Our kids often talk about the soup at the Rodin Sculpture Park Cafe or the time they were inspired to sketch in the lobby of the Musee d’Orsay because the light was so brilliant. They remember hide and seek in the Louvre Sculpture Garden and leaping the fountain in front of the British Museum.
The free entrance fee for us means we can linger, return, picnic, draw, contemplate, question and tarry … but not always touch.
Today’s Tweetable: Free museums are magical places we connect, and create as a family.