With winter break on our radar (and spring break looming ahead), we’ve rounded up 11 places to take the kids that will blow their minds. And, no, sugar isn’t featured — too much.
New York, N.Y., United States
This stellar city is not just a playground for grown-ups. It has a plethora of activities and must-sees for little ones too. There’s Ellis Island, the entry point for millions of immigrants between 1892 and 1954, and, continuing that theme, The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, which gives insight into how the immigrants might have lived in the city. As far as museums go, MoMA on West 53rd Street is fantastic for children as young as four, while space cadets will enjoy the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum (12th Avenue at 46th Street) especially the Space Shuttle Pavilion that houses the space shuttle Enterprise. On 103 Charlton St. (near Hudson Street), the Children’s Museum of the Arts is a hands-on art museum dedicated to inspiring young artists between the ages of 10 months and 15 years. And, for splurging (maybe after you visit one of Central Park’s 21 playgrounds), FAO Schwarz’s real-life toy soldiers will give you a warm welcome.
From toy soldiers to the real thing, London is a wonderland for children of all ages. There are tons of museums and galleries packed with treasures that are free to view, historic districts that are immortalized in books (yes, Harry Potter) and films and royal palaces where those real-life, red-uniformed soldiers perform the Changing of the Guard (the pageantry is free to watch). The past is never too far from the glittering, bustling present. The Museum of London Docklands tells the story of London’s industrial ports, complete with a Mudlarks Play Area, and The Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green holds the Victoria & Albert’s national collection of childhood-related objects (including toys confiscated by teachers). The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square holds Family Sundays and Somerset House is great year-round: There are fountains for jumping through in the summer months and an ice rink in the winter. Even the National Army Museum has a Kid’s Zone.
Grand Canyon, Arizona, United States
The Grand Canyon is so vast, so deep and so wide that there’s no better place to give kids a practical lesson in geology, mathematics, history and science. One of the seven wonders of the natural world, it’s 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and 6,000 feet deep. Oh and parts of it are 2 billion years old. A national park since 1919, the Grand Canyon offers lots of things for children of all ages to do: take a mule ride, bus, helicopter or plane tour, hike, earn Junior Ranger’s Badges and watching the IMAX movie, “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets,” one of the most-watched IMAX movies in the world.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin who spent five weeks there in 1835 and developed the theory of evolution by natural selection. These 19 islands, lying in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are animals here that don’t exist anywhere else on Earth. Controlled visitor numbers mean the animals are unafraid of humans, and children can snorkel with sea lions or go kayaking with dolphins. Spotting the iguanas, tortoises and turtles, finding the frigatebirds, the blue-footed booby and the Galápagos Penguin – the only living tropical penguin – are also great games to play.
The Colosseum was where gladiators fought beasts, sea battles and safari hunts were simulated, chariots were raced, and grisly executions were carried out. It’s just one site in the historic center of Rome, a UNESCO-listed region that also includes the Forums, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column and the Column of Marcus Aurelius, as well as the grand and glorious buildings of papal Rome. Imaginations will be working overtime but there are child-friendly tours of the Colosseum that tell the true story of the Eternal City — from Romulus and Remus in 753 B.C. to the emergence of the Republic, Empire, and Christian capital of Vatican City.
We could have listed the fossils and life-size models in the dinosaur halls of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but Dinosaur Provincial Park, 30 miles northeast of Brooks, Alberta, has real-life “Jurassic Park” possibilities — in a way. There are guided hikes and tours as well as the opportunity to join a dinosaur excavation. More than 300 dinosaur skeletons have been discovered in a 17-mile stretch of the Red Deer River in about 100 years. If family members get tired of being outdoors, the Royal Tyrrell Museum, 62 miles away, is the only museum in Canada that’s dedicated to the science of palaeontology. Of course it has one of the largest displays of dinosaurs in the world.
Orlando, Fla., United States
Sometimes children really, really need to play and have their imaginations stoked by their favorite TV and film characters. In Orlando there are enough attractions to keep them busy for months, if not years. LEGOLAND Florida is the world’s largest LEGOLAND, spanning 150 acres (hopefully you won’t step on any of the tiny LEGOs). Epcot is 305 acres of Disney-packed fun. Universal Studios Islands of Adventure is where you’ll find the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and, if you didn’t find any dinosaurs in Alberta, you can see them on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Granddaddy of them all, Disney’s Magic Kingdom, has six themed areas (Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Tomorrowland and Fantasyland), the magical Cinderella’s Castle and all the classic Disney stars.
Great Wall, China
Another amazing site on the UNESCO list, the Great Wall is the only man-made structure on Earth that can be seen from the moon. Construction of the wall spans the 3rd century B.C. to the 17th century A.D. It runs for more than 13,170 miles. Starting in the east, at Shanhaiguan in Hebei province, it ends at Jiayuguan in Gansu province in the west. There’s much to entertain young minds — the walls, horse tracks, watch towers and shelters, fortresses and passes. While the sites near Beijing are easiest to explore, Jinshanling, two hours northeast of Beijing, has the best views and heart-pumping hikes.
Built between 2550 and 2490 B.C., the Pyramids – as well as the mummies and ancient hieroglyphics – are the stuff of children’s dreams. Every school kid learns about the Ancient Egyptians and there’s no better way to get a feel for the Pharoahs than by visiting the Pyramids at Giza. While it’s forbidden to clamber over the Pyramids, you can go in them. It’s a claustrophobic climb for some; suitably kiddie-sized though. Tours will take you around the chambers and tombs. The Red Pyramid at Dahshur is free to enter and the crowds are a fraction of what you’ll find at Giza.
If you were to combine science-fiction writer Jules Verne’s “worlds” with Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical universe and the industrial past of Nantes on the site of a former shipyard what would you come up with? A giant machines project starring a 40-foot by 26-foot mechanical elephant that’s made from 50 tons of wood and steel? Or a Marine Worlds Carousel that features 35 moving underwater creatures? Perhaps! François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice are the brains behind the fascinating, and slightly steampunk, Machines de l’île in Nantes, which draws on the imagination of Nantes native, Jules Verne.
Dunedin, New Zealand
Cadbury World is the sweetest thing about Dunedin. This chocolate heaven is situated in the Cadbury Factory site, a stone’s throw from the center of Dunedin on the South Island. There are guided tours around the manufacturing area – not given by Willy Wonka, sadly. The tour features chocolate samples and the sweetest ending imaginable: In a five-story decommissioned crumb storage silo, about 1 ton of chocolate thunders down at high speed. It’s straight out of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – the world’s largest chocolate waterfall. Kiddies who have saved their pocket money will be able to do some shopping at the Cadbury World retail outlet, which sells the chocolate at discounted prices.
(Featured image: Peter Pan’s Flight at Disneyland Paris by Victor R. Ruiz)