Visiting The Prado with Kids

November 29, 2010

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Madrid was our time at The Prado Museum. Our Spanish friends kept insisting we shouldn't bring our kids, but I am so glad we stuck to our plan and brought them. It's one of the reasons we work so hard to travel with our kids, especially during our time here in Europe. 

Growing up with two artists for parents, we spent a lot of time in museums and galleries. My first trip to the Louvre was when I was three and my sister was one and just starting to walk...pretty cool place to take those first steps. We took family trips to see specific shows and even spent an entire summer traveling by train to visit some of the best museums in the States. Our visits weren't just spent wandering aimlessly through gallery spaces, my parents talked with us about what we were seeing, we read books, we made our own drawings, and bought post cards of our favorite pieces to hang up at home. And so I follow in my parents' foot steps and feel strongly about taking our kids to art museums and letting them see masterpieces up close and personal.

Here are a few things that made our visit to the Prado such a success:

1) Reading
In the weeks leading up to our trip, I ordered several books about Spanish artists that I knew we would be seeing at The Prado. As I already mentioned, Katie and the Spanish Princess was a perfect fit for Camille. She also loved reading the Katie books that are set in England which we read during our trip this past summer. It is fun to see how the paintings literally come to life, quickly pulling Katie and the reader into their stories. I highly recommend the Katie series for all families, but especially those planning trips to Europe. For school age kids (and adults, too), I highly recommend this series of biographical books. They are concise, but entertaining and educational. Noah loves these books. He gobbled up the Goya and Velazquez books and while touring the Prado he kept telling us stories of the artists. I really was impressed by how much he absorbed and how excited he was to see some of the paintings he had read about in real life. 

2) On-line Tickets
I know The Prado is one of the top museums in the world so I shouldn't have been surprised to see the long lines of people waiting to buy tickets, but I was. I am very glad we decided to make use of this modern advantage instead of waiting in line with two kids who I am sure would have quickly become bored and antsy. That would not have been a good start to a museum visit. Kids are free so when you purchase your adult ticket, also "purchase" the free ticket for your child.

3) Timing
We bought tickets for the early morning and I think that was a good decision. During our first hour in the museum, we had most of the rooms to ourselves so the kids really got a chance to see artwork without the big tour groups that started appearing later in the day. Early in the day also meant our kids were more focused, less whiny, and actually very pleasant. After our first hour, we took a break had a very nice breakfast snack in the museum restaurant which had a great selection of fresh fruit, pastries, drinks, and delicious tortillas.

4) Musuem Map
One of our first stops in the museum, was the information desk where we picked up a map and a children's packet. It is wonderful to see how many museums have packets specifically for kids. The Prado packet was in Spanish, but was still easy to figure out. But actually it was the museum map that turned out to the be the most exciting thing for us. On the back of the map were tiny snippets of paintings (Noah is holding this in the first pic) and the room number where they could be found. It was essentially a ready-made scavenger hunt and it quickly turned our visit into an exciting adventure. We each picked several paintings that we wanted to find and then worked our way through the museum on a quest to see the whole painting. 

5) The Gift Shop
We concluded our time at The Prado with a visit to the gift shop where each of the kids chose a large print of their favorite paintings (which are now hanging above their beds). The gift shop also has a nice selection of art books for all ages.

6) Play and Eat
After a good couple of hours at The Prado, we happily followed the Delicious Baby's advice and headed across the street to the playground and VIPS (next door to Starbucks). Both were perfect post-museum spots. 

And here are a few more helpful links
The Artful Parent and Tinker Lab: visiting museums with kids
Travel for Kids in Madrid (other cool spots near the Prado) 
10 Tips for Visiting The Prado
likeschocolate said...

I totally agree with you on all points. I take my children all over the cities we visit and I don't let the fact that they are rowdy boys stop me. I am actually not a very good travel in the sense of just going to a place and parking myself to relax. My philosophy is that I can do relaxing at home for free. If I am going to make the effort to travel somewhere I want to experience everything it has to offer. Did you guys do any of your letterboxing in Spain. I heard from someone there is an applicatiton for the iphone called Geo something that is similar to letterboxing. YOu use the phone to help you find the cordinates.

Emily said...

great post! am making note of those books! we always took our kids to museums around europe, but it was not usually very successful. we did try and prepare them, but i think part of the problem is that my husband and i are not art people. though i wish we were! i really like the idea of picking several paintings to find and making it like a treasure hunt.

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

We only found one listing for a letterbox in the parts of Spain we were visiting, but sadly we didn't have enough time to hunt for it. Although letterboxing started in England, it seems to be much more popular in the States than in Europe. It makes those boxes we have found here even more special to us. Thanks for the info on the iphone app, I actually learned about it a couple of months ago from Emily. Look forward to using it when we return to the States.

Emily, the treasure hunt does make museum visits more fun, but having kids a tad older helps, too. I think your family will like the books we used and there are several specific to American artists which would be fun to read with them. And who knows perhaps, they'll even help to turn you and your husband into "art people", too. :)

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Oops, I should have clarified...Emily was talking about a letterboxing app, but the one you mentioned sounds like it is for geocaching. We haven't tried that yet, but it does sound like fun.

Here's the letterbox app:

Arrows Sent Forth said...

What a fantastic post! As my son gets older, we look forward to introducing him to the wonders of art museums. I had no idea some museums provide kid packets. Good to know!

The Prado is my favorite museum in all the world. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

Sarah V. said...

I've taken my daughter to the art museum a few times (not counting the trips when she was a baby and she just sat in the stroller, sleeping.) It takes some effort to keep kids interested, but it's definitely worth it. What a fantastic learning experience!

Anna said...

I love the idea of your sister taking some of her first steps in the Louvre - now that is cultural! Good on you for taking the kids to this museum. I love the look of those Katie books, I must buy a couple. Thanks for sharing your tips.

wandering educators said...

what great tips - and nice to get the walk through. our daughter (8) LOVES art museums. we're lucky!

Nancy said...

oh my, dying of envy over here! even though we have our share of masterpieces just down the street in the Smithsonian.

My parents took us to lots and lots of museums and historic sites--sometimes we dragged our feet and complained but of course their sweet revenge was to instill a LOVE of all that! ;)

Rachel said...

Thanks for the tips! I'm not married / don't have kids but I sure hope to do the same when I do. And reading up on the artists and the works you're about to see is a good idea, regardless of your age. Do you have "grown-up books" to recommend? :)

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