Q&A: What's on in London's museums over Christmas?

The Independent parent: your questions answered


Q We will be staying with relatives in London between Christmas Day and New Year with our three children, aged 14, nine and six. We would like to visit some museums and galleries. What will be open and where can we go to keep our children amused?
M Hartley, Paris

Q We will be staying with relatives in London between Christmas Day and New Year with our three children, aged 14, nine and six. We would like to visit some museums and galleries. What will be open and where can we go to keep our children amused? M Hartley, Paris

A With the exception of Christmas Day and Boxing Day, the capital's museums and galleries will have plenty on offer to keep your children occupied.

A trip to the Science Museum (0870 870 4771, www.sciencemuseum.org.uk), Exhibition Road, South Kensington, is never a disappointment. One of its current exhibitions is "Bond, James Bond", which features original gadgets from Q's workshop, explanations of stunts from down the years and some of Bond's enemies' infamous weapons. The museum will also be holding a number of workshops over Christmas aimed at a variety of age groups. "Fingerprint Portraits" is one example, an in-depth look at the world of identity from DNA to fingerprints.

The museum is open from 10am to 6pm daily, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Admission is free. It also has an IMAX 3D cinema showing films such as Santa vs. the Snowman and Space Station. The first 40-minute screening starts at 10.45am and the last at 3.15pm. Tickets cost £6.95 per adult, children (aged 3-16) £5.95.

Nearby, the Natural History Museum (020-7942 5000, www. naturalhistorymuseum.org.uk) in Cromwell Road is also well worth a visit. As well as its impressive Earth galleries, you can all marvel at its new exhibition complex, Phase One of the Darwin Centre. This houses millions of zoological specimens, and has lots of interactive displays that your children will be able to try out.

A short hop from there, the Victoria and Albert Museum (020-7942 2000, www.vam.ac.uk) in Cromwell Road also has a number of child-friendly activities planned over Christmas and New Year. On 22, 23, 27 and 28 December, the museum will play host to "Versace Bon Bons". To complement the museum's current Versace retrospective, from 11am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm, children of all ages will be able to make Christmas crackers under the guidance of artist Jo Underhill.

In addition, from 29 December to 5 January, the museum is offering children the opportunity to borrow digital cameras to make their own personalised greeting cards, with help from photographer Chino Otsuka. These workshops will be taking place from noon to 5pm, with the last camera being issued at 4pm.

On Saturdays and Sundays between 10.30am and 5pm, the Victoria and Albert also offers "Activity Back-Packs" and "The Activity Cart" targeted at five- to 12-year-olds. This gives children the chance to explore the collections through a variety of hands-on activities. Each day there is also a "Family Trail", providing activities and puzzles for children and an accompanying information sheet for adults. The museum is open from 10am to 5.45pm daily except Wednesdays, when it is open until 10pm. Entrance and all events are free for adults and children.

If any of your brood are budding artists, an afternoon at Tate Britain (020-7887 8000, www.tate.org.uk/ britain) in Millbank would be enjoyable. Every Sunday afternoon throughout the year, the gallery holds special "Art Trolley" events with a range of activities for adults and children to participate in together. Activities reflect what is currently showing in the galleries, in this case Gainsborough and the Turner Prize, but mainly involve solving clues and following trails as well as painting and collage. Admission is free, although children must be accompanied by an adult. The gallery is open daily from 10am to 5.50pm, including New Year's Day, except Sunday when it is open from 12pm to 5pm.

Finally, to add a bit of a Latin flavour to your Christmas, take everyone to see the mysterious art of the Aztecs, currently on show at the Royal Academy (020-7300 8000, www.aztecs.org.uk) in Piccadilly. The gallery has devised a series of activities specifically for families and has produced audio guides to help bring the Aztecs to life for younger visitors, aged seven to 11.

The exhibition is open daily from 10am to 6pm and a family ticket for two adults and up to three children (between nine and 18) costs £20.

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