THATMuse

The Daidoumenos of Vaison is a Roman marble statue of an ancient Greek athlete. Found at Vaison, a Roman town in Southern France, this beautiful piece is at the British Museum (because the Louvre refused to buy it for its ‘unreasonable price’!). The statue is a Roman copy of a Greek original in bronze. Just think for a second about how much the Romans learnt from the Greeks… After conquering their lands, they brought back home all their most beautiful artworks and took inspiration from them. Clearly, they couldn’t forget the Daidoumenos, a sculpture by one of the most famous artists of Classical Greece, Polykleitos.

Daidoumenos, Roman copy of a Greek statue
The Daidoumenos, Roman Copy of an Ancient Greek Athelet. British Museum

1. The Representation of Perfection in Greek and Roman Sculpture

The statue portrays an Olympic winner lifting his arms to knot a ribbon around his head. This Daidoumenos (which literally means ‘ribbon wearer’), had just received a ribbon for winning an athletic competition. Of course, the athlete is still naked! And his muscles are contracted as would be normal after a physical contest. A wonderful occasion for Polykleitos! The excellent sculptor could use the nudity and the athletic body of the athlete to improve his ability to portray perfection and beauty. The original statue was made of bronze, a material that more closely represented the tanned and oiled skin of the victor.

Apollo, Roman Copy of a Greek original statue of Apollo
Polykleitos’ experiments on the representation of the human body. Roman copy, Louvre

2. The Idealisation of the Human Figure

But who is this athlete? and what can his portrait tell us of him? Not much… in the 5th century BC Greek sculptors did not aim at real portraiture: statues didn’t need to resemble the physical characteristics of their owners. Instead, artists aimed at the idealisation of the human figure. While a real ancient Greek athlete actually received the Daidoumenos as a gift, the statue represented him as a generic and beautiful victor, whose perfection could inspire all viewers coming across it.

Doryphoros, Roman Copy of a Greek Original
Roman Copy of a Greek original by Polykleitos, depicting a ‘Spear-bearer’. Minneapolis Institute of Art

3. Beauty: the ultimate value of Goodness

Being athletic, beautiful and going to the palaestra (gym), wasn’t less important than going to school or learning about Homer. And Statues of Olympic winners deserved everyone’s attention: the values of Beauty and Goodness were strictly associated. Unfortunately, we can’t know what the athlete behind the image looked like. However, there is something that this statue can tell us about him! he won 3 Olympic games, which is why he received a statue. One-time winners received, other than fame and glory, ‘only’ a ribbon and some oil.

Ancient Greek Athletes at the Gym, 5th century vase
Ancient Greek Athletes Training at the Gym on a 5th cent Vase. British Museum

4. Artistic Achievements of 5th Century Greece

For sure Greek artists of the 5th century achieved unprecedented results, as one can also see from the contemporary Sculptural Program of the Parthenon. But 5th century vase painting is no less impressive! If you like Classical Art and want to learn more about it, try our treasure hunts at the British Museum and at the Louvre! If you’re feeling competitive and want to get a leg up on the other treasure hunters, don’t forget to check our other British Museum blog posts giving away bonus points.

Just a heads up: some of the things in bold might be answers to bonus questions on your Fun & Games Treasure Hunt!

This Blog Post is also available in Italian!

If you had a trip to Paris planned in the next few months, you’re probably feeling pretty crushed right now. Our hearts go out to our Parisian friends, who are currently on lockdown. For the rest of us, Paris feels very far away. There’s nothing quite like a stroll along the Seine, a picnic in the shade of the Eiffel Tower, or a museum treasure hunting romp through the Louvre (we think so anyway). But here’s the next best thing: our favourite books about Paris to read while you can’t get there.

Psst! We’ve provided Amazon links to each book, but if you can, consider supporting a local bookshop, many of whom will deliver.

1) A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

There is perhaps no better book about Paris in the 1920s than Ernest Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast. The memoir is based on a stack of notebooks that has spent more than three decades in a trunk in the basement of the Paris Ritz. Being stuck at home is no reason not to get stuck into this time capsule of Paris life in the roaring 20s – moveable as it is.  

Buy A Moveable Feast on Amazon

Street traffic in Paris, 1920s
Paris in the 1920s. Photo from the Stockholm Transport Museum

2) The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

The Paris Wife is effectively A Moveable Feast from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, the first of Hemingway’s four wives. Primarily set in Paris, it’s a novel, so must be taken with a pinch of salt. But it is nice to read the perspective of one of the women affected by the author’s womanising. And, while it’s not considered a literary masterpiece in the same way as Hemingway’s work, it’s well-written and worth a read.

Buy The Paris Wife on Amazon

Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson, 1922
Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, in 1922

3) Paris: The Secret History – Andrew Hussey

This is not a book for those seeking a clean, pretty, Disney-fied version of Paris. It describes a city “made up of radically different spaces and multiple personalities, always at odds with each other and often in noisy collision”, as Andrew Hussey says in the book’s introduction. This introduction, incidentally, is titled “An Autopsy on an Old Whore”, which should tell you everything you need to know about the tone of the book. If you’re looking for a somewhat gritty, at times funny, and always honest history of Paris from its foundation by the Parisii in the 3rd Century BC to the present day, though – look no further.   

Buy Paris: The Secret History on Amazon

A book stall in Paris
A book stall in Paris. Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash

4) Paris Echo – Sebastian Faulks

A modern novel set in Paris, Sebastian Faulks’ Paris Echo is a book of contrasts. The version of Paris it portrays will be familiar to anyone who has lived there in recent years. Beauty, elegance and sweeping boulevards are juxtaposed with the seedy, grubby underbelly of the city (yes, it has one like anywhere else!). The two main characters – an American academic and a runaway Moroccan teenager, also seem to have little in common. And the stories of women living in Paris under the German occupation provide a comparison to modern life à la parisienne. It’s a great book with a good story. It’s also clearly a love letter to Paris – as accurate in geography as it is in ambiance – and is worth a read just for that.

Buy Paris Echo on Amazon

A rooftop view of Paris
A rooftop view of Paris. Photo by Paul Dufour on Unsplash

5) Bel-Ami – Guy de Maupassant

We couldn’t very well write a list of the best books about Paris without featuring at least one 19th Century classic (and there are several missing from this list). Maupassant’s Bel-Ami follows the corrupt rise to power of Georges Duroy, a character we would probably now call a sociopath. While Duroy’s merciless using of a string of both sexual and professional acquaintances is entertaining – if somewhat disturbing – the novel’s most important achievement is its portrayal of upper-middle class Paris at the turn of the century. Not a light read, but a fun and interesting one once you get into it.

Buy Bel-Ami on Amazon

Two pigeons embrace in front of the Eiffel Tower
Two pigeons embrace in front of the Eiffel Tower. Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

6) The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurent

The Red Notebook is a lovely, if somewhat whimsical novella set in a realistic, if somewhat idealised Paris. It tells the story of Laurent, a middle-aged bookseller, who sets out to reunite a notebook he has found with its owner. Literary masterpiece it is not, and the level of serendipity and random chance might be annoying at times. But it’s a nice, soothing read, and as books about Paris go, it’ll do a pretty good job of transporting you there.

Buy The Red Notebook on Amazon

Two women reading on green chairs in Paris
One of Paris’ many reading spots

7) Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay

There’s no shortage of books set in Paris during the German Occupation, and Sarah’s Key is one of the more compelling. It’s dual timeline – following a young Jewish girl arrested in the Vel’ d’Hiv round-up of 1942, and a modern-day American journalist asked to write an article for the 60th anniversary of the event. Even apart from the plot, which is both dark and disturbing, the novel offers a realistic view of two cities: modern-day Paris and the Paris of the 1940s.

Buy Sarah’s Key on Amazon

Soldiers outside the Hotel Crillon, Place de la Concorde, Paris, 1940s
Soldiers at the Place de la Concorde, Paris, in 1940

8) All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

A novel set in Paris, Germany and Saint-Malo, All the Light We Cannot See is another depiction of France during the German Occupation. It follows the stories of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living in Paris and later fleeing to Saint-Malo, and Werner, a young German boy skilled in repairing radios. It’s not a light or cheerful read, but it didn’t win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for nothing.

Buy All the Light We Cannot See on Amazon

A Parisian book shop in the 1940s
A Parisian book shop in the 1940s

9) A Year in the Merde – Stephen Clarke

Finally, A Year in the Merde is an “almost true” account of Englishman Stephen Clarke’s years living in Paris. The story of the protagonist, a 27-year-old Englishman tasked with setting up a chain of tearooms in a nation of coffee-drinkers, is fictional. But the wry, sarcastic and at times nonplussed take on French culture, language and people is what it’s worth reading for. As for the title, the merde is both figurative and literal – according to Clarke 600 Parisians are hospitalised each year thanks to the streets slippery canine deposits. There – you don’t feel so bad about cancelling that trip to Paris now, do you?

Buy A Year in the Merde on Amazon

A street in Paris
A street in Paris. Photo by Anh Q Tran on Unsplash

More books about Paris

There are far too many great books about Paris to list in one blog post. Here are a few more of our favourites:

Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin

Down and Out In Paris and London by George Orwell

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Parisians by Graham Robb

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Did we miss anything?

Let us know your favourite books about Paris in the comments! And if you want more great content to get you through these strange times, including ways to experience our museums and cities when you’re stuck at home, sign up for updates from our blog.

Our THATMuse Dinosaur and Extinct beasts Treasure Hunt focus on the incredible treasures inside the Natural History Museum’s 80 million strong collection, but this blog contains 7 fascinating facts about the natural history museum building itself.  
 

1. Founder Richard Owen invented the word Dinosaur

Sir Richard Owen was a world-famous naturalist and the man who created the term ‘dinosaur’. He took three unusual fossils and realised they were all of a kind: Megalosauraus, Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus. When put in charge of Britain’s natural history collection he decided they needed a new home outside the British Museum. He set out to purpose build the perfect building to house the wonders of the natural world.  

2. It was built from terracotta so it wouldn’t be stained by the Victorian smog. 

Eventually Alfred Waterhouse, a relatively unknown young architect from Liverpool was given the job and he set out plans for a ‘Cathedral to Nature’ as it would soon be nicknamed. Waterhouse used terracotta to decorate the building as it was quicker and cheaper to carve, and it would be less affected by Victorian London’s sooty, smoky atmosphere. Others were being stained black by the smog! 

3. Every surface in Hintze hall is crawling with life! 

Under Owen’s guidance Waterhouse created a huge central space in the style of a cathedral, now named Hintze Hall.  This space was deliberately big enough to house the biggest pieces in the collection, from diplodocuses to blue whales!  Almost every surface in Hintze hall is adorned with scenes from the natural world. Monkeys climb the arches. Woodland critters cuddle the corner columns. The ceiling is decorated with real plants and their scientific names, from beautiful flowers to cocoa and tea. 

4. The outside is covered in gargoyles, from lions to pterodactyls.  

Even the outside of the building is decorated! Terracotta gargoyles loom off the façade. On the East wing, next to exhibition road and the V&A Museum you can see Pterodactyls and saber-toothed tigers perched outside windows and roaring from the rooftop. On the West wing nearer the museum’s wildlife garden you can instead see wolves, lions and kangaroos watching over the London streets. 

5. It was designed to disagree with Darwin 

It was by Owen’s decree the east wing is decorated entirely with extinct creatures, and the west entirely with living species. The museum was built as Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was gaining prominence and revealing the connections extinct species have to our modern ones. Owen however disproved of Darwin’s removal of God as the true creator of our living species. He agreed with the science, he could see the evidence of species evolving but believed it all began with God. So he build a huge cathedral in between the living and the extinct wings to show gods role at the heart of the natural world.  

6. Some animals are now on the wrong side of the building 

There have been many changes to the environment of our world over the last 150 years. So there are now two animals on the wrong sides of the building. The passenger pigeon used to fly over North America in flocks of millions. But thanks to human expansion by 1914 there was just one left, called Martha in San Diego Zoo. Carved into the living side, it should now be with the pterodactyls and other extinct animals. The opposite is true of the coelacanth. A fish thought extinct for 66 million years until in 1938 a fisherman caught one off the coast of South Africa! This is known as a Lazarus Taxon: species that have risen from the dead.  

7. A giant cocoon houses the new Darwin Centre 

The newest part of the building is the Darwin Centre. Comprising several buildings, the most interesting is the Cocoon containing the UK Diodiversity lab. It is also home to the Entomology department studying the museum’s bugs. 28 million specimens had to be carefully moved from the old building to the new. There is also the Zoology Spirit collection which has 22 million animal specimens preserved in jars of alcoholic spirit. The biggest is a 9m long Giant Squid! 

If you enjoyed these facts about the Natural History Museum, book a Dinosaur and Extinct Beasts treasure hunt and go exploring with family or friends! 

Introducing our London KidPack!

We are very excited to announce the arrival of our new London KidPack! Joining our ever-successful Paris KidPack, it is full of fun activities, puzzles and creative fun. Add one as a bonus after a family treasure hunt at any of our three London museums, and keep the discovery going!

Learn how to write in Egyptian hieroglyphics with the Rosetta Stone, decorate your own Sutton Hoo Helmet with Norse warriors and gods and spot the differences with Shiva; Destroyer and Lord of the Dance!

We’re rolling it out this winter to celebrate our Public Easter Hunts in London. Discover a unique Easter Egg hunt at the Natural History Museum and search for eggs from creatures great and small, from Dinosaurs to platypuses on Sat 28th March. Can you beat our tricera-top score?! 
Or celebrate a world of festivities at the V&A on Sat 11th April. Don your Easter bonnet to hunt for Britain’s burning Guy Fawkes and treasures of China’s Lunar New Year.  

Young girl posing as Degas's ballet dancer sculpture at musee d'orsay

Keep an eye out on our blog, the first Tuesday of every month for our THATKid Tuesdays project. Each day we’ll reveal another KidPack page and use it to learn about art history and the museum collections!

Find all our Public hunts at Eventbrite or book a hunt at any of our five museums across London and Paris including the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and British Museum, and coming soon in FLORENCE!  

Cafés at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Gamble room by Joseph Gamble in the V&A restaurant. Beatiful white marble and gold columns and decoration.
Gamble room, James Gamble, 1865 – 78. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fittingly for a museum of art and design, there are three beautiful and inspiring places to eat, drink and rest inside the V&A. The Main Cafe is also the worlds very first museum cafe, with its three rooms still in their original design. All of these can also make great places for score tallying and prize giving after you THATMuse Treasure Hunt!

V&A garden cafe, with tables and chairs under umbrellas near trees and water feature
The Garden Café. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Garden Café

In one corner of the V&A’s beautiful garden is the relaxed Garden Café. Serving coffees, cakes and other refreshments in the heart of the buildings, its the perfect place to admire the building’s uniquely beautiful architecture.
We often begin our Travel Trail and Fashion Hunts here, (weather permitting!) and it can be a lovely place to dip your toes in the pool and enjoy the sun.

The Garden Café is open all year, weather dependent in December and January.

Sleek glass front of Sackler Courtyard cafe with white tables and chairs outside V&A
The Courtyard Café. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Courtyard Café

The new Courtyard Café at the Exhibition Road entrance is a stylish place to grab a bite, right next to the exciting special exhibition gallery. Depending o time of day it serves healthy breakfast pastries, open sandwiches and salads for lunch, as well as an interesting selection of British craft beer and sparkling wine.

Opening times:
Daily: 8.30 – 17.45
Friday: 8.30 – 20.30

Please note: occasionally the Courtyard Café will not open until 10.00 due to museum events.

Green decorated walls and stained glass windows in Morris room, 1866 – 8 Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Morris room, 1866 – 8. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Main Café
Gamble, Morris and Poynter Rooms

The V&A’s main cafe is actually the world’s first museum cafe! First built in the 1860’s, long before London’s other museums invested in catering, the South Kensington Museum as it was then known was a bit more of a trek out of the city proper than it is today. So the founding Director Henry Cole decided a restaurant would attract more visitors and aid in their enjoyment of the wonderful collection. He hired three eminent designers to decorate the rooms;  James Gamble, William Morris and Edward Poynter.
These incredible rooms now host a huge range of hot and cold meals, drinks and treat. You can even book a replica High Tea that Queen Victoria herself enjoyed!

Opening hours:
Daily: 10.00 – 17.10
Friday: 10.00 – 21.15

Blue porcelain wall decoration, stained glass windows and iron fireplace in Poynter room V&A
The Poynter Room

By Annie Caley-Renn

We get it.

Kids don’t always love museums. You’ve tried your best, we know. The day begins well, with the whole family excited for a trip to the museum. Maybe your kids last an hour. A little more, if you’re incredibly lucky. Or maybe just a few minutes. But somewhere along the lines, the meltdown begins. The fun-filled day out you envisioned starts to seem like a distant dream.

The kids are tired. They’re hungry. Museums are boring anyway. Who wants to traipse around looking at old stuff when you could be watching TV?

And the truth is, you’re tired too. A part of you wonders if the kids are right. Are museums just boring, dusty old places? Because no matter how genuinely fascinating the exhibits, “museum legs” are a thing.

Is it your fault your kids just aren’t into this museum thing? Have you doomed them to a colourless, cultureless life? Will these traumatic childhood experiences leave them refusing to visit museums at all as adults?

Well, no. The truth is, we all feel like this at one point or another. But, while it’s tempting to think that maybe museums and kids just don’t mix, this simply isn’t true.

At THATMuse, we’ve helped hundreds of people visit some of the biggest and best museums in Paris and London. Lots of those people are families with kids aged from 5-13. And guess what – most of them leave saying that the British Museum is one of the best things to do in London with kids. Or that their trip to Paris with kids wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the Louvre.

Players strategizing for a Louvre scavenger hunt. Kid having fun.
Strategizing

How is this possible?

If even your local museum exhausts your kids (and you), how could you possibly fathom bringing them to some of the largest museums in the world? Because although the Louvre, the British Museum, the Musée d’Orsay & the V&A are among the most beautiful, impressive museums in the world, their sheer size mean that they are a challenge. For anyone. The Louvre alone contains eight miles of museum, for God’s sake.

The answer is pretty simple. And it’s something you can totally do on your own.

There’s one missing ingredient from your museum trips:

Competition.

That’s it.

After all, all parents have tried it:

“I bet you can’t tidy up your bedroom faster than your sister!”

“Let’s see who can be the first to finish their greens!”

“The first one ready at the door in their shoes and coat gets a treat!” (because after all, what is a competition without a prize?).

Museums are no different. By making them a game – one that can be won – you make museums… well, fun.

5 star tripadvisor reviews

3 Ways to Inject Some Competition into Your Day at the Museum:

  1. The Miniature Museum Treasure Hunt:

This particularly simple game works best with art museums. Pick something – anything – and have your kids compete to see who can spot the most of them. It really could be almost anything. Dogs. Angels. Redheads. Paintings of people who look like Grandma. Or better yet – have the kids pick something themselves.

Hint: things tend to stick in kids minds more if they’re gory, weird, or gross. Ask your kids to choose what they want to be on the hunt for, and don’t stress if they choose “skulls” or “ugly guys” or “boobies”. It’s their game, and if it makes it more fun for them, why not (though maybe have a chat beforehand about which words its appropriate to shout to their siblings from across the gallery).

2. The Postcard Game:

All museums have a gift shop, and all museum gift shops have postcards. Visit the gift shop before entering the main museum, and have the kids pick 3-5 postcards of pieces they like the look of (they’re usually quite cheap). Then, have the kids hold the postcards and hunt out the pieces themselves. Want to add some extra incentive? While in the gift shop, have the kids pick out their “prize” (within whatever price limit you decide on), on the promise that you’ll return to buy it afterwards if they complete their treasure hunt.

Hint: this works best in smaller museums – hunting the entirety of the Louvre or British Museum for one piece (unless it’s the Mona Lisa or the Rosetta Stone), is probably a bit too challenging, and puts your kids at risk of getting bored before they find their treasure.

two women and young girl examining wedding feast at cana painting by paolo veronese 16th century louvre
Hunting for treasure

3. The Imitation Game:

Challenge your kids to recreate as many paintings, sculptures or artefacts as they can, using nothing but their own bodies. They’ll have fun picking pieces to imitate, contorting themselves and being silly, and if you photograph it all, you’ll end up with some great shots for the album. What’s not to love? You might have to get a bit creative as to how to turn it into a competition, but perhaps you could have another family member judge who “wins” for each piece the kids choose to imitate.

Hint: To make it even more fun, join in! As we said before, kids remember silly things, so seeing you – their all-knowing, sensible parents turn yourselves into Michelangelo sculptures and Egyptian mummies will most likely stick in their minds forever. Embarrassed? Good! That just makes it all the more memorable.

Need some extra help?

You can do all of this and more all by yourselves, in any museum. The kids will benefit from soaking up all that lovely museum-juice, and may even learn a thing or two.  

If you’re visiting Paris or London with kids and would like a bit of extra help, THATMuse is ready to turn your miserable museum meltdown into a memorable day out.

Our hunts have been tried, tested and triumphed over by hundreds of kids. Some of those kids are now adults, and we’d be willing to bet they still remember their dads posing on all fours like a dog to win bonus points, or rushing against the clock with mom past magnificent Roman sculptures to try and rack up just a few more points.

The best part? It’s never been easier to book a Treasure Hunt with THATMuse! You can now book your Louvre Treasure Hunt with “friendly competition” directly online, by using our automated booking service. Ready to pit family against another like-minded group?

Click here to book your THATMuse Louvre treasure hunt today!

The comfortable spacious T. Rex Grill seating area
T. Rex Grill eating area

The T. Rex Grill

– Located in the Green Zone           
– Hours: 11:00 – 16:00
– Very cool display with moving dinos. A large space, great for large or small groups to meet up for score tallying (more of a sit-down place)
– Children welcome! Lots of space
– Offers burgers, steaks and pizzas at a pretty affordable price range- prices £10 and up; also offers desserts

The Kitchen's ordering bar
The Kitchen’s ordering bar

The Kitchen

– Located in the Red Zone         
– Hours: 10:00 – 17:00 
– Very kid friendly – offers lunch and activity packs to keep them entertained while parents eat (or tally up their hunts!) sit down place 
– Offers a variety of food from sandwiches, wraps and salads, pizza and burgers; also has dessert options (similar to the coffee house)           
– Prices range from £8.50- £12.50 for adults and £4.25- £5 for the children’s menu (kids under 12)         
– Adult Meal Deal: main, dessert, soft drink for £12.95            
– Kids Meal Deal: main, dessert, soft drink for £8   

Muffins on a cake stand in the Natural History Museum's The Coffee House
Great-looking muffins at the Coffee House

The Coffee House

– Located in the Red Zone (Lasting Impressions Gallery)            
– Hours: 10:00- 17:00            
– Offers pastries and baked goods ranging from £4-£6; perfect for grabbing a quick bite on the hunt (or some caffeine to refuel) or for small groups to score tally; better for on-the-go and for groups without children        

Dining area at the Natural History Museum's Central Café
Dining area at the Central Café

Central Café

– Located in the Blue Zone
– Hours: 10:00- 17:30
– Very family friendly; offers high chairs for babies and toddlers
– Mostly offers sandwiches and salads, but has on the go snacks like crisps and fruit if you need to stop and refuel; this is mostly on-the-go

Darwin centre research building lit with neon green

Darwin Centre Café

– Located in the Orange Zone            
– Hours: 10:00- 17:00 
– Very similar to the Central Café in terms of food – offers sandwiches and salads for more filling options, but also has crisps and a variety of baked goods like caked and pastries

The THATMuse blog has content pieces about the actual museums where you’re hunting, but we’ve also amassed plenty of recommendations of what to do in Paris and London apart from your museum time. Check out our Travelling in Paris & London category on the blog for pieces from kid-friendly parks, cafes and toyshops to romantic cocktail lounges near our museums. 

This post, which first appeared in the Telegraph, was written by expat Daisy de Plume, founder of THATMuse.

Is your notion of Christmas a Dickensian delight in London – or a stroll down the Passage des Princes in Paris? Which European capital is more Christmasy? From ice skating to toy shopping, there’s plenty to keep families entertained over the festive season – but which city has the best options? Daisy de Plume, mother of two and resident of both cities, lists the best Christmas-themed activites for families in London and Paris.

TOYS

Paris

The labyrinthine 19th century covered passages of Paris is the perfect spot for Christmas shopping and nestled in the elegant Passage Jouffroy is a family-run toyshop called Pain d’Epices. Specialising in dollhouses, children marvel at the tiny decorated Sapin de Noel with miniature cadeaux.

The crème de la crème of the passages couvert is Passage des Princes, exclusively devoted to fun and games, from stuffed animals to art supplies and race-bikes.

London

Pollock’s ground floor shop has old-fashioned toys for sale
CREDIT: ALAMY

Pollock’s ground floor shop has old-fashioned toys for sale CREDIT: ALAMY Where Paris has those tiny little dollhouses, London focuses on the ginormous. At seven storeys of toys, Hamleys is the biggest toyshop in the world. It’s not to be missed for visitors, but at the height of Christmas shopping, we prefer the more intimate Pollock’s Toy Museum. Benjamin Pollock was a Victorian creator of toy theatres and the fascinating museum has been family run since the Fifties.

If you’re short on time, keep to Pollock’s ground floor shop where there are reasonably priced wooden toys.

Paris: 1

ICE SKATING

London

After a festive meal, where better to burn off energy than on the rink in front of the Natural History Museum? London has plenty of other rinks to pirouette upon, including Skylight’s rooftop rink, with impressive city views, or cutting your crystal in the rink of the Tower of London, outside the Queen’s jewels. London rinks sell hot chocolate to warm hands and cockles after whizzing around the ice.

Paris

Usually Paris would win this one hands down, but this year there will not be a rink within the Eiffel Tower and all outdoor rinks have sadly been postponed. Instead, we head to the Zenith Theatre at La Villette to take inspiration for next year from Disney On Ice and marvel as our favourite characters perform impressive song and dance numbers on the ice. An awe-inspiring (and warmer) alternative.

London: 1

Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is a popular attraction.
CREDIT: BEN STEVENS

OUTDOORS

London

West London has the lion’s share of holiday fun, from Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland to the illuminated trails through Syon Park’s arboretum, and the dazzling light shows on the glasshouse at Kew Gardens. You can even sing “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” to the deer in Richmond Park; deer scouting gives London a leg up on this Christmas competition.

Paris

Galeries Lafayette gets spruced up for Christmas The City of Light is an apt moniker for Paris at Christmas. The illuminated cheer of Paris market streets is distinct, with family-run fromagerie and fishmongers hoisting decorated Christmas trees on top of their awnings.  Excellent decorations can be seen on rue Montorguiel (2nd), rue des Martyrs (9th), rue Cler (7th) and du Commerce (15th). If you don’t mind a bit of jostling, there’s also the theatrical Christmas windows designed for tots at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, with raised platforms for the little ones to get a good, protected view. You don’t get that at Harrods.

London: 1

CHRISTMAS ON THE SCREEN

CREDIT: EVERETT COLLECTION/REX

London

Hunkering down in the daytime to watch a Christmas movie is a delight of the holidays and London has lots of pop-up cinemas in unexpected places. After venturing through a glistening icy cave at Backyard Cinema’s Snow Kingdom you can nestle into a beanbag and enjoy family films including Home Alone and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Paris

A perfect way for the family to escape the cold (and the tourists) is to duck into a beautiful theatre to introduce the children to some hilarious silent classics. A gorgeous Art Nouveau theatre, Le Luxor has Egyptian-esque architectural features, while Le Balzac (off the Champs-Elysées) has plush red velvet seats and dramatic curtains. Both cinemas host children’s programmes, often including silent greats such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, in case you don’t speak French.

Paris: 1

SWEET TREATS

Galeries Lafayette gets spruced up for Christmas

Paris

La Cuisine Paris has a fantastic selection of classes for the whole family to learn how to make a Bûche de Noël or a Galette des Rois. Children as young as five have fun getting their paws dirty kneading buttery French dough. The delicious treat to take home is a bonus!

London

Throughout December, Bread Ahead in London’s Borough Market hosts seasonal baking classes where you can learn how to bake mince pies, dense ginger cake and stollen together. London has plenty of places to simply ogle beautiful baked goods, including the snow-frosted gingerbread houses at The Savoy’s patisserie. While you’re there, be sure to count the baubles and crackers that festoon the glittering fir tree.

A tie!

The THATMuse blog has content pieces about the actual museums where you’re hunting, but we’ve also amassed plenty of recommendations of what to do in Paris and London apart from your museum time. Check out our Travelling in Paris & London category on the blog for pieces from kid-friendly parks, cafes and toyshops to romantic cocktail lounges near our museums.

Having had fun reviewing cafes and pubs near the BM, past student intern Cheyenne has also put in her two cents on the great restaurants and cafes that are actually inside the British Museum. Considering London’s rain, you may just want to stay in the museum after your hunt and before you return to the galleries to linger over your treasure more slowly (the hope of our hunts is to extend your museum visit!)

Court Cafe

Nestled in the North-East and the North-West corner of the Great Court

British Museum Great Court Cafe
One of several Great Court Cafes

This double-sited cafe has plenty of little treats, such as scones, brownies, and other goodies to make your mouth drool! With long communal tables, you benefit from the impressive British Museum “Grand Court” view with natural light filtering in through Norman Foster’s famous glass ceiling. There are “Kid Packs” as well as sandwiches & hot & cold beverages. Perfect for when you’re looking for a delicious snack to recharge before you begin exploring once more.

Great Court Restaurant

3rd floor, Great Court

Diners at British Museum Great court  restaurant under Norman Foster glass ceiling
The Great Court Restaurant

If you’re looking for a good lunch (or dinner on Friday nights, when the museum is open late) then this is the place for you! It has a wonderful selection from great salads to a delicious dill salmon dish or steak frites. Or if you’d like to go local, they also have some great fish and chips if you’re in the mood to try some traditional British fare. They also do a formal, yet reasonably priced high tea*, although reservations for this might be useful as it can be popular (high teas are a formal affair and can run up a bill enormously). A plant-filled aerie, this is just below Norman Foster’s glass ceiling, and serves as the museum’s most formal restaurant.

Coffee Lounge

3rd floor, between the South stairs and Room 40

This is my personal favorite, as it’s right between two of my favorite galleries: Clocks & Watches and Money. They have some great open-face sandwiches, cake and make some absolutely amazing hot drinks. Whenever I need a quick breather from the actual museum, I like to come here and sip a hot chocolate while I people watch. If you happen to be near here on the hour, stick around and watch the fantastic Strasbourg Clock playing a sweet little tune on hour. This cafe is also the site of a Skull Scouting treasure hunt bonus question: teams have to trot like a Tang Horse for the café’s entertainment!

Montague Café

Near the Montague Place Entrance

A cute little café tucked into a corner, with plenty of snacks and hot drinks to suit your needs. Usually a little less busy than the cafes in or near the Great Court, it’s a great place to sit and have a quiet conversation over a coffee, although they also have small fruit bowls and chips for a snack. As a warning though, while Montague Place isn’t used quite as much as the main entrance, it does make a popular meeting point for school groups and tours, so it can get quite crowded in the entrance hall next to the café.

The THATMuse blog has content pieces about the actual museums where you’re hunting, but we’ve also amassed plenty of recommendations of what to do in Paris and London apart from your museum time. Check out our Travelling in Paris & London category on the blog for pieces from kid-friendly parks, cafes and toyshops to romantic cocktail lounges near our museums.

Following a morning or afternoon on a THATMuse treasure hunt at the British Museum you may want to go scouting for off-the-beaten track treasures in blooming Bloomsbury, the museum’s intellectual (& green!) neighborhood. Mother of two and founder of THATMuse, Daisy de Plume lists her top five picks of Quirky Kid Fun in Bloomsbury. The following five are free and within 15 minutes by foot from the British Museum:   

Coram’s Fields

families with kids sat under trees near play park at Coram's Fields

This 7-acre park on the former site of the Foundling Hospital is a treasure trove of fun for the kiddies. From a flock of farm animals for all ages (from goats to chickens, parrots to bunnies) to a sandbox for tots, Coram’s Fields suits all. My 6-year old, Storsh, does a bee line for the challenging sling line (aka “Death Slide”) although half the time he just ogles in envy as heavier teens zoom past him with their speed zeal. For quick rain showers there’s a gazebo as well as a café within the open colonnade that serves toasties, hot chocolate and fruit. In the warmer months there’s also a lovely sunken fountain for the kids to go a-frolicking. For teens & adults the neighboring Foundling Museum tells you about how Handel donated his organ to the Foundling Hospital and William Hogarth designed the orphans’ costumes. 93 Guilford Street – 

St George’s Gardens

greenery, trees and graves in St George's Gardens

Another hidden treasure is the gorgeous gardens of an 18th century graveyard which only locals tend to cross. Off the beaten track, it’s no surprise it’s a destination for Geocaching families to track down. The gated entrance is at the end of the tiny road, Handel Street, which leads to the convenient Brunswick Center  (of Brutalist fame). Pick up some aluminum-wrapped chocolates at the ginormous Waitrose and using the supermarket’s back entrance hang a right to the gated entrance of St George’s garden, which bookends the tiny Handel Street.  Sprinkle your chocolates about the flowered garden and send your kids on a treasure hunt of their own in the park, or just play hide and go seek among the enormous plane trees, some dating to the 1750s! 1 Handel St –     

Pollock’s Toy Museum

colourful painted facade of Pollock's Toy Museum with windows full d vintage toys

Family run since it was started in an attic in 1956, this precious toy museum was always my Bloomsbury treat when I was a kid visiting from the States. Named for Benjamin Pollock, Ltd, which was the last of the Victorian toy theater print companies, their collection of children’s theatre sets is wonderful. Split between two houses (one from the 1780s, the other from 1880s), you can skip the museum for the wonderfully antiquated toyshop on the ground floor where you’ll find reasonably priced Villac kites, beautiful travel sets of checkers, chess or backgammon & colorful wood toys such as a Jacob’s Ladder. 1 Scala Street –       

Russell Square

Path, benches, fountain and cafe in Russell Square London

RStorsh has the luck of being trilingual (& the bad luck of being culturally confused). As such has made many an international friend in the central fountain of Russell Square. If you have a change of clothes for them pick up a sandwich at the museum and bring it to the neighboring park where kids are bound to find other like-minded imps splashing about in the bursting fountain. The green of the park encourages clusters of picnickers, or there’s a Russell Square café which has Italian gelati or hot chocolate to warm up after their dunking!

Jeremy Bentham

Philosophy gawking… How better to get your kids to remember the 19th centuryphilosopher and founder of Utilitarianism than to visit his wax corpse?!? He presides over the University College London (UCL) from a glass box, he requested that his skeleton should be preserved and dressed in his own clothes. Talk about English eccentricities! The “spiritual founder of UCL”, he’s been known to attend the University’s council meetings (in 2013 he was recorded as “present but not voting”), but when this happens it takes 3 people to move him as he’s bolted to chair in a glass box (on display for anyone to visit) and must be moved in one piece! I always recommend this to families who have chosen the Skull Scouting THATMuse at the British Museum, to take their treasure hunting outside the museum! UCL directions to Jeremy (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/access-ucl/self-guided-tour)

Have you built up an appetite after a hunt (or looking to fuel up before taking the museum by storm)? Listed below are a variety of hotels, pubs, cafés and restaurants near the British Museum where you can grab a bite to eat.

Please note, we’re happy to provide this list of places (all a stone’s throw to the BM) where we’ve conducted score tallying, but we don’t make reservations, nor do we negotiate menus. If your hunt starts between 2:30 & 3:30 pm it’s safe to make a 5:30 reservation (apart from Friday, when the museum’s open till 8:30)

The Bloomsbury Club

plush cafe bar in the bloomsbury hotel with comfortable sofas, coral coloured walls and a chandelier

The very first YMCA in the world, this exceptionally impressive Grade II building is now an elegant hotel. It has a 1920s-inspired Coral Room bar, a wood-lined, tony hipster lounge for cocktails in the lower level (where we’ve done several corporate score tallying), a lovely verdant terrace to serve high tea (the Dalloway Terrace, where we’ve done BuzzFeed, Lego & plenty of Hen Party Prize-givings). Any of their settings hits it just right, but it’s pricy. Not a surprise, as it’s to the standard of the Doyle Collection.
Address: 16-22 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NN
Tel: +44 20 7347 1000
Email: reservations@thecoralroom.co.uk
Directions: Exiting the BM, hang a right on Great Russell Street, cross traffic-filled Bloomsbury Street and the large, elegant red brick building will be on your left (so you have to cross the street again). Less than 5 minutes on foot.

map from British Museum to The Bloomsbury Club

The Russell Hotel

Doorman at the font door facade of the Russell Hotel London

The old RUSSELL HOTEL has a new incarnation! For hipster clients, the 5-star Kimpton Fitzroy Hotel on Russell Square recently finished its renovation of the Grade II 1898 The-au-Lait building, with superflash bars, cafes, restaurants and spaces for treasure hunt score tallying! They have an appropriately splendid cocktail bar, Fitz’s (named for the building’s architect Charles Fitzroy Doll), a Burr & Co coffee bar with a large communal table that can seat up to a 25 people hunt or the upmarket seafood restaurant, Neptune.
Address: 1-8 Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 5BE
Tel: (0)20 7520 1800
Directions: We’ll exit the back of the British Museum & wander across Russell Square & we’re there!

The Plough

classic British pub The Plough on the corner of Museum Road

Sometimes you just want a good solid Victorian pub. The Plough has an upstairs room where we’ve done the score tallying for plenty of 20 to 50-person corporate and birthday hunts.  Typical authentic pub menu with fish & chips, burgers steak and ale pies, etc, this is a Greene King pub. As it’s just down the road from the museum, we’ve probably used this most often for score tallying. Staff are hit or miss…
Address: 27 Museum Street London WC1A 1LH
Tel: +44 (0)20 7636 7964     
Directions: Exiting the front of the BM, turn right onto Great Russell Street & walk half a block before crossing to Museum Street. The Plough, on the corner with hanging flowers, will be on your right. An easy 2 minute walk.

map from British Museum to the Plough

Princess Louise

patrons at the bar of the Princess Louise pub

Historic pub with gorgeous ornate Victorian etched glass, wonderful tile walls and an upstairs perfect for a group meal, we discovered this gem when the compliance team of Disney did their THATMuse score tallying here.
Address: 208 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7EP
Tel: +44 (0)20 7405 8816
Website: http://princesslouisepub.co.uk/
Directions: When exiting the museum’s front entrance on Great Russel Street, turn left onto Bury Place. Next, turn right onto Bloomsbury Way. Cross the street and make your way back onto Bury Place. Turn left onto New Oxford Street, continuing onto High Holborn till you reach the Princess Louise. This walk should take about 6 minutes.

map from British Museum to the Princess Lousie

Cake Shop

croissants and donuts on display in front of a table service sign

at the London Review of Books
Conveniently located just opposite the BM, who doesn’t like going through a bookshop to get to your cakes? As their website says: “Surrounded by books and fragrant with tea, the London Review Cake Shop is the modern answer to London’s long-lost literary coffee-houses” It’s a small space only good for small hunts, with a communal table that seats 16 near a green courtyard and about 8 tables seating another 16 along a banquette. Delicious heavy cakes, wide variety of teas. Plus it feels right to support small independent bookshops! We’ve hosted plenty of Luxe Travelling families on their score tallying here.
Hours:         Monday – Saturday, 10 am – 6:30
Address:     14 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL
Tel: +44 (0)20 7269 9045

Pied Bull Yard

outdoor cafe seating in pied bull yard

Pied Bull Yard is an enchanting little gem of SILENCE just opposite the throngs of tourists mulling about the BM’s Great Russell Street. Tourists and natives alike walk right past its (many) elegant entrances, unaware of its picturesque, leafy courtyard just behind the London Review of Books, where you’ll find a flakey croissant by the hand of French culinary students of the Cordon Bleu or one of London’s few proper biergartens in the form of the English pub Truckles, which serves ales in pewter tankards. Tracing its history is tricky, as this delightful nest of back alleys and courtyards was off the map till 1746 when it appeared on the Rocque Map as “Stable Yard”. Accessed by Bury Lane & Bloomsbury Sq Garden.

Dickens Museum Garden Café

wood panelled cafe counter and brick lined garden cafe with flowers and trellises at the Dickens Museum

Dickens Museum Garden Café is about 10 minutes by foot from the BM, making it just far enough from the tourist trail that one finds themselves in genuine Bloomsbury. Well worth a walk to Doughty Street, the museum itself is a double Georgian row house where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist among others. Great for teens who may have just read one of his treasures, but also a treat for families with tots; my toddler, Baz, has investigated every stone of this garden as he patters about barefoot while I rest my tootsies over a gin ‘n tonic or tea & cake. Pleasant staff and a precious gift shop finish it off as a destination unto itself. 48 Doughty Street https://dickensmuseum.com/

The Life Goddess

patrons eating outside the life goddess greek deli

Just a four minute walk from the BM, the Life Goddess in Fitzrovia is the perfect spot for you and your crew to tally up points and grab a bite to eat. The Greek restaurant prides themselves on fresh and quality ingredients from Greece, and is equipped with a mouthwatering menu that will satisfy all guests. The Life Goddess also has a “carefully curated” wine and cocktail list, and “is a must for lovers of quality food and wine.” With a relaxed and stylish setting that can accommodate groups, this restaurant might be the perfect post-hunt location for you and your team.

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 12pm – 11pm

Address: 29 Store St, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7QB

Tel: + 020 7637 2401

Bibimbap Cafe

stone bowl of korean bibimbap with egg, carrots, spinach, cress and beansprouts

A Taste of Korea, Vegan Friendly!
If you’re not really in the mood for British cuisine, toddle along a little further (less than 5 minutes) to Bibimbab Café for some incredible Korean dishes. Bibimbab also has several vegan and vegetarian options if you have any dietary restrictions. A relaxed and cosy space, it has just enough room for a family or two to score tally after a Luxe Hunt!
Address: 37 Museum street, London WC1A 1LP
Website: http://bibimbabcafe.com/
Phone: 020 7404 8880

Konaki

White front of Konaki Greek restaurant

KONAKI is a Greek restaurant located just steps away from the front entrance of the British Museum. It’s a family run restaurant with typical Greek fare in a cosy setting. It sits up to 50 people and even has outdoor seating for when the weather is nice. Please note, they are only open for dinner service and are closed on Sundays.

Address: 5 Coptic St, Bloomsbury, London WC1A 1NH
Phone: 020 7580 9730
Website: http://www.konaki.co.uk/index.html

The THATMuse blog has content pieces about the actual museums where you’re hunting, but we’ve also amassed plenty of recommendations of what to do in Paris and London apart from your museum time. Check out our Travelling in Paris & London category on the blog for pieces from kid-friendly parks, cafes and toyshops to romantic cocktail lounges near our museums. Looking for something to do on a nice day after an afternoon of competition at the museum? Jenna-Marie Warnecke, our wonderful THATLou colleague, will point you in the right direction with her guide on how to picnic near the Louvre. 

sculpture and flowers in Jardin des Tuileries Paris with ferris wheel in the background
Jardin des Tuileries

After spending a couple of hours running around the Louvre, racing against time to rack up the points necessary to win THATLou, you’re likely to be not only pooped but also hungry. There’s no shortage of (overpriced) cafés nearby where you can relax and grab a bite, but if it’s a nice day out, you can do no better than to have a picnic in the nearby Jardin des Tuileries.

empty tables at modern Brasserie Flottes
Flottes Brasserie

One of my favorite spots to get an easy, quality to-go bite is Flottes And Go at 2 rue Cambon (75001), just across the street from the Jardin des Tuileries (and about a 10-min walk from the Louvre). As an arm of the next-door brasserie Flottes, this bistro boutique is the perfect spot to pick up everything you need for a fabulous picnic from wine to cute napkins.

Fresh sandwiches like focaccia and salmon or quiches with ricotta, zucchini and tomato run about 8€, while you can also grab smoothies and organic sodas like pink grapefruit for 2-4€ and gourmet ice cream with flavors like honey lavender for 4€. There are also plenty of adorable French souvenirs to pick up while you’re at it, including jams, spices, decorative tins and cookbooks.

multicoloured macarons arranged in a glass display case
Macarons at Pierre Hermé

And though Flottes has its share of sweets from artisanal chocolate to gelato, I’d recommend taking a few extra steps down the street to Pierre Hermé (4 rue Cambon, 75001) to try one of their famous macarons. Pierre Hermé macs are renowned for their perfect texture and wild flavors, from chocolat-foie gras to the Ispahan, a delicious blend of rose-raspberry. They are the ultimate picnic dessert!

Jenna-Marie Warnecke writes regularly for Girls’ Guide to Paris, OK Gorgeous and The Huffington Post. In addition to being a professional writer, she also runs Paris Cheapskate, regarding a wide array of events in Paris for those who have an eye to their purse. Jenna’s also been known to run the odd THATLou in the absence of yours truly, as well as to assist with large treasure hunts. You can follow her movements on Twitter at @jennawarnecke.