Nachliel Selavan
Nachliel Selavan
The Museum Guy

Five Family Activities in Jerusalem’s Museums

Family fun in the museum
Family fun in the museum

“What was Herzl’s Favorite Emoji?” runs all this summer in the Israel Museum. “The Museum Guy”, Nachliel Selavan, works with museums around the world and is now Jerusalem-based. Find him on www.museumtours.co.il and social media platforms.

Summer has come, camps are in session, and of course there are water parks, wet trails, and lots of incredible things to do in this small country. But how about air-conditioned, safe environments that are fun and educational?

Museums!

I know: “Museums are boring” – lots of old masterpieces, modern art, or ancient archaeology. An adult lecture or rainy day, not a kid’s summer dream!

Well, not on my watch! After all, I’m the Museum Guy, and I get kids’ attention  in the classroom, in camp, and outdoors- I make the museum come alive for them.  

Museums are the perfect place for a family activity, escape room, scavenger hunt and to learn a lot without noticing! And I don’t just mean the Biblical Museum of Natural History – an absolute must! I mean museums with art and archaeology as well.

Jerusalem has dozens of small museums and galleries. Just for example: Museum of Underground Prisoners near the Russian Compound on 1 Mish’ol haGevura St. The Mount Zion Trench just opened, and you can call the Mount Zion Museum at 02-6277550 to ask to see the cable car that is connected to it. I list more below. 

Some museums have evening programs and lectures, and can be very interesting indeed! The Museum of Italian Jewry is very active, and I include more information about it below. Some require advance booking; some really need a guide to appreciate their messages; and some are very focused and make for only a short visit, so you must plan a broader activity for your family.

My goal here is to help you visit five major museums where you can spend 2 hours or more with your kids (so not Yad Vashem or the Rockefeller). I will also add some basic info about a few additional museums and sites you may enjoy.

The Israel Museum

Israel’s Crown Jewel – our first National Museum, founded in 1965, before the Six Day War. That alone is a great story! It was Mayor Teddy Kollek’s vision of putting Israel culturally on the world’s map; and it worked!  

Technical information:

Derech Rupin, near the Knesset. Parking available. Buses 7, 9, 14, 35, 66, 66a. 

Check out opening hours here. Starting August 1, it will be open on Sundays as well.

Food: Due to Covid restrictions, the cafeterias and restaurants sell drinks, pastries and prepared sandwiches; so currently, for a sit-down meal do that before or afterwards. Lockers are available. Bring bottles of water, and small snacks you can nosh on outside the galleries – eating inside the galleries is not allowed.

An encyclopaedic museum with multiple exhibitions and shows per year, massive archives and research centers – it is truly world-class. It is also so large you can get lost – which is where a guide can be very helpful – and the museum offers many free tours. But that’s all interesting for adults. What about kids and family time that doesn’t involve just looking together at ancient rocks or French paintings? How do we get the kids engaged? 

As a museum guide, my first piece of advice is to plan your visit. Coming to a large museum with a family is tricky enough – getting everyone in the car, planning meals, finding bathrooms, and keeping everyone together in a large museum. You want to have a plan of action. 

Lucky for you, the museum is set up just for that! 

Some of the galleries have pamphlets for kids, selfie challenges, and drawing activities. Ask at the information desk, or call during museum opening hours.

An Israel Museum app offers some virtual and audio guided tours; best for teenagers and up. 

Before your visit, see the free activities listed for children at Exhibitions and activities for children and families (some pages work better in Hebrew); specifically. here.

The Children and Youth Wing offers numerous activities. Some require registration or purchasing a kit, some are available on certain days, some are only in Hebrew. For example, the Archaeological Mound that teaches kids about excavations; the Recycle Room; and the new Scavenger Hunt. The Children’s Art Library offers readings and its own activities.; 

Scavenger hunt? 

Bring it on! Teddy Kollek’s Code (in Hebrew) connects kids to the story of the museum’s founding, and I have seen kids roaming the galleries and having a good time with it. There is an extra charge for the kit.

Recycling Workshop

Definitely one of my own personal fun childhood memories. In the Recycling Workshop, you can make anything from plastic, metal and wooden parts, rummage through piles of colorful buttons, and take your creations home. Open on Tuesdays, it has an extra charge of 15-20 NIS per child.

The Ruth Youth Wing offers plenty of activities throughout the year, including art classes, an art library with programming, and tailored museum tours. 

The Bible Lands Museum

Located across the street from the Israel Museum is another one of Jerusalem’s treasures: The Bible Lands Museum (BLMJ).

This museum is small, but its collections are unique, and the quality of some of its artifacts even surpasses that of the British Museum’s collections. The permanent 20-section main exhibition and others can be a bit tricky to navigate without a guide (they have audio guides and VR activities). Their special exhibitions like Babylon are always fantastic. Their warm and lovely staff will be happy to help you with children’s programming – just ask!

Technical information:

Check out their opening hours. Hours are different from the Israel Museum, and there are some days that are free for kids. For example, the Israel Museum is free for kids on Tuesday, but it opens at 16:00-21:00, whereas the BLMJ is open that day from 10:00, and is open late on Wednesdays. 

Summer activities for families and kids ages 5-10 are already running, and some will begin in August. Make sure to check the schedule in the links above and plan your visit. 

The new exhibition and summer activity is called Early Birds. It opened on July 27. 

If you visit the museum, you will see bird footprints running through the galleries. This is part of the special exhibition, which include: Build-a-bird games; Impressive birds, stamps inspired by ancient coins; Fun2C – a VR-AR experience; Mosaic puzzles; Bird costume corner; Self-guided activities decoding bird symbols in ancient hieroglyphs.

Source: www.blmj.org

Source: www.blmj.org 

The Bloomfield Science Museum

The Science museum is, without a doubt, a great choice for family activities. With over a dozen permanent and temporary exhibitions for adults, kids and the whole family, they tackle subjects such as: How will humanity sustain itself with its exponential population growth? Why don’t buildings fall? Human reflexes, mechanics, and ways in which science, math and computers impact and improve our lives. 

Technical information:

The museum is located on Museum Boulevard 3, near the Knesset. It has a small parking lot, ample metered parking around it, and can be reached by bus: 7,9,14,35,66,66a.

The website works in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Some of the pages are only in Hebrew, which can make signing up a bit tricky. You have to book your date and time slot in advance.

The Museum of Islamic Art

An overlooked and underrated treasure of Jerusalem – I highly recommend this gem. The Museum of Islamic Art is as important as it is fun. It was founded by Vera Bryce Salomons in 1974, a Jewish woman with vision, and patron of culture and art. This museum has great educational value that is key to understanding the Middle East and the Islamic culture, which shaped a lot of Judaism, and the Middle East. They offer art workshops and activities for all ages, as well as educational enrichment for school teachers.

Technical information:

Located on 2 Hapalmach st., near the 13 and 18 bus stops. Street parking can be tricky, but possible.

Check out their opening hours. There is an adjacent restaurant, and there are plenty of small shops on the nearby streets.

Activities for families and kids include: calligraphy; paper-folding; the garden in Islam: Create a traditional Islamic garden; making tiles and mats; making personal clocks with arabesque and floral designs; decorating musical instruments. But that’s not all!

The museum has three stories of permanent exhibitions which go through the different periods of Islam throughout the world, a fourth floor with activity rooms and downstairs – where the magic happens. 

There are two temporary exhibitions which are the hype of the summer in the museum. Let’s get into it. 

Code name: Hands of Fate

Based on a true story of a museum heist, this escape room takes place in the museum’s exquisite collection The Secret of Watches. The collection itself is fascinating with many golden, gem-studded and enamel-laid pocket watches with tiny figures and scenes inside them. And this extra activity for kids will really make you tick. The escape room is available for younger and older kids. You need to book this activity. Check out the event schedule here.

Source: www.islamicart.co.il

Coffee, East and West – is a fun exhibition about how coffee shaped civilization. I visited there yesterday, and it was very enjoyable. It includes the history of coffee in the East and the West, documentation of coffee, how it’s made, costumes, pictures, Jewish responsa and more. If you like fancy coffee mugs, look for the handmade sand mugs from Dubai. If you like nostalgia, you’ll find a 1956 Olympic game coffee machine.This exhibition should not be missed!

The Tower of David Museum

To end things on a high note – here is something really exciting you can do in Jerusalem’s Old City: The Tower of David Museum. This is the one museum on this list that is mostly outdoors.

The Hype of the summer is the Towers in the Air – Climbing Rope Adventure

To quote their site: “A historical and hysterical summer experience – the first of its kind in Jerusalem: A Challenging Rope Course Adventure at the Tower of David in Jerusalem!”

This activity is good for ages 9 and up, and as with everything in these quasi-Covid days, book in advance and don’t just show up.

The museum itself has rampart walks and tours, musical and other exhibitions, light-and-sound experiences at night, and other things going on, so see what works for your family.

This is an activity you can include in your visit to the Old City and the Kotel, Mamilla Mall, or the new Teddy Park across the street. Teddy Park has shooting water jets, and is a great place for a picnic. As always – best to plan your trip.

Kids preparing for the rope adventure. Source: www.tod.org.il

Technical information:

The Tower of David Museum does not need any advertisement, as it is the iconic image of the Old City walls (though it has nothing to do with King David). 

Parking:

There are two adjacent pay parking lots on Yitzchak Kariv Street below Jaffa Gate. Check rates on their websites: Mamilla Parking Lot, Karta Parking Lot.

From there it is a 5 minute walk to the Tower of David, or use the brand-new 2 bus which goes from the parking lots to the Kotel and back, every 15 minutes.

The 38 and 2 bus go to the Kotel, while the 38 bus from Kikar Tzahal makes a short new City circle and through the Old City. From City Hall light rail train station, walk to the Tower of David in under 10 minutes.

A few extras

Jerusalem’s many historic museums take several weeks to visit. Among them are the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art on 27 Hillel St; the new Herzl Museum on Mt. Herzl, and the Hebrew Music Museum in Kikar haMusica in town, and many more. I recommend visiting The Jerusalem Municipality website to find more museums and the events calendar.  

For locals, register for your Jerusalem resident card. It will give you discounts and access to many experiences. The website above has a pop-up offering you free registration. Do it!

About the Author
Nachliel Selavan is a Jewish education innovator, historian, and international museum guide. He is currently living in Jerusalem and guiding museum tours in Israel, after 7 years of teaching in the New York area, and running theme tours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and north America. Besides teaching in schools and communities, he blogs on these topics and offers weekly podcasts and videos about archaeology on the parasha, and posts regularly on social media.
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