I am constantly amazed and delighted by the range of free/super cheap things there are in Hong Kong for children – from soft playrooms to brilliantly stocked children’s libraries to quite wonderful swimming pools. Yes, the Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department ROCKS (and there is a sentence you don’t hear everyday). But despite all of this, I have to say it wasn’t with the highest of expectations that we embarked on our family field trip to the Hong Kong Museum of History. We had just been to the Space Museum a few weeks before and it had been, quite frankly, a bit of a disappointment. I mean it was all there: rockets, flight simulators, black holes. How could it not be fun? And yet they had managed to make it feel all a bit sterile. It was like the curator had walked a toddler around the entire museum and anything that looked like it may cause a whoop of delight or a moment’s fascination, they had placed just slightly out of reach, or behind Perspex, or both.
After this little misadventure, needless to say, it was not high on my list to pay a visit to the Hong Kong Museum of History. However, faced with another skin-melting day, we thought it might be worth a shot. The thing was, we had heard it was an excellent museum. My friend told me that it was perhaps THE best museum she had ever been to (although in fairness she was from Portland, Oregon, so I figured maybe she didn’t get out all that much). We also had sent many of our out-of-town visitors there and they had always come back raving about it. And yet we’d never been. And with an energetic little boy chomping at the bit, we decided, with some trepidation, to find out why…
So, as all good parents know, you need to pick your battles – and dragging a 2.5 year old around an exhibit entitled ‘The Dynasties: From the Han to the Qing” should never, let me repeat that, NEVER! be one of them – but outside of that slight hiccup, the Museum of History was really quite great. From tip-toeing through Pre-historic Hong Kong (spotting tigers and bears in the forests) to being able to jump on and off a life-sized junk (pretending, of course, to be pirates – which I grant you wasn’t strictly historically accurate) there was loads to grab a toddler’s attention. And that was just the ground floor…
Upstairs, my son was able to rekindle his (slightly worrying) fascination with cannons, run up and down evocative mock-ups of Hong Kong streets and pretend to drive a tram. On occasion, we even came close to reading some of the information boards – although thinking we would be able to read anything to the end was sheer whimsy – and so we contented ourselves with seeing the museum at the break-neck speed of a toddler, getting excited at spotting Chinese dragons, marveling at huge towers of Chinese buns and fiddling with rows of red letter boxes. All in all, what is nowadays classed as: ‘a top morning out’.
Okay, so for my toddler it didn’t quite rank up there with Disneyland, but he still had an interesting and fun couple of hours. Oh, and in terms of crowds and price – it beats Disneyland hands down. There is loads of (air-conditioned) space for little ones to roam – which is always my holy grail in Hong Kong heat – and who knows, perhaps he even learnt something (although, to be fair, I am not entirely sure what!). For parents of school-aged children, this is a must go! The museum is really, really great for older children, with bold, colourful exhibits to bring the interesting facts to life.
So, unless you have one of those demure, cerebral, patient toddlers (in which case – can we swap numbers and do a trade?), don’t go in expecting to learn a whole lot about Hong Kong History. This is a shame, and so I definitely plan to go back for a more in-depth and adult-only trip. Also, we did have to encourage our son’s excitement and interest at the beginning. There were quite a few “Ooooh, look at this!” and “Wow, check that out!” exclamations needed until our toddler really ‘got’ what a museum was, and that this wasn’t just the pre-amble before we came to the playground. Once he did realise the potential for imaginative play and general tearing about, he got into it with gusto. It’s worth noting, however, if you’re hoping for a morning with minimal parental input needed (I’m not judging, we all have those days!) you might be safer heading to a soft playroom.
One last note, like its next door neighbour, the Science Museum, it’s a little bit of a trek from the MTR, which isn’t ideal if you have to do some toddler carrying.
If you are hungry…
At the time we visited, the museum’s good-value café was sadly closed for refurbishment. A short jaunt into TST East, however, gives you a whole host of dining options. If you just want a quick snack and a coffee, there is a good-sized Starbucks just around the corner at 100 Granville Road. In need of something a bit more substantial? Head towards Mody Road and the TST Centre, and you can check out one of the cafés and restaurants on Alfresco Lane. Brotzeit German Bier Bar & Restaurant, Eastside Tavern and Pico all have booster or high chairs. Then, if you can muster the energy, you can always burn off dessert by taking a stroll down the Avenue of Stars.
To get there either use exit B2 from TST MTR station, exit D1 from Hong Hom MTR or exit P2 from East. For a detailed map, visit the website.
The museum is open 10am-6pm on weekdays, 10am-7pm on weekends and public holidays, closed Tuesdays (except public holidays). A standard ticket is $10, kids under 4 years old go free and everyone goes free on Wednesdays.
Hong Kong Museum of History, 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon, Hong Kong