Weather: One of the first sunny days of the year, a day of joy, a day of hope. So naturally we spent most of it inside.
Logistics: The museum has an NCP car park outside (don’t forget to pay!) and is in the grounds of Verulamium Park. It’s a short walk from St. Albans city centre and easily accessible by car. the museum is £16 for a family ticket and that includes a visit to the hypocaust (we didn’t make it that far so I don’t know what that is) and the Roman theatre around the corner too.
Activities: I must admit that I had pretty low expectations of my children’s ability to really get to grips with the whole ancient civilisation thing but they did admirably. Their enthusiasm was increased by the use of I Spy sheets which meant they actually looked at what was in every cabinet and some actual learning happened by osmosis. We also made mosaics, built a bridge and dressed as roman soldiers. When I asked what they enjoyed big kid said he liked the skeleton in the coffin and small kid liked the lady statue. I am unclear whether she meant the mannequin in the diorama or the ancient statue of Venus but either way she was happy with the whole shebang. They also particularly enjoyed the gift shop. The kids certainly carpe’d that diem.
I also need to make special mention of the staff who helped us. They were efficient, informative and kind. They were patient with the kids and seemed genuinely interested in what they had to say. The museum clearly works with the local schools and includes their work in the museum. It was lovely to see art work from local schools on display as you walk in. The whole place has a well-thought-through feel. All the displays are set up really well, with objects collated according to use. Contextualising the artefacts made it much easier for my kids to draw parallels with their own lives - they used plates like we use plates but they had oil lamps not lightbulbs.
I had planned that we would finish up in the museum and then head over to the theatre, but small children have taught me that plans can collapse like a badly excavated mosaic so we headed towards the park instead.
Verulamium park is pretty good. There’s a large play area with equipment for all ages and a toddler splash park open all summer (for the three sunny days we get each year). My hoard were getting grumpy with rumbly tummies so today we eschewed that for a brisk walk into town - though the walk was made slightly longer by big kid’s heartfelt impression of a starving puppy dragging himself along. We trotted past the herons nesting on the island in the pond - even a starving seven year old was able to muster some enthusiasm for that - and along the side of the cathedral, which is apparently less impressive than a heron. (I disagree, I love the cathedral.) The walk from the museum to the town centre is full of little historic nuggets which you can discover on your own (or by using Pokemon Go, if you’ve got the kids with you.)
Coffee: The weather had made me so so happy I didn’t even have a coffee, but the cafe in the park knows its business and I know from previous experience it serves a mean cappuccino. They also serve all the necessary middle class foods for children; humous, flat bread pizza and the like. The food is fresh and pretty healthy but I needed make my kids tired, hence the walk into town.
Food: St Albans has entirely surrendered to its most recent invaders - Londoners with small kids who have been priced out of the city and so have rebuilt the town in their own image. Every middle class parent’s whim is catered for - there are pottery cafes, gastropubs and a million family friendly restaurants, doling out toddler friendly food with terrifying efficiency. The catering staff of St Albans know it will cost them their tip if little Jemima and Alfred have to wait more than a minute for their babycinos. Of course, this suits me and my pampered brood very well indeed. We went for Bill’s but all the high street heroes are there - Zizzi’s, Prezzo, Jamie’s Italian, hell there’s even a Gail’s.
Accessibility: Everything is on one level and all the paths are very wide so there are no apparent issues with access to this untrained eye. It’s also a pretty calm affair and your ticket lets you enter and leave multiple times, for those who might need a bit of space to run around between exhibits.
Overall: Verulamium gave me history and happy kids. Good stuff.