• City Breaks with a Scintilla of Science on the Side

    by  • January 10, 2016 • Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Children, City Breaks, Cologne, Exhibitions, Florence, Geneva, Paris

    From Planetariums to Particle Physics, Europe boasts a sensational array of science centres.


    When discussing the virtues and attractions of Europe’s principal cities, much is made of the historical, political and religious monuments and stunning architecture, the fabulous cultural institutions devoted to art, music and theatre, the rivers and canals that carve their watery way through the heart of town, and the verdant parks and gardens that provide a leafy alternative to the hustle and bustle of city life.

    Yet amongst Europe’s civic buildings devoted to art, history, ethnography, fashion and military might, many of the Continent’s cities also boast museums devoted to science and technology, be it of the natural variety or purely and properly scientific. For keen chemists and budding biologists, here’s a little look at some of Europe’s centres of science…

    Nemo Science Centre, Amsterdam
    Housed in a striking copper-green ship in Amsterdam’s Plantage district – the building was designed by Renzo Piano, he of the Centre Pompidou in Paris fame – the NEMO Science Centre is a fantastic, interactive museum with five floors of hands-on science exhibitions available to introduce both young and old to the world of science and technology. The largest centre of science in the Netherlands, NEMO attracts over 500,000 visitors a year, making it the fifth most visited museum in the country. And what’s more, in the summertime, NEMO’s roof also becomes the city’s highest beach, with sandpits for the kids and an outdoor café in which to relax and enjoy a coffee whilst appreciating some fabulous views over Amsterdam.

    CosmoCaixa, Barcelona
    Opened in 2005, CosmoCaixa is one of Barcelona and indeed Spain’s largest museums with exhibitions devoted to the environment, nature, science and space. There’s a mini Amazon rain forest complete with alligators, snakes and birds, a geological wall comprising 90 tonnes of different rock types, a Planetarium, as well as plenty of interactive activities for both young and old to enjoy. Produce a sand storm or tornado, see how waves form the shores, how a volcano develops, how sound waves are transmitted and how the earth rotates, courtesy of a Foucault pendulum.

    Science Center Spectrum, Berlin
    Revamped in 2013, Berlin’s Spectrum Center for Science offers 150 fun and interactive exhibits, devoted to discovering the fundamental laws of nature, the basics of science and technical principals. Spread over four floors, Spectrum divides itself into eight distinct sections, each one exploring a specific theme. These include the history of the science centre, electricity and magnetism, heat and temperature, light and vision, mechanics and motion, microcosmos – macrocosmos, music and sound, and seeing and perception. And whilst designed to be hands-on, Spectrum also encourages you to use your other senses, too, applying both the mind and body make discoveries.

    Odysseum, Cologne
    A fantastic adventure and science museum in Germany’s fourth-largest city, Odysseum explores the world of science, technological innovations and space travel, from mankind’s earliest origins right through to the future. Have a go in the flight simulator or take part in a spot of astronaut training, explore both the history of Planet Earth and the mysteries of cyberspace, and discover the dinosaurs in the Jurassic jungle. There’s no shortage of hands-on exhibits.

    Museo Galileo, Florence
    Situated in the Palazzo Castellani, right next to the River Arno, close to the Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria, this state-of-the-art science museum honours Galileo Galilei, the Pisa-born father of observational astronomy and modern physics who played a major role in the scientific revolution during the Renaissance. According to Lonely Planet “a visit of the museum unravels a mesmerising curiosity box of astronomical and mathematical treasures (think telescopes, beautiful painted globes, barometers, watches, clocks and so on) collected by Cosimo I and other Medicis from 1562 and, later, the Lorraine dynasty. Allow plenty of time for the interactive area where various hands-on exhibits allow visitors to discover first-hand how and why some of the historic instruments actually work. Temporary exhibitions are equally compelling”.


    CERN, Geneva
    Situated a short distance outside Geneva on the Switzerland’s French border, CERN is the European Council for Nuclear Research’s laboratory, renowned for its research into particle physics and for its famous particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. Incidentally, it’s also only the place where the World Wide Web was created! Visitors can tour the 27-metre-high illuminated sphere, the Globe of Science, offering a layman’s introduction to particle physics though its permanent exhibition, the Universe of Particles. Whilst this exhibition is currently closed until April this year for maintenance work to the globe, CERN’s second exhibition, Microcosm, is open to the public. Here you can find out what is happening at the Large Hadron Collider and meet the people who build and operate this extraordinary machine. Both exhibitions are free and, when fully open, are available to visit Monday to Saturday.

    Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Paris
    The biggest science museum in Europe, located in Parc de la Villette in the French capital, the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie receives around five million visitors each year. Inside, there’s an extensive array of permanent exhibitions devoted to all thing science, from the Great Story of the Universe, Earthwatch: The Satellite Revolution, Energy and Innovations to Br4in, Transport and Mankind, and Man and Genes. These are complemented further by temporary exhibitions – ‘Darwin, the Original’, and ‘Cats and Dogs the Exhibition’ are the two current themes – along with a dedicated Cité des Enfants whose two exhibitions are designed for ages 2 – 7 and 5 – 12 years respectively in addition to the Géode IMAX and 3D cinema.

    Situated in both the Cité des Sciences and the Palais de la Découverte meanwhile, Universcience is designed to unlock knowledge and promote the culture of science. Exhibits at the Palais de la Découverte are devoted to astronomy and astrophysics, chemistry, geosciences, mathematics, physics and life science.

    Whilst in Paris, you might also like to visit the Marie Curie Museum, located on the ground floor of the Curie Institute Pavilion, a leading cancer treatment hospital and biological, medical research centre. The institute was originally built for Marie Curie by the University of Paris after the Curie’s discovery of Radium in 1898 and it was here that Curie directed the world’s first studies and treatment of cancers.


    With a French grandmother, childhood holidays on the continent and a degree in French and Spanish, a love of languages and travel has always been in my blood. Fresh from university with an unfettered enthusiasm to show off my linguistic ability and first-hand knowledge of the world beyond the UK, I entered the travel industry and, 16 years on, I’m still there! With several years spent in the luxury sector planning escorted holidays across Europe for the American market, followed by an even longer tenure designing short breaks with a difference in the must-see cities of Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Amsterdam, Madrid, Prague, Florence, Brussels, Venice, Salzburg, Milan, Krakow and Berlin (to name but a few), it’s fair to say that Europe is my passion! Today my travels have taken me far beyond the boundaries of Europe with so many destinations still to discover, yet the continent abounds in such a wealth of treasures – historical and architectural, cultural and musical, gastronomic, artistic and linguistic – that its appeal, for me, will be eternal.