Where are the best places to travel with children? Is Europe an appropriate place to travel with children? I’ve seen this question come up quite a bit. In this article, we will discuss why Europe (Western, Central, and even parts of Eastern) is a perfect continent for family travel.
Ages of children factor in
For reference, our two children are going to be 8 and 10 when we set foot on European soil. We’ve tended, therefore, to focus on outdoor types of activities for our main entertainment. We live in Colorado, which can be cold and snowy, but we think while traveling our children will have a much more comfortable time if it’s in shorts on as many beaches as possible. We have family in Western Sweden where we will try to stay cheaply in the area of Orust Island. We may try to camp because it will be Summertime. I would imagine this type of setting would be appropriate for ANY aged child. If your child is super-young, they will have fun doing very simple things on the islands. If they’re in High School, perhaps they can dig deeper into family history, or the history of the islands themselves.
After that we will be heading to the UK. I’ve spent considerable time in London. It is a very large city, to be sure, but I strongly beleive this city will have tons to do for children of all ages. Again, we will be there in summer or early Autumn. This time of year can be just wonderful. Our children are old enough to have seen Paddington, Mary Poppins, and other such movies set in picturesque London neighborhoods. Part of my strategy will be to bring those themes to life. Children are short, and therefore you may need to lift them up, or point up to some of the more vivid architectural scenes around the city. But let’s face it, most children will get bored by tea ceremonies, Selfridges shopping, museums (though I think our children will really enjoy one hour in the British Museum). When boredom sets in, you MUST ease off of the sightseeing and rushing around that adults are famous for. In London, you are in luck! There are two huge parks to explore: Hyde Park, and the smaller but more ornate Regents Park. Perhaps have a stop for lunch right before running around in the parks. Perhaps bring some snacks and drinks to the park. But outdoor activities of all types are sure to please the young ones.
Smaller towns in the English and Scottish countryside may not work so well with younger children. There really isn’t much to do other than walk around in these towns, and the quiet nature of establishments–while pleasant in small doses–might not provide the excitement needed to hook your kids. However, you need to be careful not to overdo big cities like London and Paris. I think these cities can be really magical. I cannot wait to show my kids the Eifel Tower. I mean, what kid hasn’t seen that tower in Disney and Pixar movies? But these cities are overwhelming at times. If you go a wrong direction, you could be walking a LONG way which can affect children’s stamina. If you end up in one of these situations, remember the old saying to “make lemonade when you get lemons.” Is there a way to break up the trip with ice cream? In Europe, there almost always will be a treat around the corner. It might even help the parents to grab a beer or glass of Burgundy. We’ve detailed some of these cities in our itinerary page.
The sweet spot mid-sized city
Perhaps a perfect compromise is the mid-sized European city. Not as overwhelming as major capitals, these cities can offer a calmer pace. This type of European trip may be foreign if you’ve ever done a whirlwind tour. Those whirlwinds fly over mid-sized locations and “play the hits” so to speak. With children, you need to slow down, sometimes WAY down. But you don’t need to sacrifice quality tourism infrastructure and decent meals to take it down a notch. When our daughter was five months old, we went to Beaune, France. This town is in the heart of Burgundy. The old town was as charming as I’ve found in Europe. There was instant access to the countryside–our kids now love bike riding so that would be a game changer–yet plenty of good restaurants and English-speaking assistance. This is just one example. There are obviously hundreds of such towns. Another possibility is Salzburg, Austria. Yes, this is a larger town to be sure, but it always seems very calm to me when I visit. The last time we visited it was the first day of our honeymoon and we were jetlagged. It didn’t stop us from doing a lot of bike riding on pleasant streets and countryside paths. Whichever part of Europe interests you going in, you should not be afraid to consider a smaller city with children.
We mentioned earlier the different parts of Europe, and I think it’s deserves some more attention. Western Europe is the traditional are that even our parents probably visited. I’ve traveled quite a bit in Czech Republic, and while this used to be “Eastern” Europe, many consider it “Central” Europe these days. As far as countries like the Czech Republic, you should be cognizant that there isn’t always much English spoken in smaller towns. In Prague and Czesky Krumlov you will find plenty of English assistance with perfect English spoken. I suspect more of Central Europe is completely English-compatible these days. These smaller towns have had the benefit of decades of tourist infrastructure building–if they so sought. But Eastern Europe may still be tricky in certain respects. Countries like Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania should be approached with a slightly different strategy to stick with larger towns. Again, this is just how I perceive the issue. If your children are hearty travelers, they may enjoy a strange land where English isn’t spoken much. And how could a kid who likes Halloween in the US argue with visiting Dracula’s homeland of Transylvania?
Verdict: Europe is a great choice for children of all ages
One of Europe’s main attributes is it’s crucible of cultures. A two hour train ride in Europe can take you to a completely different experience. With the proper planning and attention to some of these finer points, you can craft the perfect European trip with your children. Pay close attention to time of year of travel. Though I’ve recommended traveling in warmer weather for comfort, remember that many European cultures are jackpots for Christmas celebrations. Traveling in off-season also helps your budget and you’ll meet less stress-out tourism workers. But overall, remember to mix in plenty of outdoor activities, fun eating experiences, and a smattering of well-conceived museum trips. School-aged children can always relate what they see to social studies, math and language arts back home. Keeping a journal is really a must for children and adults alike. This blog page will likely serve as our journal, but having a special handwritten journal is a good idea as well. The romantic in me can see it now: happy children sitting comfortably on a train in Europe, making notes about what they’ve already seen, and what adventure the rest of the trip holds.