Vacationing in Europe is not for adults only, no matter what many people believe about the difficulty of getting children across an ocean. If you’re willing to look around, there are plenty of kid-friendly vacation options – surprisingly, they even have kids of their own there and have made an effort to keep them happy and healthy. Below are some great places for families, but in the end, wherever you dream of going, you can find a way to enjoy it with your family if you are willing to put in a little extra research time.
For the Americans, it is a concept not even worth considering. You could never explore more than one region of the country over a few days, even if you did have inexhaustible funds and an iron cast resistance to the unpleasantness of air travel. The sheer width of the country alone makes cross-national traveling over a short period impossible.
In Europe, however, where countries bump against each other with proximity similar to that of states in the U.S., it is far simpler to cover a large portion of territory over a small amount of time, even the length of a day. Many places within Europe recognize the brevity of their tourists’ stays and (to a certain degree) cater to them all in a day mindset.
If you come to Europe, the U.K. should be your first destination. London is much bigger than a single day will allow you to appreciate, but you can do quite a bit with Heathrow or Gatwick (or even Stansted in desperate situations) acting as your origin. You might be tempted to visit only the most famous tourist sites (namely Buckingham Palace, House of Commons, Big Ben, Parliament Square, etc.), but you might find your time better invested in a day in Camden Market.
The region is festering with small knick-knack shops and the sort of colorful characters this shopping attracts. You can buy things relatively cheaply also if you barter with the street vendors of Camden Lock, so you’ll have just enough left after the bus ticket to buy some traditional fish and chips from one of the myriads of such places speckling the sidewalk.
It may seem like an inappropriate choice, given the dazzling reputation of romantic Paris, but you may very well find the sedated splendor of Nice to be more to your liking. The city itself boasts all the cultural wonders that westerners have come to associate with France (i.e., fabulous cafes and restaurants, museums, and art galleries) without the crowded sidewalks and overly touristed regions of Paris.
In Nice, you can walk amongst people actually speaking French rather than eavesdropping on the American couple to your left and the two backpackers from Britain to your right. Finally, due to its location slightly north of Paris, it is a closer hop from London and has warmer weather.
Any country that is rated first on the Human Development Index (HDI) deserves a second glance. Though small (about 500,000 people), Oslo nonetheless features a maze of shops and region-specific thrills, such as Holmenkollen, a massive ski jump on the hillside overlooking the city. Also, due to its somewhat smaller population, you don’t have to worry too much about getting caught in traffic jams on the sidewalk or in the streets. Finally, most residents of the city speak English quite well. Don’t forget to see a football (American soccer) gameâ€¦. Listening to the Norwegians call each other farmers with such vigor is consistently amusing.
After all the times your mother told you not to go, you could hardly resist coming here. The city is renowned for the prevalence of sex, drugs, and general liberalism, but it also features some of Europe’s most colorful cultural exhibits. Current features include an exhibit of Anne Frank, canal tours (strikingly reminiscent of Venice), and the Heineken Experience, an ode to the famous brand of beer.
Getting to Sardinia will obviously require air transportation, which could make it more expensive than some of the previously mentioned ventures. However, a visit to the island, located in the middle of the Western Mediterranean, holds a richness of history more apparent than in other European histories. The country features the sunny, tropical beaches you might expect from its geographic location. Local food tradition includes world-renowned (and distributed) wine and cheese.
Vienna is a city with hundreds of years of history and with architecture that ranges from the spectacular – including the Schönbrunn Palace, a palace that easily rivals Versaille, in my opinion – to the decidedly quirky. Hundertwasserhaus, I’m talking to you. With plenty of museums and sidewalk cafes, there is always something to do in this clean and modern capital city.
So you have kids and want them to have a fun vacation… it doesn’t take a genius to know that Disneyland Paris is going to be a crowd-pleaser. And the city of lights holds plenty of fun for adults as long as you brace yourself for the typical Parisian scorn that can sometimes rain down on tourists when they least expect it.
Gardaland near Lake Garda, Italy
One of the most popular theme parks in Europe and certainly among the most well-known in Italy, Gardaland offers hours or even days of fun to a young family.
The thrill of careening down a mountain can certainly beat the thrill of a roller coaster for many families. The Swiss Alps, with their multiple national languages and international culture, are a perfect place to rent a little cottage and spend a week eating pastries and then working off the calories with snowball fights and skiing.
Why pick? Take a train across Europe – The night trains have compartments with beds and a washbasin you can rent. While showers are only available with Premiere tickets, a great way to explore Europe with slightly older children can be to overnight yourself a city to city and then spend a day or two in a hotel that fits your budget within that city. What better way to pass two or three weeks than by visiting your dream cities and countries and spending the time in between on romantic train rides, sipping espresso in the diner car, and watching the landscape fly by?
Another beautiful Italian city, Florence, is small enough to wander around in safely but large enough to find plenty to do there. A plus is its location in Tuscany, meaning that multiple day trips to ancient towns and vineyards are easily planned and happily executed from Florence’s central location. And if you’re a foodie, Tuscan cuisine is second to none in the world.
Known as a location with great family beaches, this beachside town is great for a family who wants to soak in some sun and music and delicious Spanish food. Salou Spain would be a great choice for a relaxing family vacation doing nothing but exactly what you want while working on your tan.
These locations are only a start. From bike tours in the Netherlands to museum tours in Berlin, there’s something for any family that can be found in Europe.