It’s easy to make the case against taking the kids along on your European vacation. With them in tow, it all becomes more about playgrounds and petting zoos than museums and cathedrals, according to Rick Steves on the blogsite SFGate. Plus, traveling with kids can be expensive. Out of exhaustion and frustration, you may find yourself caving for costly conveniences like taxis and pricey restaurants with child-friendly menus. Yet, Steves refreshingly challenges us to think another way. With kids along, he says, you’ll live more like Europeans and less like tourists.
“Your children are like ambassadors, opening doors to new experiences and countless conversations. With kids, you’ll be forced to discard your tourist armor and become a temporary European—as a parent.”
Some of his best travel memories wouldn’t have happened without the children along, he asserts. “Because my son was in the car, I once detoured to watch a ‘Petit League’ baseball tournament in southern France. I’m no horseman, but because my daughter had her heart set on riding, I trotted along leafy bridle paths in the Cotswolds (next time I’ll wear long pants).”
Let the kid in you set the itinerary, and everyone will have a good time
Somehow even the big-ticket family attractions have more appeal in Europe. Europe’s Disneyland, outside Paris, has all the familiar rides and characters. But Mickey Mouse speaks French, and you can buy wine with your lunch. (Oo la la!) Consider this: With more than 15 million visitors a year, Disneyland Paris has become the Continent’s #1 tourist destination.
Legoland Billund in Denmark is also a huge hit with kids (and, shhh, their parents). Sixty million plastic bricks are meticulously arranged into extraordinarily detailed wonders such as Mount Rushmore, the Parthenon and “Mad” King Ludwig’s castle. Anyone who’s ever picked up (or stepped on) a Lego will marvel at these amazingly lifelike representations.
Nostalgic parents and their children love Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, which recently celebrated its 150th birthday. This 20-acre park is happily and simply Danish, sans commercial glitz. As Steves describes it, “You pay one admission price and find yourself lost in a genteel Hans Christian Andersen wonderland of rides, restaurants, games, marching bands, roulette wheels and funny mirrors.”
Certain European cities seem built for kids
London (no language barrier) has some of the world’s best museums for children: the Natural History Museum (dinosaur bones), Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood (toys, doll houses, and games dating from the 1600s), and Science Museum (IMAX theater, spaceships and an energy show). Hyde Park (one of London’s eight Royal Parks) is the perfect place for kids to play, ride bikes and run free. There’s also a pirate-themed playground.
Barcelona bubbles with inexpensive, quirky sights and an infectious human spirit, including a terrific, hill-capping amusement park, “magic” fountains that put on a free light-and-sound spectacle most summer nights, a chocolate museum (sugar rush…you’ve been warned), and one of Europe’s best urban beach scenes.
Venice is one big amusement park in itself, like nothing else your kids have ever seen. Take a vaporetto (waterbus) across the lagoon to the Lido, Venice’s beach island, and you’ll never want to leave.
Another canal-lined city, Amsterdam, has a special charm for kids. Its electric trams are enchanting, as are the boats that tour the canals. At NEMO, the kid-friendly science museum, it’s forbidden not to touch (how great is that!). And if appropriate for your kids’ ages, a visit to Anne Frank’s house can be life-changing.
Take advantage of Europe’s royal past: spacious parks and an abundance of castles
How about channeling your inner toy soldier and lining up with your kids for the changing of the guard at London’s Buckingham Palace or the Prague Castle? Or take a picnic break in Berlin’s sprawling Tiergarten Park, once a royal hunting ground. Vienna’s formerly royal Prater Park tempts young and old with its sprawling amusement park, huge red Ferris wheel and miles of green space. Wherever you go―virtually any city in Europe, large or small―something fascinating will be waiting to enthrall you and your kids, guaranteed.
So is it worth it after all to let the kids tag along with you to Europe? We agree with Rick Steves: a resounding YES!