The key is to stay away from the big, famous cities like London or Paris and instead head to smaller parts of Europe that aren’t as commercialized and expensive. Here’s a list of fantastic European family vacation destinations if you’re on a budget.
Prague, Czech Republic
It’s no secret that kids (and adults) love castles, and Prague is one of Europe’s most affordable capital cities that also happens to have a pretty epic castle. The castle complex is actually considered to be one of the largest in the entire world, with an area of about 70,000 meters. Within it, you can visit part of the famous St. Vitus Cathedral for free. Even better, there’s a funicular railway running to the top of Petrin Hill, which is a great wooded spot for kids to play and run around. Besides that, you can check out the Petrin Observation Tower (it resembles the Eiffel Tower) and the labyrinth of mirrors. Another interesting and inexpensive cultural activity in Prague is seeing a puppet show – something the whole family can enjoy together.
Another affordable Eastern European gem, Budapest is actually two cities separated by a river: Buda and Pest. When the kids get tired of walking, you can always hop on the Big Bus Tour. While tickets aren’t super cheap, buying the two-day pass ensures you’ll get more bang for your buck. If you’re kids are into trains, there’s also some neat attractions to see, like Miniversum, which features 1300 meters of railroads, 100 moving miniature trains, 5000 miniature figures and more. Or, head to the outskirts of Budapest to take a ride on the Children’s Railway, which is actually operated by children (don’t worry – adults actually operate the trains, and only kids with the best grades at school are excused a few days a month to work in this special volunteer program).
While most people associate Florence with sophisticated art and culture, there’s also plenty to do with children. A nice free activity is to have a picnic at the Boboli Gardens. There’s a supermarket just across the street from the park entrance where you can buy delicious fresh Italian meats and cheeses to eat outdoors. Many people may not know there’s actually a Children’s Museum at the Palazzo Vecchio. This special space has lots of activities like a puppet show, story-telling, theater events and scavenger hunts. They also offer special tours and activities for teens and pre-teens too, like secret passage tours.
One of Spain’s most beautiful regions, this southern beach area is perfect if you want a relaxing vacation with your kids. With affordable food, drinks and lodging, you can rent an apartment for the family and lounge on the beach. The Spanish are very tolerant of children in restaurants and bars, so don’t be surprised to see children running about pretty much everywhere you go. Nearby beach areas offer family-friendly whale and dolphin watching tours, and there’s also a few water parks in the region if the kids get tired of the beach. Teens will also enjoy walking around the medieval historic town center.
Worlds away from the parties of Mykonos or pricey honeymoon destination Santorini, Crete is affordable and easily accessible with two airports located on the island – no need to drag your family of six on a crowded, hot ferry. Besides plenty of beaches to visit on the island, there’s also lots of nature activities if you’re a family of hikers or bikers. Kids will love exploring the stalagmites and stalactites of Dikteon Cave or you can hit up the Dinosauria Park, an educational family tourist attraction with 2,500 meters squared of model dinosaurs, a dino hospital, cinema, playground and more. Children can even try to excavate their own fossils!
Krakow is both extremely cheap and child-friendly. Your kids will love the Dragon’s Cave located underneath the Wawel Hill. Not only is it a cool den to explore, but children always go crazy over the fairy tale of the Wawel dragon. This activity is best done between April and October during good weather. If you’re visiting during the winter, the Polonia Wax Museum or the Museum of Live Butterflies are both fun and inexpensive ways to escape snowy weather. If you want to splurge, a family carriage ride is the way to go.
Lisbon’s main mode of transport – the tram – isn’t just to get from A to B. Children (and adults too) will adore this, especially the older tram cars which date back to the 1930s. The longest and most famous route you should take is on the tram 28, leading you through neighborhoods like Baixa, Alfama, Graça and Estrela. Once in Alfama, hop off the tram to tour the Saint George castle. Kids can run around exploring the space and the old cannons, and there’s also morning activities and games with knights and squires. Lisbon is a great place to have inexpensive meals and restaurants are also very kid-friendly, so enjoy a beer or a meal out in the city.