Planning a family holiday in one of Europe’s cultural hotspots? Then you’ll want to stay somewhere with enough space for all your tribe, with child-friendly amenities, convenient transport links and self-catering facilities. Here are some of the most family-friendly places to stay, be it an eco-hostel in Copenhagen, a seaside resort in Dubrovnik or a city-centre apartment in Prague.
Vienna, the former capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is full of grand buildings and dripping with history, and offers a treasure trove of kid-friendly destinations. Where else can you see a horse show (or a practice, at least) in a building resembling a wedding cake besides the Winter Riding School? How many castles have one of the world’s oldest zoos in their beautiful gardens besides Schönbrunn? Vienna’s ferris wheel at the Prater is perhaps less unique, but no less exciting. Night or day, you’ll get an excellent view of the city, and the ride’s entry hall even has a charming exhibit about the history of the city that’s perfectly tailored to a young audience.
London has something for everyone, so it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s also an excellent place to take children. It’s chock-full of museums, many of which have kid-friendly sections where young ones can get their hands into history, science, technology and more. Would they like to try and lift a gold brick, or to explore the decks of a World War II warship? Both are possible – at the Bank of England Museum and the HMS Belfast, respectively. When it’s time to sit down for a while, why not check out a West End show? There are several that will be excellent for children and parents alike, such as The Lion King, Wicked, or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella.
The Danish capital of Copenhagen isn’t all about fancy restaurants or hunting down marijuana in the self-proclaimed republic of Christiania. It’s also got a number of attractions that make it remarkably family-friendly. Tivoli Gardens, for example, the theme park in the center of the city, is the second oldest continually operating theme park in the world, and it’s just as exciting as — if not more than — one that was built in the last decade. Being the home of fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen is also a perfect destination for those captivated by his stories – particularly The Little Mermaid, whose statue you can find in the harbour.
Looking for a quiet hostel surrounded by countryside? Then opt for the eco-friendly Danhostel, set in Amager Faelled Nature Reserve, less than three miles (five kilometres) from Copenhagen. Stay in a family room with views of the surrounding fields and forest. There’s a communal TV room, library and hangout area with bright sofas and graffiti murals, as well as play areas for kids. Make the most of the organic local breakfast buffet in the dining room or wraparound terrace.
The Adriatic gem of Dubrovnik is filled to the brim with activity, so it’s a great place to come with kids who need to blow off some steam. One of the top things to do is to take a walk around the walls of the inner city, which will be a treat for all members of the family – especially if someone fancies herself to be a photographer. Swimming is also possible at numerous points around the city, so braving the on-season to take advantage of the warmth is well worth it. Getting out of the centre for hikes around the area is another good thing to do, and if people tend to get hungry, no fear – there are numerous roadside stands selling hot and fresh Balkan specialties all over the place.
Prague is a city that loves its parks, and that’s one of the features that makes it such a great place to bring kids. Of particular interest will be Petrin Hill, on the west side of the Vltava river that has an excellent garden at the top, including a mirror maze and a mini Eiffel Tower with a viewpoint. You’ll need to keep a close eye on the little ones when you’re in the most tourist-heavy areas in the centre, but braving the crowds will bring rewards like medieval-themed restaurants and kid-friendly museums, such as the Museum of Chocolate. Plus, the zoo was recently voted the seventh best in the world.
The practically endless good weather in Barcelona is one of many reasons why you should consider it for your next family trip. The Gaudí architecture, one of the foremost features of the city, is whimsical and colourful enough to be enjoyable to everyone. The beach is always a good retreat, or for a little more excitement, you can take a walk down La Rambla to take a look at the myriad street performers. Let’s not forget another of the world’s most distinguished amusement parks – Tibidabo – which offers numerous old-fashioned attractions and fun for the whole family.
There’s nothing like the great outdoors to keep your family happy, active and, by the end of the day, thoroughly exhausted – and Reykjavík has outdoor wonders in spades. Public pools fed by thermal hot springs are a huge part of Icelandic culture, and they range in style from expensive and touristy to quiet and local. Catching the northern lights will be an experience that no one will ever forget, and seeing a whale on a boat trip will be similarly memorable. There’s plenty of hiking nearby, or spice things up and go horse riding instead. Best of all, Reykjavík is incredibly safe for a capital city.
We know, we know – the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Munich is beer, and a lot of it. But why should having a family along with you stop you from enjoying that pleasure? The beer gardens in Bavaria’s capital all welcome children, and of course they offer plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks for their younger patrons. Besides that, there are also museums like BMW World, which has a lot of technologically advanced exhibits that will be sure to fascinate visitors of all ages. It might be best to avoid the city during the three weeks of Oktoberfest, but that leaves 49 other weeks to enjoy.
Amsterdam is similar to Munich in that the attractions tourists know it for are not exactly the most family friendly. However, it’s also absolutely bursting at the seams with activities that don’t involve checking out certain legal substances. How about renting a bicycle or going on a canal tour? If you go in the summer, definitely swing by the Tropenmuseum, the roof of which becomes a beach. The food is also something that children will love – how many places have French fries and waffles as the ultimate must-try treats?
For a warmer and far more natural beach, head to Lisbon, where the city’s natural exuberance will lead to one of the most fun vacations you can imagine. Don’t miss the aquarium, one of the biggest in Europe, which has plenty of exhibits specially set up for younger viewers. A short train trip to the nearby village of Sintra offers castles galore (plus a train trip!), or if you’re set on staying in the city, you can just use the charming tram system to get around. Perhaps best of all, many Lisbon restaurants have special kids’ zones where they can keep themselves occupied while the parents enjoy a quiet meal.
Amy Blyth contributed additional reporting to this article.