The best cities to visit with children in Europe are the ones that have got something for everyone in the family. These are the cities that combine great cultural sights with fun, interactive museums and enough exciting activities to keep everyone happy.
The best city breaks should feel like an adventure as you all discover something new. Even getting around can be part of the fun as you climb towers for the best views and take trips on boats, bicycles and buses. Whichever city you’re visiting, my advice is always to take it slow and don’t try to do too much. Mix up the cultural sights with visits to parks and fun quests to find the city’s best ice cream or hot chocolate.
Here’s the second part of my series on the best City Breaks for Families, with ideas of what to see and do in each place.
Why go? Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s also a fabulous city to explore with children whether you’re searching for the gargoyles at the top of Notre Dame, taking a boat trip down the Seine or climbing up the Eiffel Tower. There are old fashioned carousels to ride on all over the city and some of the best hot chocolate we’ve ever tasted.
Don’t miss: the chance to take a bus around some of the best sights in Paris for a fraction of the cost of a touristy sightseeing tour. The number 69 bus takes you past the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Saint-Germain-des-Près, the Marais and the Bastille and finishes at the Père Lachaise cemetery where famous figures like Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin and Jim Morrison are buried.
Your kids will love: the Jardin du Luxembourg. These beautiful gardens are a Parisian institution and the perfect place for children to let off steam after a cultural outing. There’s a good playground, a sandpit, pony rides and a vintage carousel. You can hire model boats to sail on the pond and the oldest puppet theatre in France puts on shows three times a week.
Make it more fun by: learning all about science and technology at the Cité des Enfants. This museum is one of Paris’s best for children and is crammed with fun and interactive activities. You can present the news in a TV studio, measure how fast you can run, take part in circus acts and build a house as part of a group effort with other children.
Foodie treats: There are amazing patisseries on virtually every street corner so this is one place where you really should indulge your sweet tooth whether it’s macarons in every flavour, éclairs or lemon tarts. They’ll come beautifully wrapped in a parcel for you to take out to enjoy beside the Seine or in one of Paris’s fabulous parks.
Best time to visit: Paris is enchanting in the spring and autumn. There are lots of musical events in June and Bastille Day parades in July. Winter can be cold but is less busy. Avoid August when most Parisians leave the city to go on holiday and many shops and restaurants are closed for the whole month.
For more ideas and inspiration on visiting Paris, take a look at The Best Things to do in Paris with Kids.
Why go? The Scottish capital makes a great city break. There’s plenty to see and do here from the castles and exciting museums to the medieval buildings, tartan shops and the Royal Yacht Britannia. J K Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books in Edinburgh. You can do tours of the cafés she wrote in as well as see some of the locations that are believed to have inspired characters and scenes from the books.
Don’t miss: Edinburgh Castle. The 12th-century castle is the place to see the Scottish crown jewels, one of the largest medieval cannons in the world, dungeons and a gun that’s fired every day at 1pm. There’s a great scavenger hunt activity sheet for children.
Your kids will love: climbing to the top of a volcano. Arthur’s Seat is what remains of a volcano that erupted years ago. It’s an enjoyable hike and there are some superb views over the city from the top.
Make it more fun by: going to the Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions. The Camera Obscura is a Victorian rooftop chamber where you can see moving pictures of Edinburgh projected onto the walls. The World of Illusions here is a lot of fun as it’s filled with optical illusions, holograms and amazing light shows as well as a Magic Gallery.
Foodie treats: Haggis. Scotland’s national dish is a savoury pudding made up of sheep’s meat (heart, liver and lungs) cooked in the animal’s stomach. It’s a lot tastier than it sounds and best eaten the traditional way with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). If you can’t stomach that you might prefer a battered Mars Bar from a fish and chip shop.
Best time to visit: Spring and autumn are really pleasant times to visit the city. You’ll find it warmer in the summer (but rarely hot) but August can be extremely crowded because of all the festivals. Winter is cold but there’s the added attraction of the Christmas market and the Hogmanay Street Party to bring in the new year.
Jenny from Monkey and Mouse has some great ideas of free things to do in Edinburgh over on her blog.
Why go? The historic canals and gabled houses make Amsterdam one of Europe’s prettiest cities and it’s a real pleasure to wander around on foot or by bicycle. Amsterdam is charming and easygoing and children will love its boats, trains, parks and floating flower markets.
Don’t miss: the chance to see some of the most famous paintings in the world. You’ll find Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and his Self Portraits in the Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum. Both museums have family guided tours and fun children’s activities.
Your kids will love: the adorable red pandas at Artis Royal Zoo. You can get much closer to the animals than in most zoos we’ve visited and the zoo is a good size for children to be able to wander around easily. There are panthers, lions and arctic wolves as well as an aquarium and a butterfly house. You can see lots of penguins as well as the world’s tiniest monkeys.
Make it more fun by: getting around by boat. Amsterdam is famous for its canals and the best way to see them is by boat. Several companies offer circular tours with an audio commentary so that you know what you’re looking at. You can even hop on and off so it’s a great way of stopping off at the various sights then taking the boat to the next place on your list.
Foodie treats: Pancakes of course! Make it even more fun for kids by having a pancake day, the only rule being that you have to have pancakes for every meal. This is easy in a city where you can find sweet and savoury pancakes in every flavour and a wooden bowl of syrup and a big spoon on the tables of most restaurants. Don’t miss the chance to try poffertjes, the delicious Dutch mini pancakes.
Best time to visit: The tulip season is from mid March to early May when you can see the famous fields of tulips outside the city. Spring and autumn are both pleasantly warm but we enjoyed the city in the winter when it wasn’t so busy. August is crowded and more expensive.
Take a look at my guide to visiting Amsterdam with kids for more inspiration.
Why go? London is one of the greatest cities on earth and a really exciting place to visit with children. So many of London’s sights will already be familiar from some of their favourite films. They’ll love the pageantry of the Changing of the Guard and the grandeur of the castles and palaces. You can explore some of the best museums in the world, have fun in the fantastic playgrounds and see if you can spot all the Harry Potter sights around the city.
Don’t miss: The Tower of London. This is one of the most iconic sights in the city and a thrilling adventure for children. The Beefeaters have guarded the Tower for 500 years and give an entertaining guided tour. You’ll see the famous ravens, the Crown Jewels, the execution site and Henry VIII’s suit of armour.
Your kids will love: taking a boat trip down the River Thames to Greenwich where they can explore the Cutty Sark, one of the most famous ships in the world, shoot down a pirate ship and fire a cannon in the National Maritime Museum and climb the hill at Greenwich Park for panoramic views over London.
Make it more fun by: playing with all the interactive exhibits at London’s best museums. Wonderlab at the Science Museum is the most spectacular interactive gallery in the world, with explosive demonstrations, crazy experiments and marvellous scientific games. Down the road at the Natural History Museum you can visit the dinosaurs, feel the earth move in the Earthquake Machine and play detective games around the museum.
Foodie treats: Afternoon tea can be the ultimate treat in London. Cake stands piled high with delicate sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam and a selection of cakes – all washed down with pots of tea or glasses of Champagne. Our favourites include the elegant art deco surroundings of Claridge’s, The Orangery at Kensington Palace and Palm Court at The Langham where children are given a Hamley’s teddy with their tea.
Best time to visit: There is no bad time to visit London and it is busy all the year round. The city is a magical place to be at Christmas and spring and summer can be really special, with picnics in the park, open-air theatres and urban beaches to enjoy.
Why go? Berlin manages to be both hip and historic all at the same time. You’ve got sights like the Berlin Wall and the Brandenburg Gate alongside places like East Side Gallery, the longest open-air gallery in the world and some fantastic museums. It’s a great city to explore with children as there are so many good parks and playgrounds and there tends to be shorter queues for the best sights than most other cities in Europe.
Don’t miss: the DDR Museum where you can see what Berlin was like when it was divided in half by the Berlin Wall. This is one of the world’s most interactive museums and provides loads of fun for the whole family. You can find out what life was like in East Germany by opening cupboards, looking through drawers and into a Stasi interrogation cell.
Your kids will love: all the fantastic parks and playgrounds in the city. You can take out paddle boats on the lake in the 630-acre Tiergarten, fly kites and whizz down cycling trails in the Tempelhofer and there are beautiful walks and fountains to play in at the Volkspark Friedrichshain.
Make it more fun by: visiting the Computerspiele Museum. This is the first museum in the world dedicated to computer games and there are lots of interactive exhibits from 1980s arcade games to 3D simulators and the latest virtual reality experiences.
Foodie treats: If you’ve ever dreamed of a Land of Sweets then don’t miss the Naschmarkt at the Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg. The sweet market here takes place four times a year and brings together the best independent pastry, cake and sweet makers from all over the city. You can eat chocolates, scones, macarons, cookies and cakes to your heart’s desire. The Markthalle is also a great place to find excellent street food every Thursday.
Best time to visit: Summer is wonderful in Berlin as there are so many excellent parks and outdoor events going on throughout the city. Spring and autumn are pleasant too and there’s the added attraction of the Festival of Lights in October when lots of the buildings are lit up. Winter can be very cold but good for visiting the Christmas markets.
Why go? Bruges looks like a city from a medieval fairy tale with its canals, cobbled streets and pretty gabled buildings. It’s very easy to explore on foot and children will fall in love with somewhere that has chocolate shops on every corner and street stalls selling waffles in every market square.
Don’t miss: a cruise along the canals. These are surprisingly inexpensive and it’s a great way to see the city from the water. You’ll pass plenty of ducks and swans and learn all about the history of the city and its stories as you go.
Your kids will love: Choco-Story, the chocolate museum. Belgium produces some of the best chocolate in the world and you can find out about the history of chocolate and how it’s made in this fascinating museum. Best of all, you can watch chocolates being made right in front of you at the end of the tour.
Make it more fun by: climbing all 366 steps to the top of the Belfry, the medieval bell tower overlooking the market square. There are some great views over the city from the top.
Foodie treats: You can’t go to Bruges and not try the magnificent waffles topped with fresh fruit, whipped cream and lashings of chocolate sauce. You’ll find the best and freshest waffles at the street stalls rather than in the restaurants. Bruges is also a great place to eat bowlfuls of mussels and chips.
Best time to visit: Spring and autumn can be delightful times to visit Bruges. If you want to avoid the crowds, come in winter when it’s colder but much less busy. Avoid the summer months if you can as cruise ships dock nearby and thousands of people visit the city on day trips.
For more ideas of great cities to visit with children, take a look at The Best City Breaks for Families in Europe – Part One.
DISCLOSURE: This is a collaborative post. All words and opinions are, of course, my own.