Forget the beach for spring break this year. Instead think European capitals of culture. We asked our Trusted Travel Experts (many of whom bring their children on scouting trips to test out family-friendly options): What’s your favorite city in Europe for travelers with kids? Now we’re sharing their insights with you. Remember that spring is the ideal time to explore these spots with your little ones, since you’ll find more agreeable weather and thinner crowds than in summer.
The fantastic public transportation network is what puts Berlin over the top as a family destination, says Gwen Kozlowski Trusted Travel Expert for Central Europe.“The Berlin Welcome card provides 72 hours or 5 days of unlimited transportation on the metro, S-Bahn (elevated train), and city buses. Every place of note in the city is well served by public transportation, and each card covers one adult and three kids up to 14 years old, so getting around as a family is easy and a good value.” Kozlowski often puts families at the Adina Hackescher Markthotel, where a two-bedroom suite costs less than a standard room in many of the city’s five-star accommodations. Expose your kids to history at theCheckpoint Charlie House—but only later in the day, she advises, after all the tour buses have left.
Burgundy might be best known for its wine, but there’s plenty else to keep the underage set happy in the region’s capital. The city oozes with medieval history, says Jack Dancy, Trusted Travel Expert for France: “Dijon was the capital of the Valois Dukes, who were once more powerful than the king, so the old center is visually very impressive.” At the farmer’s market, Dancy arranges for kids to help an organic farmer run his stall. He also sends families to the Parc de la Colombière, where young and old can tackle a treetop ropes course, and to the Place de la Libération, where parents sit and enjoy a respite at a café while the kids play in the fountains.
“At first glance, Florence is intimidating for families because many of the famous attractions are museums and monuments that seem grandiose and overwhelming, even to adults,” say Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore, who’ve written our Insider’s Guide to Florence. “But with a little research and planning, Florence—and by extension, Italy’s Renaissance history—can be made vibrant and interesting for younger visitors. Several of the city’s museums, including the Palazzo Vecchio and the Museo Galileo, offer guided itineraries for children, and the Bardini and Boboli gardens are perfect outdoor spots for romping and picnicking. Don’t forget to reward yourselves with healthy doses of gelato as you go!”
Earl Starkey, who wrote our Insider’s Guide to Istanbul, uses art as a kid-friendly window into Turkish culture, arranging private classes on pottery and ebru (the Ottoman technique of paper marbling), as well as cooking. And many of the city’s sites naturally appeal to youngsters: “The Rahmi M Koç Industrial Museum’s interactive displays are great for kids, who also love going underground to the Byzantine Cistern and spying fish in the water,” says Starkey. Even the pickiest palates will be satisfied with pide—best described as Turkish pizza—and Istanbul’s ubiquitous fresh-squeezed juices. To escape the city’s hustle and bustle, take a ferry to the car-free island of Buyukada, where you can rent bikes or hire a horse-drawn carriage.
Free museums make London a great choice for families. As Jonathan Epsteinpoints out, “The Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, Tate Modern, National Portrait Gallery, National Maritime Museum, National Gallery, Museum of London—anywhere else, visiting even half of these would ring up costs of about $100 per person.” Epstein adds that traveling to London removes the language barrier that can trip up some kids—especially on their first adventure abroad. Epstein’s six-year-old sidekick is a devotee of the pirate-ship climbing structure at the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground. And then, of course, there’s Harry Potter: Families can visit sites featured in the books, or even tour the studios where the movies were filmed.