Are you a family who love to travel but aren’t too sure what cities in Europe are suitable for kids? Do you struggle deciding where to head off for a long weekend with them? Today I’m sharing with you a guest post from Cath at Passport and Adventures, listing three great European cities to visit with kids and why they should be next on your to-do list for travel.
Europe has a wealth of brilliant cities and there are so many to choose from when considering a getaway as a family. Before we had our son, we regularly did city breaks and are eager to return to them with our son to see are they as good with a family as they were for a couple’s weekend away. Personally, we have only just scratched the surface of cities in Europe as a threesome, but we’ve already managed to visit some great ones with our young son in tow. Here’s three of them.
Now, this choice might be a little biased, seeing as both my husband and I are originally from Dublin. But we left Ireland over 15 years ago for a life in the UK before our recent move to Portugal and, although we’ve been back to visit family, we’ve never really ventured into the city with our son. I decided that was going to change when my son and I returned to Ireland over Easter for a road trip. After spending 7 days touring the southern half of the country, we returned to Dublin for 3 nights.
During our time in Dublin, we ventured into the city centre and acted as tourists for the day. We took a hop on hop off tourist bus and I enjoyed the tour around a city I thought I knew well. It was fascinating hearing some of the history and facts about my hometown. We got off to visit Dublinia, an interactive centre which covers the history of Dublin from the Viking times to modern Dublin. My son enjoyed it more than I thought he would. We also popped into Christchurch Cathedral, a place I haven’t visited since I was a teenager! Our time was cut short in the city due to a small person getting tired, but we’ll be back next summer for an extended stay.
Dublin has a wealth of things on offer for families of all ages. And most of it is accessible via the sightseeing buses which are worth it. Not only do you get to enjoy the city and hear about its history, but the bus can act as your transport to see the main attractions. And if you avail of a Dublin Pass, you not only get to use the hop on hop off bus, you also get entry into various attractions as part of it.
As for what to see and do, it very much depends on the ages of your children. Dublinia is suitable for kids from about the age of four in my opinion. The Natural History Museum will delight children of all ages, and there is also a Wax Museum, although I have heard mixed reviews of it. All kids will enjoy a trip to Dublin Zoo, entry to which is included in the Dublin Pass (just be sure to get on the right bus as not all of them go as far as the zoo, located in the Phoenix Park). Older children might enjoy the tour of Guinness Brewery as there is the chance to go up to the Gravity bar, a 360° bar for panoramic views across the city. They might also enjoy a trip to Dublin Castle and the Jeanie Johnston Tallship and Famine Museum.
Further afield you can enjoy the Airfield Farm, which I really want to visit with my son, the Rainforest Adventure Golf and Imaginosity, Dublin’s Children Museum which is awesome. Just be sure to book your slot ahead of your visit as there is limited space at the museum which makes it more enjoyable. There are other places of interest such as Malahide Castle, The National Botanic Gardens and Aquazone National Aquatic Centre for some indoor splashy fun. But be warned, you will either need your own transport or will be reliant of public transport to reach these places, which can become extremely busy at rush hour.
For families, there is any number of hotels, guesthouses and B’n’B’s to stay in across the city. The closer to the city you get, the more expensive they become. But of course, if you choose to stay outside of the centre, you’ll either need transport or be prepared to use public transport, which is good but gets busy as mentioned. I’d be happy to advise anyone on where to stay and where not to stay in Dublin. And there is no end of pubs, cafes and restaurant to fill empty bellies during your trip.
London is a city that we have visited both as a couple and as a family. My husband used to live and work in the city during the week for 18 months, so I regularly visited. We have had the chance to enjoy the city with our young son and is somewhere I’m hoping to take him again next year.
Some people might shy away from visiting London with kids, especially younger ones, because it is a busy place with a lot of people. However, when we were going to be in the city for 36 hours between flights, we jumped at the chance to explore just some of the city with our then three-year-old. And we had a great time.
We saw the sights of London from the Coca Cola London Eye, enjoyed fish of all shapes and sizes in Sea Life London, and even took our son on a dragon hunting adventure in the Tower of London, one of my personal favourite London attractions. We only managed these three places in the one day, but London has a huge amount of other attractions for families with children of all age ranges.
Top of my list is a visit to London Zoo in Hyde Park, as well as visiting the Imperial War Museum and the Science Museum, both of which we visited pre-kids. Almost all of the museums in London have free admission, although some have paid-for attractions such as the Wonderlab in the Science Museum. And they’re great places to visit if the weather is typically British.
Another thing I really want to do with our son is the sightseeing bus. Having used the one in Dublin (our first time ever using a sightseeing bus), I’ve come to realise that they are the best way to see the most of a city. They’re also a great way to get around and stop off at attractions you want to visit such as Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge. You can also combine the bus ticket with attraction tickets to avail of some discounts.
Another brilliant attraction I’ve heard great things about is KidZania, although you do need to travel outside of the city centre to the Westfield Shopping Centre to visit this place. If you haven’t heard of KidZania, it is an indoor city run by kids. A huge space with areas dedicated to role-play and free play, this is the ultimate kids’ zone. Your children can become whatever they want for the day. From jobs as police officers and nurses to actors and dancers, there over 60 real-life activities to keep them busy. Plus, they earn KidZo’s (KidZania currency), which they can spend or save in a KidZania bank account and for which they get their very own bank card. Designed for children between the ages of 4 and 14, the mixture of learning and reality with entertainment is just amazing.
Other attractions I’d like to visit when our son is a bit older include Madame Tussauds, Warner Bros Studio, the Shrek Adventure, Brooklands Museum and the London Transport Museum, and HMS Belfast (another attraction I fell in love pre-kids) and also the Cutty Sark.
And of course, with a city this big you have a huge number of options for where to stay and eat throughout your visit to the capital. We’ve often elected to stay close to the airport and get the tube directly into London for the day. This can often work out more economical for families. My sister-in-law stays in a hotel either near Kew Gardens or as far out as Slough to avoid the congestion charge and extortionate parking fees when she visits London with her six children. She gets the train or tube into London and that still works out less expensive than staying closer to the city centre.
Barcelona is a city we visited for the first time this summer. We never got the chance to visit pre-kids, so when my husband was attending a concert there at the start of July, I decided we’d made it a family break. We spent four nights in the Spanish city and we certainly made the most of it.
Although it is a huge city, the main hub and tourist attractions of Barcelona are in the very centre or easily accessed via public and guided transport. Again, using the sightseeing bus to get around, we visited the aquarium and zoo before going to see the famous Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell, both works of the artist Gaudi. The aquarium and zoo were a great hit with our four-year-old, and Barcelona Zoo is huge. We spent a full day there and walked the legs off ourselves, before taking a short stroll through Parc de la Ciutadella towards the Arc de Triomf. Yes, Barcelona has one too. The aquarium is a few hours’ worth of a visit, so perhaps plan to do this alongside another attraction.
Another day we visited the Gaudi sites of the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. I’d advise you to pre-book your entry into these for two reasons. Firstly, you skip the main queue to enter and secondly, Parc Guell limits the amount of people allowed to enter at any one time. At both, you won’t spend more than an hour or two and they are easily connected using the sightseeing buses. Kids might not enjoy the Sagrada Familia too much, but Parc Guell has some open space for them to explore and wander. The Sagrada Familia gets extremely busy so keep a hold of younger children and agree a meeting point with older ones if you get separated.
Aside from these two famous sites, we did two other lesser known tourist spots. We took the Montjuic cable car up to the top of the hill and enjoyed a lovely wander around Montjuic Castle, before taking the cable car back down. You can get a great view of both the city and busy port of Barcelona as well as learn some history of fascist Spain. These exhibitions will not interest younger children though, as we found out. But it’s a quieter area of Barcelona to visit with kids.
Barcelona has many other family-friendly attractions which we didn’t get to visit while in the city. I’ve heard Barcelona beach is a great place to spend a sunny, summer day and the Tibidabo Amusement park is supposed to be amazing, but sadly it was closed during our time in the city. I would like to return to the city to visit other places such as the Nou Camp, the Science Museum (and others), and even take a day trip to Monserrat. We also never got the chance to see the Magic Fountain of Montjuic, which has a spectacular display to lights and music most evenings, although this occurs once the sun sets, no good to us with a son who goes to bed before sunset during the summer.
And of course, no trip to Barcelona would be complete without visiting the Plaça de Catalunya, from which the famous Las Ramblas street departs. If you are choosing to see the city on one of the sightseeing buses, you with either pass through Plaça de Catalunya or take your bus from there. Plaça de Catalunya is a huge square off which you’ll find many restaurants and cafes for a bite to eat and from where you can do some shopping.
We stayed in an AirBnB in the El Raval neighbourhood, and while it was fine, it seemed a bit more run down than other areas we passed through. But it is hardly surprising seeing as it is one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Barcelona. Were we to visit again I would probably elect to stay in the Gothic Quarter. Also, a word of warning if you are choosing an AirBnB over a hotel. Read the reviews carefully. Our apartment was fine but up four flights of extremely narrow stairs, not ideal with young children. Our main worry was if a fire broke out and everyone was trying to escape the building via this stairwell, the only one in the building. So, choose your accommodation wisely.
And last but not least, when in Spain, ensure you try tapas at least once. We had a fabulous tapas lunch just off Plaça de Catalunya in a restaurant called Nuria. We also had a tapas meal for dinner near where we were staying on a street called Ronda de Sant Pau and the waiter very kindly tailored some dishes to suit our son. And I can tell you, our eyes were bigger than our bellies when it came to tapas.
These are, in my opinion, three great European cities to visit with kids. They have an abundance of things to do with them with kids of all ages and attractions to visit, and each has a wealth of accommodation and eating options to suit families of all sizes. There are good public transport systems in each, as well as the sightseeing tours which you can use to navigate the city. And all have at least one international airport serviced from many cities. And no doubt we will be returning to each some time in the future to try other attractions we didn’t get to enjoy first time around with our son.
Cath is an Irish expat who now lives in Portugal with her husband and son. A former scientist, she gave up working when they emigrated south from the UK. She is a family travel and lifestyle blogger and hopes that, through her blog, they will inspire more families to travel, especially with the toddlers in tow. As a family they love travelling and have started working their way through their family travel bucket list. Cath writes about their family travels and experiences on her blog Passports and Adventures. Check out her Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.