A trip to Europe with kids can be both fun and educational, but with so many possible destinations, how does one choose? London, Paris, Rome and Copenhagen are four family-friendly European cities that have a variety of things to do and are fun no matter the age of the visitor.
London is one of the world’s most exciting cities to visit and is a great choice for a first family trip to Europe. There is something in London to appeal to every interest, and the fact that English is the primary language makes it easy for families to navigate.
Kids of all ages are thrilled to see landmarks that they recognize from books and films, such as Big Ben and the Tower Bridge. Families enjoy the pageantry of the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, the history of Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, the mystery of the Whispering Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the fun of musicals on the West End, and the spectacular views from the top of the London Eye on a clear, sunny day. It’s also easy to hop on a train (or a boat) and spend the day in nearby towns such as Greenwich, Stratford-upon-Avon or Windsor.
London has a reputation for being one of the world’s most expensive cities, but there are also free attractions that will help parents stick to a budget. Many of the city’s world-class museums including the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum have free admission. The city’s many beautiful parks and gardens are also free to explore.
Harry Potter fans will be in heaven on a trip to London. Families can sign up for guided walking tours of the more popular filming sites, have a photo taken at Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross station, or visit Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter which features authentic sets, props and costumes from the Harry Potter films.
Paris is known as the world’s most romantic city, but it’s also a kid-friendly destination where families can enjoy sightseeing and brush up on French skills at the same time. It’s easy to get kids excited about visiting familiar landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame Cathedral. They will get a kick out of seeing the same landmarks from a tour boat cruising along the Seine.
Parents shouldn’t hesitate to visit the incredible museums of Paris with the family. Kids will enjoy spending some time in the Louvre if only to say that they saw the Mona Lisa. The smaller Musée d’Orsay, which is housed in a beautiful historic train station, is more family-friendly than the Louvre, as are the gardens of Musée Rodin. Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries Gardens are popular with Parisian families and are great choices as well. And of course, it goes without saying that kids will enjoy the food while in the city. As my daughter says, “Even the water tastes better in Paris.”
Anyone who has the luxury of several days in Paris will also enjoy family-friendly day trips outside the city. Options include Louis XIV’s opulent Château de Versailles, which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Disneyland Paris – both just a short train ride from central Paris.
There is much to do in Rome for families but even a short visit is an opportunity to bring history books to life for children and expose them to Italian culture. Ancient ruins might not seem that attractive to kids, but a good guide can bring the Colosseum and the Forum to life so that everyone can imagine what it was like during the height of the Roman Empire. A visit to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica is also a must with school-aged children. They might not understand the meaning behind Michelangelo’s breathtaking masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but they will be impressed by the sight of it nonetheless.
Parents should avoid the temptation to schedule too many activities, so there will be time to just soak up the city’s atmosphere. Rome’s pedestrian-only piazzas are ideal for blowing off steam, grabbing a bite to eat or just watching the activity. Parents need not worry about feeding the kids in Rome as pizza, pasta and gelato will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. The kids are also likely to insist on stopping by the Trevi Fountain at least once after they hear that throwing a coin in will ensure they return to Rome.
The first European city that we visited with our daughters was the vibrant capital city of Copenhagen where English is widely spoken. Sightseeing in the city is easy as the central part of Copenhagen is compact and good to see on foot.
There’s a Hop On, Hop Off bus which is ideal if little legs are tired, and a canal cruise through the city’s waterways also offers a relaxing alternative. Bicycles are a popular mode of transportation in Copenhagen, which makes a memorable impression on North American kids who aren’t used to seeing so many people cycling city streets.
Copenhagen has many family-friendly attractions including Tivoli Gardens, the amusement park founded in 1843 that served as Walt Disney’s inspiration for creating Disney World. There are also many attractions in the city related to Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and his fairy tales, most notably the statue of The Little Mermaid which sits in the harbour.
Copenhagen also has lovely parks, exquisite palaces, the pedestrian shopping district of Strøget, and the Nyhavn (New Harbour) district, which are fun to explore. If time allows, families can travel to Roskilde for the day to visit the Viking Ship Museum and even set sail on a reconstructed Viking ship.
None of us want to think that anything could possibly go wrong when travelling abroad with our children. But every parent should consider whether they must purchase travel insurance before leaving the country. Remember, Canadian healthcare will barely cover you abroad, so make sure you have adequate emergency medical insurance for your family.
Canadian healthcare has always been a source of pride; we’re confident we’ll be taken care of if we need to see a doctor. But did you know that Canadian healthcare barely covers us if we’re travelling out of the country?
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