7 of the best European destinations for families
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In addition to focusing on choosing locations with activities for families, it’s important to consider the distinct cultural aspects of each country in Europe.
Mediterranean cultures truly love kids and are used to having them running around everywhere, including in bars and restaurants. Other destinations have history and attractions that are particularly apt for teens or best for those with smaller babies. Many spots have plenty of wide-open space and fresh air for kids to run around or feature family-friendly beaches. Likewise, many European destinations are exceptionally welcoming for LGBTQ+ families.
Whether you’re traveling with teens, small children, your infant, grandma and grandpa or beyond, these are some of the best destinations to visit in Europe with your family.
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Edinburgh has one of the most epic castles in all of Europe. It’s practically a village complete with a royal palace, cathedral, war museum, one of Europe’s largest cannons (Mons Meg) and of course, all the classic castle features that capture a child’s imagination: turrets, dungeons and the like. Kids from little to old and even adults will love exploring all this massive castle has to offer.
Afterward, children will love running around the picturesque hills of Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat (make sure to watch “Camelot” with the family before the trip). Arthur’s Seat, which is actually an extinct volcano, is reachable via hikes of varying difficulty, including an easier, more child-friendly route that requires more driving and less walking. Those traveling with a stroller may want to skip this activity, though.
In general, Scotland is perfect for families coming from the U.S. or Canada that don’t want to deal with a language barrier. Plus, the country has lots of open space where kids can breathe in fresh air throughout its 900 islands and two national parks. And, of course, the real Harry Potter train also operates in Scotland.
Taking your children to bars and restaurants in Madrid — actually, in all of Spain — is practically a national pastime, and no one will stare at you if little Liam has a meltdown or baby Becky is tired and won’t stop crying for a bit. Just sip your beer and take it in stride like Spanish parents do.
Many of the capital’s metro stations have elevators which make moving around with a baby easier. Madrid is extremely walkable (believe it or not, your stroller wheels buzzing over the cobblestones will lure your little angel right to sleep). If you’re traveling with anyone older, you probably won’t find ageism in Madrid. Everyone from babies to retirees hangs out in the squares till the wee hours of the night (or morning), especially during the summer months. Just note that July and August are very hot times to visit. (Here are some of the best times to visit Spain.)
A city that’s also extremely welcoming to LGBTQ+ families (be sure to enjoy dining and shopping in the Chueca neighborhood), Madrid has plenty of activities that let families see the top attractions together.
Book guided child or family tours of some of the top art museums such as the Prado and the Reina Sofía, or simply enjoy wandering squares like Plaza Mayor or green spaces like Retiro Park.
If your child’s all-time favorite movie is “The Sound of Music,” you should definitely plan to head to Salzburg, a charming city that’s just as welcoming to children as it is to adults. From activities such as a Toy Museum to an interactive Water Museum, there’s much for children to learn about while still having fun.
For those aforementioned “Sound of Music” fans, a walk around the Mirabell Palace Gardens might seem familiar, as several scenes from the movie were filmed there. Plus, the city’s family-friendly beer halls and gardens will keep both the adults and the kids entertained.
Visiting the Hohensalzburg Fortress, perched on an overlook, is also fun with kids — they’ll love its hilltop location and listening to the massive mechanical organ known as the “Salzburg Bull.” But what they might love most about the adventure is the funicular ride on the way up, offering bird’s-eye views of the palace and city down below.
Amsterdam might actually be best for toddlers or preschool-age kids, since you can strap your little one in a bike seat and roam the city.
Teens can enjoy the city’s bike and canal culture as well as its compelling history. Many students read “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank in middle school, making this the perfect age for your tweens to visit the Anne Frank House and connect it to what they’ve learned from the book.
You can also arrange countryside bike tours with your older kids, tweens and teens that take you through the flat, Amstel River area past windmills and to clog and cheese factories. For younger kids, consider a ride on the city’s historical tram, which operates on Sundays. The city is particularly LGBTQ+-friendly, too.
With endless options for beach days, Crete is a laid-back island paradise for a relaxing family vacation. It’s the largest Greek Island, meaning there are plenty of sandy shores for everyone. Children will have lots of space to run around and play without bothering other beachcombers.
Although there are many kid-friendly beaches on the island, the shallow waters of Elafonissi Beach are especially great for families, and the kids will love that the sand has a pinkish tone, too. Crete also has a few water parks that the whole family will enjoy.
For a sun-free day, Crete features Minoans World, a 3D museum and 9D cinema experience, as well as the CretAquarium and Natural History Museum. Teens can enjoy sailing lessons and food tours or wander the colorful, floral-lined streets of Chania.
The Dolomites, Italy
While it is possible to enjoy spots like Rome and Florence with kids, a family trip to enjoy the great outdoors is also a great choice. The Dolomites, a mountain range in northern Italy, make for a nature-filled, enjoyable family getaway.
While there are plenty of difficult hikes, there also are many rural walks suitable for children, with beautiful scenery including resident goats, lakeside picnics, former war trench visits and waterfall adventures. With so much open space, there doesn’t have to be much to “do” here — you can let your children run around and enjoy the rolling hills or many parks, especially ones close to the cable car exits, which boast pretty cool equipment such as towers, tunnels, huge slides and even zip lines.
Although this area is heavily influenced by its proximity to Austria, you can still find traditional Italian delights like pizza, pasta and gelato that will quickly cure your child’s crankiness. And while this is a popular ski area in the winter, you may want to visit in the warmer spring, summer and early fall, especially if you have smaller kids or don’t want to deal with snow.
Ireland‘s verdant landscape and rugged, open expanse make it the perfect destination for families with energetic kids. The country is small, around the same size as the state of Indiana. Since driving distances are short, it’s easy to visit myriad destinations without too much car time, minimizing those “Are we there yets?” and bouts of carsickness.
Start in Dublin, checking out kid-friendly attractions like the Irish Emigration Museum and Phoenix Park, one of the largest enclosed parks in Europe. Many areas worth a visit are located within easy reach of Dublin, such as Glendalough, a monastic glacial valley home to the Wicklow Mountains National Park and the Blarney Castle, site of the famous Blarney Stone.
Kilkenny is a medieval town near Castlecomer Discovery Park, home to the longest zip line in Ireland. In Limerick, kids can even hunt for fairies along special trails. Just make sure to pack your raincoats and rain boots.
Related: Dublin and Edinburgh on points
The logistics of planning a family getaway to Europe may seem complicated — it’s true that the continent has fewer family-friendly, larger hotel rooms. You may also be wondering how locals manage to get their strollers up to their apartments in capital cities.
But Europe is generally extremely welcoming to traveling families. With just a little extra research and organization (and picking the right destination), families of all different shapes and sizes with kids of varying ages can have an incredible vacation.
Featured image courtesy of Imgorthand/Getty Images.
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