Once upon a time, just the mere mention of a family city break would ignite the stomping of feet and clenching of fists. And that was just from the husband.
Surely the days of exploring exciting and cultural cities were behind us? Weren’t we part of the bucket and spade club now? We had 3 young children. Wasn’t it their right to spend holidays digging holes and demanding overpriced ice creams?
Unable to accept the idea of being barred from the bright lights, I embarked on a mission to prove that we could take our kids on a city break. And we would enjoy it too. All of us.
So far, we have ticked London, Paris, Barcelona and Valencia off our family friendly city list. With a little careful preparation, each break was a success, fun was had and memories were made. We even managed to pack the buckets and spades.
A family city break needn’t be exhausting. There are plenty of family friendly options out there. This list is by no means exhaustive. Hopefully I’ll be adding plenty more soon enough!
When you think of Paris, images of romantic strolls and the world’s most famous painting spring to mind. But Paris isn’t just open for love and art. Scratch beneath the clichés and a city of family friendly activities and attractions will immerge.
What To See
- Climb the Eiffel Tower and admire the views of Paris. If your kids are bundles of energy on legs, challenge them to climb the 1,665 steps to the second level. Otherwise, take the lift.
- Take in some different views of Paris with a Seine river cruise.
- Go to the 53rd floor observation deck of the only skyscraper in Paris, the Montparnasse Tower.
- Visit Europe’s largest science museum Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie set within the enormous Parc de la Villete
- An art gallery with a whole floor dedicated to children, the Pompidou Centre will wow them with the inside out escalator.
- Climb the 387 steps of the famous gothic cathedral, Notre Dame, to see Quasimodo’s bell.
- There is no getting away from the fact that you might just have all your cultural intentions overshadowed by a giant mouse. If anything, leave a visit to Disneyland Resort Paris towards the end of your trip. It’s the perfect exchange for good behaviour in the Louvre.
- Go back in time at the 152 year old Jardin d’Acclimation, a vintage theme park with dodgems, pony rides and roller coasters.
- Go on a guided family tour at the Louvre with Paris Muse Clues. If you’d rather go it alone, plan ahead and decide which part of the museum you want to see (most kids will have heard of the Mona Lisa so that’s a good place to start.) Download one of the visitor trails from the Louvre website to help you decide and plan.
- Have an energy boosting crêpe at one of the many food stands or creperies dotted throughout the city.
- Walk the famous Les Champs Elysées before walking under the iconic Arc de Triomphe. Or climb the 40 steps to the top (but don’t play dodge the traffic, enter via the underground tunnel.)
Barcelona is the perfect family friendly destination. The vibrant seaside city is strewn with architectural wonders and family attractions, so many that a weekend will not cover them all. The Catalan capital has no fewer than 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites under it’s belt. Combined with an array of shops, parks and a lively beach scene, what’s not to like?
The Spanish love children and family time is a high priority. The city has a well developed and easy to use public transport system so getting around is easy.
What To See
- Get familiar with the city on the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour
- Marvel at the unique Sagrada Familia
- Build sandcastles on the lengthy sandy city beaches
- Stroll down the world famous La Rambla and watch the street performers, or people watch from a nearby café
- Watch the fish in L’Aquarium Barcelona, home to the largest collection of Mediterranean fish and sea creatures
- Journey through medieval Barcelona on a interactive tour designed with children in mind
- Take a thrilling ride in a cable car up Montjuic Hill to Castell de Montjuic
- Row a boat in Parc de la Ciutadella
- Marvel at Gaudi’s creations in Park Güell
- Watch a dolphin show at the city zoo, Parc Zoologic
- Indulge in some traditional funfair rides at the 100 year old Parc d’Attractions del Tibidabo
- For the footie fans, visit the huge stadium of Camp Nou, home to Futbol Club Barcelona
You might be interested in our Camp Nou Tour Review >>
London is a busy and bustling city full of iconic attractions and experiences. You could spend weeks in the English capital, and still not see it all. A city break to London can be tailored depending on the age groups; toddlers, teenagers and adults will all find an experience to entertain them.
What to See
- Take a hop on hop off London bus tour to become familiar with the many attractions and places to visit.
- Go up on the top deck of a iconic double decker bus, get a seat at the front if you can! (children up to 11 travel free)
- Hit the shops – but agree a budget in advance! Hamleys is a world famous toy shop that you will spend way longer in than you anticipated (and probably more money), Oxford Street for high street names or one of the unique markets like Camden or Brick Lane.
- Watch the street performers in Covent Garden before heading into the London Transport Museum
- For hands on interaction spend an afternoon (or day!) in the Science Museum
- Dinosaur lovers will want to spend some time with the animatronic T-Rex in the Natural History Museum
- For a tour with a difference take a London Duck Tour – drive by some famous attractions before splashing into the River Thames
- Let loose in one of London’s many parks. Choose from Hyde Park, Regents Park, Richmond Park, St Jame’s Park, Greenwich Park and more.
- Take a spin on the London Eye and try and spot some well known landmarks.
- Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
- See the Crown Jewels or take a tour with one of the Yeoman Warders who protect the Tower of London
Once a fortress town, the capital has now grown up into the largest city in Belgium. Many will know Brussels as the de facto capital of Europe. But there is more to the Brussels than the one you hear about in the news. Your kids will love you forever for the chocolate alone.
What to See
- The UNESCO World Heritage site of the Grand Place – one of Europe’s prettiest squares. Grab a waffle and a drink in one of the many cafes and watch the bustle of the square.
- Little ones are bound to have a giggle at the well visited Manneken Pis, a unique statue of a boy taking a wee in the fountain. The statue has over 700 outfits (including an Elvis jumpsuit) that can be seen in the Brussels museum.
- Head to the Cocoa and Chocolate Museum and learn how chocolate is made. Then eat some.
- Take some fun photos of you all looking giant next to mini landmarks of Europe at Mini Europe.
- Indulge in your love of comics with a visit to the Belgian Centre of Comic Strip Art.
- For city views from a quirky landmark climb the Atomium with it’s unique silver spheres.
- Have a bite to eat in the unique Cook and Book. Browse the books as you enjoy your food.
New York is another iconic city famous the world over. Even if you have never visited before, it feels familiar. The famous skyline and landmarks frequently make an appearance on our TV screens. Although this is a city I have not yet visited with the children, I fell in love with NYC on the 2 trips we took there in life before kids. It is a city I yearn to return to, especially with the children. The energy of New York combined with the variety and abundance of activities and sites, makes NY an ideal family destination.
What to See
- Empire State Building – Take the high-speed elevator ride to the open-air observation deck on the 86th floor. Kids will not only love the fast ride up, they’ll also be left open mouthed at the 360 degree panoramic view that wraps around the building’s spire. See famous landmarks including The Statue of Liberty, Times Square, The Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park.
- Central Park – The urban park that offers it all. Covering 843 acres, visiting Central Park will take some planning to ensure you get the best out of it. Highlights of the famous park include; Central Park Zoo, Belvedere Castle, Conservatory Water (rent a small remote controlled boat, made famous in the film Stuart Little), Hire a rowing boat (human size!) in Central Park Lake, Watch a puppet show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, or, simply just take a picnic and enjoy one of the excellent playgrounds.
- Cruise to the Statue of Liberty for free on the Staten Island Ferry. The 5 mile, 25 minute journey will provide a fantastic view of not only the Statue of Liberty, but also the famous Manhattan skyline.
- A tourist attraction in it’s own right and the oldest toys store in the USA, your kids will love you for taking them to FAO Schwarz. With every toy you could imagine for sale, including outdoor toys, a candy section, the latest video games and more classic items. Don’t miss the famous giant floor piano made famous in the Tom Hanks movie, Big.
- Coney Island is a neighbourhood of New York City, open between Easter and Halloween. Coney Island is well known for the 50 or so rides and attractions, including one of the world’s oldest working wooden roller coasters. While you are there, see if you can manage one of the foot long hot dogs at Nathans
Taking your children with you on a family city break doesn’t need to spell stress and disaster. With some careful planning, a trip to a city can be educational, culturally enriching, and most of all, FUN!
Have you been on a city break with your children? Do you have any tips?