We have explored much of Europe as a family with kids, as young as a 10 month old. In this section we explore where can you go with kids in Europe, which countries should you target first and why, when should you go, what is worth experiencing. We chalk out potential itineraries that you can take given your time constraints. As always, if you have specific questions on destinations, planning, mobile phone help, food, safety, photography or anything else, please don’t hesitate to drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some general tips on traveling to Europe with family. Any recommendations that we provide below are only because we are happy customers.
planning: The first thing to check before your trip is whether your passports are current for at least 3 months beyond the date of return. Typically, and this is a no-brainer, summers are the worst months to go to Europe, as not only folks from the US and all across the world are flocking there, but the Europeans themselves are utilizing their luxurious 6 week/year vacation policy. Shoulder seasons – Spring and Fall, are probably the best times to visit, both from the crowds and cost perspective but also from the weather perspective. So use that Spring Break in April (there are some amazing sights to see in Spain during Easter, for example), or wait till Thanksgiving and take that entire week off. Finally, book your flights well in advance but you can tailor the itinerary / places you stay at a later time (check the photography bullet below).
packing: If you are checking in luggage, make sure you pack a full set of clothes to carry you through 2 days in the carry on. We have experienced delayed baggage multiple times in our travels, and most airlines can recover your bags within 48 hours. Even if they don’t, 2 full sets can be washed and reused for multiple days if strictly needed. For trips to Europe, we have found that getting a lightweight 220V travel iron is an absolute must when traveling with kids. You tend to stuff things in the luggage, and most European hotels do not provide an iron, unlike the US. Laundry charges are exorbitant if done at the hotel. A small iron like this one would is perfect. Another indispensable item is a power strip with a single Euro/World plug point that enables the charging of multiple USB and US 110V devices. You end up carrying, plugging in, and (most importantly) removing and packing just one item every day of your trip, and all your devices can plug into this. Carry a few USB and a few USB to Lightning (Apple) chords for the car or hotel room. Other than these, basic off the counter medication and a thermometer are good things to pack, though pharmacies are scattered pretty widely across most of Europe.
access: Have a phone with wifi built in (all smartphones of today) and access free wifi hotspots in your hotel lobby, room or various restaurants that may provide it. Download an offline GPS Map application and use it profusely without accessing a data plan. We have used Sygic (Apple Store, Google Play Store) very very successfully. You should buy the Europe package at the 70% discount, and not worry about driving in Europe ever again. If you would like to have voice and/or data access on your phone, and you do have an unlocked phone, sign up for a Google Fi account and you can start and stop your service anytime – while getting really cheap data and voice access abroad. We have had good success with SIM cards from Cellular Abroad. You can get setup for access while in the US and avoid the palpitations on landing in a foreign country disconnected. Never pay Verizon or AT&T their outrageous fees for global roaming.
safety: If you work for a global corporation, you are most probably covered with international insurance. Even so, we would suggest getting a limited coverage (including expatriation). We have used http://www.insuremytrip.com for some great rates and coverage comparisons, but we really haven’t had to use it. In large cities, be careful of your belongings, otherwise, Europe is as safe as it gets – whether you are driving at night or waking up at 4am in the dark to walk and photograph.
driving: Most of Europe is very convenient to drive across, if you are comfortable driving in the US. Avoid large cities, and be aware of your surroundings in a manner no different than the US, and this would be the best way to experience Europe with children. You can stop anywhere at any time – very important when kids suddenly decide to get hungry, or you find a fascinating sight or a charming village or a cozy restaurant by the roadside. Just remember to rent a midsize (compact won’t carry a family and luggage well, and large becomes difficult to maneuver through alleys and cobbled streets or park), and ask for an automatic well in advance when you book. We have carried suitcases, strollers and kids on and off the TGV at Avignon in France within a 3 minute stopover, and would never want to repeat that experience again – for us, driving has been the safest and most convenient.
food: Kids below 4-5 years of age are typically difficult to manage in a quiet, posh restaurant – your mileage may vary. For families with younger kids, having street food is a cheaper, more delicious, fun and engaging option. Visit any of the local markets, buy the food you want and go have a picnic somewhere, especially for lunch. For dinners, we found that doing a “take-away” (the “to go” equivalent) from restaurants and then bringing them to your hotel room worked best – kids can run around, watch some TV or iPad, read a book or have a pillow fight while munching and de-toxing from a hard day’s work of sightseeing.
staying: Unlike the US, European hotels are pretty strict when it comes to sharing rooms with kids. If you have kids younger than around 2-3 years old, you could probably get away with not counting them as part of your family, and that too if you are lucky. What we have found is that large cities tend to enforce family size quite strictly – we have had to upgrade rooms on the spot, depending upon availability, and pay a pretty penny as a result. On the other hand, in smaller towns, you could get away with less. For example, in Rome and Venice, we ended up booking for 4 (with 2 adults and 2 kids), while in a village (Buonconvento) in Tuscany close to Montepulciano, we booked for 3 (and could have booked for 2) and shared the room.
photographing: Image searches on Google Image Search or TripAdvisor will help you build an itinerary and places of interest (POI) that you might want to photograph. Then head over to Flickr and 500px and search for that POI to see how other photographers have actually captured it – the viewpoint of capture and the time of capture. Light at various times of the day can display/hide/highlight various parts of the POI – for example, you don’t want to land up at a grand valley viewpoint when it is covered in shadow. Your next step is to launch Google Maps Street View and navigate to the POI and find out where you have to be to get that viewpoint as shown in Flickr or 500px. We use Google Calendar to plan the itinerary, and make a note of all of these tidbits in the calendar notes for that entry. Check this post out for tips on photographing with kids. As for tripods, check out the Oben TT-100 Table Top for a tiny, featherweight yet sturdy tripod that also gives your photographs a unique perspective.
places / destinations we have visited
Click on the country below to read more about our travel to that destination – including where we stayed, what we did, and tips on observing and photographing.