Staying together: European capital city breaks

In City Breaks, Travel Inspiration by Guest Author3 Comments

Last week we launched our new series here on the HomeAway blog, ‘Staying together’, where we look at holidays spent with your nearest and dearest. We began with Becky Goddard-Hill looking at cottage holidays right here in the UK. Whilst autumn might be a bit rainy, it’s still a good time to holiday close to home.

This week however, Rebecca Winke whisks us across the continent, showing us the best Europe’s capital cities have to offer for family breaks. From tips on keeping the children entertained and activities that the whole family will enjoy, to where to go when you need a bit of chill out time, Rebecca will guide you through the best of Europe in the autumn with some hands on practical advice.

Bicycles parked on a bridge in Amsterdam

Bicycles parked on a bridge in Amsterdam

Though Europe’s cities are often bustling and frenetic, I’ve found that they can also be a fantastic family friendly destination for anything from short breaks to longer stays. Offering both the high-brow history and culture that we parents crave and tons of kid-pleasing sights and activities, Europe’s most cosmopolitan capitals are a perfect backdrop for a memorable vacation for travellers of all ages. Here are a couple of tips to help you plan a visit that will satisfy everyone in your family:

Consider logistics

Paris Metro Entrance Photo: Terrazzzo

Paris Metro entrance. Photo: Terrazzzo

You may be tempted by the designer B&B in the most charming area of town, but if your little ones have a strict eating/sleeping/downtime regimen, book a self-catering flat. With a kitchen and separate sleeping and living areas, it will be easier to manage mealtimes and naps and avoid the trouble that comes with hungry, tired, and out-of-sorts tots. Also, study the public transportation lines carefully before choosing a neighbourhood. When we stayed in Paris, I passed up a pretty apartment on the Rive Gauche in lieu of a flat which was—map-wise—farther from the centre but—metro-wise—just metres away from a main line. The ease of being able to explore the entire city by hopping on public transportation not twenty steps from our front door made all the difference. View our great selection of family friendly holiday homes in Paris.

Bring the city’s history to life

Colosseum Rome Photo: Grace.Donaghue

Colosseum in Rome. Photo: Grace.Donaghue

Until your kids are well into adolescence, the concept of millennia of history is often hard for them to grasp (it can be tough even for the grown-ups!). One fabulous way to put a city’s long past into context is by planning a fun, interactive historic activity. One of our favourites is the Gladiator School in Rome. The two-hour class begins with a “lesson” in the Gruppo Storico Romano Museum, with an entertaining explanation of their collection of artefacts, models, and weapons, and an opportunity to try on gladiator duds. This is followed by a light-hearted duelling workshop and the presentation of a gladiator certificate and “nom de guerre”. It’s an unforgettable way to learn about the history of the Eternal City.

Take advantage of the parks

Sunday Evening Retiro, Madrid Photo: Harry Popoff

Sunday evening at Retiro, Madrid. Photo: Harry Popoff

Europe’s capital cities are home to some of the most beautiful and historic parks on the continent, and can be a welcome break from long days of touring where everyone—kids and grown-ups alike—can blow off some holiday steam. Madrid’s Parque del Buen Retiro, for example, is a wonderful respite from the city’s hustle and heat. Near the Puerta de Alcalá and Prado Museum, this sprawling 350 acre park has wide-open greens and shady groves, but also sculptures and galleries, pavilions and stages (with free concerts on Sundays), and a pretty pond ringed with puppet shows, street artists, fortune tellers, and ice-cream stands. We love to rent a rowboat and paddle around the Estanque or simply relax on a bench and watch the Madrilenos stroll past.

Check out the children’s museums

Museum island on Spree river and Alexanderplatz

Museum island on Spree river and Alexanderplatz

European museums have become increasingly kid-friendly over the past few years, many offering itineraries and programs specifically aimed at school-aged children. Even better, many larger cities now have children’s museums geared toward the under-12 crowd; one of the best is Kindercity in Berlin. A 6,000 square metre interactive indoor play space dedicated to discovering, learning, exploring and playing, here kids can do anything from create their own TV program to attend driving school in the “learning lanes”, or attend one of the 90-minute “factory workshops” for lessons on how to repair a car or excavate dinosaur bones. Though crowded and buzzing with tots, the mayhem is kept in check by the large space and German knack for order and courtesy.

Remember the simple pleasures

An Amsterdam canal Photo: Paulo Ordoveza

An Amsterdam canal. Photo: Paulo Ordoveza

You can plan your city break down to the minute, but don’t forget that it’s often the small things that kids find most memorable. After a recent trip to Amsterdam, during which we visited everything from the Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank’s House to the Van Gogh Museum and the excellent NEMO science centre, I asked my kids what they had enjoyed the most. Their answers? Sitting by the canal watching the boats and eating paper cones of Vlaamse frites. So keep your itinerary simple and schedule in some free time when you might make your most serendipitous—and precious—vacation memories.

Rebecca Winke moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter opened an agriturismo at the foot of Mount Subasio near Assisi, Umbria. She spends her time taking care of guests at Brigolante, writing about the lovely region she now calls home at her blog Rebecca’s Ruminations and for Umbria on the Blog, and wondering what strange winds blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria. She also co-wrote the Umbria Slow: Food, Culture, & Travel iPhone app for Sutro Media.

Last week Becky Goddard-Hill showed us how UK cottage breaks are a great way to get away from it all with the ones you love. Over the next few weeks our travel experts will be looking at the best holidays to take this autumn when staying together.



Guest AuthorStaying together: European capital city breaks