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A first family trip to Europe sounds great, sounds educational, sounds memorable. It also sounds like a lot of moving parts.
When it comes to deciding which great place to go in Europe, or the best time to go there, decision paralysis is real. But instead of going into all the things to consider (kids’ ages, time of year, length of flights, etc.), we’re sharing a list of our favorite spots in Europe for family and great things to do throughout the continent.
We’ve included family trips for active families seeking memorable vistas on heart-pumping hikes, cities packed with museums and sites for history buffs, foodie favorites that both kids and adults will love, and a beach destination from which myths are made.
The best way to get kids excited about family travel is to get them involved in the decision making. Our family tour recommendations can start the European vacation conversation. Discuss these good ideas that include UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cosmopolitan European cities, ancient ruins, the Swiss Alps, local markets, even amusement parks in a new country.
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Norway for Hikers
Join the active-minded Norwegians who know a thing or two about enjoying green spaces – this is a Western Europe country with 47 national parks, all of which are free and open to the public year-round. When the sun returns after a long winter, Norwegians of all ages take to the hiking trails. From short and steep, perfect for a day trip to miles of meandering, this is a great way to immerse the entire family in the green places of this northern country, far from the bustling city center back home.
Lace-up the boots, pack water and snacks, and hit these family-favorite Norway hiking trails:
Mileage: 4.7 miles out and back
Impress tweens or teens straight away with a spectacular hike so they can’t complain the next time you suggest a walk as fun. Head to Pulpit Rock. Once they’ve stood atop this sky-high plateau and gazed down over Lysefjord from nearly 2,000 feet above, they’ll be a hiking convert for sure. Plus it has the Hollywood cool factor: Pulpit Rock, also called Preikestolen, starred in the film Mission: Impossible – Fallout starring Tom Cruise.
Mileage: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
The most visited peak on the east side of Gansfjorden, this is an easy one that’s a great time for the whole family, even young kids (it has a blue designation, meaning it’s suitable for anyone with basic hiking skills). Walk from the parking lot through rugged but not difficult terrain to the summit, where everyone will gape at the views. Bonus: It’s just a 30-minute drive from Stavanger to the trailhead.
Mileage: 7.5 miles
Pack extra sweet bribes (oops, I mean healthy snacks) for this one. It’ll be with worth it when you all arrive, sweaty and tired, at the highlight of the Kjeragbolten hike; a giant boulder wedged between two cliffs, making for some of the best photo ops in the great Norwegian outdoors. It’s best for kids 9 years and older who are active and adventurous. Older kids and parents can step out onto the hanging boulder for an exhilarating experience!
Norway Bonus: Northern Lights
For avid sky gazers, visiting Norway during the winter is an excellent choice – just bundle up! This is the prime time to see the dark sky light up with the dancing Aurora Borealis. Tromsø, in the northern part of the country, is considered one of the best places in the world to witness the Northern Lights.
Where to Stay in Norway
The modern Myrkdalen Hotel was designed for active families and anyone who wants to be conveniently close to fjord adventures in Western Norway. Choose from standard rooms, family rooms and more elegant suites, dine in several restaurants that emphasize locally sourced cuisine, and let the kids get their wiggles out in the two playrooms.
London for History Buffs
Steeped in history, rich in culture, and easy to get around, London is a perfect place for families, especially for those making their first trip to Europe. Practically every neighborhood has popular attractions, including a wealth of grand churches, palaces, medieval ruins, infamous prisons and dungeons, and cases of royal jewels. Plus, families won’t have to worry about a language barrier.
We love catching a glimpse of the somber-looking guards at Buckingham Palace (even better, try to catch the Changing of the Guards ceremony), touring the nooks and crannies of the Tower of London, and seeing Greek and Roman antiquities at the British Museum.
Consider a professionally guided tour that includes the top historic sites in one or two days, a double-decker hop-on/hop-off bus tour, or at least a small group, docent-led tour in order to get the most out of the experience. London’s public transportation is excellent, too, and makes getting around to the various attractions, whether the Natural History Museum or the London Eye, a breeze.
If families want to add a few under-the-radar London experiences to their itinerary, we suggest:
Lunch at Maltby Market
Skip Borough Market and head to hip Maltby Street Market instead. It’s open on Saturday and Sunday only and offers up such scrumptious fare as grilled cheese, jerk chicken and incredible doughnuts (from the St. John at the edge of the market).
Cruising a Canal
While this isn’t Amsterdam, families will find themselves almost forgetting they’re in London as they take a boat ride on a characterful river vessel along Regents Canal. Hop on one of the colorful vessels just north of Paddington in Little Venice and sail serenely past houseboats and grand estates and the London Zoo enroute to Camden. Walking tours of the canals are also an option.
Visiting with Otters
Get outside downtown London to the London Wetland Centre, an urban oasis 10 minutes from Hammersmith. Giggle at the playful otters as they play, forage and swim in the river.
Where to Stay in London
After a long day of sightseeing in London, wouldn’t it be great to see the kids splashing around in the hotel pool? Few city hotels offer this perk, but one of the best for families is the London Marriott County Hall on the South Bank. The London Eye, Big Ben, and Westminster Bridge are just steps away and close to the Tube for easy sightseeing access.
Paris for Foodies
Have a family of budding gourmands? Lucky! Visit Paris, the City of Light, and go beyond the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Haute cuisine needn’t just be for the culinary elite – or even just adults. These are just a few of the enticing restaurants in Paris that kids and teens will savor:
Breizh Cafe for Crepes
The tempting goods at this creperie in the Marais neighborhood go above and beyond anything, Sunday morning might offer at home. It’s the Parisian outpost of a restaurant in Cancele, Brittany, offering savory buckwheat galettes with potato or goat cheese and honey. The sweeter treats include such tempting fillings as Valrhona chocolate.
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Le Mabillon for Croque-Monsieur
No need to worry if Le Mabillon is open when hunger strikes – its lights are on 22 out of the day’s 24 hours. It’s an easy stop in the Saint-Germain area for a cheeseburger, croque-monsieur, or goat cheese salad. Mom and Dad can enjoy a glass of Chablis, and people watch while everyone finds something to stave off the hangry.
Chez Hanna for Pitas
Head up the street a bit from the other falafel shops along rue des Rosier to this local favorite. The pita sandwiches with chickpea balls, tahini sauce and vegetables come in around EUR 4 when ordering to-go. Grab falafel and shawarma sandwiches for everyone and have an impromptu picnic.
Where to Stay in Paris
There are plenty of hidden gems in Paris. This gem sits quietly off the tourist trail. That being said, Hotel Gardette Park certainly doesn’t scrimp on style and personal service. Enjoy the innovative design and surrounding greenery (there’s a playground across the street). The family suites are generously sized by Paris standards. A selection of restaurants is a short walk away.
Here are our recommendations for family vacations in Europe, from Greek Island beaches to Paris restaurants to London museums.
Greek Islands for Beaches
Cast aside the notion that the Greek Isles are only for footloose and fancy-free adults and romantics. If the family is seeking blissful beach time and wants to get a little European culture to go alongside the white sand, head to Greece. Get more adventure than visiting the Caribbean or Mexico, and consider island hopping on a boat trip, offering plenty of bang for the beach buck. Bonus: There are plenty of history lessons to be had on the islands, so it’s educational, too!
This Cyclades beauty is more family-centered than some of its counterparts, and there are more than 60 miles of beaches. The ones that are most accessible, and have lifeguards, include St. George Beach, Agios Prokopios, and Planka. Want to horseback ride on the beach? Head to the sands near Chora.
Not only does Crete have one of the most spectacular beaches in Europe – Elafonisi Beach – but it also boasts the spectacular Knossos historical sight, once the throne to King Minos, son of Zeus. Plus, there are water parks, aquariums, shopping malls, palaces, and hiking trails – it’s an all-around winner.
With kid-friendly beaches and terrific towns to explore, it’s easy to see why Corfu is so popular. Visit the Old Fortress, picnic and play on Paleokastritsa, Canal d’Amour or Avlaki beach, or even take a sailing trip out to Paxos to see the friendly monk seals.
Where to Stay in the Greek Isles
The Nissaki Beach Hotel welcomes families in five-star style at a price that will allow for more days on a family trip. Set right on the beachfront, the hotel offers a pool and hot tub, seaside dining, and spacious two-unit suites, ideal for those traveling with children. From here, on the southwest edge of Naxos Town, walk St. George Beach to many restaurants and beach clubs.
And the list goes on … and on. We hope these ideas are inspiring, at least enough to put some fun back into the decision-making and planning. Bon voyage!
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