Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo has traveled to Europe at least twice a year with his kids (7, 10 and 11) since they were born, and they always seek out memorable experiences. We asked him what activities other traveling families should have on their European bucket lists.
When we’re planning a trip to Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, we start looking for activities far in advance. If there’s a festival taking place, we want to know the best way to experience it. If there’s an amazing guide for a walking tour, we want to book that person. If there’s a small cooking class that sounds perfect, we want in. We don’t over-plan, but we plan wisely. If we have two weeks in Paris, we may book three or four activities in advance.
Our standard activities tend to fall into a few categories: cooking classes; kid-friendly walking and museum tours; kid-friendly cultural performances; and animals/nature. But we’ll also plan trips around unique events that only take place periodically or only in one place.
So what are the very coolest things we’ve done that you can do, too? Here are my top nine European bucket list activities.
The LEGO Inside Tour
LEGO lets fewer than 200 people a year go behind the scenes of its operations, factory and Legoland park in Billund, Denmark. I heard about the Inside Tour years ago but the minimum age is seven, so I waited until my son was seven and we went. It’s seriously the coolest three days ever for kids and adults alike! Not only was going behind the scenes fascinating, but you spend time with LEGO designers and engineers and can ask them anything you want. Plus you get to shop in the LEGO employee store! Be sure to look into the tour well in advance — the ticket window for the following year is only open very briefly every fall.
Falconry at Ashford Castle
Staying at Ashford Castle, we walked over to Ireland’s School of Falconry (on the castle grounds) and met up with our falconry instructor Conal. He fitted the kids with gloves and taught them the basics of hunting with Harris Hawks – basically the hawks fly away, you put food hawk food (small rodents or chick parts) in your glove and hold out your arm, and the hawks fly back to you to eat before taking off again. The falconry would have been fun anyway, and indeed there’s falconry throughout the world, but the setting put the experience over the top – walking around the castle grounds and through a forest of moss-covered trees straight out of Harry Potter was magical! The kids are still talking about it a year later, and my 11-year-old has every intention of applying to be an intern in a few years.
Climbing to the Top of the Duomo
In Europe, with all of its hilltop towns and church towers, there’s no shortage of places to climb. Florence‘s Duomo is unique, however, since you climb to the top on a narrow passageway wedged between the outer dome and an inner dome. We’re in Florence at least once a year and it’s the one activity that’s always on our list. A reservation is required. I highly recommend climbing first thing in the morning, so that you won’t have to squeeze past anyone on the way up.
Macaron Making in Paris
You can’t go wrong with any cooking class in Paris, or in all of France for that matter, but our absolute favorite was making macarons at Cook’n With Class in Montmartre. We made three flavors: yuzu/chocolate; passion fruit/black currant; and salted caramel, and best of all, we got to take them back to our apartment where they disappeared over the next few days. I’d recommend this for kids age five and up, since it’s 3+ hours and our four-year-old lost interest partway through.
Pasta Making in Italy
We’ve done a lot of cooking classes in Europe. Other than macarons, above, we’ve had the most fun making pasta in Italy. From our classes in Venice, Florence and Cortona, the kids have become really good in the kitchen, and we now make all of our own pasta from scratch at home. It’s hard to beat an evening where you learn something, you have fun, and you have an amazing meal at the end!
Spending Two Weeks on a Greek Island
We love the Greek islands! The easiest way to see the islands is via cruise ship. The problem, though, is then you’re on an island with thousands of other day trippers and you don’t get much of a feel for the real Greece. So twice the past three summers we’ve headed to Naxos and spent 2-3 weeks becoming locals —basing out of a hotel on the beach, exploring the island, discovering and returning to amazing restaurants, and soaking up Greek culture. And we’re completely comfortable with our kids running around town on their own. We chose Naxos because it’s not a cruise ship stop and it’s less expensive, and it’s close to Paros, Mykonos and Santorini for quick trips. Perfectly idyllic!
Having a Picnic at the Eiffel Tower
We’ve been to Paris half a dozen times, and if you ask our kids what they remember the most, they’ll tell you it’s our frequent picnics at the Eiffel Tower/Champ de Mars park. Eating outside at the tower serves two purposes. First, it’s cheap. You can pick up amazing bread, cheese, meat, fruit, veggies and desserts on nearby Rue Cler and you’ll spend a lot less than you would in a restaurant. Second, the kids run and play and they’re not stuck in a Parisian cafe for 2+ hours. And if you forget wine, there’s always someone walking around with bottles for sale. Probably my favorite dinner spot in the world.
Taking an Art Class
In Europe we’ve made frescos, mosaics, books, and paper, and we’ve painted, sketched and drawn in a dozen countries. Every experience has given our kids new skills. But if I had to highlight one class/activity that we got the most from, it would be the Drawing London class we did with Context Travel. We met up with their guide, a highly-accomplished illustrator, who took us through several London museums and taught our kids the art of shading. My 10-year-old son has been perfecting those techniques every day since then, and has become quite good. It’s amazing when one of your kids really clicks with a guide and it changes his life! And it could have happened just as easily anywhere else in Europe.
Attending the Salzburg Music Festival
The Salzburg Festival has been taking place almost every summer since 1920, and it’s a perfect opportunity to introduce your kids to classical music and opera in one of the top family-friendly European cities. While you can stumble upon classical performances everywhere in Europe, Salzburg is nice because they have kid-oriented concerts and operas throughout the summer — typically far shorter versions of their standard performances. Our kids have particularly liked the child-oriented operas, and they especially enjoy dressing up in traditional Austrian outfits to fit in with the local kids. Highly recommended, even if you’re skeptical that your kids will appreciate the performances!
How about you? What would you add to this list of European bucket list activities for families?
Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity.
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