Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo has traveled to 43 countries with his three kids (7, 9 and 11), with some destinations being far more kid-friendly than others. We asked him for his favorite European cities for families.
When Travelocity asked me to write about our top five kid-friendly cities in Europe, I thought about everywhere on the continent that we’ve traveled the past 10 years – 70+ cities in 20 countries – and made a short list. My top two, Paris and London, seemed too easy to include – they’re large cities with parks, playgrounds, easy transportation, and almost unlimited things to do. Plus they’re the top two European destinations for American travelers every year.
So I’m leaving London and Paris off my list and concentrating on five lesser-traveled cities that are incredibly family-friendly. Read this post, then click through to Travelocity and book a trip! March is a great time to be thinking about summer travel.
In no particular order, our five favorite kid-friendly European destinations:
Winter in Budapest can be charming, with Christmas markets and ice skating, but I far prefer to visit in spring and summer. We typically combine indoor activities like cooking classes and market visits with picnics in Városliget Park and trips to the zoo, and it’s always fun to spend time at Castle Hill and Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side (take the Funicular up and down). If you want to get out of town for half a day, the artsy historic town of Szentendre is only 45 minutes away.
A highlight for us our last visit was taking a speedboat on the Danube past the Hungarian Parliament Building and other major sites at sunset. If speedboats are a little too crazy for you, there are numerous slow boat options for daytime, sunset and dinner cruises.
Don’t Miss: We always purchase chimney cakes (dough wrapped around a metal cylinder, baked and rolled in cinnamon sugar) as snacks in between lunch and dinner. You can get them at stands everywhere, especially in the pedestrian areas, as well as from bakeries throughout the city. So, so good!
Naxos Town, Greece
Naxos is by far our favorite Greek island for families. We chose it originally because it didn’t have large cruise ships coming into port every day (islands with thousands of day-trippers lose their charm quickly) and fell for it because of the people, the restaurants, the ruins and the beaches. We typically stay on Saint George Beach, spend a lot of time at the beach and in the water (shallow to at least 100 meters out), walk into Naxos Town for meals and simply enjoy Greek island life. A few times a summer we’ll rent a car and drive around the island, but otherwise we’re perfectly content to relax in and around Naxos Town. Paros, Mykonos and Santorini are all nearby and easily accessible via ferries.
Don’t Miss: It’s a hike, but the 1739 Terrasse Café has an amazing view for sunset. We walk up a couple of times a week for sangria (homemade lemonade for the kids) and enjoy the end of the day staring out over town and out to sea.
Florence is hardly an off-the-radar destination, but a lot of people are surprised at how kid-friendly it can be. We always stay in the middle of town and walk everywhere – the city is nicely compact. Climbing the Duomo and the bell tower are always fun for kids, and we don’t get too many complaints when we hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset. Dining couldn’t be easier. What kid doesn’t love pasta, pizza and gelato – especially when they’re the best in the world?
We visit virtually every year and make sure that our kids have an appreciation for what Florence is famous for – namely art, architecture, history and food – but in a kid-friendly way. There are numerous family-friendly walking tours and museum tours where you can skip the lines and see the sites and artwork that kids find the most interesting, and we include sketching everywhere we go. We’ve also done art workshops, focusing on drawing, fresco making, paper making and book making, and have taken cooking classes for pasta, tiramisu, gelato and pizza. Our kids are amazing at making pasta from scratch now!
Don’t Miss: The Stibbert Museum is outside of the city center but is incredibly cool for kids, with over 16,000 pieces or arms and armor from Europe and Asia, anywhere between 100 and 600 years old.
Like Budapest, Salzburg can be enjoyable in the winter, but we definitely prefer to visit in the summer. It’s a city based around Mozart and the Sound of Music. If your family enjoys either, you’re set! Visit Mozart’s birthplace and his home, and walk into the cathedral where Mozart was baptized. There are frequent concerts as well…or simply enjoy the ubiquitous Mozart chocolates! For the Sound of Music you can book a tour to various movie locations, and you can actually stay at Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, which features prominently in the film.
We always enjoy spending time in the gardens of Mirabell Palace and walking along the river, and our kids loved running around Festung Hohensalzburg, one of the largest medieval castles in Europe – even with the climb up from the city. The Toy Museum is excellent, and it’s a perfect destination if it’s raining. Definitely visit the outdoor markets throughout town. We never eat lunch in a restaurant – the street food is simply too good. Easy day trip options include Hallstatt, Austria’s oldest (and possibly most picturesque) village, and Berchtesgaden, Germany, with its (very kid-friendly) salt mine tour.
Don’t Miss: The Salzburg Festival every summer has numerous child-focused events and performances. All three of our kids thoroughly enjoyed the two operas for children that we attended – professional performances shortened to an hour and fifteen minutes or so and easy to follow despite not being in English.
We love Croatia, and of everywhere that we’ve traveled within Croatia, Zagreb remains our favorite. We enjoy simply walking around and exploring. The city is compact, with parks, fountains, squares, markets and pedestrian streets, and we can easily spend two days relaxing in town, wandering down side streets and getting food as we go – from market stalls, cafes and street vendors. It’s worth walking by the cathedral, and don’t miss Lotrščak Tower, an easy climb with a great view.
The best reason to visit Zagreb, though, is for Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the world’s most beautiful sites. Plitvice sees over 1 million visitors a year, but it’s still largely ignored by Americans traveling to Europe. It’s only two hours from Zagreb and well worth a day of your vacation.
The park consists of a series of 16 interconnected lakes, cascading into each other via waterfalls, with wooden walkways along the lakes as well as stairs for the steeper climbs. There are also boats linking the shores of the larger lakes. The lakes are virtually all turquoise or green-colored – stunning. We arrived at Plitvice at 11am and didn’t leave until 5pm. The entire time we simply walked from lake to lake – well I walked, but my son ran most of the time! We also took two boat rides and had lunch at one of the park’s restaurants.
Don’t Miss: Plitvice Lakes of course, but in Zagreb Tkalciceva Street was our go-to destination for snacks, meals and smoothies, and there’s a playground nearby.
Eric Stoen 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. For more information on the Travelocity Gnational Gnomads, visit TravelocityGnomads.com.
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