For those of you who have traveled Europe with kids, where do you think are the best places to go? And also say which ages you think would do best there. Some places may be great for older kids, but not so good with the preschool aged bunch.
Many of the top tourist attractions in Europe do a pretty good job of integrating children into the site. For example, Neuschwanstein and many of the chateaux in the Loire Valley offer activity guide books for school-aged children. The books give them lists of things to locate in the castles (kind of like finding the hidden Mickeys at Disney Parks).
In Belgium, there's MiniEurope (featuring scale models of European landmarks), which is probably most suitable for pre-schoolers to pre-teens. Belgium also has two amusement parks based on the popular Flemish TV show "Kabouter Plop". Although older children can enjoy it, the target audience is young children.
The open-air folk musuem of Bokrijk (near Genk) has one of Belgium's largest playgrounds, and much lifestock running around for children to pet.
Not a true answer to your question, but I take my kids everywhere. There is no place I wouldn't take them.
We have sampled almost all of Europe - from London, to Scandanavia, Baltics to the Balkans, and Germany to Gibraltar. My kids are now 17 and 10 and we have been traveling extensively for the last 9 years. My kids favorite place is London but I suspect this is mainly due to the fact that they have been there about a half dozen times already and are quite familar with the city from the great kebab place outside S. Kensington station to the great collections at the British Museum.
We do not try to cater too much to our kids - we treat this as family outings and go with the flow. One thing we try and avoid is going to too many museums - we try and limit it to one or two only per trip.
This is a VERY broad question. I'd say you'd better pick up a book that gives you an over view for "Europe with kids". We've taken our kids to many places in Europe. Each place has something that the kids will enjoy, probably something different at different ages. To list this here, that would fill up a book - see above.
Our experience: we travelled extensively through Germany with the kids, not because it's the best place to take kids to but because that's where we travelled to visit family. Castles are always great. They love the train rides. Anything, from a regional train to the ICE that is more comfortable than the coach seats on the flights.
Make sure they can go swimming. Either on a beach, which means that a coastal area in France might be more interesting than Paris. Not that Paris couldn't be fun for kids. But our decision to go to Brittany and Normandy instead of Paris was based on the fact that it was much cheaper to skip Paris - and both dh and me had been to Paris before. Or a public swimming pool which s a huge attraction for my kids in Germany. They're talking about them for weeks before we even leave for the trip and will point them out as their favourite experience long afterwards.
Generally speaking, the larger cities are more tiresome for kids. Rome may be a great city but our kids liked the days in Tuscany much better where we stayed at a quiet villa with pool and did smaller daytrips.
tom had a good point: many attractions do offer special things for kids. My then 8 year old LOVED the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam because they offered an audio guide meant for kids. We adults used a different one that picked different paintings but it was still possible to walk with the child at roughly the same pace through the rooms.
Oh, and open air historical museums are great. Our favourite is the one in Ballenberg in Switzerland but it's certainly not the only one worth a visit. Detmold in NW Germany may be a bit out of the way (think back door!) but it boasts the largest such place in all of Europe.
I realize that this is a very broad question and I appreciate everyone's input so far. I've found that most guidebooks, even ones geared for kids, seem to have a lot of the same stuff (museums in London, Neuschwanstein, etc.), but I've also found, like some have mentioned, that places that are more rural have great stuff for kids that you can't find in books. That's the kind of stuff I'm interested in finding out.
I'm constantly planning the next trip (or 5...) with our kids, so more ideas of places to take them are great. We've visited family in Germany and driven to Austria with our son, and had one of the best trips ever down there. And most of the stuff we did in Austria was free (or cheap) and not in the guidebooks.
Some of the youth hostels are in castles, so that can be fun. We visited Brauburg hostel and it was really great for kids and adults. There are lots of Zoos in Europe and some of the museums are geared more towards kids. We have a tram museum which is fun for kids to crawl around on all the trains, the Senkenburg musuem, better known as the Dino Musuem, and we have a Kinder museum (childrens museum) as does Stuttgart, the Commnication museum here is quite interactive for kids too. As to outdoor stuff, I really like the Fun Forest, which appeals to almost any age group except the really little ones (under 8)Here is an example of one, but they are all over Europe. http://www.funforest.nl/?lan=english
Just north of Frankfurt, near Bad Homburg, is a re-constructed Roman fort that is great for all ages. Going up to the top of skyscrapers like Frankfurts Main Tower or Berlins TV tower or riding chair lifts like at Rüdesheim or gondalas to the tops of mountains are always fun. Germany also has lots of farm vacations which are great for the whole family and very reasonably priced. Sometimes there are fun tours in some cities, like the Night watchman or Ghost tours. Or a trip to Burg Frankenstein near Darmstadt can be a hit with the pre-teen set. The indoor pools all over Europe are fun, and some are set up like tropical parks where you can stay for while and there are lots of activities for the family. Sometimes just doing sort of corny or unusual things can be fun, like going to the cheese factory in the Netherlands, or the wooden shoe factory, or the chocolate factory in Köln, or climbing the steeple in a cathedral, or riding the luge or touring a salt mine.
Perhaps if you just tell us how old each of your kids are and where you want to go, we can help you a bit better.
Here's my 2 cents. Mont St. Michel in France. My sister in law who has 10 kids took her clan there a few times and I know it was a highlight for them. I took my son when he was 7 and again when he was 13. It is one of his favorite places in Europe. The kids can play (explore) in the sand when the tide is out, and watching it come in is a totally amazing sight! The abbey is a pretty cool place to explore also.
The other place I would recommend would be the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. One of the biggest expenses for this area is the local transportation, but it's dirt cheap for kids traveling with parents. You can rent scooters at one of the stops on the way up to first and ride them down which is great fun for the kids, and I would say is safe for any child from the age of 8 or 9 (the only hairy part is when you get back into Grindlewald and are on the street) but you could walk that portion. There are many gentle hikes that you could take any age child on. It's a great place to just hang out, and I know for sure that Murren and Lauterbrunnen both have small parks with playgrounds. Rick's recommended Hotel Staubbach (sp?) in Lauterbrunnen is right next to a playground.
We went to France last Feb (off season) with my then 8.5 year old boy. We visited Paris and spent a day with a GREAT "tour guide" which we arranged through an organization which I am spacing on the name - something like "free Paris guides" - arghh can't figure it out! He loved the Eiffel Tower. With Paris-walks.com we did a "highlights tour of the Louvre which was perfect. We drove to Normandy and visited Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, the movie theater, stayed in Bayeaux which was neat.
When he was 9 we spent a long weekend in Haarlem and Amsterdam - LOVED the Amsterdam Zoo. The Resistance Museum was very interesting to him as was Anne Frank House. I think he liked being in Haarlem more than Amsterdam - a bit less hectic. This summer - he'll be 10 - and we are traveling to Prague and Krakow and I'd love some suggestions of places to go, things to do, food to snack on.
One more....For anyone heading to Amsterdam / Haarlem with kids - Maduradam in the Hague is totally worth a visit. We all had a great time exploring the Netherlands in miniature!
I have a 20 month old daughter. I have traveled with her since she was 3 weeks old (we live In europe so we have a leg up). I love the resorts in Slovenia. They are really geared toward families. There are pools, outdoor activities, and some resorts have 'kids' programs. Check out the national slovenia tourism website and search for health resorts.
I went with my mom and sister to burchestgarden and salzburg when my sister was in 8th grade. It was a great long weekend. We did all the kid friendly things like the salt mines, the Eagels Nest, the castle in Salzburg, chocolate cake in a cafe in salzburg. We also stopped to see the Lugwig castle on Lake Chiemsee. My sister was typical teenager and thought some things were too 'lame'. Either way, it was a great trip that would totally work for elementary age kids.
One type of attraction that abounds in Europe and is great for kids of all ages is open-air museums. Adults like them, too. Scandinavia is particularly good in this respect. We have visited such sites in Denmark (several), Sweden, Wales, Yorkshire, and the Netherlands. Along with authentic historic buildings of various kinds, usually there are activities going on, some of which can be joined, such as cooking, crafts, and traditional games. Museums in Sweden and Denmark also seem to be very conscientious about providing activity centers for young children. In the UK and Ireland there are many castles which offer kids a chance to dress up in some medieval gear and try some activities, as well. Local history museums are often organized with an eye toward educating local school children; and are, therefore, very child-friendly. The Museum of the History of London is one such that pops to mind; but I'm sure there are others.
Oh, I had forgotten about the open air museums. They are everywhere. We have one near us called Hessen Park.
Another idea are jousting tournaments or medieval days, which a lot towns with castles seem to have. If you check with the tourist bureau in each town, they would list it. Königstein near Frankfurt has one. Rhein aflame is fun, where they have fireworks all along the Rhein at the castles. I like the "burning" of the castle in Heidelberg too. It does look real, with flares, smoke pots, lighting and then the fireworks.
Thanks for all the information on things around Frankfurt, Jo. We've got family in Mannheim, so pretty much whenever we go to Europe, we go through Frankfurt and spend a couple of days there. The Luisenpark in Mannheim is a great place.
My kids will be 7 and 3 this summer, but as I said, I'm always planning the next several vacations, so ideas for older kids are good, too.
We stayed in a farmhouse in St. Wolfgang, Austria, when my son was 3. Loved it. Having a hard time finding something similar outside of Germany and Austria, tho.
Our boys had one request, "Castles." Ruins or restored? "Ruins."
They also liked medieval armories and crime and punishment museums.
Our daugther didn't mind any of that but really appreciated all of the music and art. The boys weren't against visiting museums and churches but quickly lost patience and were ready to go to the next place.
They all seemed to enjoy anything to do with hiking, climbing, water or animals. None of them were excited about scenic drives.
My rule for minimum age for taking a kid to Europe is the Disney test. Do they have the stamina to handle a long day at Disneyland without wanting to be carried? Our kids were ready at five or six.
Hello Maureen. For children, ages 7 and 3, I recommend going to an "open air" museum, or "Folk museum" which has elements of that country's culture. That is easier than a family being in a big city, going from museum to museum, using the public transit. Being in an open air museum is safe - no risk of being hit by a motor vehicle, no risk of a train door closing on a child's body. I think children feel intimidated and overwhelmed in a big city. An open air museum is designed for being a place where people can have a good time. I will not mention specific places until you say what countries you will be at. // You said you would like to go to a small place out in the country - a place not mentioned in the travel guide books. My thought about that is that a family would probably travel for a long time to go to such a place, and it is likely to be a small place, not much to do there : when the chldren have been there for 15 minutes they might feel bored.