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Europe with kids

We have 2 little girls, 6 and 4 by the time we will travel. We want to visit France, Switzerland and Italy in three weeks. We want to hit Paris, Venice, Rome, the Berner oberlan. What suggestions do you have about itinerary and how to get from place to place?

Posted by
9363 posts

Since you aren't giving us any idea about budget, what you are interested in, or anything else, you should start by looking at a variety of guidebooks to determine what you might like to see or do. Once you have at least a general idea, we can better help you sort it out. Have you traveled internationally with the kids before? What time of year are you thinking about going?

Posted by
5 posts

I apologize for not realizing how broad my question was. ok, here is a better post, I hope,... LOL my family of four will be going to Europe in April of 2014. We are on a budget. When we travel we want our kids, and us, to have as much fun as possible. We want to visit France, Switzerland and Italy. We have three weeks to do so. Our biggest question right now is where to land and take off from? Where is best to cross over from/to Switzerland? Are overnight trains safe for kids? Also, are there places we should absolutely visit because they are great for little kids? Are most B&Bs in Europe kid-friendly? Our kids are used to traveling within the USA, so we think that Europe should be no different. Are there things we should be aware of when in Europe with kids?
I hope this post makes a little more sense. thank you, in advance, for the wisdom you provide.

Posted by
503 posts

Hello Belle, As the previous poster said, you might have a look at some of the guidebooks to narrow down what areas you might like to see in each country.Not knowing what you are interested in seeing in each country makes it difficult to help you with the logistics. Some questions you might want to consider are: 1. Does your family like to travel at a break neck pace or are they happier with a more relaxed schedule? 2. Do they like cities or are happier seeing and exploring the countryside? 3. Do they like shopping and museums or would they rather hike, bike or picnic in the park?
The answers to these questions should help you narrow down the areas/sites you'd like to see in each country based on your interests and how busy you like to be on trips of this nature. Once you have a preliminary idea of the areas you'd like to see in each country, we can help with logistics and feasibility!

Posted by
5 posts

Wow, everyone!!! These are awesome suggestions and ideas. We definitely have more planning to do, that's for sure. As far as budget, we had guessed about $8,000 for travel and general spending once we are there. This would include lodging as well. Is that realistic? We had thought of $5,000 at first but then we just laughed our heads off. We like the self-catered places idea. That actually makes a great deal of sense. it would give us a chance to mingle with the locals everyday. So, no night trains! OK :D we think that was a point that cannot be missed. Considered before, but now... totally dismissed.LOL Thank you so much for all the good ideas. And ED, we might be contacting you in the future, if that is ok, once we make more definite plans. Our idea of fun is a relaxed one. Visit one or two "must see" sights and then go local with food and parks. We are looking forward to cheese, chocolate and new flavors. We like the idea of going from Paris-to Switzerland-to Italy, leaving from Rome. We love hiking, so Berner Oberlan is a must. Please keep the ideas and suggestions coming. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

Posted by
893 posts

My suggestion on itinerary with kids that young is to scale back. Your girls won't be able to stay up late, nor will they be able to handle multiple museum visits in a row. What's most important to you? You say you want to have fun. Is that hiking? Swimming? Visiting art museums? As for getting from place to place - for Paris to Rome, I would suggest flying. Easy Jet has very reasonable fares if purchased far enough in advance. Just be sure you are familiar with their luggage policies. From Rome to/from Venice - the high speed train is the way to go. And I think you'll be best served going by train to Berner Oberland, but the possibility to rent a car and drive would be there if you think that would be more fun.

Posted by
65 posts

Belle, Your girls will love Europe! We take our 5 year old with us everywhere. She loves Paris so much that she tells people that she is going to university there. Anyhow, I can tell you that in Rome and Paris you will find accommodating people everywhere. My daughter loved the Colosseum and all the roman soldiers everywhere. She was fascinated with all the catacombs and of course the gellato. Paris has incredible parks. We do the louvre and then head out to the tuilleries garden so our daughter can run around and play. It is a balance. Your girls will not be bored in the city of lights! If you are planning on taking a stroller beware that Venice does not have smooth streets and can be a challenge with kiddos. We let our daughter have special treats and stay up late when we are in Europe. Its all part of the memory! Email me if you have special questions about paris and rome! Easy Jet is great but the luggage restrictions can put a damper on families traveling with big bags. The trains within Italy are great! Overnight trains are not ideal if you truly require sleep. Can be VERY uncomfortable!!!
Amanda

Posted by
6866 posts

Let me speak the truth. Small children are very, very difficult to deal with on a long foreign trip, and they don't remember it. We waited until our daughter was 11 to take her through Europe, which was a perfect age. Many on this website will disagree, but children have their whole lives to travel. I'd rather have 10 days without them than 21 days with them. There's just too much culture, art, history and different foods that children just cannot take in. Our retired parents just adored spending the time with their granddaughter while we went on vacation.
By not taking children, we had the money to take our daughter to DisneyWorld, or on a cruise which they will better enjoy.

Posted by
11 posts

I don't say all this to poke holes in your plans, only to make you aware of the considerations. It's just as possible that they'll do great. Given the ages of your kids, I would balance city destinations with time in the countryside, where they can have room to run around and the tempo isn't so overwhelming. Venice and Rome would not be my first choice with children that young. Maybe you could fly into Milan or Florence and base yourselves in Tuscany for a week, then drive or take the train from there to your chosen base in the Berner Oberland for another week-ish. If you can add a couple days at Lake Como or Lugano along the way, so much the better. From the Berner Oberland, you can catch a train or drive to Zurich and from there fly to Paris for the final week. It's tempting to try to cram too much in when you go all the way to Europe, so pace yourselves and allow for some downtime. Whether or not B&Bs are kid-friendly depends on the B&B. I like self-catering apartments or cottages/villas with kids that age, and if you are on a budget, that can save you a tremendous amount of money. Also, know that Switzerland is NOT a budget destination...prices for food, hotels, etc. are eye-wateringly expensive.

Posted by
11 posts

Argh, my previous reply got cut off. Here's the rest of it: "Our kids are used to traveling within the USA, so we think that Europe should be no different." Yes and no. If they're good travelers and used to being on the go, that will ease things, and Europe doesn't present the same kind of culture shock as, say, southeast Asia. But there are so many variables that it's impossible to predict. The jet lag can be rough on little ones, and they may take longer than you think to adjust (our son does fine after the first day, but every kid is different). The language barrier may intimidate them, or it may not. Unfamiliar foods can be hard on their system. In places where the pace and timing of meals is different than what they're used to (e.g. Italy), you'll need to work with or around that.

Posted by
9110 posts

Realize that overnight trains are not necessarily sleeper trains. I don't know how kids would do on them, I think they suck. Also think about how long the trips actually are: Paris to Interlaken is five or six hours, Interlaken to Venice probably eight, and Venice down to Rome three or four. Spending the night on a train doesn't really make much sense - - just go ahead and make a day of it since you only have three transition days, anyway. You'd want to fly into Paris and out of Rome. If you split the days evenly, that'd be (assuming three weeks minus arrival and departure days minus travel days equals seventeen days) four days or so in each place. Venice will only take a couple with kids and the Berner Oberland maybe three, so there's more time for Paris and Rome, which works out pretty well. I must have missed the part where you asked if you should take your kids, but, per usual around here, you've gotten the advice to leave the suckers at home. I'll offer the counter-point that I lugged three kids around four continents and I strongly suspect they got something out of it. I'll also offer that I've got two runts from the next generation making a mess in my study as I type. I had these last two in London back in the fall, tossed them on the train and took them down to Paris for a couple of days, and then took them back to London. I just asked them what they remembered about the two cities - - they're not brain dead and came up with some pretty good answers. The older guy (almost six) says neither was as good as the China trip he and I took last summer.

Posted by
9110 posts

There's the misconception that culture has to do with art museums. The actual definition is a bit broader - - and kids thrive when they partake of it. Also, I don't know why there'd be culture shock in Southeast Asia - - it's just one more part of the world, and certainly not backward. Kids can figure out how to eat whatever tossed in front of them. What kids need is variety and as much of it as they can get. Cities offer more of it. Figure out how long you want to stay in each place and we can make lists that will make your head spin (except for Venice, which I detest, but somebody will have idea or two). Before anybody can give you much more help, you're going to have to come up with a bit more of a time allocation and a list of gotta-dos for the adults. Also your definition of 'budget' would help.

Posted by
11450 posts

Before anyone , a family or group of 4 friends in particular ,, books a night train , I dare you to do this. Take your group. Go to your walk in closet( assuming its not one of those that's bigger then most peoples living rooms, lol ) .. put sleeping bags on floor,, they must be no more more then 3.5 feet from each other.. , remember this too, you and hubby will climb up into top bunks as your kids shouldn't be up there.. Now, sleep in closet all night.. Fun huh?
Ps Please be sure to bring all the luggage you plan to take with you into closet, and also, remember if child needs to go to bathroom in middle of night you will be walking down the hall to the public washroom, by morning they can be disgusting too. Forget a hot breakfast. Noise and bumps in the night to be expected. Not fun. You will likely arrive tired and kids cranky, no showers either. Fly.

Posted by
11 posts

My point about culture shock wasn't meant to refer to culture in terms of art museums. It was simply a way of saying that the differences in language, foods, customs, and so forth are more pronounced between certain parts of the world and others. It's one of the joys of traveling, but for some kids that young it can take a bit longer to acclimate.

Posted by
8271 posts

Starting at age 4 I traveled all over Europe with my family constantly... I remember everything very well and loved every minute of all of it.

Posted by
11450 posts

April, many hiking trails still closed due to snow.. was in Wengen one year and they said the snow hadn't melted off the trails till almost june that year.. Don't plan on a lot of hiking in Alps with tots on snow covered trails.. confirm this by google for weather in places you are interested in and trail conditions.

Posted by
11 posts

Does the $8,000 include your flights from the U.S.? If so, that takes a big bite out of your budget.

Posted by
3696 posts

Belle...Just like reading to your children and playing with them when they are young has a profound influence on them (whether they remember it or not) so will travel. They may not remember every detail, but you will and they will be affected by it. I traveled with a friend who had a 4 year old to Paris and she had shown her a few things at home, so you can imagine the surprise of all the other visitors when she let out a cry from her stroller (too much walking, so she rode) as she first laid eyes on Winged Victory, and she identified it as such. Your daughters will have a great time, and since you seem to travel a lot in the US, you are correct... it is really not all that different. You get on a plane (longer trip, granted) and you get off in a vacation location.... this time it's Europe. Another thing you might do is to make a travel journal for each of the girls and ask them questions at the end of the day about their experiences and write down the answers for them. Bring sketch pads and drawing pencils and have them draw the Eiffel Tower, etc. I would involve them in as much planning as possible. My friend took her 4 year old to Disney in Paris and they loved it. Have a great time.

Posted by
503 posts

I think your budget (if it includes air travel) is too low. Airfare (unless you can do the trip on miles) is going to run you around $3,000 - $4,000 right off the bat. If the $8,000 is just for expenses one you get there it's doable if you are careful with your spending - renting flats would definitely be more cost effective and more comfortable. Big cities will obviously be more expensive than the country - since you are interested in only seeing 1 or 2 sights per day, looking for properties a little further out from the city centers can sometimes save you money.

Posted by
969 posts

I agree that $8000 is too low. We are going next summer (Munich, Barcelona, Rome, Pisa, Lucca, Venice)- 2 adults and 2 kids ages 9 and 11, and for our two touring weeks I have about $800/day budgeted - not including airfare over and back as we are going on miles. We are also doing a week cruise but I took that part out of this calculation. I don't think we are traveling super budget, but we are also not planning any lush accommodations or anything. We are paying a bit more for our flights once there, to get easy flight times for the kids - but that may be a difference of only a couple hundred total. We are staying in 2 bedroom vrbo's and 2 doubles on the 3 nights we are in hotels. I did $200/day for food, and $100/day for stuff I am sure we forgot to budget for or incidentals... My sightseeing budget is about $1000, mostly entry fees to places, one bike tour. We have two one ways flights and 2 4 hour-ish train trips. We are also trying to take it easy and not pack too much in. Rick recommends $120 day for food/lodging and another $30 for sightseeing. So that brings it to about $600/day for a family of 4 - my extra is to cover that transportation and my $100 cushion. I have priced thing out pretty specifically, so the only sort of unknown is the food part. Everything else is set in stone for us. With two smaller kids you will probably be a bit less, since you can maybe get a 1 bedroom at. or stay in a quad. But $8000 for 20-ish days is about $400/day. Might be doable, but I would really check some actual costs to be sure. I would rather have budgeted too much and come back with money in the account than overspend by a couple thousand I wasn't expecting. Have fun!
Kim

Posted by
328 posts

We have been to Europe 4 times with our now 2.5 year-old and will go again this fall with our 6 month old as well. We have really enjoyed traveling with our little one - he forces us to slow down savour things more. Some of our best memories are of him chasing pigeons in Venice's San Marco Square or riding a boat up the Rhine. Some advice would be to always have good snacks on hand ... boxes of berries from fruit stands, yogurt and crackers from supermarkets, etc. Shopping like this is a fun way to get to 'immerse' yourself in the area a little more and it's amazing how much further a little person will go when they have good food in their tummy. Keep your schedule flexible and plan your 'must sees' for the time of day when you know your kids are at their best. Our son has had no real melt downs on our trips because we recognize when he needs a little 'kid time' and head for the nearest park or playground or back to our apartment for a short nap. I don't see this as keeping us from sights, it's just a different way of seeing the places we visit. We'll have time to catch up on the museums we have missed when he is older.

Posted by
328 posts

My post also got cut off. Here is the rest .... We almost always rent apartments. Our son behaves well in restaurants but we like to give him a break every few nights. It is also an opportunity for us to try some of the great food we find in markets all over Europe. We also find it is a more economical way for us to travel. Personally, I would avoid Venice until they are a little older. We took our son last fall but he was in a stroller most of the time (we carried his stroller up and down the stairs - not a big deal to us). There are no railings on the canals to keep a little one from falling in. You know your kids best, though, they may be perfectly fine and hold your hand the whole time. We haven't been to Rome or Paris with them, yet, but we have been to parts of France, Italy and Switzerland I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have, just PM me. Happy Travels!

Posted by
12040 posts

I want to re-iterate what Pat wrote... April is part of the shoulder season and the absolute worst month of the year for the Alps, particularly in Switzerland. Many of the trails are still covered in snow, and those that aren't can be quite muddy. The snow layer is usually too soft for winter hiking or skiing. Weather is cloudy, overcast and wet. Where the snow has already retreated, the farmers use this lull in the tourist traffic to fertilize the pastures, for which they use liquified manure sprayed via a power hose. Finally, most of the hospitality infrastructure in the mountains goes on temporary hiatus. So, this is not a good time of year at all to visit the Berner Oberland, or most of the Alps in general. I would recommend you spend your valuable vacation money and time elsewhere.

Posted by
709 posts

Hi Belle, We have two girls, 3 and 1 now. The 3yo has been to Italy (10m) and France (2y) and the 1yo has been to France (9m). While in cities, try to find grass and parks, which is a Breeze in Paris. Hands down the best city for kids (London is a close second). Rome? Terrible. Very little grass (Borghese has some) and not many parks. Venice has a good park, but lots of steps (we had a stroller). Berner Oberlan has lots of grass, obviously.
With the kids, we usually stay in apartments, and eat in quite a bit (the morning walks to market and bakery in paris with my 2yo are some of my best memories). When the kids are well rested and seem content, we'll eat out, usually outside café style and keep it less than two hours. My kids eat everything from Escargot to spicy Lo Mein, because that's what we feed them. We never have trouble getting them to eat, but they always eat off the non-kids portion of the menu (no tenders or mac and cheese for them), which adds to the cost (but they can split the meal). Cost? Both of our trips to Europe witht the kid/s ran us $7000-8000, airfare excluded. Keep in mind, their meals were not kid sized, and we didn't buy them tons of souvenirs, so they're like little adults, except for the plethora of carousel rides... I'm losing space, so I'll stop here, but feel free to contact me with any other comments. Europe with kids is even better than the trips without them (maybe a little less romantic...)

Posted by
5 posts

Fantastic ideas. I love the idea of renting apartments. I know of one place that does renting in cities around the world, airbnb.com. I was considering that site because it was recommended by a well known magazine. Those of you who have recommended apartments or villas, who did you use? Do you used a site or an actual agency? Was Rome really that bad? I grew up in Chile, we have parks there but nothing like the states. In Santiago, the capital, I grew up playing on the street and small plazas. I wonder if Rome is the same on that aspect... No real parks or grass. To live there is different that to visit the place. Maybe we should make A near by town our base and visit Rome as a one day trip. Maybe we should just stay up north and visit Germany instead! Lol. Oh so many decisions to make. This is what traveling is all about and I love it!!!

Posted by
501 posts

Pat is sooooooo funny, but she is close to being accurate. I'm surprised that the women on this board didn't chew and spit David out for his remarks.( one thing I've learned on this board, the hard way, don't try to make sense with women that want to take there children on a trip....never...never!!) Now, this is what I'll add to the mix. Europe hasn't gotten as crazy as the States when it comes to OVER-Safety....what I mean is, the Europeans still think that a parent should THINK and be responsible. So.....some of children play areas may have jungle-gyms that they could fall off, etc. Luxembourg Park in Paris is child friendly. Berner Oberland, go up funicular Allmend.... , nice playground for adults and children. I'm sure there are others all over. We saw many families with all ages. Wonderful way for your children to experience various cultural situations. Have fun, your worst situations will be be your fondest memories!

Posted by
709 posts

Belle,
Don't get me wrong, Rome is one of my favorite cities in the world. However, navigating that city with two little ones really ups the intensity of that place. Yes, our daughter played in Piazzas, but they are no where as nice as a clean green lawn. She seemed to have just as much fun wherever she was, but we had a lot more fun watching her chase grasshoppers at our agriturismo in Montepulciano than picking her up from the cobblestones in Piazza Navona. Your kids will be older than ours was at the time, so that may make a difference.

Posted by
5 posts

Darren,
You mentioned "agriturismo in Montepulciano", I'm not 100% sure as to what it but it sounds really interesting. I imagine it is a farm situation where one helps with the everyday minutia of agriculture and, in return, the farmers give you a great place to stay. Is that about right? Since you went there with your family, did you drive around or took a bus? I am very interested in learning more. Obviously I will do some research about it, but it would be great to hear your opinion, or for that matter, anyone's opinion about it. places recommended perhaps... How wonderful!

Posted by
21 posts

We spent nearly 7 weeks in France, Germany and Belgium with our 4 and 6 year old daughters in 2011. Check out our blog. http://familyineurope.travellerspoint.com/12/
We especially enjoyed our stay at Le Chevreuille in the Dordogne. France region - http://lechevrefeuille.com/ Very kid friendly and lots to see. Our older daughter is actually on their website in the pool! We are going back to Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, and Belgium) for a month or so in July 2014 and will repeat our 1 week stay outside of Bruges, Belgium. We hit the jackpot at a week long farm stay in 2011. Our girls can't wait to return - http://www.bruges.eu.com/farm/ We already booked the cottage for next July 2014. Please message me if you have any questions. Our 2011 trip was wonderful. Our 4 year old had some difficulties being out of routine. We would still do it again in a heartbeat. Have a great trip!

Posted by
27709 posts

Belle, what you describe would be getting board and lodging in exchange for work which is illegal on a tourist visa. An agriturismo is a working farm (more than 50% of income is supposed to be from the agricultural sector) which puts up tourists in varying degrees of comfort and amenity level; in exchange for money - much like a rural B&B.

Posted by
511 posts

Although the most recent edition is now five years old, Cynthia Harriman's Take Your Kids to Europe is full of helpful advice for traveling with children of all ages. Just consult something more recent to make sure of hours, admission fees, etc. We adored her concept of "days to choose" where the Dictator for the Day chooses the activities and restaurants. We're still using it on every family trip fifteen years later. Our first trip was three weeks with husband and boys ages 8 and 11. I agree with the poster who advised that before you go to expose them to books and movies featuring sights you're going to see. Teach them a little of the languages they're going to hear. We used a mixture of car rental (Scotland to Windsor), day train (London to Amsterdam), and night train (Amsterdam to Munich). NEVER AGAIN on the night train. On a long train during the day you can get 4 seats facing each other across a table and play a new game you picked up in the last castle gift shop. Speaking of gift shops, we gave them a small amount of spending money each day and let them choose their own snacks and souvenirs from that. Be sure to allow plenty of time for wandering around and hanging out in playgrounds. One of my fondest memories is a pickup soccer (aka football) game in a park in Munich. There was a father with two similarly aged boys who served as referee and scorekeeper (holding up fingers while he taught us the numbers). Have a great trip!

Posted by
139 posts

I am excited for you. My family (mom, dad, 16 year old boy, and 13 year old girl) just returned from a 3 week trip to Rome, Tuscany, Lyon, Burgundy and Paris. I am so sad it is over! We also went when the kids were 8 and 11. I know yours are younger and don't eat as much but just FYI, not including plane tickets, we spent $10,000 on transportation, food, admission prices and accommodations. We stayed in apartments in the cities and only ate in restaurants about once per day. Otherwise we ate at the bakeries and shopped at the supermarket. I spent some time with a couple that lives in Zurich and I can confirm it is very expensive. Have you considered the French Alps? We really enjoyed Lyon. We were there to see a stage of the Tour de France, but we ended up enjoying the city itself. It has less tourists and is smaller and less expensive than Paris. Of course no place is Paris, but if you need to fly to or from Rome there are some nice EasyJet flights to and from Lyon. I love the trains and public transportation but I learned on this trip with my family that for 4 people taxis can be very reasonable. I would say whenever you have your luggage and 2 small kids take a taxi. In Rome I would say walk to your destination and taxi home when you are tired. In the country I recommend a car. We did city, country, small city, country, city. It was nice to have the breaks in the countryside. I assume you are not going in the summer since you are in the planning stages. Lucky you! I don't know if I will ever go in the summer again. The cities were so hot and crowded!!!! Have a great time.