I grew up thinking that Europe was not a destination for children. Among the main reasons, my parents went and left my sister and me (7 and 5, respectively) with my aunt, but they took our brothers of thirteen and fourteen. Another reason is that you must walk a lot in Europe, most hotel rooms are quite small plus you visit many museums – not always kid-friendly.
Old World Travel
Now that I am married to a Swiss, that I live here and have a son that we take everywhere, I realize that most of these beliefs are influenced by New World expectations and in trying to find what we are used to in new destinations. Who during a trip to the Old World has walked into a McDonald’s, preferred a Sheraton chain hotel, complained about too narrow streets or only chose destinations where people speak Spanish or English? Here are some activities and suggestions, based on real experiences that hopefully inspire you to discover the Old World with the family!
A carry-on, your best ally
Regardless of the airline, crossing the Atlantic Ocean takes a minimum of eight hours. Depending on your final destination, you might need a stop over.
When packing your suitcases, keep in mind the carry-on will play a key role on the plane and the stop-over. They might show movies on the plane or you might have your Tablet, but carry as well playing cards, snacks, games, comics, a change of clothes, a favorite toy, etc. Involve kids in the packing process, especially for what they will use on the plane. We have even taken boxes of Lego for my son to build with his dad during the trip!
Something for everyone
Review a travel book, a map, a tourist web page or talk with friends who know the destination, but you must study well, and in advance, the place you plan to visit. That way you will understand the best way to travel it with children. I would recommend that you don’t overload days with activities and to strive for a balance between what everybody likes. You will find inspiration in every corner, specially with those little eyes filled with curiosity that take everything in.
On my first trip to Europe I walked so much that I lost five pounds, and trust me, I was not dieting. Whether you choose a tram, the Metro (or city train), a funicular or a bus, they are perfect for kids to get a little rest while they are entertained. It is also an option to travel from one country to another. Once they offered me a nine hour stop over at the airport; I chose instead to travel by train from Frankfurt to Zürich, what took only four hours and was more scenic and entertaining that a wait at the airport.
Inside a storybook
Walking old streets you find details that can start a story or help talk about history: building facades with gargoyles; teeny-weeny doors; the year in which a house was built written on its portal; a shoe brush on the floor by a house’s main entrance; or baskets held by chains and used to transport keys from the top floor down. Examples are infinite; the architecture on these old town centers is so ancient that it feels like walking into a storybook.
In Switzerland, hiking is a lifestyle. Trails are identified by difficulty level and timed perfectly; it is easy to choose which one is better for a hike with children. You can also choose a thematic trail, for example: the Heidiway, inspired by Heidi, the title character on the famous Johanna Spyri novel. I remember the TV Heidi cartoons from my childhood and the song that went: "Grandpa, you tell me …”
The best days
Besides the Disneyland entertainment park in Paris, you find the original Legoland, Parc Astérix, Parc du Petit Prince, among others. I have a friend who once organized a trip with her kids around Germany’s entertainment parks, where they have over a hundred! My husband and I are not entertainment parks lovers, but the two days my son spent at Europe Park, the biggest in Germany, were in his own words, “the best in his whole life.”
Farm to table
The farmers market is the best way to show children what it is like to live from the land and try new foods and from the region. Those who work the tables always give away samples to visitors. You can also buy cheeses, breads, sausages, olives, fruits and vegetables; for a later snack or light lunch.
Squares and parks
Whether they are squares designed for children or in sculpture parks, they always find where to play, climb or amuse themselves. And, during the summer, the fountains at small parks work are used as swimming pools.
Do you see? There is no need to postpone your trip to Europe until the kids are big or you find somebody to care for them at home for at least two weeks. Embrace the adventure of something different!
Conscious travel practices:
1. Use public transportation.
2. Respect nature.
3. Learn about the region’s fruits and vegetables.
4. Support local artisans.