I recently covered tips for traveling to Europe with a toddler on our blog, an important read for families with young children. One of the tips is around keeping itineraries simple and logistically easy. This point is relevant for all families traveling to Europe, not just those with tots in tow.
Parents ask our Family Vacation Consulting Team daily for advice on how to structure an itinerary in Europe that will keep everyone — at every age and stage — entertained and happy. This is relevant for both independent travel and multigenerational trips, where grandparents need their needs met too.
Tips for Creating a Family-Friendly Itinerary in Europe
Travel in One Direction
In the old days airfare went up dramatically if you purchased multi-city tickets that didn’t start and end in the same place. Times have changed. Metasearch sites like Expedia and my favorite, Hipmunk, let you search multiple cities and even different airlines within a single round trip route for competitive pricing.
Maximize the number of things you see by traveling in one direction.
Where to Go? Make it Worthwhile
If it’s your first trip to Europe with kids, “most popular” is a good thing. Destinations that see plenty of tourists have infrastructure for families and this means more choice in terms of both accommodations and activities.
When choosing a destination, consider what you want to experience at a high level: The culture and bustle of a city? The natural beauty and active opportunities in the countryside? Fun in the sun at the beach? Irrespective of that answer, the important thing is to make sure the destination offers something unique, i.e. experience something together as a family that you can’t experience at home.
Get family-friendly tinerary ideas for Three Days … different countries around the world on PreferredFamily.com, part of Preferred Hotel Group, who are the sponsors of this post and one of the travel brands who has led the charge in family programming excellence.
Variety is Essential
Variety is the spice of life and it’s no different when creating a family-friendly itinerary. I like pairing city time with countryside or beach time in an itinerary. Of course, weather plays a role here. Unless you are engaging in winter sports and choose a venue accordingly, many rural destinations in Europe are quiet in the winter and things can be closed, whereas cities have action all year long.
If you want to brainstorm about options at the destination level, PreferredFamily.com has a family hotel summary sorted by country. Where you stay always matters with kids and this page makes it easy to see different options in a wide variety of destinations.
When it comes to planning daily activities, variety is also key. Make sure to mix sightseeing time with free time, and straightforward touring with at least one engaging activity during a trip like a cooking class or guided walk. Variety may be in how you see the site such as bike operators enable families to bike between attractions and so on.
We have a fantastic list of kid-friendly walking tour guides on Ciao Bambino. At this point, many of them are Italy-focused, but we are actively adding guides in other countries to our directory.
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Minimize Accommodation Changes
I don’t recommend traveling to Europe from abroad for any less than 10 days. Plan on spending at least 2-3 nights in any single location. That said, the ideal itinerary involves a week in one main venue so families can really settle into a routine and explore nooks and crannies, plus a few days on the front and/or back end. Our most popular family-friendly itinerary in Italy follows this logic with 4 nights in Rome, a week in Tuscany, and then 2-3 nights in Venice at the end of the trip.
Start in a city or in a more relaxing place? My opinion is that it’s best to start in a city where you are still in frenzied family mode and then you can slowly decompress. In addition, this means you can get off the plane and not worry about directions or driving and either take a taxi or public transportation into a city.
Of course, finding a family-friendly accommodation is essential. Our friends at Preferred Family understand what families want and need when they travel and manage a collection of 260 and growing certified hotels and resorts worldwide at Preferred.com where families can research and book travel. All hotels in the collection meet Preferred Family Certification standards based on their age-specific offerings for children in five categories: hotel amenities, facilities, programs, services, and entertainment.
Introducing, iPrefer’s points-based loyalty program: The other great news is that iPrefer, Preferred Hotel Group’s points-based loyalty program, is giving families a compelling reason to join their membership program to earn points and travel benefits at more than 500 independent hotels and resorts worldwide — of which more than 200 are Preferred Family Certified. Families that join the program start earning status, special benefits, and points from their very first stay and have the flexibility and freedom to choose the reward that works best for them, whether they want to redeem their points for free stays, dining, spa services, and more.
There are some great options included in this like the Boston Harbor Hotel (fantastic for a summer getaway to Boston), Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa (a condo-style oceanfront resort on the California’s Central Coast), and Hotel Angleterre and Residence (a wonderful lakefront hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland) … the list goes on! Get the list of participating properties and more benefit details on the iPrefer page on PreferredFamily.com.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Choose Wisely
Planes: Transportation can get complicated quickly. The first step is to get to Europe and unless you already live there or in Asia or North Africa, this involves a flight. Most of the transcontinental flights go to a fixed list of the larger gateway cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt. Focus on booking this part of your trip first.
Low cost carriers are efficient and ubiquitous in Europe (see our tips for flying on Europe’s low cost airlines with kids) and it may make sense to use one to get to a final destination from the arrival city. Be sure, however, to understand how luggage transfers work if you book internal flights separately and aren’t spending a few days in your arrival city to avoid any unwelcome airport logistics.
Trains: The trains throughout Europe much better than they are in the US and should be considered for transfers between larger cities once you arrive in a country, or even inter-country transfers. Rail Europe is a great way to research and buy tickets without having to go to the individual websites for each country.
Note, should you choose rail as your preferred method of travel, packing light is essential. Train stations don’t always have elevators where they should nor do they have luggage carts and the entry on and off trains can be a mad and stressful scramble.
Automobiles: We like having a car when we’re in the countryside as it give us more flexibility and ways to explore small villages. Some destinations like Switzerland have a train system, however, that goes everywhere and you really can travel everywhere without a car. While in other countries, like Italy, this is not the case and you absolutely need a car to effectively explore some rural areas like Tuscany.
See our car rental tips from the experts at Auto Europe. Note that many companies charge a premium to rent and/or drop off a car at an airport and a super premium to pick up a car in one country and drop it off in another.
Editor’s Note: Amie O’Shaughnessy was compensated to write this article. As always, our thoughts and opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino.