We recently shared five of our top itineraries for a weeklong trip to Europe with kids … and we’re back with five more! In our decade-plus of planning trips for families, we’ve discovered which cities pair well for a one-week vacation. Instead of running your family ragged by racing across the continent, these itineraries combine destinations that are close to each other and manageable enough to squeeze into a week, not including travel days.
Budapest and Vienna are only a few hours apart by car or train, making these gorgeous European capitals a great pairing for a one-week itinerary. Plan to spend two to three days in Budapest and four to five days in Vienna.
Budapest has quickly become a favorite destination with families for its culture and beautiful architecture. Be sure to take a cruise along the Danube at sunset or at night for amazing views of the city all lit up. Kids will enjoy the Miniversum, which has miniature models of sights and famous landmarks; a ride on the Children’s Railroad, run by kids; and playtime in Erzsebet Square, with its Ferris wheel, skate park, grassy areas, water fountains and playground. Other good bets include visits to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Dohany Synagogue (the second largest in the world), Buda Castle, Saint Matthias Church, Heroes Square and the Danube promenade.
From Budapest, take a three-hour high-speed train to Vienna. This gorgeous grande dame has so much to offer families including the House of Music, Prater amusement park and beautiful Schonbrunn Palace and the Kaiser Kindy Children’s Museum next door, where kids can dress up as royalty. Belvedere Palace and the Vienna State Opera are classic sights as well.
If your kids are into horses, a visit to the Spanish Riding School is a great stop, especially if you can catch a performance when the horses are in residence. The stunning Melk Abbey is within easy day-trip distance. And, of course, leave time to enjoy Vienna’s coffeehouse culture and exquisite pastries.
TIP: You can add in one more country with a day trip by train to Bratislava, Slovakia. Most of Bratislava’s sights are within easy walking distance of the main square, including the Old Town Hall, Primate’s Palace and Bratislava Castle — but the real joy is just wandering the medieval streets. Purchase an excursion fare from Vienna at any ticket office. The “Bratislava Ticket” is 15 euros round-trip for the hourlong train ride and includes a one-day pass for Bratislava transportation.
Of course Italy is a family (and Ciao Bambino) favorite, but it’s a big country, i.e. there’s only so much you can really fit into a week. Combining Florence and Venice, just two hours from each other by train, allows families to see two of the most popular, and very different, Italian cities without overload.
Consider spending four to five days in Florence and using the city as a home base to explore some of the smaller villages in Tuscany. Florence’s Grand Hotel Minerva features a rooftop pool with beautiful views of the city; those looking to escape the city center can stay at the luxurious Belmond Villa San Michele, located in a former monastery above Florence with complimentary shuttle service into town.
A guided walking tour of Florence is a must, along with visits to the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, the Boboli Gardens at Palazzo Pitti, and the church at San Marco. What really makes a visit to Florence special, though, is the variety of interactive experiences that offer a taste of local culture, such as visiting the studio of a fresco restoration artist or a family cooking class. Allow time for day trips to Siena, Pisa and/or Lucca as well. You’ll want a car to explore the countryside, but trust us: Don’t attempt to drive within Florence itself.
TIP: If you plan on visiting the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David, be sure to purchase your tickets well in advance to beat the long lines. Florence’s other signature museum, the Uffizi Gallery, is not as geared toward children; if you decide to tackle it, advance reservations are essential there as well.
Moving on to Venice, you only need two to three days to cover the main sights of the city. The value-oriented Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo or more opulent Hotel Londra Palace are both good choices for families. Kids will enjoy a guided Lion Hunt tour through city and spending time in St. Mark’s Square. To create a memorable trip, also consider participating in a mask-making workshop or a glass-blowing demonstration in Murano, or learning to row like a gondolier with Row Venice.
A trip to England is perfect for a first family trip to Europe, and London is the place to start. It’s child-friendly, the transportation system is easy to navigate, and, of course, there isn’t a language barrier. Although you could spend a lifetime in London and never see it all, four or five days will allow enough time to get acclimated if you only have a week in England. Base at Grosvenor House, which blends the convenience and spacious accommodations of apartments with the quality and services of a five-star hotel.
A fun way to get the lay of the land is to kick off your London visit with a hop on/hop off bus tour. Kids will also enjoy visits to the Tower of London to see the Beefeaters and the Crown Jewels; ogling the treasures of the British Museum; seeing the lions in Trafalgar Square; watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace; and riding the London Eye. Harry Potter fans will also go wild for a day trip to the Warner Bros. Studios, about an hour outside the city.
Escape by train to the seaside town of Bath to spend your remaining few days. Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa is a perfect countryside retreat for families. From this estate, families can journey 20 minutes to see the popular attractions at Bath, including the Roman Baths Museum, the Royal Crescent, Bath Abbey and the Jane Austen Center. It also makes a good home base for touring the Cotswolds, including the village of Lacock, where part of the sixth Harry Potter movie was filmed.
Picturesque and pristine, Switzerland‘s natural beauty will wow kids and adults alike. Start off your stay in Switzerland with two to three nights in Lucerne (a.k.a. Luzern) — a quick 45-minute train ride from the Zurich airport — before heading into the Alpine Bernese Oberland Region.
Classic Lucerne excursions include a boat ride on Lake Lucerne and a ride up Mt. Rigi by cable car and cogwheel train, or a steep railway ride to the top of Mount Pilatus with a return via gondola. Both peaks offer breathtaking views over the lake and mountains. On the way down in Frakmuntegg, there are hiking trails and a toboggan slide.
Part of Lucerne’s charm lies in exploring the Old Town by foot, including the 14th-century city walls, the Zyt Tower, and the paintings under the roof of the Chapel Bridge. The Swiss Museum of Transport, just a 20-minute walk from the town center, is a child’s dream; on the way, stop to see the famous Lion of Lucerne monument. End the day with dinner at Stadkeller, offering family-friendly traditional Swiss entertainment. When it’s time to turn in for the night, choose the Palace Luzern, a majestic luxury hotel on the lake that exudes old-world charm.
An unbelievably scenic two-hour train ride from Lucerne leads to Interlaken, the major town of the Bernese Oberland. While it’s a convenient transportation hub, it lacks the chocolate-box charm of the mountain villages — you’ll want to choose one of these as a home base. Hotel Bodmi in Grindelwald and Hotel Eiger in Murren are two of our favorites for families.
Amid these tiny hamlets, families can enjoy hiking, biking, exploring waterfalls, glaciers, ice tunnels, ziplining and some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. If the weather is clear, ride the Jungfrau Railway for a day trip to the Jungfraujoch, dubbed “Top of Europe.” A marvelous ice palace, glacier skiing, dogsledding and thousands of miles of views await at the summit of this 11,000-plus-foot peak.
Budget flights and widely spoken English have made Copenhagen very accessible for Americans in recent years. Plan on spending three to four days in Copenhagen, then hop on a quick flight to Stockholm, or take a day to drive across the bridge and through southern Sweden.
A canal tour is a great way to get acquainted with Copenhagen and see some of its neighborhoods and famous landmarks, like the diminutive Little Mermaid statue. Tivoli Gardens, the landmark amusement park that inspired Walt Disney, is a must-do stop for families visiting Copenhagen. Stay at the Tivoli Hotel, with amusement park-themed rooms, play areas and an indoor swimming pool.
Other must see attractions include Rosenborg Castle, Amalienborg Palace, Torvehallerne market, the Children’s Wing of the National Museum, the Nyhavn harbor area, the Blue Planet Aquarium, and the Hans Christian Andersen Fairy-tale House. If you have four days, plan a day trip to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, less than an hour outside of Copenhagen by train. The museum has five Viking ships and you can even row a replica into the water.
TIP: The Copenhagen Card provides free or discounted admission to many of the city’s main attractions. It’s well worth the investment and can be purchased at train stations or tourist offices.
Stockholm is made up of 14 islands connected by bridges. A canal tour or hop-on/hop-off ferry service is an easy way to see the city from the water. You will want to plan on visiting a few of the islands, including Djurgarden, which offers some of the city’s most popular museums: Skansen, an open-air museum depicting Swedish life; Junibacken, dedicated to the stories of Astrid Lindgren (author of Pippi Longstocking); and the Vasa Museum, built around a warship that sank in 1628 and was salvaged completely intact in 1961.
If you can, time your visit to the Royal Palace around noon to see the Changing of the Guards ceremony. Allow some time to explore Gamla Stan, the medieval Old Town of Stockholm, as well. Consider staying at the Grand Hotel Stockholm, which has a gorgeous location across the canal from the Royal Palace.
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