We’ve 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 Advisors daily for advice on how to structure an itinerary in Europe with kids that will keep everyone — at every age and stage — entertained and happy. This is relevant for both independent travel and multigenerational trips, where needs must be met for all ages.
5 Tips for Creating a Great Itinerary in Europe with Kids
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. you’ll experience something together as a family that you can’t experience at home.
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.
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 — for example, bike operators enable families to bike between attractions and so on.
Our Advisors maintain a list of preferred guides and tour companies around the world, all vetted for quality and kid-friendliness, that we book for our clients.
Ciao Bambino can help you plan an incredible family vacation to Europe
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Minimize Accommodation Changes
I don’t recommend traveling to Europe from abroad for less than 10 days. Plan on spending at least two to three 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 four nights in Rome, a week in Tuscany, and then two or three nights in Venice at the end of the trip.
Should you 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, as you’ll take a taxi, private car or public transportation into a city.
Of course, finding family-friendly accommodation is essential. Our Advisors can help you sort through the overwhelming options and choose a hotel, apartment or villa that works for your family’s needs and budget, either standalone or as part of our trip planning service.
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, you understand how luggage transfers work if you book internal flights separately and aren’t spending a few days in your arrival city.
Trains: The trains throughout Europe much better than they are in the U.S. and should be considered for transfers between larger cities once you arrive in a country, or even inter-country transfers. We can do the legwork of researching and buying tickets without your having to deal with the logistics.
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 that goes even to the tiniest hamlets, and you really can travel everywhere without a car. In other countries like Italy, this is not the case, and you absolutely need a car to effectively explore rural areas like Tuscany.
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.