Most of us have a finite amount of vacation time, so it’s no wonder that many families try to pack a lot into a short window. Europe, in particular, tempts parents to bite off too much — with so many small countries close together, it looks deceptively easy to cover a lot of ground. And if you’re going to cross an ocean to visit Europe with kids, the thinking goes, you might as well make the most of it.
Trust us: With years of experience planning trips for families, we know that nothing spells disaster faster than overtired and overwhelmed kids. As tempting as it may be to try to squeeze London, Paris, Rome and Tuscany into a one-week vacation, it isn’t worth it. You’ll barely skim the surface and you’ll exhaust everyone in the process. Remember, you can always return!
Our expert trip planners have paired some of our favorite European destinations for families to get you on the road to an exciting but manageable vacation. Each of these itineraries covers two destinations that can be easily combined for a one-week vacation (not including travel days on either end), so you can experience more than a single place without overdoing it.
Portugal has become a popular destination for families, but it’s impossible to cover the country in a week. Instead, split the time between the capital city of Lisbon (four days) and the beaches of the Algarve (three days) for a nice blend of sightseeing and relaxation.
During your stay in Lisbon, the kids will enjoy wandering the winding streets of this historic city. Altis Prime Apartments and Altis Suites make a great, centrally located home base for families exploring Lisbon. Visit the Castle of São Jorge for its beautiful views over the city and walks along the castle walls. Other must-see attractions include the Parque das Nacoes and the Oceanarium, the Belem district, the National Tile Museum and the Coach Museum. Be sure to stroll down Avenida da Liberdade and take a tram around the city (the tram network is a lifesaver with young kids, as Lisbon is very hilly and not particularly stroller-friendly). Finally, take the train for a day trip to Sintra, which is dotted with a landscape of fairytale palaces and castles, making it a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Algarve in southern Portugal is known for its sunny, mild Mediterranean climate, beautiful beaches outlined with stunning caves, cliffs and sea arches, and picturesque fishing villages. After Lisbon, the Algarve adds much-appreciated vacation downtime. Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel in Sagres, at the southwest tip of Portugal, is a tranquil retreat with villa-style accommodations and exceptional kids’ programming. While the beach and nearby golf resorts are the main draw for this region, families can also bike or walk along the footpaths of Via Algarviana and explore the Arab influences and traditional architecture of Silves, Sagres, Lagos and Faro.
Whether you want to dig into family history or just explore Ireland’s bucolic landscapes, a week in western Ireland delivers dramatic scenery, medieval history and numerous cultural experiences. Fly into Shannon for easy access to the west, and base for a week in County Limerick at the luxurious Adare Manor. This gorgeous manor house is extremely kid-friendly and offers all the amenities you would expect when staying in a castle.
From your home base in Limerick, there are many possible day trip options to take in Ireland’s dramatic coastline. A drive to the legendary Cliffs of Moher will impress even the most jaded teen, especially if they recognize them as the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride or the Horcrux Cave from Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince. Finish the day with a stop at Bunratty Castle for a medieval banquet.
Spend another day exploring Killarney and driving the famous Ring of Kerry, or take a ferry cruise to the frozen-in-time Aran Islands. End your trip back in Limerick with a visit to King John’s Castle, where kids can dress in medieval garb and get hands-on with interactive multimedia exhibits to explore the castle’s fascinating past.
TIP: A car is a must for exploring Ireland’s countryside. If you don’t want to rent one, consider another itinerary that’s more easily done by public transport.
A visit to the medieval city of Prague in the Czech Republic is bound to charm even the youngest visitors. Prague’s perennial crowds can overwhelm kids, however, so balance the trip with a stay in the quaint town of Cesky Krumlov. Families should plan on spending four or five days in Prague and will enjoy the value-oriented, family-size suites at Hotel Golden Key in the atmospheric Mala Strana neighborhood.
Visit the Old Town Square at the top of the hour to watch and listen as the famous Astronomical Clock chimes. Other top sights include Prague Castle and St. Vitus’ Cathedral, Petrin Tower, and the Charles Bridge. Kids might also enjoy a puppet show at the National Marionette Theater or a cruise on the Vltava River to escape the masses of people. You can also fit in a day trip or two; Kutna Hora, home to Sedlec Ossuary (best for older kids) and St. Barbara’s Church, and Karlstejn Castle are a quick train ride from the city.
Cesky Krumlov is about three hours away by car, perfect for a two- to three-day side-trip. Located on a bend in the River Vltava in the southern Czech Republic, its Renaissance architecture, local castle and maze-like alleyways feel like something out of a fairy tale. Spend a couple of leisurely days exploring the town’s medieval core, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and enjoying the floral gardens, galleries and old-world pubs. If time allows, you can spend a day driving through the countryside and visiting other Czech villages as well.
Especially lovely in spring and fall, Barcelona has so much to offer families. Spend four days enjoying its laid-back sophistication, strolling the wide avenues and wandering through the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter. Take at least a day to appreciate the fantastical architecture of Gaudi, from the stunning La Sagrada Familia cathedral to the Candyland-like Parc Guell and the unusual Casa Batllo. Families will also enjoy taking a tramcar up to Montjuic, taking in the sights and smells of La Boqueria market, biking along the boardwalk, or joining a cooking class. Stay in town at the simple, sleek Splendom Suites Barcelona or splurge on Hotel Arts near the waterfront.
After the bustling city, families will be ready to relax on the Costa Brava, the wild, rocky coastline north of Barcelona. While you could easily spend the whole week here, you can get a decent taste of the region in three days. Renting a car is preferable for ease of exploring the towns and beaches.
The whitewashed village of Cadaques makes a great home base for sailing, kayaking and exploring. For a luxurious resort atmosphere, choose Alva Park Resort & Spa in Lloret de Mar. Wherever you base, plan on stops at the Dali Museum in Figueres; the medieval town of Girona; or the Greek and Roman ruins in Empuries.
Munich’s charm and warmth make it an ideal family destination, and the apartment-style Cortiina Hotel, right in the city’s picturesque Old Town, is perfect for families who want to enjoy the historic town center. Five days is an ideal length of time in Munich, giving plenty of opportunity to explore the city with a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle (the model for Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World), Linderhof Palace or the Zugspitze, the highest peak in the German Alps.
In town, take some time to watch the Glockenspiel performance at the Marienplatz, sample your way through Munich’s Viktualienmarkt (victuals market), and tour the Deutsches Museum and the BMW Welt and Museum. The Englischer Garten, with its beer gardens and playgrounds, is a family favorite — don’t miss watching the river surfers on the Eisbach. Getting around in Munich is easy using public transportation, and you can get to Salzburg by train in roughly two hours.
Schloss Fuschl Resort & Spa just outside Salzburg, a quiet retreat in a castle-like setting, welcomes families. While it may be hard to leave the fairytale surroundings, don’t miss exploring the picturesque heart of the city. Sound of Music fans can book a private tour of movie sites or just stroll through Mirabell Gardens (where part of the Do-Re-Mi sequence was filmed). Take an excursion to the trick fountains at Hellbrunn Palace or learn about the area’s military past at Hohensalzburg Fortress. Be sure to try the original Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher, or other sweet treats that make little bellies happy: strudel, Mozartkugel (chocolate-covered marzipan balls), or the souffle-like Salzburger nockerl.
Want more? Click here for Part 2 of our best weeklong European itineraries for families!
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