Dear fellow travel enthusiast! I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Colette Marshall, and I’m from Arizona, USA. For most of my life—before having a family, that is—I was obsessed with travel. I climbed Mont Blanc in 2008, just after graduating from university. I spent time in the artsy quarters of Gothenburg a year later. Perhaps most memorable, I tracked down an old cottage in rural Ireland where my great-great-grandparents once lived (that’s another story I’ll tell in the future).
When I got married and began my family, however, I had a small fear that kids would make travelling challenging. I couldn’t imagine lugging strollers down the stairs of the Paris metro or through the busy streets of Leipzig. But…I’m happy to report to you today that I was wrong. Traveling to Europe in particular is completely feasible with children in tow, and in fact, it showed me a whole different side to this remarkable continent I never would otherwise have experienced. So, here’s my letter to you, dear traveler. If you are like me and love the thrill of exploration but aren’t quite sure how to navigate travel with children, I’ve put all my tips and tricks below.
Consider centering your travels around outdoor experiences
My kids (ages 6 and 8) have always been happiest while doing an exciting activity outdoors.
We did one unforgettable experience while staying high in the Polish mountains in Zakopane. Being from Arizona, my kids had never experienced the sort of white winter Zakopane offers. When my youngest first saw the snowy landscape, she let out a yelp and said it looked just like the picture in a fairy tale she had recently read at school. Over the course of our time in Zakopane, we all took skiing lessons, a winter sport that anchored our days. Every morning, we would ski with our instructors until the sun began to fade in the afternoon and we retired to the restaurant for a hearty “Polish obiad”, dinner. Over meat dumplings and sour rye soup, my kids laughed about falling over into the snow and about watching their dad awkwardly navigate between trees. We also did some sledding while in the mountains and swam in a heated pool with the snow falling over us. Imagine that—you’re in your bathing suit, in warm water and snow is falling right on your nose!
Explore the many kid-centric experiences in Europe
Every year, Šibenik, Croatia holds a special event: the International Children’s Festival. When we first heard of the festival, my husband and I thought it would be a great reason to visit Croatia in general—we had long wanted to travel there, and this was the perfect reason to finally do so. The festival is a haven for children, especially those with creative interests. When we arrived, the streets seemed totally overtaken by kids of all ages, eagerly exploring drama, puppetry, film, literature, visual arts, and everything in between. My children attended numerous sessions where they made their own shadow puppets, learned how to draw their own comic strips, and used gouges to create bowls out of wood. What’s more, there was street theater, live music, and excellent food. Once the festival was over, we rented a car and visited the beaches up and down the coast—a real sunny treat for us all!
Yes, European capitals are remarkable, but consider some of the less-visited cities. Here’s why:
If you’re like me, you love a bit of culture and art. The idea of seeing a painter in a studio, especially an up-and-coming one, is thrilling. But I’d like to let you in on a secret: many of Europe’s best artists are no longer flocking to the capitals anymore. In search of places where they can make their art without the noise, cost, and cramped apartments of the big cities, they are setting up shop in places like Valencia, Spain.
Ok, you might have noticed that I’ve meandered into my own interests more than those of my kids. But this is actually what makes a place like Valencia amazing. There’s a vibrant cultural scene for adults and endless activities for kids. Aside from them sinking their teeth into some of the sweetest oranges they had ever tasted, my kids loved visiting the Science Museum (Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe) which happened to be fascinating for my husband and me as well! Make sure to visit the section of the museum specifically designed for children! Valencia is also home to one of the biggest aquariums in Europe, the Oceanogràfic. Again, this is amazing for people of all ages. My children especially loved the shark tank, which you can walk through via a special passage. Last but not least, any child would love to visit the Hemisfèric to see films that, through the latest technology, send you back in time to experience the dinosaurs and much more. Here are some other child-friendly cities we loved during our travels: Bordeaux, Sopot, and Graz.
Go with the flow, don’t sweat the little things
Sometimes, the pacifier gets dropped into the gutter. Other times, a child turns their nose at a new type of food. That’s ok! Going with the flow of travel is the best way to ensure a memorable experience. Here are a few things I like doing in advance of any trip: check if a city’s public transport is accessible (lugging strollers up the metro stairs is a drag). Let your kids get involved in the planning—this can be fun weekend time as a family. Try to learn a few words in the relevant languages and encourage your kids to do so too. It’s a fun and interactive way to get excited for the trip.
So, there you have it, dear traveler! I hope you will find as much joy and lifelong experiences as my family and I did. If you want to join a community of like-minded travelers, consider liking Visit Europe’s social media pages via @visiteurope and sharing your experience using the hashtags #NaturallyCurious, #CreativelyCurious, and #HistoricallyCurious.