I’ve always loved trips to amazing cities like London, Amsterdam, Venice and New York but since having children the way I visit these cities has changed. Pre-kids I’d research all of the museums and galleries I wanted to see in a city. I’d then try to cram them all in to my trip. In between visiting cultural monuments I’d wander around to soak up the atmosphere of a place. But with kids in tow that approach results in a miserable experience – in our family at least.
Last time we went to Venice my son, seven at the time, actually tried to lose himself because he was so dreadfully bored. He was too young to appreciate the loveliness of Venice, and exploring the beautiful streets and canals was just dull for him. This made it hard for the rest of us to relax and enjoy our trip.
Three years later we went to Amsterdam together and had a great time because it was a totally different kind of trip. Here are my tips for enjoying a city break with kids in tow.
- Put yourself in your child’s shoes and think about what they enjoy and don’t enjoy doing. My son loves football and so on our last day in Amsterdam we went on a tour of the Amsterdam Arena, home to the famous Ajax football team. This was his favourite part of our trip and I found it really interesting too, even though I’m not a football fan.
- Research the city on its official tourist information website and at your local library with your child before you go and find some things which you’ll both enjoy there.
- Look for child-friendly museums and galleries. Many have children’s audio guides or quiz sheets which make a visit much more engaging for kids.
- Find some outdoor space where children can run around and play. This could be a park, a beach or just a pedestrianised area – my son enjoyed climbing on the iamsterdam letters outside the Rijksmuseum,
- Have snacks and drinks with you and make time to stop for an ice-cream or drink and to rest.
- Get a decent map of the city and look at it with your child to show where you are and where you’re going.
- Try out any different transport experiences on offer. My son loved the canal boat tour we took in Amsterdam and was amazed to see all of the different houseboats. He also enjoyed his first experience of tram travel there.
- Be flexible and don’t plan too much. You need to have time to rest or just to sit and relax while the children play and explore.
- Slow down. Getting around a city with children takes longer than if you’re on your own.
- Leave some free time towards the end of your trip when you can let your child decide what they’d like to do. On our last afternoon in Amsterdam I gave my son the choice of going to the Nemo Science Museum, a street market or somewhere else he fancied. I secretly wanted to go to the museum, but he wisely chose the street market. We had a lovely time browsing the stalls and enjoyed our first taste of tiny sweet pancakes known as ‘poffertjes’. A Dutch lady made them for us while we watched and then we ate them standing up.
- Finally, if you want to see every painting in Paris/ tour the catacombs in Rome/ go to the opera in Vienna, ask yourself whether or not your child would enjoy doing that with you. If the answer is no then leave them at home or wait until they’ve grown up and go without them.
What do you think? What are your tips for enjoying city breaks with kids?