Europe is this guest writer’s favorite travel destination, yet she avoided it for nearly a decade because . . . kids. Not anymore, she decided. Kids or no kids, she returned to Paris, where the French children are so well-behaved, and to London, where incredibly fragile items seemed to appear in every store we entered. A museum that demands the attention span of a monk? Fine. A tour of an opera house that requires complete silence? No problem. Read this Traveling Mom’s tips for visiting Europe with kids. And remember: they don’t look down upon drinking at any time of day there, which certainly doesn’t hurt.
Last year, a friend described her trip to Italy with her two children as “gelato hopping.” It was essentially going from one gelato spot to the next. They spent little time checking out the architecture, the art and the beauty that is Italy.
I naively thought to myself that I could do so much better when I took my 6- and 9-year-old daughters to France and England for 2 weeks over winter break. Instead of gelato hopping, we did hot chocolate hopping. But I did manage to fit in some culture. We conquered the Louvre, they mastered an afternoon of English tea and my girls could tell you everything there is to know about the Royal Opera House.
Here are a few tricks and tips for visiting Europe with kids but without complaints. Well, at least with not that many complaints.
Buy the City Pass
The first thing we did when we arrived in Paris was to snag The Paris Pass. For one price, you get entry into essentially every touristy thing you’ll want to do there. It also lets you skip the line for most of them. This was essential because it gave our kids less time to get antsy. It also didn’t make me angry when they wanted to leave the Louvre after 45 minutes. (No problem, we’ll be back for another try tomorrow, as it won’t cost anything to split our museum time into two days!).
Use the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
Whenever the kids needed a break, we hopped on the bus. They rested (they weren’t interested in hearing the tour) while we still got our sightseeing in (another reason for buying the city pass, which includes access to the bus). This is also a way to get those naps in without being trapped in a hotel.
Do a Food Tour
When I mentioned to my kids that we were doing a walking tour of Paris for half the day, they immediately balked. But when I told them that it was a food tour, and at every stop along the way, they’d be eating everything from croissants to chocolate, they couldn’t wait.
We did the Secret Food Tours Paris on the second day we were in Paris. It gave us an in-depth tour of the neighborhood, in addition to introducing us to some of the best food we tried during the entire time we were in Paris. This was our favorite thing we did in Paris. And our kids didn’t complain at all!
When in Rome
In America, we give the kids Shirley Temples (non-alcoholic drinks made with ginger ale and grenadine, garnished with a cherry) for special treats. So we always research the special treats that kids get in the countries we visit – and we use those as bribes. Yes, we’re shameless. For example, in Paris, the children drink diabolo menthe, which is essentially mint soda, made from mint syrup and limeade.
We gave our children sketch pads and colored pencils in the art museums and suggested that they sketch what they saw. Or, they could use the art to inspire them, sketching anything. This was a huge hit, and they could easily spend 15 minutes per painting, giving us ample time to really relax at the museums and take it all in. It also left them with a lasting impression of each artist.
Let Them Shop
We wanted to shop in Paris and London, so we made it fun for the kids by giving them money. We let them each purchase one souvenir and one regular item. Then, they let us shop in peace.
Get Down to Their Level
We wanted to do a tour of the Royal Opera House, and we realized that our children would have to be very quiet and well behaved for just over an hour. So before going inside, I explained that we’d be looking at costumes, which were basically very expensive versions of their dress-up clothing. They’ve been to the opera and to the ballet, but I reiterated that they’d be going backstage, to where everyone rehearses, just like they rehearse when they are doing a play or a concert at school. They wouldn’t want anyone disturbing them, right? I took everything down to their level, so they could relate to the ballet dancers, opera singers and musicians before we got there, so they were super quiet during the tour.
Go into Survival Mode
Afternoon tea is a must in England, so we scheduled ours at Charing Cross Amba Hotel, which is perched above some of the most beautiful buildings in London. It was a classic tea, with small tea sandwiches, scones, and pastries. And as soon as my 6-year-old saw the pastries, she wanted nothing to do with the sandwiches.
I could either fight with her to eat the sandwiches, along with ensuing meltdown that would occur, or I could realize that we were on vacation, and it would be OK for her to have pastries for lunch. I chose the latter.
Get preparation tips for European destinations with family.
If you bring a tiny one along, you’ll want to read these tips for changing diapers on a plane.