Europe with Kids
We’ve taken our three kids (at the time of writing this 4, 6 and 8) to Europe every year since they were born. Some years we stay in one place for several weeks and really get to know the area. Some years we do the opposite, moving around and experiencing different places in Europe with kids. This was one of those years. We just returned from visiting eight countries (Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, and Malta) over six weeks, including a Disney Cruise from Venice to Barcelona. Everyone in the family rated each of our destinations and major activities to be able to give others a succinct list of recommendations. Here are our top 15 highlights from this summer – all things that you can do virtually any summer in Europe with your kids.
1) The Boulevard Raspail Organic Farmer’s Market in Paris
With foodie kids and a foodie wife, we visit markets virtually everywhere we go. Not only was this the best market we visited this summer in Europe with kids, it was our favorite activity of the whole summer. We spent well over an hour wandering up and down the aisle, buying fruit, veggies, baked goods and savory made-to-order items like onion gallettes and crepes. As our daughters were snacking on newly-purchased red and orange bell peppers, several merchants started calling them “les filles poivrons” (the pepper girls) which created a fun rapport. There was live music as well. The organic market is only open on Sundays, but the normal market operates Tuesdays through Saturdays at the same location. On Boulevard Raspail between rue du Cherche-Midi and rue de Rennes from 9am to 3pm. Metro: Rennes.
2) Walking around Florence
We spent an amazingly kid-friendly two weeks in Florence last year and really got to know the city well. This year it felt like we were going home. We met up with our favorite guide Elvira Politi again for tours of Santa Croce, Boboli Gardens and the Stibbert Museum (see number 6 below), but the real highlight was simply wandering around, crossing over the Ponte Vecchio every night and walking along the Arno, climbing to Piazzale Michelangelo, going through the market areas and exploring the streets behind the main attractions. And even after traveling all summer in Europe with kids, my six-year-old son, after just two days back at home, told us “I wish we were still in Florence.”
My post on all of our favorite things to do in Florence is here.
3) Walking around Venice and Feeding the Pigeons
I was nervous about taking the kids to Venice during the summer since the crowds and heat definitely aren’t optimal, especially when traveling through Europe with kids. But Venice was one of our highlights. I booked Nadia Danesin as our guide based on TripAdvisor reviews and she managed to get us away from the crowds to show us the non-touristy Venice and islands for two days. But the highlight came when we stopped by Piazza San Marco one afternoon and the kids fed the pigeons, letting them land on their hands, arms, shoulders, and heads. They couldn’t get enough.
My post on Venice with Kids is here.
4) Walking around Rhodes, Greece
We’ve gotten fairly pro-active on booking guides and arranging activities in advance, so it’s funny that our top four activities were all unarranged. We were extremely impressed by Rhodes and its old town. We wandered around for hours, shopping a little but mainly letting the kids play on and around the ancient city walls, gates, towers, and open spaces. It was easy to get lost, but that was part of the fun. We had a great long lunch of tzatziki, gyros, giant beans, shrimp and saganaki under giant ficus trees, and I bet we couldn’t find the restaurant again if we tried. And we likely will try – the kids all really want to go back to Rhodes next summer and spend more time there.
5) Macaron Making in Paris
We’ve always loved macarons, and trying new flavors at Pierre Hermé and Ladurée whenever we pass a store. So we arranged a cooking class with Cook’n With Class in Montmartre to learn how to make them. We made three flavors: yuzu/chocolate; passion fruit/black currant; and salted caramel. Our four-year-old got a little tired, but the other two kids loved all 3+ hours and were highly involved in each precise step. Cook’n With Class also offers kid-friendly dessert classes, but I’m thinking we may work on baking baguettes with them next time.
6) Stibbert Museum, Florence
This sits above Florence and required a taxi to get to, but is well worth a visit. The museum holds an amazing collection of 15th-19th-century armor from Europe and Asia, as well as paintings and tapestries, Egyptian sarcophagi, and even Napoleon’s cloak from when he ruled Italy. The tour was only in Italian, but Elvira translated for us and added to the official commentary. At the end of the visit, the kids sat down and designed their own coats of arms, based on those around the villa. A true hidden gem. Via Federico Stibbert, 26.
7) Fish Spa, Rhodes
Virtually everywhere we went, from the Greek Isles to Paris to Florence, we saw fish spas – places with large aquariums filled with garra rufa fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet. We went to one in Rhodes, but could just as easily have gone elsewhere. The three of us who put our feet in with the fish loved the experience. It was slightly ticklish but not to the point where the kids had to take their feet out of the water, and we all left with smoother skin. A fun, inexpensive experience in Europe with kids.
A Note: While you’re there, do not let your kids get black henna!
8) Mask Making, Venice
Our guide in Venice Nadia arranged a mask painting class for the kids at Il Canovaccio. They loved it. Each of the kids picked out a plain mask and then, with assistance from their mask expert, painted them. They added silver and gold leaf as well, which was a very nice touch, and then Il Canovaccio lacquered the finished masks which we picked up the next day. It was great to be able to do a very local craft, and it gave the kids a personal connection to the city and the masks that they saw everywhere. Castello 5369-5370, 30122 Venice.
9) A Day in Santorini
We had been to Santorini before and this time we were on a mission – to get a small black bird, a Paloma, from a store in Oia where we had seen it five years ago. We left the other cruise-goers in our wake as we rode donkeys up from the boat landing in Thira, took a taxi to Oia and walked to the store. The mission was a failure as the previous owner had died two years ago (although the previous owner’s widow coincidently stopped by when were there and is still trying to find one for us), but the day was fun. We enjoyed simply wandering around Oia, doing some shopping and enjoying the view, and we had a great lunch at one of our favorite restaurants anywhere in the world, Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna, on the water. From there we took a taxi and bus back to Thira and the cable car back down the hill. Just a fun day in a beautiful place with a quest thrown in. The kids loved it.
10) A Louvre Treasure Hunt
We did four kid-friendly walks around Paris with Paris Muse and Context Travel. We enjoyed them all (Montmartre, Notre Dame, Marais, and the Louvre), and I love Context Travel everywhere, but if we were going to recommend just one to others, it would be Paris Muse’s private tour of the Louvre. We saw the museum’s well-known paintings and sculptures of course, but that was secondary. Far more time was spent with other Babylonian, Greek, French Medieval, and Italian Renaissance art, with a kid-friendly approach and word puzzles, tied together through a museum-wide treasure hunt. We didn’t have to wait in lines, and we skirted the crowds to head straight to notable pieces – definitely the kid-friendliest way to see the world’s most popular museum, and very educational and fun for all of us.
11) La Cenerentola Opera, Salzburg, Austria
We saw two kid-oriented operas as part of the Salzburger Festspiele, the annual 6-week music and drama festival – Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Rossini’s La Cenerentola. We all liked La Cenerentola the best. As it was more or less the story of Cinderella, even though the dialogue and singing were in German, the kids were able to understand everything. The performance was extraordinarily good, and the hour and 15 minute duration was perfect for young kids. We had just wanted to give the kids an introduction to opera – we didn’t anticipate it being a summer highlight.
And we thoroughly enjoyed staying at Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, one of the sites where the Sound of Music was filmed. The walk to town was a little far in the rain, but the setting is gorgeous, and there’s plenty of room for kids to run around.
12) Lake Bled, Slovenia
We ended up in Lake Bled because it was raining the entire week in Salzburg and we needed a break. Even if Lake Bled was rainy as well, at least it would be different scenery. It turned out to be one of our favorite places. We spent two days enjoying the area, including taking a rowboat out onto the lake, sledding down the mountain (Straža Bled), feeding the ducks and eating at very good restaurants. It’s high on our list of places to return to in the next couple of years.
13) Water Taxis in Venice
We had previously only taken water taxis to and from the airport (always an enjoyable way to arrive and depart). This trip we also took one on a tour around the city as well as out to the islands. They were more expensive than the ferries but infinitely more convenient, and they allowed us to spend a lot more time on the islands and seeing the real Venice instead of walking long distances (with short legs) to the ferry stops and queuing to get onto the crowded, slower ferries. This led to a definite highlight for my six-year-old son – on the way from Murano to Burano, the water taxi driver let him drive the boat most of the way. How many six-year-olds get to drive a water taxi in Venice?
14) Carpetium Carpet Weaving Center, Selcuk, Turkey
Our kids had the times of their lives, running (and rolling) around for an hour while the Carpetium employees were unrolling carpet after carpet for us to look at. It was a perfect break after a long, hot morning visiting the ruins and sites around Ephesus. What could easily fall into the category of Tourist Traps was anything but. Then we followed it up with an excellent Turkish lunch next door in the shaded courtyard.
15) Book Making, Florence
Concierge in Umbria scheduled this for us as a follow up to seeing how Florentine paper was made (last summer). The kids started by assisting with the cleaning and restoration of a book from the year 1516, and then they created books from scratch with CIU Italy. They grouped and folded the pages, punched holes for thread, sewed the pages together, chose covers and glued the covers to the books, using the same methods and tools used for centuries. It gave the kids a great feel for where books come from and was a really fun activity for an afternoon.
In looking at our complete list of things to do in Europe with kids, it’s notable that two of our favorite activities from the last couple of years – climbing the cupola of the Duomo in Florence and visiting the Jardin d’Acclimitation in Paris – were two of the kids’ least favorite activities this year. Last year at the Duomo, we lined up at 8:15am (15 minutes before opening) and there were roughly 10 people in line ahead of us. This year we got there at exactly the same time to find over 200 people already lined up. Instead of being able to run to the top, it was a slow, frustrating, crowded climb. At the Jardin d’Acclimitation, it was both hotter and more crowded than the last time we went. It just goes to show what visiting any attraction on the right day can do to affect one’s experience.
How about you? What are your favorite things to do in Europe with kids?
Wanderlust Crew says
Thank you so much! This is a fantastic list! Honestly, I had never thought to book a tour for our family. When I think of tour I always think of busloads of people! But I love the idea of private tours given by someone who really knows the area! I’m going to book our Louvre tour for this spring and a cooking class as well! Thanks for working so hard to gift us all with this information!
Eric Stoen says
Thanks! Absolutely, I highly recommend booking private tours. We too stay away from anything involving groups of people or busses, but with the private tours you get to skip lines, they move at your pace, and they’ll educate your kids in a really fun way – if you pick the right one. I’ll be following your site to see how the experiences are!
I am planning a trip to Tuscany with my family and would love to hire Elvira. Would you happen to have her contact information?
Eric Stoen says
As far as I know, she works exclusively through Concierge in Umbria.
Jennifer Lynch says
Totally second the private tours- we did two in Rome last Easter and they were fabulous. The boys had so much more fun and we all learned loads (we did the Vatican one day and Ancient Rome the second with Sara from Eyes of Rome. When we return to Florence we will do the same. Also second the mask making experience in Venice and we also introduced our kids to opera there at the Musica a Palazzo set in one of the old canal side mansions.
Getting a water taxi to the airport in Venice was one of the highlights of 2015 for me….
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Jennifer. I’ll check out Eyes of Rome next time we’re heading to Rome. The opera in Venice sounds great. We’ve gone to some kid-friendly operas in Salzburg, which the kids loved, so we’ll look into that when we’re in Venice. We’ll be there for Carnevale next year – could be a fun time to go to an opera!
I just booked out Paris Muse tour for the Louvre! I’m so excited and glad that I found your recommendation! Let me know if you recommend anything else in Paris with kids! Thanks Eric!
Eric Stoen says
Have fun Vanessa! Our kids loved the three Paris Muse tours we did. My post on Paris is at: https://travelbabbo.com/2014/11/10-tips-for-a-perfect-family-vacation-in-paris/.
Jean Farrell says
I didn’t notice the date on the article until I got to the comments, and thought your kids looked younger than I remembered they were!
You always do the most fun stuff. Those all sound great. Especially making macarons, although only one of my kids would really be into that now. Teenagers are difficult!
I’ve only ever been to Venice in winter–three times–and have been afraid to go in summer, for fear that the magic would be lost. Glad to hear it is possible to still experience Venice in summer. I took my kids there when two of them had (literally) just turned 7 (the day before) and my son was 9, so similar ages to yours in this story. I will never forget how much the kids loved taking a water taxi from the train station to the apartment we’d rented. They created some kind of fantasy story about it that I was only half allowed to know about, which carried on into our apartment, where they locked themselves in their room and passed notes under the door. Our building had its own bridge that crossed the canal and went directly into the building. A magical experience I haven’t thought of in a long time! So thanks for that!
And your daughter really looks like you! (At least in these pictures.) We don’t usually get to see their faces, which I totally get, but (not to be creepy) it was nice to get a glimpse.
Eric Stoen says
Ha, thanks Jean! I think I show their faces less and less all the time – not necessarily to hide them from the internet and social media, but because I want to encourage others to travel with their kids and not make my site about my kids.
I love stories like that! My kids fight enough now that it’s great when they stop and get really creative/adventurous/secretive for a few hours, especially when traveling.