Europe – Where to Stay and What to Do
Note: This page is part of my Top Spots recommendations. It’s organized alphabetically by country and then by city, but it’s purposely not indexed since I want to inspire browsing, and help you to discover places you may not have thought of as kid-friendly. If you attempt to book one of these activities, restaurants or hotels and it’s not in business anymore, or you don’t find it to be kid-friendly, please let me know!
- Activity: Child-oriented operas at the Salzburg Festival (summer-only). The operas are a little over an hour and easily understood by kids regardless of the language. Very entertaining, and a great way to give kids an introduction to opera.
- Activity: The Toy Museum. Our kids had a great time here on a rainy afternoon. One of the better children’s museums that we’ve been to.
- Hotel: Hotel de Orangerie is well-located and the service is excellent. We had two rooms next to each other, including one with an upstairs loft, and the setup worked well. We didn’t love Bruges simply because it was too crowded in August, and I still haven’t written about it, but we liked the hotel.
Zagreb / Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
- Destination: We really enjoyed several days in Zagreb. It’s a great city for exploring on foot, with parks and cafes everywhere.
- Hotel: The Esplanade is excellent – a great old hotel in a very good location. Five-star luxury at a bargain price.
- Activity: A day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park. This is one of the most beautiful spots in the world – a series of 16 torquoise-colored lakes joined together with waterfalls. My son loved running around the boardwalks.
- Tours: We did a private day-trip to Plitvice with Kamauf Day Tours. Nives was our incredible guide, with Dalibor the driver. We loved exploring the park with them, and they even made the drive fun for a seven-year-old.
- Restaurant: Of all the restaurants we tried, Bistro Fotić was the best. Every year in our Christmas cards, each family member lists his/her top meal of the year. It’s very likely that both mine and my son’s will come from our two dinners here: the prosciutto-wrapped filet with almonds for me and the duck breast with pepper raspberry sauce for my son. So great.
- Destination: Prague was a fun stop for three days with a lot to do with kids, from the castle and old town to playgrounds and kid-friendly museums.
- Hotel: We stayed at the Aria Hotel Prague, not knowing if it could compare to the amazing Aria Budapest, but it was similarly perfect. Service was outstanding, our suite looked out on the beautiful Vtrba Garden, and the kids loved the afternoon tea. The location is great too, below the castle and only five minutes from Charles Bridge.
- Restaurant: Our best Czech meal was at Hotel U Zlatych Nuzek. A great sidewalk setting and one of the best honey cakes we had in Prague.
- Restaurant: Cantina. Legitimately excellent Mexican food, not far from the Aria Hotel.
- Restaurant: Pivo & Basilico, below the castle. Authentic Italian from an Italian chef. We went twice in one day. The pizzas and pastas are perfect.
- Activity: A walking tour with OURWAY Tours. Javier was excellent at customizing the information, activities and pace for our kids.
- Activity: Tivoli Gardens amusement park. We’ve been a few times now with our kids at different ages and everyone always has fun. We can easily spend six hours there, between the rides, the playground, the restaurants (Wagamama is our favorite lunch spot) and the games.
- Hotel: 71 Nyhavn is perfectly-located in the Nyhavn area. Great service and rooms – especially those overlooking the canal. Lots of good restaurants and street food nearby too. Of the three hotels we’ve stayed at in Copenhagen, it’s by far our favorite.
- Restaurant: Tight used to be our favorite place to eat, but the menu changed and our last visit (July 2018) wasn’t as good. Will probably give it another shot.
- Restaurant: In the meatpacking district, we love the pizza at Mother.
- Gelato: The caramel gelato at Siciliansk Is in Vesterbro is amazing! They have other locations around Copenhagen as well.
- Destination: OK, Greenland is technically in North America, but it’s part of Denmark, so I’m listing it here! Regardless, it’s an amazingly unique, kid-friendly place to get outside, unplug, and explore. My blog post on everything we loved is here. Visit before everyone else catches on.
- Destination: Like Greenland, an amazing, unspoiled destination. Relatively easy to get to and explore, but book far in advance since there aren’t a lot of places to stay. My blog post is here.
- Activity: Visit Mykines overnight with Go Local Faroe Islands and see tens of thousands of puffins with no one else around.
- Tours: Paris Muse is great. We’ve done three kid-oriented walking tours with them, through the Marais, Notre Dame and the Louvre, and all were excellent. Their guides kept our kids thoroughly entertained while educating them on art, history, architecture and culture. My oldest daughter was Joan of Arc for Halloween because of their tours!
- Hotel: The Cler Hotel is a perfectly-located boutique hotel, on Rue Cler in the 7th arr., only a few minutes from the Eiffel Tower. They have multiple options for families of 4 or 5.
- Activity: Luxembourg Gardens. From sailing toy boats to the amazing playground, we end up here several times during every trip.
- Activity: Cook’n With Class cooking classes. We did a macaroon-making class and really enjoyed it. When we return we want to move on to breads and pastries.
- Hotel: The Sofitel Athens Airport is incredibly convenient if you have a late arrival or an early departure. It’s only a couple of minutes’ walk to the metro and then roughly an hour (16 stops) to the Plaka/Acropolis, so you can stay at the airport and still walk around the best parts of Athens. If you’re staying for multiple days, stay in the city. If you only have a one-night layover, the Sofitel is great.
- Hotel: If you want to stay in Athens, Home & Poetry is right in the Plaka and only a few minutes’ walk up to the Parthenon. I didn’t love that they gave us rooms on different floors, but it’s a good boutique hotel in a great location.
- Destination: Far less touristy than Mykonos or Santorini (no cruise ships!) and very family-friendly. My blog post on our three weeks on Naxos with all of our recommendations is here.
- Hotel: Nissaki Beach Hotel. Great location on a kid-friendly beach, excellent pool, wonderful breakfasts and staff. It was a perfect base for us for three weeks on Naxos.
- Restaurant: Nissaki Beach. The best food on the island, and tables on the beach mean that the kids can play on the beach or in the shallow water while waiting for dinner.
- Drinks: Avaton 1739 is a climb from the main part of Naxos Town, but don’t let that stop you. It’s a perfect place to get drinks and watch the sunset. And they have the best homemade lemonade we’ve found anywhere.
- Destination: Paros is our second-favorite island after Naxos – a great family-friendly island without cruise ships. A great place to relax for a week and do nothing! My blog post is here.
- Hotel: Paliomylos Hotel had a great one-apartment setup for us, just a few minutes (on foot) from the town of Naoussa.
- Restaurant: I list all of our favorite restaurants in the blog post above, but if we could only return to one it would be Taverna Glafkos.
- Restaurant: Our favorite restaurant in the world is Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna in Oia, down the steps on the water. Great fish, vegetable fritters and baklava in a gorgeous setting.
- Hotel: Alexander’s Suites in Oia has suites that can sleep up to six. We had two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a private deck with a hot tub. Gorgeous views!
- Destination: Budapest is an enjoyable, kid-friendly city with a lot to do. My blog post is here.
- Store: Fűszerész,at Károly körút 10, is the best spice shop that we’ve found anywhere in the world. Well worth seeking out.
- Hotel: The Aria Hotel Budapest is our favorite hotel in central Europe. It’s utterly family-friendly, with a perfect location, connecting rooms and a pool.
County Cork, Ireland
- Activity: Hiking along the coast near Sandycove Island just outside of Kinsale. My blog post with directions is here.
- Restaurant: Lemon Leaf Cafe, Kinsale. We love the atmosphere and the food, and their Deli around the corner is great for take-out.
- Restaurant: The Bulman Pub, Kinsale. Sit downstairs
- Store: Bookstór, Kinsale. What an independent book store should be.
County Leinster, Ireland
- Hotel: We love the Merrion Hotel in Dublin. It’s perfectly-located and is luxurious while also feeling boutiquey and kid-friendly – hard to pull off. Breakfasts are excellent.
County Mayo, Ireland
- Hotel: Ashford Castle is our favorite resort in Europe. My blog post on everything we love about it is here.
- Activity: A Hawk Walk at Ireland’s School of Falconry.
- Activity: Horseback Riding at Ashford Outdoors.
- Destination: Florence has become our kids’ favorite city – because of the way we do it. We love the hotel (below). We love spending days with Elvira (below). We love being considered almost-locals at our favorite restaurants (below). And we love just wandering around the touristy areas as well as getting lost in the streets out of the touristy areas. My blog post with all of our favorite things is here.
- Hotel: Antica Torre di Via Tournabuoni. We always stay in the same two rooms here which form a connecting suite. The breakfasts are great, as are the personnel. Perfect location as well with views of both the Duomo and the Arno.
- Apartment: Less expensive than Antica Torre is Palazzo San Niccolo. We had a great two-room setup and loved the property. The location isn’t quite as good if you’re always walking over to the historic center, but the savings more than make up for the extra 10 minutes of walking.
- Apartment: Palazzo Belfiore is Palazzo San Niccolo’s sister property. We didn’t love it quite as much, but we had a three-bedroom apartment that was excellent, and the location is much better, in between Santo Spirito and the Ponte Vecchio.
- Tours: I can’t speak more highly of Concierge in Umbria and Elvira Politi. They’ve arranged many, many activities for us on two trips, and Elvira is one of the reasons that our kids love the city and want to return every summer. My blog post about my Conde Nast Traveler trip to the city organized by CiU is here.
- Tour/Activity: We loved our Artisan Gourmet Gelato Stroll through Curious Appetite. The gelato making session at the end was particularly fun. They have other cool-looking food tours as well.
- Activity: A cooking class through Let’s Cook – one of the best cooking classes we’ve done with our kids. A really fun and educational 4.5 hours and amazing, simple food.
- Restaurants: There are a lot of great places to eat in Florence. The ones that we keep returning to year after year are Quatro Leoni, La Buchetta, La Beppa Fioraia, Tamerò, and MaMMaMia. MaMMaMia is the one we will eat at two, three or more times in a trip. Even though it’s in a touristy location the food, service, kid-friendliness and most importantly the cheesecake are excellent. All of our favorite Florentine restaurants are in this post.
Lake Como, Italy
- Destination: Lake Como’s not the world’s most interesting destination for kids, but overall I recommend it. Base out of Como, and don’t go for longer than a week. My blog post is here.
- Activity: Take day trips to Lugano, Switzerland by train and to towns around the lake by ferry. We like Varenna and Bellagio.
- Restaurants: Our best meals were at Natta Cafe and Vintage Jazz in Como, Ristorante Trattoria Nisciolano in Cernobbio and Ristorante Terrazza Barchetta and Ristoro Forma & Gusto in Bellagio.
- Activity: Visit the Ovo Castle (Castel dell’Ovo). Completely free, and a perfect place for kids to play and explore.
- Restaurant: I loved the squash blossom, bacon and ricotta pizza at La Piazzetta near Ovo Castle. Not great service, and they sat us in the part of the restaurant without a view, and there’s a hefty service charge, but I’d return again for that pizza!
- Hotel: The Albergo del Senato is perfectly located, right next to the Pantheon. It was in the middle of everywhere we wanted to go. And our view overlooking the Pantheon was amazing. They have a few options for families, but book far in advance.
- Activity: A tour from The Roman Guy. We LOVED the Roman Catacombs and Basilica of San Clemente Tour with Christiana. Want to try their Florence Food Tour too.
- Restaurants: We had excellent meals at Old Bear and La Nuova Piazzetta.
- Destination: Trentino is gorgeous, and it’s off the radar of most Americans who prioritize travel to Venice, Rome and Florence. Head north to the Dolomites! We based in Val di Fiemme and Val di Fassa and spent a week hiking, eating, cycling, playing and enjoying the mountains. Click through to those links to see everything we did.
- Restaurant: Miola in Predazzo is one of our new favorite restaurants in the world. We want to return every year! Amazing Italian dishes with mountain highlights, and a stunning view.
- Destination: The hilltop towns of Tuscany are amazing, from San Gimignano to Cortona (we rented a villa there for a month) to Siena and Montalcino. Explore them all, and stay overnight whenever possible!
- Experience and Tour Operator: Hiking the Via Francigena pilgrimage path 90km through Tuscany with S-Cape Travel is one of my favorite experiences ever. My blog post is here.
- Destination: We love Venice. My blog post on how to do Venice with kids is here.
- Hotel: We’ve stayed at the Hotel Al Ponte Antico three times and love it. Great staff, location and rooms. No connecting rooms, but it doesn’t matter – it’s one of our favorite hotels in the world and we wouldn’t stay anywhere else.
- Guide: We really enjoyed two days with Nadia at Friend in Venice. She set up a number of kid-friendly activities and even in the height of the tourist season managed to get us away from the crowds.
- Activity: One of our favorite cooking classes ever was with Marika at Acquolina. We did her 4-hour pasta class. Great setting, excellent food and very kid-friendly.
- Restaurants: We have a number of restaurants in Venice that we like, but our best meals have been at Muro Frari and Barababao.
- Activity: The tulip fields near Lisse and elsewhere in the Netherlands in the spring are absolutely incredible. What kid doesn’t want to run through fields of flowers? Keukenhof Gardens is amazing as well, with flowers, a petting zoo and even a zip line for kids. Well worth a day trip from Amsterdam.
- Destination. Oslo has always been one of my favorite cities, and it’s very kid-friendly. My top things to do with kids are here.
St. Petersburg, Russia
- Restaurant: Some of the best Indian food that we’ve had outside of India was at Tandoor.
- Restaurant: Kazan Mangal was next to our B&B and it was pouring, so it was the easiest place to dine. It turned out to be one of our favorite meals of the year. Everything we ordered was amazing.
- Destination: The small town is charming, the lake is gorgeous and there are activities like boat rentals and alpine slides.
- Hotel: Penzion Mayer. A great connecting-room setup for families of five
- Restaurant: Also Penzion Mayer. Excellent meal. My 6-year-old still talks about the venison.
- Hotel: Hotel DO: Plaça Reial. A boutique hotel in a perfect location with great staff. Their connecting rooms can sleep up to five, and there’s even a small pool on the roof. They don’t get a lot of kid visitors, but it’s the only place we would stay. The photo above was the view from our room.
- Activity: Park Güell. Take a taxi there, enjoy Gaudí’s park for a few hours, and then walk down into town. There’s a playground, but it’s more about exploring the passageways and discovering all of the fun elements, like mosaic salamanders.
- Activity: Hike from the French border to the town of Molló. It’s all downhill so it’s perfect for kids, and the scenery is perfect. We stopped for a picnic lunch halfway – at the spot pictured above. Xavier Mas Soler from Guies Roc Blanc was our excellent guide.
- Activity: Molló Parc. Don’t think zoo. This is an animal park in the Pyrenees that rescues local animals. Bears, wolves, wild boars, otters – you name it. And I fed marmots out of my hand! The setting is stunning, with hills (mountains) and river valleys in and surrounding the park. One of the best animal parks I’ve seen in the world.
- Tour Operator: Wild Sweden put together an amazing four days for us including canoeing, forest exploration, meals on islands and wolf, beaver and moose safaris. My blog post is here.
- Lodge: Kolarbyn Eco Lodge is one of the most primitive hotels in the world. No electricity, plumbing or wifi, but we loved the forest huts, canoeing, floating sauna and meals by campfire. Magical!
- Layover Destination: Stockholm is a great city for a layover. There’s an express train between the airport and the center of the city and plenty of places to stay within easy walking distance of the central station. Lots of restaurants too, and Gamla Stan is nearby and fun to explore.
- Hotel: Downtown Camper by Scandic. Loved the feel of the hotel and the extensive breakfast. An easy walk from the station. Our top choice when it’s available.
- Hotel: Central Hotel is across from the main station. Good breakfast.
London, England, UK
- Hotel: The Rosewood London. It’s near a Tube stop and only 10 minutes from Covent Garden and the Theatre District. Two connecting rooms worked perfectly for us. My kids particularly loved Pearl, the resident Golden Retriever. Service is excellent.
- Activity: Afternoon Tea at Fortnum & Mason. We took five kids under eight to a proper British High Tea, and it went perfectly! The kids had fun getting dressed up and using their manners, and everyone enjoyed the sandwiches and pastries. Information is here.
- Activity: Afternoon Tea at the Milestone Hotel. An excellent tea with some fun kid-friendly touches, including teas for kids, individual towers of sandwiches and even cupcake decorating. A more intimate setting than Fortnum & Mason.
- Tour: We loved the Tower of London Tour with Context Travel. It was nicely customized for our kids, including the stories and the pace, and we avoided the crowds.
- Tour/Activity: Also with Context Travel, we did their Drawing London tour and were blown away by Edward, our guide, who has illustrated for the New Yorker, Economist and others. He met us at our hotel, led us to interesting sites near the hotel, and then took us to the British Museum for a hands-on workshop. He taught our kids drawing techniques that immediately had an impact. A really fun activity.
Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK
- Tour/Activity: Maybe our favorite full-day tour ever. Lorna from See Orkney picked us up from our ship in Kirkwall first thing in the morning and took us around the islands for a day, customizing the itinerary for our kids. She made us want to return!