Top European Vacation Destinations For The Whole Family
Set your compass to Europe this summer and every family member, including tots and teens, will find something to love — be it world-famous monuments, interactive museums or acres of beautiful European parkland. | By Joanna Tweedy | August 12, 2022
School’s out, the kids are home and you’re all itching for some adventure. Good news, a European vacation destination means excitement is just a quick flight (or even better, a quick car ride!) away. So, pack your bags and get ready to enjoy your perfect stay away this summer. Consider:
Animal House: Spot playful sea lions and pink flamingos at historical ARTIS Zoo in Amsterdam
Shop Around: Teens can snag cool tees and vintage vinyl at London’s Camden Market
Meat Up: Order bratwurst (Germany's take on the hot dog) for an easy lunch in Berlin
The best way to start a trip to the French capital? Go high up. From above you can admire the city — awash with elegant boulevards, lively bistros and picture-postcard monuments — from its most famous attraction, the Eiffel Tower. Book tickets and take the elevator up 330-meters, where an awe-inspiring 360-degree view greets you.
Back on the ground, bicycle tours (great fun for older children), gentle river cruises and your own two feet are the most relaxing ways to get around. Teens intrigued by Paris’ quirkier side will love the atmospheric Father Lachaise cemetery (Cimetière du Père Lachaise), where Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Frédéric Chopin are buried.
With younger children in tow, make for Paris’ urban jardins (gardens). Ludo playground at the Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg) and the Garden of Acclimatization (Le Jardin d’Acclimatation), an attraction-packed 47-acre (19 hectares) amusement park in northwest Paris, are the pick of the bunch. A trip to France isn't complete without sampling world-renowned French fare. Dining can be as simple or as premium as you fancy, but a ‘croque monsieur’ (cheese and ham panini) or a sugar-sprinkled crepe will keep hunger at bay.
Just an hour from Paris by train (take Line C on the RER network) puts you in France’s prettiest picnic destination, the Palace of Versailles. Families can spend a day exploring the manicured gardens surrounding this glorious mid-17th century abode, with little ones able to run free (literally — admission is free for anyone 18 or younger) in its 1,980 acres (800 hectares). Hire a rowboat, tour the ornate interiors or tuck into a baguette lunch with a breathtaking view of Versailles’ lavish golden fountains and the chateau beyond.
Paris is also a convenient starting point for families looking for a multi-country experience, with Switzerland, Spain and Italy all a short daytrip from the capital via the TGV, Eurail's high-speed train.
The English capital bursts into life come summer, and many of its celebrated landmarks are close by, making it easy to create your own family vacation package. Traveling with a stroller in tow? Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and the London Eye are within easy distance of one another and make for an adventure-filled afternoon. There’s a tourist attraction to inspire children of every age, with South Kensington’s Science, Natural History and V&A museums on Exhibition Road all free to explore. Curious toddlers will love the interactive Garden at the Science Museum, while the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum impress little and big kids alike.
Plot a retreat to the city’s cooling green spaces: an early evening frisbee game in Hyde Park, a wild swim in the ponds at Hampstead Heath or rowing on the Children’s Boating Pond in The Regent’s Park are just some of the activities available. Teens who love to shop can marvel at Carnaby Street’s creative stores in Soho, or browse the mazy stalls at open-air Camden Market, a short ride north on the Underground (hop off at Camden Town station on the Northern line). Everything from affordable art to cool t-shirts, jewelry and vintage vinyl is on sale, plus street food inspired by every continent. Feel like no meal is complete without a sweet treat? Make sure to stop at fantastical candy palace Hans & Gretel, where you can enjoy one-of-a-kind creations such as cinnamon dusted chimney cakes and candy-floss encased gelato cones.
Best of all, London is the perfect jumping off point for multi-city travel opportunities. A quick trip on the National Rail and you can continue your explorations to other must-see English cities — Cambridge, Manchester and York are all less than 2.5 hours away.
The Eternal City brings ancient history to life in Italy; with superbly preserved buildings helping everyone from elementary-age kids to high schoolers engage with Rome’s magical past. Hear stories of gladiators fighting lions nearly 2,000 years ago at the Colosseum, make a wish at the Trevi Fountain or marvel at the remarkable dome (the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome) still intact inside the Pantheon. Pedestrian-friendly, Rome also has good transport links, with easy-to-hop-on and -off buses and reasonably priced taxis. Much like the rest of Italy, Romans are warm and friendly to families on vacation, and there are small fun fairs dotted around the city for groups to enjoy. Plus, picky eaters (and their parents!) will rejoice in the variety of pizzas, pasta and gelato on offer throughout the city.
All about park life? The Villa Borghese Gardens (a convenient 10-minute walk from Aleph Rome Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton) boasts wonderful views of Rome, the San Carlino Puppet Theater and popular wildlife attraction, Bioparco di Roma, across its 200 rolling acres (80 hectares). Hire a four-person family pedal cart to discover it at your own pace.
World-famous art by the Dutch masters, colorful tulips, over 160 emerald canals and more bicycles than cars make the Netherlands’ capital an exciting European vacation choice. The city’s prestigious museums, including the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, offer thoughtful kids’ programs and are popular destinations for families. Older children will appreciate Anne Frank House, the home-turned-museum where Anne began writing her diary in 1942. Discover the royal favor of the animal kingdom at ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo, where Asian elephants, pink flamingos and sea lions are among the captivating residents. And don’t miss the NEMO Science Museum either, which has five floors of high-energy, experiment-led entertainment.
Perhaps the nicest way to explore Amsterdam as a family is on a boat ride, and the city has options for every tourist. Like to be in the captain’s seat? Hire an easy-to-drive smaller vessel for a day of exploring. Prefer to relax and take it all in? You and your family can sail away (or at least down one of the canals) on one of the many guided cruises on offer throughout the city.
The weather in Germany’s capital rarely nudges above 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) in summer, meaning it’s a perfect climate for sightseeing on foot (and with strollers). Top of the must-visit list is the 18th-century Brandenburg Gate, the last surviving historical city gate in Berlin and a symbol of both its division and its reunification in 1989. In front of it lies Pariser Platz, a pedestrian square that makes an ideal spot for little ones to safely stretch their legs and devour a tasty bratwurst — Germany’s much-loved take on the hot dog. Close by is the Reichstag; home to Germany’s Parliament. The spectacular 360-degree view from its glass dome is a sight not to be missed!
Interested in seeing what’s on display? The German Spy Museum Berlin will enthrall older children with its 1,000-plus exhibits; there’s a chance to crack secret codes, negotiate a laser maze and use gadgets secret agents once did. Meanwhile, the MACHmit! Museum is a veritable emporium for younger kids, with a hands-on printer’s workshop and indoor playground among the thrills. And if you want a taste of it all, consider a ride on a double-decker bus to see Berlin’s old-world sights from the top deck. Even better? Skip the guided tour and do it like a local via Line 100, which passes major landmarks including Television Tower, Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) and Museum Island.
No matter where you’re headed this summer vacation, Europe has a city (or perhaps cities) to guide you and yours on your family travel adventure.
Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.