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Tips for Visiting Europe with Kids

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So you’ve decided to take the kids to Europe. Good for you! With so much to see and do, you might feel overwhelmed by Europe’s wealth of countries, languages, and visit-worthy sites. Here are some tips for visiting Europe with kids.

Tips for Visiting Europe with Kids

Kids can channel their inner gladiator in Rome, Italy

Plan age-appropriate travel

Your baby won’t have an opinion whether your family visits one church or three per day. Your toddler and tween certainly will. Your child’s age and interests should help guide your trip planning. Do sit down as a family at the kitchen table, with a map or iPad to look at all of the cool things there are to see and do in your destination of choice. You can still visit museums and art galleries with young kids, but you may have to negotiate how many, what kind, and how often. It also helps to break up such visits with guaranteed child-pleasing favorites like a beach day or visit to a theme park. Everyone should have a hand in planning the trip (it builds buy-in and excitement), and each family member should get their own special wish from the holiday.

Don’t try to do too much in too little time

Leave the “Nine Cities in Nine Days Tour” to young singletons. Rushing from one city to the next in a blur of days and countries is NOT the way to visit Europe with children. If you really want to get a feel for a place…its history, art, architecture, and how its residents live and enjoy life…you need to pace yourself and choose locations wisely.

Choose a city or town that offers something for everyone in the family (museums, amusements, food, lodging options), and is also close to other attractions or destinations you’d like to visit. In choosing a base from which you can go on day trips, you minimize time spent on the road or rails. Cities in Europe are very close to each other, which makes it easy to travel from one to the next. You can easily do a few on a two week vacation, but do spend enough time in each town so your family can appreciate what makes each location and its citizens special and different from anywhere else.

Rent a Car to explore Europe with kids

I love to travel by train and I grew up visiting Europe on the rails. But if you’re planning a European road trip, nothing beats the convenience of having your own car to ferry your family (and your bags) to and fro, on your own schedule and via the road of your choosing (scenic or autobahn?). My exception to this rule is in large cities; I would not recommend driving in London, Paris or Rome, due to their size, complex road networks, congestion taxes and parking fees. It’s not worth the stress or cost.

Driving styles vary widely by country (Germans are the fastest!), and sometimes so do the rules. One big difference from North America is that no right turns are allowed on a red light anywhere in Europe. Research online or visit your AAA office before you leave for driving tips and to obtain an International Driving Permit if required by the country you’re visiting (i.e. Italy). Note: It’s cheaper to rent a car from home before you leave. Check out AutoEurope for your best options.

Kids' sword play in Thun, Switzerland

Sword Play in Thun, Switzerland (Photo Credit: C. Laroye)

Pack your meds

It’s never fun when your child gets sick but it’s even more stressful when you are on the road in a foreign country. You may not know the language and the local medicine labels are unfamiliar. Purchase and pack (in a large Ziploc bag) age-appropriate medicines that you’ve given your child at home, so you know they won’t likely cause a reaction while abroad. New, sealed bottles won’t leak in your carry-on or checked bag, and won’t cause problems in the security line. Additional first aid kit supplies like band-aids, anti-itch cream and antibacterial salve should be included as well.

Use your words

Do not assume everyone in Europe speaks English. While in northern Europe the odds may be higher, it’s certainly not guaranteed. On our most recent trip, I used all of my foreign language skills (five), in three different countries. People really appreciate when you can speak in their language, or if you at least make an attempt. In the months prior to a trip, dust off your high school French or Spanish and practice.

If you’re heading to a country in which the language is completely unfamiliar to you, DO learn a few words to achieve a level of greeting fluency. This means you know a basic vocabulary to say things like hello, thank you and goodbye. You will also want to learn the ever-important phrase, “Where are the toilets? I suggest borrowing or buying some language CDs, or downloading a language App like Duolingo, or World Nomads.

Most importantly, practice foreign language skills with your children! Kids have an amazing capacity to learn languages at a very young age. Pop that Italian CD into the car on the way to school and you will be amazed at what your kids will pick up and remember.

Venice with kids

Mi piace Venezia! (I like Venice!) Photo Credit: C. Laroye

Get your own space

I highly recommend renting an apartment or doing a home exchange when visiting Europe with kids, especially if you’re planning a longer holiday. You will literally have the comforts of home, including a kitchen to prepare your own food on your family’s schedule.

Hotels are great, but they’re expensive and can quickly push a family trip to Europe out of your budget. Families with more than one child often need two hotel rooms (doubly expensive). Eating out at restaurants three times a day gets pretty pricey and the charm wears off after the first few meals out, in my opinion. European restaurants serve dinner much later than in North America, and it may be a real challenge to keep the kids occupied until the restaurants open at 7 pm or later in that quaint French or Italian village. Some great home accommodation resources include HomeLink, HomeAway, HouseTrip and AirBnB.

Pick one or two trip highlights

For each of my family’s European vacations, we’ve chosen specific trip must-sees, like visiting the Eiffel Tower or more recently, doing an overnight Alpine Pass hike. These high points of the holiday serve several purposes. They build anticipation before and during the trip, and give everyone something to look forward to on rough days when everyone’s tired or cranky. Each day may be filled with highlights of their own (the pool! the beach!), but having something extra special, particularly towards the latter part of a trip, makes for great memories and good trip planning savvy.

Leave fear at home

You toddler will like European baby food. The kids may have to watch SpongeBob in German, but they will still find it funny. It’s okay if your child orders spaghetti in Italy for every meal. A gelato a day is a good thing. Things will be different from home, sometimes even better. This is why you wanted to bring your kids to Europe, so go with the flow and don’t sweat the small stuff.

What are some of your best tips from your European adventures? Share your advice or questions in the comments below!

About Claudia Laroye, The Curious Travel Mama

Claudia Laroye lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two sons. She started traveling at a very young age, and has never stopped. She’s had the fortune of visiting more than 20 countries on four continents, and has also lived abroad in Sweden. Claudia is passionate about family travel and about educating children through the travel experience. She is the author of the, and contributes to many online and print media publications. Connect with Claudia on Twitter as @travelling_mom.

  1. Kiera @EasyTravelMom says

    As much as I’ve traveled I have not been to Europe with my daughter/as a family and these are really GREAT tips. Thank you – with two siblings there I’m pretty sure we will visit in the next year and this post helps a lot in the planning process.

  2. Claudia Laroye says

    Thanks very much, Kiera. Happy trip planning!

  3. Great tips!
    We still haven’t tried a home exchange or apartment rental, but we are seriously considering for our next Euro tour!


  4. Big thumbs up on the car rental idea! We took three kids (5, 3, 1) to Italy for three months in 2008 when I taught a semester abroad. Having a car during the scheduled free-travel periods was a godsend. We were able to get off the beaten path to locations where we felt much more comfortable letting the kids “off the leash.”

    The recommendation to slow down the pace is also a great one. When I was single in my 20s, I’d hit 6-8 attractions in a day on a European tour. You just can’t do that with kids, particularly when they are small.

    Great article!

  5. We took our daughter to Europe last year – England, France and Germany. She was just about to turn 1 in Paris, so we celebrated early with her first chocolate crepe. Yum! What a marvelous mess! We were hoping that she would just put up with the things that we wanted to do, but were delighted that she had so much fun too. Her favorite in the Louvre was the sculpture section, particularly anything with Diana in it with all her animal pals. Across all 3 countries, one of our favorite things was picking up the different games that people played with our daughter – despite our language barriers. It seem that people just like kids, despite where they are from! Some of our favorite playground games are from France and Germany, and they are catching on in our neighbourhood too!

  6. Lisa Goodmurphy says

    Great tips! We’ve been to Europe a number of times with our kids and it’s so much easier than most people think it’s going to be. Renting homes and apartments is the ideal solution for families visiting Europe – it’s great to have the space and the ability to prepare some meals. We have also stayed in apart’hotels which are apartment-style accommodations with some hotel amenities. Your transportation tips are bang on too – I wouldn’t even dream of trying to drive in big European cities – too much stress! We rent a car when we aren’t in cities and use public transport when we are. I think one of the biggest surprises for North American travelers is just how amazing the train service is in Europe. If I could travel by train everywhere that I wanted to go then I would never set foot in an airport!

  7. Claudia Laroye says

    Thanks for sharing your great tips, Lisa. I totally agree with you about the trains > airports. So much more civilized and sophisticated!

  8. Raymond Waruhari says

    Great stories Claudia. It is always hectic to travel with kids but there is a lot we can do to make it easy.

  9. These are great tips – thank you! Heading to Italy in the spring with a 2- and 4- year-old… Gulp! But, we have to start somewhere, right?

    • Claudia Laroye says

      Absolutely Hillary. Good for you for taking the travel plunge with your wee ones. Italy is such a great destination no matter how old you are!

  10. Nice Tips, I just got back from the United Kingdom, and directions and travel on the roads were tricky. I found a website that helps with driving directions perhaps it can add some value to this discussion and for travelers

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