Must-see family vacation spots in Europe

Sometimes the best family vacation ideas require a passport and a sense of adventure. If you’re ready to look beyond the usual family vacation spots in the US, why not consider Europe for your next family trip?

Vacations in Europe are an experiential way to introduce your children to the world. Western Europe is different enough from the United States to seem strangely unfamiliar, but it’s similar enough to foster a sense of comfort in most American travelers, making it a great choice for your first trip to the United States. stranger with family.

The best family vacation destinations in Europe

Traveling to the best family vacation spots in Europe with kids may be more of a deep dive into playgrounds, gardens and street food than art museums, cathedrals and gourmet restaurants, but the advantage is that you will probably live more like a local than a tourist. And whether you choose a big city like Paris, a remote island like Madeira, or a storybook town like Bruges, the best European vacation spots for kids have something for families from all walks of life.

Here are six European vacation destinations that are surefire winners for family vacations.

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1. Paris, France

With beautiful parks, iconic landmarks and world-class museums, Paris is always a good idea, even with young children.

► What to do in Paris with children

To get a sense of the city, spend the afternoon with Parisian families in the vast Bois de Boulogne, a green oasis with walking paths, playgrounds, greenhouses, and a lake with rowboat rentals. For some time indoors, head to the City of Science and Industry, Europe’s largest science museum with a planetarium, submarine and enough interactive exhibits to keep the kids happy curious.

Surrounded by the Louvre and Place de la Concorde, the Jardin des Tuileries is a traditional garden with perfectly trimmed lawns thanks to a herd of resident sheep that act as living lawnmowers. Children will appreciate its whimsical play areas, maze and carousel.

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The Eiffel Tower is perhaps the most beloved site in the City of Lights and it’s easy to see why. Ride the glass-enclosed elevator to the top of the iconic spire and marvel at its beauty from above. After dark, watch the lights twinkle hypnotically for five minutes every hour.

And if you think man can’t live on bread alone, you’ve probably never been to a French bakery. Buy a baguette and cheese in Paris and you’ll be transported to picnic heaven.

► Where to sleep in Paris with children

Located in the chic 16th arrondissement, a residential neighborhood popular with affluent families, Brach Paris is a modern, upscale hotel with an indoor pool and rooftop terrace. Live chickens and stunning views of the Eiffel Tower complete the picture.

2. Rome, Italy

Roma, Italy

Few cities are more child-friendly than Rome. Parents bring their children practically everywhere here, even to fancy restaurants and the opera. The locals will adopt your toddler as their own.

► What to do in Rome with children

Famous ancient sites, including the great gladiatorial arena of the Colosseum and the sprawling ruins of the Roman Forum, are located within walking distance of each other. Bernini’s fountains and beautiful city squares, such as St. Peter’s and Piazza Navona, pack a punch. Explore the maze of alleyways and watch the Romans zipping through traffic on mopeds.

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Villa Borghese, Rome’s beloved park, has playgrounds and an old-fashioned zoo. Villa Celimontana is a leafy haven near the Colosseum, where historic statues surround the shaded playground. When hunger strikes, you’re never far from a refreshing ice cream, a delicious plate of pasta or scrumptious fresh produce at one of the city’s many open-air markets.

Where to stay in Rome with children

Located near Rome’s main tourist attractions, in the heart of the city, Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese offers large family suites on a quiet street adjacent to Villa Borghese.

3. Bruges, Belgium

Brugge, Belgium

With swan-studded canals and enough chocolate shops to keep Willy Wonka happy, Bruges is a kid-friendly European vacation spot straight out of the pages of a Flemish fairy tale.

► What to do in Bruges with children

Stroll the cobbled streets and watch the expert lacemakers spin the decorative magic. Soak up the city’s nautical charm on a boat ride through its maze of waterways. The belfry tower offers a continuous serenade thanks to the carillon of 47 bells. Children can expend their energy climbing 366 steps to the top and be rewarded with a direct view of the North Sea.

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Appetites will be robust after going through all these stages; fortunately, Belgian street food is perfect for the little ones. Belgian fries are served in a paper cone with a creamy dip. Waffles come in two varieties: the Brussels waffle is as light as a feather and dusted with a veil of powdered sugar while the denser Liège waffle has a crunch of caramelized sugar.

Leave the calories counting at passport control as dozens of artisan chocolate shops fill the air with a tempting aroma. Visit the Choco-Story chocolate museum for an in-depth explanation of the transformation of cocoa into chocolate.

► Where to stay in Bruges with children

On a quiet street a short walk from the city center, Duke’s Palace Residence has 26 bright and airy rooms.

4. Madeira, Portugal

Madeira, Portugal

Madeira’s alluring mix of black sand beaches, lush mountain trails, natural pools and semi-tropical climate is a jackpot for families who love the great outdoors. A remote outpost in the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is 300 miles from Morocco and nearly 700 miles from mainland Portugal.

► Things to do in Madeira with children

Ernest Hemingway wrote that descending the steep streets of Madeira in a wicker toboggan was the most exhilarating experience of his life. You and your kids will love it too. You’ll be expertly led by a pair of straw hat-clad drivers on a thrilling 10-minute descent. (It’s a particularly fun part of the Christmas holidays in Madeira.)

A boat ride is the perfect perch to observe marine animals frolicking in the clean waters of the Atlantic up close. VIP Dolphins adds an educational component with an English-speaking marine biologist on board.

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This off-the-beaten-track family vacation spot in Europe is full of fern-strewn walking trails, fragrant bay bushes and rushing waterfalls. The flower-lined paths of the Monte Palace Tropical Garden are paved, making it easy to push a stroller. You’ll ride a cable car to the garden entrance, so the trip is part of the fun even when you’re on holiday with toddlers.

► Where to stay in Madeira

Families will appreciate the clean and comfortable Pestana Carlton, with ocean access and multiple indoor and outdoor saltwater pools.

5. Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland

On the shores of Lake Geneva, French-speaking Lausanne is a compact city loaded with Gallic panache. Weather permitting, you can swim or take a boat ride on the sparkling lake.

► What to do around Lake Geneva with children

Located on top of a hill, you cannot miss the imposing and gothic Notre-Dame de Lausanne cathedral. Every evening at 10 p.m., the night watchman rings the bell and announces the time. In today’s high-tech world, this old-fashioned ritual seems frozen in time, a good reason to let the kids stay up late and witness the charms of yesteryear.

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The Olympic Museum encourages young visitors to reflect on the ideals of the Olympic Movement and the value of sport in society. State-of-the-art robotics, computing and audio-visual technology provide a sense of the emotional highs and lows of an elite athlete.

And at Aquatis, Europe’s largest freshwater aquarium, families can enjoy an immersive journey through the earth’s aquatic environments.

► Where to stay in Geneva

The elegant Beau-Rivage Palace lakeside retreat features an indoor swimming pool for hours of fun in any weather.

6. Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland is consistently ranked among the happiest countries in the world. Glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers, and lava fields add up to an otherworldly beauty that draws families. The relatively quick five-hour flight from some cities on the US east coast makes the capital Reykjavik an easy and convenient first European vacation spot for families.

► Things to do in Reykjavik with kids

Head to Reykjavik’s Old Harbor where many boat operators offer whale watching tours. The Reykjavik Maritime Museum is packed with imaginative and interactive exhibits that celebrate the crucial role of fishing in the national economy. For high-tech fun, Fly Over Iceland features a state-of-the-art spherical screen and sensory extras such as wind, mist and scents that give you the virtual sensation of flying over Iceland while remaining safely strapped into your seat.

For an immersion in Icelandic seaside culture with the family, Sky Lagoon is an outdoor volcanic bathing complex. You also can’t go wrong with a family trip to the famous Blue Lagoon for a geothermal spa experience all ages can enjoy.

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One of Iceland’s most popular dishes is the hot dog. You’ll see dozens of stalls selling pylsur, served on a steamed bun with a variety of tasty fillings, bringing smiles to many children’s faces without putting a dent in their parents’ wallets.

Reykjavik also makes a great base for exploring the country’s scenic southwest. Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and the waterfalls of Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss are all a short rental car ride from the town.

► Where to stay in Reykjavik

Once a furniture factory, Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Center has been imaginatively transformed into a modern hotel with local artwork and a retro vinyl collection.

More from FamilyVacationist: offers family vacation ideas; family vacation spots; all-inclusive family resorts; and essential travel accessories for families of all shapes, sizes and orientations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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