Bored by Barcelona? Been to Berlin? If you’ve roamed Rome, and are daunted by the prospect of taking the kids to sophisticated Paris or busy London, consider one of these compact cultural centres for a European break instead. Here we suggest some exciting city destinations (and lovely lodgings) that all the family will enjoy.
Flat and with good public transport (an urban bus and metro network connects to the airport), Valencia is easy for families to explore. Hire bicycles to visit the science museum and Europe’s largest aquarium at the City of Arts and Science, then explore the numerous parks and gardens (with playgrounds) – there’s even an animal-tastic Bioparc. Get the Valencia Family Card (24/48/72-hour options) for free travel and museum entry, plus 15% off other visitor attractions. The beach is close by.
Stay in the heart of the old city, just 5 minutes from all the historical sites and great shopping, in the sleek 1-3 bedroom Valencia Boutique Apartments – brand new on i-escape!
This fascinating historical city has more to offer families than you might think. We took our kids on a boat trip up the River Douro, explored the UNESCO-listed Ribeira district with its wonky-looking buildings, and tucked into Portuguese pastries for lunch. You can rent tandems to cycle to the beach or spot ducks and rabbits in City Park, and there’s a cool Oceanarium with touch pools and an underwater tunnel.
We stayed in a Suite at The Yeatman. Kids are welcomed with colouring books and candy, plus it has 2 pools, a kids’ club space with heaps of toys and games (unsupervised outside school holidays) and a garden to run around. There’s round-the-clock babysitting on offer, so parents are free to go port-tasting, indulge in the sumptuous spa or unwind with an adults-only dinner (as we did).
You may not think of the Spanish capital as a great family-friendly destination: its climate is relatively challenging and kids aren’t likely to marvel at the wonders in the Prado or want to trawl fashion boutiques. However, there’s plenty to keep them engaged: take them on the cable car for excellent views over the city, or explore the parks, which include Casa de Campo (where there’s a large amusement park as well as the zoo). Retiro has a boating lake and plentiful street theatre, and football-mad tykes will enjoy a tour of Real Madrid’s stadium. On rainy days, try the Museo de America for its cabinet of curiosities. There’s also a lovely botanical garden next door to the Prado, and the Spanish take their children everywhere so kids are welcomed in all public places.
Madrid Boutique Apartments have just been added to i-escape. These are large, bright and centrally placed, with 1 or 2 bedrooms and full kitchens, and epitomise living like a local in style.
If you’re unfamiliar with this historic Spanish city, 12km inland from the Atlantic, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Best known for its surrounding sherry vineyards, it has a long history (Romans, Vandals, Moors, Castilians, Conquistadors) evident in its car-free medieval old quarter, and is a centre for flamenco dancing. Families will find it easy to explore, plus there’s a zoo, an Aqualand water park and beaches just 20 minutes away. Jerez is also home to a famous classical riding school which puts on a dancing stallion horse show every week. Visit al fresco cafes, plazas with playgrounds, and the lovely Botanical Gardens.
Base yourself in the old city in loft-style light-filled Apartment 43 which has 2 ensuite bedrooms, kids’ DVDs, puzzles and books – self-catering in the open-plan kitchen is a doddle.
Kids will find this city on stilts absolutely fascinating. There’s a maze of alleyways to scamper through, exciting water taxis to travel in, abundant ghoulish history, magical evening gondola rides and colourful masks to buy. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is small enough for kids to engage with and has a lovely garden. Take the children swimming at the Lido and to see the pigeons at Piazza San Marco. Italians are unfailingly patient with younger fry, and the food suits even the fussiest of eaters.
Oltre Il Giardino is an intimate villa hotel with a safe, secret walled garden and plenty of family-sized rooms to choose from.
When discussing small cities that deliver big on culture, Edinburgh needs no introduction. There are heaps of museums, theme parks, ghost tours and zoos, plus activities specifically geared for families. All festivals, including the Fringe, have kids’ shows (we took ours to a great performance at the Pleasance this year) and there’s plenty of entertaining street theatre. Time your visit for the Science Festival in April or the International Children’s Theatre Festival in May. Our kids loved scrambling around Edinburgh Castle, and next time we’ll head for the Museum of Childhood and Butterfly and Insect World.
The Chester Residence apart-hotel has spacious, stylish interiors, full kitchens, DVDs and PlayStation games. They can supply baby and toddler gear, and the West End location is wonderfully convenient.
Don’t tell the nippers about Granada’s amazing history and cultural importance, just say you’re bringing them to Catherine of Aragon’s palace (the Alhambra is where she grew up). They’ll love its extensive gardens and towers, and you can buy a themed colouring book – best of all, kids under 12 are free (just be sure to pre-book your tickets). In inclement weather, head to the Science Museum where the exhibits are all translated into English; if you’re exhausted by sightseeing and shopping then tree-lined fountain-filled duck-ponded Parque Federico Garcia Lorca comes complete with a kids’ play area and provides a restorative picnic spot.
We recommend centrally-sited Muralla Ziri Boutique Apartments; most have kitchenettes and can take a baby cot, and some have swanky circular baths, too. Brunch boxes can be provided and groceries can bought for you.
Most parents would shudder at the thought of bringing their lively darlings to hushed art galleries and temples of Renaissance beauty. However, this magnificent city also delivers family-friendly fun. Pre-book tickets to the Uffizi and devise your own checklist of artworks for the kids to identify in person (or hire a kid-friendly guide), then pop next door to the Children’s Museum, which brings history alive by showing how the Medici lived and ruled. Little ones can wonder at the size and scale of the Duomo, ride the Antique Carousel in Piazza della Repubblica, and visit nearby Bartolucci, a wooden toy workshop where Pinocchios have been made for generations. And there’s always time to stop for a gelato…
We liked classy Residence Hilda for its well-equipped suites, comfy sofabeds and sleek kitchenettes. It’s just 3 blocks from the Duomo and there’s a playground round the corner.
Although it’s the largest city on this list and not necessarily an obvious family destination, the Turks actually love children and the city is sufficiently exotic and sight-filled that kids really take an interest. For boat trips, a cruise up the Bosphorus is a must, and the cute Princes Islands are safely car-free (folk get about by horse and cart or bicycle). Take the elevator to the top of the Galata Tower for 360-degree views across the Golden Horn; in the same area is the world’s largest model park which has a labyrinth and a playground. For something different check out the Basilica Cistern with its 336 marble columns and wishing corner. Don’t miss Topkapi Palace, which dazzles with dastardly deeds and boasts Abraham’s cooking pot amongst its relics. And there’s amazing shopping in the Grand Bazaar.
Live like a local in Istanbul Place Apartments in Galata: great value for money, each of the 7 apartments can take extra beds and baby cots, and there is excellent food shopping nearby