Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Kids, Travel and You: Part 3 Basic Activities in Europe


KIDS, TRAVEL AND YOU: PART 3- 
BASIC ACTIVITIES IN EUROPE

Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy
Check out the other articles in this series:
Part 1: Planning 
Part 2: Traveling with Ages 18-21
Part 4: Road Trips

What do you do with children in Europe? In this 3rd part of our series, we explore basic activities to do.

Capri, Italy
Plan in advance

As we stated in the first part, a successful family vacation depends on your already established family dynamics and how much prep you put into the process. Before you leave, plan local activities that will introduce your child to the culture they will see: restaurants, museums, US cities that resemble European cities and maybe some apps that introduce the language.

Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain
Is it right for everyone?

It is difficult to travel with children, but even more so with children under 3. Also, consider those with disabilities. There are stairs, canals, cobblestone alleys, steep streets and hotels and train stations without no elevators. Wheel chairs, strollers, canes and crutches were often not accommodated.

Amalfi Coast, Italy
Will it be the right time of year?

Take into account the time of year. Remember, the seasons are reversed past the equator (it's summer in Australia in February). Summer in Europe is hot and the down time is August. Some attractions have reduced hours or are closed altogether. Beach areas are crowded and beach hotel rates are high. Spring Break is a good time. It can still be crowded, but many attractions are open. The weather can be a gamble, but that's what museums are for.

Window display in pizza restaurant, Notting Hill, London

What to do?

Basic: play on-going games. Challenge your child to say hello, please, thank you, good-bye and their menu choice in the target language. Take a look at the details (an faces) on the old churches. The many piazzas (plazas) may street fairs, vendors, musicians, performers and carousels. 

St. James Park, London


Gardens: Springtime brings flowers and butterflies and rolling hills. Any place that encourages touching and participation is a guaranteed hit. Some museums are also gardens: your kids will want to pose by each sculpture at the Musee Rodin.  At Versailles, rather than touring each palace, opt for only Marie Antoinette's Estate and pay extra for the musical fountain show in the gardens in the evening.

Musee Rodin, Paris

Ferris Wheels ("Eyes"): They seem to be all the rage: London, Paris, Niagara Falls (Canada), a few places in Japan. We're even building one in NYC.  These are outside of the theme parks and there are often attractions surrounding them as add-ons.

Wax museums: Keep your children's ages in mind for these. Some have horror themes. For the others, it can be spooky standing next to a life size statue that looks like it may come alive at any moment. But, wax museums can be good history lessons and certainly a lot of fun.

Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate), Barcelona, Spain
Children's Museums: they are popping up more and more in Europe. The USA seems to be the place that is child-centered and places around the world are on the band wagon. The Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Florence (there's one in Milan, too) is hands on.  


Canals and steps and bridges, in Venice, oh, my!

Boat Rides: Venice, Capri, Versailles. If you have ever taken a ferry, your kids can handle this!



Buckingham Palace, London
Montjuic, Barcelona, Spain
Forts, castles and palaces: These are always a hit with kids: castles and cannons and towers and tales of pirates and adventures, oh my! They can be dusty, so don't wear your best clothing. 

Roland Garros: Site of the French Tennis Open, Paris, 
Olympic and Sports Museum, Barcelona

Sports arenas and museums: Many Olympic sites have been converted for public use, one can visit the four famous tennis open stadiums, or it could be high season for the local favorite. Check your local listings, as they say.

School bus in Positano, Italy
Schools: Depending on the age of your child, just walk by a local school. Seeing kids play in the yard somehow always links the cultures of the similarities, makes a city seem more real. For the older ones, walk by a famous university.

Magnet Butterflies

Shopping: Set down some ground rules before you go. Compare prices of their favorite sneakers and make them do the conversion, look at the language of the foods in a market and note the lack of huge supermarkets. Check out the many neighborhood marts and how people still shop daily for dinner. Finally, you may run into one of the farmer's markets.

Pizza...in Paris!

Restaurants: Eating can be a challenge, but while world cuisine is one reason to travel, at the same time, it's universal. Encourage kids to try new things but almost every place has fries (believe it or not). 

Arc de Triomf in Ciutadella Park, Barcelona, Spain
Tuileries Garden, near the Louvre, Paris

Central parks: When you have seen the Mona Lisa or Michaelangelo's David (which you should certainly do), take some down time, get ice cream  and walk in the park. Outside of the Louvre you have Tuileries Gardens, up the street from Buckingham Palace is St. James Park or visit one of the 8 Royal Gardens. Madrid has it's Parque de Retiro.
Piccadilly Circus, London


Night Time: Cities come alive and lights are fantastic at twilight. Make sure your lodging is in a well lit and well populated area. The Eiffel Tower actually gives a light show, vendors sell little toys with lights in Florence and Venice, London's Piccadilly Circus looks like Times Square and Barcelona's Ramblas seems to never sleep as you window shop. Fountains are lit up, families are taking strolls and you can walk off your dinner before putting the little ones to sleep.
Street artist in Siena, Italy
In the hotel room: Television programming is likely to be limited and children's programming may be sparse. I would suggest bringing a tablet with downloaded books, games and movies. If you have wi-fi, make it your child's job to research the next day's agenda and let him find it on the map.

All in all, taking children on a trip to Europe can be fun, educational and an adventure for all with just a few adjustments and some pre-planning.

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