2015 is going to be a great summer for families traveling to Europe. The US dollar is the strongest it’s ever been against the euro, the World Fair is happening in Milan, and rail passes have begun to include even more benefits and discounts for families traveling together (the Eurail Passes are the latest addition to these discounts). Bon voyage indeed!
Here’s our guide & travel tips for the best family attractions in Europe this summer:
Milan: Expo Milano Children’s Park
As we mentioned in a recent blog post, this year’s World’s Fair (or Expo Milano) is taking place in Milan, Italy this year. Most of the Expo’s attractions are geared towards adults, but there is one whole area of the park that the kids will love: Children’s Park. This area is designed to look like a little forest and is equipped with interactive, educational, and fun activities that break down a huge, hard-to-grasp issue (sustainability in food production) in a way that kids will understand and enjoy.
Children can pedal stationary bikes to create musical tunes, discover new scents in the herb scent-identification site, or sit in awe during the special Cirque du Soleil show created just for the Expo.
(Bonus: the Children’s Museum in Milan, which is usually closed for a short period of time during the summer, will remain open for the entire duration of Expo Milano)
Travel Tip: If you’re headed to Expo Milano, we’ve got tickets and train travel advice for you.
Amsterdam: Canal Boat Tours & Bike Rides
Amsterdam is a small city, the perfect size for families who don’t want to get lost in one of those huge foreign cities that begins to feel like a maze after a while. Canal boat rides are a fun, unique way for kids (and adults!) to experience a new city — and plus, is there anything better than a relaxing boat ride down a beautiful canal on a sunny summer day? Didn’t think so. Just make sure no one tries to jump overboard.
If the kids are a bit older, try a bike! Amsterdam is basically the capital of bike-riding in Europe (it’s estimated that almost 40% of all daily trips around the city are made by bike), and make sure to stop by the NEMO Science Center, the largest science center in The Netherlands. With its 5 floors of interactive science exhibits, it’s the perfect option for kids who might get too antsy trying to navigate the Van Gogh Museum or Rijksmuseum.
Travel Tip: City Cards & Passes (like the Canal Bus Day Pass) are great for families — it’s often less expensive than purchasing all of your transport tickets separately if you’re going to be making a lot of trips, and if you have a city card then you’ve only got one document you need to keep track of, rather than five metro tickets here and three bus passes there. Canal boat tour tickets can also be purchased in advance from our website and sometimes come with a bonus offer for a museum or attraction!
Barcelona: Park Guell & The Barcelona Zoo
The stunning Park Guell will delight adults and kids alike. Visitors can either hike up to the top or take the outdoor escalators that run alongside the stairways. Once at the top, the view of the city is breathtaking. The park itself looks like some sort of colorful dream come to life, with its curving walls and endless mosaics.
Adults can enjoy experiencing one of Antonio Gaudi’s most famous architectural works, and kids will love running around in the fresh air and experiencing the wonderland vibe of this park.
After the park, hop on over to the Barcelona Zoo, located centrally in the beautiful Parc de la Ciutadella. This zoo has got all of the usual suspects: lions, chimps, hippopotamuses, giraffes and elephants — and the dolphin show is supposed to be pretty entertaining. The Zoo is one of the stops on the Barcelona Bus Turistic city tour.
Travel Tip: If you’re traveling by train through Spain, you might consider the RENFE Spain Pass. It’s an electronic, print-at-home rail pass that’s great if you’re taking more than 3 or so trips by train in a one-month period. There is a discounted fare for the child’s pass (age 4-13), and children under 4 are free when sharing a seat with an adult.
Also: In Premier class on certain high-speed AVE train routes, there are special family amenities like movies and board games to keep the kids entertained while you’re traveling to your next destination.
Copenhagen: Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens is the 2nd oldest amusement park in the world (the oldest is also in Denmark and opened in 1583!). You can find all of the usual amusement park amusements: roller coasters (including one of the oldest operating wooden coasters in the world), bumper cars, a ferris wheel (the world’s 2nd tallest, offering stunning panoramic views of the city), a giant swing, a fun house, and plenty more.
There are also a few attractions you won’t necessarily find in other amusement parks: the “Flying Trunk” (a ride that takes visitors through 32 of Hans Christian Anderson’s famous fairy tales), a Pantomime Theater with free pantomime shows, a few concert halls and performance stages, the Tivoli Boys Guard (think the guards you see in front of Buckingham Palace in London, except much younger and slightly different outfits) and summertime fireworks shows.
And parents, take heart: there is a beer garden for you.
Travel Tip: Tivoli Gardens is one of the discounted attractions included with the Copenhagen Card.
Germany: Fairy Tale Route
This one seems pretty self-explanatory. Who wouldn’t want to travel down a fairy tale route? It starts in Hanau in the Bavarian region (just outside of Frankfurt and the birthplace of the famous Grimm brothers) and ends in Bremen (about 370 miles total). The route follows important settings from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood’s house in Alsfeld, the Snow White Museum in Bad Wildungen, Sababurg Castle in Reinhardswald Park (more commonly referred to as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle), and more.
Travel Tip: If you plan to travel a good portion of this route, or around Germany in general, you may want to consider the German Rail Pass as a budget-friendly option. The pass offers a great family discount — up to 2 children (ages 6-11) ride free with each adult traveler.
Switzerland: Scenic Train Rides
Sometimes a train ride is a great family-friendly activity in itself. Think about it — what’s not to like about getting cozy in a train seat, turning on some music or taking out a pack of playing cards, and enjoying a few hours of downtime (or naptime) with your family?
The Swiss Scenic Train routes are perfect for this. It’s hard to beat the views out of the Glacier Express windows on your way up to Zermatt, and kids will love getting a glimpse of quaint little Swiss villages out the windows of the Bernina Express.
Many of these train routes also pass through or stop at some of Switzerland’s finest skiing resorts (for winter travel) and hiking destinations (for summer travel). A long, relaxing train ride is a great way to decompress after a good hike or two, or an afternoon on the slopes.
Travel Tip: The Swiss Travel Pass offers excellent discounts for families. With the Swiss Family Card (which comes free upon request at the time of purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass) kids under 16 travel free with a parent or legal guardian. Also: for a limited time (at the time of this blog post’s publication) save 20% off Scenic Train reservations!
Salzburg, Austria: Sound of Music Sightseeing
In March of this year, The Sound of Music film celebrated its 50th anniversary. Salzburg, the setting for this story, is usually quite Sound of Music-friendly to begin with, but this year it’s even more exciting to visit because of this milestone anniversary.
Visit Mirabell Gardens and the Pegasus Fountain (sites of a famous dancing scene from the movie), Leopoldskron Palace (the home of the Von Trapp family in the film), and other important settings from the movie like Mondsee Church and Hellbrun Palace. As you stroll through the quaint city streets, you’ll have a view of the hills that were — and still seem to be — so famously alive with that sound of music.
Travel Tip: Salzburg is just over 2 hours from Vienna and about 1.5 hours from Munich, and easily reachable from many other major European cities. Salzburg is one of the options (along with Vienna, Budapest, and Prague) for the Central Europe Triangle Pass.
Further Resources for Traveling With Children
Here are a few more resources we think might help you out with your family trip planning for this summer (click on each item below to be directed to a page with more information):
- Easy 30-second FAQ videos (covering everything from luggage to overnight trains to seat reservations & more)
- New Eurail Pass discounts for children in 2015
- Luggage FAQs
- Rail Passes that include discounts for children: German Rail Pass, Swiss Travel Passes, certain Eurail Passes, Renfe Spain Pass