Sure, city trips with kids may involve fewer cocktails, leisurely meals and lazy mornings than they might do otherwise, but that’s not to say they can’t be wonderfully fun and stress-free. Urban environments offer plenty of activities to suit travellers of all ages and it’s rewarding to see your children getting as much joy out of a city as you do.
However, as parents who’ve tried it know, negotiating busy streets with a demanding entourage – be they toddlers or teens – can be a challenge. Curb the chaos with these tried-and-tested tips.
Get to know the city
Before you go, capture your kids’ imaginations with films and books about your chosen city. Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral will look a lot more interesting to youngsters if they’re on the lookout for its resident hunchback, and the Spider-man series will have them yearning to see New York’s skyscrapers for real.
Once you’re there, look for local guided walks aimed specifically at kids – tourist offices may offer special family trails. If your kids can ride (or fit in a child seat) they may prefer to whizz through the streets on a bike tour. Either way, getting your bearings on arrival makes navigating your destination during the rest of your stay a lot simpler.
Choose the right place to stay
Renting an apartment is often the easiest way to go; you can self-cater when it suits you, keeping mealtimes simple – and you don’t have to worry about disturbing other guests. You also have a bit more space to spread out and relax when you need to take a breather.
That said, staying in a hotel is often fun too; you can take a break from chores and children will relish it as a novelty – just watch their eyes light up when you order room service. If there’s a pool, even better.
Whichever lodgings you choose, location is key. Long commutes into the city eat into precious sightseeing time, so choose somewhere central or find a nearby bolthole with decent transport links.
Go with the flow
Don’t be too ambitious when it comes to itinerary planning. With kids in tow you may not be able to walk as far or as fast as you would on your own – slowing down and staying flexible should minimise moaning and prevent burn out.
Keep kids engaged at museums and galleries with audio guides – many attractions provide narration specifically aimed at younger visitors. If your little ones are prone to museum fatigue, you may find that castles, palaces and monuments hold their attention for longer.
Kids also love squares with fountains, sculptures, street stalls and entertainers. Head to these pedestrianised areas to relax, browse stalls and people watch when you feel the need to slow down.
Have a bad-weather backup plan
Think about the weather when timing your visit. Cold temperatures are manageable with the right clothing but being out all day in the rain can be miserable, and getting stuck indoors away from home may not be much fun.
Luckily, many cities are virtually weatherproof, with a positively splendid wealth of kid-friendly indoor entertainment such as interactive museums, play centres, ice-rinks, bookshops and theatres. When planning your trip, keep a few rainy day options up your sleeve to lift dampened spirits.
Try out quirky transport
Taking unusual local transport is all part of the adventure in a city. Hopping on a boat, cable car, funicular, rickshaw or tram can be a real highlight of your trip and provide a different perspective on a city.
If you’re bringing a buggy, make it a small, light, foldaway one, rather than a monster – it’ll be easier on narrow pavements and for getting on and off your chosen means of transport.