Europe with Kids
If you are parents like us (those with a travel bug, wanting their kids to see as much of the world as possible), you might be asking yourselves some questions…
- Is elementary school too early to take my kids to Europe?
- Is Europe affordable & how much does it cost?
- How do I keep my kids engaged in so much history?
- Will they even remember the trip?
These are some of the questions we set out to answer for ourselves when we planned our recent trip to Europe in February. We are a family of 4, with two daughters (ages 7 and 9). We were pretty confident that our art-loving 9-year old would do fine with all the museums and history…but we weren’t sure about our spunky 7-year old. They both had one thing in common, however, they loved pastries & hot chocolate…so our first mission was to seek out the best places to enjoy these delicacies at every stop.
The Overall Itinerary:
We had the perfect trifecta when choosing a time to visit Europe: The kids were out of school, the soccer season was relatively slow, and it was off-peak travel time! February became our month to travel, which meant we had to plan for colder weather and perhaps less-than-ideal conditions. But hey… this was an adventure and we were going to have one rain or shine!
The first thing we did to build excitement with the kids, was by letting each of them choose a city to visit during our 2-week stay. One chose Rome and the other chose Paris.
Our itinerary ended up being:
- February 18 – February 19: Travel Days (About 17 hours of travel along with 8 hours of time loss)
- February 20 – February 23: Rome, Italy
- February 24 – February 27: Barcelona, Spain
- February 28 – March 4: Paris, France
- March 4: Travel Day Home (Gain back time)
Preparing for the vacation:
When we told the kids that we were going to Europe, they were very excited. They love going on vacations and this one was no different. We discussed how this vacation would be different than most… a little less beach/pool time… and a little more exploring and learning.
To give them a better idea of what it would be like, we got each of them a kid-friendly travel book for their city of choice and allowed them to tell us about some great sites to visit while we were there. We used “FlyingKids Travel Guides” and purchased them online.
These books were great vacation-starters with the kids. They were able to browse them before vacation and gave us a fun activity to do while exploring each city.
So what are the high-level costs?
What started this whole trip was the amazing deal we saw on flight prices. If you haven’t heard of www.kayak.com, I’d highly recommend them for flight searches and alerts. Here is a break-down of our costs for flights and accommodations:
|Flight to Rome (4 tickets at $494.25)||$1977.00|
|Rome – Airbnb (private apartment)||$542.00|
|Flight to Barcelona (4 Tickets at $48/person)||$191.92|
|Barcelona – Airbnb (private apartment)||$419.99|
|Flight to Paris (4 Tickets at $26/person)||$104.60|
|Paris – Airbnb (Private apartment)||$669.00|
What did we learn?
Each city had its own charm and excitement. We had a packed itinerary, some of which worked and some of which didn’t. Check it out:
Why we loved it: Romans love kids! Our girls got kissed and patted on the head everywhere we went. The food was amazing and it was easy to find kid-friendly food. The historical sites were the best of all the cities…and let’s face it, gladiator stories are kind of cool.
What we did:
- Day 1: Best of Rome walking tour with a Pizza Making Class: This was a great way to start our trip. We saw the heart of Rome with a knowledgeable guide and topped off the day with a fun pizza-making class that doubled as our dinner.
- Day 2: Colosseum 3-Tier Tour including the Roman Forum: The Colosseum was fantastic and we all enjoyed getting the special underground tour. The Roman Forum was a bit too much for the kids. Since the Colosseum ticket gets you into both, we would probably do the Roman Forum on our own next time.
- Day 3: Vatican City, St. Peters Basilica, and Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel: The Vatican City is a must-see. There was a local food-market where we bought an amazing picnic lunch for 10 Euro. The line to get into St. Peters Basilica was crazy, but worth it. We didn’t even make it to the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel. We were worn out… guess there is always next time. That evening we also did a Gladiator School for the kids: The instructor was a historian and very knowledgeable of gladiator and Roman-military history. The class started with a history lesson, which was a bit long for the kids. However, it ended with a hands-on demonstration and activity, which they loved. Read our full review here.
- Day 4: Souvenir shopping and a Roma soccer game! Only down-side was the amount of smoke in the stadium.
Why we loved it: Barcelona allowed us to slow down in between two big cities. There were a lot of parks and outdoor spaces to just let the kids play. The food was delicious and cheap!
What we did:
Day 1: Las Ramblas walk: Filled with flower stalls, open air markets, statues, and fountains, this is a great place to start.
Day 2: Picasso Museum & Ciutdella Park: The Picasso museum was just the right size for families: it had plenty to see, but wasn’t too big. We enjoyed seeing the progression of work from the early years to adulthood. In the afternoon, we grabbed all the fixings for a picnic and headed to the park with a soccer ball. This was all we needed to enjoy the rest of the day outside.
Day 3: Park Guell and Sagrada Familia Tour: Both are beautiful sites by the amazing architect Gaudi and are unlike anything else we’ve seen. We wish we could have spent more time at Park Guell and less time at the cathedral, but the guide was definitely knowledgeable and it had a nice bus transport in between the two locations. See full review here.
Day 4: Hop on/off bus: Great way to see the rest of the city and finish our stay.
Why we loved it: The desserts were amazing and the food techniques were impressive. It had so much charm and beauty at every corner. The Eiffel tower makes you smile every time you look at it… and the shopping was fantastic! *Tip: Get the Paris pass to avoid the lines and get in all the sites
What we did:
Day 1: Paris Picnic and Eiffel Tower: We started our Paris experience with a picnic overlooking the Eiffel Tower. The Picnic was top notch (even for foodies) and was so much food that we had leftovers. See our full review here.
Day 2: Heart of Paris Walk: We saw Notre Dame, Stravinsky Fountains, and did a speedy tour of the Louvre to see our top interests. Don’t expect the kids to spend the whole day at the museum…choose what you want to see and map it out!
Day 3: Disneyland Paris: It was great to have a kid-only day and to see a new side of Disneyland. While the park was similar to Anaheim, the décor was top-notch and the rides were great. *Tip: Download the “Heads Up!” app on your phone to make the lines go by faster.
Day 4: Well… we were going to go to Versailles Palace, but instead we just went shopping and ate a bunch of desserts.
Will the kids remember the trip?
So, the only question remaining is…will the kids remember the trip? I guess only time will tell. I have a general theory about vacations… take lots of pictures and create a photo book, this way I can prove to my kids they had a great childhood.
Bottom line to everyone thinking about taking their kids to Europe…do it! Look for good deals, save money where you can, but definitely enjoy the adventure!