Like all travel changes when you have kids, the same goes for city trips. Family city trips really aren’t the same as city trips for couples, especially when you have young kids. Regular breaks for food, play and relaxation are requirements for a fun city trip with kids. And you really shouldn’t leave your hotel or Airbnb apartment without a daypack full of snacks, baby wipes and your baby carrier. Even though the experience is quite different, we love discovering new cities with our little world traveler. We also play local tourist a lot in our hometown Haarlem.
Our son has just turned 4 and we clearly see how different ages require different travel approaches. And different travel accessories too. When our little world traveler was really young, a baby carrier and/or stroller were on our packing list, but this has now changed to good walking shoes and toys… lots of toys. When traveling to European destinations, we do travel with carry-on only. But limited space is actually a good thing. As he grows older, our little worldtraveler has a better idea of what he wants and how he wants it. Which can sometimes make life more difficult, but is also fantastic to observe. In our experience, it’s definitely easier to travel with a baby than with a toddler or preschooler!
Age 1,5: visiting many cities in South East Asia
As part of our 10-month adventure in South East Asia we visited many large Asian cities, such as Hanoi, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Although our first time in a big city with our little one was a bit overwhelming, we were experts by the time our Asian adventure ended a good few months later. The Manduca baby carrier was a life saver during these city trips. It’s just that much easier and safer getting on and off trains and metros when you have your hands free. Our little boy enjoyed being at eye level, safely strapped to my back, but being able to see what was going on around him. While we tried to follow his routine as much as possible and therefore restricted ourselves mostly to sightseeing during the morning, we still greatly enjoyed these city breaks with our toddler.
Age 2,5: Family city break to Berlin, Vienna and Prague
When we went to Vienna, Prague and Berlin for two weeks, our little world traveler was 2,5. All three of these European cities are great for young kids. We feel that especially Berlin deserves a spot in the list of best European cities for kids. Berlin has lots of great playgrounds and parks and plenty of interesting activities for kids. For this trip we brought a buggy and a Tula toddler carrier for our son. Even though our little man stopped doing naps a few months before, while en route he started napping again and city tripping was easy. Although I have to say, we’ve never before seen so many playgrounds.
Age 3,5: family getaway to Milan, Italy
Our little one is four now and we haven’t used a buggy or back carrier in over a year. When he was 3,5 we spend a family break in Milan, and we really should have brought a carrier. Our little man is a pretty good walker, but he’s not up to walking around a city for hours. We clearly overestimated his ability to walk these long stretches. That’s a mistake we’ll try not to make again. Still, we managed to see quite a bit of fashion city Milan, and all three of us enjoyed it. In fact, our little one keeps asking when we’re going back!
Best cities for family city trips
Being from the Netherlands, European city breaks are a great and relatively inexpensive way for us to escape for a bit and discover new places. Of course, capital cities are an obvious choice for a city break, but you can often get a better deal visiting smaller cities. Not unimportant for budget travelers like ourselves. We chose Milan over Rome and Venice because it’s much cheaper to fly there and accommodation is less expensive too. To be honest, we feel city trips with kids to well-known destinations can be a bit disappointing. If you’re only visiting for a short break, you’ll never be able to see all the city has to offer with small kids in tow. It’s actually our experience that almost every city is suitable for a city trip. You might not experience the ‘wow’ factor that you get when seeing the Eiffel tower, the Sagrada Familia or the Colosseum, but the experience of being abroad will still be worth it.
Our tips for city breaks with children
Weekend breaks with kids are an excellent way to spend some quality family time and can be a great learning experience for kids. So, how do you prepare for short breaks with kids?
1. Relax and enjoy
This really is our number 1 tip for any type of travel with kids. As long as you are relaxed, your kids are as well. Where city breaks as a couple can be quite stressful and filled with long days of touring all the important landmarks, that simply is not an option with children. So you might as well relax and enjoy. Take many breaks to let the kids run and play, and they won’t mind sightseeing a bit.
2. Adjust your expectations & choose
Sure the Eiffel tower is worth seeing and when visiting Berlin you surely want to go to the Wall, but when you go on a city break with your kids you have to adjust your expectations. Pick one or two things that you absolutely want to see and be happy if you can fit anything more into your schedule.
3. Do your homework
Do your homework, check some local blogs, ask around in local Facebook groups, but be sure to find out where to find the best playgrounds, kids’ cafes and other kids activities. If you plan this right, you can even slip in a landmark or two if they are close to a cool playground! Our son now also loves visiting museums, so I always check the best kids’ museums in the area.
4. Slow down & enjoy local life
City tripping as a couple was mostly about seeing as much of the city as possible. Now that we travel with our son, I find that I really enjoy slowing down and soaking up the local culture. When traveling with a child, it’s much easier to meet and talk to locals! And even a simple trip to a supermarket can be fun! I’ve never seen so many types of pasta in my life as when we were in Milan. We also try a lot more local eateries in the area where we’re staying and see more of the neighborhood.
5. Bring toys
Having some toys to play with can make life so much easier when you travel with kids. When we were in Asia, we always made sure to put some toy cars in our daypack. And we notice other parents doing the same. When we hiked up Little Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka, we met another family at the top. Their boy and our little guy played with some toy cars they had brought with them, while we parents shared stories of our travels. In restaurants, the toy cars have often been a lifesaver, especially if the food took a while to reach our table. Our son also enjoys reading, so we always bring a few books to read to him.
Do you enjoy city tripping with your kids? What tricks do you use? What tips for city breaks with kids do you have for other parents? Leave a comment; we’d love to know!