I absolutely love Europe. The first time I traveled there, I was captivated by the delicious food, the quaint towns, the Christmas markets, and the various cultures that can be found throughout the continent. So, when I had children, I wanted to bring them to Europe as early as possible. But a European family vacation is a both a bit time and money commitment, so you want to make sure you plan for it to be the best vacation possible.
Introducing your kids to foreign cultures, people, food, and landmarks can be such a rewarding experience. I absolutely recommend bringing your children there for at least one family trip to Europe. Traveling with children to Europe can be so much fun. Here are our tips for visiting Europe with kids. Have you been?
Europe With Kids: Steps for a Successful European Family Vacation
Choosing the Right Age to Travel To Europe
The first thing that you’ll need to do is figure out what the right age is to visit Europe. This really depends upon what you are hoping to get out of your vacation. If you want to travel to Europe, and happen to have children with you, you can probably go when the kids are younger because you won’t be looking for them to completely understand everything they see. But, if you want your kids to learn and see things that they may have heard about in school, you may consider waiting until your children are older.
For us, we decided to wait until the kids were old enough to handle a long, overnight flight without too much difficulty. That ended up being when they were 10 and 11. We definitely weren’t interested in flying to Europe with a toddler, although many do that with no issues. We just wanted it to be a little easier on us.
It’s a good idea to think about how your kids handle travel, and then make your decision based upon that. You’ll want to plan the trip well in advance and make sure that you are set up for success.
Deciding Where to Go in Europe With Kids
Once you’ve decided when to take your kids, you’ll want to figure out where to go in Europe. It’s a huge continent with so many different options.
Perhaps you want to visit a spot with beautiful scenery, like Italy. Or maybe you’d prefer going somewhere with rich history, like Greece. Some families want to visit specific tourist attractions, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Tower of London in London, or Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany , which looks like a castle from a fairy tale.
If you don’t have a very specific destination in mind, think about whether you want to go to only one place, or tour several different cities/countries. That will determine how long you need to go, and how much preparation you need to do in advance.
For our first trip to Europe, we wanted to go to Italy. We love Italian food, and my husband’s mother is from Italy. The kids had heard so much about it and wanted to see it. My husband and I also wanted to travel there, so it was the perfect spot.
For our second trip, we decided on Greece. My son and daughter had learned about ancient Greece in school and we felt that it was the perfect timing for a trip to visit. Both kids wanted to go there as well.
This past year, we decided on England and France. Although my husband and I had both visited several times, the kids really wanted to see both of those countries, as well as all of the popular monuments and attractions (we also went to Disneyland Paris, which they really enjoyed).
If you don’t know which country to visit, you may consider sticking with England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland, where English is spoken. They are much easier trips because of that, and are also easy flights from the US (especially England).
Involving kids in the decision making process is always a good idea, especially if your kids are old enough. Making them part of the process can really make them feel responsible for the trip.
European countries that you may consider include:
- The rest of the United Kingdom
Consider a Guided Tour to Europe With Kids
If you are a regular reader here, you know that we love traveling with Adventures by Disney to Europe. While you can absolutely plan your own trip to Europe, a guided tour may be a great option if you aren’t sure where to start.
Guided tours allow you to see so many different things in one trip. You won’t need to worry about figuring out the best time to visit specific attractions, or how to avoid crowds. Instead, your guides will have everything planned for you.
You also won’t need to decide where to stay or how to get from one place to another. Everything will be arranged in advance. You just have to show up when they tell you to. My kids have also made some great friends on our tours and have always enjoyed hanging out with other kids. Some guided tour companies, like Adventures by Disney, cater specifically to families traveling with kids.
Another child friendly option is to take a European cruise. A cruise can make it easy to see multiple countries without too much effort. Instead of wasting time on a bus, you can enjoy all of the cruise ship amenities while you are traveling to the next spot on your itinerary. If you do decide to take a European cruise, you will need to plan out all of your excursions in advance. That way, you can take advantage of all of the fabulous locations you’ll be seeing. It can be easier, especially if traveling with young children, because you won’t have to switch hotels to see multiple places.
Planning Your Trip to Europe With Kids
Of course, if you want to plan your own trip from start to finish, that is absolutely an option. You’ll just want to dedicate some time to plan, because there’s a lot you’ll want to do before you go.
Once you know where you want to go, you’ll want to figure out when to travel. If you have older kids, it can be more challenging to find a good time to travel for a longer period of time. For us, we struggle to find time when the kids aren’t in sports, school, or theater. We usually end up with just two or three weeks to choose from, typically in the summer.
Check the weather during your planned vacation time. Summer is extremely popular in Europe, and some destinations can be very hot. We were in Greece in August, and it was pretty brutal. We still loved that trip, and would do it again. But it was important to be prepared.
You’ll also want to think about how much time you want to spend in each location, if visiting multiple spots. I’ve always wanted more time in every place I’ve visited on our European trips. Try to balance the amount of time in each place with the amount of places you go to. If at all possible, it’s a great idea to spend about two weeks in Europe. That’s sometimes difficult with our schedule, but we never go for less than 9 nights (including the red eye flight there).
If you haven’t already been to the spots you are visiting, you’ll want to do some research. You will want to figure out what hotels to stay in and what attractions to visit. You’ll also want to get any tips on when to visit. For instance, you’ll probably want to visit some destinations early in the morning. In other cases, like with the London Eye, you may have the option to purchase tickets that let you skip the line.
Start to fill in your daily schedule, then research ticket options and tickets for each attraction. Purchase tickets in advance in cases where you need to book a specific time for your visit. When we went to the Buckingham Palace State Rooms, I purchased those tickets weeks in advance to ensure availability.
You’ll also want to figure out how you’ll get from place to place. Will you use public transportation? Or perhaps you’ll need to rent a car? If so, you’ll want to make sure that your license and insurance will be valid for your rental.
Choosing a great family hotel is also important. Hotel rooms in Europe tend to be smaller than those in the United States, so keep that in mind when looking for the perfect spot. Location can be important, especially in cities, so it’s a good idea to look at reviews and/or ask friends for recommendations. In some places, we’ve had to get two connecting hotel rooms to accommodate our family of four. American chains can often have more amenities that US travelers are used to. But there are also some great, charming, family friendly local hotels and inns as well.
Booking airfare to Europe is my least favorite thing to do. There are often many confusing options with various layovers. Before you purchase, consider booking an extra day at the start of your trip, just to get acclimated to the time change. I have a really hard time sleeping on planes, so I often need a full day to recuperate before I’m ready to start touring. Be sure to get your seating assignments together, even if you have to pay extra to do that in advance. You won’t want to be separated from your kids for a flight of that length.
Final Research For Your Trip
Once you have the essentials planned and booked, you’ll still have a few things that you want to do. You may consider booking some tours – either city tours, or tours of specific attractions (separate from the admission). While some of these things can be purchased once you are in Europe, it may be easier to do research before you go. You may also consider a day trip to other locations, and that’s something that’s easier planned in advance.
Before you go, you’ll also want to do a little bit of research on money. Determine whether you’ll want to bring foreign currency with you, or if you’ll get some when you are there. We typically use the ATMs in the country we are visiting. But I’ll occasionally bring along foreign currency, especially if I have some left over from a prior trip.
Because you’ll probably want to use your credit cards on your trip, you’ll want to check to see what the foreign transaction fees are. They can add up, but many cards won’t charge a fee. You should also contact your banks to make sure that they know you are traveling overseas.
Tipping customs vary by country. Before you leave, find out if tipping is customary at your destination.
Well in advance of your trip, you should also review your documentation. Keep in mind that many countries will require your passport to be valid for at least 6 months prior to your trip.
Packing for Your Trip to Europe
I am always stressed packing for an overseas trip. It’s important that we have everything we need, especially if it’s something that may be challenging to find at our destination. Using vacation packing lists is a great way to make sure that you don’t forget anything. Look at the weather at your destination, as well as your plans, to make sure you have the right type of clothing packed.
It’s also important that you pack any toiletries and medications you may need. I tend to overpack these types of things for a trip to Europe with kids.
You may also need some other things (see our European packing list here):
- Lightweight backpack
- Portable charger
- European adaptors (make sure you have the right one – England, for instance, uses a different one than continental Europe)
- Comfortable shoes
A Note on Food Allergies and European Travel
My daughter is allergic to nuts and my son is allergic to peas. While we don’t let their allergies stop us from traveling, we make sure that we are very careful about what they eat when we are in Europe. We always err on the side of caution, and follow the motto “better safe than sorry”.
Before leaving, look at the most popular dishes of your destination to see if they contain allergens. During our recent trip to England and France this summer, we were most concerned about the mashed peas in England and the macarons in France.
We also have laminated cards made in the language of our destination explaining their allergies. We hand these to our servers so there’s no confusion in our communication.
I also pack cereal bars in our carry-ons for the flight. I’m super cautious about the airline food, so I usually make sure that my daughter has safe food for our flights.
While this may seem like a lot of steps to planning a perfect trip to Europe with kids, it’s the best way to make sure you have a successful trip. Have you been to Europe with kids?