Planning a European vacation that satisfies the youngest and oldest members of the family is no mean feat. Striking the delicate balance between creating an itinerary that only pleases the adults and one that caters solely to the smaller set requires some research and planning; here are 10 European attractions that are sure to be a hit with the entire family.
- The Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue) in Copenhagen, Denmark – Pint-sized fans of The Little Mermaid are sure to be delighted with a short trip to Langelinie on the harbor, where Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved character is immortalized. Visiting the statue is free, making it an economical stop on an otherwise expensive vacation.
- Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium – The Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels is a four-story structure filled with a staggering array of musical instruments. Little music aficionados will be enthralled with the full-sized 17th century orchestra, and the headphones at most exhibits allow kids to listen to recordings of the more exotic offerings. There’s even a special area for kids, with interactive displays that bring the music to life.
- Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London, England – Taking a break from the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced European vacation is a welcome prospect for harried parents and jet-lagged kids alike. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, an oasis of lush plant life and footpaths, fits the bill for families in need of a bit of relaxation. The Diana Fountain and Speaker’s Corner are highlights, as is the Serpentine Lake.
- Mini-Europe in Brussels, Belgium – If your brood wants to visit Big Ben, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Mount Vesuvius in one fell swoop, then Belgium’s Mini-Europe might be the way to go. Set on five acres just north of Brussels, this theme park enables families to view scale models of famed European attractions that they might be forced to skip otherwise due to time or financial constraints.
- Natural History Museum in London, England – Located in the Kensington Neighborhood, the Natural History Museum is a perennial favorite of travelers and London families alike. The Natural History Museum offers an “Explorer Backpack” to kids under the age of seven that is stocked with activities and kid-pleasers, and also boasts more than seventy million specimens and a simulated earthquake, making it a must-see destination. Best of all, admission is free!
- Bernabeu Stadium (Estadio Santiago Bernabeu) in Madrid, Spain – Soccer fans, both young and old, will be in athletic heaven visiting Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu; accommodating more than 70,000 devoted football enthusiasts on game day, the stadium is available for tours on non-game days. Visitors and locals alike claim that the only way to get the “full experience” is to attend a Real Madrid game.
- Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, France – When kids begin to get restless after spending the day in Parisian museums and cathedrals, a jaunt to Jardin des Tuileries may be in order. With an amusement park in operation during the warmer months and two de rigueur Parisian open-air cafes nearby, the beautifully maintained gardens are a treat for the whole family.
- Belgian Comic Strip Museum in Brussels, Belgium – Brussels makes the family-friendly attractions list yet again with their Belgian Comic Strip Museum. Kid and adult fans alike delight in the over 400 original drawings and printing plates, thousands of cartoons, and staggering on-site library. Beloved characters like the Smurfs, Tin Tin and Charlie Brown all make appearances, charming young visitors.
- Camera Obscura and World of Illusions in Edinburgh, Scotland – At the top of the Royal Mile, visitors to Scotland will find the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, which is one of Edinburgh’s most popular and adored attractions. The humorous tour guides and interactive exhibits inspire giggles in the little ones, with holograms and optical illusions taking center stage in the Victorian tower.
- Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany – The world’s largest model railway might not seem very exciting at first blush to families without a train-crazy little one, but Miniatur Wunderland is one of the most popular and successful permanent exhibits in Northern Germany for a reason. This awe-inspiring attraction has been under constant construction since 2001, with the ever-evolving model growing to encompass perfect likenesses of many of the world’s most well-known and beloved locales.
Some resorts and luxury European hotels offer childcare, either on-site or through an outside contract with a carefully selected and accredited agency. Choosing accommodations through these hotels and resorts will allow parents to slip off for an evening of more intellectual, adult-minded fun while still ensuring that their little ones are entertained.