Nurture Article | The Portland Hospital Parenting Magazine
Spring/Summer Issue 2014 | City Breaks
A CITY break can be the perfect getaway as a couple – seeing the sights and soaking up the atmosphere of a new place for a weekend. But is it possible to do city breaks with children?
Like most children, my son Louis doesn’t really enjoy ‘soaking up the atmosphere’. He would rather run down a street than meander slowly taking in the architecture.
So would taking him to Paris for a few days in half term be an enjoyable experience or total disaster?
According to Catherine Cooper, author of Travelling with Children: A Parent’s Guide, city breaks with children are doable and can be a very successful family break.
“City breaks as a family can be brilliant but, just like any other holiday with children, it’s important to plan ahead,” she says.
“That doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole break at a soft play centre or a theme park – most cities offer plenty of activities you can all enjoy.”
Most cities have their ‘must do’ attractions, and it’s worth taking time to check their websites before you go to see how family friendly they are - or if someone will have to stay outside with the baby buggy.
Many attractions now actively try to appeal to young visitors. The Eiffel Tower, for example, has a booklet for kids you can download from the website with fun facts to help get them excited and engaged before their visit.
“Many museums have special trails or worksheets for children to follow (The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, for example) which make a visit more fun for them,” says Catherine.
“Most children will happily explore a church or cathedral, especially if there is a tower to climb or a spooky crypt, as long as you are not there too long.
“I find my children also tend to enjoy modern art museums such as the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona or museums where some of the exhibits are outside such as the Rodin Museum in Paris so they can run around and let off steam a bit.”
Not everything you do needs to be blatantly aimed at the children – but having an element in each visit that appeals to them will really help.
“If you do want to spend some time wandering, then do it, but have a final destination in mind which is appealing to the children – for example, we are walking along this street because it leads to the best ice cream shop in Rome,” advises Catherine.
Another tip is not to plan on doing too much.
“City breaks can be tiring for anyone,” Catherine says. “Most cities have at least one nice park, so make sure you leave some time free for the children to play.”
Where you stay in a city can make or break the trip. If you have to travel miles to get to the sights each day, it will bore and tire children before the day has even begun. Also give some thought to the type of accommodation you stay in. Some hotels may offer babysitting facilities but a lot of hotels aren’t that family friendly.
“Consider renting an apartment rather than a hotel so that you have more flexibility at meal times (for example, in Spain it is hard to get dinner before 8pm) and you don’t all have to go to bed at the same time,” says Catherine.
Barcelona “My kids loved the Parc Guell - it combines both a park and art – brilliant,” says Catherine. There is plenty of other ways to keep the kids happy too including the cable car, hiring a funny four-seater bike to ride around one of the parks and, of course, the beach.
Amsterdam The advantage of this city is that it is small and easily explored. “Highlights for children include boat rides on the canal and a café in the Vondelpark where children can help make their own food,” says Catherine.
Marrakech This is the perfect destination for those wanting something a little more exotic. “My kids loved watching monkeys, acrobats and snake charmers in the main square,” says Catherine. “We also went for a caleche ride (a horse drawn carriage) and a mule-trek in the Atlas Mountains.
We found that the Moroccans adore children. However it’s not somewhere to go if you feel uneasy about strangers hugging your children and also probably not a place to go with children still in nappies – it’s not particularly buggy or baby-change friendly.”
Paris There is plenty for children to see here. “As well as the usual sights, it’s worth seeking out the Museum of Magic and the Jardin d’Acclimation – a little theme park for under-8s which you reach via a little train and is remarkably uncrowded even in August.”
By Lucy Elkins
Catherine Cooper is author of Travelling with Children: A Parent’s Guide published by Need to Know, RRP £9.99