My world prior to children revolved around ‘pin the airplane on the world map’. Fast forward a few years and I’m happy to say we still play that game. Of course, the difference being that my offspring now put the kibosh on certain destinations. Drawing on my experiences of child-friendly hotels and holidays, then… Here is a round-up of my top five favourite European destinations with little ones in tow.
European family holiday destinations
1. Puglia, Italy
Puglia, or Apulia is the heel of Italy’s boot. This southern region is often overlooked by travellers, particularly those with children. Full of rustic charm, pristine beaches, olive groves and miles of glistening Adriatic coastline, it’s the perfect playground for the family.
Where to stay in Italy with children.
Our home was at Borgo Egnazia, a gigantic recreated Italian village. Sounds odd, right? Wrong! It’s more like being on an epic Game of Thrones film set. Minus, you know the dragons and decapitations and stuff. Think sandstone buildings, olive groves, clock towers, piazzas and narrow alleyways, all complete with quirky interior design details – It’s a little slice of heaven! The Scott Dunn kids club is amazing, complimentary hire bikes, luxurious spa, cigar and whiskey room, plus several different restaurants offering tantalising food options adds to the five-star experience. The Timberlake and Biel nuptials famously took place at this fabulous hotel too. We were obviously there well before they put it on map.
Things to do in Italy with children.
The village of Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must see. Famous for it’s ‘Trulli’, tiny homes with cone-shaped roofs, decorated with magical symbols and held together with no concrete. They look like they’re designed for fairy folk and I almost expected a hobbit to walk out of the tiny doors any minute. It’s a magical town which fascinates people of all ages.
Polignano a Mare, a tiny fishing village famous for its caves and blue lagoons is perched on top of a 20 metre high limestone cliff above the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic. Famous for three things – Cliff diving, slightly difficult to experience. The second is their superb ice-cream, which cannot be missed. Finally the most famous export is Domenico Modugno (who?) he wrote the massive international hit and hollywood mafia wedding singer’s favourite: Volare! Still not ringing a bell? youtube it and you’ll recognise it!
What to eat in Italy?
Your tastebuds can’t leave Puglia without sampling orecchiette. Literally meaning ‘small ears’ in Italian, this ear shaped pasta is served with garlic, fresh tomatoes and ricotta cheese. Simple, delicious and oh so Puglian. One of the best places to try this dish is at La Cantina in Alberobello. Established in 1958, it’s a small trattoria with a few small tables, open kitchen and a menu full of yummy traditional dishes.
In the same vein it would be foolish to visit Polignano a Mare and not taste its most famous product – Ice cream! Bella Blu is a small artisan gelataria with the best homemade ice creams bursting with flavours.
How to get to Italy from the UK?
The flying time from the UK is 2 hours and 40 minutes to Brindisi or Bari airports followed by a 50 minute transfer from the airport, with either British Airways, Easyjet or RyanAir.
2. Vienna, Austria
Most people don’t put city breaks and young children together, but this city has something for everyone. For a city steeped in tradition, classical music and architectural history, you’ll be surprised at how child-friendly Vienna is.
Where to stay in Austria with children?
We laid our heads at the Radisson Blu Style hotel. It’s beautifully designed and located in Vienna’s historical city centre. A big plus being it’s walking distance to a number of ‘must-see’ attractions. We stayed in a junior suite, with the bedroom separated from the living area by a sliding door and large enough for two adults and two children.
Things to do in Austria with kids.
The legendary Wiener Prater theme park is the oldest amusement park in the world. It’s origins date back to 1162 AD! Entry into Prater is free, but the individual attractions charge. Don’t miss a ride on the giant ferris wheel Wiener Riesenard. Spectacular views of the city from nearly 200 metres up.
Schönbrunn Palace has extensive gardens for little tikes to let off steam, and a children’s museum too. They can experience royal life, dress up as imperial children, try on wigs, set up banquet tables and play with imperial toys. There is even a zoo on the outskirts of the palace grounds.
Inspire your mini musicians by immersing yourself in the life and music of Wolfgang Mozart at Mozart House. They offer family audio guided tours of his Viennese residence and the children guides are available in 11 different languages. Or for a dose of Princess, go see a performance at the Spanish Riding School – or simply take a horse & cart ride just outside.
Vienna nurtures musical theatre and opera for children. The Vienna State Opera offers children’s operas nearly year-round from a big tent on top of the Opera House. Lasting about an hour, tickets sell out months in advance, so pre-booking is essential. The kids weren’t lucky enough to go but the adults were! We wrangled a child-free evening and watched a mesmerising performance of ‘The Barber of Seville’. I highly recommend an evening at the Vienna State Opera – it’s oh so special!
What to eat in Austria?
Without a doubt a Sachertorte, essentially a chocolate sponge cake with a thin layer of apricot filling and dark chocolate icing. Where best to eat it than Hotel Sacher, famed for creating the original Sachertorte back in 1832.
How to get to Austria from the UK?
Flight time from the UK is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Vienna International airport is only a 20 minutes from the city centre. With services from British Airways and Easyjet.
3. Cotswolds, United Kingdom
One of the UK’s area of natural outstanding beauty, people come from all over the world to experience this picturesque place. With its postcard perfect villages and landscapes, the Cotswold has more than natural beauty to offer.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds?
Calcot Manor a 14th century farmhouse, three miles from Tetbury. The weathered stone farmhouse houses 35 guest rooms. You also get an amazing spa, an Ofsted-registered crèche in the kids’ Playzone (where you can leave little ones for a couple of hours at a time) and two restaurants. The hotel’s baby listening service means you can also enjoy a romantic meal whilst the kids sleep soundly (hopefully!).
The Manor’s 220 acres of grounds feature cycling trails, walking paths, tennis courts and during the summer, a maize maze. You can borrow bikes with child seats, children’s bicycles and helmets free from the spa for your own little tour des Cotswolds adventures.
Things to do in the Cotswolds with kids.
The gorgeous landscapes – There are plenty of easy strolls you can do with small people. One of the best is the mile long walk between two of the area’s prettiest villages: Upper and Lower Slaughter (names can be very deceiving!). You can reward yourselves with handmade organic ice cream from the Old Mill tea rooms at the end!
If visiting between June and September, don’t miss Cotswold Lavender in Snowshill. From about mid July, the lavender is in the most breathtaking bloom. We arrived a bit early for the full bloom, but the aromas nonetheless were intoxicating.
Castle Combe is a chocolate box village and a firm favourite with Hollywood film and TV companies. Little has changed, architecturally since the 15th century, there are still no street lights or TV aerials. It has won the coveted ‘Prettiest Village in England’ award so many times. You’d be foolish not to go and see what the fuss is about. Or at least watch Stardust and War Horse again just for the scenery.
Where to eat in the Cotswolds?
When in the Cotswolds it’s all about the cream tea – you’ll find them everywhere. One of my favourites was at Cotswold Lavender, where I fell in love with their heavenly lavender scones and still crave them.
How to get to the Cotswolds?
The glorious region touches five counties – Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. From London it’s a 1.5 hour drive. The fact that there is no airport check-in is a huge bonus! So, depending on where you live it’s only a few hours drive or relaxing train journey away.
4. Paphos, Cyprus
The incredible island of Cyprus is located in the warmth of the Southern Mediterranean. With influences from Turkey, Greece, and the Middle East, it’s a fascinating country to visit. Offering superb beaches, secluded villages, cosmopolitan resorts and unique historic attractions.
Where to stay in Cyprus with children?
There was only one hotel for us – The Almyra. This hip, minimalist hotel is the answer for all relaxation craving parents. The large black slate-lined outdoor freshwater swimming pool overlooking the sea is a winner, along with the shallow, shaded splash pool for babies and toddlers. The adults only award-winning AlmyraSpa, with its Vichy showers, yoga deck and outdoor infinity pool was an instant hit. Add to this the Scott Dunn kids club and Baby Go-Lightly service the hotel offers (pre-order infant essentials before you leave and they’ll be waiting for you on arrival) we were in heaven.
Things to do in Paphos with children.
Down the road from the hotel, next to Paphos harbour is Kato Paphos Archaeological Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to prehistoric times and contains impressive Roman architecture and stunningly preserved mosaics.
The Tomb of the Kings is full of amazing underground tombs dating back to the 4th century BC. Go and release your inner Tombraider!
You can also visit the famous mythological site Baths of Aphrodite located on the Akamas peninsula. It’s a small grotto shaded by an old fig tree, in the waters of which, legend has it, the goddess Aphrodite herself used to bathe.
Where to eat in Cyprus?
Meze, the Cypriot equivalent to tapas – Hummus, tzatziki, tahini, all mopped up with hot and cold appetiziers. Oh and not to forget their national cheese halloumi, I can eat buckets of the salty chewy delight made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk.
One of the best restuarants in Paphos is Seven St Georges Tavern, a family run meze bar with a twist. There is no menu, just a prix-fixe offering of meze consisting of fresh dishes in season. Everyone from locals to tourists in the know come to experience owner George’s inventive Cypriot cooking, which includes plenty of vegetarian options. And the best bit – the waiters will keeping bringing the exquisite small plates until you tell them stop.
How to get to Cyprus from the UK.
Flying from the UK it takes 4.5 hours to Cyprus. There is a regular service with British Airways year round to Larnaca Airport. There are a number of low cost carriers that fly to Paphos airport, which is only a 20 minute transfer to the city centre.
5. Crete, Greece
Crete the southernmost island in Europe and one of the largest of the Greek islands, it was once home to the Minoan civilization. Full of heritage and historic sites, it’s also a haven for family holidays with its golden sands, mountainous terrain and glorious greenery.
Where to stay in Crete with children?
The luxe resort Daios Cove is set within its own private bay overlooking the dazzling blue sea. With its sandy beach, trio of restaurants, luxurious spa, superb Scott Dunn kids club, funicular lift (for access to the beach and rooms) and guest rooms and villas cut into the craggy cliff makes it a superb family hotel.
Things to do in Crete with children
The miles of beautiful sandy coastlines is more than enough to keep the kids happy. To break up the sand filled days, a day trip to the small island of Spinalonga can be just the ticket. The famous spot, north of Crete is sometimes called the ‘island of tears’ due to its past as a leper colony. Kids love to explore the fortress and find the place fascinating and spooky as all the buildings and streets are empty and abandoned.
What to eat in Greece?
Traditional Cretan cheeses. And don’t forget the anise flavoured apéritif ouzo! Really its all about the fish though.
One of the best restaurants is in the nearby town Agios Nikolaos. Pelagos serves seafood specialities in a stylish old-fashioned taverna close to the harbour and also has a pretty, shady garden terrace for outdoor summer dining. This vegetarian had no problems either as there was plenty to choose from the menu.
How to get to Crete from the UK?
Flying time from the UK to Heraklion is 4 hours and the hotel is a 1 hour transfer. There a number of low cost and charter airlines that fly from the UK. British Airways now fly direct to Heraklion too now. Spoilt for choice.
Which are your favourite family holidays in Europe? Let me know in the comments box below.
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