My world prior to children revolved around ‘pin the airplane on the world map and let’s see where we end up’. Fast forward a few years and I’m happy to say we still play that game. Of course, the difference being my offspring during their pre-school years put a kibosh on certain destinations.
Drawing on my experiences of child-friendly hotels and holidays. Here is a round-up of my top five favourite family holiday destinations in Europe with little ones in tow.
European Family Holiday Destinations
Puglia, or Apulia is the heel of Italy’s boot. This southern region is often overlooked by travellers. 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 Southern 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 – 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 its Trulli, tiny homes with cone-shaped roofs, decorated with magical symbols and held together with no concrete. You’d be forgiven to think they’d been designed for fairy folk. A magical town guaranteed to fascinate 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, which granted is slightly difficult to experience. The second is much easier and cannot be missed – their super delicious ice cream! And finally the most famous export – 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 Puglia?
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 the dish is at La Cantina in Alberobello. Established in 1958, the small trattoria with only a few small tables, open kitchen and a menu full of the most mouthwatering traditional dishes.
For the ice cream! Bella Blu is the place to be, a small artisan gelateria 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.
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 beautifully located Radisson Blu Style hotel, located in Vienna’s historical city centre. It’s walking distance to a number of must-see attractions which is a huge plus. We stayed in a junior suite, with the bedroom separated from the living area by a sliding door. The room was spacious enough for 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. Its 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. A whirl around will treat you to some spectacular city views.
Schönbrunn Palace has extensive gardens for little tikes to let off steam, and a children’s museum too. Kids 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 and immerse 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. A performance at the Spanish Riding School can be an option if you don’t have wrigglers – 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 booked a qualified babysitter via the hotel for a child-free evening and an incredible performance of ‘The Barber of Seville. Something I highly recommend. An evening at the Vienna State Opera is seriously 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.
Cotswolds, United Kingdom
The Cotswolds is one of the UK’s area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). With its picture postcard villages and landscapes the picturesque area attracts visitors from far and wide.
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. Read a full review of our New Year’s Eve stay here.
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 bloom looks breathtaking. 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 and TV companies. Little has changed architecturally since the 15th century and unbelievably there are still no street lights or TV aerials. It’s won the coveted ‘Prettiest Village in England‘ on numerous occasions. It’d be a big mistake not to go and see what all 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 teas – you’ll find them everywhere. One of my favourites finds was Cotswold Lavender. I fell in love with their heavenly lavender scones and still time to time have random cravings for them still.
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.
The incredible island of Cyprus is located in the warmth of the Southern Mediterranean. Influences from Turkey, Greece, and the Middle East, make it a fascinating country to visit. Enjoy superb beaches, secluded villages, cosmopolitan resorts and unique historical 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 Almyra Spa, complete with Vichy showers, yoga deck and outdoor infinity pool ticked every box. Add to this the Scott Dunn kids club and Baby Go-Lightly service the hotel offers (pre-order infant essentials before arrival and by magic appears at the hotel) we were in heaven.
Things to do in Paphos with children.
Close to the hotel, next to Paphos harbour is Kato Paphos Archaeological Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site unbelievably 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! Paphos is also home to the famous mythological site Baths of Aphrodite located on the Akamas peninsula. The small grotto shaded by an old fig tree, legend has it is where 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 appetizers a foodie delight. Oh and its national cheese is halloumi. Made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk, I’m a big fan of the salty chewy texture.
One of the best restaurants 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. Stretchy trousers a must!
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. A number of low cost carriers also fly to Paphos airport, which is only a 20 minute transfer to the city centre.
Crete the southernmost island in Europe is one of the largest of the Greek islands. Home to the Minoan civilization, find an island full of heritage and historical sites. Golden sands, mountainous terrain and glorious greenery makes it a haven for family holiday.
Where to stay in Crete with children?
The luxe resort Daios Cove is set within its own private bay overlooking the dazzling blue sea. The sandy beach, trio of restaurants, luxurious spa, superb Scott Dunn kids club, funicular lift (access to the beach) and guest rooms and villas cut into the craggy cliff make it a superb family hotel.
Things to do in Crete with children
Miles upon miles of beautiful sandy coastlines is more than enough to keep the kids happy. To help break up the sand filled days, take a day trip to the small island of Spinalonga. The famous spot, in the spot is sometimes called the ‘island of tears’ due to its past as a leper colony. Kids love to explore the fortress. Both fascinating yet eerie as you wander around the empty, abandoned streets and crumbling buildings.
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
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.
Do you have any favourite family holiday destinations in Europe? Let me know in the comments box below.
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