Children on city breaks. Running amock in galleries and demanding emergency ice-cream stops. Are alarm bells ringing? Well, they shouldn’t be. Relax, check out our guide to a few of the best cities to visit with kids, and be confident in the knowledge that weekenders and short breaks to beautiful cities don’t have to come to an end now you’ve got little ones of your own and are restricted by the school holidays or finding activities that don't involve long, lazy (and peaceful) lunches. Family friendly city holidays do exist, and here are 3 of the best places to head with your tribe.
There’s nothing quite like a British seaside holiday. It will quite possibly rain, your feet may well freeze when you dip them in the sea but you’re guaranteed to get at least one fish and chips out of it along with memories your family will cherish forever. Whether you’re splashing around in puddles or enjoying blue skies on the beach, Brighton is a great option for a city break with the kids.
As well as the endless opportunities for playing on the beach and skimming pebbles, there’s more than a few outdoor activities to tire everybody out with, from kayaking or paddle boarding under the old pier to renting a bike and exploring the promenade and surrounding countryside on two wheels. But Brighton also has plenty of great rainy day options to fall back on to keep the kids (and you) happy like the World Stories family trail at the Brighton Museum. If the weather keeps you inside for longer than hoped for, head to the Pottery Painting Cafe for a hands on activity that will keep even the most spirited little ones busy, and you'll be able to take home a hand painted bowl or plate to treasure as a memory of the trip.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing where to eat too; the emphasis here is on healthy but delicious eateries at good value, along with plenty of laid back vibes. A couple of our favourites are La Choza for tasty Mexican street food that the kids will love - think Mexican hot chocolate, tacos and burritos to get messy with and the most flamboyantly bright decor around, and LangLees for an easy going breakfast, where the menu features English and South African breakfasts (and everything in between) so whether you fancy eggs, a bunny chow or pancakes they’ve got you covered.
Most things that involve pizza and ice-cream are a hit. City breaks included. Italy is always a great option for family holidays, as the Italians love kids and you’ll be welcomed into trattorias with open arms, even if your little ones are on the more spirited side of things. And since family holidays shouldn’t mean you miss out on weekenders, Rome is the perfect destination for an Italian city break with kids!
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It goes without saying that the Gladiator School and Museum will be extremely popular. They’ll love dressing up in traditional costumes and brandishing the (toy) swords while you look on and can enjoy a (sort of) quiet moment sipping an espresso. Whilst it might not be the cheapest attraction around (but prices do vary between schools), it breaks up a day sightseeing Imperial Rome. This being said, whatever their age your little ones will love playing time travellers and checking out all of the sights from the Pantheon to the Colosseum - just try to avoid the midday heat if you visit during the summer months. Another big hit is the Zoology Museum, and of course the zoo itself where there’s not only thousands of species of but interactive exhibits to get involved with.
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But back to the important stuff: gelato! Striking the balance between making enough ice-cream pit stops but not getting overly hyped up on sugar can be an extremely delicate process, since no one wants to endure a tantrum that’s ensued after the sugar has worn off. The solution? Gelateria Fatamorgana, where everything is 100% natural and there’s not a food colouring or preservative in sight. And when it comes to eating at restaurants, you can’t go wrong with family run trattorias - just don’t be surprised if there’s not a children’s menu. Instead, ask for half portions, so they can eat like the grown ups nothing will go to waste. A couple of favourites are La Torricella in Testaccio and La Gatta Mangiona, a no frills pizzeria serving authentic and delicious Roman dishes.
If someone were to design a city perfect for family weekenders, it would be a city that’s neither too large nor too small (but just right, obviously), navigable on foot but with an efficient public transport system, somewhere it rarely rained and the skies were blue even in winter. Oh, and there’d probably also be a beach. Sound good? Of course it does. You’ve just envisaged Barcelona. With a reputation for late nights, long meals and day-time siestas, you might not think Barcelona is the best option with kids, but we promise even with the little ones in tow the Catalan capital makes for a great family holiday destination.
You won’t be able to sip vermouth at midnight in a local vermuteria like you could have done before the kids came along, but discovering Iberian cuisine as a family by no means involves missing out on the tapas bars! Whatever age, your kids are sure to love choosing numerous dishes from the menu, sharing and eating with their fingers (we’re sorry if it gets a little messy). And even if they’re a little on the picky side of things and don’t fancy octopus tentacles, patatas bravas and Iberian cheeses are sure to keep everyone happy - the most authentic can be found on Calle Blai. But Barcelona’s best kept foodie secret? Market restaurants. In each barrio you’ll find a food market with it’s own distinct style and surrounded by a few tiny bars and cafes serving up delicious, reasonably priced local specialities using the freshest and best quality produce direct from the market itself. Our favourite: Mercat de Galvany, which is an almost exclusively local affair and a great spot for the kids to explore the ingredients that go into their food.
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If your little ones are football fanatics, look no further than the FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou Experience, where you’ll learn about the history of the club as visiting the dressing rooms and emerging from the tunnel onto the pitch itself. Or, head to the interactive CosmoCaixa science museum where you can get hands on and experiment a little yourselves whilst taking in the stunning architecture and views. And of course if everyone needs to get a little more active and run off some steam, you’re never too far from the beach!
If everyone’s had quite enough of traipsing the streets, a local favourite and great family adventure is to head up to summit of Tibidabo mountain. Not nearly as dramatic as it might sound but no less exciting! First, hop on the historic Tramvia Blau, the vintage trams will drop you at the funicular station from where you then ascend the hillside and are deposited at the Tibidabo amusement park. It’s not the cheapest activity in town - adults are €28.50, kids are somewhat bafflingly (and amusingly) priced according to their height - but you won’t find a rollercoaster with a view the rival this one anywhere!
For more ideas of what to do on a city break with kids, get in touch with one of our locals and discover what the cool kids get up to, and where the best spots for you to get a moment’s rest are!