City breaks with children

You may not be as fancy free as you were pre-kids, but city breaks with children in tow are certainly do-able. Check out these tips from Mumsnetters before you go

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1. How far you go is up to you

Your first decision is likely to be how far you're willing to travel - and only you know the answer to that. There's nowt to be sniffed at in a city break close to home, but equally a jaunt to Europe and even further afield is possible with children. See some suggested destinations:


2. You don't have to stay in a hotel/B&B/run-of-the-mill type place

There are deals to be had if you search through online booking sites such as hotels.com and check out our Mumsnet Discounts page for exclusive offers. Worried about cramming into a hotel room with your brood? Consider a city apartment via the likes of Airbnb; more space, additional facilities (serving up Weetabix at 4am will certainly be possible) and potentially cheaper than a hotel. It's also worth checking out places like Eurocamp, who have several sites close to major cities.


3. You do have to manage your expectations

Just, you know, don't expect to spend all day gazing in wonderment at Monet's finest, or enjoying long boozy lunches people watching. This applies to travelling with children of all ages, but especially if you're holidaying with 'spirited' toddlers.

Mumsnetters say: "Look for entertainment for the kids when they are awake and when they have naps you can go to the places where they'd start getting fussy soon. We found that castles, churches and museums always went well but galleries didn't - nothing to touch or relate to, just pictures. Once or twice my partner stayed in a cafe with our daughter and let me go to a display on my own when I needed some time to look at things in peace." 


UK city breaks: top destinations

Bath


Small in size, but still with plenty to do, Bath comes highly recommended especially if you're travelling with slightly older children. The big draw here is the Roman Baths, which can be enjoyed by all ages (it's not just a spa) but there is also a good choice of galleries and museums to explore, plus plenty of independent shops to mooch about in and open spaces for kids to run around in. Bristol is a short train ride away and well worth a day trip - other attractions such as Wookey Hole Caves and Cheddar Gorge are also easy to reach.

Mumsnetters say: "The Pump Room for afternoon tea is great fun with teens.  We stayed somewhere cheap so we could max our spa and shopping spend. There is a costume museum here which is really interesting, and lots of independent quirky shops and places to eat." 

Where to stay: The hotels near Pierrepont Street are in an ideal spot to visit the Roman Baths, while Walcot Street is where the heart of the action is - so for a break in the thick of it look for hotels around there (although do consider it may well be noisy of an evening). Depending on your budget, both Travelodge Bath Central and Hilton Bath City are well positioned.


Glasgow


Scotland's largest city has all the city break essentials: plenty of museums (including a v hands-on science museum), a renowned modern art gallery, gardens, parks, open-top bus tours (always a winner) and a bohemian quarter, with cafes, bars, boutiques and restaurants.

Mumsnetters say: "So much to do and see, and a lot for free - plus an easy underground to get around the city. And fab food."

Where to stay: For a really easy stay, base yourself bang in the city centre and you'll be in walking distance of most attractions. If you don’t mind a bit of travelling then a popular area is Merchant City, out to the East of the centre.  It’s very much the cultural quarter of Glasgow, with plenty of galleries and theatre/concert venues, and a more bohemian feel. Holiday Inn Theatreland is well positioned, and reasonably priced. Out to the West lies the financial district, which can mean cheaper hotel rooms at the weekend - worth a look if budgets are tight. Explore more Glasgow hotel options and read reviews at hotels.com


York


If it's history you're after, then York should be on your shortlist. With the castle, city walls, Jorvik Viking Centre, York Dungeon and National Railway Museum, there's more than enough to keep the kids entertained and educated. Not forgetting some fine tea shops, a good selection of affordable hotels and restaurants, plus great accessibility by train. 

Mumsnetters say: "History, museums, river, shops, restaurants, bars. I love York."

Where to stay: With any city break you'll be so busy out doing *stuff* that you won't be needing a hotel with countless facilities to keep you occupied. In York, you'll want something close to the key attractions you're planning to visit and for a reasonably priced option, Travelodge's Central hotel is a good bet.


Liverpool


As a former European City of Culture, Liverpool has loads to offer families - from museums, galleries (including TATE Liverpool) and beautiful cathedrals, to more famous attractions like the Albert Docks and Cavern Club. If the weather is nice there's a beach at nearby Southport and all the associated seaside fun. Chester Zoo and Knowsley Safari Park are also close by. 

Mumsnetters say: "TATE Liverpool is v baby friendly - decent cafe, nice shop, lots of gallery space to trot about in, kids activities and a family room." 

Where to stay: All the main attractions are within the centre and Travelodge's The Strand hotel gets a thumbs up for location, facilities and affordability. 


Milton Keynes (yes, really!)


With Bletchley Park, The National Museum of Computing, an indoor ski slope (with real snow), indoor sky-diving, trampoline centre, theatre (featuring touring West End shows) and a whopping shopping centre, Milton Keynes is our curve ball of a city break recommendation. While it doesn't have the historical sites of, say, Edinburgh or York, you'll find National Trust and English Heritage sites within a 40-minute drive - and the city itself has some 5000 acres of parkland to explore.

Mumsnetters say: "Ok, I know it's not the most obvious place to go - but it has all the ingredients for a great short break with kids."

Where to stay: There’s a huge choice of accommodation in Milton Keynes and the city is incredibly easy to get around. If you want to stay in a centrally located 4-star chain hotel there are the usual suspects, but if you’d rather bed down in a more historic property outside the city centre you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Hotels.com offers a range of hotels to suit all budgets. 


Edinburgh


Well-connected from tout le UK with regional flights and trains, Edinburgh is a great mix of culture, history and child-friendly attractions. If the weather is good, there are plenty of fun walks around the city; if not so good, head inside - all the city's museums and galleries are free. Festival time is a great time to visit with kids (although prices, alas, soar).  

Mumsnetters say: "The Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile is one of our favourites (and free); Chambers Street (National Museums of Scotland) wonderful; Camera Obscura worth the money - lots to see and do inside. I don't rate Dynamic Earth, but lots of people do. National Storytelling Centre is near the Museum of Childhood, and has lots of great events for adults and children (and a fab cafe). Princes Street Gardens is great if the weather is good." 

Where to stay: From boutique hotels to homely B&Bs, Edinburgh has a wealth of accommodation choices. Key areas include Princess Street and the Royal Mile – expensive but ideal for a treat; the Old Town – historic, full of bars, restaurants, independent traders; and the New Town, which is by no means, um, "new". Hotels.com has plenty of choice, or consider your own apartment via Airbnb. Top tip: If you’re planning to visit during the festival season or New Year, do book well ahead.  


Recommended short-haul city breaks

Barcelona


A short flight from the UK and combining city AND beach, Barcelona comes highly recommended. With plenty of open spaces, mesmerising Gaudi architecture, shops, museums, zoo, cafes and markets, there's plenty to fill a weekend. Should the children tire of the city, then the beach is a great place to decamp. Otherwise, you can easily head out to the nearby Portaventura theme park.

Mumsnetters say: "You don't need the underground to get around and there's plenty to see without having to go inside anywhere.  It's also good if you are going in winter, as Barcelona isn't too cold."

Where to stay: With an efficient public transport system in place, you can stay pretty much anywhere in the city and be only a short bus/metro away from key attractions. That said, it pays to know you have something on your doorstep, for those moments when a hoof on the metro is too much to bear. If you want to be smack bang in the city centre, then Las Ramblas (Barcelona's main boulevard) or the Gothic quarter (old city) are good options; for something on the beach look around Barceloneta. Visit Hotels.com for more information.


Paris


Easily reached by train, flight or ferry, Paris is super-accessible. Older kids will enjoy seeing the big sights, younger ones will enjoy a boat ride along the Seine, and of course there are plenty of museums and art galleries to explore - just make sure you allow plenty of time for them to burn off steam elsewhere. Kids are welcomed into restaurants with open arms and most will probably revel in the chance to eat frog legs and snails - it may even be what they remember the most.

Mumsnetters say: "There are numerous carousels scattered about the city by big monuments, to dispel the grumps. We particularly like the double-decker ones at the base of the steps to the Sacre Coeur (there is a playground here, too) and across the river from the Effiel Tower."

Where to stay: Eurocamp has three parks in the region, ideal if you want to stay out of the city centre and mix days in the city with some other activities such as swimming, bowling and cycling (facilities vary at each site).


Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens 

An increasing number of Mumsnetters are tipping Coppenhagen as the next big thing for family city breaks. It is indeed very child-friendly - not too big and not too small, perfect for wandering around. There are plenty of parks and open spaces, plus interactive museums (release your inner Viking), Tivoli Gardens amusement park, a planetarium, zoo and northern Europe's largest aquarium.

Mumsnetters say: "Copenhagen's very easy to navigate, and most things are close by, so little legs won't get too tired. Loads of Viking and historical stuff, with grand buildings, museums with art and Danish design, zoos, and Tivoli Gardens in case you fancy a bit of a change. Make sure you get a CPH card, as you'll save a fortune, and it'll give you discount entry into places like museums." 

Where to stay: The word on Mumsnet's Talk threads is that you won't go far wrong booking with the Scandic brandHotels.com has fantastic rates on these and indeed others - plus plenty of reviews to help narrow down your choices. 


Marrakech


It's just over three hours flight from the UK, but you'd be forgiven for thinking you've travelled half way across the globe. The old town (Medina) is a bustling centre; explore the souks and try out your bartering skills, or escape to Marjorelle Gardens for some peace and quiet. You'll need to be prepared for a lot of hustle and bustle, especially in the main square at night, but a firm no to the vendors should see them on their way.    

Mumsnetters say: "I'd recommend Marrakech. People are really child friendly, the flight is not too long (and Easyjet/Ryanair fly there so you can get a cheap return flight if you book early enough), and my toddler adored the sounds of the mosques going off."

Where to stay: One of the joys of staying in Marrakech is a stop in a riad in the heart of the Medina, but if you're travelling with very young DC then do choose your riad carefully: they're full of toddler hazards such as slippy tiled floors, water features at every turn, plenty of stairs and roof-top terraces. You will of course find some riads that cater for families, but do contact the owner if you've any concerns about suitability.

Aside from riads there are plenty of hotels to choose from and these are usually located outside the Medina. You'll naturally get more facilities at a hotel with most offering pools (welcome in the heat of the summer), restaurants and additional entertainment.

Berlin


A real Mumsnet fave and a good option for families with older DC.  As you'd expect there's lots of historical stuff to see such as Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial and Reichstag (do consider booking in advance). Plenty of museums - including a Museum of Gaming, Minecraft fans - and the DDR, an impressive interactive museum. The Olympic Stadium, with a fantastic outdoor pool, and a Lego Discoveryland are other must-sees. Accommodation suits all budgets and street food should appeal to even the fussiest of eaters.  

Mumsnetters say: "We were only there for a couple of days and could easily have found plenty to do if we'd been there a week. Best tip for the Reichstag - go in the evening when the queues have died down if you haven't booked. We went at dusk and it was spectacular."

Where to stay: Berlin is not a compact city and there isn't a "city centre" as such, just many districts. To make this work for you, think about what you want to see and do and plan accommodation accordingly. Public transport across the city is excellent; metros are frequent and taxis affordable. Mumsnetters suggest renting an apartment in the city – Airbnb has a great selection. 



Rome


History, culture, fantastic food and wine - Rome has it all, and then some. But brace yourself for a fair bit of walking, as it isn't the easiest city to get around. You're essentially visiting a city-sized museum with points of interest on pretty much every street - think the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and Vatican City - read up on what you want to see and work out what will be best suited for your children. The city does have an open top bus tour which, while screaming "tourist", will save you the faff of the (crowded and hot) underground, and you can just hop on and off as you please.

Mumsnetters say: "We did it in August and it was hot, but much cheaper. You just had to walk around early and late and sleep in the middle. We had an apartment - definitely the way to go as you can sit on the balcony in the afternoon with wine and just relax. Feeding is easier too - then you just eat ice creams out and about, and maybe evening meals."

Where to stay: Most of the key tourist spots are walkable from each other (although do consider the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus to save little legs moaning).  If you’re travelling in the heat of summer then it's well worth choosing accommodation that's quick to get back to at the end of the day. Hotel prices can be <ahem> eye-watering, and an apartment can be more cost effective.


Long-haul city breaks

New York


New York, New York – so good they named it twice. But would they have felt the same way after a long-haul flight with the DC in tow? WELL, apparently, it’s not as mad as it sounds - fly out of the UK in the afternoon and you'll arrive into New York about 8pm. Everyone will be exhausted, but you'll be able to get to your hotel and into bed at a normal(ish) bedtime. With the flight out of the way (if it’s awful, remember you’ll most likely never see your fellow passengers again) you’ll have one of the world’s finest cities at your feet, with world-class museums and galleries, plenty of shopping and more iconic sites than you can shake a stick at. There's so much to do you’ll never pack it all into one short trip, so don’t try to cram in too much that it’s unbearable.  
 
Mumsnetters say: "My children loved Central Park. Girls liked Tiffany's and MoMa is great even if you just see the iconic pictures. Top of the Rock is worthwhile and so is Ellis Island. We also did the Staten Island Ferry. There are also many fabulous buildings to see and interesting areas such as Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District. Just looking at people can be great fun - and that's free!"

Where to stay: In an ideal world you’ll want to be staying in Manhattan, close to the action. Alas, hotels in central Manhattan do not come cheap, especially if you’re going to need multiple rooms. Despite sounding incredibly frivolous, it can be more cost effective to hire an apartment.  Check out apartments with Airbnb.


Washington DC


Washington DC is a fantastic city to explore with slightly older kids; it's brimming with historic monuments, fantastic museums and, of course, is home to the White House. It's an easy city to navigate with plenty of efficient public transport, and museums are geared towards kids, so do ask for the any age-appropriate guides/activity packs. 

Mumsnetters say: "We really enjoyed Washington with the kids a couple of years ago (when they were 4,5,9 and 10) - The Smithsonian museums are all free, as is the zoo I think. We also went up the monument - free again, but you have to queue for tickets then wait for your allotted time. No toilets at the top - I vividly remember my youngest shouting he needed a poo when we had just reached the top!"

Where to stay:
 If you're travelling in the summer opt for a hotel with a pool; it will be a welcome retreat after a busy day sight-seeing. A good base is Downtown - residential, with plenty of bars, restaurants, theatres and museums on your doorstep.  Visit hotels.com for prices.

Want to book your next city break? Check out Travelodge for rooms starting from £29  


travelodge

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Last updated: 2 months ago