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Best city break destinations for short family holidays

Planning a long weekend away or a short family break? You may not be as fancy-free as you were hopping around Europe pre-children, but city breaks with kids in tow are still doable – and often a cheap and easy option for families. 

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jul 13, 2021

Parents with toddler walking on holiday

We consulted the Mumsnet travel experts to discover the best European city breaks for families. Before booking your half-term family trip or last-minute weekend break, check out these top travel tips and destination recommendations – from the classic to the more unexpected.

Here are the top 10 city breaks as recommended by parents: 

1. Copenhagen, Denmark


An increasing number of Mumsnetters are tipping Copenhagen as the next big thing for family city breaks.

Things to do

It is indeed very child-friendly – not too big and not too small, with 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.

Consider getting a CPH Card, which covers entry to a number of attractions, thus saving you money on entertainment. For little ones with energy to burn, walk up the Round Tower and enjoy views over the city. If you fancy a more relaxed pace, go on a boat trip or find a seat in one of the canalside cafes and watch the world cycle by.

Copenhagen's very easy to navigate, and most things are close by, so little legs won't get too tired.

Where to stay

The word on Mumsnet's Talk boards is that you won't go far wrong booking with the Scandic brand, offering five locations around the city. has fantastic rates on these and indeed other hotels – plus plenty of reviews to help narrow down your options.

The AC Hotel Bella Sky is a safe bet if you've got a bigger budget – it boasts a central location (with easy access to Tivoli Gardens and Amager Common) and some spectacular interiors. 

2. Lisbon, Portugal


Lisbon proves quite the hit with Mumsnetters. That might be something to do with its cuisine (from bacalhau – salted cod – to the infamous pastéis de nata – Portugese custard tarts), proximity to nice beaches and generally vibrant atmosphere. Be warned, it is quite hilly: something to bear in mind if you have small children in tow. It does, however, boast a great range of transport if you're not keen to walk everywhere.

Things to do

The hop-on-hop-off bus tours are a good start to your trip to really get a feel for the city. The Remodelado trams (those quaint yellow ones) are also a fun way to view the surroundings with kids – the most scenic route being the E28 – as well as the Glória Funicular. If you like art, the collection at The Gulbenkian museum is well worth a visit.

Food-wise, the Time Out Market in the Mercado da Ribeira – an open-air food court with a wide range of cuisines and family-style seating – is the perfect place to eat if you're catering for different tastes or even not quite sure what you fancy. If you're after a treat, Mumsnetters also recommend eating at modern Portugese restaurant Sessenta, as well as Tivoli Palácio de Seteais: “Fantastic posh Sunday lunch at a hotel in a palace with beautiful gardens.”

However, the most important advice seems to be: “Don’t forget to eat as many pastels de nata as you can.”. These scrumptious desserts can be found everywhere, but particular hotspots are Manteigaria in Bica where you can watch the custard tarts be created before your very eyes. Or for a bit of 'history' you could check out Pasteis de Belém, where the first pastéis were ever sold in 1837 – right next door to where the original recipe was developed, the Jerónimos Monastery. The monastery is also worth a look due to its beautifully ornate architecture. Belém is about six miles from downtown Lisbon, a safe, scenic bike ride along the river (cycle paths all the way).

It's also very easy to get to other places outside of Lisbon, such as the beach at Cascais or Sintra, a town that boasts extravagant palaces and ancient castles.

Lisbon is lovely. Lots of garden squares and a long walkway along the sea with nice open-air modern fish eateries.

Where to stay

Due to the good transport system, in Lisbon you're not very limited to where you can stay. Family-friendly recommendations include Hotel Da Baixa in the historic surroundings of Rossio Square and Novotel Lisboa – facilities include a gym, an outdoor pool and a kids' playground.

Some Mumsnet users recommend actually staying in Cascais, as it's easy to get into the city – so much so that one parent said it felt like a suburb of Lisbon. Indeed, the Linha de Cascais is a quick, direct line (taking 35-40 minutes). Try the family rooms at the Dolce Cascais Guest House, which is very convenient for paddling excursions to Cascais Beach. And if you've got a bigger budget and after a bit of luxury, there's the five-star Palacio Estoril Golf & Spa Hotel.

3. Bristol, England


Bristol is famed as the South West's bohemian heartland, packed with winding lanes and green spaces. This artsy and community-minded city is full of family-friendly activities, and is easy to get to from London as well as the north and east of England, via road, train or plane.

Things to do

The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a must-see – walk over it and enjoy the stunning views of the gorge. For another scenic walk, try Blaise Castle which offers a great children's play area, too. And make sure you visit St Werburgh's City Farm, to have a cup of tea in their little tree-top cafe hideaway.

Bristol Zoo is small but brilliant for entertaining kids. “Bring a packed lunch, and if you're visiting in the warm weather bring a change of clothes as there's a wet play area!” recommends one Mumsnetter. Science-lovers will enjoy exploring We the Curious (formerly At Bristol), while older teens can play 'spot the Banksy' among the city's ultra-cool street art.

There's too much to do in just a few days! But if it's fine weather, you could try the walk along the river from the M Shed museum to Cumberland Basin.

Where to stay

The Travelodge on account of the Family Rocket (seriously, take a look!) while if you prefer to go self-catering, there are plenty of child-friendly options available through Airbnb.

Related: Looking for the perfect place to stay in Bristol? Save 7% on a UK holiday cottage rental from with the code PART07

4. Paris, France


What 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, and across the river from the Eiffel Tower."

Easily reached by train, plane or ferry, Paris is super-accessible. Despite its clichéd status as one of the most romantic cities in the world, it is also an enchanting place to take children (even if you miss out Disneyland).

Things to do

Older kids will enjoy seeing the famous sights; younger ones will enjoy a boat ride along the Seine. Of course there are plenty of museums and art galleries to explore too – just make sure you allow plenty of time for kids to burn off steam outdoors in between attractions. Head to the stunning Gardens of Versailles for lots of room to run about, as well as some astoundingly beautiful landscaping and architecture. Win-win.

Kids are welcomed into restaurants with open arms, and adventurous eaters will revel in the chance to try frog legs and snails – it may even be what they remember the most! And don't miss Bertillon ice cream, found in kiosks all over the city. Mumsnetters reckon it's a guaranteed hit with all ages.

Where to stay

Eurocamp has three parks in the region, ideal if you want to stay outside the city and mix days of sightseeing with other kid-friendly activities such as swimming, bowling and cycling (facilities vary at each site). Otherwise, have a look at more central options on Expedia.

If you've got some extra cash to splash, it doesn't get a lot more central than Le Méridien Etoile – less than a mile away from the Arc de Triomphe, and with views of the Eiffel Tower from the upper floors. 

5. Barcelona, Spain


What Mumsnetters say: 

"There's plenty to see without having to go inside anywhere, and you don't need the underground to get around. It's also good if you are going in winter, as it doesn't get too cold."

Just a short flight from the UK and the perfect combination of city AND beach, it's no surprise Barcelona comes highly recommended. As one Mumsner user sums up: “The weather, lots of beautiful parks for kids to run around in, good transport system, not too long a flight, a bit of culture and yummy food.” What's not to like?

Things to do

With plenty of open spaces, mesmerising Gaudi architecture, shops, museums, a zoo and markets, there's easily enough to fill a weekend, or longer. Should children tire of the city, simply decamp to the beach for sun, sea, sand and ice-creams. You can also easily head out to the nearby Portaventura theme park for a day.

If you fancy a fun family meal al fresco, one Mumsnetter suggests: “Go to La Boqueria food market on Las Ramblas and stock up on goodies for a beach picnic.” Or, you could take your packed lunch to Park Güell for some stunning city-wide views (as well as a mosaic dragon resident!). And don't forget to head to Montjuïc where you can check out the Magic Fountain, and ride on the Teleferic cable car.

Where to stay

With an efficient public transport system in place, you can stay pretty much anywhere in the city and be only a few bus/metro stops away from key attractions. That said, it pays to know you have something on your doorstep, for those moments when a hoof on the underground is too much to bear.

If you want to be central, then Las Ramblas (Barcelona's main boulevard) and the Gothic Quarter (old city) are good locations. For something on the beach look around Barceloneta. Hotel Grau gets the thumbs up on Mumsnet's Talk boards, as does Praktik Garden Hotel, which is great value, spotlessly clean and a 10 minute walk to the centre of town. Visit for more options in all areas.

If you'd like the full five-star experience, Le Méridien Barcelona is located on Las Ramblas, with all the city's main attractions in walking distance. 

6. Glasgow, Scotland


What 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."

If you're coming from London, don't overlook the sleeper train as a means of transport, which can be a really fun adventure for kids – and may even guarantee a good night's sleep. One Mumsnetter described, “I took my seven- and four-year-old on the sleeper and we had a fantastic night sleep – the rocking was really soothing.”

Things to do

Scotland's largest city has all the essentials for a great short break with kids: plenty of museums (including a v. hands-on science museum), a renowned modern art gallery, gardens and parks, open-top bus tours (always a winner with children) and a bohemian quarter with trendy boutiques, cafes and bars. As a Mumsnetter described it, “So much to do and see, a lot for free. Easy to get around, 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. Have a look at Expedia for more hotel ideas or check out Homeaway's self-catering properties.

 Looking for the perfect place to stay in Glasgow? Save 7% on a UK holiday cottage rental from with the code PART07

7. Berlin, Germany


What Mumsnetters say: 

"We were only there for a couple of days but could've easily found plenty to do for a whole week. Top tip: go to the Reichstag in the evening when the queues have died down if you haven't booked. We went at dusk and it was spectacular."

Berlin's a real Mumsnet fave and a good option for families with older kids – its combination of modern history and alternative vibes means that you're sure to gain some kudos for taking them there.

Things to do

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). There's also a great choice 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 Lego Discoveryland are other must-sees. We've also heard lots of good things about the Fat Tire bike tour – a great way to explore the city.

If you're going with teenagers, try boating in the Tiergarten, followed by a visit to the traditional German beer garden (refreshments for mum and dad, pizza for the kids). If it's chilly, head to the Rausch Shokoladenhaus to warm your cockles with their “wonderful hot chocolate and cake,” recommended by one Mumsnetter. Street food options across the city should appeal to even the fussiest eaters.

Where to stay

Berlin is not a compact city and there isn't a “city centre” as such, just many districts. But public transport is excellent – metros are frequent and taxis affordable – so don't let that stop you getting around. Mumsnetters recommend renting an apartment in the city – Airbnb has a great selection. If you prefer to stay in a hotel, one Mumsnetter suggests Hotel Honigmod for an amazing atmosphere in the historical district. Or have a look through and hone in on any that are close to the main attractions you'd like to visit.

8. Edinburgh, Scotland


What Mumsnetters say: 

"The National Storytelling Centre is near the Museum of Childhood, and has lots of great events for adults and children, and a fab cafe."

Well-connected from across the UK with regional flights and trains, Edinburgh is a great mix of culture, history and family attractions.

Things to do

Festival time (6 – 30 August 2021) is a great time to visit with kids – although prices inevitably soar. If the weather is good, there are plenty of fun walks around the city. Take in the views from Edinburgh Castle and explore Princes Street Gardens. If the weather's not so good, head inside – all the city's museums and galleries are free.

Don't miss the Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile, the National Museums of Scotland and the Camera Obscura, which Mumsnetters say is well worth the money.

Where to stay

From boutique hotels to homely B&Bs, Edinburgh has a wealth of accommodation choices. Key areas include Princes Street and the Royal Mile (expensive but ideal for a treat); the Old Town (historic and full of bars, restaurants and independent traders) and the New Town, which is by no means, um, “new”. 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 in advance.

For a luxurious stay, the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa offers views of the Castle, a rooftop pool, and an in-house spa. Swoon. 

Looking for the perfect place to stay in Edinburgh? Save 7% on a UK holiday cottage rental from with the code PART07

9. Rome, Italy


What Mumsnetters say: 

"When it's hot, you just have to walk around early and late in the day and sleep in the middle. We had an apartment, which was definitely the way to go as you can head back and sit on the balcony in the afternoon and just relax."

History, culture, fantastic food (and wine) – Rome has it all, and then some. As one Mumsnetter put it: “Rome is a good one. Not too cold. Great food and gelato all a fraction of the cost of Venice.”

Things to do

You're essentially visiting a city-sized museum with points of interest on pretty much every corner: the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and Vatican City to name but a few. Read up on what you want to see, consider which sights will be best suited to your children's ages and interests, and brace yourself for a fair bit of walking, as this isn't the easiest city to get around.

There is an open top bus tour which, while screaming “tourist”, will save little legs and mean you avoid the faff of a (crowded and hot) underground, as you can hop on and off as you please. Alternatively, book yourself on to a child-friendly tour like this one.

If you need a bit of downtime, try the Pincio Gardens and Borghese Gardens, which come Mumsnet-approved. Or make like the locals and take siestas if you need to. And don't forget the essential gelato pit-stops.

Where to stay

Most of the key tourist spots are within walking distance of each other. 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, or even for a mid-afternoon rest. Central hotel prices can be – ahem – eye-watering, and an apartment can be more cost effective. Have a look at Appartamento Grazioli or Casa Trevi, which is basic but central. That said, it's worth looking out for special deals on Mumsnetter-recommended hotels like Hotel Viminale and Hotel Colonna Palace.

10. York, England


What Mumsnetters say: 

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

If it's history you're after, then York should be high on your list. The city is easily accessible by train and also surrounded by beautiful countryside for walks, so you can enjoying the great outdoors and get the best of both worlds.

Things to do

With its castle, city walls, Jorvik Viking Centre, York Minster, York Dungeon and the National Railway Museum, there's more than enough to keep kids entertained and educated – plus lots of quaint little tea shops en route, perfect for refuelling between sights. If you're looking for a treat after all that walking around, Mumsnet users recommend The Chocolate Story: “Fun, much better than I expected. A couple of hours fun with lots of sampling and learning about the history of chocolate making in York.”

Where to stay

With any city break you'll be so busy out doing stuff, that you won't need a hotel with countless facilities to keep you occupied – the main thing is being close to the key attractions. For a reasonably priced option in a handy location, Travelodge's Central Hotel is a good bet. If you'd rather take a break from the city after action-packed days exploring, this little collection of lodges just two miles from York centre comes recommended by Mumsnetters.

Travel essentials


Before you head off on hols, Mumsnetters recommend a few travel must-haves.

Trunki Children’s Ride-On Suitcase & Hand Luggage, £26 (was £39.99)

What better way to entertain a toddler at an airport than a suitcase they can actually ride? They're available in a range of colours or designs – allowing your child to hitch a ride on a cat, bumblebee or horse; whatever takes their fancy. The plastic shell is lightweight yet durable, and the case is easily grabbed with the help of a shoulder strap.

“Trunki's been a big hit with my four-year-old. Handily, it can go through as hand-luggage or in the hold, and it's nice that it gives children some 'ownership' of their own stuff.”

Buy now from Amazon

Fire HD 10 Kids Edition 32 GB Tablet, £200

With loads of parental controls and endless amounts of child-friendly books, movies, TV shows and games, it should keep them busy for at least five minutes.

“It's been great for our five-year-old. It includes turning on and off times, maximum screen time, a minimum amount of 'learning time' before they can play games etc, and you can restrict it as much as you want. The robust, rubber cover is another plus!”

Buy now from Amazon

Bananagrams, £17

For some fast-paced, portable fun, you only need a flat service to play Bananagrams. A bit like Scrabble, it's a race to create crossword grids by spelling out as many words as you can. Once it's time to touch down, just pop the tiles back into the handy banana pouch.

“We're fans of Bananagrams. It's like Scrabble but has a much faster pace, and everyone can play to their level.”

“My husband and I play this on holiday a lot. It doesn't have a board and travels well in a simple zip-up case.”

Age range: 7+ Number of players: 1 – 8

Buy now from Amazon

Dobble, £10 (was £12.99)

For more entertainment on the go, look no further than Dobble. A race to find the matching images on two cards, it can be played by children of any age, and will fit snugly into your carry-on. There's a specific Harry Potter version, too, plus Dobble Disney Princesses and Dobble Star Wars.

“It's fantastic for any age, and is compact which is a big plus for me.”

“A super simple concept but brilliant for all ages.”

Age range: 6+ Number of players: 2 – 8

Buy now from Amazon

The North Face Electra bag, £50

Looking for a travel bag for yourself? This handy backpack is lightweight and breathable, and its women-specific back panel and shoulder straps make it super comfortable to carry around. It's equipped with a fleece-lined sleeve, too – the perfect size for a tablet or kindle.

“I recently bought this from North Face for family days out. Not having such a heavy bag weighing me down has been a revelation!”

Buy now from Amazon

City breaks with children: what to know before you go

Child with suitcase

How far you go is up to you

Your first decision is going 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 nearby France or Spain – or even European cities slightly further afield – are totally possible with children. Consider places which can be reached by car, train or ferry if you don't fancy entertaining little ones on a flight – and make the journey part of the adventure.

Related: Looking for the perfect place to stay? Save 7% on your holiday cottage rental from with the code PART07

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 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, giving you more space, additional facilities (serving up Weetabix at 4am will certainly be possible) and potentially working out cheaper than a hotel, too.

It's also worth checking out places like Eurocamp, with several sites close to major cities.

You do have to manage your expectations

It's worth mentioning, just in case you'd put on those rose-tinted (sun)glasses, that you're not going to be spending 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 suggest:

“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.”

“Once or twice my partner stayed in a cafe with our daughter and let me go to an attraction on my own when I wanted some time to look at things in peace.”

"We found that castles, churches and museums went down well but galleries didn't – nothing to touch or relate to, just pictures."