City breaks: UK and European destinations for the best family short breaks
Planning a weekend away or short-haul holiday? You may not be as fancy-free as you were hopping around Europe pre-kids, but city breaks with children in tow are still doable – and often a cheap and easy option for families. Before booking your half-term trip or last-minute weekend break, check out these top travel tips and destination recommendations
Wondering what travel essentials Mumsnetters recommend?
City breaks with children: what to know before you go
Before you decide on where to go with the family, bear this advice from fellow parents in mind.
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.
You don't have to stay in a hotel/B&B/run-of-the-mill type place
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.”
UK city breaks for families
The Pump Room for afternoon tea is great fun with teens. We stayed somewhere cheap so we could max our spa and shopping spend.
Small in size, but still packed with activities, Bath comes highly recommended – especially if you're travelling with slightly older kids. The big draw here is the Roman Baths, which can be enjoyed by all ages (it's not just a spa), but there's also a good choice of galleries and museums, lots of quirky, independent shops to explore with teenagers, and a range of places to eat. For younger children, there are plenty of green open spaces to let off steam, like the family-friendly Alice Park and playground.
Where to stay in Bath
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, but do bear in mind it may well be noisy of an evening.
2. GlasgowSo much to do and see, and a lot for free – plus an easy underground to get around the city. And fab food.
Scotland's largest city has all the essentials for a great family short break: 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 kids) and a bohemian quarter with trendy boutiques, cafes and bars.
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.”
Great places to stay in Glasgow
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.
History, museums, river, shops, restaurants, bars. I love York.
If it's history you're after, then York should be high on your list. 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.
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. One Mumsnetter also suggested taking children to the York Cocoa House chocolate lolly making workshop, for a very special treat.
Family accommodation in York
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.
TATE Liverpool is very baby friendly – decent cafe, nice shop, lots of gallery space to trot about in, kids activities and a family room.
As a former European City of Culture, Liverpool has loads to offer families – from a beautiful cathedral and range of museums and galleries (including the highly-rated TATE Liverpool) to famous attractions like the Albert Docks and Cavern Club. Grab a bite to eat at the Egg Cafe, which is very popular with Mumsnetters. And if the weather is nice, there's a beach at nearby Southport for all the usual seaside fun.
One Mumsnetter recommends: “If you're doing touristy stuff, you must take a ferry across the Mersey, not to mention a trip on The Yellow Duckmarine.” Chester Zoo and Knowsley Safari Park are also close by if you fancy exploring further afield.
Where to stay in Liverpool
All of Liverpool's main attractions are within the city centre, so Travelodge's The Strand hotel gets a thumbs up for location, as well as facilities and affordability. If you've got a bit more cash to splash, take a look at the boutique Hope St. Hotel.
5. Milton Keynes
I know it's not the most obvious place to go – but it has all the ingredients for a great short break with kids.
Milton Keynes is our curveball of city break recommendations. Home to Bletchley Park (pictured), The National Museum of Computing, an indoor ski slope (with real snow!), indoor sky-diving, trampoline centre, a theatre which hosts touring West End shows, and a whopping shopping centre, you're certainly not going to get bored.
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.
Finding family accommodation in Milton Keynes
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 centre, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Have a browse through Airbnb, or check out what's on offer from Bookings.com.
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 child-friendly attractions. Festival time 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 in Edinburgh as a family
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”. 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 in advance.
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.
Bristol is famed as the South West's bohemian heartland, packed with winding lanes and green spaces. 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 @Bristol, while older teens can play 'spot the Banksy' among the city's ultra-cool street art.
Child-friendly places to stay in Bristol
The Travelodge on Anchor Road is a good budget option, close to the beautiful cathedral. One Mumsnetter recommends Brook's Guest House 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.
European city breaks suitable for families
Copenhagen's very easy to navigate, and most things are close by, so little legs won't get too tired.
An increasing number of Mumsnetters are tipping Copenhagen as the next big thing for family city breaks. 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.
Where to stay in Copenhagen with kids
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. Hotels.com has fantastic rates on these and indeed other hotels – plus plenty of reviews to help narrow down your options.
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. 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 in Paris as a family
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. Book here.
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. 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 Guell for some stunning city-wide views. And don't forget to check out the Teleferic cable car from Montjuïc.
Where to stay in Barcelona with children
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 Hotels.com for more options in all areas.
I'd recommend Marrakech. People are really child-friendly, the flight is not too long (and you can get a cheap return flight if you book early enough), and my toddler adored the sounds of the mosques going off.
The flight takes just over three hours from the UK, but you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd travelled halfway across the globe. Marrakech old town (Medina) is a bustling centre; explore the souks and try out your bartering skills, then escape to Majorelle 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.
There are places where you can get away from the crowds, too. One Mumsnetter suggests “Cafe Zwin Zwin is lovely, particularly their rooftop balcony at sunset.” If you're feeling adventurous, book a tour out to the stunning Atlas mountains, a suitable day trip with children.
Where to stay in Marrakech with children
One of the joys of staying in Marrakech is stopping in a riad in the heart of the Medina, but if you're travelling with very young children then do choose your riad carefully: they can be 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 that cater for families, but contact the owner if you've any concerns about suitability. Have a look at Dar Soulahfa, which one Mumsnetter recommended for families with older children.
There are also 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. Riad Dar One is another good option for children who are a bit older, but there's plenty of choice on websites like Hotels.com.
If you're looking for some luxury, the Riad AnaYela will deliver. Located in a 300-year-old palace rich in history, it features king-size beds, rain showers, and a rooftop terrace overlooking the medina. Book here.
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. 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.
Best places to stay in Berlin with kids
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, like this spacious listing located in arty Kreuzberg, which sleeps five. 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 Booking.com and hone in on an are close to the main attractions you'd like to visit.
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. 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.
Family-friendly accommodation in Rome
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.
Before you head off on hols, Mumsnetters recommend a few travel must-haves.
Trunki Children’s Ride-On Suitcase & Hand Luggage, £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 8 Kids Edition 32 GB Tablet, £129.99
This kids' tablet won the esteemed Mumsnet Rated badge, and it's easy to see why. 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, £10.19 (was £15.99)
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
Dobble, £9.75 (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
The North Face Electra bag, from £45.86
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
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