Sure, city trips with kids may involve fewer cocktails, leisurely meals and lazy mornings than they might do otherwise, but that’s not to say they can’t be wonderfully fun and stress-free. Urban environments offer plenty of activities to suit travellers of all ages and it’s rewarding to see your children getting as much joy out of a city as you do.
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However, as parents who’ve tried it know, negotiating busy streets with a demanding entourage – be they toddlers or teens – can be a challenge. Curb the chaos with these tried-and-tested tips.
Get to know the city
Before you go, capture your kids’ imaginations with films and books about your chosen city. Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral will look a lot more interesting to youngsters if they’re on the lookout for its resident hunchback, and the Spider-man series will have them yearning to see New York’s skyscrapers for real.
Once you’re there, look for local guided walks aimed specifically at kids – tourist offices may offer special family trails. If your kids can ride (or fit in a child seat) they may prefer to whizz through the streets on a bike tour. Either way, getting your bearings on arrival makes navigating your destination during the rest of your stay a lot simpler.
Choose the right place to stay
Renting an apartment is often the easiest way to go; you can self-cater when it suits you, keeping mealtimes simple – and you don’t have to worry about disturbing other guests. You also have a bit more space to spread out and relax when you need to take a breather.
That said, staying in a hotel is often fun too; you can take a break from chores and children will relish it as a novelty – just watch their eyes light up when you order room service. If there’s a pool, even better.
Whichever lodgings you choose, location is key. Long commutes into the city eat into precious sightseeing time, so choose somewhere central or find a nearby bolthole with decent transport links.
Go with the flow
Don’t be too ambitious when it comes to itinerary planning. With kids in tow you may not be able to walk as far or as fast as you would on your own – slowing down and staying flexible should minimise moaning and prevent burn out.
Keep kids engaged at museums and galleries with audio guides – many attractions provide narration specifically aimed at younger visitors. If your little ones are prone to museum fatigue, you may find that castles, palaces and monuments hold their attention for longer.
Kids also love squares with fountains, sculptures, street stalls and entertainers. Head to these pedestrianised areas to relax, browse stalls and people watch when you feel the need to slow down.
Have a bad-weather backup plan
Think about the weather when timing your visit. Cold temperatures are manageable with the right clothing but being out all day in the rain can be miserable, and getting stuck indoors away from home may not be much fun.
Luckily, many cities are virtually weatherproof, with a positively splendid wealth of kid-friendly indoor entertainment such as interactive museums, play centres, ice-rinks, bookshops and theatres. When planning your trip, keep a few rainy day options up your sleeve to lift dampened spirits.
Try out quirky transport
Taking unusual local transport is all part of the adventure in a city. Hopping on a boat, cable car, funicular, rickshaw or tram can be a real highlight of your trip and provide a different perspective on a city.
If you’re bringing a buggy, make it a small, light, foldaway one, rather than a monster – it’ll be easier on narrow pavements and for getting on and off your chosen means of transport.
Avoid mealtime mayhem
Time often flies when you’re exploring a city – but you don’t want to wait until hunger hits to start thinking about food.
Weather permitting, picnics are an ideal lunch solution for those who like to be prepared; you don’t have to stress about disturbing other diners, taking too long to get served, or finding something the children like to eat. If you find a local supermarket it’s often cheaper too.
From German sausage stands to jalebi (syrup-soaked batter spirals) in Delhi, good local street food is another quick and easy way to eat. A tactically-timed waffle stop can halt tantrums in their tracks, and it’s always a good idea to keep some emergency snacks in your bag for on-the-go pick-me-ups.
Indulge your inner tourist
Agree on a small budget for your sprogs to each spend on a souvenir, then let them select whatever they like – however questionable their choice. Children usually love browsing street stalls and outdoor markets and will get a kick out of selecting something to remind them of their trip.
Letting the kids get snap happy with an old phone or a disposable camera can help keep them entertained and give you more of a chance to linger in places that would get rushed through otherwise.
Factor in some ‘me time’
If you’re travelling with a baby or toddler who naps, seize this time as a chance to have a leisurely café break or to wander around a gallery or museum that could potentially feel like a circle of hell if they were awake. You can see entire medieval museums or sip whole glasses of Campari soda on sunlit squares this way, with your little angel being none the wiser.
If you’re desperate for a completely grown-up evening out, many mid-range or top-end city hotels offer babysitting services. You could also contact a local, recommended childcare agency so that you get to see the city after dark, while the children recharge for another day of city trip adventures.