8 Days in Europe...with kids!

Hi friends!
I mentioned in my last post that we were planning a big trip over spring break, and it was so awesome!  We went to Europe! It was the first time that I went back since doing a study abroad in Europe about 15 years ago, and it was the first time for my kids.
In 2016 we made it a goal for our family to travel more, and tried to make an effort to really adjust our priorities to make that possible.  How we plan vacations might seem a little odd to most people though. 
  • We've made a list of places that we want to visit, but we don't really have a time frame for when we want to visit them.  We have a vacation budget--since we really want to prioritize travel--but we don't have specific places/times to go in mind.  I'm always on the look out for cheap flights, because with a family of 4, plane tickets can get really expensive really quickly.  Europe was not in the plans for spring break, but when I found really cheap tickets there, we decided to take the jump and plan a last minute trip.  (For those looking for cheap flights, google flights is a great resource!  We found tickets from San Francisco to Europe which were about the same as a domestic flight to the East Coast...it was cheaper than going to Hawaii!)
  • I try to book vacations for breaks within the middle of school year, rather than the summer, for two main reasons.  One is that plane flights are cheaper, and two is that I really hate traveling in big cities when it's hot and potentially muggy (especially on public transportation!)
This wasn't our first big international trip (In the last two years we've done Argentina and Vancouver Island) so I'm beginning to learn what  makes for a good trip when traveling with kids.  My kids are currently ages 6 and 8.  (Ages 6 and 8 seem like golden years for travel! No strollers, they can read books and watch shows to keep occupied on the plane!  So much easier on mom and dad!)
For this trip, we were gone 10 days, which left us with about 8 days to enjoy Europe.  We split our time between three big "home" cities:  London, Paris, and Amsterdam.
We arrived first in London.  It was the afternoon, so after checking into our apartment (we booked apartments in all of the places we visited--it's so much easier to have more space when traveling with kids, and access to a kitchen is both easier and keeps costs down!).
I've learned that my youngest has the hardest time adjusting to new places.  In light of that, the Easter bunny gave her a Paddington Bear stuffie to bring with her.  She cuddled it the whole time on the plane, and brought it with us everywhere we went on our first afternoon and evening in London.  It seemed to work like a charm, and definitely was her security blanket while we were gone!
We spent 4 nights at our London flat. For two whole days we explored London itself, and on one day we took a day long excursion to Bath, Windsor Castle, and Stonehedge.
For our days in London, here are some highlights:
We went to the globe theater.  This was top on Lu's wish list because she is currently studying Shakespeare in school. 
We climbed to the top of St. Paul's cathedral to see all of London.  I'd never done this before, and I can tell you that it's a bit freaky, especially if you are afraid of heights! My 6 year old only made it to the first level (which is still A LOT of steps) but my 8 year old and I made it all the way to the top and it felt like such an accomplishment!
The views were worth it! 
In London we also went to Kensington Gardens, Hamleys (a 7 story toy store!!) and placed at Princess Diana's memorial playground.  At Kensington Garden the kids got pretend crowns to wear.  They loved seeing the Princess Diana fashion exhibit and they loved the Victoria exhibit (where they could play with toys from the era!)
We picked up the little playmobil soldiers at Hamleys.  The girls were thrilled!  They also loved being able to ride on top of a double decker bus.  They were able to get the front seats up top, and the ride was definitely a favorite for them!  (On a side note, can I say how easy it is to take bushes now that google directions exist?  We'd map the routes on our phones, and it was so easy.  Just remember to buy an Oyster card (Kids don't need one--they ride free with a paying adult!).
Our one big day trip from London was to Bath/Stonehdge and Windsor Castle.  It was really great to be able to see all three places, but the day felt really rushed to me.  I think I'd break it up into two days if I were to do it again. Windsor Castle was much bigger and impressive than I expected.  The kids loved the huge dollhouse there!  It even has running water!  So impressive!
 Bath was such a charming city that I think I could have wondered it for a whole afternoon.   However, given the time that I had, I'm glad we were able to visit all three places (and that we didn't have to drive--we were jet lagged so it was great to sleep on the bus for a bit!)
The "tour" format was great for the kids though, as there was a good amount of driving "down" time on the bus as we went from place to place.  We visited Stonehenge last, and it was nice that it wasn't very busy.  Boy does it get windy though!
After our time in London we headed to Paris via train. The first thing we did was head to the Eiffel tower.  We waited too long to try to book tickets, so we couldn't go up it, but the kids were happy to not wait in the long line and instead ride the carousal at the base of the tower. After that we went to the Louve to check out the Mona Lisa.  We had AMAZING! crepes for dinner and then went up the Montparnasse tower--to see the whole city from above!  My kids loved seeing the whole city so small!
We spent our second (and last) day in Paris visiting the Musee Orangerie and Musee d'Orsay.  My big advice is if going to museums with kids, teach them about some of the things they are going to see beforehand.  My kids were so excited to see some of the art they had studied in our summer art series that we did last summer! We also got some postcards in the gift shop and made it a bit of a scavenger hunt for them to find them.
Ellie's attention span was still only about 30 minutes though.  Beyond that, she got very pouty!  After the Musee orangerie we rode the ferris wheel outside of the museum, and that cheered her up a bit!  It was actually really neat to see the city from up high, and it was a very different perspective than the tower we visited from the night before!
We spent the rest of the afternoon wondering around (and touring) Notre Dame, visiting Sainte Chapelle, and wondering around some neighborhood markets.  We made great use of the Museum Pass in Paris.  We didn't spend a lot of time in each museum, but it was great to be able to stop in and see some of the highlights.  The kids didn't need passes at all--kids under 18 can visit the museums for free! 
Our last two days were spent in Amsterdam, which had been on my bucket list for a while!  We got there by train, and the city did not disappoint.  It was so beautiful!  I'm a complete sucker for cities with canals running through them, and throw in some flower markets and flower fields and *swoon!*
I was actually kind of surprised that Amsterdam seemed to be my kids favorite city to visit too.  They loved being able to ride on a boat, run around and play at the huge Vondelpark park, and they generally liked that the city was a bit less busy with cars and other traffic noises.  (They just had to watch out for the bikes--they will run you over!  We luckily avoided any crashes.)
 The kids LOVED the wood playground located in the center of Vondelpark.  It was really like nothing they had ever seen before.  It was a great release for them to just play after all of our museum visits in Paris.


 On our last day in Europe we went outside of the city to visit Keukenhof.  I've always wanted to see these flower fields of tulips, and while we weren't there at *peak* time, the tulips were still pretty spectacular.  Keukenhof has a play structure for the kids as well, so the kids enjoyed playing there for a bit while I walked around and enjoyed the tulips some more. 

It's been almost a week since we've gotten back, and I'm still trying to get back into the routine of things.  A few people have asked me why I took the kids to Europe so young--and while I do think there are things that they would likely have been able to appreciate some things more as they get older--I also feel that they got a lot out of this trip.  We enjoyed seeing these cities through our kids' eyes, and I think we all have really positive memories from this amazing vacation.  

 Every time I travel far with kids, I'm always struck with a couple of things.  One, that traveling seems to always go better than I fear.  That's not to say everything goes perfectly--My kids got scolded by a lady in Dutch for not being kind to each other.  I had to pick up one extremely pouty child from the floor of the Louve.  My kids fought a lot--just like at home.  But overall, they did great.  They handled long travel travels and visiting foreign cities with grace--even when they didn't understand the local language.  They gained perspective on how other people live and eat, and were generally willing to try new things. 

I'm not sure where we will head next, but I'm eager to go on more trips.  Do you have any suggestions on where we should go next?  Have you ever taken your kids on a far-away vacation?

I hope you all had a great spring break everyone!







  1. Wonderful photos! Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Just fabulous!

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