07 Jun The Seven Best European Attractions for Kids
I’ll never forget the time I visited the little mermaid statue in Copenhagen with my kids, then 3 and 5. Widely hailed as one of the top attractions in Denmark for children, it looked to us like a depressed girl sitting on a rock. About the only interesting thing about the statue is that she has twice been decapitated by vandals (which may explain her morose attitude).
As we trudged back to our hotel in Nyhavn, I reflected on the crucial lesson I had learned: Statues are boring. If you’re taking your kids to Europe, try a few of these kid-approved attractions instead.
1. Quai de la Mégisserie
When your family has had enough of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysees, take them to the pet shop-lined Quai de la Mégisserie. It’s on the right bank of the Seine between Pont Neuf and Pont au Change. The stores here sell everything from cats and dogs to squirrels, toucans, goats and ferrets. Oh, and try not to come home with a souvenir.
2. Tintagel Castle
Of the many castles we visited in Europe with our kids, this was our favorite. Perched on a windswept island high above the sea in Cornwall, England, the ruins of Tintagel Castle spark the imagination of kids and parents alike. Coins and pottery fragments found at the site hint at 3rd-century Roman origins, and local legend holds that King Arthur was conceived here.
3. Piazza del Campo
The perfect architecture of Siena’s old town will almost certainly be lost on your kids, but who cares? Sip an espresso and admire the scenery while they chase pigeons and throw coins into the Fonte Gaia. It’s all pedestrianized, so you can let down your guard a little. Afterward ask for directions to the Pinocchio store, where your kids can gape at the mind-blowing selection of handmade wooden Pinocchios.
4. Gouffre de Padirac
While the 17,000-year-old cave paintings in the Lascaux Caves are a thrill to adults, kids have a hard time grasping history (let alone prehistory). A better choice is the otherworldly Gouffre de Padirac, also known as the Devil’s Doorway. The 90-minute tour here begins with a boat ride on an underground river, and continues on foot through a damp cave past some huge stalagmites. The cave stays at a constant 55 degrees, so bring a sweater.
5. Barrio Santa Cruz
The cramped and pedestrianized alleyways of Barrio Santa Cruz make the medieval Jewish quarter feel more like a maze than a city. In many places you can stand in the middle of a street, reach out, and touch both walls. This region is nicknamed “the frying pan” of Spain, but the high walls will shade you from the merciless sun for most of the day in the summer.
6. The Tower of London
If you don’t mention the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536 and the creepy disappearance of the princes in the tower in 1483, the Tower of London is perfect for kids. They’ll love the yeoman warders in their kooky outfits, the legendary ravens, and the crown jewels. It’s really expensive, so be sure to linger and see everything that interests you before moving on.
7. Killarney National Park
County Kerry, Ireland
Dominating the landscape of County Kerry are the McGillycuddy’s Reeks—the highest mountain range in Ireland. The best place to see them is from impossibly green Killarney National Park. All kinds of tours are available, but the best are the pony carts (called traps) from Kate Kearney’s Cottage to the Gap of Dunloe. In foul weather, which is almost guaranteed in this part of the world, you can snuggle under the wool blankets that are provided as you trot smartly by the miserable hikers on the road.
Featured European Adventures that are great for families: