The culture, infrastructure, safety, and diversity of Europe make it an absolutely top-notch family destination. But the continent is so family-friendly, and its some 50 nations so diverse, that the sheer number of options can be overwhelming.
Whether your kids are still in elementary school, or just about to head out to university, here are some fantastic family-friendly vacation options for your next European adventure.
1. Italy – Alps to Sicilian Volcanoes
An American friend recently noted, “Everyone in Italy seems to love children. We had SO many warm exchanges with Italians while visiting there with kids.”
Italy offers accessible cultural stories and a broad range of foods to satisfy the complex pallet of an adult to the pickiest child. From the ample coast to the stunning Dolomites and Italian Alps, there’s both geographic diversity and a variety of activities for you and the kids to choose from. There are countless walking and bike tours, many that take you into local food markets, or actually teach you how to make your own Italian delicacies.
While Rome is an obvious “must see,” I would suggest that for an off-the-beaten-path and very unique adventure, you tour the volcanoes of the Sicilian islands via boat, hydrofoil and kayak.
2. France – It’s Not Just Paris
While Paris is often on a traveller’s bucket list, there are some real gems to be discovered outside The City of Lights. After a few days exploring iconic Parisian attractions (younger kids will love a ‘treasure hunt’ through the Louvre and picnicking in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower), discover the “real” France of quaint villages, medieval towns, historic homes, and incredible nature.
The region of Dordogne is filled with a wide variety of family-friendly options and as Lonely Planet notes, “In addition to magnificent castles, prehistoric cave art and lush landscapes, the Dordogne is famous for its foodie traditions.” If you’re not afraid of a little exertion, try a multi-sport trip that has you walking, biking, horseback riding and paddling through the medieval town of Sarlat, the walled village of Domme, and the Chateau de Castelnaud – a castle built in the 12th century.
For a unique adventure in this bike-crazed nation, you can ferry to France’s channel islands to bike St. Malo, Guernsey, and Sark. A passionate Italian biker friend said, “If you have preteens and teens, then cycling Loire in France is perfect!”
3. Switzerland – Slackpacking and Sledging
Striking Switzerland, a country I’ve described as being, ‘so pretty, it hurts,’ offers numerous active family itineraries, no matter the season.
Explore the medieval towns of Constance, Stein, Meersburg and Lindau as you circumnavigate Lake Constance by bike and boat (and sometimes kayak). Walk the stunning Bernese Oberland region and introduce your children to the delights and rewards of alpine walking. Start in Grindelwald and hike past vast glaciers while taking in stunning views of the iconic Eiger and Jungfrau peaks.
For winter activities, there’s always plenty of skiing but be sure to include a day of ‘sledging’, where you rent a traditional Swiss sled, take a gondola to the top of a peak, and then sled your way down the mountain on dedicated sledging runs – some of which are several kilometers long.
4. Ireland – Castles, Dolphins and Off-roading
Kids love scrambling over ruined castles and ancient sites – and Ireland is absolutely full of them. The population of this safe, easily accessible destination is very family-focused and I’ve found them to be some of the nicest people on Earth.
There are amazing beaches for surfing, kayaking with dolphins, cycling the national parks and plenty of hillwalking – all within easy driving distance (the country is only 120 miles wide). If you want a fresh adventure, try bog swimming or join a 4X4 off-roading operator to take you bombing around the lush green countryside in Land Rovers and Mercedes ‘Vagatrons.’
5. Finland – Wild Wilderness
If your family craves rugged, natural experiences and pristine wilderness, then you must explore Finland. The northern, Nordic nation offers up incredibly exotic and serene experiences for modern families who truly want to get away from it all.
Explore reindeer farms, hike the Julma-Olkky canyon, canoe the Hossanjoki river, and spot wild bears and wolves. When the snows come, exalt in the solitude of winter woods as you drive a dogsled with your gleeful, bundled-up kids as passengers, take snowshoe hikes or cross-country ski, experience a snowmobile safari, or enjoy a family ride on a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
6. Balkan – Sails, Hikes and SUP
If your family is looking for a fresh, lesser-known take on “getting away from it all,” consider the Balkan nations. There are amazing beaches, lakes, and mountains – often at half the cost of a trip to Western Europe.
One British friend of the family recommends Slovenia. “It’s a very clean and safe country that, so far, is still a secret. Locations like Lake Bled, Ljubljana, and the Julian Alps are just amazing.”
Sail through Izola and Trieste, hike across Bohemia, or try a multi-day stand up paddle-board tour through Lake Bohinj, the upper Soca Valley, or the coastal town of Piran.