Family Vacation Ideas: Here Are the 11 Best Spots in Europe

These European vacation destinations are perfect for families.
Paris Family Vacation
(Photo: Mika Baumeister via Unsplash)

Sometimes the best family vacation ideas require a passport and a sense of adventure. If you’re ready to look beyond the usual family vacation spots in the U.S., why not consider Europe for your next family trip?

European vacations are an experiential way to introduce your kids to the wider world. Western Europe is different enough from the U.S. to feel excitingly unfamiliar, yet it’s similar enough to foster a sense of comfort in most American travelers—making it an excellent choice for your first overseas trip as a family.

The Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

Traveling to the best family vacation spots in Europe with kids in tow may be more of a deep dive into playgrounds, gardens and street food than art museums, cathedrals and gourmet restaurants, but the benefit is you’ll probably be living more like a local than a tourist. And whether you choose a big city like Paris, a remote island like Madeira, or a storybook town like Bruges, Europe’s top vacation spots for kids have something to offer families of every stripe. 

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1. Paris

Paris - Louvre
Paris is surprisingly kid-friendly, and is full of fun parks, sights, museums, and playgrounds (Photo: Hooman R. via Unsplash)

Why Paris Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

With beautiful parks, iconic monuments, and world-class museums, Paris is always a good idea—even with little kids in tow.

Things to Do in Paris with Kids

To get a sense of the city, spend the afternoon with Parisian families at the sprawling Bois de Boulogne, a green oasis with walking trails, playgrounds, greenhouses, and a lake with rowboat rentals. For some indoor time, head to the City of Science and Industry, Europe’s largest science museum with a planetarium, a submarine, and enough interactive exhibits to satisfy curious kids. 

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Bookended by the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, Jardin des Tuileries is a traditional garden with perfectly trimmed lawns thanks to a flock of resident sheep who act like living lawn mowers. Kids will enjoy its whimsical playgrounds, maze, and carousel.

The Eiffel Tower may be the City of Light’s most beloved site, and it’s easy to see why. Ride the glass-enclosed elevator to the top of the signature spire and marvel at its beauty from high above. After dark, watch the lights hypnotically twinkle for five minutes every hour on the hour. 

And if you believe man cannot live by bread alone, you’ve probably never been to a French boulangerie. Purchase a baguette and some cheese in Paris and you’ll be transported to picnic heaven.

Where to Stay in Paris with Kids

Situated in the chic 16th arrondissement, a residential area that’s popular with well-to-do families, Brach Paris is a modern and upscale hotel with an indoor pool and a rooftop terrace. Live chickens and an unmatched view of the Eiffel Tower complete the picture.

2. Rome 

Rome's Colosseum during the day with a line wrapping around the outside. The Colosseum is one of the top Europe tourist attractions
Rome is packed with famous sights sure to wow both kids and their adults (Photo: @Angel_Eyes via Twenty20)

Why Rome Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

Few cities welcome children more than Rome. Parents bring their children practically everywhere here, even to fancy restaurants and the opera. Locals will embrace your bambini as their own.

Things to Do in Rome with Kids

Famed ancient sites, including the great gladiatorial arena the Colosseum and the sprawling ruins of the Roman Forum, are located within walking distance of each other. The city’s Bernini fountains and beautiful squares, such as Saint Peter’s and Piazza Navona, pack a punch. Explore the maze of back streets and watch the Romans zip through traffic on mopeds. 

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Villa Borghese, Rome’s beloved park, has playgrounds and an old-school zoo. Villa Celimontana is a leafy respite near the Colosseum, where historic statues circle the shady playground. When hunger strikes, you’re never far from a refreshing gelato, a delicious plate of pasta, or luscious fresh produce at one of the city’s many open-air markets.

Where to Stay in Rome with Kids

Close to Rome’s major tourist attractions in the heart of the city, Sofitel Roma offers large family suites on a quiet street adjacent to Villa Borghese. 

3. Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is a walkable wonderland with highbrow versions of kid-pleasing treats like chocolate and waffles (Photo: Dan V. via Unsplash)

Why Bruges Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

With swan-studded canals and enough chocolate shops to satisfy Willy Wonka, Bruges is a kid-friendly European vacation spot lifted right from the pages of a Flemish fairytale. 

Things to Do in Bruges with Kids

Stroll the stone-paved streets and watch expert lace-makers spin decorative magic. Soak in the city’s nautical charm on a boat ride down its maze of waterways. The Belfry Tower provides a continuous serenade courtesy of the 47-bell carillon. Kids can expend energy climbing 366 steps to the top and be rewarded with a view straight to the North Sea. 

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Appetites will be robust after scaling all of those steps; luckily, Belgian street food is perfect for little ones. Belgian fries are served out of a paper cone with a creamy dipping sauce. Waffles come in two varieties: Brussels-style is as light as a feather and dusted with a veil of powdered sugar while the denser Liege waffle has a crunch of caramelized sugar.  

Leave calorie-counting at passport control as dozens of artisanal chocolate shops fill the air with a tempting aroma. Visit the Choco-Story Chocolate Museum for a bean-to-bar explanation of how cocoa is transformed into chocolate.  

Where to Stay in Bruges with Kids

On a quiet street steps from the city center, Duke’s Palace Residence has 26 bright and airy guest rooms.

4. Madeira, Portugal

Turquoise ocean waves in Madeira, Portugal (Photo: Shutterstock)
Madeira offers black-sand beaches, hiking, swimming, and a location far from the crowds (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why Madeira Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

Madeira‘s alluring mix of black-sand beaches, lush mountain trails, natural rock pools, and semi-tropical climate are a jackpot for families who love the great outdoors. A remote outpost in the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is 300 miles from Morocco and nearly 700 miles from mainland Portugal

Things to Do in Madeira with Kids

Ernest Hemingway wrote that his descent down Madeira’s steep streets in a wicker basket toboggan was the most exhilarating experience of his life. You and your kids will love it too. You’ll be expertly steered by a pair of straw hat-clad drivers during a thrilling 10-minute descent. (It’s an especially fun element of Christmas vacations in Madeira.)

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A boat ride is the perfect perch for an up-close look at marine animals who frolic in the clean Atlantic waters. VIP Dolphins adds an educational component with an English-speaking marine biologist onboard. 

This off-the-beaten-path Europe family vacation spot is awash with walking trails dotted with ferns, fragrant bay bushes, and tumbling waterfalls. The floral-fringed paths at Monte Palace Tropical Garden are paved, making it easy to push a stroller. You’ll ride a cable car right to the garden’s entrance, so the journey is part of the fun even when vacationing with toddlers.

Where to Stay in Madeira

Families will enjoy the clean and comfy Pestana Carlton, with ocean access and multiple indoor and outdoor saltwater swimming pools.

5. Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland (Photo: Shutterstock)
Geneva has plenty of panache and a beautiful lake, plus sights for the whole family (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why Lake Geneva Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

On the shores of Lake Geneva, Francophone Lausanne is a compact city loaded with Gallic panache. If the weather cooperates, you can go for a dip or a boat ride on the sparkling lake. 

Things to Do around Lake Geneva with Kids

Situated high on a hill, you can’t miss the Gothic and imposing Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne. Each evening at 10 p.m., the night watchman strikes the bell and calls out the time. In today’s high-tech world, this old-fashioned ritual seems frozen in time, a good reason to let the kids stay up late and witness the charms of yesteryear. 

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The Olympic Museum encourages young visitors to reflect on the ideals of the Olympic Movement and the value of sports in society. State-of-the-art robotic, computer, and audiovisual technology make it possible to get a sense of the emotional highs and lows of an elite athlete.

And at Aquatis, the largest freshwater aquarium in Europe, families can enjoy an immersive journey through the earth’s aquatic environments.  

Where to Stay in Geneva

The elegant lakeside retreat Beau-Rivage Palace has an indoor swimming pool for hours of all-weather fun. 

6. Reykjavik, Iceland

The geothermal waters of Sky Lagoon in Iceland (Photo: Elva Erlingsdottir)
Geothermal waters like Sky Lagoon are a popular draw in Iceland, along with glaciers, waterfalls, and volcanoes (Photo: Elva Erlingsdottir)

Why Reykjavik Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

Iceland consistently ranks as one of the world’s happiest countries. Glaciers, waterfalls, volcanos, geysers, and lava fields add up to an otherworldly beauty that’s a magnet for families. The relatively quick five-hour flight from some East Coast cities in the U.S. makes the capital city of Reykjavik an easy and convenient first European vacation spot for families.

Things to Do in Reykjavik with Kids

Head to the Old Harbour in Reykjavik where numerous boat operators offer whale watching excursions. The Reykjavik Maritime Museum is filled with imaginative and interactive displays that celebrate the crucial role of fishing in the nation’s economy. For high-tech fun, Fly Over Iceland has a state-of-the-art spherical screen and sensory extras such as wind, mist, and scents that gives you the virtual sensation of flying over Iceland while remaining safely buckled in your seat. 

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For an immersion in family-friendly Icelandic bathing culture, Sky Lagoon is an outdoor volcanic swimming complex. You also can’t go wrong with a family trip to the famous Blue Lagoon for a geothermal spa experience all ages can enjoy.

One of Iceland’s most popular foods is the hot dog. You’ll see scores of stands selling pylsur, served on a steamed bun with a variety of tasty toppings, putting a smile on many children’s faces without making a dent in their parents’ wallet.

Reykjavik also makes a great base for exploring the scenic southwest of the country. Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and the waterfalls Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skogafoss are all within rental car driving distance of the city.

Where to Stay in Reykjavik

Once a furniture factory, Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre has been imaginatively repurposed into a modern hotel with local artwork and a retro collection of vinyl. 

7. London, England

Tower Bridge in London, England (Photo: Shutterstock)
London is overflowing with things to do for everyone in the family (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why London Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

Jolly old London is brimming with activity for family members of all ages. No when you visit on your Europe family vacation, the red phone booths, Beefeaters with their furry hats, and charming double decker buses will keep young and old busy and entertained for the entirety of your visit. With theaters, museums, and world-renowned architecture, London is a European family vacation spot not to be missed, especially if you’re on vacation with teenagers.

Things to Do in London with Kids

A great way to see London upon arrival is via a Thames River cruise. This will give your family a sense of the layout of the city without having to navigate the streets quite yet. You’ll see London from the water and pick out places that seem to be calling you. Confirm your choices by taking a new perspective from above while riding the magnificent London Eye (unless you’re afraid of heights!).

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Though it may seem like a niche option for only a few members of your family (looking at you, toddler boys), the Transport Museum will truly entice all. Part history museum, part hands-on activity center, the Transport Museum in London has something for everyone. For those history lovers in your group, however, the Tower of London is the top pick to visit. It’s been a palace, prison, and fortress, and still hosts the Crown Jewels to this day. (And if you have enough time on your visit, don’t stop there: Historic Stonehenge is only about 90 miles outside of London and well worth the trip.)

If you’re wondering if it’s worth it to travel all the way to London for a Warner Brothers tour, the answer is a resounding yes if you the Harry Potter books and movies. The Harry Potter studio tour welcomes guests onto the authentic sets used in the films.

Where to Stay in London

Once the former Victorian-era Secret Service Headquarters, The Royal Horseguards Hotel is worthy of a visit in and of itself, but you can do one better by staying there. Step back in time and experience all of the elegance of London in a family-friendly hotel.

8. Edinburgh, Scotland

Towering above the city, Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified castles in Europe (Photo: Kate Bielin via Unsplash)

Why Edinburgh Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

What’s not to love about a European city built around a castle atop a towering extinct volcano? All that medieval magic plus charming cobblestones streets, tree-filled parks, and cozy pubs make Edinburgh an easy and fun city to visit for your European family vacation.

Things to Do in Edinburgh with Kids

Much of Edinburgh feels like taking a step back in time, and the experience at The Real Mary King’s Close is as near as you can get to the real thing—here in-character tour guides take you back in time through a warren of hidden alleys in old Edinburgh. The one-hour living history tour will give you lots to talk about at the pub afterwards! Same goes for the macabre Edinburgh Dungeon, which immerses you in some of Scotland’s darkest history (though it may be a bit too immersive if you’re on vacation with toddlers or younger kids).

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Any visit to Edinburgh will include a walk down the Royal Mile, where the the cobblestone streets invite you to stroll in and out of shops and pubs. Magnificent Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified castles in Europe and has served as royal residence, prison, and military garrison and is another not-to-be-missed attraction when you vacation in Edinburgh. 

For families who can’t miss a science museum whenever you travel, Edinburgh has you covered. The Camera Obscura and World of Illusions will keep your entire family engrossed for the better part of a day with hands-on activities and mind-blowing experiences. As an added bonus, the rooftop garden has some of the best views of the city.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

Finding spacious and centrally located hotel rooms can be hard when traveling with kids, but Cheval Old Town Chambers makes being center-city easy with one- and two-bedroom apartments that will give your family the space you need to relax after a day out on the town.

9. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Canals of Amsterdam (Photo: Shutterstock)
The streets and canals of Amsterdam will charm anyone who visits (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why Amsterdam Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

With bike-friendly streets, mouthwatering stroopwafels, and hands-on science, Amsterdam is an obvious European vacation destination for families who love good food and good fun. (And isn’t that every family?) Amsterdam’s canals add to the charm, but it’s the history and art that make this a truly a beautiful city to visit.

Things to Do in Amsterdam with Kids

Amsterdam brims with things to do for the whole family. Science and nature lovers will appreciate ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo, which houses not only a zoo and aquarium but also a museum of microbes, a planetarium, and botanical garden right in the city center. NEMO Science is equally worth the visit simply for the architecture and rooftop terrace where you can get a view of the city, but stay a while and your family will love the hands-on activities centered on the convergence of science and technology. And a Historic Tram Ride will satisfy any budding engineers or transport aficionados in the family.

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If you’ve come to Amsterdam for the history, a visit to the Anne Frank House is a must. With care and tact, the museum helps visitors gain understanding of the personal impact of World War II and the Holocaust. Pair your visit with a guided walking tour of the Jewish Quarter to understand what daily life was like prior to the war and its impact on this city in particular.

The Van Gogh Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh pieces. Immerse yourself in his artwork and life in the beautifully designed building.

Where to Stay in Amsterdam 

Marvel at the triangular architecture of the Linden Hotel from the outside, then head inside to enjoy the the European modern decor and friendly staff at this charming, comfortable, and well-located hotel.

10. Prague, Czechia (Czech Republic)

Charles Bridge and Lesser Town Tower in Prague (Photo: Shutterstock)
Stroll across Prague’s 14th-century Charles Bridge for sweeping views of the Old Town (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why Prague Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

Visiting the many-spired city of Prague feels like stepping into a European fairy tale, and what kid wouldn’t enjoy that? Home to the largest ancient castle on the continent, storybook architecture, and plenty of activities for young and old, the Golden City is an ideal European vacation destination.

Things to Do in Prague with Kids

The best word to describe Prague is undoubtably “storybook.” And towering over it all is Prague Castle, the largest in Europe and a UNESCO monument with more than 700 rooms. Visit it after a stroll over the iconic 14th-century Charles Bridge for sweeping views of the Old Town.

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Experience a wide range of exhibits at the Národní Muzeum, then make a stop in Wenceslas Square, a grand plaza used for public gatherings, celebrations, and Prague’s well-known Christmas Market. After all that walking, settle down to relax (and picnic) in the lovely Petřín Gardens.

Where to Stay in Prague 

The Alfons Boutique Hotel’s stylish interior and classical exterior make for a perfect match to the spirit of this enchanting city. With standard and suite rooms (including two-bedroom guest rooms with kitchens), families can find a room to meet their budget and needs.

11. Barcelona, Spain

Aerial view of Sagrat Cor in Barcelona (Photo: Shutterstock)
The Mediterranean city of Barcelona is unlike anywhere else in the world (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why Barcelona Is One of the Best Family Vacation Spots in Europe

With its gothic architecture, energetic atmosphere, and wide expanses of beach, the Mediterranean city of Barcelona is truly unlike anywhere else in Europe (or indeed the world). It’s also one of the most visited cities in Spain, so to avoid the biggest crowds you may want to visit in the shoulder season when the tourist numbers are a little thinner and the temperatures are more pleasant than the busy summer months.

Things to Do in Barcelona with Kids

Barcelona can be thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated simply by strolling, taking the bus, and sitting in restaurants at any time, day or night. It very much functions on the traditional Mediterranean time frame that includes a two- to four-hour siesta in the middle of the day and dinner sittings beginning around 9 p.m., and for this reason you may find it a better European vacation spot for teens and tweens than little ones who need to stick to their strict at-home sleep schedule.

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Both Guell Park and the Sagrada Familia are not to be missed, and you may want to book your tickets ahead of time. Antonio Gaudi’s work permeates the whole city, but the Guell Park offers not only beautiful vistas, but also insight into the artist’s style. Of course, Gaudi’s piece de resistance is the continuation of the work of Francisco de Paulo del Villar begun in 1892, the Sagrada Familia; while it’s still under construction, for that reason alone (and despite the crowds) it’s also still worth the visit. 

To experience how Barcelona is truly a city of the arts, also make time to visit the Fundacio Joan Miro, planned by the artist himself. The architecture of the main building works harmoniously with the park-like setting, both highlighting the brilliance of the artist and his own personal collection.

Where to Stay in Barcelona 

The Catedral Bas Apartments not only have everything a family needs to be comfortable (including kitchens, laundry, and Wi-Fi), they’re also centrally located to popular tourist areas for added convenience.

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Allison Tibaldi
Allison Tibaldi has written for publications including CNN, Business Insider, FamilyVacationist, HGTV, USA TODAY, and Travel Weekly. As a former early childhood educator, she is interested in the way kids experience the world, and thinks that travel is the best education for young minds. Tibaldi is based in New York City.