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Family Western Europe Trip - Feedback Please

Family Western Europe Trip - Feedback Please

Old Oct 2nd, 2018, 05:19 PM
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Family Western Europe Trip - Feedback Please

I'm starting to research/plan a 2.5-3 week Western Europe trip for my family of 4 (me, my wife, 8 yr old daughter & 6 yr old son) for the summer of 2019. Other than a short trip to Spain that my wife and I took before kids, this will be our first long overseas trip. Here are my preliminary thoughts. I would appreciate any feedback.

Objectives:
  • Culture rich experience (Some but not much tourist areas. We mainly want to experience true local living)
  • Beautiful sites
  • Kid friendly activities
Timing
  • 2.5-3 week vacation. Since we are going with kids, I'm thinking we need more time in each location. If we did 4 days per location, that would allow for 4-5 destinations.
Locations:

These are based on vicinity to each other and the very light research that I've done:
  • Italy - my wife and I definitely want to go somewhere in Italy. Our friends have visited Cinque Terre and highly recommended it
  • France - will likely do Paris
  • Spain - I've been to Madrid. I hear Valencia is beautiful.
  • Switzerland - Looks amazing but I haven't done much research
  • Other areas: Croatia, Belgium, Netherlands, Greece
  • Iím thinking that we do London, Ireland & Scotland on another trip
Questions:
  • Does this look like a good start?
  • Thoughts on timing of the travel? We are limited to the kids school year but any time between end of June through the end of August.
  • Will 4 days be enough per location with kids?
  • Any destination recommendations? Or would you recommend other areas that I haven't listed?
  • What's the easiest way to get around with kids? Train, car, or plane?

Thanks so much!
justinsil is offline  
Old Oct 2nd, 2018, 09:33 PM
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Well you will not be living like a local staying anywhere for a few days.. or even a week.. so cut that fantasy short.. And tourist sights are tourists sights as they are worth seeing.. however with young kids obviously you need to skip long museum visits..
I personally would take three weeks and a week in three places. moving is tiring and can be stressful for kids.. checking in and out of hotels .. going to train stations or airports.. etc.

Cinque Terra will be massed with tourists.. seriously.. you are going high season and you will feel it.. perhaps choose a quieter place for a beach visit.. And kids love beach holidays..


Train rides are fun for kids ( they like walking around and going to dining car , which is really just a concession car , no seating, also they like having a picnic on the train.. but I personally book flights if the train ride is more than 5 hours long.. I max out from Paris to Nice.. which is almost six hours by train.. but everyone has to do a nice train trip at least once right.. Flights are fast and cheap.. pack light.. and read all ticket condtions before booking. I ve used Vueling, Easyjet, Ryanair, etc.. all fine if you follow the rules.. and all were pretty cheap since I always book many months in advance .

Do not go in August.. hotttest and busiest months for most destinations.. ( especially beach or coastal cities.. ).. If you do go in August always pay more for AC hotels..

Switzerland is beautiful.. but very pricey.. very.. so keep that in mind..

Your kids are still young.. I would really pick three places and actually enjoy them.. remember when you book four nights in one place its really only three full days.. the day arriving and leaving are travel days.. not much sightseeing.. When traveling with just adults you can pack alot more into a day.. kids need it to be more slow paced,, a wander through an open market, a visit to a beach or park to run off some steam.. and then sandwich in a cultural or historical sight inbetween those activities.. Stop for ice cream .. walk along a river.. then another sight.. maybe.. lol It will be hot everywhere too ( since you arent contemplating the uk, lol ) ..

The youngest of my kids was 11 when she got her europe trip ( we have three kids and each child got a one on one trip with either me or their dad) but I started visiting europe by age 6 ( have a grandmother in Paris ) and my opinion of Paris didnt really improve till I was about 11 or 12,, before that it was too many museum, monuments, statues, and people for me.. the cultural and historical love I have for it now didnt kick in till I was that age.. but your kids could be different.. So build time in to just chillax.. I loved it when we went to the beach..

Its great that you have all this time to plan too.. you can really make it a special trip.

PS .. my kids loved seeing castles. .not palaces so much.. but the old ruined castles. .
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Old Oct 2nd, 2018, 10:09 PM
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Just a few quick comment right now - I have no idea what you'd do with two young children on the CT. It will be a mob scene, many of the trails are closed, and some of the hikes are pretty strenuous.

And four days per city spread over half of Europe means you use up one of those days every time you move -- so really only 3 days -- which for a family of four is not much time. With 2.5 weeks (17 days will net you 14.5 days free on the ground) I'd plan two major destinations for a week each with a day trip or two out of each city, and if you can squeeze it in - a couple of days out in the countryside. If you can wrangle 21 days -- which means 18+ days free) you could base for almost a week in three destinations.

It will be hot to VERY hot in most of Italy and Spain.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 02:50 AM
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It's more like a random list than a good start. Four days in a location means 5 nights. Add in travel time, and you're overdoing it with such a short timeframe. Get yourself a full-size paper map of Europe and some pins and plot this out - it won't work. Pick 3 locations, preferably ones that are relatively close to each other. Or pick two and set up camp in a house or apartment and get to know your surroundings.

You're not going to really experience life as a local until you start making car and hair and bank appointments and taking trips to the tax and mayor's offices, especially if you don't speak the language(s), so you need to dial back the romanticism a bit. Picking two places and settling into each for a week or more will give you more than a glimpse, but that's all.

You couldn't pay me enough to visit the Cinque Terre in summer, especially with kids. You might want to rethink that.

I can't see the usefulness of recommending other destinations, particularly entire countries as you have listed, as Europe has some 50 countries, each of them with multiple, varied regions, and it's your trip, not ours.

As noted, August is likely to be sweltering in any of those places in the south.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 03:11 AM
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I am a "local," more or less, now having lived in Vienna for six years. In the summer we escape to the alps as often and as for as long as possible, leaving Vienna, and its somewhat un-airconditioned public transport, to the visitors.

With children as young as yours, less is more. Think Salzburg/Bavaria/Switzerland. There are cultural activities for everyone in the "big cities"; and farm stays in incredible guest houses with doting Omas and Opas, and plenty of animals to pet and feed. There are cable cars to whisk everyone to the top of one mountain or another, with hiking and wandering trails for all ages and abilities. Summer toboggan runs sprinkle the landscape, as do castle ruins that can be explored. And the best part is that the weather is generally spectacular.

With most European school children not on summer break until the end of June, you'll have the best choice for accommodations in the last weeks of June.

Happy Planning!
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 05:02 AM
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Thank you for such an in-depth reply. You're tips on traveling with kids is awesome. I'll definitely tweak my thoughts and do a longer stay at each location. I think that makes a lot of sense. Knowing my kids, it will take a few days from them to adjust to a new place and they will get tired of traveling if we do it frequently.

My kids would LOVE castles. Any recommendations? Also, do you think I should put the UK on this list due to the weather during our trip?
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 07:20 AM
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>>Also, do you think I should put the UK on this list due to the weather during our trip?<<

I would -- but then parts of England and Scotland are my very favorite places anywhere. 2.5 weeks just for London and Scotland would be wonderful. There are (literally) thousands of great things for families all over the UK.

If it was me I'd be thinking about cooler destinations - the Alps, Dolomites, Scotland, etc. But where you end up really is unlimited.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 07:39 AM
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Perhaps our kids are different but moving around a lot was never stressful on them. If it was stressful (not much) it was stressful on we the parents.

We have almost always travelled in August. It can be hot. Not hot enough to change our plans.

Personally I would try and visit a few places the kids have shown an interest in. The Roman Colosseum, the pyramids (not in Europe, yes it was hot), the Swiss Alps or wherever they have an interest. Their eyes really light up when they visit somewhere they have read about, or these days watched a video about.

And the easiest way to get around is with carryon luggage only. Do yourself a major favour and drop the large suitcases.

Last edited by xcountry; Oct 3rd, 2018 at 07:49 AM.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 08:28 AM
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Kids, Paris and castles - I'd recommend you stick to France.
Do Paris 4-5 days (why not go to eurodisney or Parc Asterix with the kids ?) Paris is empty of French so city is not crowded and hotels above 2 stars are nearly empty thus cheap.
Go to Loire valley and see chateaux there (Chambord, Amboise, Saumur etc) 4-6 days ?
Obviously avoid the south (I'll be on the riviera like 50% of my friends at least and we are all jampacked and avoid moving and driving + it can be real hot like this year).
Go to Brittany and find some relatively wild beaches there (and you might be lucky with weather) or go to Amsterdam to see something different.
We have been once to Italy in summer and never again (worse than France imo),a void Spain (hot, hot) or maybe go to Atlantic side. Grrece will be hot but hot in Greece is better than some other places - you're always close to seaside..
Croatia (or Slovenia in my case, was nice but again we went in may, not summer).
Can't comment about Switzerland, we don't like it that much, it is expensive, people are not as nice as say in Greece. We go (went) there for ski. But not in summer.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 08:38 AM
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If going mainly to large cities take the train - if covering a small area and into countryside drive. But trains are fantastic - for lots on planning rail trip check www.seat61.com; www.ricksteves.com and BETS-European Rail Experts.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 09:50 AM
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What I'd do in your circumstances:

Visit one big city for a few days. With kids, my pick would be Amsterdam, because it's very compact and walkable, very kid-friendly, everybody speaks English, and it has enough activities and sights (and beauty) to fill several days while you adjust to the local time. It's also a very quiet big city, due to more bikes than cars.

Then fly or take the train to some countryside area, get a car and rent a house with a pool for ten days or two weeks. Relax, shop at the local markets in the village, do day trips in the car or walks in the countryside, and just chill out. If you pick some village or countryside area near (but not in) a major visitor destination, you can enjoy both the urban or historic attractions, or just spend days by the pool, walking to the village cafe or bar... in short, living life as a family rather than as tourists surrounded by thousands of other tourists.

As for where I'd do this countryside stay, OMG the field is so wide open... Areas I'd research if I were you:

- Provence and the hills above the Cote d'Azur. Look at this listing for example - https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p8071664
- Italian lakes, north of Milan. Example - https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1781226
- Dordogne in France. Example - https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1538196a
- Tuscany. Example - https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p8806816
- Catalonia/Barcelona in Spain. Example - https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p259137
- Veneto region (near Venice.) Example - https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1054820

I could go on, but you get the idea.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 02:29 PM
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I think it's way too many places and too short a time in each one. You haven't allowed for the time it takes to get from one place to another.

As far as the best and easiest way to get around, you need to decide where you're going first to say

I think your list is fine as a wish list, you just need to research and prioritize what your family is most interested in doing and seeing. Even with young kids I think they can be involved in the planning.

Amsterdam, Paris, and somewhere in Italy could work.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 03:35 PM
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Mine is just another voice or opinion, but I don't like multi country trips.

You want to get the feel and atmosphere of another country, and for me, jumping countries doesn't do that.

Pick one and really experience shopping, transportation, language (even UK has intriguing differences), history. England and Scotland sound great. I too would stay north.

Italy and Switzerland share borders.

I also like fourfortravel's recommendation above.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 03:48 PM
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Hello,

I would second the recommendation for a week in each place. So maybe pick 3-4 destinations. Less moving around with kids is easier - having a base and then doing little day or half-day trips. We also try and stay in places with a pool (not for Paris obviously). If you stay a week there is usually a good selection of self-catering cottages (or "gites"), often with pool access. On our first trip with our kids (aged 7 and 9) we did 5 days in Paris, 1 week in the Dordogne and 1 week in the South of France. The kids loved the Dordogne - especially the medieval castles! We've been to the Loire with them on a subsequent trip but they found those castles less interesting. Having a few days or a week near the beach is also nice with kids. Both times we went at the end of June into mid-July. It was starting to get busy but not crazy.

We also did another trip to Italy - we spent a lovely week on the Riviera near Sestri Levante - beautiful beach there. We took the train for a day trip to the Cinque Terre (about 20 mins away by train). While the CT was beautiful it was insanely crowded. I found other towns in Liguria just as picturesque. Our kids didn't find it to be a particular highlight (but they still talk about Pisa and Lucca as well as Sestri itself).
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 09:57 PM
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Not knowing your budget, I would choose Switzerland. First, it's not overly hot or crowded, even in the summer. Second, it's one of the most diverse and naturally beautiful places in the world. One currency, multiple langauges. Third, you can reduce costs considerably by staying in apartments, which will be far more comfortable with your children since you can stay together but still have two bedrooms. Fourth, you can split the trip into one week in the Berner Oberland (fantastic mountain trips and hikes), one in Ticino (sunny and warm, the Swiss "Riviera"), and one in the French speaking areas (castles, cheese, chocolate). Fifth the Swiss Pass is free for children under 16, so you can save a lot on transportation. And the transportation system is unrivaled: trains, boats, mountain buses take you everywhere you want to go.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 02:18 AM
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My kids (9 and 11) have been to Scotland and Switzerland. They absolutely loved both and, according to them, would move to either place in a heartbeat.

Scotland is beautiful, has plenty to do outside, and has the castles to check out. Plenty of cities to get your urban fix and relatively easy to get around when driving.

Switzerland, while a bit expensive for food and lodging, would get my vote. We could VERY easily spend a month there checking out every small town and village. The train system there is amazing and it will remove all the stress of driving. You can actually sit, relax, and enjoy the views with your family rather than dodging traffic.

Another place is Malcesine Italy. It's a relatively small town on Lake Garda just on the edge of the Alps. A few days there would add a good mix to the trip and allow you to see a different country.

Good luck and have fun
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 08:05 AM
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Paris-Switzerland (Berner Oberland Interlaken area) and Italy would do for your time frame and wish list - Cinque Terre is mobbed in summer and if kids don't want to hike - forget CT IMO and do Venice-Florence and Rome.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 12:52 PM
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One 3-week trip I did was flying into Geneva, then the Lac Leman area of Switzerland, onto Venice, then onto Paris, fly home from Paris That was a great trip, not too rushed, and would fit your time frame and general request.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 01:12 PM
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There is an overnight train between Paris and Venice and v.v. - could be neat experience for family - bring any food or drink aboard and get a private cabin- www.thello.com - company that runs the train.
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Old Oct 5th, 2018, 08:44 AM
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We visited the UK and France in 2016. We flew from Glasgow to Paris (CDG) and it was super easy. We stayed the night before at a Holiday Inn Express, walked across the street to the airport that morning. We were at our lodgings in Paris by 1 pm or so and visiting nearby sites that afternoon.

Be very aware of where the lowcost airlines like RyanAir land. They are not necessarily at the same airports as major airlines. You may need a longer transport to get into the city and with kids, it's something to consider. We got lucky with a special fare from AirFrance so don't discount the major airlines automatically.
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