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Single mom with Toddler going to Europe for a month

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This is a very broad question. I am starting to plan a trip 3 - 4 week trip next year to Europe with my toddler, she will be 3 years old next year. First, where should we go? My first thoughts are Sardinia, Sicily, or Greek island (Santorini or Crete). Any other suggestions on location and time of year to go?

As a background, I have travelled throughout Europe quite a bit. I've already taken my daughter to Paris, Hawaii and other places so I'm not worried about the long flight etc. I am traveling from the US. I am a cautious parent and I do like making sure she is in a car seat, but I'm not sure that is always practical in the places I'm considering. So is it easy to get around in places like Sicily or Sardinia? Also, are there any safety issues I should be concerned with?

I think a lot of our time will be spent on a beach and eating in restaurants. I don't want to drag her through many museums or churches, but I do want to expose her to other cultures. I would like to know what other activities would be good for a child her age.

Would love any thoughts/opinions especially from other adventurous single parents.

I'm sorry this is such a broad question. My main goal is to get away fro 3-4 weeks to a place that is easy-ish to travel with a toddler but not just some all-inclusive type of resort. I want her to continue to be exposed to cultures and languages and I also want to enjoy myself.

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    In Spring or Fall, southern Spain would be perfect. Beaches would be especially nice in the Fall. Some small towns have little trains in and around the towns. In the evening, many towns are filled with families with small children playing and enjoying tapas in the many plazas. Extremely family oriented.

    Central Italy and Rome could also work in Spring or Fall and there are family beaches not far from Rome. Towns like Lucca have carousels, perfect for children. Great toy store there also. Family oriented.

    Many Areas of Germany and Austria would be nice with a little one. Lots of parks and playgrounds, public pools, etc. Lovely lakes with some beach areas. She might enjoy a bit of some of the castles. Check out events like fireworks in Heidelberg, when they do the Burning of the Castle. Germany and Austria are both super kid friendly.

    London - canal boat rides, great parks and markets, easy walking.

    I would not even consider Santorini - not much for a little one to enjoy, cobbles to stumble and fall on, and the need for constant attention because of steps and low walls. Not fun because of safety worries.

    With a child, for an island, have a look at Corfu. Interesting and lovely place for family.
    Rhodes could also be interesting.

    Save Sicily until she is older. The most wonderful things to see there require stamina and a car and will be enjoyed more when she understands more history and architecture. Of course, those things are important anywhere, but other places are easier to navigate.

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    "Next year" is not very exact -- what TIME of year?? I'm the Greek Isles maven (12 trips since '99) -- and from my observation, last Week in May to late June is the PERFECT time, weather-wise and child-wise ... and the perfect island for at least part of your stay is NAXOS. I'm there at that time on sandy, shallow (clean) St. George beach, directly adjacent to Naxos town ... and the sand are sprinkled with Scandinavian toddlers, staggering around with pails & shovels, having wonderful time. There are lots of other young parents & children to socialize with. Plenty of cafes right on the beach, AND, You can bring your "cane stroller" and walk 10 minutes in to all the attractions of the port town (cafes, tavernas, shops, winding lanes, ruins etc etc). If you plan ahead, you can reserve one of the Very handy studio units with a patio directly on the beach... much in demand!

    You won't need a car -- the island bus network is excellent -- unless you want to rent one for a day to whirl all around the island (and if you contact rental agency in advance, you can arrange a car-seat).

    Naxos also has day excursions, so if you simply MUST see Santorini, you could do that. The excursion includes bus transport from the port up to the towns, so it would be possible, altho no fun for a 3-year-old.

    One of the nice aspects of Naxos is that it's not overly "touricized" -- because it's so large, and very fertile & agricultural, many many farms, sheep goats, vineyards etc, also the harbor can't take cruise ships (yay) and the airport can only take teeny planes (yay!). The weather is PERFECT at that time (70-82°by day), and things are happening, but it's not crowded. And you can take a bus a few miles inland to a hillside village, where the priest is playing checkers in the town square, and farm trucks are loading up produce. You can get along in English (they teach it in Greek schools starting age 5!), but any Greek you use is applauded & appreciated. Greeks adore children... she'll be your passport to meet yia-yias (grandmothers) everywhere.

    Every US family I know that has included Naxos in their Greek trip find tht the kids love it better than any other part of the trip. And I haven't even mentioned the array of adult enjoyments: history, ancient culture, art, concerts, cooking classes, water sports etc. Here are some photos by another Naxophile of island highlights:

    You can fly in to Athens & then take a 45 min flight to Naxos. You can easily ferry to Another island for part of your trip, and also back to the Mainland.

    I also adore Crete -- but it is an entire Country (160+ miles long!!), and you truly would need a car to do it justice ... also, you don't have the same kind of beach situation as on Naxos. So many "family beaches" on Crete have really become more of a Brit-Euro package-holidays kind of thing. whereas Naxos, blessedly, is still a relaxed, independent traveler scene.

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    OK, Sparkchaser, I'll try to think of some complaints. Oh yes, here are some: hotels don't seem to offer free beach towels as in "resort" areas. There are no "swim-up bars," in fact, fewer pools than in "resorts". There do not seem to be any "Quizzo nights" at local bars, very few "Full English Breakfasts" and no dart-boards at all that I have noticed. How's that???

    Here are more ... sometimes up in the hills, a car can be held up by herds of goats or sheep ambling down the road at a leisurely pace. Shopping at some local groceries produces anxiety because there are too many cheeses to choose from. In tavernas, after I've had waaay too much delicious food for about €15 including wine, the hosts insist on tempting me with a free dessert or raki.

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    Wow...thank you all. I'm so glad I posted this question.

    Sassafras - where in Spain would you recommend? I hadn't considered Spain but that sounds great since I speak the language.
    I'm trying to go somewhere I've never been so Rome, Germany, Austria are out. Maybe when my daughter is older. Great insight on Santorini- that's out of the running now.

    I love Corfu. I only spent a day there on a cruise so I would love to return.

    Thank you travelerjan... Naxos sounds perfect! Exactly what I was looking for. And if I want a side trip to another island I can do that. This is top on the list now! Now my research begins.

    So what about Sardinia? Any thoughts? I was leaning towards Italy because my Italian is decent. I speak no Greek but I suppose I could pick up a phrase book. Normally it wouldn't matter, but a month with a toddler and no one to speak with could be hard. If you say Greeks speak English well then I might be fine.

    I'm thinking early September. I could go anytime really. I don't mind the heat so summer months June and July could work buy I'm assuming it will be crowded and over priced? I'm avoiding Augusut because all of Europe seems to be on vacation. Travelerjan... would September work? Is May/June crowded?

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    So many questions! I'll do my best
    LANGUAGE -- Today Greek Schools begin ENglish language instruction at age 5 ... so just about everybody under 40 speaks passable English; in fact, kids like to try out their English on you. And of course all the hoteliers, cafe and shop folks are great with English. The GOOD part is that when you even TRY a few Greek words, (unlike in Paris where they may mock you or pretend not to understand), Greeks smile and say "Brava!" (I know, not Greek). There's an easy BBC link "talk Greek" where you can learn a few basic words that handle everything -- and every decent Guidebook has a list of handy words/phrases. I find that such lists omit important words, and I look them up -- words of praise like "delicious" "beautiful" "grateful" etc. I remember I got entirely thru italy with 3 phrases "delicious food," "lovely city" and "beautiful baby". So do not fret!!

    CROWDING/PRICEY -- Please don't assume! Unlike Italy Greece does not have a long "High Season", it's pretty much July-August. and even in Late June, I have not found Greek isles crowded (except for the "cliche twins" Santorini & Mykonos) nor will prices rise much between May & June, and NEVER get as high as Italy.

    MAY-JUNE vs SEPTEMBER -- I've had extended visits at both times, and these ARE the best months to visit Greece, specifically, 3rd week May to 3rd week June, and Sept 1-28. Which works best is very individual; its a matter for lively debate. My feelings:

    PLUSSES for SEPTEMBER -- The crowds are gone, but weather stays nice; actually hot (upper 80s) the first week, then sliding into 70s by the end. The sea is sublime, having had all summer to warm up; however, that wouldn't matter much if one is staying at a shallow, shelving beach like St. George for sake of toddlers. MINUSSES -- It's a question of ambience -- I'll deal with below.

    PLUSSES for MAY-JUNE -- Weather is heavenly! Nights are in 60s, day goes from about 65 7am to mid-80s by 3pm, then gradually down into 70s by nightfall.Breakfast/dinner = little sweater over shoulders. Rainy season is over, but everything's GREEN, especially on fertile island like Naxos; flowers AND foliage. Also, I always feel I get more holiday for my $$ because the days are so long; sun doesn't set until nearly 9pm. Finally, because it's the start of the season, no crowds no rush, Greeks are in such a good mood -- out painting their boats and their houses, plenty of time to chat & joke (Greeks LOVE to talk!)

    • First, I think u see an older demographic of traveler; singles and those w school-age children are gone; maybe u have no interest in socializing, but it's something to consider.
    • Greece has gone nearly 4 months w.o. rain, so even the greener isles have a browned, dry look; people keep flowers & vines blooming, but hills & fields etc are dusty... not my thing.
    • Days grow shorter fast, dark by 7:30, not my thing. and Finally
    • Shops are beginning to shutter, but more than that, Greeks have other things on their mind... after busy High Season, some are "burned out." Others are welcoming as ever, but they're thinking about getting their kids in school or going to Athens for orthodontia appointments, or storing their boats or gear; they're not "living in the moment" as much. You know that situation? that may occur when having a wonderful dinner at a restaurant and your group lingers long over coffee, and suddenly you notice... the place is quiet, the other diners have left, waiters are mopping the floors, and putting chairs up on tables. This doesn't literally happen, but in late september, you may get the feeling, time to go. Others feel differently -- that's just me.

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    travelerjan: You are the best! Thank you for all of the detail. I am sold-- Naxos in May/June. Maybe I will be lucky and meet you there. I've been reading some of your other posts on Naxos and they have all been very helpful. This beautiful island wasn't even on my radar.

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    I know, I know, Naxos is not on the radar for many people ... because so many today only look at what appears on their smartphones. They don't realize that most websites exist for a Reason -- to promote a place, and make money. Therefore those URLs talk up the most "popular" (and costly) destinations, and whitewash the drawbacks.

    I keep on vainly crying in the wilderness -- print is not dangerous, books have value, try it you'll like it. Guidebooks over the years depend on reputation, therefore they can't constantly "shill" for certain places, hotels, tours etc and get away with it the way internet sites do, so they must hold to a higher standard of truth-telling. Sure, they cost a few bucks, but when people budget THOUSANDS of dollars on a trip, I'm always amazed that they won't invest $20 or so in a reputable guidebook. And today, gently used guides are available online at bargain prices, and it's not that vital to get the very latest edition.

    I modestly suggest a visit to your local library to browse through their guide shelf. Do not be seduced by those with many color photos -- THAT is what you can get for free online. Also, don't go for the ones with very specific info on hotels & restaurants -- those tips are what forums can provide. Judge guides for their CANDID commentary about the ambience of a destination, and good Details about landmarks & important sights ... that kind of information doesn't change with every edition. FODORs is a good middle-of-road guidebook, perhaps for the upscale traveler w. comfort requirements; it does provide some candor. My overall fave I must admit is ROUGH GUIDE; despite its name, not a backpacker approach, but very thorough and forthright about plusses/minusses. Until this year, didn't waste pages on color splash. GOOD history section, and D-I-Y for sites. A bonus; the layout is such that you can (carefully) pull out sections, use duct tape on spines and Voila! pocket-size Guide-ettes. Then u need not pack a clunky book, just 5-6 sections.

    Sorry for riding my hobby horse, but I get so weary of inquirers (not singling you out) who know only what appears on a 3" x 4" screen, and then wonder why they miss out on the best places. You've got time to do research, and make your 2017 Greek adventure perfect... Kalo Taxidi! (that's greek for Good Journey).

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    travelerjan: Thank you...I will pick up both the guide books you suggested. I remember when I first started traveling 20 years ago how much I relied on travel guide books and when the internet became popular I remember finding this lovely Fodors forum. Wonderful Fodorites such as yourself helped a young traveler plan trips all over the world.

    Over the years I moved away from this site as there are so many other places to find information on-line. I am glad to be back and so happy that I posted a question. I usually just do some research here and never actually comment or ask questions. I'm going to change that and I'm going to go to the library and get some guide books!

    So back to Greece… I had originally posted that Crete was a place I was considering. I read a novel a could of years ago called a The Taste of Honey by Bryan Ayanoglu, the author made Crete sound magical. I haven't been able to get the thought of visiting the Island out of my head. I suggest the book if you haven't already read it.

    So my question is: If I have three weeks in Greece, can I do Naxos and Crete? I do have a toddler in tow and I know that to properly see Crete I would need a car but I'm sure that I can arrange for a driver with a car seat or I can rent a car with a car seat. I feel like three weeks just in Naxos may be too long. Should I add on any other islands?

    The next thing I need to know is where to stay on Naxos. I think if I am there for an extended period of time I will need a condo/apartment. I want to be right on the beach. It doesn't have to be 5 stars but I would like to be comfortable. Any suggestions?

    Thanks again!

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    In Naxos the best beach for your situation is St. George (Ag. Giorgios) beach as I said. I'm glad you didn't say you required upscale places because (for historic reasons) those do not have the ideal location right on the beach. That's because when Naxos started attracting tourism it was mostly the independent (European) travelers, on a budget -- not the la-de-dah crowd. So the good beachfront was filled up with modest family-run lodgings -- 10-25 units, with balconies and kitchenettes. By the time the affluent set arrived, requiring villas with pools and spa and all that... the beach was full, and the upmarket placed had to be built much farther back, so one would need a car to get to the beach easily. That being said, I hate it when people use words like "reasonable" and "comfortable." The latter, for some, can mean good beds and adequate kitchen utensil, for others, it means white silk couches and designer coffee tables. Can you just instead give a budget range ... in Euros please.

    THere are 3-4 places very convenient for your situation -- units that have a BR, plus main room w. table/chairs, kitchenette ell, and 2 daybeds, plus balcony or patio. The patio level is in demand for those w. toddler because they can run in and out, no stairs. Studios Kalergis and Studios Thomais are right on the sand, mid-beach and toward th end that leads to town. A bit south are SUN BEACH and one tht's a little upscale VILLA NAXIA, both about 50 meters off the sand. All are desired by families so it's well to resrve early in the year -- Some scandinavians even reserve in Fall for May-June. You can easily walk from there, on a road/path following the seafront right into town. Tho your toddler will be running ahead, you might take along a cheap "cane" stroller for when she tires.

    I agree that you certainly can do more than 1 island, I would hae suggested more except your original talked about 3-4 weeks in one place. You can find enough to do in Naxos for 8-9 days, then move on to Crete for a similar period. If you plan ahead you can rent a car that provides a child seat.. the key is planning ahead. I've used "Autoway" in Greece 3 or 4 times, beats the prices of biggies like Avis, and has a good fleet. you can pick up in one town and drop at another of the 3 N. Coast towns, (Chania-Rethymnon-Heraklion) without added costs. And if you're in the right place you don't need to rent a car instantly.

    YOur naxos place can be very reasonable - 40-60E per day for units with balcony right ON the beach, and maybe a discount for long stays... and in Crete, it can be even less. If you indicated a budget range, I could be more helpful. There is ONE ideal place just outside Chania that I ALWAYS recommend -- but it's hard to book (only 30 rooms). Unusually for N. Shore of crete, it is directly ON a small sandy beach AND has a pool, PLUS a top cretan chef so people often stay right there for meals.. and finally, on the inland side, there's a local bus stop tht gets you into Old Town Chania in 15 minutes. So one could stay there a few days before renting a car. name is AMMOS -- -- 5-star experience at medium prices. in Trip Advisor reviews it is TOPS.

    Rather than try to provide Crete 101 on this forum I suggest you dig into those guidebooks, then decide on your priorities ... landscape, ruins, food, towns, a mix of all 3. The books will steer you clear of the very few places that have become "package-Tour zoos", and aim you toward more rewarding areas. Crete is not really an island -- its more a country (165 miles long!), and deserves preparation. I've been there at least 5x, about 5-6 days each time, and still haven't gotten east of the Palace of Malia.

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