I’m so excited that my friend Melissa agreed to blog about her experience in Europe! Melissa, her husband and their toddler daughter recently returned to the United States after spending a year abroad. I admired the way they explored and traveled all over Europe with their daughter. Melissa shares her experience about the top three family-friendly places to travel in Europe — even Paris! — with tips on how to navigate the cities and book your stay.
Traveling Europe with a toddler is not easy, but it’s certainly doable. Over the last year, my husband Chris and I traveled with our 2-year-old, Ava, to 13 countries in Europe while living in Brussels, Belgium! Most of the places we went weren’t as kid-friendly as we’re used to in the U.S., but if you do your research you can find several kid-friendly restaurants, attractions and activities in each city.
Here are a few places we particularly enjoyed with our toddler.
This was one of the first big trips we took after moving to Europe. Ava was about 1 1/2 when we went, so I researched age-appropriate things to do. The best decision we made was renting bikes. Copenhagen is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, with safe, wide bike paths and motorists who are used to yielding to riders. Ava loved wearing a helmet and sitting in the child seat on Chris’s bike.
Riding around on bikes allowed us to see a ton of the city in a short amount of time without having to worry about navigating public transit or strapping Ava into a taxi without a carseat. We rode our bikes to the famous Little Mermaid statue on the waterfront, as well as a cool playground with miniature versions of Copenhagen landmarks. Denmark is home to Lego, so of course we had to stop at the Lego store.
Next time I’d like to visit Tivoli Gardens, the world’s second-oldest amusement park. As with all of our vacations, we stayed in an Airbnb instead of a hotel. It gave us more room for Ava’s travel crib and allowed us to keep her milk in the fridge and eat breakfast (Danish pastries, of course) before heading out for the day!
OK, so Paris is not the most kid-friendly city, but on our second trip there we managed to find some fun things for Ava to do, and I want to highlight those.
It was raining when our train arrived, so we set off for Les 400 Coups, a cafe that has a play area with toys for the kids. They didn’t have a big menu, but the food was good and at least we didn’t feel uncomfortable having a toddler with us! After lunch, the weather still wasn’t so great so we took a bus (easier than the subway since most stations don’t have elevators) to the Orsay Museum and saw that every other tourist in town had the same idea. The line to get in was huge, but luckily someone told us that because we had a stroller we could go to a different entrance and we got in within a few minutes!
The museum had elevators and we were able to enjoy several Monets before Ava got too antsy. The following day, Ava and I visited Luxembourg Gardens — definitely the kid-friendly highlight of our trip. If you’re familiar with Madeline, she visits the park in her famous children’s book. It’s a large, beautiful green space with tons of fun activities for kids, including a puppet theater, a large playground (that charges a few-euro entrance fee), pony rides and a pond where you can rent wooden toy sailboats. For a few euros, we rented a little wooden boat with a canvas sail and a wooden pole that you use to push the boat into the center of the pond, then wait until it reaches the side and launch it back in. I thought it would be too tedious for a 2-year-old, but she absolutely loved pushing the boat and watching it sail through the water!
We lived in Brussels for a year, so I’ve either visited or am familiar with just about every kid-friendly place in the city. Most of the main tourist attractions, such as the Grand Place and Manneken Pis (a statue of a little boy peeing) are within close walking distance of each other, which is nice when you have a toddler in tow.
Across from the Royal Palace is a large park with a playground and plenty of space to run around. But don’t limit yourself to just the touristy city center. For example, Cinquantenaire Park is an arguably prettier sanctuary with two playgrounds and a view of Belgium’s imposing Arc de Triumph. Or head over to the Porte de Halle, one of the only remaining portions of the old city wall that resembles a castle. There is a large castle-themed playground nearby.
Beyond parks and playgrounds, Brussels has other kid-friendly offerings, such as the Train Museum and Ferme de Nos Pilifs, a small urban farm with plenty of animals for kids to visit. Scattered throughout the city you’ll see murals and other evidence of its obsession with comics — both the Smurfs and Tintin were created by Belgian cartoonists. Oh and don’t forget to enjoy some of Brussels’ kid-friendly treats — waffles (Liege style are my favorite) and frites (fries)! For a full Belgian meal, Grimbergen Café was our go-to restaurant that warmly welcomes children.