Chicago author, style expert and mother of two Amy Tara Koch has learned how to navigate Europe with kids in tow.
STAY: Embrace life as a Parisian family with VRBO, which offers apartment rentals at a range of price points in neighborhoods across the city (starts at $70 a night, Vrbo.com). If money is no object, check into the storied Hotel Plaza Athénée (rooms start at $875 per night, Plaza-athenee-paris.com). The price is steep, but it comes with perks like child-sized bathrobes and a babysitting service.
DO: Board a water taxi and use the River Seine as a tour guide. The hop-on, hop-off Batobus makes eight stops at landmark attractions, including the Eiffel Tower and Champs Élysées.
During the summer months, the Jardin de Tuileries turns into a kids’ paradise, thanks to an amusement park filled with trampolines, marionette shows and a Ferris wheel that offers a superb view of the city. Two of the finest museums in Paris flank the park: the contemporary Musée du Jeu de Paume (tickets $10, free for kids under 10, Jeudepaume.org) and the Musée de l’Orangerie, which houses Monet’s celebrated Water Lilies (tickets $9.50, Musee-orangerie.fr). The city’s turn-of-the-century bohemian spirit is still vibrant in Monmarte. Take the cable car — or funiculaire — up to the Basilica of Sacre Couer, the highest point in Paris.
A visit to the Louvre is essential, and an interactive approach keeps kids entertained. Paris Muse Clues: A Family Tour for Young Treasure Hunters is a two-hour treasure hunt through the museum that sharpens detective skills through observation ($370 for family of five, Parismuse.com).
Food is one of the many pleasures of Paris, and the standout experiences revolve around sweets. Macarons are to Paris what cupcakes are to America, and the can’t-miss version is served at Laduree at the Rue Bonaparte ($2 each, Laduree.fr). For lunch or dinner, drop by La Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marche (Lagrandeepicerie.com), a grand food court, to scoop up fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses, best consumed in one of the city’s scenic parks.
TIP: Taxis in Paris are exorbitant. Make a game out of taking the far less expensive metro. The always-entertaining cast of characters, including jugglers, musicians and sketch artists, add to the city’s enchantment.
Harry Potter. The royal family. Harrods. If you crave a kid-friendly urban getaway that marries history with what’s hip, the place to be is the post-Olympics London.
STAY: Make yourself at home and rent an apartment through One Fine Stay (Prices vary by apartment, Onefinestay.com). Or, if you’re looking to truly splurge on accommodations, the spacious suites with perks like in-room Wii consoles make the Four Seasons Park Lane a paradise (suites start around $1,500, Fourseasons.com/london).
DO: Sightseeing is a breeze with the hop-on hop-off Original Tour, a bus excursion that stops at most of the capital city’s landmark attractions, including Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace ($42 adults, $36 kids, Theoriginaltour.com).
At the Natural History Museum, kids will flip over the array of exhibits, from dinosaur fossils to space information. In the science lab, 7- to 14-year-olds can get an up close view of nature, while the younger set will score a backpack, complete with a safari hat and binoculars (Tickets vary by exhibit, Nhm.ac.uk).
For an on-the-go afternoon, venture to Hyde Park for horseback riding lessons at Hyde Park Stables ($104; Hydeparkstables.com). Refresh with a “proper” afternoon tea, including scones and finger sandwiches, at Fortnum & Mason’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon (afternoon tea from $60, Fortnumandmason.com), then finish the day at Hamleys toy store. Located on Regent Street, it’s the largest and oldest toy store in the world, dating back to 1881 (Hamleys.com). For dinner, save money by having a hotel room picnic with goodies from Harrods Food Halls (Harrods.com/food-and-wine).
South Beach’s sophisticated European cousin is a tropical, trendy paradise filled with jaw-dropping art and architecture.
STAY: The Sheraton Four Points is within walking distance of the beach and the Sagrada Familia, and close to shopping, dining and public transport (rooms start at $150, Fourpointsbarcelonadiagonal.com).
DO: Barcelona is a pedestrian’s city — but kids won’t complain about sore feet once they embark on Las Ramblas. Stroll down the .75-mile, tree-lined street and marvel at the panoply of street performers, then pop into the series of shops and outdoor markets along the way. Hands down, the coolest things in Barcelona are the surreal constructions of famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. These Art Nouveau buildings pepper the city; Casa Batllo, Casa Mila and the Sagrada Familia can be seen in a single afternoon, and the famous Parc Guell is just a few metro stops away. If you’re still craving a culture fix, but tired of trekking outdoors, take the kids to the Aquarium (above, $6 and up, Aquariumbcn.com), or the Picasso Museum ($8 and up, Museupicasso.bcn.cat), which encompasses more than 4,000 works from the artist’s formative years. For meals, create your own picnic at the Boqueria (Boqueria.info), a fresh foods market. In the back, Bar Pinotxo owner Juanito Bayen serves up tapas at a counter-style eatery.
Story by Amy Tara Koch