The architecture of Antoni Gaudi makes Barcelona look like a child’s fantasy world (little ones will love the cranes at work on the Sagrada Familia, too), and it’s right on the coast, so you can combine beach time with your urban explorations. Children also love the buskers and food market on La Rambla, and you won’t want to miss the Museu de la Xocolata (a museum dedicated to chocolate!). The Barcelona Princess hotel is close to the beach and one block from a metro stop that will get you to the city center in 15 minutes. Splendom Suites combines the advantages of having your own apartment—the one- and 2-bedroom suites all have full kitchens and a washing machine.
Berlin has that ideal combination of affordable museums and open areas to run around—perfect for exposing the kids to a new culture, then letting them blow off their pent-up steam. Most of the city’s museums offer free admission for kids under 18, and the city’s excellent and inexpensive public transportation system will help you save even more. The Tiergarten, Berlin’s largest park, has a playground in the southeastern corner, near Potsdamer Platz, and is also home to the city’s huge zoo. Ever heard of a Kindercafé? Berlin is full of them, and they’re just what you think: A place for you to relax with a cup of coffee or a bite to eat while your children romp about. Amitola has a colorful play area, plus a second-hand store and occasional ceramics classes. For affordable two-bedroom suites in a central location, book a stay at the Adina Apartment Hotel Berlin Hackescher Markt.
A small city with lots of bicycles and boats, Amsterdam is a great place to bring the family. You can rent bikes to navigate the city’s many paths; if your children are too young to ride on their own, opt for a cargo bike (known as a bakfiets in Dutch) with a box up front that’ll seat two kids. Discount Bike Rental loans these out, as well as children’s bikes and one tandem with a lower kid’s seat in front. Don’t think your offspring will sit through a canal tour? Book a trip on the Pannenkoekenboot, which serves all-you-can-eat pancakes while you cruise the canals—and has a ball pit for the most restless little ones to play in. If you have older kids, have them read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl before the trip, and then take them to visit the very house where she hid with her family for two years. The NEMO Science Museum is also a must, both for its interactive exhibits and its Renzo Piano-designed building. The sleekly modern Conservatorium Hotel—a TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice winner—is right across from the Van Gogh Museum and has two-story suites.
Voted the world’s best family hotel by TripAdvisor users for the last four years, the Cavallino Bianco Family Spa Grand Hotel is well worth a trip off the beaten path: The small town of Ortisei sits in northern Italy, among the majestic peaks of the Dolomites, a year-round resort area that is popular with Italians but little known by Americans. There are separate staffed play areas for babies, kids, and teens, a children’s theater with nightly shows, multiple pools, and a winter ski school and summer mountain biking school—most of it included in the room rate. With free childcare from morning till night, you can take advantage of the spa, hiking trails, ski slopes, and rare uninterrupted time with your partner.
Legoland Windsor, England
The original Legoland, in Denmark, is in the middle of nowhere, but this second location is just ten minutes from Windsor Castle, so you can sneak a history lesson or two in between your kids’ play time. In addition to the theme park with building areas and rides, there’s a hotel with Lego-themed rooms and a splash pool. The park is open from March to November; English schools are in session until mid-July, so you’ll have the place largely to yourself if you visit early in the summer. You may get wet on some of the rides, so bring a change of clothes for the kids. Windsor Castle has several games and scavenger hunts and a special audio guide to keep kids occupied while you visit, and it’s easier to get a good view of the Changing of the Guard here than at Buckingham Palace (it usually happens at 11am every day except Sunday).