City Breaks with Kids; How to be great city explorers

Can you still take enjoyable city breaks once kids come along?

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Signal Hill in Cape Town, South Africa

Big cities sometimes get a bad wrap when it comes to family travel.  Many parents dismiss them as “too hard”, or “the kids will be bored”.  What rubbish!

We’re here to set the record straight on city breaks with kids.  They are not impossible, they just need a little planning and forethought.  In this article we are going to guide you through:

6 steps for setting up the perfect city break

6 sure-fire activities to keep little explorers entertained

 and 5 things for city explorers with kids to avoid

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Combining great heights with things that go and a park, great move mum! Kings Park, Perth

Remember the key to good family travel, is making sure that no one in your group is OVERTIRED, HUNGRY or BORED

Sounds easy right? We all know its not that simple.  And if a long flight has been involved in your journey then throw jet lag recovery in to the mix too.  Before we dive into family-friendly activities that are always a winner, let’s look at how to structure your city exploring.


6 steps for setting up the perfect city break

1. Plan only the essentials

Despite years of preaching organisation is key to family travel – and it is – when it comes to what we actually get up to when we arrive in a new city, we like to keep our plans fairly open.   (Don’t ever think of skimping on proper planning at the flights and accommodation booking stage though, ever – this will only come back to bite you!!!)

Make plans only so far as when you think meal, toilet and rest breaks will be needed, let everything else fall into place around this. If you plan too carefully, or too much, you will be bound for disappointment when the cracks of a toddler tantrum commence or you’re making your 15th unnecessary toilet stop – GO WITH THE FLOW!

2. See what other parents say

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Souq Waqif, Doha

A great way to research what’s on in a city to suit families is look at family travel blogs!  Not just a sales pitch for my industry, this is genuinely the way I now research my trips.  With kids I find this approach far more helpful than any guide book. There’s a great new website that’s just been launched Family Travel HQ that helps you find travel blogs by location.  If you are staying in a hotel, ask your concierge or desk staff what they recommend too – they may well have kids themselves and give you the inside scoop on special events and activities that are on during your visit.

3. Gather information leaflets

If your hotel or accommodation stocks little attractions advertising cards and pamphlets, its a great idea to stock up on these when you arrive.  Not only are they brilliant for kids to play with in the hotel room, they might actually give you some inspiration on what’s on about town too.  Local magazines and papers might be another way to see what special events are on during your stay (and could well contain some coupon codes that will save you on meals and attractions too!)

4. Pack an awesome day pack

Having the right amount of kiddie supplies with you – but not too much that you’re weighed down or your stroller keeps toppling over – is crucial.  How many diapers will you realistically go through? Will kids be ok to eat out or will a supply of snacks be needed?  Is there a chance they’ll get wet (hands up who’s kid see’s a water fountain then ‘accidentally’ falls in?) A critical supply I like to include from toddlers and above is a small supply of colouring books (or magic water books), perhaps matchbox cars that can be pulled out when boredom may otherwise ensue – avoid favourite lovies though – I’ve heard too many stories of poor bunny being left behind at important landmarks!

5. Organise downtime

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
A refreshing break in Hanoi, Vietnam

We love finding a bar or restaurant with a good street view – get the kids some finger foods and colouring, get ourselves a nice cold drink and give all of us an opportunity to recharge.  Invariably this is also where I pull out the map because I finally have my hands free and work out everything that I’ve managed to miss as I was too distracted!  My Miss 5 loves this activity too, she will try and retrace where we’ve been, and want to see all the photos we’ve taken.

6. Include adult time too

Family travel is not all about the kids. Yep there, I said it. Make sure if you have any “must do” items on your explorer list these aren’t ruled out or discounted completely because the kids are with you. We’ve many times taken kids to attractions that may not be considered overly ‘kid friendly’, but we balance it out with something that they will enjoy before and after, or attach a reward at the end for their patience (absolutely not averse to bribes in this family).  Even better, can mum and dad split up for some alone time? One can take the kids exploring while the other explores on their own?


6 sure-fire activities to keep little explorers entertained

Regardless of the city we arrive in, almost all big cities will have these attractions which are great to keep kids entertained and break up a long day of exploring – or you can make them the focus of your day:

1. Seek Markets

Food, people watching, picking up touristy nik naks, street entertainers.  I think markets are the best way to feel the real essence of a city, far better than seeking out shopping malls and seeing the same old stores you can see pretty much any major city around the world.  Our oldest is already learning the art of haggling with street vendors and has picked herself up a few bargains along the way (her blonde hair and cute smile help).  In South East Asia particularly this is where we see activity thriving and also a great way to interact with the locals, ask questions, try new foods.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Markets: A night time wander through Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City

2. Seek Museums

So many museums we have seen around the world are rethinking the way they present themselves to a younger audience with interactive displays, even life shows and activity rooms. Science museums in particular are great for hands-on experiences and giving kids a feeling that they are involved.  We have had several great big city experiences including the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (Science Museum) in Paris, the Science Museum in Kensington,  London, the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha to name a few.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Museums: A hands-on experience at the Science Museum in Paris

3. Seek Animals

What kids doesn’t love animals! Of any shape and size.  Zoos are absolutely perfect, be it big world-class zoos, or small local community petting zoos (often found inside large city parks).  Indoor aquariums also make great rainy day activities to keep little ones amused.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Animals: Zoo Miami in Florida was a fabulous example, including a special dinosaur display

4. Seek Heights

I’m personally a sucker for a great view, and it seems its a passion I have passed on to kids too.  Whether its taking a trip up an observation tower, a cable car up a hill or even a Ferris Wheel, getting up above a city is a great idea to keep kids engaged with their travels. We love to point out where we’re staying, where we’ve walked or going next – you may even find something new and exciting places to go and explore.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Heights: At The Top, Burj Khalifa in Dubai

5. Seek Things That Go

We have taken trams to tuk-tuks, buses and boats – not just to get from A to B, but it’s a great opportunity for tired little legs to catch up on themselves.  Different modes of transport also provide you with a new way of seeing your city.  Things like talking buses can also be the best way to cover a lot of ground quickly, as well as getting some great commentary on your city.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Things that Go! A boat ride under the Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransico

6. Seek Parks

And when all else fails – tell me a kid that doesn’t like going to the park! Even if it’s just a big green space, letting kids run free for a while is a must to squeeze into a busy day of sightseeing.  The biggest of concrete jungles will still have little green oasis’s that can be scouted out. Now if you find one with a playground too, you’ve really hit the jackpot! We loved this post by Carpe Diem Our Way on great city playgrounds around the world if you’re looking for some unique ideas that you can even base your city break around. Parks and playgrounds aren’t always very well advertised to tourists which is where insider knowledge and blogging research come in immensely handy.  Planning a surprise play park stop after some heavy duty tourism will also win you a lot of good will points!

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Parks: The beautiful Jardin de Luxemburg in Paris

5 things for city explorers with kids to avoid

Now you know how to set up your day, and what activities to turn to for keeping kids engaged – what should you be looking to avoid? The problem with big cities is, well they’re big, busy places! Here are a few things to avoid when looking at a day out in town;

1. Rush hour

Especially on weekdays, remember normal folk live in busy cities, going about their daily business.  Your need for a double stroller to be traipsed up the Metro steps, or stopping for the 17th time to photograph your kid in that beautiful but bustling location is probably a bit of nuisance, to be honest. If you’re nearing dinner time and want to avoid the late afternoon meltdowns, plan ahead to beat the crush with an early dinner or snack stop.  Likewise, you might not want to start your day’s excursions until the business day is already under way and traffic has eased.

2. Strollers

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Think about what you’ll do if jet lag hits and they all need to sleep – simultaneously!

Speaking of strollers – think ahead how easy will your city be to navigate with a stroller?Although they are brilliant for hanging bags off, resting tired children, how user-friendly is your city? Will you encounter a lot of stairs? Will there be safe places to park it at places you can’t bring it inside with you? How heavy is your stroller for transporting and lifting?

I’ll admit I am one who always errs on the side of taking a stroller. With 3 children carrying them all is no longer an option; I’d rather the inconvenience of carrying the stroller up and down the occasion staircase then dragging my older ones kicking and screaming once they are beyond tired (see our stroller page for more on what types of strollers might be best for you).

3. Mis-calculating distances

It’s so easy to look on a map and assume you can easily get from A to B – and as grown adults you probably can.  When tired little legs are involved though, don’t expect them to be so keen on the idea of walking everywhere.  Some cities offer fabulous tuk-tuk or taxi services that are cheap and easy for short hops, otherwise look at how easy it is to jump on and off public transport just to preserve some leg power.  See advice above too on things that go – try building this into part of the days activities to prevent over-tiredness.

4. Wearing the wrong thing

Just as running out of supplies might make or break your day, so can having the wrong clothing.  It should go without saying comfortable footwear for everyone is essential, but what about temperature? Kids are the first to moan if they are too hot / too cold. But do you want to be carrying big coats if there’s no chance of rain? (you WILL be the one carrying them). Will they freeze once the suns gone down and the evening starts? Are humidity and sweat an issue? A quick check of the weather forecast is a good start (and look out the window what the locals are wearing). Layering is of course the ultimate travel dressing solution – unless you’re visiting Melbourne (the city of 4 seasons) then I’m afraid any dressing advice I could give is useless!!

5. Trying to do it all

Only got a day to see the highlights of a city? Please remember when kids are in tow, you have nowhere near the leg speed, attention span or stamina that you had travelling solo.  Don’t try to be a super hero and squeeze it all in, there’s no medal for completing everything on the “10 things to do in” list.  Remember, you’re visiting a city not conducting an audit; you will all get far more from the city break experience by choosing only a few key places and events per day.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Taking in the beautiful waterfront of Doha after colouring at the Museum of Islamic Art

Far from being stressful, we find city breaks to be hugely rewarding.  There is such a variety of activities for all the family to enjoy and you get to experience and learn so much more than when you simply lock yourself away in a resort.

Just remember, conquer TIREDNESS, HUNGER & BOREDOM for happy travels!

Pin for later

City Breaks with kids ~ how to be great city explorers | Essential family travel advice from OurGlobetrotters.Net

What are your favourite activities as a city explorer? Which cities does your family love?

Here are some great cities to try out a city break with kids: BERLIN ~ CAPE TOWN ~ LISBONLONDON ~ MELBOURNE ~ SAN FRANSISCO ~ SINGAPORE ~ SYDNEY ~ TOKYO

 

And don’t forget to check out  our 20 Best City Breaks for Families – as chosen by fellow family travel bloggers for more inspiration

© Our Globetrotters

 

43 Comments

    • Europe is a perfect example of where kids will gain so much and love city exploring – whatever age!

    • Oh dear — we have a few years left of dictating the travel agenda, dreading what the teenage years might bring!! More parent solo holiday’s I’m guessing!?

  • If anything i would have say that tackling a city with kids is much easier than going somewhere small and isolated. There is way more to do in a city that can keep the kids occupied. there is always an ice cream store around the corner if all else fails

    • Exactly our thinking Mark – and the way we are approaching our next SE Asia trip. Mostly city stops and exploring rather than beach chairs every day, it keeps us all happier, maybe just a hotel pool at the end of the day if their not already worn out finishes things off nicely!

  • I love all your information! I will be sure to include it in my Facebook & Google+ postings. I own a number of vacation rental homes in Asheville, North Carolina (USA) and provide cribs, high chairs, strollers, pack-n-plays for babies at all my homes. Babies come with so much equipment when packing a car, there’s no room left for suitcases! I also provide kid’s playrooms, toys, stuffed animals, games as well as outdoor playground with slide, swings, forts, etc. I find that offering family friendly homes makes my guests’ stays so much easier. With the addition of your suggestions in this posting, it will make traveling with children the best ever!

    • Thanks for sharing Stephanie. And what a great service you offer, I’m sure many families would be thankful for this sort of service.

  • My kids are 4yrs (almost 5) and 7yrs and am just starting to think a city break might be ‘do-able’. They’re my favourite type of holiday by far so will definitely be looking into it as an option now bearing all these tips in mind – thank you!

    • I do hope you give it a go – they are great at this age, past the potty training and stroller stage wo you should have a lot of fun!

  • Great post! I love city trips and so does my daughter – they are totally doable with kids – there is so much to do and see! I agree with all your points – particularly not planning too much…you may not get as much done with kids but at least it’s enjoyable. I’m so with you on stopping for a drink too when little ones are beginning to get tired (especially if I have misjudged the walking distances)!! Thanks for linking to #citytripping
    Elizabeth (Wander Mum) recently posted…City Tripping #13My Profile

    • This is definitely my husbands input into the advice, I can get him to do almost anything if I promise there’s a cold beer at the end of it!

  • Fantastic tips and I totally agree – I’ve been to several cities with my daughter, including Paris, Amsterdam and Copenhagen and I think they’re great with kids. Science Museums and zoos/aquariums are definitely top of my list too, while not trying to pack too much in. #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted…City Tripping #13My Profile

    • We have definitely learnt to slow down and pretty much throw away the guide books – find a few great blogger ideas and see what happens with the day – I find when they’re engaged like this we actually get many more hours out of them than if we just wanted a lazy day at the beach

  • Great tips. I’m not overly adventurous on where we visit with our toddler – always worry about him getting too bored if he’s stuck in the buggy too long. But maybe I just need to plan better. #citytripping

    • Absolutely Lucy – If you plan for stops where they can get out and explore, be hands on, it buys you a little quite time later to do your own things. It can really be a win/win and very rewarding way to do family travel – thanks for stopping by #citytripping

    • I think we get lulled in to a false sense of ‘doing it all’ still when we have a small baby that is happy to be pushed or carried everywhere – once you’ve got walkers who want to explore independently the pace definitely changes!!

  • Incredibly useful tips. I’m all for taking my children with me to cities – there’s always so much for them to see and do, and don’t feel you have to do things just for children. Why shouldn’t they enjoy museums and markets too? I think slowing down is a good tip too. Don’t feel the need to rush around and see all the sights. Everyone in the family will have a better time if you do a few things well rather than see a little bit of everything – you’ll all end up grumpy and tired that way!
    Great post! #citytripping
    Clare Thomson (Suitcases and Sandcastles) recently posted…The Ten Best Bookshops in the WorldMy Profile

    • Thanks for the comments Clare – it probably took us a few trips to completely find our groove but absolutely slowing everything down we actually achieved so much more.
      Memories like sitting in a cafe in Havana watching our 16 month old rocking it out on stage with a Cuban band would never of happened if we hadn’t stopped to sit back and relax for an afternoon!

    • Yes those used to big open spaces can find cities a little overwhelming but it just needs a little more thought in advance then see where the day takes you

    • Yeah London can be horrid in that way – it was actually when I was in London last year (on my own) that I got inspired to start writing this post, seeing parents traipsing up and down the tube and looking bewildered and lost! We were Londoners for many years and it can be a great city if you know where to seek out the family-friendly parts and avoid the big city rush.

    • Oh the snacks! We have long since give up that their tummies will coincide with appropriate meal breaks! Nothing keeps the complaining at bay better than a well timed banana or biscuit (raiding the hotel breakfast buffet while you have your day pack with you is the secret, ssshh!)

    • Yes it will hopefully become a great travel planning resources for families, I’m already eagerly following new pins from me dream destinations list!

  • This is a great post with great reminders. Our first stint through Europe we only had one baby and she was born there and we left when she was 20 months, so she was very young. It was pretty easy to get around with her then and still do mostly all of the adult stuff we wanted to do. We are about to return to Europe for a year with 2 children ages 3 and 1, and I’ve been trying to mentally prepare myself for the new way we will need to travel. Thanks for reminding me it can be done, and what I can do to make it fun for all of us!

    • That’s great that you will be going again with the two. You will find it a different dynamic again to traveling with just an infant, there is a lot more crowd pleasing needed with a 1 and 3 year old! Life will move at a very different pace but I am sure there’s a load of new things you’ll learn to appreciate this time by taking things a lot slower

    • That’s great thanks Marta. These ideas are pretty much a checklist we have in our head now of what we will do to fill a city break – with any of our own interests and activities dotted in between

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge