Thinking about a city vacation with kids? New York, Paris, Rome, London, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago—all of these urban destinations are wonderful venues for a family vacation. The benefit of cities is the plethora of activities that cater to many different interests in a small geographic area.
As the mother of four active children under the age of 10, I know the challenges urban adventures create for families. That said, I still love cities with my kids and given the choice between a beach and exploring a cool city, the city wins almost every time. The key is that you can’t just go marching into say, New York or London, and plan on simply on doing what you did before you had children.
When traveling with kids, you’ll have a much more enjoyable time if you incorporate a few family travel basics: play, preparation, selective sightseeing, and balance.
Play: Plain and simple, kids need to play. Infuse play into everything throughout the day. Stop by a park. Ride a carousel. Climb a wall. Count steps. Create a treasure hunt. Chase bubbles. Whatever, but plan on it or your crew will cause misery and in my case, possibly even a mutiny! Keep in mind that for kids, getting to a destination can be just as interesting as the destination itself.
Preparation: Preparation and planning will serve you well. By having well-selected lodging, an idea of what your family would like to see, and some information about the city, you can better utilize your time. Review books and online resources together to generate interest in places you’d like to see. That way you can also prioritize your choices by pre-determining which sights appeal and don’t appeal to your group. We have a list of favorite kids travel books we use for many cities including Boston, Washington D.C., NYC, London, Paris, and Rome.
Selective Sightseeing: Kids love sightseeing if you do it in a way that caters to their mental and physical stamina. Rather than seeing five sights in a day, plan for two, but do so in a way that is geared to their attention span and captivates their interest. Plan an hour at each sight, and if things are going well, stay longer. Keep in mind that little feet get tired. If you have to walk to the destination and then stand in line or walk extensively once you are there, factor time off their feet into the planning. Museums are an exciting part of most metropolitan areas and great for families—in doses. For additional tips on making the most out of family museum visits, read my post on museums with kids.
When sightseeing, breaks are both important and fun! So, stop and play at the park or sit and get a soda or coffee. ou can’t just run from attraction-to-attraction. This is actually what I love about traveling with kids—it forces you to slow down, take in the surrounding culture, and enjoy things that you may have previously hurried past.
Balance: Chose a variety of activities that appeal to each family member. Striking the balance between adult and child interests, between educational and fun endeavors, and between structured and relaxed time is important. For ideas about kid-friendly activities I use Viator as a starting point. I like to plan one unique activity per trip (like biking the sites in DC or Gladiator school in Rome). I look for activities that create a fun and memorable experience while providing some physical exercise.
Burning off some steam is always essential with my crew! Also, don’t forget down time—this is equally as important. Re-group at a park or the hotel (a hotel pool makes this easy). Also, in-room movies are a perfect way for everyone to get some rest.
Nancy Solomon is a travel writer living outside of Boston with her husband and four kids. She writes for CiaoBambino.com, a family travel guide with tips and advice around all things related to traveling with kids, as well as reviews of the best kid-friendly hotels.