What are your favorite preschooler-friendly European cities?
June 27, 2019 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I want to take my family (two adults, a 4 year-old, and a non-mobile infant) on a trip to Europe next April/May. Ideally we'd like to visit a clean, relaxed city with good public transit and lots of chill activities. Please advise!

The bar is fairly low for this trip: the adults would like to spend ~7 days wandering around a cool new city, the preschooler would enjoy playgrounds, parks, boat rides etc, the forthcoming baby will be a baby. We're not planning to drag the kids to a bunch of art museums (one might be nice!). The preschooler will not yet be old enough to care terribly much about castles, cathedrals and other abstractly interesting features. We're not opposed to outdoorsy day trips away from our main destination.

-We don't drive and don't want to lug car seats everywhere, so public transportation needs to be easy and efficient.
-We live in NYC so London feels too similar.
-I have bad associations of France and Italy being very crowded and tourist-y, but I was in my twenties when I went so maybe I should reconsider? Also not a big fan of French/Italian food.
-Bonuses would be good food (we actually like non-European food best, so it doesn't need to be original to the culture), not too hot of weather, and a shorter plane ride.

Cities we've floated so far are, in order of interest, are Copenhagen, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Stockholm, Oslo, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Madrid. We're also considering something near the Scottish highlands which would be less urban and more outdoors-y.

The main goal is to survive a vacation wherein the adults enjoy a different culture and we don't leave our children at the airport by the end of the trip.
posted by zoomorphic to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My first thought was Copenhagen. Tivoli Gardens is great for little kids, and there are a bunch of other nice playgrounds. If you like to bike, you could rent a family cargo bike.
posted by pinochiette at 8:04 AM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Copenhagen. It's not spectacular, but it's utterly pleasant. Make a boat trip, they're nice!
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:11 AM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hello - I live in Edinburgh and I would recommend Copenhagen or Amsterdam (both of which I've been to a lot for work and for fun).

Amsterdam in particular is very easy with small kids and there are lots of cool places to visit nearby on the train - which suits most 4 year olds I know. You can also go north towards the beaches where there are holiday camp/amusement park type places to stay - I don't have an individual recommendation (memory is hazy) but lots of space to run around/rent bikes/play in the sea if it is warm enough. There are many nice neighbourhood playgrounds in Amsterdam and it's fine staying just out the centre as public transport is easy - cheaper too. I was last there for the marathon and we stayed near the olympic stadium (Amsterdam Zuid) and it was a lovely neighbourhood. Really quiet and easy walking along the canals, lots of playparks and Amsterdam Forest (amsterdam bos) which is a giant park with a farm, canoes, lake, forest walks etc.

Schipol is a low-stress airport and public transport from there to most places in Amsterdam is generally straightforward in my experience.

Edinburgh or Scottish highlands are probably not as easy with a little kid and a baby, and the latter will require a car. When they are older and can do more hiking and history, I'd recommend!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 8:35 AM on June 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

We took our 18 month old to Lisbon (and might be taking her again next year) and we found it really doable. It's not huge and insanely crowded, there's stuff to do that we enjoy, and she liked running around the courtyards of the castles, palaces, old monasteries, etc. If we did it next year with her at three, I'd expect her to start enjoying more of the abstract stuff (I'm sure she'd love the coach museum now). We also did the aquarium and the Estufa Fria (a greenhouse) and she liked that stuff then.

We didn't do a ton of public transit, but she did love the trams when we took them (Like a lot of three-year-olds, she's a transit obsessed little kid) and the train we took out to Sintra to see the castles/palaces there. There's also the funiculars and the Elevador de Santa Justa if your little one is likely to be entertained by that kind of transit stuff.

It is a hilly city with a lot of narrow streets. We brought a stroller and definitely used it, but it was a pain. That, and the fact that dinner started around our her normal bedtime (we got her a little dinner each night and then put her to bed with a sitter) were our only kid related annoyances.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:40 AM on June 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Just got back from Copenhagen with my spouse and our child - it absolutely hits your needs.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:01 AM on June 27, 2019

Best answer: Berlin is (while being, in places, hysterically cool) a very low density city with a tremendous number of parks and playgrounds and all around low-stress possibilities. Though if you get an AirBnB in 'KreuzKöln" it will not be as chill, shoot for Schoeneberg/ West half of Kreuzberg/ Northern half of PrenzlauerBerg.

Copenhagen is a thoroughly lovely city as well (and there's now a year-round ski slope, just, FYI) that is a little pricier than Berlin. Denmark's real strength is its countryside, which is really beautiful.
posted by From Bklyn at 9:02 AM on June 27, 2019

Munich is not on your list but it has a boatload of outdoor stuff including bunch of lakes accessible by public transport
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:39 AM on June 27, 2019

Barcelona is on my list for a trip with kids of similar ages. I haven't been there, so it's not a personal recommendation, but it checks a lot of your boxes.
posted by valeries at 10:24 AM on June 27, 2019

Valencia! There’s a gorgeous aquarium that the kids will love, a beach, great food, and way less tourist hustle and hassle than most of the bigger euro cities. And in my experience, Spanish people are a lot more tolerant of little kids and their occasional noise than Northern Europeans
posted by horizons at 10:34 AM on June 27, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks so far for the input! At this point I'm feeling most excited by Copenhagen and Berlin. Lisbon sounds really interesting but not on foot with a stroller and an easily-tired preschooler. What is the public transit like in the metro areas of Munich, Barcelona, and Valencia? And for anyone chiming in later, public transportation is our #1 concern. We would love to avoid cars as much as possible.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:10 AM on June 27, 2019

Best answer: The answer to your question is COPENHAGEN. We're going there for five straight weeks this summer with two toddlers for all the reasons you cited.
posted by whitewall at 11:12 AM on June 27, 2019

Munich public transport is great and extends a long way out of the city into the surrounding area, a great place to spend time in without a car
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:13 AM on June 27, 2019

Valencia! Yes yes Valencia! We had a blast with our then-4-yo! They have public buses and a solid metro system, but the biggest selling point for us was the 9-km dry riverbed turned into a public park, dotted with playgrounds. Wherever you go, there's always a playground nearby. Also an awesome zoo, aquarium and science museum! The food is great - our kid ate his weight in fresh strawberries during our stay and tried all kinds of unusual food, like pickled octopus, just because he saw it on the shelf at the supermarket. The weather is good enough year-round (we were there in February and it was warm enough to go around wearing just hoodies instead of down jackets). And the airport is like a 5-minute taxi drive or a 15-minute metro ride away from the city. A+++, would go again in a heartbeat if I had some spare cash lying around! PM me if you'd like me to send you my "Valencia with kids" plan I made back then.
posted by gakiko at 11:50 AM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Munich definitely ticks all the stuff on your list but I think Copenhagen is nicer.
posted by catspajammies at 12:22 PM on June 27, 2019

Best answer: Yes, if you hate tourists, I would not recommend going to Amsterdam. Copenhagen sounds like it would fit, but I also wanted to chip in for Stockholm. Transit was super easy, we saw a lot of parks, I liked it a bit more than Copenhagen — seemed like more to do.
posted by dame at 12:32 PM on June 27, 2019

Berlin is very kid-friendly. It's flat, so it's easy to get around with a stroller, and public transport is excellent, not too crowded outside of peak times. You see a lot of strollers on U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains. Some of the most interesting monuments are outdoors, like the East Side Gallery, the Brandenburg Gate and the Jewish Memorial, which all have strong visual elements to catch the eyes of little ones. Treptower Park is a nice spot to spend time with the kids, and you can take a boat out on the river from there. If the weather is nice, take a quick trip out of town to visit the beach at Wannsee (a large lake), where a lot of Berlin families spend their weekends.

Note: Görlitzer Park in Kreuzberg is one of the most famous parks in Berlin, but not the most kid-friendly, especially if you're not used to it. There are tons of drug dealers around and lots of weed smoking happening. One or two (or twenty) will try to catch your eye and start a conversation. They are mostly very friendly, polite guys, but yeah, you may feel uncomfortable.
posted by guessthis at 12:43 PM on June 27, 2019

Best answer: A thought: Berlin has some terrific playgrounds... for when they're a little older.
posted by teremala at 1:30 PM on June 27, 2019

Berlin is nice with kids and so is Stockholm, we've been on family trips both places, with kids in all sizes. There are very different vibes, but both cities have excellent public transportation and great parks. In Berlin we enjoyed the Zoo a lot with the little ones, in Stockholm I was on team big kids, but I know the little ones enjoyed a trip with a boat to a museum area. (I went with all my siblings and all our kids). Both places have world-class, kid friendly art museums. And both places have a good choice of food from all over the world.

I feel Spain with small kids is a problem because of the eating hours, I mean, I've done it, more than once, and it's not impossible, but I feel the logistics of eating with small children who are used to earlier hours takes the pleasure a bit out of the trip for the adults. Also, if you don't like French and Italian food much, I'm not sure Spain is for you. It's not a country where there is a huge choice of good food from other regions, and the local food is similar to French/Italian (but with more garlic and olive oil). Everything else is great, not least the weather in April (May can already be a bit hot).

Oslo is in my opinion not best with small children, because I don't find the public transportation as good as the other places on your list. I may well be wrong, but I feel there is a little too much walking for a 4 year old. That said, I haven't been there with children.

I haven't been to Budapest at all. Prague is too touristy, if you think Italy was. My ex went there with the kids and it wasn't a favorite destination, though fine enough.

Copenhagen is where I live, so I'll let others judge, but our best art museum is Louisiana, easily accessible with public transportation and as lovely for kids as for adults. People come to Copenhagen just to see Louisiana.
posted by mumimor at 2:14 PM on June 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Read Alissa Walker on Curbed: How traveling abroad with kids showed me how to fix U.S. transit: Our trip to Sweden featured reliable trains, wide sidewalks, ubiquitous bathrooms—and no car seats.
posted by caek at 6:31 PM on June 27, 2019

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