Today I’m thrilled to publish a guest post by Amie O’Shaughnessy, the editor of Ciao Bambino, a family travel blog and worldwide guide to the best, family-friendly properties (if you haven’t checked out her site, you should – it’s both helpful and gorgeous). Here she offers suggestions for finding places to stay with children in Europe.
Amie lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and 6-year-old son. You can also find her on Twitter: @CiaoBambino.
Researching where to stay with kids in Europe is a daunting task. I understand this issue first-hand-my frustration around finding reliable family-friendly accommodations in Europe is what inspired me to launch Ciao Bambino when my son was a baby.
Initially, Ciao Bambino offered trip planning consulting services to families traveling to Italy and France with young children. The key value we provided to our clients was the fact that we personally scouted all of what we recommended. This process was valuable because not only did we explore and learn about the wide variety of accommodation categories available, but we also experienced what works for different families … knowing that what works well for some may not work well for others and so on.
Where you will be spending time determines the variety of options that will be available and what you can expect in terms of family-friendly amenities.
In many European cities finding a hotel that is kid-friendly is particularly challenging because the hotel rooms in historical city centers are smaller. As a consequence, our standard “two double beds” in a single room is difficult to find. This means that even if you want to stay the same room with your kids-you may not be able to find one that easily accommodations four or more people without getting a suite or connecting rooms. Unfortunately, for budget-conscious travelers (pretty much everyone right now), the fact that you need a suite or two rooms drives up pricing. So, if you are looking to go sightseeing in Utrecht or another European city it might be worth doing some research in the hotels available.
The trick is to find a property with room configurations that works at a viable price point for your budget.
Apartments can be a good option, but there are some distinct downsides:
1) Many apartments have longer stay requirements (4 or more days).
2) It’s harder to verify quality with a standalone apartment vs. a hotel-type property where you can easily research user reviews. When we planned trips for families, the only consistent nightmares were with apartment rentals.
3) Most stand-alone apartments do not have a concierge service and/or someone that can help you get around, make reservations etc. In a foreign city where you don’t speak the language, this can be very useful. If you can find an apartment that does offer Apartment Concierge services, you should definitely consider staying there. It could make your life much easier!
Equally important for families (particularly those with young children) is location. Walking is tightly integrated in day-to-day life in Europe and it’s fun to walk to restaurants and sights, not to mention taxis are expensive and public transportation is crowded.
In larger cities, it is impossible to be walking distance from every appealing tourist attraction, but you can opt for something that is near at least a few of them and appealing restaurants/shops.
Kid-focused amenities like arrival gifts in cities are nice, but at the end of the day these treats are not what make a property the best option for a given stay (noting that the presence of arrival gifts is a good indicator that kids are genuinely welcome).
The reality is that in a city, you won’t be spending much time in your room. A pool can be a nice perk for sightseeing breaks, although typical properties that have pools in cities are the high-end options and they will be much more expensive.
If you have young children and want to skip bringing a pack-and-play with you, it’s essential that you confirm your hotel can provide one at the time of reservation. This is particularly important for rentals. I get weekly emails from families that have booked an apartment and realize after the fact that the owner cannot provide a crib.
There is an increasing number of apart-hotel type properties in European cities where you have apartment amenities (kitchen and living space) combined with hotel services (housekeeping and a concierge). These properties are ideal for families!
Particularly from March-October, the countryside is a fabulous venue for families with room for kids to roam. Open space and amenities like swimming pools make it easy to combine sports and playtime with sightseeing-the optimal combination to keep kids happy and engaged. Given that most European families have 5-6 weeks of holiday per year, it’s easy to find “self-catering” accommodations in the countryside.
The planning challenge here is differentiating between all the options to ensure you find the desired quality level in a location that makes it easy to do day trips.
For me, finding a countryside home-base with appealing outdoor spaces for relaxing is essential. I’m pickier than most people about this-I like some kind of flat grass, pristine views, and comfortable seating. Also, there is a wide spectrum of amenities at countryside resorts. Some are more independent in spirit with only a swimming pool as the common space, and others have full facilities with kids clubs, fitness rooms, spas, restaurants etc. If you’re planning on bringing your pet on holiday, there are plenty of places in the countryside that will accommodate this. Before you book anything, check out the most dog friendly regions and see if any of those appeal to you.
The key is to figure out an overall plan for how you want to spend your days to determine if more extensive amenities are important. Ciao Bambino’s property guide lets users search on kids clubs and pools, in addition to our age-appropriate rating-it’s easy to create a short list of options.
There are so many fantastic places to experience with kids in Europe. It’s no secret that I have an Italy bias-I love the culture, food, and scenery for families. In addition, the extensive tourist infrastructure in places like Tuscany make travel comfortable and easy with kids.
I’ve helped hundreds of families with children of all ages visit Italy and I have to say that there was not one client that returned and wouldn’t do it all over again in a heartbeat. Sure there are travel war stories but the pleasure far outweighs any pain!