When thinking about a family vacation to Europe, it can be tough to narrow down the options. “Europe is a big continent with so many places to go,” says Jennifer Spatz, founder of Bellevue-based Global Family Travels, which offers tours for families around the world.
Indeed, there are dozens of countries, each offering something a little different than the next. To kick-start your research (and vacation daydreaming), here are three countries worth exploring:
“Turkey is a crossroads of both Europe and the Middle East,” Spatz says. “The culture itself is really fascinating because of the diversity of people there.”
The caves and underground cities of Cappadocia will captivate kids, and the ancient Greek city of Ephesus is worth the trek for the well-preserved ruins. Istanbul, where East and West literally meet (the city is divided by the Bosporus, a strait that marks the border between Europe and Asia), includes the bustling Grand Bazaar market and the architecturally distinct Hagia Sophia, a church turned mosque turned museum.
Get down the coast via a gulet, a traditional Turkish sailing vessel, which allows for sightseeing at a relaxed pace. “You can see the coast and the history of Turkey from a different perspective versus on land,” Spatz says. In Istanbul, public transportation is pretty good and comes in a variety of modes, from ferry and funicular to tramway and trolley.
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“People are surprised by the food,” Spatz says. “It’s not spicy; it’s really conducive to kids.”
If the elves and gnomes who reportedly inhabit Iceland don’t capture your children’s imagination, the landscape will. Otherworldly vistas—including crashing waterfalls, brilliantly blue lagoons, and volcanoes towering over stark surroundings—wait around every turn.
Touring the Golden Circle offers a great orientation to Iceland, with major stops including Þingvellir, a national park where the country’s parliament was founded and where North America and Eurasia once met; Gullfoss, a majestic waterfall; and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, where geysers Geysir and Strokkur are ready to blow at any time. Adventure beckons from atop an Icelandic horses; their small stature and sweet nature make them perfect companions for kids.
The capital and largest city in Iceland, Reykjavík is small enough to traverse on foot. For getting out to more rural areas, car rental is the most popular choice, although there are buses, ferries and airplanes, too.
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Many accommodations have “family rooms” meant to house parents and children that are more spacious than regular rooms.
When you think of the Netherlands, you might think of Amsterdam’s adult-oriented activities, which doesn’t exactly scream “bring your children here.” But the capital city and outlying areas offer ample attractions for all ages. “It’s an overlooked country,” Spatz says. “I lived there for four years growing up, and there’s so much to do.”
Located in The Hague, Madurodam is a mini village filled with Dutch buildings, all at a perfect 1:25 scale. Kids can dive in, trying out everything from operating the Oosterschelde storm-surge barrier to making a bid at the flower auction. For relaxation, beautiful beaches are never far. In Amsterdam, the Pannenkoekenboot (aka pancake boat) takes you on an all-you-can-eat pancake tour, topped with pretty views from the water and a ball pit for kids.
You’d be missing out if you didn’t traverse some ground via pedal power—here, the bicycle routes are safe and extensive, and cycling is a big part of the culture (plus it’s flat!). Trains and buses are quite convenient when you want someone else to do the steering.
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Amsterdam’s known for its speltuins—elaborate, personality-filled playgrounds.