We just spent an amazing five weeks in Europe travelling with our kids. It wasn’t always easy though. There are many challenges to travelling in Europe with small children. I’m not a negative person by nature so, while we encountered several difficulties, we have also identified how to make it easier on you and your kids.
Here are the 10 toughest things about travelling in Europe with kids and how to make it easier:
1. There’s hardly ever anywhere to change a baby.
Baby changing facilities in public bathrooms are few and far between. The same goes for restaurants, trains and museums. I’m now a pro at changing a baby standing up in the bathroom of a moving train!
Bring your own changing mat but know there won’t always be somewhere other than the floor to lay her. If the floor isn’t an option, you’ll have to change your baby while she’s standing up on a bench or while you’re standing up and she’s hanging over your knee. Bring lots of wipes out with you on day trips or when you’re travelling by train.
2. So many stairs!
There are so many stairs everywhere in Europe and often no alternative to climbing them. Elevators and even escalators seemed non-existent in Metro and train stations. In museums taking the elevator often involved a lengthy walk to a hidden corner of the building. It was frustrating for us while travelling with a stroller. With slightly older kids it might be more manageable but all that stair climbing is exhausting on little legs.
Bring an baby carrier out with you (we love the Ergo!) even if you’re taking a stroller so you can pop the little one in the carrier for navigating the tough bits. We chose to bring a super lightweight stroller to Europe. It only weighs 6 pounds and folds in a flash so we could quickly whip the baby out and pack the stroller down if we could carry it up and down stairs.
3. Getting on and off trains.
Almost as frustrating as the stairs in the station! Getting on and off the trains was difficult with bags, kids and strollers. Most of the intercity trains we took, and even some of the Metro trains, required climbing up a couple of steep, narrow steps.
Again, go with the baby carrier for the times you need to get on and off trains. We would put Hazel into the carrier 5 minutes before we were due to arrive at the station so I had my hands free to carry bags and hold Reuben’s hand when we were getting off trains or getting onto the next one.
4. You won’t get a hand.
Except if you’re in Holland. The Dutch love to lend a helping hand, so it would seem. A pleasant surprise after the rest of Europe. We found it very strange that, in almost all the places we went on this trip to Europe, people would walk past us struggling with strollers and bags going up and down stairs. No one would give up a seat on a train for a tired kid or a mother carrying a baby. Some people wouldn’t even move their bag off an empty seat for you to sit down. In general, expect no help.
Pack light. Your luggage and well as your bag for each days outing. The less stuff you have, the easier it will be to get about. Choose a lightweight stroller that you can fold & carry in one hand with the baby in the other. Definitely bring a baby carrier – we love our Ergo.
5. The attitude towards kids… sometimes.
This goes hand and hand with #4. The attitude towards kids sucks in many places we went in Europe. In Paris, the South of France, Switzerland and Belgium we did not feel a welcoming attitude towards parents with small kids.
Europe just isn’t as kid-friendly as North America, Australia or New Zealand. This is just a case of adjusting your expectations and knowing that you’ll get dirty looks, eye rolls or be completely ignored by locals, fellow passengers on trains & planes and waiters in restaurants. (They seem to really hate kids!)
6. Lots of the things you will want to do aren’t kid-friendly.
Some of the best things in Europe, the things you will want to do the most, will be things your kids won’t enjoy. This doesn’t mean you should skip them! You need to make the most of YOUR time in Europe and do at least a couple of adult activities. You won’t get to spend hours wandering the Musee d’Orsay with an audio guide, stopping at every painting, but you can power through and see the highlights in an hour before yours kids spazz out.
Sandwich your “boring” activities with fun kid stuff. Stop at a carousel before heading into the Louvre and make promises for ice cream afterwards. You want to see Notre Dame? Great. Go to the playground at the back of the building first and then get a crepe afterwards. Do all you can to make church, museum or gallery visits fun for kids. Set them a task like reading after the museum map or put them in charge of finding paintings with cherubs or children or animals in them.
7. Small everything.
Everything in Europe is small. Small hotel rooms. Small elevators. Small bath tubs. Small washing machines. I’ve never seen a dishwasher as small as the one in our Barcelona apartment! Your kids won’t care about this one but it just makes some tasks that little bit more difficult or time-consuming.
Pick apartments instead of the hotels unless you can afford two interconnecting rooms. Always check the policy for children in the room before you book a hotel room. Don’t assume there will be space for a portacrib or rollaway bed in a hotel room as in some there will barely be room for your bags. Take small suitcases, preferably carry on sized, so you can squeeze into tiny elevators. Learn to love tiny tubs!
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8. Speaking of small washing machines…
Travel with kids is dirty work! You don’t find laundries in hotels as you would in North America or Australia. Combine this with the need to pack light so you’re not dragging huge bags across the continent and the fact that little kids are so darn messy and you can have some serious laundry challenges.
Renting an apartment on your travels will certainly help with this. Intersperse apartment stays in amongst your hotel stays so you can get a chance to wash clothes. Don’t expect a dryer though. Sometimes you’ll be lucky to get a combo washer-dryer but they take AGES to dry a load of clothes. (In our apartment in Paris, the machine took 2 hours for a wash and 10.5 hours to dry a load of clothes!!) And sometimes, you and your kids will just have to wear grubby clothes. Deal with it!
9. Restaurants that don’t open until late.
Spain, I love you! And your food is amazing. But you make it so difficult to eat out with kids! Not eating dinner until 10pm at night might work for locals but our kids are used to eating dinner around 5 or 6pm which made finding a restaurant that was open for dinner when we were ready to eat next to impossible. Other countries, like Italy and France, weren’t as difficult but many restaurants there didn’t open until 7pm. This is extra hard with a jet lagged baby.
We ended up eating out less than we normally would, preferring to cook and eat dinner in our Airbnb apartment. Having a late lunch, followed by a simple dinner of cheese, ham & bread or cereal at home. Bar snacks & tapas also worked well for dinner. Or, if needs must, just have ice cream for dinner.
10. Lack of highchairs in restaurants.
Only about 30% of the restaurants we ate at had highchairs available. I can live without kid menus in restaurants but at the age & stage Hazel is at, where she wants to feed herself, means I really need a highchair. I ended up balancing her on my knee while eating out which lead to me getting a fork full of pasta to the face on a number of occasions!
If you really need one, pick your restaurant based on whether or not they have a highchair. This isn’t always doable though. Feed the baby while they’re sitting in the stroller. Get take out and eat it back in the hotel room. Rent an apartment so you have access to a kitchen. Two of the apartments we stayed in during our trip to Europe had a highchair for us to use which was a huge bonus. Tick the “kid friendly” box when you’re searching on Airbnb and ask before you rent somewhere whether they have any baby equipment you can borrow.
While Europe isn’t as kid-friendly as home might be, it is definitely doable and enjoyable with kids. Almost all the difficulties we encountered while travelling in Europe with our children were solvable or tolerable for a short amount of time.
Got questions or concerns about travelling in Europe with your kids?
Go ahead and leave me a note in the comments and I’ll do my best to help ease your fears and come up with a positive solution.
Read my list of the 11 best travel accessories for Europe.
Excellent post – I’d forgotten a lot of these things about Europe but you’re spot on. I remember having lots of these issues when we took R at age 4 months and again at 3. This time at 5 most of these will be less of an issue, thankfully – but all those stairs and stuff make me very glad I did decide to get a new backpack rather than a rolling suitcase – I think it was the best choice! Oh, the late-opening restaurants will probably trip us up though – he’s not very good at staying up late (but then there’s jet lag too so who knows what we’ll be up to!).
I LOVE THIS!! We’ve only been to Munich and Paris but everything here has been spot on, though Munich was super kid friendly with plenty of elevators (but not too many bathrooms). I visited museums while my husband and kiddo played on a nearby playground or while she napped. As for restaurants, we ate at casual biergartens with picnic-table style seating and that was great. In Paris we just had her sit in the stroller which was a little inconvenient but it works.
By the way, is Spain as kid-friendly as I hear it is?
I’m so glad this post resonated with you Christa. I was worried it was just us!!!!! Travelling with kids is all about finding creative solutions & adjusting your expectations and I love your ideas.
With regard to Spain, the attitude towards kids was better there in our experience. The problem was that restaurants didn’t open until so late as it’s customary to eat dinner so much later into the night. We did find places that we could eat but it wasn’t always where we would have chosen to eat. A lot of bars are open from 6pm-ish and serve some bar snacks and tapas but meals were harder to come by.
Thank you for your post! I sympathize with everything you said!
We are in Italy for 6 months and this is our 4th trip with our 4 y.o son. I would like to share a little bit of my experience; perhaps it can make other choose where they want to take their next vacation with kids….!
Although I only have one child and the fact that he loves to visit churches (which makes it a whole lot easier on us when travelling in Italy!). I can say that Italy is one of the best places I have been to, travelling with kids, in terms of their attitude of easiness towards having kids around. It seems to be a part of life for them and they don’t seem to mind having kids running around as much as in other countries I know (Canada, US, France). For example, at restaurants, kids would be allowed to run and play, while I had never seen this permitted anywhere else that I have been to (we are from Quebec, Canada). I have even seen Italian kids going around from table to table, saying hello and getting fed by pretty much anyone. (That might have been an extreme case!) But I see kids playing outside late at night (even at midnight) eating ice cream and playing soccer all the time on week-ends or during festivities (there is always a ‘festa’ somewhere during the summer months). And it is not only seen as normal but people generally love kids and will be nice to them here, giving them ‘caramele’ (candies) and telling you how cute they are.
Also, I felt like there was much less violence directed towards kids in general, here in Italy than in France. We have only been travelling to these 2 European countries so I can only compare these to my own and with each other. The only countries that seem to have that much love towards kids to me was Costa Rica and perhaps sometimes Mexico (depending where). I do not know why this is. But in France, I always felt like my kid was bothering everyone and I have seen more violence directed towards kids in 10 days than in my entire life! On the contrary, I have seen none in Italy (we are in Umbria and Tuscany for 6 months), apart once coming from a stranger (tourist) from another country….this tells me a lot! There are far more chances you will encounter people giving ice cream and candies (perhaps too many!) to kids than kids being yelled at, or hit. We have been travelling to Italy about 4 times with our son and we love it.
I recommand living like a local. This helps a LOT. Being the mother of a child opens the door to the whole mothering community here in Italy. I have had a magnificent experience here being a mother with my child, more than in any other country I have visited, although Costa Rica might have been just as awesome if I could have stayed longer!
I am travelling in a car here in Italy so I do not know about trains.
I wish you a great trip with your kids!
Yes, nice post. We took our eldest to France & Spain when he was 18mths old. He learned to climb stairs there. 🙂
We also both have great taste as we also have a son named Reuben! We have three boys.
Lovely to hear about another family who travels despite the obstacles. Hope to keep in touch and maybe our paths will cross one day. Pru & family. 🙂
This is really interesting! Being British, I guess I am used to the fact that places in the UK (and some in Europe) are just not as kid-friendly as other countries – but I definitely admit that they aren’t! One of the things I loved about travelling in places like India and Sri Lanka with my kids is just how incredibly welcoming people are to families. Sure, they might not have high chairs or baby cots or kids’ menus, but you can take your children pretty much anywhere. The same is true here in Mexico where families do almost everything together. I can live without the kiddie amenities as long as people welcome kids!
Hi,I am a Sri Lankan glad u felt welcome we strive to make our guest feel that way….I have been to UK and loved it their people r friendly towards kids…planning to visit Europe with my two boys and wife feel I have a lot to prepare for…lol
This is perfect. I will never forget my husband trying to change a diaper in a small train bathroom in the UK. Not fun, but a great story. Yes, people also have little tolerance for children, especially loud ones like the three of mine. Oh well. We still found they were pretty well accepted in Spain and Italy, so maybe stick to the south and you’ll have better luck? Everything else you mention is spot on and brought many nods of agreement over here.
I definitely agree about baby changing – I kept mentally clocking walls in bathrooms which would have been perfect for a change table while I was crouched on the floor or using the car seat. The Mediterranean is definitely friendlier for families – in Spain my daughter is the VIP. But it can be surprising… in Paris, I never had a flight of stairs without someone offering to help with the buggy, despite the reputation. I just wish that were true in London where I live too!
This is great food for thought! We’ve been to Europe a bunch as a couple and then last winter when our son was 7 mo old. We flew into London and then took the Eurostar to Paris. Surprisingly, everyone was so great to us. We brought just a changing pad for diaper changes and you learn to go with the flow. Changing a poopy diaper in the back of a Paris bistro? Check! The Eurostar does have a family car (car 19, I think) with a bathroom with a changing table.
We brought an Inglesina high chair that clips right on the table–genuis! And it fit in a backpack. Like you, we brought our ergo and a cheap, lightweight stroller. Both were godsends! We have since switched to the toddler Tula carrier.
The waiters loved our son in Paris and he was met with open arms. I really had no idea what to expect so it was all a pleasant surprise.
We head to Costa Rica in October with our now 2 year old and I’m excited to share this beautiful country with him. We’ve been as a couple before him and fell in love with it!
We are heading back to Europe next year for my 40th (gasp!) and planning on southern Germany, Amsterdam area and then Brussels area. Excited to share the castles and trains with our son and he’s in the midst of potty training so to not have to lug around and change diapers would be fabulous!
This is a handy list for would-be travellers with kids to be aware. You’re so right about the amount of stairs and lack of elevators, and the size of hotel rooms!
I can’t say we’ve ever found the Europeans to be non-chilly friendly, though. On numerous trips to Europe with our kids they have always be made to feel most welcome, even in restaurants.
I totally agree that apartments are the way to go, though. Being able to cook your own meals and have a separate bedroom for the kids can really make a difference after a long day of sightseeing.
What a helpful post for parents travelling with kids. Mine have grown up, but if I get grandies one day, I shall be back reading this post. I love the photo of hazel climbing the stairs! too cute 😉
Hi! Love your posts and finding them super helpful for upcoming trip with our two girls (who will be 5 years and 1 year at time of trip, August)! Wondering, we contemplated a narrow double stroller even though our 5-year old is on the older side for stroller riding…but I KNOW she will want to be carried most of the time. For sure the 1 year old will go in the stroller or the Ergo (but don’t want her in the Ergo all the time either…). Looks like you chose the single stroller option for your trip, and wanted to see how you decided on this? I’m torn! If I find a light, portable, narrow double stroller would that be easy to take along you think?
That’s a hard one! We often ended up taking the stroller and Ergo so we could but our almost 5 year old in the stroller when we were walking longer stretches. If you can find a lightweight double umbrella it would probably be ok. Something that collapses really easily and is lightweight is probably more critical than narrow. Europe is just so un-stroller friendly! It really is a pain having to use them but if you have to, just take it! How long are you going for and what countries? Maybe do some test outings without the stroller and see how long/far you can get your 5 year old to walk for. It’s a hard one!
Interesting! I honestly was surprised to see you mention that Europe was not as kid-friendly as North America because I don’t feel that the U.S. is very kid-friendly, especially when compared to places like Japan and Brazil. Thanks for sharing your tips! They will come in handy when I finally get my kids to Europe!
Did you travel without car seats? Did you find it to ever be a problem?
We didn’t travel with car seats in Europe. We mostly took trains or flights to get around. In Paris, we booked a car service from the airport as we arriving after a long flight and didn’t want to deal with public transport. The car service provided carseats. In Spain we took a car service to the airport but there were no car seats available. We wanted to hire a car for just a day in Nice to explore some of the smaller towns you can’t get to by train but the car seat hire was astronomical… €40 or something per seat! If you’re not travelling exclusively by car, I wouldn’t bother bringing car seats to Europe. A lot of people I know use this inflatable car seat – http://amzn.to/1UXo8BU or this packable booster seat – http://amzn.to/1oDfMRm.
We did not travel with car seats but mostly used trains. However, for one trip, where we were in Europe for 90 days, we did rent cars from time to time. My daughter was 4 so old enough for a booster seat. I purchased one at Toys R Us (in Nuremberg) for $20 and left it behind after the trip. It was easier than brining one with me.
I just came back from a 3-week trip in Europe with my 10 month old daughter and I can agree with all of these! I became a pro at changing diapers in the most random places and I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE my ergo 360 carrier.
Lots of info to digest here – some of which I agree with and some not as much. We have taken our daughter (now 6) to Europe multiple times starting at 18 months, the longest trip being 90 days. We found it easier for little ones in the Germanic countries (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) and some reasons why: 1) lots of sidewalks or paved walking paths (less cobble stones which are hard on kids in strollers especially when sleeping) 2) public bathrooms. All of the public bathrooms, including those in restaurants, were larger and cleaner for kids and/or changing diapers. The hole in the floor in remote French and Italian train stations wasn’t ideal for children or even certain very old places in the center of Rome or Dublin. 3) Public transportation more reliably on time. Kids get impatient quickly and if a train or bus is 20 minutes late or longer it can be the end of the world.
However, we enjoyed every country we visited and wouldn’t hesitate to go again.
One thing that we kind of struggled with at one point…our daughter is an EXTREMELY picky and particular eater. She may eat lots of things but only the brand she first ate. For example, she loves plan cheerios but won’t eat honey nut cheerios or multi grain cheerios. They do not sell regular cheerios in Europe (but they do sell Honey Nut). There are some regional brands that are similar but she refused to eat them. Similar for say hot dogs. There are like 1000 different kinds but she will eat just the one. For an extended trip we actually brought ALOT of food with us via a suitcase….because she probably would’ve starved if we didn’t. lol.
We also found the train great but stressful – especially if there are changes being made in a short time period. Throwing bags off and running up and down between tracks with a stroller and suitcases is stressful. But we managed every time.
It is probably mentioned elsewhere but worth knowing that in most of these countries, kids 6 and under ride free on trains.
Love reading the comments and seeing how the different experiences can change how we keep travelling.
One thing to check instead of the Ergo, is the Onya carrier. It does front/back/side, is safetied to 75 lbs, and turns into a high chair!!! We used this all the time at restaurants in France on our last trip. And since I primarily baby carry and my hubby gets the luggage, the straps are able to criss-cross to balance my daughters weight better, especially when she wanted to snuggle on the front carry. Definitely saved my poor (previously injured) back.
Thanks Nicole. That looks great, especially how it turns into a highchair!
Here’s a link to the Onya carrier if anyone else wants to check it out – http://amzn.to/2j8ONuV
We are planning our first big trip(15 days) to Europe in May. I am a tad freaked at the moment. The kids are 1, 3 and 5. The hardest thing so far is finding a hotel in Paris. Any recommendations on how to look??! I’m at a loss. Thank you!
Hi Katie. We actually used Airbnb in Paris both times and it worked well. Have you looked on there?
I’ve been fortunate enough to bring 2 of my 3 children to visit family in Germany, each for the first time, when they were 8 or 9 yrs old. That can’t compare, since I’ve been with the “locals” every time. Now, it’s the 3rd child’s turn, and this time, she and I are adding a week in Paris to the itinerary. While some of the post and comments won’t apply (no need for diaper changing here or we’ll be staying with family for half of the trip), there were so many things I hadn’t considered for our solo time in Paris…late dinners, as an example or small spaces. Thank you for sharing your honest feedback!
Hi,awesome Advice and pointers ,appreciate the time and effort u have put in to help would be travellers. …hoping to do a family trip to Europe next year.
Some good tips here!
While in Italy last summer I found people to be very helpful. My husband returned to the US early and I stayed on with our theee kids, the baby was 2. In Rome, people just picked up one end of the stroller at the top of a flight of stairs never to look back. But I was so grateful to them for helping me.
The stroller broke in the middle of Florence. People stopped to try to help me fix it which I appreciated. PS There’s a Chicco stroller shop a few blocks from the cathedral!
We only needed a high chair once since the baby was used to sitting in a chair. He fell backwards hitting his head on the ground. The staff brought ice in a napkin and asked how he was (he was shocked but fine).
No one looked twice when I frequently changed the baby’s diaper in the stroller in the middle of the street. By the end of a month when I said, “human shield” my kids and hubby knew what to do!
My kids were welcome everywhere (or at least I didn’t get the stink eye if they weren’t).
People weren’t warm and fuzzy in Italy, but they were efficient and helpful when I feel like I really needed someone. And within a few days time clerks at hotels and restaurants we frequented were smiling at us and making small talk with the kids.
I did laundry every 4th day, but had that all planned out carefully.
Pack light and take your kids with you everywhere!!!