Summer City Breaks for Families
For many, France has it all. The golden sandy stretches in the elegant south, the dramatic gorges to explore by kayak along the Ardèche and of course, you will always have wonderful Paris with its many galleries and museums. Yes, there is plenty to keep kids busy on a family holiday in France. But with plenty of time to play with during the kids’ summer holidays, you should really take this opportunity to explore new sights and cultures further afield.
Cities and summertime don’t usually go hand in hand, but the following three thrive in the warmer summer months. Green urban spaces, river cruises, picnics in the park and city beaches mean there are plenty of activities to keep children entertained and parents worry-free. Why not time your family holiday to coincide with one of the many summer events and festivals held in the cities too.
The secret to Washington’s success as a summer destination is space. With low-rise architecture, wide grand avenues and national parkland covering nearly 70% of the city, Washington DC is comfortably green and leafy for warm weather. Soak up the sun with a picnic, cool down in the air-conditioned museums and take in the monuments at your own pace along the National Mall.
You can really make the most of the Washington parks in summertime when it is cheap and easy to pack up a picnic with ingredients from one of the many city delis. Meridian Hill Park is a particularly perfect spot for picnicking; styled on Italian gardens, you can find plenty of activity from joggers, buskers, kids on tricycles to someone giving hoola-hoop lessons!
Kids enjoy any sort of boating activity. To squeeze in a bit of education, try a mule-drawn canal boat ride along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. For about €3 per person aged four or over, park rangers clad in historic costumes offer a 1-hour ride in a 19th century boat in the summer months. Why not let the kids do the work – and expend a bit of that energy! – by hiring a paddle boat at the Tidal Basin near the National Mall. A four-passenger boat costs €10 per hour and it is a great way to inject some fun into monument sightseeing such as the Jefferson Memorial.
The 2.5-mile stretch along the National Mall runs from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and is a fantastic one-stop shop for museums, each with a lively programme of kids activities. One of the best in the Mall Smithsonian complex is the Washington National Zoo which is free. The biggest stars are the giant pandas but the gorilla, born in 2009 is also a favourite. Little ones will love crawling about in the prairie dog tunnels, one of a number of play areas. Not on the Mall, but well worth a trip, is the National Geographic Museum to be enjoyed by children and parents alike as you marvel at explorers, natural wonders and inspiring and colourful cultures.
Useful Info: On weekends, pick up a copy of the Washington Post which has an events’.
For a family-friendly hostel Washington offers budget accommodation close to the National Mall and all the main attractions.
The key to a good family holiday is to minimise potentially stressful situations, and transport to and from your destination is certainly high risk. But the Eurostar between Paris and London is a doddle. Just a two-hour train ride means travelling abroad with kids in tow doesn’t get easier than this. If you’ve heard rumours of England’s grey and rainy weather, it won’t come as a surprise that the best time to visit is during the summer – in reality, it has a similar climate to Paris.
London makes every effort to embrace the warmer months with a host of outdoor activities. Straddling the river Thames, the waterfront is lively with cultural institutions and al fresco dining opportunities. The convenient boat service which is part of the city’s transport network is a great alternative to the stuffy tube in warmer weather.
London could boast a different park for each day of your trip. Hyde Park is best for rollerskating, horse-riding and hiring pedalos on the beautiful Serpentine. In Regent’s Park you can kick back in a deckchair by the bandstands, visit London Zoo and the Open Air Theatre which hosts a number of wonderful children’s shows in summer. A stroll along The Mall past Green Park will lead you to the Queen’s humble abode, Buckingham Palace. For a cool dip, head to the Hampstead Heath Ponds; built in the 1930s they are surrounded by green foliage that overhangs the banks and divided into men’s, women’s and mixed bathing. They open all year round and charge a meagre €1.80 entry.
Nobody likes to be stuck indoors on a fine day but there are some wonderful London museums which offer a happy compromise. The Science Museum in South Kensington offers the most fun for kids with plenty of interactive displays. But once the indoor syndrome kicks in, pop next door to the Natural History Museum which has a leafy garden or across the road to the Victoria and Albert Museum with its beautiful courtyard complete with shallow fountain where kids can splash about.
For those who have timed their trip between 24th June and 2nd July, the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival is a free spectacular held along the river Thames. Performances usually incorporate a dazzling light show, acrobatics and beautifully choreographed visuals using water as the backdrop.
Useful Info: Time Out London has a dedicated listings section for families. The weekly magazine can be purchased at newsagents.
If you want to book a family-friendly hostel London properties have private family rooms close to all the main tourist attractions.
Kids can get excited the moment they land at Vancouver airport which dazzles with West Coast art, glass pedestrian bridges with views of the mountains, waterfall features an even an aquarium built into the wall! All this is just a taster of the thrilling city still to come, sandwiched between dramatic mountains and the coast.
For cheap eats, delicious picnic ingredients can be picked up at the quaint Granville Island market which combines a pleasant amble around the picturesque lanes. To devour your freshly bought goodies, head to Vancouver’s crowning glory, Stanley Park. Occupying 400 hectares it is the largest urban park in North America. A nice lazy way to see the park is from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage.
You might be on a city break, but Vancouver holds its own in the family beach breaks department too. Right on the coast, you are never far from Vancouver beaches, some within walking distance others are easily reached using the Blue Bus system, which runs from downtown to Marine Drive.
At Kitsilano Beach – known locally as Kits Beach – is lively with joggers, people playing volleyball or Frisbee on the grassy verges. There is also Kits Pool, a heated salt-water pool that is three times the size of an Olympic pool and has wrap-around views of the ocean, mountains and the city. English Bay and Sunset Beach are less commercial sandy stretches and kids will love the floating slide while parents will appreciate the full-time lifeguard. This is a top spot to watch the fireworks during the Celebration of Light international fireworks competition which, in 2011, will be held from 30th July to 6th August.
Little legs probably won’t make the 850m clamber up the steps to Grouse Mountain but most would prefer the thrilling Skyride anyway. It is a gondola that departs every 15 minutes and is free for under 4s but costs €20 for adults. It might seem pricey for a 10 minute ride but this also includes entry to the Theatre in the Sky IMAX cinema and a wildlife refuge housing grey wolves, grizzly bears and two peregrine falcons which feature in flying demonstrations three times a day.
Useful Information: Visit the Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre (Plaza Level, 200 Burrard Street) for the latest information about summer family events in the city.