A quick city trip with a toddler or small child is something quite different from a city trip as a couple. With a few adjustments, some planning and flexibility, a city trip can be just as much fun with a child in tow.
For Christmas 2017 until mid-January 2018, my brother, my sister-in-law and my nephew visited us from Australia. It was cold, but we had a lot of fun. It was my nephew’s first trip to Europe, so he had a lot of things on his wishlist, including Euro Disney and the Eiffel Tower and Buda Castle in Budapest.
My brother had his own wish list, which included Amsterdam. Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we went on a short city trip to Amsterdam and The Hague. (Don’t worry, we did Paris two weeks later for my nephew.) Unfortunately for my brother, he quickly learnt just how different a city trip with a young child can be.
Avoid the rude shock and remember these easy tips when planning your city trip with a young child.
1. Do your homework
This starts with how to get there, how to get from the train station/ bus/ airport to your hotel, and where to park. The homework is much the same as it is if you were city tripping as a couple. Yet there are a few additional areas to research, such as: Do taxis charge extra for the use of a kids booster seat? Do they carry them? or From what age do children need a ticket for public transport? Check out local blogs on the best playgrounds, kids cafes and other kids recipes in the city. Most large cities also have museums geared towards kids, or zoos, for example.
We had help in Amsterdam. Some good friends of my sister-in-law invited us all to stay with them, just outside of Amsterdam. They also told us the best places to park our cars for where we wanted to go and how to get there without driving into a canal. Our homework was easy.
2. Have a plan and adapt
Even when travelling with a small child – or perhaps especially when you are travelling with a small child – you need to have a plan. This plan should include one or two things that you (the adults) really want to see, and perhaps the order that you want to see them. Some ideas of where to eat lunch also help. Otherwise, you should be flexible. This flexibility should include having an alternative plan for changes in the weather.
We knew that we wanted to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It won out over the Rijksmuseum (my nephew had the deciding vote), but both would have been too much. Otherwise, we wanted to walk along some of the canals and go on a boat tour. The rest we just filled in as we went. We saw a pancake restaurant not far from our car park in the morning and decided to return there for lunch (it wasn’t far from the museum either). Everything else we saw was spontaneous with a bit of luck.
3. Include a kid-friendly activity
We find that Miss M is much happier if we include a kid-friendly activity. Most times we will also talk it up, to get her excited. Sometimes the activity will take half a day, other times it is something small. We try and make it something that suits her interests, too.
There are so many options. As I said, most cities have a number of museums, some of which will be designed for children. Miss M loves dinosaurs and zoos, so anything in that vein is great. Miss M is also a princess (she wore her princess crown to the zoo in Munich this weekend), so any palaces, crown jewels, etc. are right up her aisle too. If all else fails, there are always toy shops.
In Amsterdam, we found a park that Miss M and my nephew could run around in with swings to play on. Unfortunately, it was bitterly cold and snowed, so we couldn’t spend too much time there. We also found a carousel for them to ride on next to the Van Gogh Museum and were happy to pay the few euro for the distraction. Despite the snow, there were still beautiful flowers to see and shops with some interesting toys to look at. Of course, we also took our princess to see the Royal Palace on Dam Square (and Noordeinde Palace when we went to the Hague the next day).
4. Don’t forget some downtime
With so much for children to take in – different food, buildings, bright lights, canals and boats, more people, different languages – a little downtime is important. This does not need to be a nap, although it often will be for smaller children. Downtime can be sitting or lying in a park, strolling along a river or canal, taking public transport or a tour bus, or reading a book at a library or in a bookshop or cafe.
Due to the freezing weather, our downtime in Amsterdam included some quiet reading at a cafe, strolling along the canals (where Miss M obligingly fell asleep in the stroller and slept through part of the Van Gogh Museum), and taking a boat trip.
5. Pack appropriately
It is important to pack appropriately when city tripping with a small child. Yes, you can probably buy anything you need at your destination. Yet do you really want to buy something extra if you are only there for a couple of days?
When it is cold, your child will get very cold very quickly in a stroller. Pack a blanket, extra socks, hat, gloves, etc. In summer, sunscreen and sunglasses are important. Even if your child has just stopped using one regularly, take your stroller.
Pack snacks. In this case, you don’t need too many. A trip to a supermarket or market in a strange city can be a great experience for your child and a chance to try the local delicacies.
Depending on your child, it can also be a good idea to pack some books or small toys. We forgot on our Amsterdam trip and ended up buying a ball for Miss M at the Van Gogh Museum.
6. Book in advance and avoid the queues
As we explained in our report about Venice, it is sometimes better to book in advance and avoid the queue, even if you have to pay extra. In Europe at least, most places don’t have a problem with queues in the middle of winter. Still, we booked our tickets for the Van Gogh Museum the night before, just to be sure.
7. Use transport
Kids (and their parents) love using different types of transport. Boat tours, trams, buses, aquatic vehicles, bicycle cabs, horse and carts: there are so many options! Change things up and try something new!
In the middle of winter, when it is freezing outside, the glass-topped tour boats in Amsterdam are heated. Not only are they a great way to see the city – and the only way to see some things – but they are good for warmth and some downtime, too. Miss M definitely enjoyed the trip.
Bonus: in winter, if you are lucky, you can do a tour during the early evening and see the lights of the Amsterdam Light Festival.
8. Relax and enjoy
A city trip as a couple often means trying to cram all the landmarks of the city into a couple of days, with a Broadway musical or dinner reservation in the evening. With a child, things are much slower and you will only get to see half of what would have been on your list if you are lucky.
See your top one or two things and if you miss something else – ehhh, whatever – do it next time. If something you want to see is closed, go somewhere else (though do your research before so that you are not standing in front of closed doors after walking out of your way to get there).
If you are relaxed, your child or children will be too. Take things slowly and soak up the atmosphere. Not only will you enjoy the trip and get more out of it, but your child will too. Remember, they are small and it is a lot to take in.
Take time to time to enjoy an ice cream in summer or profetjes in winter in Amsterdam. Bundle up for the boat tour in winter and find the water fountain in summer. Enjoy watching your children learn about the city, and don’t worry about what you might miss. It will be enough.
Though they are different in many respects, a city trip with a small child can be just as enjoyable a city trip as a couple. A few adjustments, some planning and a lot of flexibility: keep these easy tips in mind and you are on your way.