City Breaks with Kids; How to be great city explorers

Can you still take enjoyable city breaks once kids come along?

Big cities sometimes get a bad wrap when it comes to family travel.  Many parents dismiss them as “too hard”, or “the kids will be bored”.  What rubbish!

We’re here to set the record straight on city breaks with kids.  They are not impossible, they just need a little planning and forethought.  In this article we are going to guide you through:

  • 6 steps for setting up the perfect city break
  • 6 sure-fire activities to keep little explorers entertained
  •  5 things to avoid with little city explorers
City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Combining great heights with things that go and a park, great move mum! Kings Park, Perth

Remember the key to good family travel, is making sure that no one in your group is OVERTIRED, HUNGRY or BORED

Sounds easy right? We all know it’s not that simple.  And if a long flight has been involved in your journey then throw jet lag recovery into the mix too.  Before we dive into family-friendly activities that are always a winner, let’s look at how to structure your city exploring.

6 steps for setting up the perfect city break

1. Plan only the essentials

Despite years of preaching organisation is key to family travel – and it is – when it comes to what we actually get up to when we arrive in a new city, we like to keep our plans fairly open.   (Don’t ever think of skimping on proper planning at the flights and accommodation booking stage though, ever – this will only come back to bite you!!!)

Make plans only so far as when you think meal, toilet and rest breaks will be needed, let everything else fall into place around this. If you plan too carefully, or too much, you will be bound for disappointment when the cracks of a toddler tantrum commence or you’re making your 15th unnecessary toilet stop – GO WITH THE FLOW!

2. See what other parents say

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Souq Waqif, Doha

A great way to research what’s on in a city to suit families is to look at family travel blogs! Not just a sales pitch for my industry, this is genuinely the way I now research my trips.

With kids, I find this approach far more helpful than any guidebook. You could try asking any family travel questions you have in Family Travel Inspiration Facebook community.

If you are staying in a hotel, ask your concierge or desk staff what they recommend too – they may well have kids themselves and give you the inside scoop on special events and activities that are on during your visit.

3. Gather information leaflets

If your hotel or accommodation stocks little attractions advertising cards and pamphlets, its a great idea to stock up on these when you arrive.  Not only are they brilliant for kids to play within the hotel room, but they might also actually give you some inspiration on what’s on about town too.

Local magazines and papers might be another way to see what special events are on during your stay (and could well contain some coupon codes that will save you on meals and attractions too!)

4. Pack an awesome day pack

Having the right amount of kiddie supplies with you – but not too much that you’re weighed down or your stroller keeps toppling over – is crucial.  How many diapers will you really go through? Will kids be ok to eat out or will a supply of snacks be needed?  Is there a chance they’ll get wet (hands up who’s kid sees a water fountain then ‘accidentally’ falls in?)

A critical supply I like to include from toddlers and above is a small supply of colouring books (or Magic water books), perhaps matchbox cars that can be pulled out when boredom may otherwise ensue – avoid favourite lovies though – I’ve heard too many stories of poor bunny being left behind at important landmarks!

And don’t forget the bag itself. We’ve found diaper backpacks to be a very versatile piece of travel kit that will last you long after your kids have outgrown the diaper/nappy stage.

5. Organise downtime

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
A refreshing break in Hanoi, Vietnam

We love finding a bar or restaurant with a good street view – get the kids some finger foods and colouring, get ourselves a nice cold drink and give all of us an opportunity to recharge.  

Invariably this is also where I pull out the map because I finally have my hands free and work out everything that I’ve managed to miss as I was too distracted!  My Miss 5 loves this activity too, she will try and retrace where we’ve been and want to see all the photos we’ve taken.

6. Include adult time too

Family travel is not all about the kids. Yep there, I said it. Make sure if you have any “must-do” items on your explorer list these aren’t ruled out or discounted completely because the kids are with you.

We’ve many times taken kids to attractions that may not be considered overly ‘kid-friendly’, but we balance it out with something that they will enjoy before and after, or attach a reward at the end for their patience (absolutely not averse to bribes in this family).  

Even better, can mum and dad split up for some alone time? One can take the kids exploring or to a play park while the other explores on their own?

6 sure-fire activities to keep little explorers entertained

Regardless of the city we arrive in, almost all big cities will have these attractions which are great to keep kids entertained and break up a long day of exploring – or you can make them the focus of your day:

1. Seek Markets

Food, people watching, picking up touristy nik naks, street entertainers.  I think markets are the best way to feel the real essence of a city, far better than seeking out shopping malls and seeing the same old stores you can see pretty much any major city around the world.  

Our oldest is already learning the art of haggling with street vendors and has picked herself up a few bargains along the way (her blonde hair and cute smile help).  In South East Asia particularly this is where we see activity thriving and also a great way to interact with the locals, ask questions, try new foods.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Markets: A night-time wander through Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City

2. Seek Museums

So many museums we have seen around the world are rethinking the way they present themselves to a younger audience with interactive displays, even life shows and activity rooms. Science museums, in particular, are great for hands-on experiences and giving kids a feeling that they are involved.  

We have had several great big city experiences including the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (Science Museum) in Paris, the Science Museum in Kensington,  London, the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha to name a few.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Museums: A hands-on experience at the Science Museum in Paris

3. Seek Animals

What kids doesn’t love animals! Of any shape and size.  Zoos are absolutely perfect, be it big world-class zoos, or small local community petting zoos (often found inside large city parks).  Indoor aquariums also make great rainy day activities to keep little ones amused.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Animals: Zoo Miami in Florida was a fabulous example, including a special dinosaur display

4. Seek Heights

I’m personally a sucker for a great view, and it seems its a passion I have passed on to kids too.  Whether it’s taking a trip up an observation tower, a cable car up a hill or even a Ferris Wheel, getting up above a city is a great idea to keep kids engaged with their travels. We love to point out where we’re staying, where we’ve walked or going next – you may even find something new and exciting places to go and explore.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Heights: At The Top, Burj Khalifa in Dubai

5. Seek Things That Go

We have taken trams to tuk-tuks, buses and boats – not just to get from A to B, but it’s a great opportunity for tired little legs to catch up on themselves.  Different modes of transport also provide you with a new way of seeing your city.  Things like talking buses can also be the best way to cover a lot of ground quickly, as well as getting some great commentary on your city.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Things that Go! A boat ride under the Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransico

6. Seek Parks

And when all else fails – tell me a kid that doesn’t like going to the park! Even if it’s just a big green space, letting kids run free for a while is a must to squeeze into a busy day of sightseeing.  The biggest of concrete jungles will still have little green oasis’s that can be scouted out. Now if you find one with a playground too, you’ve really hit the jackpot!

We loved this post on great city playgrounds around the world if you’re looking for some unique ideas that you can even base your city break around. Parks and playgrounds aren’t always very well advertised to tourists which is where insider knowledge and blogging research come in immensely handy.  Planning a surprise play park stop after some heavy-duty tourism will also win you a lot of goodwill points!

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Seek Parks: The beautiful Jardin de Luxemburg in Paris

5 things for city explorers with kids to avoid

Now you know how to set up your day, and what activities to turn to for keeping kids engaged – what should you be looking to avoid? The problem with big cities is, well they’re big, busy places! Here are a few things to avoid when looking at a day out in town;

1. Rush hour

Especially on weekdays, remember normal folk live in busy cities, going about their daily business.  Your need for a double stroller to be traipsed up the Metro steps, or stopping for the 17th time to photograph your kid in that beautiful but bustling location is probably a bit of nuisance, to be honest.

If you’re nearing dinner time and want to avoid the late afternoon meltdowns, plan ahead to beat the crush with an early dinner or snack stop.  Likewise, you might not want to start your day’s excursions until the business day is already underway and traffic has eased.

2. Strollers

Speaking of strollers – think ahead; how easy will your city be to navigate with a stroller? Although they are brilliant for hanging bags off, resting tired children, how user-friendly is your city? Will you encounter a lot of stairs? Will there be safe places to park it at places you can’t bring it inside with you? How heavy is your stroller for transporting and lifting?

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Think about what you’ll do if jet lag hits and they all need to sleep – simultaneously!

I’ll admit I am one who always errs on the side of taking a stroller. With 3 children carrying them all is no longer an option; I’d rather the inconvenience of carrying the stroller up and down the occasion staircase then dragging my older ones kicking and screaming once they are beyond tired (see our stroller page for more on what types of strollers might be best for you).

Our selection of the best slim & lightweight doubles for family vacations

3. Mis-calculating distances

It’s so easy to look on a map and assume you can easily get from A to B – and as grown adults, you probably can.  When tired little legs are involved though, don’t expect them to be so keen on the idea of walking everywhere.

Some cities offer fabulous tuk-tuk or taxi services that are cheap and easy for short hops, otherwise look at how easy it is to jump on and off public transport just to preserve some leg power.  

See advice above too on things that go – try building this into part of the days activities to prevent over-tiredness.

4. Wearing the wrong thing

Just as running out of supplies might make or break your day, so can having the wrong clothing.  It should go without saying comfortable footwear for everyone is essential, but what about temperature?

Kids are the first to moan if they are too hot / too cold. But do you want to be carrying big coats if there’s no chance of rain? (you WILL be the one carrying them). Will they freeze once the sun’s gone down and the evening starts? Are humidity and sweat going to be an issue?

A quick check of the weather forecast is a good start (and look out the window what the locals are wearing). Layering is, of course, the ultimate travel dressing solution – unless you’re visiting Melbourne (the city of 4 seasons) then I’m afraid any dressing advice I could give is useless!!

5. Trying to do it all

Only got a day to see the highlights of a city? Please remember when kids are in tow, you have nowhere near the leg speed, attention span or stamina that you had travelling solo.  

Don’t try to be a superhero and squeeze it all in, there’s no medal for completing everything on the “10 things to do in” list.  

Remember, you’re visiting a city not conducting an audit; you will all get far more from the city break experience by choosing only a few key places and events per day.

City Breaks with Kids ~ How to be a great city explorer | Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.Net
Taking in the beautiful waterfront of Doha after colouring at the Museum of Islamic Art

Far from being stressful, we find city breaks to be hugely rewarding.  There is such a variety of activities for all the family to enjoy and you get to experience and learn so much more than when you simply lock yourself away in a resort.

Just remember, conquer TIREDNESS, HUNGER & BOREDOM for happy travels with kids!

More City Travel Information

  • You can’t go past Little City Trips when planning your next city break. A website dedicated to travelling with kids around the world’s biggest cities they have incredibly detailed “how to get around” guides through to the best family-sized hotels and apartments all had picked by real parents – not search engine machines!!
  • Taking on the world’s greatest cities with the eye of an expat – check out our Explore My City guest blog series.  This looks at some of the world’s smaller or more obscure city locations with super insider tips and ideas for planning a family vacation.
  • We asked 20 top travel bloggers to share their favourite cities with us – and some of these might surprise you!

Looking for inspiration? Here are some great cities to try out a city break with kids:


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City Breaks with kids ~ how to be great city explorers | Essential family travel advice from OurGlobetrotters.Net

What are your favourite activities as a city explorer? Which cities does your family love?

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43 thoughts on “City Breaks with Kids; How to be great city explorers

  1. samiya selim says:

    Sound advice for city travel with kids! We used to do city breaks with the kids when they were little all over Europe – Paris, London, Belgium etc – and as long as we hit some parks, animal places, play areas and fun museums – they were fine to do the other adult city stuff too!

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      Europe is a perfect example of where kids will gain so much and love city exploring – whatever age!

  2. Cathy says:

    Fortunately I’m like a kid- I love animals, parks and the outdoors. It worked well when my kids were young. Now that they are teenagers not much works:)

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      Oh dear — we have a few years left of dictating the travel agenda, dreading what the teenage years might bring!! More parent solo holiday’s I’m guessing!?

  3. Mark says:

    If anything i would have say that tackling a city with kids is much easier than going somewhere small and isolated. There is way more to do in a city that can keep the kids occupied. there is always an ice cream store around the corner if all else fails

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      Exactly our thinking Mark – and the way we are approaching our next SE Asia trip. Mostly city stops and exploring rather than beach chairs every day, it keeps us all happier, maybe just a hotel pool at the end of the day if their not already worn out finishes things off nicely!

  4. Rob Taylor says:

    You’re very much in line with our process and planning. And the fact that you incorporate pachycephalosaurus and Jardin de Luxembourg pics to show that cities are doable with kids, you just became my favorite blogger ever.

  5. Stephanie Joy says:

    I love all your information! I will be sure to include it in my Facebook & Google+ postings. I own a number of vacation rental homes in Asheville, North Carolina (USA) and provide cribs, high chairs, strollers, pack-n-plays for babies at all my homes. Babies come with so much equipment when packing a car, there’s no room left for suitcases! I also provide kid’s playrooms, toys, stuffed animals, games as well as outdoor playground with slide, swings, forts, etc. I find that offering family friendly homes makes my guests’ stays so much easier. With the addition of your suggestions in this posting, it will make traveling with children the best ever!

    • Admin says:

      Thanks for sharing Stephanie. And what a great service you offer, I’m sure many families would be thankful for this sort of service.

  6. Mess and Merlot says:

    My kids are 4yrs (almost 5) and 7yrs and am just starting to think a city break might be ‘do-able’. They’re my favourite type of holiday by far so will definitely be looking into it as an option now bearing all these tips in mind – thank you!

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      I do hope you give it a go – they are great at this age, past the potty training and stroller stage wo you should have a lot of fun!

  7. Elizabeth (Wander Mum) says:

    Great post! I love city trips and so does my daughter – they are totally doable with kids – there is so much to do and see! I agree with all your points – particularly not planning too much…you may not get as much done with kids but at least it’s enjoyable. I’m so with you on stopping for a drink too when little ones are beginning to get tired (especially if I have misjudged the walking distances)!! Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      This is definitely my husbands input into the advice, I can get him to do almost anything if I promise there’s a cold beer at the end of it!

  8. Cathy (MummyTravels) says:

    Fantastic tips and I totally agree – I’ve been to several cities with my daughter, including Paris, Amsterdam and Copenhagen and I think they’re great with kids. Science Museums and zoos/aquariums are definitely top of my list too, while not trying to pack too much in. #citytripping

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      We have definitely learnt to slow down and pretty much throw away the guide books – find a few great blogger ideas and see what happens with the day – I find when they’re engaged like this we actually get many more hours out of them than if we just wanted a lazy day at the beach

  9. Lucy says:

    Great tips. I’m not overly adventurous on where we visit with our toddler – always worry about him getting too bored if he’s stuck in the buggy too long. But maybe I just need to plan better. #citytripping

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      Absolutely Lucy – If you plan for stops where they can get out and explore, be hands on, it buys you a little quite time later to do your own things. It can really be a win/win and very rewarding way to do family travel – thanks for stopping by #citytripping

  10. Kate, Baby Routes says:

    Great post and sound advice. I’m a great believer in taking kids anywhere and we use a lot of these tips. The advice on not over-cramming the day is one of our favourites – a mistake I made in the very early days of being a Mum! #citytripping

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      I think we get lulled in to a false sense of ‘doing it all’ still when we have a small baby that is happy to be pushed or carried everywhere – once you’ve got walkers who want to explore independently the pace definitely changes!!

  11. Clare Thomson (Suitcases and Sandcastles) says:

    Incredibly useful tips. I’m all for taking my children with me to cities – there’s always so much for them to see and do, and don’t feel you have to do things just for children. Why shouldn’t they enjoy museums and markets too? I think slowing down is a good tip too. Don’t feel the need to rush around and see all the sights. Everyone in the family will have a better time if you do a few things well rather than see a little bit of everything – you’ll all end up grumpy and tired that way!
    Great post! #citytripping

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      Thanks for the comments Clare – it probably took us a few trips to completely find our groove but absolutely slowing everything down we actually achieved so much more.
      Memories like sitting in a cafe in Havana watching our 16 month old rocking it out on stage with a Cuban band would never of happened if we hadn’t stopped to sit back and relax for an afternoon!

  12. Meg says:

    Great resource for taking kids around a city! As a country girl, it can be a little overwhelming. This helped me up the confidence! Thank you.

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      Yes those used to big open spaces can find cities a little overwhelming but it just needs a little more thought in advance then see where the day takes you

  13. Tarana says:

    Thanks for the great tips! Our last city trip was with our toddler to London and we went mad carrying the stroller up and down the Tube stairs. Pinned this.

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      Yeah London can be horrid in that way – it was actually when I was in London last year (on my own) that I got inspired to start writing this post, seeing parents traipsing up and down the tube and looking bewildered and lost! We were Londoners for many years and it can be a great city if you know where to seek out the family-friendly parts and avoid the big city rush.

  14. Kirralee @ Escape With Kids says:

    City breaks are brilliant because there’s so much to do! Love the day pack tip. Food is absolutely crucial. Even if we plan to eat out I’ll take heaps of snacks in case the day’s timing doesn’t match with the kids’ tummies! Thank you for including Melbourne. It’s such a wonderfully kid-friendly city.

    • Admin says:

      Oh the snacks! We have long since give up that their tummies will coincide with appropriate meal breaks! Nothing keeps the complaining at bay better than a well timed banana or biscuit (raiding the hotel breakfast buffet while you have your day pack with you is the secret, ssshh!)

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      Yes it will hopefully become a great travel planning resources for families, I’m already eagerly following new pins from me dream destinations list!

  15. Lindsey says:

    This is a great post with great reminders. Our first stint through Europe we only had one baby and she was born there and we left when she was 20 months, so she was very young. It was pretty easy to get around with her then and still do mostly all of the adult stuff we wanted to do. We are about to return to Europe for a year with 2 children ages 3 and 1, and I’ve been trying to mentally prepare myself for the new way we will need to travel. Thanks for reminding me it can be done, and what I can do to make it fun for all of us!

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      That’s great that you will be going again with the two. You will find it a different dynamic again to traveling with just an infant, there is a lot more crowd pleasing needed with a 1 and 3 year old! Life will move at a very different pace but I am sure there’s a load of new things you’ll learn to appreciate this time by taking things a lot slower

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      That’s great thanks Marta. These ideas are pretty much a checklist we have in our head now of what we will do to fill a city break – with any of our own interests and activities dotted in between

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