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5 most family-friendly cities in Europe

April 17, 2014 at 3:47 PM ET

A girl poses in a sea of tulips at Keukenhof on April 17, 2014, near Amsterdam, Netherlands,
Peter Dejong / AP
A girl poses in a sea of tulips at Keukenhof on April 17, 2014, near Amsterdam, Netherlands,

From peerless parks to hands-on-museums and refreshingly affordable food, these major European cities all say "welcome!" to families with children. 

If your motto is "Have family, will travel," you'll be glad to know that Europe is within your reach; in fact, these 10 cities will greet you with open arms. To save on sightseeing, book in advance and consider buying the multi-attraction discount passes most cities offer. If a traditional hotel room is too pricey (or small!) for your brood, or leaves you wanting for the comforts of home, rent an apartment through Airbnb; owners typically leave their "must-see" list and restaurant recommendations so you'll have a truly local experience— especially if you download a few local apps before departure. Ready? Set? Go!

Amsterdam
There's more — a lot more — to Amsterdam than the red light district. In fact, with paddle boats and bike paths galore, you can — and should — give it the green light for your next family adventure. Eating is easy and photo ops abound in this walkable, bikeable, boat-able city. Patat met (French fries with mayo) will keep hunger at bay as you take in the sights, possibly stopping to smile in an oversize Dutch clog — or perhaps with the pair you plan to bring home. 

What to do: Everything is more fun when you arrive on a boat or a bike and in Amsterdam, that's the way to go. Be sure to swing by the NEMO Science Museum for hands-on exhibits that include a chemistry lab with experiments for young scientists and a bubble display for those that can't resist getting their hands wet. Older kids will appreciate the history of the Anne Frank Museum while kids of all ages will find something of interest at the Van Gogh Museum; just be sure to buy your tickets in advance to avoid the long lines. If you visit in the spring, a day trip to Keukenhof to see the tulips in bloom — hundreds of thousands of them — should top your list. Consider a Holland Pass to save time and entry frees to major attractions.

Where to stay: The Radisson Blu in the city is centrally located and offers a great breakfast buffet. The hotel itself is not too big and not too small and with croissants and nutella for breakfast, everything seems just right. 

Where to eat: Have a steak with the locals at Café Loetje in the Museum Quarter neighborhood. They don't take reservations (or cash!) but it's well worth the wait — especially if you can get a table on the patio. 

Read about more family-friendly cities in Europe

Dublin
It's not just the Irish eyes that will be smiling when you touch down in Dublin; the welcoming locals will have everyone smiling from the top 'o the morning 'til the rise of the moon. With relatively short direct flights and no language barrier, Dublin is the perfect starter-city for a family of aspiring adventurers.

What to do: Admire the "doors of Dublin" as you stroll over to St. Stephen's Green. Pack a picnic lunch, romp at the newly renovated playground and feed the ducks before you depart to see ducks of a different sort at the National Museum of Ireland — Natural History. A taxidermy tribute to Ireland's wildlife is artfully displayed over two manageable floors. Assuming you have some animal lovers in your midst, they'll be pleased to know they can see the real thing at the delightful Dublin Zoo in Phoenix Park. For a bit of (dark) Irish history, plan a visit to Kilmainham Goal; Gaol is Gaelic for jail and this one housed almost every notable Irish rebel. 

If day trips are your thing, consider taking the train south to Bray to visit the aquarium, stroll along the sea or hike up to Brayhead; you might even pick some blueberries along the way, depending on the season. If mountains are more your style, head to County Wicklow where you'll be dazzled by the gardens at Powerscourt and awed by the scenery and history at Glendalough. 

Where to stay: Mespil Hotel, Haddintong Rd. 

Where to eat: Just a short walk from the hotel you'll find Milano, equally equipped with high chairs and a post-work crowd and just loud enough to drown the din of your overtired tots. 

Paris
Croissants, baguettes and crepes, mon dieu! Paris isn't just for romantics in the spring; it's for everyone, all year long. Kids will love the boulangeries on every corner; you'll love how easy it is to navigate the Metro and catching a view of the Eiffel Tower from vistas around the city. 

What to do: Leave the Louvre for your next trip. When travelling en famille, take in Paris' plentiful parks. You could spend the whole day at Jardin Luxembourg, which in addition to a stunning palace built in 1612 by Marie de Medici boasts modern-day delights including peddle cars for racing and toy boats for sailing—cnot to mention a playground with zip lines and an Eiffel Tower bungee for your pint-size thrill seekers. 

If the weather drives you indoors (the kids may not see the romance in the rain), visit the Musee Cluny and go for a treasure hunt among the tapestries. Should your tots be avid climbers, Paris will not disappoint. If your brood is physically fit, the 1,600+ stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower will suffice for a workout with a view. For a more gentile ascent, climb the 300 steps to the top of Sacre Coeur for a view of the city that is magnifique. 

Where to stay: Citadine in the Bastille/Marais neighborhood includes a galley kitchen and is walking distance to a great open-air market.

Where to eat: Anywhere and everywhere; it's hard to go wrong in Paris! Pick a local café in the morning and neighborhood bistro at night. If you want an atypical but memorable experience, visit the quirky Le Refuge des Fondue after climbing those steps to Sacre Coeur.  

London
How could you go wrong in the city that gave us Paddington Bear, Peter Rabbit, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Harry Potter? And then there's real life princesses and castles to die for (as more than a few did!). 

What to do: You have to see the sights memorialized by Chevy Chase in "European Vacation" ("Look kids, Big Ben! Parliament!) but your tweens will love posing with One Direction at Madame Tussaud's. And while you have to pay to see the Crown Jewels (and Torture Tower) at the Tower of London, there are some great (free) museums and lesser-known attractions you won't want to miss. 

Ever wonder how they developed the symbol for the pound or how it feels to hold a bar of gold? Find out at the Bank of England Museum. If your pint-size fliers are also fans of buses and trains, you won't want to miss the interactive London Transport Museum, with more than 80 vehicles including a double decker bus and the world's first Underground train. To get your fill of history, visit the Museum of London and time travel from the days when lions roamed Trafalgar Square to today's thriving city center. Last but not least, if J.K. Rowlings is a family fave, you won't want to miss the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studios Tour. 

When the royal sun is shining, plan a day at St. James Park. Watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and then stroll down Horse Guards Parade and Mall to the lake; watch the pelicans get fed daily at 2:30 or settle into a deckchair while the kids frolic on the playground. 

Where to stay: The Park Plaza offers several locations with spacious rooms to accommodate a family of four and easy access to sights and public transport. 

Where to eat: Don't miss the Sunday roast or anyday fare at a local pub like The Marksman or The Engineer. If you need a taste of home (but better), GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) has several locations where you can get your burger on any way you like — from buffalo to veggie and everything in between. 

Rome
Gladiators meet gelato in this city of ancient history and modern cuisine. The locals love kids, and they love food. Need we say more? 

What to do: No family trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Colosseum and the pious will want to pop in on the Pope and visit the Vatican. Keep your shoulders covered and hold onto your hat as you look up at Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Splash in the Trevi Fountain, climb the Spanish Steps, and enjoy a gelato in one of the city's many central piazzas. 

Pizza is plentiful but if you want an insider's look at the Rome's food scene, take one of Elizabeth Minchilli's food tours. In case one gelato just isn't enough, she offers a two-hour all-gelato tour that's a favorite with the junior set. 

If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, take a day trip to Ostia Antica. Once Rome's harbor city, it's now a maze of ruins that evokes Pompeii, providing ample wandering of ancient alleys and passageways. Spend an afternoon exploring the remnant rooftops, storefronts and latrines—which kids of all ages always get a kick out of. 

Where to stay: The Residence Barberini has spacious rooms by Roman standards and is walking distance to many attractions including the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. 

Where to eat: For the best carbonara in town, go where the locals go: Perilli in the Testaccioa neighborhood. For a great lunch after a morning of sightseeing, go to Nerone and try to nab an outdoor table with a view of the Colosseum. 

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