I am very pleased to welcome to The Trunki Files a new guest contributor (and published author), Emma Dadson – one of the few brave parents who have eschewed bucket’n’spade holidays in favour of European city breaks. Determined that city-breaking should not be the reserve of carefree couples and silver-haired tour groups, here she gives the lowdown on how it all works with a toddler in tow.
As people who don’t really do beach (a couple of days – fine; a whole week – not for us… long story), city breaks are our kind of holiday… or, at least, were our kind of holiday, pre-children. We were apprehensive as to how it would all work when we first booked to go to Paris for three days with our almost-two-year-old daughter. But we found it was fine, and we all had a lovely time.
We went to Paris, Vienna and Dublin whilst Sophie was under three. Admittedly, we haven’t really ventured on a city break with two kids in tow, but I think we’ll do that next Spring when our son, Thomas, is two.
Getting there (and back)
Eurostar to Paris was quick and easy on the way there. On the way back, the train broke down in the tunnel with no air-con and our rambunctious two year old was perhaps a bit much for the fifty-something couple sitting opposite us, dressed in Jaeger, who did quite a lot of tutting. In the end we decamped to the café which was less intense but in retrospect we should have toughed it out given the fact that we’d never have seen them again, and she wasn’t really doing anything wrong in a very trying situation!
For Dublin and Vienna, short flights were both joyously exciting for Sophie (ooooh I am in the clouds) but without the jetlag or boredom 2 hours into a long haul flight….and this was all pre-iPad!
As Graham has pointed out, sometimes it is worth spending a little bit more if it saves a lot of hassle on getting around. In Paris, we stayed fairly close to the Place de la Concorde, which meant that all the main sites were basically within walking distance. In Vienna, we again stayed centrally (Hotel Alexander) and, although both hotels cost about £20 pounds more per night than something a bit further out, it made so much more sense and we saved on Metro costs which would otherwise have been necessary. In Dublin, we stayed at the Cardiff Lane Maldron Hotel which was 10 minutes from the centre and had a pool, for less than €80 per night.
We found all the hotels to be very accommodating towards children and had no problems. I guess sometimes city rooms can be a bit small compared to resorts, but it was manageable. We made a decision to push back bedtime a bit to avoid the battle of wills (all in the same room, mummy and daddy clearly not going to bed = indignant toddler), so we wandered around in the evening in the pushchair in the beautiful evening light (in Paris especially). Then one of us settled her to bed at 8.30/9ish, when she was really tired, whilst the other hid in the bathroom till she was asleep. In Vienna, we even listened and danced to a bit of Carmen in an open air performance whilst my husband was at a conference session before heading off to bed.
What to do
The great thing about European capital cities is that they are just like London. They usually have excellent galleries, rivers with boats, museums and lovely parks and open spaces, which are fantastic for toddlers. Particularly good were the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin, the Natural History Museum in Vienna and the Tuileries Gardens in Paris. Zoos are also a fairly reliable city staple and the one in Vienna was particularly great (4 kinds of bear – panda bear, koala bear [technically not a bear, but indulge our daughter], polar bear and black bear). Schonbrunn itself was lovely and the Prater in Vienna has a fixed fairground with The Third Man big wheel, a great playground and is close to the Science Center which we didn’t go to but would be great with older children. We were going to go to the Spanish Riding School morning exercise, only to discover that they don’t allow under 3s in because of the sawdust that gets kicked up(!?). In Paris, we went on a river cruise which was good fun for everyone, with lots of waving to people on bridges. We didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower because of the huge queues but we got some cheesy snaps, and can save that for next time.
What to eat
This was perhaps the more difficult area in comparison to the UK and we found that, in Vienna and Paris in particular, we missed the child-friendly restaurant fallbacks of Giraffe and Pizza Express. (I must admit that at Notre Dame we did go to the Pizza Express in Paris but it was a welcome sight after a fruitless search for somewhere suitable – they had space, crayons, pasta, high chairs!). We also did frequent the odd Starbucks because it was a known quantity rather than traipse to find something more authentic when time (and a toddler’s patience) was limited – although we did all have Sachertorte in the Hotel Sacher Vienna so I’m not a total heathen. Maybe bring a lightweight portable booster seat on the buggy if your toddler is still very small to keep them contained as we didn’t always find that these were available and not everyone finds marauding toddlers delightful.
Upon reflection, I am not sure all cities I have visited pre-babies would work. I am not sure how Rome or Venice would go down (not enough dinosaurs, not enough green space) but am sure places like Barcelona would be great. We are hoping to do a Washington DC / NYC / Boston city break extravaganza next year when Thomas is a bit older. Watch this space!