Europe: secret family escapes

By Harriet Cooper

Photography by Westend61/Getty Images

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Who says a family trip to Europe this summer need mean long queues, fractious children and frazzled parents? Harriet Cooper suggests five family-friendly destinations where you can escape the crowds this summer.

Stockholm, Sweden

Best for… tiny tourists

Come the summer holiday, locals head in their droves to the Stockholm archipelago leaving the city blissfully free from commuters and crowds. And, as is oft said, Stockholm loves children – it is lively, clean and, as it’s built on 14 islands, ripe for exploring by boat.

Do the culture bit at…

Junibacken, the world’s oldest open-air museum. Fun and learning merge seamlessly, with staff in period costume and five centuries of historic buildings to be explored.

Let them run off steam at…

One of the many parks and playgrounds dotted around the city. The parkleks (adventure playgrounds) have staff on hand to organise activities, free toys to borrow, plus you can buy snacks and – most importantly – coffee.

Restore energy levels at …

One of the many cafes, where fika (the Swedish equivalent of a daily coffee break) is almost mandatory. Kids will love the kanelbullar (cinnamon buns).

Rest weary little legs at…

The boutique Lydmar Hotel, with its picturesque views over the harbour. It’s bang in the city centre, the atmosphere is welcoming, and cots, extra beds and babysitting are all available.

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  • Treat yourself to a gelato.

    Want more culture?

    Stockholm’s medieval old town will get young imaginations working overtime, as will a visit to the Royal Palace with its daily changing of the guard.

    Things to do in Stockholm
  • Go deeper: snorkel in the clear blue waters surrounding Menorca © Westend61/Getty Images

    Best beaches for children

    Looking for somewhere quiet with plenty of space for paddling and sandcastle building? Try Arenall Del Castell, Binibeca, Son Bou, Cala en Porter, Cala Galdana and Es Grau.

    Discover Menorca
  • Lisbon’s iconic yellow trams are still in use today © Philip Lee Harvey / Getty Images

    Tired feet?

    Many of Lisbon’s sights can be accessed by the city’s bright yellow trams – which will save young ones from having to climb all those cobbled hills in the heat.

    Explore Lisbon

Menorca, Spain

Best for… beach babies

Menorca has more beaches than Ibiza and Majorca combined and, although it buzzes in July and August, it’s quieter and more family-focussed than its Balearic neighbours. There are clear waters and coves for snorkelling, prehistoric monuments to explore and picturesque coastal villages for a cool drink in the shade.

Menorca has more beaches than Ibiza and Majorca combined and is quieter and more family-focussed than its Balearic neighbours

Do the culture bit at…

Little soldiers will love 18th Century Fort Marlborough, at the mouth of Mahon harbour, especially the daily re-enactment battle.

Let them run off steam at…

One of the island’s 100 or so beaches, which have clear blue water, swathes of white sand and shallow falls, making the water safe and warm.

Restore energy levels at …

One of the island’s many restaurants. While Menorca’s gastronomy is varied, rich and unique, you also won’t have far to look if your little darlings want pizza or a burger.

Rest weary little legs at…

Insotel Punta Prima Resort and Spa, offers extensive activities in the kids’ club, a children’s buffet, two swimming pools, and is just 100 metres from the beach.

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St Moritz, Switzerland

Best for… adventurers in the making

Once the snow melts, St Moritz becomes the perfect place for children to channel their inner Heidi. Even getting there is fun: St Moritz is best reached by train from Zurich.

Do the culture bit at…

The Alpine Cheese Dairy close to the Morteratsch Glacier. Watch traditional Swiss cheese being made, before being able to sample all the delights of the cheese buffet.

Let them run off steam at…

Well, just about anywhere. St Moritz is nestled in the Engadine Valley, which is known for its stunning walking trails (plenty are suitable for pushchairs – see

Restore energy levels at …

Europe’s highest barbecuing point Sass Queder. Take the cable car to Diavolezza then it’s a 40-minute walk. Reservations are essential (

Rest weary little legs at…

The Kempinski Grand Hotel Des Bains, which describes itself as the ‘Gateway to St Moritz’. With its dazzling mountain setting, it won’t fail to impress, whatever your age. It’s five-star all the way with four gourmet restaurants, a second-to-none spa, tennis centre and luxury rooms – there’s even a dentist. Children might prefer the Kids Club, which offers everything from excursions out on the lake and muffin-making to painting and storytelling. Plus there’s babysitting, a children’s a la carte menu, and all the baby paraphernalia you might possibly need.

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Lisbon, Portugal

Best for… mini culture vultures

Lisbon is positively buzzing right now and is leaping up the World’s Best Cities lists. Go now before it becomes too popular and discover a wealth of activities in the city for children.

Do the culture bit at…

The Science Alive Centre in the Pavilion of Knowledge makes learning about physics and science fun.

Let them run off steam at…

Monsanto Forest Park is the largest green space in Lisbon, with plenty of shady spots to escape the summer heat. The 10km sq space is a playground not just for nature lovers; there are climbing walls, obstacle courses and even a children’s driving school.

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Bonjardim specialises in spit-roasted chicken served with chips, which locals like to eat with their hands.

Rest weary little legs at…

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon. Its central location means easy access around the capital. Nice touches include mini bathrobes, onsite treasure hunts, free nappies, and unlimited use of toys and video games.

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Lyon, France

Best for… growing gourmands

Avoid the crowds in Paris with a trip to Lyon. The third-largest city in France is a historical and gastronomical hub and pedestrian-friendly. What’s not to love when you’ve got the family in tow?

  • Kids can play gladiators at Lyon’s Theatres Romains de Fourviere

    Out on top

    The views over the city from Theatres Romains de Fourviere are superb but it’s a bit of a hike to get there, so hop on the funicular.

    Explore Lyon

Do the culture bit at…

Children can play gladiators at Theatres Romains de Fourviere which boasts two Roman amphitheatres. The views over the city are superb but it’s a bit of a hike to get there, so hop on the funicular.

Let them run off steam at…

Aerial activity park France Adventures will have children climbing ropes, net bridges and skateboarding through the treetops.

Restore energy levels at …

Sébastien Bouillet’s shop-cum-laboratory Chokola. Expect eye-catching displays of macarons, a wall of liquid chocolate and a glass kitchen so you can see the creations being made.

Rest weary little legs at…

The Novotel Lyon Gerland Musée des Confluences hotel, which is conveniently located in the Lyonbiopôle district – on the banks of the Rhône River – with great access to the city’s tram system. Plus there are family rooms, play areas, child-friendly menus and personalised welcome gift. All in all, little ones will be happy and (perhaps more importantly) you’ll be feeling relaxed.

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