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In High Season, Choose Smaller Cities for a Family Trip

by Barbara Rogers

Mar 18, 2024

Verona, Italy © Victorc300 | Dreamstime.com


When planning family travels to Europe during summer school vacations, it is tempting to choose the best-known cities so your kids can get to see the “big” attractions they’ve all heard about. But while the Colosseum and the Eiffel Tower may be the best known, these sites — and those cities — are also the most crowded, especially in the summer high season.


Instead, consider smaller cities not only less crowded, but also offering more intimate experiences in local life and culture. Instead of meeting only other tourists in long lines, your kids can meet people who actually live and work and go to school in the countries you visit.


Smaller cities also give kids a better chance to learn some history with local guides and small tour groups at attractions. Immersive activities get kids close to these more approachable destinations. Instead of over-crowded Florence, opt for the arcaded streets of nearby Bologna, where you can take a family pasta-making lesson. Or visit charming Lucca to climb its towers, discover a hidden Roman arena and bicycle along the top of its wide city walls.


Instead of standing in line for the Tower of London, spend some time in the little city of Bath, where you can visit Roman sites and paddle a canoe on the tree-lined Avon River to see colorful houseboats. Better preserved than the Colosseum, Verona’s Arena was built by the Romans in 290 A.D. and is one of the largest and best-preserved Roman amphitheaters anywhere. Plus, of course, there’s Romeo and Juliet.


Cooler than busy Madrid are the winding streets of Córdoba, where doorways lead to flower-filled patios, and kids can cross a Roman bridge and delve under streets to explore an excavated Roman amphitheater and Moorish baths. Walking through the narrow streets among timber-framed medieval buildings in Strasbourg will linger longer in kids’ minds than getting a glimpse of the Mona Lisa in Paris.


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