The pandemic has hindered so many travel plans throughout the past year. During our current tour in Naples, Italy, our family’s second OCONUS tour, we were fortunate to travel to almost half of the 44 countries in Europe before COVID-19 travel restrictions were implemented.
We’ve trotted across the globe for several years now, with our five young kids in tow, so we’ve become fairly seasoned at finding locations that provide experiences for the entire family. If you’re stationed in Europe and travel at your duty station is approved, here are my top three family-friendly destinations to visit.
Three family-friendly trips for those stationed in Europe
We visited Lake Blend in early September after the massive crowds had dissipated but while the transparent teal water was still warm enough for a swim. The highlight of this trip was taking a ski lift up the 2,000-foot hill at Straza Bled to enjoy the majestic views and then riding a toboggan (sled on a track) back down. You can control your ride for a casual descent or zip down at 24 mph like our 5-year-old. Other family-friendly activities include paddle-boating, touring Bled castle, biking, or walking the lake. If you can splurge a little, stay the night in a treehouse at Garden Village Bled.
While the fairytale-like scenery of Lake Bled is what attracts tourists to the country, there are plenty of other nearby destinations you don’t want to miss:
Triglav National Park
This park offers all levels of hiking in the breathtaking Julian Alps. You can also try canyoning here, which is a mixture of climbing, rappelling, and swimming in gorges and waterfalls.
A great place to admire the bright turquoise waters of several Slovenian rivers as you crisscross the wooden bridges built over it.
The Soča River
This river is so blue, it looks fake. Try whitewater rafting as a family activity.
This super charming capital city is a foodie haven with cobbled streets and niche boutiques.
Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle
Take an underground train to get to the cave and explore for miles. The castle, which is built into a cliff, features unique medieval architecture.
Puglia region of Italy
Our family found the region of Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s boot, a charismatic and less assuming attraction compared to the popular Amalfi Coast. The region has ancient cities, diverse landscapes, and alluring beaches. If you start in Bari, the location of the region’s largest airport, you can rent a car and easily hop around to see the following:
This endearing and picturesque town contains the famous Trulli homes.
With ancient architecture and cave dwellings, this destination is incredible but not stroller friendly. Our kids thought of the stairs, twists, and turns of the streets as a playground maze.
If you’re lucky, you might get a giraffe kiss from the comfort of your car at this drive-through zoo.
Santa Maria di Leuca
This destination is the farthest south but worth the drive. You can rent a boat or take a tour of several seaside caves and even swim inside them. The water is crystal clear, calm, and great for snorkeling.
Otranto, Santa Maria di Leuca, Gallipoli, and Torre Vado
These towns, known as the Italian Maldives, all have fantastic beaches. It’s well worth the €20-€30 you’ll pay at many private beach clubs to have a set of lounge chairs, umbrella, access to bathrooms/changing rooms, a restaurant, and bar service right at your chair! Try to avoid going in August when the Italians take the whole month off for holiday.
When we planned our very first family ski trip, it seemed a bit bold to aim for the area that’s home to the highest peak in Europe—Mont Blanc. However, there are plenty of slopes well-suited for beginners. If you have young children, you can enroll them in a kids’ club, which combines ski school with daycare. The prices for lessons, along with ski lift passes and rentals, pleasantly shocked us. It was cheaper than resorts in the states.
For some lower-key snow fun, there are several spots for other activities—tubing, luges, traditional sledding, and good old-fashioned snowball fights. For family-style après ski, taking a stroll through the idyllic streets of Chamonix will not disappoint. In December, the town hosts an outdoor craft market, and the holiday lights are left up through January, giving the town a quaint vibe.
Outside of the town, we highly recommend seeing a glacier up close. We chose Mer de Glace by way of the Montenvers train. Warning: there are exactly 430 steps to get to the ice cave (yes, we all counted), but continual references to the movie “Frozen” helped my young girls along.
There are so many great family-friendly places in Europe other than these three destinations. My advice to anyone stationed here is to ask around for advice and take every opportunity possible to travel.
If you’re looking for more family trip inspiration or information, visit Sarah’s Facebook group Go Family Tripping, which features travel tips from around the world.Read comments