Join me on my travelling and nom nomming adventures!
If you’re anything like me, with the new year dawning, you’re probably thinking, “Where on earth can I go on holiday next?” I know that many of you find it difficult to travel now with kids in tow. As someone who’s been brought all over the world on planes, trains and automobiles for as long as I can remember (since the age of 2 at least), let me assure you that children love travelling just as much as we do, and in my personal opinion, stand to learn a lot in terms of geography, history, finances and general life skills. Here are 8 places that you can consider going to in 2018, selected based not only on fun factor, but also ease of getting around with kids in tow.
1. The tale of two cities – London and Paris
Samuel Johnson said, “When one tires of London, one tires of life,” and Audrey Hepburn said, “Paris is always a good idea.” The wonderful thing is that both cities can easily be visited on the one trip. And with AUD$1 still buying approximately 58 pence post-Brexit, and Qantas’ new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner service from Perth to London non-stop set to commence in March, 2018 is as good a time as ever to take your family there.
Both cities are easy to get around, London by the extensive Underground train network and Paris because the main tourist sights are all set within a fairly compact space that’s easy to walk around. I would recommend flying in and out of London as I’ve heard many horror stories about the mess that is Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. The Eurostar train from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord is easy to book online and runs efficiently. You’ll have no problems communicating with the locals, even in much maligned Paris, where English is now more commonly spoken. There are plenty of delicious food options in both cities from Michelin star restaurants to fabulous produce markets and a range of excellent bakeries and patisseries; and no end of fun things to do, both within each city and as easy day trips. Even better, many of the top attractions are free!
What to do?
I could write an entire blog post about all the fun things you could do in each city, but the kid-specific highlights for London would include the Tower of London, the views from the London Eye, and St Paul’s Cathedral. The top free attractions include watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, visiting Big Ben, the lions at Trafalgar Square followed by a stroll through the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, and educational fun days at the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, much loved by children for the many dinosaur and large animal skeletons that fill the grand Victorian era halls. If you’d like to venture a little bit further out, consider Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle, or day trips to beachside Brighton with its fantastical Royal Pavilion, quirky market Lanes and fun fair by the Pier; the university towns of Cambridge and Oxford, with their Harry Potter connections; Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare and under 20 minutes from Warwick Castle, where you can witness jousts in the summer months; and of course, mystical Stonehenge. For those after more thrills, popular theme parks in and around London include Shrek’s Adventure, Legoland Windsor and Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter. And if you have girls who enjoy shopping, consider a day of outlet shopping at Bicester Village. Children’s clothing is exempt from VAT in the UK, so you can pick up some pretty good bargains there.
In Paris, the free highlights include the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. However, I would recommend getting your hands on the Paris Museum Pass so that you can get up close and personal with the gargoyles at the top of Notre Dame Cathedral tower, admire the magnificent stained glass windows of Ste Chapelle, and receive an art education at the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Musee de l’Orangerie, Musee Rodin and the Pompidou. Don’t forget to sample a macaron, cake or other sweet treat while you’re there. And if you’d like to venture out of the city centre, you could either visit King Louis XIV‘s palace at Versailles, or Sleeping Beauty‘s castle in Disneyland Paris.
When to go?
London and Paris are year-round destinations. In saying that, I would recommend going during European shoulder season in order to avoid the cold and shorter days of the winter months, and the crowds during the summer peak period. This means April to May and September to October. If you’re in Paris from early March to end April, you’ll be treated to the sight of cherry blossoms framing the Eiffel Tower. Another option is to visit in December, when you’ll be treated to the cities being decked out in Christmas lights with opportunities to purchase unique souvenirs at the Christmas markets.
How long to stay?
If you’ve never been, I would recommend at least one week in each city. Even then, you’d just be scraping the tip of the iceberg in each place.
2. The theme park classic – Florida
Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is known as “The Most Magical Place on Earth“, and up until May this year, I would have found it hard to argue with that. However, with the fairly recent opening of Pandora – World of Avatar, Disney fans may now have a new favourite in Animal Kingdom (pictured below). Hopefully, by 2018, the hype and crowds would have settled down a little, and with that, the queues for Flight of Passage, a hyper-real simulator where you’re linked to an avatar and get to fly across the Valley of Mo’ara on a banshee. This is one you’ll want to FastPass if possible – just under 2 weeks from official opening, the wait times for Flight of Passage hit an all-time record of 6 hours! By all accounts, waits of 2-3 hours are nevertheless worth it, for that all-immersive experience of sitting astride a bicycle-like seat that moves, within a room where motion, incredible visuals, sounds, sprays of water and even smells are combined to create what many have described as being the best Disney attraction ever.
At Walt Disney World, you don’t just get one theme park, but actually four – Magic Kingdom (pictured below), Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. Each have their own brand of magic and trademark experiences. Magic Kingdom is where you’d go to meet many of the Disney princesses and get a magical makeover. Aside from visiting Pandora, you can also go on safari and take a ride through the Himalayas at Animal Kingdom. Hollywood Studies is where you’d go for Jedi training. At Epcot, you can travel around the world and meet Anna and Elsa in Norway. There are fireworks just about every night. And the whole experience is even more magical if you check into a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, with perks including access to FastPass bookings 60 days before your visit; Extra Magic Hours giving you more time in the theme parks compared to the general public; free Magic Bands so that you can charge everything to your account, get all your shopping sent to your room and wander around the theme parks with minimal baggage; complimentary transfers between the airport and your hotel on Disney’s Magical Express; and top notch service with a smile.
What to do?
So we’ve established that the Disney theme parks are a ton of fun. For a bit of downtime, there are also two Disney water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Slightly older kids (and probably adults) will actually enjoy Universal Orlando Resort more. This is where you’ll find The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where you can board the Hogwarts Express and travel from Diagon Alley in Universal Studios to Hogwarts on Islands of Adventure. Other popular attractions include Legoland, Seaworld, and the Kennedy Space Centre.
(Hollywood Studios is pictured below)
When to go?
Try and avoid American school holidays. For 2018, these will be roughly 16-25 March, 31 May-12 August, 19-25 November, and 21 December-6 January 2019.
The other option if you don’t mind the crowds is to time your visit for a special event. These include the annual Disney Princess Half Marathon which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year from 22-25 February 2018; the Epcot (pictured below) International Flower and Garden Festival which will run from 28 February-28 May 2018; and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival which usually runs through September and October each year.
How long to stay?
Plan on spending at least 4 days in the Disney theme parks and 2 days at Universal Orlando Resort (pictured below), allowing at least one day per theme park. You’ll need more time if you’re travelling with kids and need to factor in rest time; if you’re not staying onsite at a Disney Resort hotel with early access to FastPass bookings and Extra Magic Hours, and then at a Universal Resort hotel giving you early park admission 1 hour before official opening time and an Express Pass for most of the rides; and if you’re planning to visit some of the other attractions in Orlando. Bearing all these factors in mind, I’d say you need 2 weeks minimum.
Where to stay?
My advice is to stay at a Disney Resort hotel for the days you’re intending to visit the Disney theme parks, then move to a Universal Resort hotel if you’re planning to also visit Universal Studios. Yes, they’re expensive, but they’re also well maintained, the service is excellent, and the perks plus the proximity to the theme parks save you so much time that you might end up saving money because you’ll be able to see all the sights in a shorter period of time.
I went to Walt Disney World primarily to participate in the Disney Princess Half Marathon, which starts and ends at Epcot. The best places to stay for direct access to Epcot via Epcot’s International Gateway are Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Villas (pictured below) and Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. My first choice was Disney’s Yacht Club with its more sophisticated light grey and white Hamptons styling aimed mainly at adults. However, it was already fully booked about 3 months prior to my trip, so I stayed at the Beach Club instead, which is designed more with children and families in mind and hence is styled as a more cheerful seaside resort in aqua blue and white. Despite it not being my first choice, I never once felt bothered by the children and families present. I was most impressed by the great pains they take in making you feel at home throughout the duration of your stay, with cast members calling out “welcome home” each time you step through one of the entrances.
Having carefully scouted my surroundings and taking note of what each of the Disney Resort hotels look like, I think for my next visit, I would like to stay either at the Grand Floridian for its Victorian elegance and proximity to Magic Kingdom, just one stop away on the complimentary resort monorail; Animal Kingdom Lodge for easy access to Animal Kingdom and the opportunity to spot wildlife by day and by night; or the Yacht Club if I’m planning on participating in another half marathon or attending the flower festival.
At Universal Orlando Resort, I chose to stay at Hard Rock Hotel as it’s the closest hotel to Universal Studios, accessible on foot via a shady walkway or by complimentary boat transfer, both at the back of the hotel. The service wasn’t quite up to Disney standards, but it was a comfortable stay and we enjoyed the food at the attached restaurant, The Kitchen. I highly recommend making your way to Universal Studios about 10 minutes before early park admission and heading straight to Diagon Alley so you can be among the first in line for the Escape from Gringotts ride. Once you’ve got that out of the way, take a wander around, perhaps buy a wand at Ollivander’s if you’d like to cast some spells, then head to King’s Cross Station before the first hour is up so that you can ride the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade Station and be one of the first to ride The Forbidden Journey where you get to fly over Hogwarts.
(The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is pictured below)
3. The cute and quirky – Tokyo
Tokyo may be a bit more of a culture shock than the other destinations listed here due to the crowds, long queues just about everywhere, and the fact that English is not as widely spoken (though this is continually changing every year), but if you’re prepared for these little challenges, you’ll find plenty to delight you. And with Qantas introducing a new direct flight between Melbourne and Tokyo’s Narita Airport early last year, and Tokyo set to host the 2020 Olympics, now is probably a good time to go. Unless you want to experience even more crowds during the Olympic year!
It should come as no surprise that I would begin my pitch with food. Tokyo is undoubtedly the food capital of the world. Yes, London and Paris are world leaders when it comes to food, but with a collective 304 Michelin stars including twelve 3 Michelin star restaurants in 2016, versus Paris at world number 3 ranking with 134 stars and London at number 7 with 79 stars, Tokyo has them beat hands down. Yet I have never once dined at a Michelin star restaurant in Japan. This is one place where, in my opinion, the best cuisine is to be found at a little hole-in-the-wall where only one type of dish is prepared, the recipe handed down over generations. Many of my favourite food experiences have been in Japan, and three of my most memorable meals ever were in Tokyo, at Shin Udon, Sushi Dai and Sometaro respectively. You can read more about them here.
For a more unique dining experience, Tokyo is also home to various theme restaurants including ones styled after Alice in Wonderland, an owl cafe, and a surreal robot restaurant dinner show. If you prefer to dine in more regular surroundings, you’ll still find plenty of cute and quirky at various theme parks and just about anywhere you decide to go shopping. If it’s peace and quiet you’re after, there are plenty of immaculate gardens and beautiful temples to explore. Getting around is easy on their extensive and extremely efficient train network. In fact, towards the end of 2017, Japan Rail issued an apology because one of their trains departed 20 seconds early! Which should give you an idea of what the people are like. If you’re ever stuck, do not hesitate to ask. Even those with minimal English conversational ability will go out of their way to help you. Despite the crowds, queues are always orderly and your personal space will always be respected. Their attention to detail especially when it comes to ensuring personal comfort is beyond par – this is the only place in the world you’ll find no shortage of hooks and shelves on which to rest your personal items while in the washroom, not to mention the toilets that are already legendary for being heated, fitted with water jets, and equipped with music in order to disguise any unsavoury noises.
What to do?
First timers to Tokyo should definitely visit the Imperial Palace and at least one or two of the major temples. My favourites that I think even kids would appreciate would have to be Sensoji Temple in Asakusa for the numerous market stalls lining Nakamise-dori in front of the temple, where you’ll find just about the cheapest traditional souvenirs in all of Tokyo, and all sorts of interesting snacks including ice-cream in unusual flavours like soba; Zojoji Temple near Roppongi for the juxtaposition of old against the newer Eiffel Tower inspired Tokyo Tower in the background as well as the poignant memorial for miscarried and stillborn babies; and the Nezu Shrine north of Ueno for that classic image of red torii-lined pathways.
As Tokyo is so large, it is best split up and explored region by region. For instance, you could easily spend one morning exploring Meiji Shrine and its expansive surrounding parklands, followed by an afternoon of eating and shopping in Harajuku, Omotesando and Shibuya, famous for having the busiest intersection in the world. Indeed, the dance at Shibuya crossing in front of the Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station every time the vehicles stop is rather hypnotic to watch. Omotesando is where you’ll find fancy patisseries like Dominique Ansel bakery and Pierre Herme’s Bar Chocolat, while in Harajuku, you can indulge in street food options like crepes laden with ice-cream, fruits and other goodies before picking up a bargain at one of the largest Daiso stores. For the kids, there’s also a Sanrio (aka Hello Kitty) store, and we definitely can’t forget Kiddy Land.
Another great region to explore with kids is Odaiba, where you’ll find another Hello Kitty store, together with a Trick Art Museum, a Legoland Discovery Centre, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, the Tokyo Water Science Museum, a ferris wheel, Leisure Land with its arcade games and photo booths, and many more things to see and do!
If you venture slightly further out, you’ll also find the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka; Sanrio Puroland in Tama; and the fascinating Parasite Museum in Meguro. Another fun day trip is to visit Yokohama, where you’ll find a Ramen Museum where you can make your own ramen; an Anpanman Children’s Museum; and Cosmo World, an amusement park that charges per ride but is free to enter. Of course, there’s always Disney as well, and the two in Tokyo are said to have the best food and service out of all the Disney theme parks around the world, which is not hard to believe.
When to go?
If you’d like to see the cherry blossoms, aim for late March to early April, but as this varies depending on the weather, I suggest you keep your eye on the cherry blossom forecast. Another beautiful time of year to visit would be from mid November to early December for the autumn leaves. Whatever you do, avoid Golden Week, which encompasses four national holidays from April 29 when the former Emperor Showa’s birthday is celebrated, to Children’s Day (kodomo no hi) on May 5, and is therefore one of Japan’s busiest holiday periods.
How long to stay?
1 week is a minimum. You’ll have no problems finding plenty of things to do over 1-2 weeks.
Where to stay?
This depends somewhat on what you intend to see and do, but some recommendations include:
–Tokyo Station Hotel for a touch of class and luxury as well as proximity to the Imperial Palace and Ginza shopping district. Being situated literally at one of the main train stations is also handy, particularly if you’re planning to visit Disneyland and Yokohama. Read a bit more about it here.
–Asakusa is a good area to stay in if you’re on a budget and would like to experience a traditional Japanese ryokan. I can recommend Sukeroku no Yado Sadachiyo, which is clean, spacious, comfortable, includes access to an onsite onsen, serves up a delicious traditional breakfast in the morning, and located on a quiet street that’s within easy walking distance from the Sensoji Temple complex and two train stations.
-Checking into a Hello Kitty suite at Keio Plaza Hotel will make all your little girls’ dreams come true. Its location in Shinjuku close to a major train station is also ideal for visiting the Ghibli Museum and Sanrio Puroland. In addition, as one of the Tokyo Disney Resort Good Neighbour Hotels, Keio Plaza offers a complimentary shuttle bus service to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, making it the perfect base just before a Disney visit.
-If you’re planning on spending more than a day in Disneyland, I would recommend checking into the Tokyo DisneySea Hotel Miracosta. Tokyo DisneySea is unique in being the only place where you can actually stay within the confines of a Disney theme park!
4. The luxe beach stay – Maldives
More and more resorts are opening up in this island paradise, and increased competition means better rates for you. In fact, just recently I saw a deal on one of those Scoopon or similar websites for a stay at the Six Senses Laamu at just a fraction of the cost I paid in 2016. Whilst you may be tempted to hold out for even better rates, remember that Maldives is considered a destination under threat because the islands are so low lying that they’re likely to become submerged by rising sea levels in years to come. I don’t know when this will happen, but I urge you to visit at least once in your lifetime – you definitely won’t be disappointed!
If you want to do absolutely nothing except to decide when and what to eat, what ice-cream flavours to select, which spa treatments to indulge in, and whether or not you should engage in something a little more active such as a spot of yoga or some other gym activity – then this is definitely the place for you. If you’re thinking this is a bit of a strange place to bring the kids, then I have two words for you – kids’ club. Drop them off with their island nannies for all sorts of fun activities like indoor and outdoor games, treasure hunts, cooking classes and various arts and crafts, while you kick back, relax and enjoy those pristine ocean views with a cocktail or two in hand. Most of the resorts in the Maldives are situated on their very own island reachable only by speedboat or seaplane, so you don’t even have to worry about your kids running off somewhere and getting lost. Let me show you just how many ways there are to relax at the Six Senses…
What to do?
Yes, it’s nice to indulge in some “me time” at the spa, gym, poolside or on the beach while the kids are being entertained by someone else, but there are also plenty of activities that can be enjoyed as a family. For example, when I was at the Six Senses, I noticed the spa menu even included mums and kids options. Your concierge or personal butler will be able to organise excursions for you at a fee, such as a visit to a local island or a cruise to watch the dolphins. Of course, with that beautiful soft sand and the clearest water I’ve ever encountered, you’re perfectly placed for enjoying beach activities like volleyball, snorkelling (and diving for the older kids), and a range of water sports like stand up paddleboarding, canoeing and windsurfing. Most of the resorts have a small onsite library including board games, and also organise free daily activities such as astronomy lessons, movies under the stars and behind the scenes island walks. You’ll also be spoilt for choice when it comes to the generally wide range of delicious dining options ranging from international buffets to sunset barbecues, often with some island dancing, and in some resorts, the opportunity to dine in an undersea restaurant!
When to go?
The monsoon season runs from May to October and could quite literally be a real dampener on what should be your trip of a lifetime if you visit during this period. The only reason you’d visit during this time would be if you wanted to watch the turtles hatching from July to October. Otherwise, it’s probably worth paying a little bit more so that you can visit between November and April, when the weather is better. For more affordable rates, aim for November and April as the peak season is between December and March. I stayed at the Six Senses Laamu over the Easter long weekend towards the end of March in 2016 and had a blast, even as a solo traveller. Although you can expect to pay more during holiday periods, there are also more scheduled activities to participate in. For example, my visit happened to coincide with a series of exclusive dinners by three Michelin Star chef Rasmus Kofoed from Geranium in Copenhagen.
How long to stay?
I stayed for 4 nights and thought this was the minimum in order to enjoy all that I had intended to experience. However, as someone who gets a tad bored after sitting in the one spot for too long, I’d say anywhere from 4 nights to 1 week should do nicely.
Where to stay?
I cannot recommend the Six Senses Laamu highly enough. I was well looked after every step of the way, from the moment my booking was made online, at which point communications with the reservations team ensured a smooth transfer process between Male International Airport and the welcome area of the resort. Upon arrival at the international airport, you’re met by a Six Senses staff member, who escorts you to a special airport lounge and then later escorts you to your next flight. Once you get to the resort, each family is paired with a Guest Experience Manager (GEM), who checks in with you each morning and is available 24/7 to ensure every aspect of your stay is as perfect as possible.
I think R, my GEM, was amused at how hard I found it to let go on day 1 when I wanted to ensure I had something to do every morning, afternoon and evening of the few short days that I’d be there. When he came to check in on me about an hour after dropping me off in my villa with my luggage, I had written down a whole list of activities I was interested in. “Leave it with me,” he instructed. “But what am I doing tomorrow morning?” “Don’t worry, just relax now. I’ll come back tomorrow morning and we can talk about it then.” It was a good thing I was actually quite tired after flying from Perth to Singapore, then Singapore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, followed by the final international flight from Colombo to Male, the domestic flight from Male to Laamu Kadhdhoo Airport, and finally a 15 minute speedboat ride. I never said it would be easy getting to Paradise! At any rate, R was right. I reluctantly settled down onto my overwater hammock (yes, there is such a thing!) and before I knew it, I woke up to darkness and a slight rumble in my tummy signalling that it was time to look for dinner. The next morning, R showed up bright and early with a daily schedule of activities for me to approve for the duration of my stay, taking into account my desires and the availability/timing of each activity. Aah, if only I had an R back home!
Aside from the service, the Six Senses is quite simply stunning in its surroundings and the way in which the villas have been built to blend in with nature. In fact, the ocean is never too far away as the bathtub in your villa is made of glass and there’s also a glass panel in the restroom, so you can still look for fish even while you’re going about your morning or evening ablutions. The overall feel is one of laidback stylishness. Here, visitors are encouraged to remove their footwear and walk all around the island barefoot. All of the activities mentioned above, including turtle nesting and hatching are on offer except for the undersea restaurant, but you won’t be disappointed by the food that is available here. Of note (and this is sure to be a hit with the kids), there’s an ice-cream studio with over 40 flavours to sample, all included in your room rate – so grab one for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner, I say!
Other options that I had considered include:
–Dusit Thani on Mudhdhoo Island in Baa Atoll, in order to view the bioluminescent plankton.
-The Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru, for the night spa ritual and because there’s a minimum age of 8 (hey, I was travelling solo).
–Anantara Kihavah or Conrad Rangali for their undersea restaurants and overwater spa treatment suites.
–Como Cocoa Island for their super cute dhoni boat inspired overwater villas – click on the link and check them out!
5. The road trip – Denmark
I’ve already waxed lyrical about Denmark in a recent post, so it should come as no surprise that I would suggest this as a great country to take the kids on an epic road trip. I visited towards the end of the summer months, and found that for the most part, there weren’t too many tourists around, making this the ideal destination for those who prefer a more peaceful and laidback holiday.
To basically recap my previous post, the food is amazing, with an emphasis on showcasing fresh local produce. The people are friendly and helpful, and they all speak English well, meaning communication is a breeze. The public transport system is extensive and efficient, but if you’re not averse to driving in a foreign country, I do recommend picking up a car. The roads are well signposted and not too busy, making this one of the easier countries to drive around. Beauty abounds, from the manmade to the natural. Most importantly, there are a ton of fun things for kids to do!
What to do?
The highlights for me would definitely have to be the well preserved towns with their cute colourful houses, in particular Aeroskobing; the numerous castles, my favourite being Frederiksborg Slot in Hillerod, not too far from Copenhagen; and the scenery which varies from the gently rolling hills of the islands of Fyn and Aero, to the rugged coastlines of Stevns Klint and Mons Klint. Kids will enjoy the Viking history, which can be experienced throughout the country from the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde to the Ribe Viking Centre. There’s also the fairy tale connection, which is most evident in the town of Odense, where fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen was born. For more mainstream fun, there are also amusement parks, the main ones being Tivoli Garden in Copenhagen and, of course, Legoland, not far from Ribe. Aarhus is home to several world class museums where the kids (and adults) can broaden their education in fun interactive ways – don’t miss the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum and the Moesgaard Museum of natural history.
When to go?
The weather was perfect and crowds minimal towards the end of August, but many of the cellar door vendors and local artists’ galleries on the island of Aero were either closed for business or only open for short periods. Even the Legoland hours were reduced at the time of our visit. For that perfect balance of fewer crowds and longer opening hours, I would suggest early to mid August. Perhaps you could time your visit to coincide with the H.C. Andersen Festival in Odense, which will be held from 19-26 August 2018.
How long to stay?
We covered most of what we wanted to see over 2 weeks, but for a more comprehensive visit, or if you perhaps require a more leisurely pace, I would aim for 2-3 weeks.
Where to stay?
My two favourite places that I stayed in on this trip were:
-This darling little farmstay about midway between Copenhagen and Roskilde to the north, Stevns Klint to the east, Mons Klint and the islands of Lolland and Falster to the south, and the Great Belt Bridge linking Zealand to the island of Fyn to the west. This central location makes it the ideal base for exploration, which is just as well, because trust me, once you’ve checked into this adorable little home, you won’t want to leave! This property can be booked on airbnb, and if you haven’t signed up yet, here’s a link that will give you $50 credit on your first booking.
–Pa Torvet, a charming bed and breakfast right in the main square of Aeroskobing. I love the pale blue and yellow decor.
Read here if you need more reasons why you should visit Denmark.
6. The culture vulture – Italy
Cities like Rome need no introduction even to those who’ve never stepped foot in Italy, but if you dare to pit your driving skills against the Italians, I would recommend taking a domestic flight to Bari in the south, and driving from there to some of the most charming little towns you’ll ever see. At the top of the list is Matera, which looks like a real life nativity scene and, unsurprisingly, has been the backdrop for many medieval movies. Matera has been named as the 2019 European Capital of Culture, so I suggest you visit now before it gets overrun with tourists!
As the home of gladiators and gelato, pizza and pasta, there’s plenty for kids to love about Italy. Make sure you don’t stop there, though. Eating is a very important aspect of Italian life, so there’ll be no problems finding good food, as long as you stay away from the main tourist strip. As a general rule, I’d suggest going for the antipasti platter. History, art and culture abounds wherever you turn, so the kids can get an education while enjoying the sights.
What to do?
-You’ll likely start or end your trip in Rome, the Eternal City. You’ll spend a day exploring the Colosseum where kids will enjoy posing with the gladiators (for a fee, of course), the neighbouring Roman Forum, the Circus Maximus, and depending on energy levels, the Baths of Caracalla. You can easily spend another day admiring the treasures within the Vatican City and St Peter’s Basilica. I recommend climbing the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, where you’ll be rewarded with magnificent views of St Peter’s Square and beyond. Once you’re done, head straight down the road in front of the basilica until you reach the star-shaped Castel Sant’Angelo. On the opposite side of the River Tiber is where you’ll find the city centre with its most famous sights including the Piazza Navona with its Fountain of the Four Rivers, the magnificent Pantheon, the iconic Trevi Fountain, and the always popular Spanish Steps. You’ll find the best chocolate gelato you’ll ever taste not far from the Spanish Steps at Vencchi (Via della Croce 25/26). Allow around 3 nights here.
–Venice is one of those places everyone should visit at least once, and you’d better do it sooner rather than later as it’s also considered to be under threat due to rising sea levels, constant flooding and sinking buildings. Visit St Mark’s Basilica, climb up the campanile (bell tower), head over to the Palazzo Ducale, then throw away your map and allow yourself to get lost in the winding streets. Allow another day for the colourful island of Burano. This means you’ll need 2 nights here.
-Kids will get a kick out of coming up with clever poses in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which can be visited en route to Florence.
–Florence is easily the art capital of Italy, if not the world. The Galleria dell’Accademia is where you’ll go to admire David and other sculptures by the great Michelangelo, while the Uffizi houses key works such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Titian’s Venus of Urbino. For great views, climb the dome of the Duomo and/or head to Piazzale Michelangelo across the Arno River. You’ll need 2-3 nights here.
-As mentioned earlier, I adore the south of Italy, with three towns in particular stealing my heart. Matera is a city that has literally been carved out of a rocky outcrop. Once almost entirely abandoned, many of the rock dwellings known as sassi have now been restored into shops, restaurants and lodgings. You may recognise this place from movies such as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story. Not too far from Matera are the twin villages of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa. Apart from the sheer beauty of these villages against the backdrop of the surrounding steep peaks, older kids over 12 will love the adrenaline rush of ziplining from one village to another! Read more about the Flight of Angels here. Along the western coast and not far from the main city of Bari is Alberobello, quite possibly the cutest town I’ve ever been to! Imagine a town full of life size Smurf huts and you’ll come close to envisioning this gorgeous town with their unique dwellings known as trulli (singular: trullo). An overnight stay in each of Matera and Alberobello are sufficient, while Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa could be visited on the way to/from Matera depending on your pace of travel. Read more about the beautiful small towns in Italy’s south here.
When to go?
No ifs, ands or buts – Italy is best experienced during the shoulder months of April to May and September to October. The summer months are simply too hot and overrun with tourists, meaning long queues everywhere, especially at the Vatican. In addition, many of the local businesses operate at reduced hours or shut down completely in July and August, when the locals take their own holidays.
How long to stay?
Three weeks is sufficient for a zip around Italy that’ll make you hungry for a return visit, yet won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed by the exuberance of the locals and, depending on when you visit, the crowds around you.
7. The backyard explorer – Canberra
For those who don’t wish to fly so far, I think you’ll be amazed at how much fun stuff there is to do in our nation’s capital. The first thing that struck me is what an Uber friendly city Canberra is. Not only is there an air-conditioned Uber lounge offering free wifi so that you can find yourself a driver, there are cameras so that you can see exactly when your car pulls up, with the door opening directly onto the pick-up area. They say first impressions are important, and this extra level of convenience certainly made a good first impression when I first arrived in Canberra. However, if you have more time than I did and would like to explore further, I’d suggest renting a car for convenience and flexibility. After all, most of you would be on home turf here, and should feel fairly comfortable driving yourselves around.
This is probably one trip that all Aussie kids should make at some point, so that they can learn more about their nation’s history and politics. As a local destination, it’ll be easy to get to and also easy to get around once you’re there. No jet leg and no culture shock are win-win, but if you ask me, the real reason I’d like to take my nieces to Canberra as soon as they’re old enough to travel on their own with me, is so that we can check into a giraffe treehouse at the Jamala Wildlife Lodge!
What to do?
Of course, there’s Parliament House, where you can join both free or paid tours daily except Christmas Day. Those who are interested can also watch Question Time on most sitting days. The other major attraction would be the Australian War Memorial. I was amazed at what a large and interesting collection of war memorabilia there are within the galleries. You could easily spend at least half the day there. It’s free to wander around on your own, but better yet, join a free tour to learn more about the items on display. If you visit towards the end of the day, you should aim to be around for the Last Post Ceremony at 4.55pm daily, during which the story of one of the soldiers listed on the Roll of Honour is told. Find out more about the ceremony here.
Not too far from Parliament House, there’s also Old Parliament House which houses the Museum of Australian Democracy; the National Portrait Gallery and nearby National Gallery of Australia, famous for being home to Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles” and a collection of Albert Namatjira paintings; the National Library of Australia, where you can view important papers and journals by Captain James Cook, William Bligh, and our first prime minister Sir Edmund Barton, amongst others; and Questacon, an interactive science and technology museum. If you visit the National Gallery between now and 18 February 2018, you’ll be treated to Hyper Real, an exhibit featuring extremely lifelike pieces by artists including Australian Ron Mueck, amongst others.
Slightly further afield, you’ll find the surprisingly fun and informative Royal Australian Mint southwest of the city centre; and both the CSIRO Discovery Centre with its interactive exhibits about the history of science in Australia, and the Australian Institute of Sport with its interactive sports exhibits towards the northwest. If it’s great views and walks you’re after, head to the Telstra Tower or Mount Ainslie Lookout close to the CBD; or if you have your own wheels, Mount Stromlo Observatory or the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
Next time I’m in Canberra with my nieces though, I’m aiming for the National Zoo and Aquarium, and from there, I intend to drive towards the National Dinosaur Museum, the Canberra Reptile Zoo, and Cockington Green Gardens with its collection of miniature buildings from around the world, all three of which are conveniently situated within walking distance from each other.
When to go?
If I were you, I’d try to aim for one of three events. The Canberra Balloon Spectacular will run from 10-18 March 2018. Over the course of these nine days, hot air balloons of all colours and shapes are inflated on the lawns of Old Parliament House before ascending into the sky. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved the fun and whimsy of giant rainbow coloured balloons floating across the sky as the sun rises. This hot air balloon spectacle is actually considered to be one of the best ballooning events in the world, and one I hope to witness myself one day.
Floriade is scheduled to run from 15 September-14 October 2018. I attended Floriade 2017 and was blown away by the quantity and quality of the tulips at Commonwealth Park. I’ve been to Keukenhof in Amsterdam, and let me tell you, Canberra’s version is no slouch. Sure, it’s smaller in scale, but it’s completely free compared to the €17 per adult fee at Keukenhof.
The Canberra Nara Festival celebrates the relationship of Canberra and Nara, Japan being sister cities, and will fall on Saturday 28 October 2018. During the day, visitors will be able to participate in various activities such as lantern making, origami (paper folding), ikebana (flower arranging), and of course sampling Japanese cuisine. As night falls, the real magic unfolds with the lighting of 2000 candles within the Canberra Nara Peace Park against a backdrop of Japanese music.
All three events also have in their favour the fact that they occur during the shoulder seasons, hence it will be neither too hot nor too cold.
How long to stay?
I was on conference and managed to take in Floriade, the National Gallery, the War Memorial, the Mint and several nice restaurants and cafes over 3 days in between conference sessions. If you’re there purely for leisure, 1 week should do nicely, especially if you’re planning to splurge on a stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge.
Where to stay?
As mentioned above, I have my sights firmly set on Jamala Wildlife Lodge set right in the heart of the National Zoo and Aquarium. There are several accommodation options, all so exciting that you’ll find it hard to choose between staying in a giraffe treehouse, a jungle bungalow where you can take a bath or sip your coffee with only a glass wall separating you from the lions, cheetahs, tigers or bears outside, the lemur room, or the reef room, which looks directly into the aquarium. This is one place where it’s actually a bonus to be travelling with kids as room preferences are given to those travelling with children as a priority. There are overnight, two night or three night itineraries, but I personally think the overnight option is sufficient to experience the zoo in the afternoon, night time, and once more in the morning light. All three options include a dinner in the rainforest cave, where you’re joined by some animal friends as guests!
If you’re looking for a hotel within the CBD for the remainder of your stay, the QT Canberra is comfortable, trendy and well-positioned close to several good cafes and restaurants as well as being walking distance to Commonwealth Park and therefore Floriade. However, the lack of a pool and gym may bother some.
Nearby Hotel Hotel is even trendier and is also where Monster Kitchen and Bar is situated. Those of you who follow Masterchef Australia should remember Angelique Peretto from one of the immunity challenge celebrity chef cook-offs in the 2017 season – she was the hyperactive, slightly kooky and very messy French pastry chef who fussed and giggled and then seemingly pulled out this mouthwatering green tea, coconut and raspberry dessert out of thin air. I had the pleasure of dining there when I was in Canberra, and can report that none of the dishes disappointed, whether savoury or sweet. I also enjoyed our quirky surroundings, and therefore have bookmarked Hotel Hotel as the place to stay within the city centre next time. Even if you choose not to stay there, definitely go and check out Monster Kitchen and Bar!
8. The Christmas extravaganza – Germany
It’s no secret I love Christmas, and even more so when markets and snow are involved. One place you’re likely to get both of those is Germany. I’ve been to the German Christmas markets twice now and both times were as magical as the other. I hope to make a third trip with my nieces when they’re older, more nimble and have enough stamina to endure long hours of walking on icy cobblestone paths, and able to sit quietly on trains.
Christmas in Germany is the quintessential Christmas we all dream of. As mentioned above, I’ve been twice, and both times been blessed with snow, so I feel like this is almost always a guaranteed if you make sure you spend some time in the south. Then there are the markets filled with twinkling lights, carollers and choirs, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, gingerbread and other delicious treats, wooden toys, model train sets, heaps of gorgeous Christmas souvenirs such as nutcrackers, candles, lanterns, and of course, all sorts of Christmas decorations made out of wood, glass and lace.
Even if you decide to visit Germany during the warmer months, you still won’t be disappointed as the towns and castles are every bit as charming. The people are just as helpful, and what I like personally but can be a little off-putting for some is their upfront nature which goes hand in hand with that legendray German efficiency. Apart from during times of particularly inclement weather which can’t be helped, the trains run like clockwork there, making travel planning an absolute breeze. Read here for more details about why I love Germany so much.
What to do?
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a German city or town that I didn’t find charming in one way or another. There are so many things to see and do in this amazing country that you’ll probably struggle to narrow down your options to fit the amount of time you have to spend there. Here is a sample rail itinerary from my first trip to the German Christmas markets when I was living in the UK, commencing from Berlin and travelling in a clockwise direction. However, if you’re flying in from Australia, chances are you’ll be commencing and ending your trip in Frankfurt. After two separate visits, these are the highlight destinations that I think the entire family will enjoy:
-From Frankfurt, head to Heidelberg. This university town is built around a bend in the Neckar River, with the old castle ruins casting a formidable presence over the Old Town. The castle complex houses the world’s largest wine barrel, an intriguing Pharmacy Museum, and a balcony with sweeping views towards the other side of town. Once you’re done at the castle, head towards the Old University where you can visit the Student Prison. Be sure to cross the Old Bridge (Alte Brucke)
and make your way up the hill ahead via Snake Path (Schlangenweg)and Philosopher’s Way (Philosophenweg) for views you won’t soon forget! A full day with one night stay is sufficient here.
-Nearby Baden-Baden is one of my favourite towns in Germany. Aside from being a spa town – and let me tell you, there aren’t too many experiences more magical than soaking in steaming hot water while snowflakes fall gently over your face – the town itself is pretty as a picture with particularly good views from the New Castle (Neues Schloss) and Merkur Mountain. The Christmas market may be small, but the prices are among the best throughout the entire country. The town centre of Baden-Baden is also one of the places outside of Switzerland that you can get Laderach chocolate, in my opinion the best in the world! Spend one or two nights depending on how much walking and soaking at a spa you’d like to do.
-Forming roughly a triangle with Heidelberg and Baden-Baden is Stuttgart towards the southeast. One of the more modern cities, this is where you’ll find the Mercedes Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum. I’m not really into cars, but even I found the Mercedes Benz Museum surprisingly interesting and fun. The main reason for basing yourself in Stuttgart, however, is so that you can make a day trip to the nearby Hohenzellern Castle, which will make you feel as though you’ve stepped right through a wardrobe into Narnia! If you start your day early and research your train connections in advance, you can also fit in Tubingen in the same day. Apart from being another pretty little town, Tubingen also hosts an annual chocolate festival that roughly coincides with the timing of the Christmas markets. This year, chocolART will run from 4-9 December. You’ll need three nights in Stuttgart if you intend to visit more than one museum. We spent two nights there and only had enough time for the Mercedes Benz Museum with a day trip to Hohenzellern Castle and Tubingen the following day.
–Munich is one of those travel essentials, requiring at least a three night stay. Some of the top attractions within the city centre include the Marienplatz with its famous Glockenspiel clock, which re-enacts two stories when it chimes; the Hofbrauhaus; the BMW Museum; and the spectacular Residenzmuseum. This is another destination where you can purchase Laderach chocolate. However, once again, the main attraction is a day trip away. I highly recommend visiting both Linderhof Castle and the famous Neuschwanstein Castle together with a pitstop at the fairytale town of Oberammergau. There are numerous tour operators that can take you to all three sights in one day. If you choose the coach tour option, your day is likely to look something like this.
–Nuremberg is home to probably the most famous Christmas market (Christkindlesmarkt) in Germany. There is also an impressive castle complex with fantastic tower views. Stay one to two nights depending on what time you arrive into Nuremberg.
-You’ll need at least two nights in Dresden if you’d like to see the treasures of the Green Vault and New Green Vault. Personally, I found it all a little overwhelming. However, I did enjoy the grandeur of the buildings in Dresden, in particular the stroll along Bruhl’s Terrace along the banks of the River Elbe, and especially in the early evening when the rows of lampposts cast a mysterious glow over the stones. The Christmas market in Dresden is also the oldest and one of the best, including a Stollen Festival when a giant fruitcake is made, paraded through town, and finally cut up and sold at the Striezelmarkt.
-No trip to Germany is complete without a stop in Berlin. There are so many things to see and do here, many of them free. This is one place I would recommend starting with an orientating walking tour similar to this one, after which you can decide which of the attractions you’d like to spend more time in. My top recommendations would include the eerily beautiful Holocaust Memorial; taking in the views from the top of the Reichstag; and of course, the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall. One of my favourite churches can be found in Berlin, the Gedachtniskirche which was partly ruined during World War 2, but has now been preserved as is as a haunting reminder of the horrors of war. You may remember this as the location of the Berlin terror attack in 2016. Berlin also hosts one of my favourite Christmas markets at Gendarmenmarkt. This market is small, but with the French Cathedral at one end and the Deutscher Dom at the other, the setting couldn’t be more beautiful. Don’t forget to keep your eyes out for Ampelmann souvenirs. Finally, I recommend making time for a day trip to Potsdam, with its collection of elegant palaces. Once you take into account a visit to Potsdam and at least one or two museums within Berlin, you’re going to need at least three to four nights.
-We stopped in Bremen on the way back from Berlin, and I’m sure glad we did! Made famous by the Brothers Grimm who wrote about the Town Musicians of Bremen, you’ll find statutes and souvenirs featuring a rooster perched upon a cat on a dog supported by a donkey just about everywhere you go. This fairy tale connection may appeal to the kids, but it was our evening walk through the charming Schnoorviertel that stole my heart. The kids may also get a kick out of seeing eight mummies within the Bleikeller (lead basement) of the Bremen Cathedral. We only had one night, but found that to be enough to cover the main sights in Bremen.
When to go?
The Christmas markets generally run from the last week of November right up until Christmas Eve, so I’d suggest travelling from early December. As a guide, the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is scheduled for 30 November -24 December this year, while the Dresden Striezelmarkt will run from 28 November-24 December.
How long to stay?
Three weeks is a good length of time to take in most of the major sights and enjoy the various Christmas markets without getting sick of the cold and constant packing/unpacking.
Have I inspired you to book a family holiday this year? Where will you be heading? Where else do you think would be a great destination for me to take my nieces one day?
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