10 Most Family-Friendly Cities in Europe
If your motto is "Have family, will travel," you'll be glad to know that Europe is within your reach; in fact, these 10 cities will greet you with open arms. To save on sightseeing, book in advance and consider buying the multi-attraction discount passes most cities offer. If a traditional hotel room is too pricey (or small) for your brood, or leaves you wanting for the comforts of home, rent an apartment through Airbnb; owners typically leave their "must-see" list and restaurant recommendations so you'll have a truly local experience – especially if you download a few local apps before departure. Ready? Set? Go!
There's more – a lot more – to Amsterdam than the red light district. In fact, with paddle boats and bike paths galore, you can – and should – give it the green light for your next family adventure. Eating is easy and photo ops abound in this walkable, bikeable, boat-able city. Patat met (French fries with mayo) will keep hunger at bay as you take in the sights, possibly stopping to smile in an oversize Dutch clog – or perhaps with the pair you plan to bring home.
What to do
Everything is more fun when you arrive on a boat or a bike, and in Amsterdam, that's the way to go. Be sure to swing by the NEMO Science Museum for hands-on exhibits that include a chemistry lab with experiments for young scientists and a bubble display for those that can't resist getting their hands wet. Older kids will appreciate the history of the Anne Frank Museum while kids of all ages will find something of interest at the Van Gogh Museum; just be sure to buy your tickets in advance to avoid the long lines. If you visit in the spring, a day trip to Keukenhof to see the tulips in bloom – hundreds of thousands of them – should top your list. Consider a Holland Pass to save time and entry frees to major attractions. And don't miss Amsterdam's legendary singing tour guide.
Where to stay
The Radisson Blu in the city is centrally located and offers a great breakfast buffet. The hotel itself is not too big and not too small and with croissants and Nutella for breakfast, everything seems just right.
Where to eat
Have a steak with the locals at Café Loetje in the Museum Quarter neighborhood. They don't take reservations (or cash!) but it's well worth the wait - especially if you can get a table on the patio.
It's not just the Irish eyes that will be smiling when you touch down in Dublin; the welcoming locals will have everyone smiling from the top 'o the morning 'til the rise of the moon. With relatively short direct flights and no language barrier, Dublin is the perfect starter-city for a family of aspiring adventurers.
What to do
Admire the "doors of Dublin" as you stroll over to St. Stephen's Green. Pack a picnic lunch, romp at the playground and feed the ducks before you depart to see ducks of a different sort at the National Museum of Ireland - Natural History. A taxidermy tribute to Ireland's wildlife is artfully displayed over two manageable floors. Assuming you have some animal lovers in your midst, they'll be pleased to know they can see the real thing at the delightful Dublin Zoo in Phoenix Park. For a bit of (dark) Irish history, plan a visit to Kilmainham Goal; Gaol is Gaelic for jail and this one housed almost every notable Irish rebel.
If day trips are your thing, consider taking the train south to Bray to visit the aquarium, stroll along the sea or hike up to Brayhead; you might even pick some blueberries along the way, depending on the season. If mountains are more your style, head to County Wicklow where you'll be dazzled by the gardens at Powerscourt and awed by the scenery and history at Glendalough.
Where to stay
The modern Mespil Hotel is well-located on the Grand Canal in the heart of Dublin. The renovated 1960s office building has retained a bit of the biz-casual atmosphere, but the rooms provide good value for families.
Where to eat
Just a short walk from the hotel you'll find Milano, equally equipped with high chairs and a post-work crowd and just loud enough to drown the din of your overtired tots.
Croissants, baguettes and crepes, mon dieu! Paris isn't just for romantics in the spring; it's for everyone, all year long. Kids will love the boulangeries on every corner; you'll love how easy it is to navigate the Metro and catching a view of the Eiffel Tower from vistas around the city.
What to do
Leave the Louvre for your next trip. When traveling en famille, take in Paris' plentiful parks. You could spend the whole day at Jardin Luxembourg, which in addition to a stunning palace built in 1612 by Marie de Medici boasts modern-day delights like peddle cars for racing and toy boats for sailing – not to mention a playground with zip lines and an Eiffel Tower bungee for your pint-size thrill seekers.
If the weather drives you indoors (the kids may not see the romance in the rain), visit the Musee de Cluny and go for a treasure hunt among the tapestries. Should your tots be avid climbers, Paris will not disappoint. If your brood is physically fit, the 1,600+ stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower will suffice for a workout with a view. For a more gentile ascent, climb the 300 steps to the top of Sacre Coeur for a view of the city that is magnifique.
Where to stay
Citadine in the Bastille/Marais neighborhood includes a galley kitchen and is walking distance to a great open-air market
Where to eat
Anywhere and everywhere; it's hard to go wrong in Paris! Pick a local café in the morning and neighborhood bistro at night. If you want an atypical but memorable experience, visit the quirky Le Refuge des Fondue after climbing those steps to Sacre Coeur.
How could you go wrong in the city that gave us Paddington Bear, Peter Rabbit, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Harry Potter? And then there's real life princesses and castles to die for (as more than a few did!).
What to do
You have to see the sights memorialized by Chevy Chase in European Vacation ("Look kids, Big Ben! Parliament!") but your tweens will love posing with One Direction at Madame Tussaud's. And while you have to pay to see the Crown Jewels (and Torture Tower) at the Tower of London, there are some great (free!) museums and lesser-known attractions you won't want to miss.
Ever wonder how they developed the symbol for the pound or how it feels to hold a bar of gold? Find out at the Bank of England Museum. If your pint-size flyers are also fans of buses and trains, you won't want to miss the interactive London Transport Museum, with more than 80 vehicles including a double decker bus and the world's first Underground train. To get your fill of history, visit the Museum of London and time travel from the days when lions roamed Trafalgar Square to today's thriving city center. Last but not least, if J.K. Rowlings is a family fave, you won't want to miss the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studios Tour.
When the royal sun is shining, plan a day at St. James Park. Watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and then stroll down Horse Guards Parade and Mall to the lake; watch the pelicans get fed daily at 2:30 or settle into a deckchair while the kids frolic on the playground.
Where to stay
The Park Plaza offers several locations with spacious rooms to accommodate a family of four and easy access to sights and public transport.
Where to eat
Don't miss the Sunday roast or anyday fare at a local pub like The Marksman or The Engineer. If you need a taste of home (but better), GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) has several locations where you can get your burger on any way you like – from buffalo to veggie and everything in between.
Gladiators meet gelato in this city of ancient history and modern cuisine. The locals love kids, and they love food. Need we say more?
What to do
No family trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Colosseum and the pious will want to pop in on the Pope and visit the Vatican. Keep your shoulders covered and hold onto your hat as you look up at Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Splash in the Trevi Fountain, climb the Spanish Steps, and enjoy a gelato in one of the city's many central piazzas.
Pizza is plentiful but if you want an insider's look at the Rome's food scene, take one of Elizabeth Minchilli's food tours. In case one gelato just isn't enough, she offers a two-hour all-gelato tour that's a favorite with the junior set.
If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, take a day trip to Ostia Antica. Once Rome's harbor city, it's now a maze of ruins that evokes Pompeii, providing ample wandering of ancient alleys and passageways. Spend an afternoon exploring the remnant rooftops, storefronts and latrines – which kids of all ages always get a kick out of.
Where to stay
The Roma Resort Trevi has spacious rooms by Roman standards and is walking distance to many attractions including the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.
WHERE TO EAT
For the best carbonara in town, go where the locals go: Perilli in the Testaccioa neighborhood. For a great lunch after a morning of sightseeing, go to Nerone and try to nab an outdoor table with a view of the Colosseum. (Via delle Terme di Tito, 96, 011/39-06 481 7952)
Munich's motto is München mag dich ("Munich loves you") and indeed it does. There's something for everyone in this Bavarian capital where handcrafted toys are as plentiful as hand-crafted beers.
What to do
Start your day at Marienplatz, the central square in Munich's Old Town. Secure a spot in front of Neues Rathaus, the New Town Hall, to see the 100+ year-old Glockenspiel chime daily at 11:00 and 12:00. After that, visit the Toy Museum in the other clock tower, the Old Town Hall. For a more hands-on experience, walk over to Munich's biggest toy store, Obletter Spielwarne in Karlsplatz square or visit Kids Kingdom in Deutsches Museum; one of the biggest, oldest science and technology museums in the world, it offers over 1,000 kid-friendly activities.
The Munich zoo, Tierpark Hellabrunn, is spread over 89 sprawling acres and offers kid-pleasing pony and camel rides in the summer and a penguin parade in winter. If you believe in "happily ever after," don't miss the German "fairy tale route", especially Neuschwanstein Castle, said to be the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty.
Where to stay
The well-located Louis Hotel maintains an atmosphere of German sophistication, with wood furnishings and rooms equipped with the latest tech to keep the kiddos entertained.
Where to eat
When in Munich... bring the kids to the beer garden! At Viktualienmarkt, Munich's farmer's market, you can sample sausages and more before settling in at the central beer garden to wash it all down. For the true beer garden experience, head to Hirschgarten for the best of Bavarian beers, sausages, potato salad, pretzels, and strudel.
With the works of Gaudí around every corner, you'll be in a state of architectural bliss while the kids will think they've landed in the land of Seuss. If that's not enough, you can amble along Las Ramblas or stroll by the sea in the city that gave the world tapas. Bueno!
What to do
Barcelona's Boqueria is a market like no other with flowers, fruit, and local fare to dazzle all five senses. Grab some goods to go and then get your Gaudí on at the famous Sagrada Familla. From there, hike uphill to Parc Güell where you'll be greeted by "el drac," a multicolored mosaic salamander perfect for photo ops.
For a sweet treat, visit The Chocolate Museum, featuring chocolate monument replicas and tasty souvenirs. CosmoCaixa is an interactive science museum with a mini rainforest and crowd-pleasing planetarium. If you have a little inventor along for the ride, don't miss the Museum of Ideas and Inventions, which will spark their imagination and yours too.
If you're feeling adventurous, go shark cave diving in the Oceanarium at the aquarium near the Marina in Port Vell. Afterward, enjoy the view of the Mediterranean while nibbling on prawns and jamon at Martina's Brasserie & Cocteleria. As the sun sets, stroll over to the Fountain of Montjuic for an unforgettable display of illuminated dancing "magic" fountains.
Where to stay
The Petit Palace Hotel Opera Garden is well situated near Las Ramblas and offers an inclusive breakfast buffet.
What to eat
Tapas, tapas, and more tapas. Barcelona's kid-friendly specialties include fresh fish, fried potatoes, and bread rubbed with garlic, oil and tomatoes. Try them all at El Jardi Terrace & Tapas Bar, nestled away from the noise of the city in a courtyard surrounded by olive trees.
8. Halkidiki, Greece
Okay, Halkidiki is not a city but a region of Greece. Why is it on our list? Because not every family vacation needs history and sightseeing; sometimes you just want to soak up the sun. Here, you can actually do both and go home boasting that you've been to the birthplace of Aristotle and bathed in the clear blue Aegean Sea.
What to do
Situated in northern Greece, the Halkidiki region is comprised of three peninsulas, known as the "three fingers of Halkidiki." The first and most populated is Kassandra, the second, with fewer resorts and more secluded coves, is Sithonia, and the third is Mount Athos, a monastic community closed to the masses.
Begin your journey in Kassandra and avoid the crowds with a hillside hike. Try the Koutsoupia-Sivri trail; as you walk the sea cliff from Sani Resort to Sivri village, you'll pass by Roman ruins including a villa and early Christian temple. Spend an afternoon in Athitos, a picturesque village dating from 3000 BC. Stop for coffee and take in the old stone houses, cobblestone alleys, and breathtaking views of the Toroneos Gulf. If you need a break from the sun, visit Petralona Cave at the foot of Mount Katsika, famous for its stalactites and stalagmites.
In Sithonia, the luscious green landscape meets the cerulean water of Aegean Sea; settle in on a secluded beach and then go explore the fish tavernas in Vourvourou where you can watch the fisherman bring in their bounty.
To see the only monastic republic in Europe, take a boat from Ormos Panagias in Athonia and head toward Mount Athos. No tourists (or women) are allowed, but you won't want to miss the view of the 20 monastaries dotting the coast or the abundant sea life that surrounds you.
Where to stay
Stay at the Hotel Vergos in Vourvourou. Family-friendly features include a kiddie pool and rooms equipped with a mini-fridge.
Where to eat
Fresh fish and local wines are the way to go in Greece. Try Paris in Vourvourou, an open restaurant overlooking the ocean that serves local fare or Aristos in Ornos Panagias, where wooden tables and chairs dot the beach and you can dine by the light of the moon.
Sunflowers, fresh honey and chianti await in a city that offers fine dining and fine art that are equally accessible to travelers of all ages.
What to do
Even the little ones will realize what a treasure trove the Uffizi Gallery Museum is when you turn your tour into a treasure hunt for the masters: Raphael, Rubens, Caravaggio, and Michelangelo. Il Duomo di Firenze, more formally known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, is worth the visit for many reasons, not the least of which is the incredible view from the top of this orange-tiled cathedral.
At Palazzo Vecchio, the kids can live like a Medici for a day; sign them up for a guided tour and some fresco painting while you take a tour of your own through the palace's secret passages.
After souvenir shopping on the Ponte Vecchio, stroll over to Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens that rise up behind it. The Giardino di Boboli are famous for the fountains and grottos designed by the Medici family; one of the earliest Italian gardens, it's also a great place to enjoy a picnic from Ino you can pick up on the way.
It you want to get a taste of Tuscany and its rolling hills, take the No. 7 bus up to Fiesole. Just 20 minutes north of the city, you'll have an awe-inspiring view of Florence on one side and a stunning set of Etruscan and Roman ruins on the other.
Where to stay
Villa Tolomei, about 10 minutes outside the city, offers adjoining rooms for families in addition to a beautiful pool and gardens.
Where to eat
Families are welcome everywhere, but two of our faves that come with a local's stamp of approval include Trattoria La Casalinga and Cinghiale Bianco; be sure to wash down your homemade pasta with truffles with some vin santo and biscotti while the kids enjoy an extra scoop of gelato.
Where to begin? There's the opera, the architecture, and the food – from schnitzel and ratatouille to the famous Sacher torte, you'll be waltzing your way through Vienna from morning 'til night.
What to do
Channel your inner Mozart or virtually conduct your own Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Haus der Musik. If you haven't had your fill of the classics, the Vienna State Opera offers hour-long children's operas all year with the exception of July and August; these popular programs sell out months in advance, so be sure to book your tickets when you book your flights.
Schonbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the imperial Habsburg family, is a palace, children's museum and world's oldest zoo all in one.
Belvedere consists of two Baroque palaces, the Oranger and Palace Stables; at Upper Belvedere budding detectives find sport in spotting the mistakes in the paintings.
When you've had your fill of palaces and fine art, visit the Zoom Children's Museum and then go to the Dschungel for an afternoon snack; there's a play corner for the kids and comfy couches for you.
Finally, take the elevator to the top of the North Tower of St. Stephen's Cathedral for a view of the city you'll remember forever.
Where to stay
Pertschy, a B&B in an 18th century palace, offers a full Viennese breakfast buffet and kid-loving staff. Best of all, it's walking distance to the Opera, cathedral and more.
Where to eat
Naschmarkt has been a meeting place since the 16th century and today offers over 120 stands and restaurants featuring both Viennese specialties and international delicacies; grab some takeaway and have a picnic in Rathauspark.
5 Perfect Fall Trips for Families
School may be in session but getting away for a short trip in the fall is a great way to ease out of summer living. And whether it’s a day trip or a quick weekend, there’s something to make everyone in the family happy. Here are six trips to consider which will enrich everyone’s body, soul and mind. Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, VA This living museum will engage kids and adults in the history of America in the 18th century. The historic area, which is a reconstruction of the city as capital of Colonial Virginia, includes hundreds of recreated buildings and structures, as well as three main thoroughfares – all of which are peopled with talented docents and translators who interact with guests to tell a more convincing story. See the tools and techniques of 18th century trades, discover pre-Revolutionary military sites and weapons, including the newly opened Anderson’s Blacksmith Shop Public Armory, peruse the British grandeur of Governor’s Palace, and explore the African American Experience, which provides a truthful, historical interpretation of slavery – a painful yet fully American experience. Planning on staying? There are six hotels within the Historic Area, including 26 Colonial Houses which can be booked overnight. US Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL Known as “Rocket City,” Huntsville is ground zero for the development of the NASA space shuttle rockets – so it’s no surprise the US Space & Rocket Center is the perfect place to investigate and learn about all aspects of the past and future of the American space program. In addition to the a full-stack Space Shuttle with two solid rocket boosters and external tank, and an authentic, impressive Saturn V rocket with hands-on exploration, other exhibits include the Spacedown IMAX Theater, a Moon Shot simulator, a G-Force Accelerator and a Mars Climbing Wall. If you’re looking for something even more interactive, you might want to book Family Space Camp, for kids between 7 and 18. Here you’ll launch simulated missions to the International Space Station, train to be an astronaut on a gravity chair and make and launch your own rocket. Great Sand Dunes, CO America's national parks are diverse and majestic, offering families a peek into the awesome splendor of this considerable country. And though sites like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite are popular tourist sites, we are partial to the Great Sand Dunes at the base of Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. At 8200 feet elevation, these 30 miles of dunes can reach up to 750ft high. Hiking is the best way to appreciate this extraordinary, natural sandbox, and a two-hour walk also lets you explore the stunning Medano Creek, where you can splash around in a little water with your beach. Get your kicks sand sledding and sand boarding down the dunes, cardboard and snow sleds don’t work on dry sand, so you’ll have to stop and rent a board near the park entrance. Camping is allowed to help you experience the beauty of the park at night, and there are also cabins, a motel, a lodge and a ranch if you want something a little more comfortable. Dinosaur Trail, MT Find your very own prehistoric insect captured in amber at Montana’s Dinosaur Trail. This sprawling experience covers 14 locations around the entire state, which is home to some of the most important paleontological discoveries ever made. The exhibits along the trail range from the first baby dinosaur bones at Two Medicine Dinosaur Center to the best preserved “mummy” of a dinosaur ever found at Great Plains Dinosaur Museum. Want to get your hands dirty? Paleontology field dig opportunities are available at three different facilities. Be sure to pick up the Prehistoric Passport, a simple guide to the museums and communities along the way, where you’ll find history, facts and space to collect a stamp at each dino facility – which you can then trade in for prizes. TreEscape Aerial Adventure Park, Vernon, NJ Mountain Creek, best known for its namesake ski resort and water park, has a new park on the block. The TreEscape Aerial Adventure Park, located on the grounds of the Great Gorge Golf Course, is a heady combination of elevated ropes courses, connected wooden climbing platforms, obstacles and screaming ziplines – all in a green, eco-friendly environment. A six-hour window will allow you to finish the entire course, though it’s not a prerequisite, and a shuttle will follow historical logging, mining and horseback riding rails to deposit you at the park. A separate park is available for kids aged 4 to 6 and allows the younger set a chance to try out about 20 different climbing elements. Older folk can also come back when the sun goes down for night climbing on Saturday evenings. If you want to try out some of the resort’s other activities, overnight accommodations can be booked at The Appalachian resort at the base of Vernon Peak mountain or the Crystal Springs Resort – both which offer amenities like dining, pools and a spa.
How to Explore Your Family Roots Through Travel
While taking an at-home DNA test can offer a guide to your genetic makeup, planning a trip can bring you closer to your lineage. Some DNA research companies have gone a step further through teaming up with travel businesses to provide resources for planning a trip. In May 2019, Airbnb and 23andMe announced their partnership in providing bookings for experiences and accommodations based on customers’ test results and tied to their ancestry destination. In 2017, Ancestry and EF Go Ahead Tours jointly launched a portfolio of heritage-centered tours in Ireland, Italy and Germany. If you want to plan a trip on your own, there are some measures to keep in mind while getting excited about what you might find. Here are some tips provided by genealogy and travel experts on how to map out your trip. Start by Building a Family Tree “The first thing I recommend is for everyone to start their own family tree,” said Jennifer Utley, director of research at Ancestry. “Call relatives who know your family history; add their experience.” Also get your children involved in trip planning. “They also can give a different perspective; they may come up with places you didn’t think of.” Know What You Want to Do Another initial step in planning is to understand what kind of trip you want to pursue – is about the destination itself or directly your family? “A heritage trip is about seeing the sites, experiencing the culture and walking in the footsteps of your family in a broad way,” said Cara MacDonald, reference services manager at the Scotiabank Family History Centre at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Whereas, a research trip is to find out more detail about your family during their time in that area, which usually involves visits to archives, museums and genealogical societies.” Reach Out to Tourism Boards Mickela Mallozzi, host and executive producer of “Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi,” whose third season of her TV series used her DNA map to bring her to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, recommends reaching out to a country or region’s tourism boards as a resource. “It is the DMO’s job to promote their own destination, and usually these people are very proud of their country or region,” she said. Make Appointments With visiting archive centers or government offices, learn ahead of time what your accessibility to their records and reference materials might be, in the case they may take some time for being pulled up, or there are required payments for getting copies or other services. “You almost always have to have an appointment and you have to order the files or boxes in advance,” said New York genealogist Terry Koch-Bostic. “If it’s a book from the shelf, it’s usually not a problem, but if you want to look at documents or manuscripts, then you usually order them in advance.” Check Hours of Operation Maybe you went to a center on a Friday and found out that they’re open the four days prior only or closed at certain times or for private functions. “Always make sure you check hours of operation, especially if you are traveling in the off season,” said MacDonald. “Genealogy societies may be staffed by volunteers and only be open on specific days.” Go Beyond Google While search engines are right at your fingertips, and Facebook groups on geological research, do some local digging into your past. Ancestry’s Utley noted that historical societies throughout the U.S. can provide information on the background of a region or even chapters of ethnic groups with a prominent presence such as Italian, German or Irish. Other go-to sources can include the newspapers of the day, census, country or municipal records, city directories (a pre-cursor to phone books), and records from courts, churches, cemeteries and military museums and other venues. Get Extra Help Kudos to you for pursuing your family’s history on your own but don’t hesitate if you need some guidance with your research. Travel expert Charles McCool, who has conducted family research trips to Ireland, advises connecting with a contact within your destination of family origin before the trip for help. “Hire that person to walk you through the bureaucratic maze, like requesting vital records, accessing archives and so on.” Koch-Bostic also recommends hiring a travel agent for bookings or a genealogist for extended research or a guide for showing you around. Embrace Your Surroundings Along with seeing places connected to the past, Valarie D’Elia, a video travel journalist specializing in ancestral travel programming, recommends building your itinerary around local agendas such as going during a coinciding event and partaking in cultural, religious and traditional activities. “Most importantly, add context to these events,” said D’Elia. “How do they relate to your family history?” Also, D’Elia notes to include side trips outside of the city, village or town you’re visiting. Get Engrossed in Culture Gina Paige, president and co-founder of African Ancestry, noted that culture can be a key part of heritage travel. With those of African American ancestry, U.S. cities can be sources for information such Baltimore’s ties to the Underground Railroad specific institutions such as National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Local communities, too, can help. Paige pointed out that African Americans who trace their roots to the Tikar in Cameroon can find significant communities within the U.S. – such as in NYC, Houston and D.C. “They tend to have networks within those organizations already, so when they are ready to travel, they use those people as a resource,” said Paige. Put Your Family in a Historical Context If you’re finding road blocks with your research, look at your background from a historical perspective. For example, Allison DePrey Singleton, a librarian at the Genealogy Center at Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind., noted that those of Irish decent can learn about the vast impact of the Irish potato famine, which led to many Irish leaving their homeland or perishing from hunger. “It’s about putting your family in a historical context; learn about what was going on in that country and that location within a certain time period.” Manage Your Expectations DNA trips can bring up all sorts of emotions, but you want to stay receptive in the moment and around others. “Be respectful of the culture and realize that [your] accommodations can be rudimentary,” said D’Elia, “Be mindful you are visiting ancient places and ancient infrastructure; pack proper footwear. These trips attract multiple generations, so be sure to accommodate specific mobility issues."
10 Best Aquariums in the World
For many of us, aquariums offer our very first glimpse of what life looks like under the sea. Our oceans and fresh water bodies are teeming with marine life—a dazzling array of animals, plants, and organisms that shape our world, and a visit to an aquarium can be the first step in teaching children how to care for their planet. There’s no shortage of aquariums, though. According to the MarineBio Conservation Society, there are more than 200 marine aquariums and ocean life centers around the world. Need some help narrowing down your options? These 10 are Budget Travel’s list of the best aquariums across the globe. 1. Georgia Aquarium: Atlanta, GA The largest aquarium in the U.S. has tens of thousands of animals swimming in over 10 million gallons of water. Located in Atlanta, the massive institution is home to some of the biggest fish in the world. Daredevils can even swim with the aquarium’s whale sharks. For kids, there’s a petting area where you dip your hands into a shallow pool filled with rays and baby sharks, including Bonnethead sharks, which have eyes in the back of their heads. Don’t miss the museum’s dolphin show, where trainers showcase the beauty, athleticism, and intelligence of bottlenose dolphins. 2. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom: Hengqin, Zhuhai, People's Republic of China Want to explore the largest aquarium in the world? This aquarium in the People’s Republic of China boasts eight themed areas inside the park, each representing a different part of the ocean. Chimelong’s whale shark exhibit offers stunning views of one of the largest creatures in the world through its massive viewing window. The aquarium also has a dolphin’s island, otter’s den, and sea lions theater, where the animals show off acrobatic movements to the beat of tango, rock, and Brazilian samba music. 3. Marine Life Park: Sentosa island, Singapore This Singapore aquarium is home to more than 100,000 marine animals of over 1,000 species from across 50 different habitats. The museum’s shark encounter lets guests swim inches away from some of the ocean's stealthiest predators, such as the hammerhead, silvertip and sandbar sharks. Visitors can also meet face to face with Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. When you’re done gawking at the sea life, check out the high-speed water slides and lazy river at Adventure Cove Waterpark, which is located next to the aquarium. 4. Dubai Mall Aquarium: Dubai, United Arab Emirates One of the world’s second-largest shopping mall is also home to an aquarium with more than 33,000 aquatic animals and the largest collection of sand tiger sharks. Rising to the mall’s third floor, the museum is famous for its 48-meter tunnel, where people can watch the museum’s divers feed sharks and rays throughout the day. For a closer encounter, the aquarium offers a 30-minute tour of the museum’s back-of-house facilities, where you can feed shark babies and learn about the center’s shark breeding program. 5. Shedd Aquarium: Chicago, Illinois Opened in 1930, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is one of the oldest aquariums in the world. Home to sea otters, lake sturgeons, giant river turtles, blacktip reef sharks, and other water animals, the museum specializes in providing learning experiences for visitors of all ages. Take advantage of the free audio guide, which provides detailed accounts of the aquarium’s most memorable species, including the incredible rescue story of green sea turtle Nickel. Penguin lovers can meet, touch, and feed Magellanic penguins while learning about penguin anatomy, nesting season, and the museum’s penguin conservation work in South Africa. 6. Oceanogràfic: Valencia, Spain Located in the avant-garde architectural complex of Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències in Valencia, the Oceanogràfic aquarium offers a truly immersive experience. It has Europe’s longest underwater tunnel, where visitors get a front-seat view of more than 100 sharks of 21 different species. In addition, the aquarium features stunning sea life from the Mediterranean ocean, including barracudas, snakelocks anemones, and spiny lobsters. It also offers nighttime attractions, including live music and dolphin shows. 7. Oceanário de Lisboa: Lisbon, Portugal This Lisbon aquarium showcases four marine habitats crossing the temperate, tropical, and cold waters of the different oceans of the planet. The museum’s permanent exhibition features a stunning array of jellyfish, rich algae, penguins, and amphibians such as dusky salamanders, European tree frogs, and rubber eel. Kids can enjoy an overnight stay at the museum where they learn more about sharks. 8. Monterey Bay Aquarium: Monterey, California Another stateside aquarium well worth visiting is Monterey Bay’s. The museum’s ocean-view decks are a great vantage point for viewing local wildlife, from sea otters and seals to humpback whales and white sharks, which gather to feed in the bay after spending months offshore in waters as far west as Hawaii. Daily shows include sea otter feeding, penguin feeding, seabirds feeding, and “Luna: A Sea Otter's Story,” where guests learn about the threats facing California's sea otter population by following one sea otter’s journey. 9. Vancouver Aquarium: Vancouver, Canada Opened in 1956, Canada’s largest aquarium houses around 300 species of fish, nearly 30,000 invertebrates, and more than 50 species of amphibians and reptiles. The museum offers a number of full-sensory experiences, including sea lion training, otter feedings, dolphin shows, and walrus encounters. It’s also the headquarters of Ocean Wise, a non-profit where scientists, educators, and conservation experts spearhead initiatives such as shore cleanup efforts and sustainable seafood practices. 10. Texas State Aquarium: Corpus Christi, TX Dedicated to promoting the environmental conservation and rehabilitation of wildlife from the Gulf of Mexico, this Corpus Christi, TX aquarium offers a unique look at the animals that populate the rich habitats of this region. Kids will especially enjoy the museum’s slot meet-and-greet experience, where guests get a personal introduction to Xena or Chico, one of the Linneaus’s two-toed sloths. The aquarium’s wildlife rescue center helps rehabilitate marine mammals, sea turtles, raptors, and shorebirds who are injured in the wild.
Family Reunion: How to Plan the Perfect Trip
They can be the most heartwarming—or the most chilling—words in the English language: Family Reunion. If the thought of organizing your extended clan for a long weekend away sends a shiver down your spine, relax. If you start early, do your homework, and take advantage of digital tools, you can pull off a multigenerational jaunt that will delight everyone from one to 100. Here, our all-you-need-to-get-started guide to planning the party of the year. 1. START THE CONVERSATION At least nine months in advance, start talking to your extended family's "thought leaders"—the ones who typically make the decisions and do the heavy lifting at, say, Thanksgiving. Family-travel expert and former Family Vacations editor at About.com Teresa Plowright suggests that earlier is better when coordinating the schedules of many families. "People like to know 'Next June we're all getting together'—you just have so many work/vacation schedules for adults, seasonal jobs, sports programs for teens, etc." Especially if your family intends something ambitious, like an overseas trip, a popular resort, or a cruise, at least a year is advisable. For more casual affairs ("Let's rent a couple of beach houses!"), Plowright notes that a few months in advance might be fine. Before deciding on your reunion destination, it's best to put together three final options (including sample activities, meals, and a rough estimate of the cost) that the group can consider. (See "Pick the Perfect Destination," below.) 2. DELEGATE If you're the type who's reading this story and already taking notes, you're likely the one who is going to volunteer to do too much. Don't. As with any family get-together, a reunion will require delegating important tasks. Depending on the family dynamic, this might mean choosing a leader to coordinate the event while one person is the reservation-keeper, another is in charge of meal planning, another for activities. If all of this is starting to sound like work, well, it is. Like a well-run business, the reunion will require a staff that works independently and reports back to the group regularly. 3. MAKE RESERVATIONS These days, of course, reservations can all be made online, which is mostly a blessing. But a slew of paperless reservations (flights, hotels, rental cars, and restaurants) made by a team of far-flung relatives can sometimes spell confusion. Use a reliable app such as TripIt or Google docs to store and share all your important dates, times, and ticket info. In general, you should get a head count and make lodging reservations six to nine months prior to your reunion; buy plane tickets four to six months in advance; book activities at your destination about two months in advance; double-check your head count one month prior to travel; and re-confirm all your reservations and any airport transportation and car rentals one week in advance. 4. PICK THE PERFECT DESTINATION Family adventure If your clan is the type to hop out of bed every morning itching to climb, hike, bike, and explore, "Escorted tours with all details handled and excellent lodgings can be a good idea," suggests Plowright. A number of adventure-travel companies offer "family adventure" packages aimed at multigenerational groups. Adventures by Disney is, no surprise, a favorite choice of many families. Ski resort "I've seen many multigenerational vacationers at ski resorts," notes Plowright. "It can be pricey, but the good news is that even if some of the family doesn't want to ski or snowboard, there are more and more non-skiing activities to enjoy." Disney "Families with grandparents along seem to be everywhere at Disney World," says Plowright. The park offers a wide—and ever-widening—range of activities, even for those who aren't interested in the rides. All-inclusive resort "All-inclusive resorts offer plenty of activities during the day, plus kids' programs," suggests Plowright. "Families can decide to do some activities together and split up for other things and re-group at dinner." Whether you're a partier or just a fan of fine dining, swimming pools, and white-sand beaches, one of the most appealing aspects of the all-inclusive is that you can go for days without ever reaching for your wallet. Beach house "Rent a big vacation home, or a few that are near one another, for a relaxing reunion," says Plowright. But remember if your reunion is "self-catered," no one person should be stuck doing all the cooking. Delegate a different cook—or group—for each evening's dinner. Cruise "Think of a cruise as a floating all-inclusive resort," says Plowright, "with the same potential to be together or easily break off for separate activities." A cruise might just be the easiest reunion from a planner's point of view, with ample opportunities for age-appropriate activities, easy seating for meals, and special events such as private cocktail parties, photo sessions, and a fairly standard discount of one free passenger for every eight cabins. But because most cruises are not strictly all-inclusive, do keep an eye on extra costs—that glass of wine you raise to toast your grandparents may set you back $10. 5. DON'T FORGET THE SWAG Order personalized souvenirs Sending everyone back home with a family reunion T-shirt—or tote bag, baseball cap, or custom-made craft—can help keep the event alive in everyone's memory for a long time. Prepare a family tree No, you don't have to know exactly when your great-grandmother left Palermo, or what her father's name was, to cobble together a nice family tree to answer inevitable questions, like "Who is that dude and am I really related to him?" Bring photo albums Sure, you can—and should—trot out those dusty "analog" albums that everyone loves. But don't forget to collect and organize family photos digitally for future reference. Take a group photo Book a professional photo session through your hotel, resort, or cruise line. Pricey? It can be—but it's worth the quality of the photography, shot composition, and professional printing. Make a music video You may have to leave the tech to the teens, but it's way easier than you think to shoot and edit your own family's take on, say, "Uptown Funk." Trust us, the laughter will linger long after you've packed your bags and headed home. Ask the kids to make name tags or dinner-table place cards Pack craft paper and crayons and make the little ones feel like big shots by having them create name tags or place cards for themselves and the grownups. It's a colorful way to decorate your dinner table, and the sentimental value of those mini-masterpieces will only go up as the years go by.