If you were a city slicker on holidays before kids, there’s no reason to stop going on cultural holidays now you have the little ones in tow. There’s so much to do in cities and the best places combine museums and castles with beaches and waterparks, so there’s something to please all members of the family.
The capital of Crete comes up trumps with family attractions, from interactive museums to history in action, as well as beaches and waterparks nearby. The Natural History Museum of Crete teaches kids by immersion, with interactive exhibitions like an earthquake simulator and a Discovery Centre aimed at kids up to 15. Using an environment that imitates nature, it displays the plants, animals, fossil and rocks of the eastern Med, so you can learn about nature in Greece and Crete.
To get hands on with history, explore the Koules marine fortress, which was built by the Republic of Venice in the early 16th century and is still standing strong. It’s open to look around for only €2, or €1 for kids. Or a short distance south of the city, the Palace of Knossos is a vast bronze Age archaeological site where kids can be inspired by the Greek myths of Icarus and the Minotaur. Open from April to October until 7.30pm Knossos is a must-visit as it’s thought to be Europe’s oldest city.
If you hanker for traditional seaside fun while in Heraklion, get a bus or drive three kilometres west to play on glorious three-kilometre-long Blue Flag Ammoudara Beach. Or head in the other direction for Water City waterpark with kids’ pools and slides as well as everything from a lazy river to a hyper race.
If you’re travelling with older kids, they’ll be in awe of the colours, sights and sounds of Marrakech. One of the key sights is UNESCO designated Jemaa el-Fna square, where street entertainers out-do themselves and you can try delicious Arabic flavours. Head there in the afternoon to see snake charmers and acrobats, then stay after dark for barbecues with shows on the side like magicians, musicians and theatre acts.
The nearby ancient Medina is the place to pick up some souvenirs and get the kids involved in bartering, or you can take a horse drawn carriage ride to see all the highlights of the Medina without walking. Gardens might not be every child’s idea of fun, but I have a feeling they’ll like Arsat Moulay Abdeslam Cyber Park and ornamental gardens. Across this 20-acre WiFi zone are multimedia and cyber exhibitions and theatre events. Although Marrakech is inland you can still splash around at Oasiria waterpark to the south of the city, complete with slides, kids’ splash areas, a wave pool and lazy river.
Put to one side the thoughts of Cancun as a Spring Break destination. For a start, you can avoid the time when students descend on Cancun between the last week of February and the first week of April. Secondly, there are loads of family-friendly things to do in and around this stunning, beach-heavy city.
Right in the hotel zone, Playa Tortuga is a great family beach with shallow waters and an offshore reef that softens the waves. Or for more of a locals’ family beach, head to Playa Del Nino. And at the southern end of the hotel zone, Ventura Park has seven areas including rollercoasters, zip lines and the Wet’n Wild waterpark.
You’ll probably have heard of Chichen Itza Mayan ruins, but there are numerous other ancient marvels to visit, all within a couple of hours of Cancun. The Ruins of Tulum are along the coast, with beautiful beaches too, and the Coba Mayan ruins have a climbable pyramid. For more natural wonders, Xcaret is an ecopark an hour away with underwater rivers you can swim through, a Mayan village and various wildlife areas to see everything from flamingos to manatees.
Barcelona is becoming increasingly known as a hipster hangout, packed with vegan cuisine and trendy bars. But among its amazing family offerings are a city park with a zoo, cable cars, musical fountains, an amusement park 500 metres above sea level and brilliant beaches. There is, of course, the unfinished work of Antoni Gaudi, La Sagrada Familia cathedral, but if your kids aren’t into that then instead try Park Guell. Grown-ups will appreciate Gaudi’s colourful sculpture and mosaics, and kids will love the museum and playground, as well as the opportunity to let loose outdoors.
For an amusement park with a difference, Tibidabo is situated high above Barcelona with incredible views from its Sky Walk. Among the oldest theme parks in the world still running, it has a couple of rollercoasters, a water ride and traditional fairground rides like the big wheel. You can also sit in a plane ride that swings over the hillside.
Another exhilarating trip is taking the Transbordador Aeri cable car across the harbour from La Barceloneta to Montjuïc, which had a castle, gardens and municipal pool on it. Or stay down on the ground at either Museu Maritim, with audiovisual displays showcasing the old ships, or the chocolate museum, where you get to try some of the wares.
Do you share my love of city breaks? Which city do you love taking the kids to on holiday?