When we were planning our holidays last year I wanted to take the kids on a small cabin trek in Austria and my husband wanted to keep it less stressful and show kids some history. Finally, we agreed on a concept of backpacking with kids through cities in Europe and travel by Eurorail between cities, stay in decent but inexpensive accommodations. This was followed by research on accommodations, areas safe to stay, chalking on an itinerary( If you go to the Eurorail site they already have a few marked itineraries to choose from), booking air tickets in advance to ensure cheaper flight tickets, looking at things to do and prebooking some sightseeing if required(For eg going to the top of Eiffel Tower, which I found very overrated so we didn’t book it in advance). The idea was that kids don’t only get the experience of moving from one city to another but also experience what a doing a budgeted trip feels like. So small changes to our usual family outings were explained to them; shopping was struck off the list but momentos were allowed, eating in and cooking our own meals with everyone pitching in was a part of the deal and more such rules were chalked out.
Our itinerary was simple:
Fly into Paris- Stay there for 4 days.
Take a train to Amsterdam- Stay for 3 days.
Head to Berlin by train and stay for 4 days.
Take a flight out of Berlin back to Mumbai
Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to visit the fashion capital of the world. When I did get to Paris last year with my family, Paris turned out to be way more than the stories of romance, Eiffel tower, and fashion make it. It is a modern city that has history embedded in every corner. Paris reminded me of Rome in many ways. We stayed in this comfortable apartment which was walking distance from the Louvre. I love the idea of apartments over a hotel room when we travel with kids because of the space and convenience of cooking whatever we want and my kids are fussy about food when we travel. This is what we did and I totally recommend in Paris.
Beautiful setting in the Seine river cruise.
A walk through Champs Elysee gazing at all the designer shops and if you are feeling adventurous and generous enter a few and fill your bags. My hubby made sure we reached when the shops were shutting down.
The Louvre was just hanging there for me to discover.
The catacombs or underground tombs are mysterious and if you are not a weak heart then definitely worth a history walk, however, there is a really long queue for Catacombs( I reached an hour early and still stood for 2 hours). It was an eerie experience. There were skulls, skull decorations, algae and water dripping in with horror movie effects in the Catacombs to spook you.
The Eiffel tower is one of the most iconic monuments but I felt it has been hyped. It is just a tower after all. You do get beautiful views of the city from the top but there is a long wait to get there and too much crowd even on a weekday. I didn’t find anything romantic about it. In fact, the evening Sienne river cruise with the views of the Eiffel tower is way more romantic.
Do head to Musee de Orsay which is a superb place and relatively less crowded than the Louvre. Here you can find from a Van Gogh to a Monet and works of many other famous artists.
A walk through galleries Layfette( it looked like any premium shopping mall), sorry couldn’t get what the fuss is all about. Maybe also because most of the things were way beyond my pocket ;).
Also, would completely recommend booking Lido De Paris show is you have the time.
As you can see, Paris was more about us than the kids. We skipped Disneyland 😉 on purpose.
We travelled by Thalys train to Amsterdam and it’s a lovely train.
Popularly known as the city of canals can be rated as one of the friendliest cities in Europe. There is a certain vibe in the city that is very infectious. We stayed at the Menninger hotel here which came closest to the backpacking with kids kind of experience that we had planned for.
After overloading the kids with museums in Paris we decided to treat them to Ripleys Believe It Or Not Museum and surprisingly it was good fun.
At the Ripleys Believe it or not. This African tribe has women wearing plates so that invaders don’t rape them �
Then while hubby babysat the kids I did the famous Red light district walk. It was a very matter of fact tour nothing to be scandalised about. The sex workers coexist in the most prime area of Amsterdam like any other entrepreneurs and pay taxes like them. Here I also saw the only statue in the world dedicated to respecting the sex workers.
Here I saw, The Belle, a statue that represents pride and respect for sex workers. Probably the only such structure in the world.
Day 2 was spent: Learning about Microbes in Micropia(a little offbeat but again the kids chose).
An absolute must and my highpoint of the trip was to visit Anne Frank house which has been converted to a museum. Learning all about this little girl and the times she lived in makes you realise how lucky we are to live in a free world. You need to book this visit in advance or with the kind of crowd that gathers around, you might not end up entering even after standing for hours.
The canal cruise in Amsterdam is lovely too. One experience I missed having but would love to try is staying in the houseboats. Apparently, you can rent these like the regular B&B.
Day 3, we headed to the Keukenhof Tulips Garden which is 45 min-1 hour away from Amsterdam by bus or car. It has featured in many Indian movies for its picturesque scenery and rows and rows of tulips. There are a few play areas for the kids too, where you can cool off while your kids play and some animal petting areas as well. This will need at least 1/2 a day if you are planning to visit.
Berlin was the last phase of our trip and so we decided to end up in a slightly more luxurious apartment. I was very impressed with the city and the food. After Paris and Amsterdam, I found Berlin to be most reasonably priced cities in Europe. You walk through history while walking past any street in Berlin and the pages turn back to reign and terror of Hitler.
The Germans don’t believe in small portions when it comes to their food and drink. Do try their currywurst and doner kebab.
We ditched the Berlin history and went for the Natural history of mankind. Then for the love of cars, we headed all the way to Classic Remise which is a wonderland if your boys are interested in cars. From antiques to the latest sports cars you see them all under one roof. You can test drive them and also buy them( of course we stuck to just window shopping.
The trendy and high-end vintage cars at the Classic Remise
At the end of day 2, I decided it was high time we all had a brush with the history and I went online and booked us all a 3-hour walking tour of Berlin history. It was a cold chilly morning but our guide Ken discourse on history kept us engaged throughout.
Our Irish guide Ken taking us through the German history
It was all about walking through the history of Berlin, Jewish Synagogue, the post office, memorials, Holocaust. Experiencing the reign and terror of Hitler, seeing his Chancellory quarters and his bunker site which is not even marked as Germans want to forget him. There are memorials of millions who died because of him all over the city.
A big part of Berlin history. Remains of the Berlin Wall.
To our offbeat trip, I made sure to still add touristy like getting a must-have-picture at Checkpoint Charlie.
The brush with history had me wanting for more and while on Day 3, hubby and kids decided to camp in the B&B, I headed out for yet another tour to the underground Bunkers. This is an eye-opening experience and a must do.
Exit point at a metro train station
In the reign of the Nazis, Germans created these underground bunkers spending millions of dollars for a contingency like a nuclear explosion. Luckily no nuclear war happened and the bunkers still exist in spic and span condition. Interestingly, you can enter them through the underground path and exit in a normal train station. It gives you the goosebumps. Would highly recommend this tour. They don’t let you click pictures or shoot this.
Finally, what happened can’t be called a classic backpacking with kids kind of trip but the kids still coped very well. My hubby at the last minute ditched his backpack and stuck to his suitcase. My kids and me, on the other hand, moved around not only carrying our backpacks around but adjusting to different time zones, different kind of accommodations, eating whatever was available, walking around a lot and still managing to monkey around. Luckily we didn’t get any stares, only compliments on how well behaved they are, these monkeying incidents happened only when they don’t see anyone around.
We would reach a particular city and once we settled in we would book tours and decide our Plan of action. The adults got to take in the beautiful sights, the kids got their brush their history and places like classic remise got them excited, plus the whole excitement of hopping cities, staying in all kind of accommodations and experiencing the culture of three different countries in a short span of time.
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Just to summarise:
This kind of trip needs advance planning. Luckily we didn’t need different visas and Shenzhen visa worked for all three countries. Also, once we had decided what our itinerary was we booked our flights tickets in advance to get cheap flight tickets and also the same goes for the train tickets.
Buying a local sim can be tricky if you planning to move to different countries during your trip. We used the Lebara sim.
Since we were staying in apartments, food was not an issue. Also, stuff like bakes and pizzas are available everywhere.
Uber works everywhere and also their metro network is well connected so travel within the city is not an issue. Only in Amsterdam, we had to take the tube to go to the city centre and from there we could roam around on foot.
Hope this post will help you plan and also inspire you to take such family trips. Signing off for now.