I love to hear from readers about their adventures, so when Alice shared with me that her family took advantage of an airfare deal to Europe that I shared on my facebook page, I invited her to share more about her adventure along with tips for visiting Europe with kids.
Where did you go?
We went to four cities- Stockholm, Prague, Munich and Geneva.
Who did you bring?
Me, my husband and two daughters ages 9 and 7.
Why did you choose those destinations?
Stockholm was chosen because the flight deal was with Scandinavian Airlines, so you had to fly in to one of their locations. Then it was chosen because we have a friend who lives there. Then Prague was chosen because of my husband’s ancestry. I had been there before and knew that it was wonderful and it worked out that my husband’s family is part Czech, so I suggested we go see his “homeland” haha.
Then Munich was picked because it was on the way to Geneva and my husband had a coworker he could visit there. Then Geneva was really our main motivation for the trip (even though we were only there for a day and a half!) because our friends were there. They live in Cincinnati, but the husband was on sabbatical for a year at CERN particle accelerator and they really really wanted us to visit while they were there. I had promised my friend (the wife) that I would save up and come to see her, she said she would be so homesick and wanted her friends to visit. My husband didn’t think we would be able to do it and then I saw the post about the Scandinavian airlines deal- kids fly free, and VOILA!!! it happened.
How did you prepare for your trip?
We needed to get a passport renewal for me, and new passports for the children. We thought it would take six weeks and were slightly nervous because we were traveling eight weeks from when we applied, but it only took TWO weeks to get our passports. We were so surprised!
After that We checked the weather many times to try to figure out what it would be like while we were there. I bought light but warm jackets for all of us that would pack small and give us as much warmth as we could get. It was 40’s to 60’s while we were there. We were lucky, after we got home it snowed in at least two places we had been.
I also bought new luggage because I was afraid our luggage would not hold together on the train. We worried a lot about how we would navigate the train system. We weighed the benefits of flying versus taking the train. We did a combination of both. We tried to buy train tickets online before we went and never felt comfortable with it. We found out the best thing to do was to buy your tickets when you get there because the people working there can find you the best deal and are there to tell you everything you need to know and answer all your questions.
We spent a lot of time looking for hotels and accommodations. We ended up staying in a little bunker room in the apartment building of our friend in Stockholm that can be reserved by the residents of the building. It was about $44 a night. It was a room with two bunk beds, a refrigerator and counter and table and chairs and a bathroom.
In Prague we found an apartment on airbnb. It was really neat with 18 foot ceilings and historical details and right by the Charles Bridge. The owner of the apartment arranged for us to be picked up at the airport and driven to the apartment and he met us there and showed us all the ins and outs.
In Munich we stayed in a hotel the was recommended by a friend and In Geneva we stayed with our friends. But, then we went back to Stockholm to be able to fly home and we stayed in a hotel that time because the little bunker room was already reserved. Oh, and we rented a car for while we were in Munich so we could see a castle. We set that up before we went too. And we did some research about seeing a castle, which we should have bought tickets too before we left, but again, never felt comfortable making the commitment online before we got there. But it worked out, we were able to get tickets to the castle, just not on the time frame we wanted.
What were your favorite adventures?
In Stockholm we really enjoyed visiting the Vasa museum to see the almost 400 year old ship. And just watching our children interact with our Swedish friends children who did not speak a lot of English and how they communicated. They all became best buddies. The language barrier didn’t matter. We really loved walking around Prague. It was like being in fairy tale land.
We saw the Prague castle, Charles Bridge and astronomical clock, and all the beautiful building and streets in between. And we loved loved loved riding the trains! We loved our train between Prague and Munich because we had a semi private seating area that was nice to relax in. And we loved our train from Munich to Geneva because we were able to utilize the dining car, which was a neat experience, but the food was very expensive. I wouldn’t recommend getting food there unless you really need to.
In Munich we toured two castles Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle. They are right by each other. And in Geneva we had a great time exploring Cern with our friends and learning about dark matter, and seeing the very first Internet server.
What were your favorite meals?
We ate at a place in Stockholm that was called Same Same, But Different. It is a Thai place. The entire place was decorated and each table was it’s own little vignette. Our table was in a corner and was like a private hut. We were all so cozy in it. Another table was an actual car that people were sitting in. There were fishponds weaving amongst the pathways to the tables. The bathrooms were fantastical, The food was good too. I think I had Pad Thai.
We had good food everywhere we went. It is hard to pick out any of them. Our girls were very excited to have huge pretzels in Germany. We got the pretzels at Ratskeller in Munich and they loved them.
There was a grocery store in Geneva that I fell in love with. It is called Manor. It has many levels. Some levels look like clothing departments in department stores, the top level was stationary, toys and luggage, and the very bottom level was the grocery store and it was a very very lovely grocery store!!!! I bought wild strawberries like the ones we see growing in our yard, but they were much bigger, but smaller than farm grown strawberries. They were from Italy and they tasted DIVINE!!!! I bought all of my Swiss Chocolate souvenirs at that store.
Each of our friends that we visited shared bread and cheese with us. I guess that is a big thing in Europe. We’ve been eating a lot of cheese since we came home because of it. In Sweden when we set ourselves up in the little bunker room, our friend brought us bread, cheese, butter and cucumbers to eat. Then when we were with our friends in Genenva, the same, bread and cheese. We were in Geneva for a day and a half and I think we went to buy bread at Manor three times. My friend was always concerned that we needed more bread and it was an urgency that we go get more. On Saturdays all the stores in Geneva close at 4:00 and on Sunday nothing is open, so we had to get in before they closed to make sure they had enough bread and cheese to get them to Monday.
We also really liked the food on the Scandanavian Airline flight to and from Europe. I can’t remember exactly what they gave us, but it was REALLY good! They gave us brie cheese and a tiny pyramid of milk to put in our tea and they were always up and down the isles offering coffee and tea.
On the flight from Geneva back to Stockholm Air Berlin gave us Lindt chocolate hearts as big as the palm of my hand when we exited the plane. We had a connecting flight, so we got the chocolate twice, which we loved.
Would you have done anything differently?
I would not mind visiting less cities and spending more time in the places we go, but what we did was amazing too. I would have packed less for my older child. She insisted on wearing the same dress every day. We finally got her in something else when a bird pooped on her sleeve. hahah!
Where did you stay?
Our friends’ apartment building in Gamla stan (Old town) in Stockholm. Then in Prague this apartment right by the Charles Bridge. Then in Munich the Hotel Eder.(Great breakfast!).
In Geneva we stayed in a friends’ apartment near the train station and Manor store. Back to Stockholm we stayed at Hotel Anno 1647. We had to share a bathroom with everyone on our floor, but I never saw another person in the bathroom when I was there. And the breakfast was EXCELLENT!
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a similar trip?
Pack as lightly as you are able. No one helps you with your bags on the trains and sometimes you have to go up and down stairs to get to your train and you have to lug those bags. And it wouldn’t hurt to be slightly in shape. It was quite the work out. We packed a travel size clothes detergent and washed our clothes in sinks and our apartment in Prague had a washing machine. Get your train tickets when you get to Europe so you have a live person to walk you through it and answer all your questions.
- Don’t buy the 5 day or three country passes unless you are staying for a long period of time. I almost bought the five day pass for each of the four people in my family and it turned out it was way cheaper to just buy the tickets for our destinations at the train station.
- That being said, DO NOT buy the tickets right before you board. We bought our tickets a day ahead of time. We worked in stopping by the train station as part of our sightseeing.
- Also when they ask if you want to pay an extra 12 Euros to reserve your seats on the train say YES! We are so glad we did that! Some of the trains were very crowded and it would have been a nightmare trying to find four seats together for our family. When they are reserved your name is on a tag by the window of your seats. We did, one time, have to kick out some people that were in our seats. We were glad to not be them.
- Don’t worry too much about planning activities. You can just walk around and see things. There is enough to see. The only thing we planned was the Castle tour in Munich. You might think that all the countries use the Euro now and isn’t that so easy and convenient….wrong, Every single country we went to used a different currency.
- Also in Prague when you eat at a restaurant ask if they take credit cards before they seat you. We got burned at the first place we ate and then needed to go to an ATM that charged a really high exchange rate. Blerg. We were more careful after that.
- Also when you get your money exchanged ask the teller how much it is to use pay restrooms and make sure that they give you change for that so you have it when you need to go.
- I really really really did not enjoy paying to go to the rest room. Watch a lot of Rick Steve’s travel programs before you go. He is so darn helpful.
Thanks again to Alice for sharing your family’s adventure to Europe with us!