If the thought of a European trip with the kids sounds like a nightmare, you haven't done enough research. There are a myriad of places where kids---and their parents--can have a wonderful time. The most important requirement for a kid-appropriate European destination is that kids need a chance to participate actively in any vacation. Fortunately, some of the great cities in Europe
have all kinds of terrific opportunities for kids to do just that.
Get the kids excited about your Paris adventure by starting with a boat ride on the Seine for an overview of the city. Two other rides kids love in Paris are the Metro, especially if they live in a city without a subway system, and the carousels in the Tuileries or the Luxembourg Gardens. Halfway through your Paris stay, go for the ultimate escapade---scaling the heights of the Eiffel Tower---at least the first half. Although elevator rides are certainly available all the way up, for rambunctious kids, what could be more fun than climbing part of the way up. And it's a vacation, so let kids make a daily stop at a patisserie to pick out a pain au chocolat (like a chocolate-filled croissant) or a profiterole (cream puff).
Take an organized tour of the Coliseum so that a guide can provide exciting explanations to kids and answer their questions; for older children, extend the tour to include the Forum. Plan a full afternoon at Explora, the Children's Museum of Rome, an interactive experience that will intrigue kids tired from historical sightseeing. You might also consider LunEur Park, an old-fashioned amusement park geared especially for kids. And for just running around with abandon, children always love the vast park, Villa Borghese. In addition to taking in the incredible view of Rome from Giancolo Hill, kids can watch a puppet show and take a pony ride.
Wandering through Venice is an incredible adventure for kids. The idea that they can be the leaders and just ramble with you in tow is enormously appealing; you can't really get lost, there's no traffic to worry about, and meanwhile there will be bridges and steps to climb at every turn. Take a couple or rides on a vaporetto (water bus) for more adventure. If you have time, go by boat to the small island of Murano where kids can watch the glassblowers creating all kinds of beautiful objects. And don't forget to try every possible flavor of gelato, available all over Venice.
After a walk down Las Ramblas, a long boulevard with a wide sidewalk in the center where kids can see all kinds of living statues and bird markets, head for the port where you can marvel at all the incredible yachts and sailboats. That's also where you will find the Maritime Museum, which houses all kinds of seafaring exhibits, many of them interactive. The Park Guell, which was designed by Antoni Gaudi, is a virtual fantasyland where families can wander among amazing sculptures and other structures.
Kids have a great time in Lisbon riding the trams and funiculars; these unique forms of transportation are inexpensive and entertaining. A visit to the Belem Tower, a 500-year old fortress filled with interesting stonework parents can investigate while kids have fun climbing and exploring. They can also do more of this at St. George's Castle, where live peacocks wander about. The incredible Lisbon Oceanarium features sharks, otters and penguins in recreated ecosystems. The Colombo mall features rides including a roller coaster and a go-cart track.
Peggy Epstein is a freelance writer specializing in education and parenting. She has authored two books, "Great Ideas for Grandkids" and "Family Writes," and published more than 100 articles for various print and online publications. Epstein is also a former public school teacher with 25 years' experience. She received a Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction from the University of Missouri.