Planning the perfect family vacation used to take longer than the trip itself. But these days, family travel has become far more manageable, as cities around the world step up to cater to all age travelers. Of course, each city has its special appeal, from art in New York City to outdoor activities in Miami, history in Rome, playgrounds in Paris, and space exploration in Washington, D. C. Here's our roundup of the best family-friendly cities around the globe.
Family day: New York City is famous for its art museums, and many offer remarkably diverse family programs, including plenty of summer activities. Start off the day on an Art Trek tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where you'll travel the world via the artwork. Continue with the theme at the American Museum of Natural History, which takes an international approach with exhibits like Water World, in addition to its much-loved halls of birds, reptiles, and mammals.
Often overlooked on a NYC itinerary is the city's public art, which adds a creative twist to the parks and squares. The High Line park features rotating exhibits of playful murals, "talking" water fountains, sound and video installations, and more. Bryant Park, ringed by skyscrapers in Midtown, also hosts a superb art and performance series including free art programs for adults and kids, pétanque tournaments, and games such as chess, ping pong, and golf putting. Another bonus: The park has one of the cleanest public restrooms in this part of town.
Take a break: In the summer, the High Line food carts come out in force, serving everything from Mexican-style popsicles and meaty tacos to ice-cream sandwiches. Adults can ease into the Manhattan night over excellent vintages at the alfresco wine bar Terroir on the Porch, the only spot with a liquor license on the High Line.
For more on family travel in New York City, check out the DK Eyewitness Travel: Family Guide New York City.
Courtesy of Jungle Island
Family day: Miami's reputation may be as an adult's playground, but once you look beyond the sleek cocktail lounges, you'll discover that it offers just as much for children. Kick-start the day by renting bikes at Bike and Roll and coast the oceanfront and Venetian Causeway. Then, head to the wildly popular Jungle Island, an outdoor park and zoo swarming with creatures from lemurs to lizards to flamingoes to white lions. Top exhibits include Winged Wonders — keep an eye out for the cockatoo riding his mini high-wire bicycle. Top off the day with an airboat tour through the steamy Everglades at Wooten's, where you're likely to spy great blue herons, egrets, and, of course, alligators.
Take a break: Wind down by taking in sweeping views of the Atlantic from South Pointe Park — at the southernmost point of South Beach — which has sloping lawns, a colorful playground, and a breezy pier. Crack crabs at the family-friendly Joe's Stone Crab, which invites messy eating. Plus, their wine list is top-notch, so adults can toast the Miami night with a glass (or three).
For more on family travel in Florida, check out our DK Eyewitness Family Guide Florida.
Family day: There may be no better destination to introduce kids to history than Rome. The mighty Colosseum, the largest amphitheater in the world and where gladiators once fought against pouncing lions, is today prime exploring territory, with a labyrinth of passageways, tunnels, and stairs. The Pantheon, built by Emperor Hadrian in AD 120 as a temple to the gods of ancient Rome, features the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, and is equally fun on rainy and sunny days as the weather streams in through the hole at the top. Kids also get a kick out of the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth), in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The leering stone mask, believed to be an ancient manhole cover, has a macabre legend: If a liar puts their hand in the mouth, it will supposedly be bitten off. Finish off the day at Trevi Fountain — head there in the evening for fewer crowds — where the whole family can toss in coins to guarantee a return visit to the Eternal City.
Take a break: This is the land that invented pizza, so the choice is clear. Sink your teeth into classic pizzas — try the mozzarella di bufala — at Dar Poeta in Travestere. For dessert? A nutella calzone. Get your afternoon sugar rush at Giolitti, one of the oldest ice cream parlors in Rome — and a favorite with several popes.
For more on family travel in Rome, check out our DK Eyewitness Family Guide Rome.
©Paris Tourist Office; photo by Amélie Dupont
Family day: There's good reason that Paris is the most visited city in the world. After all, it has the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Notre Dame. But in the summer, it's the city's gardens, sidewalk cafes, and restaurants that are the big draw for families. Make it an outdoor day, starting with a leisurely morning at the well-groomed Jardin du Luxembourg, which has a carousel, a pond with toy boats for rent, free summer concerts, and Les Marionettes du Théâtre du Luxembourg puppet shows. Then, head to Jardin d'Acclimatation, Paris's first amusement park, opened by Napoleon, which continues to delight with fairground rides, an archery range, a house of mirrors, and more.
After touring the Louvre take a much-needed breather in the nearby the Jardin des Tuileries. In the summer it hosts a massive ferris wheel that affords birds-eye views of the city. For more summer fun in the heart of Paris, the Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) will open once again on the banks of the Seine, featuring a series of beaches that include a swimming pool, watersports such as kayaks and pedal boats, and plenty of hot-weather goodies, like crème glacée (ice cream).
Take a break: Come evening, relax on an open-air Bateaux Mouche boat, which glides along the Seine. The whole family is welcome at Crêperie Josselin (67 rue du Montparnasse). Try the classic buckwheat galette with egg, ham, and cheese, followed by a salted-caramel crêpe.
For more on family travel in Paris, check out our DK Eyewitness Family Guide Paris.
Photo by Destination DC
Family day: Washington, D.C. is the ultimate family-friendly city center. The two-mile National Mall, which extends from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, is ringed by some of the nation's finest museums, so you have the best of both worlds side by side: culture at the museums and outdoor relaxation on the Mall's vast lawns. Start off at the National Museum of American History, which caters to younger visitors with interactive activities, participatory historic theater, and a vast transportation exhibit with everything from Southern Railway locomotives to the 1903 Winston, the first car to be driven across the country.
Further explore the transport theme at the National Air and Space Museum, which hosts many family events, including story time, Super Science Saturdays, and stargazing at the Public Observatory. Round out the day at the International Spy Museum, which delves into espionage through the ages, from lipstick pistols to cameras hidden in fountain pens, and a faux pigeon.
Take a break: Feel the breeze by paddle-boating in the Tidal Basin, easily accessible from the Mall. The food truck revolution has arrived in D.C., with a superb array of trucks, including the Red Hook Lobster Truck, the Fojol Brothers, which serves heaping plates of rice and spicy curry, and the Big Cheese, with hefty grilled-cheese sandwiches.
For more on family travel in Washington, D.C., check out our DK Eyewitness Family Guide Washington, D.C.
AnneLise Sorensen is author of DK Eyewitness Travel: Family Guide New York City.