10 Off Season City Breaks for Families
They always look good in the brochures don’t they; those midsummer breaks in peaceful locations with a deserted beach that stretches into forever? Thing is, those idyllic pictures taken out of season start to look a little busy in July. And the reality is that your well earned quality family time is spent queuing at the buffet or trying to get the attention of the staff while they’re trying to control the bun fight at the bar. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Why chase the sun and dodge the crowds in August when you could have an Autumn, Winter or Spring break? You don’t have to strap on skis and head for the mountains in the depths of Winter; off-season city breaks in the heart of Europe can be magical experiences. And if you use last minute accommodation services like Late Rooms, budget airlines like easyJet or advance rail tickets, you might even bag a bargain.
10 Off Season City Breaks for Families
Here are ten of our favourite city break ideas for off-season family fun.
1 Venice, Italy
Whatever the time of year, Venice is a stunner. But let’s face it, in the summer it comes with a fair degree of hassle. There’s barely an inch of St Mark’s square that isn’t peopled with backpackers, the best restaurants are all booked up, the big cruise ships overshadow not just the gondolas but half of the lagoon, and you haven’t really time to appreciate the atmosphere as you’re trying to dodge guides wielding umbrellas with the force of Mary Poppins.
Off season it is all so different. The walkways beside the waterways stop being motorways and become places to really stroll. A great time to visit is before carnival in February when the madness hasn’t yet started but some of the colour is starting to appear in the streets. And as for the weather, well Venice can be even more atmospheric in the rain. But movie buffs, tell your kids to beware of the woman in the red dress.
2 Granada, Spain
Granada looks at its most beautiful when framed by the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, something you won’t see in the Summer season. I love wandering this city but am always drawn back to the Alhambra, the famous Moorish citadel and palace. It’s a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site so be prepared to book ahead to visit, whatever time of the year. If you happen to be in Granada for the Winter solstice you may see locals marking it with Hogueras; jumping through fires to protect themselves against illness. But do tell your kids not to try this at home. And if everyone tires of the city, it’s only an hour to the mountains or, if you prefer heading the other way, to the beach.
3 Bratislava, Slovakia
Bratislava’s Old Town is a dream for families, dominated by the castle sitting high on the hill with amazing views along the Danube. Bratislava is walkable. It’s manageable. And not only has a beautiful pedestrianised old town, but also boasts a stylish modern waterfront with parks, cafes and restaurants and its own alien spaceship bridge.
The city has an international film festival in December and as the cultural heart of Slovakia has its own Opera House, National Theatre, museums and several annual festivals. And it has cheap snacks on every corner. We had the best hot chocolate in the world at the Bon Bon cafe. You own personal fondue will keep your hands warm before a stomp up to the castle.
4 Edinburgh, Scotland
Here’s another city with a very stompable hill. Arthur’s Seat is well worth a walk at any time of year and while you’re up there you can visit Holyrood Palace. And come rain or come shine if you go visit Edinburgh Castle you’re sure to spot a few kilts, hear a few bagpipes and maybe catch a haggis. We’ve visited spontaneously on New Year’s Day, enjoyed the creative spirit of the Hogmanay Scot Lands arts event and found time for a scoot around town. If you happen to be there for New Year’s Eve you get fabulous fireworks and all the excitement of Scottish Hogmanay, the world’s best New Year’s eve party.
Edinburgh has lots of fun things for families like the Our Dynamic Earth Centre, and seasonal open air ice skating. And the Scottish ski slopes aren’t far away either. And look out for lorne sausage. It’s as good as haggis. Although vegetarians may prefer to go in search of the mythical deep fried mars bars and pizza. Or not.
5 Paris, France
With or without a family in tow, I’ve always found Paris more pleasant off season. Undeniably it’s something to do with all those little bars, patisseries and coffee shops inviting me in for a warm up if I catch a chill skipping from The Louvre to the Eiffel Tower. But it also has something to do with feeling more like a local than a tourist. It’s also much cheaper off season with hotels slashing prices. And if the kids get bored with Parisian food and culture, it’s only a short train ride to spend a day at Disneyland, Paris. It’s also not far to the Siene-et-Marne region allowing you to take a break from city life in its woodlands, rivers, hiking trails, villages and châteaux.
6 Budapest, Hungary
One of the most appealing things about visiting Budapest in winter is you get an extra night for free as part of the annual Budapest Winter Invitation campaign run by Hungary’s National Tourist office. There are around 90 hotels that take part in this offer. You can stay warm in the city by booking into a spa hotel, or visit one of the city’s famous baths, Gellert and Szechenyi. Or for more water related warmth, take a lunch or dinner cruise on the Danube. The children’s railway is fun too, run by children, and a great way to get up into the hills. If you want to embrace the cold, go ice skating on Europe’s largest outdoor skating rink in the park that transforms into a boating lake in the summer. Check it’s open for business first.
7 Milan, Italy
Milan is all about fashion and in winter it’s a velvet haven. Men’s fashion week takes place in January and you can let some of the glamour rub off on you. If you’re with the kids, catch some of the atmosphere from a nearby cafe, or escape from the family for an hour to one of the less publicised shows. Unsurprisingly it’s also a great place to go shopping. You can find real bargains especially just after the festive season is over. Many of the theatres that take a break in the summer months are open for business too. And when you’ve had enough of all that city activity; take them all skiing. It’s only an hour’s drive away.
8 Vienna, Austria
A visit to Vienna is supposed to be about art, culture and music, right? Actually it’s mostly about coffee and cake, and what family doesn’t like coffee and cake? The Austrian capital has lots to offer the children including a fantastic museum district, some great music museums, affordable concerts and attractions like Schonbrunn Palace.
And if you can ditch the kids, winter is the Viennese Ball season. Give your marriage a boost and your partner a whirl. What’s more Vienna and Bratislava are only 40 miles apart, with connections by Hydrofoil on the Danube, which opens up the possibility of a two city mini-break in one weekend,
9 Athens, Greece
Unless you beat the coach parties, the Parthenon atop the Acropolis is a many pillared tourist prison in the summer. We went at dawn and still had to fight for space as the coaches arrived. But go off season and it’s a delight. The city has the most incredible historic monuments and excellent state run museums that are free on Sundays in the winter. And they’re not all dry and dusty like old history books, many are family oriented and hands on, like the Hellenic Cosmos Cultural Center of the Foundation of the Hellenic World. Really, don’t be put off by a name!
Off season the bars, cafe’s and attractions are quieter, and the walkways left to the locals. If the weather is warm you might even be able to sit outdoors. And in case you didn’t know, the beach and Attica coast line is only 30 minutes away. Or if you fancy a break from your city break you could even sample a little Greek island life; Aegina is a short hydrofoil ride from Piraeus, Athen’s port.
10 Munich, Germany
October is in season in Munich when Oktoberfest rules. But you don’t have to be there in October to enjoy a beer. You can warm up in one of the city’s bierkellers or beer gardens any time of year. Or in winter if you prefer to stay cold you could try skating on the canal at Nymphenburg Palace. Or go surfing. Yes really. You can surf the ice-cold waters of the river Isar or watch others do it from the bridge close to Haus der Kunst.
Munich also boasts some great family friendly museums, like the Kinder-und Jugendmuseum and the Deutches Museum. And if the city living proves too much then the Bavarian Alps are less than an hour away by rail or car.
More off season ideas
For more off season travel ideas for families, check out this post on Cool Coastal Autumn and Winter Family Breaks UK.