Adventure Ideas Cities Western Europe

10 Off Season City Breaks for Families

10 European Off Season City Breaks for Families
Written by Kirstie Pelling

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.

Umbrellas on an empty beach near Venice Lido

You won’t find a beach like this in season!

10 Off Season City Breaks for Families

Here are ten of our favourite city break ideas for off-season family fun.

1 Venice, Italy

Vaporetto goes under Bridge of Sighs Venice

Venice is a stunner whatever time of year

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

The alien spaceship bridge is a great landmark in Bratislava

The alien spaceship bridge is a great landmark in Bratislava

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

Edinburgh Castle at Night

Edinburgh Castle at Night

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

Arc de Triomphe Paris

Paris is not just for lovers, it’s very family friendly too.

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.

Budapest with Kids

Budapest is great fun with or without kids

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

Preparing strudel in Schloss Schonbrunn

Making Strudel in Vienna

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

Sunset in the grounds of the Acropolis Athens

Sunset in the grounds of the Acropolis Athens

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

Glockenspiel at the Ratskeller in Munich

Summer or winter, everyone loves the Glockenspiel at the Ratskeller in Munich

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.

5 Cool Coastal Ideas for UK Autumn and Winter Breaks

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

2 Comments

  • I LOVE the idea of traveling off season and we have done that for years, but as the kids get older and school gets more challenging it is harder and harder to miss school. I see people homeschooling and world schooling and unschooling……. maybe one day?

  • Love this so much. It’s always been a dream of mine to go to Venice (I just love the romance of the idea!) My husband has promised me a trip for our 20th anniversary – so I am very excited (and will obviously be making him take me on a gondola!) These other places are obviously all on my bucket list too – but unfortunately our budget is limited so we tend to do most of our family breaks in the UK. Though admittedly it’s not as glamorous as Vienna and places like that, we do always have a lot of fun! We like city breaks especially because there’s always so much to do that everyone can enjoy! We’re actually going to Birmingham in a couple of weeks time to go to the Sea Life Centre and Cadbury’s World etc and the kids are so excited! We’re staying in the Park Regis hotel as it’s got a great reputation for families! Has anyone been? I’m so excited to go! Has anyone got any other recommendations for what we can do while we’re there? I’ve never been to Birmingham before so this is a new experience for me!

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