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Visiting Paris with Kids in Spring

Visiting Paris with Kids in Spring

We took a slow travel approach to our trip to Paris – which is really just a fancy term for not trying to cram everything in. We also have a friend with a son close in age to ours, and seeing them was as important to me as seeing the sights.

paris with kids - batobus
Seeing the sights from the Batobus.
paris with kids - souvenir sellers eiffel tower
Souvenir sellers at the Eiffel Tower.

If you’re travelling with children under 10, I think it makes sense to look at your itinerary realistically. There needs to be playgrounds and unstructured downtime, as well as grown-up sight seeing. Picnics as well as meals in restaurants.

I think it’s impossible not to have a bit of a meltdown at some point, because traveling is a stressful experience at any age, and it takes time to learn how to do it. I’m sure you’re a better flier, car tripper, and tourist now than when you did your first trip. Only by traveling with your kids regularly can they get better at it. But the bottom line is this: Paris with kids is totally doable.

paris with kids - jardin du luxemburg fountain
Jardin du Luxembourg fountain, which is where the pony ride from the top photo happened as well.

paris with kids - hotel de ville carousel
Carousels are everywhere! This one was right in front of the Hôtel de Ville.
paris with kids - notre dame
Notre Dame plus cherry blossoms.
paris with kids - balconies
I am in love with the balcony railings.

We have been to Paris a couple of times before, and will go again in the near future as we don’t live that far away. This takes the pressure off, in terms of making it meaningful. However, even if you’ve saved for this for years and it’s a long flight and everything else, some of the best moments on our trips have been unscripted ones. Leave some room in your days to just explore, or hang out. The Parisian kids yours will meet in a playground, the view over the crest of a hill that time you get a bit lost, the little cafe that becomes your temporary homebase – these things are what make a trip for me.

What really worked for us this trip:

paris with kids - arc de triomphe2
I don’t think I would have bothered to fight my way up to the Arc de Triomphe if we hadn’t already been on a bus tour.

Bus tour and the Batobus

Those hop-on hop-off bus tours are a quick way to get an overview of a city, with the added benefit of saving small peoples’ feet. There are several of these, and lots of deals online, so check before you go. A snack stop afterwards is a good time to get everyone’s priorities for where they want to visit. We love the hop-on hop-off Batobus for seeing things from the river, but not tying you down to a 2 or 3 hour tour.

Embracing Apéro

Not just a drink, but the concept of having something to eat in a relaxed manner in the late afternoon. Nicely accompanied by a ‘Spritz’ (Aperol, Prosecco, and a splash of soda), but not necessarily required, it’s mainly about hanging out from 4pm onwards. Maybe with a spread of fancy food, or just bits from the fridge cabinets at Franprix and a bottle of wine with plastic glasses (ahem) in a park – it’s an excellent way to feed everyone who needs to eat at an earlier dinner time.

paris with kids - seine playgrounds
Ingenious tiny football pitch on the banks of the Seine. Paris kids can play ball without constantly dumping it in the river!
paris with kids - seine playgrounds climbing
Climbing structures built right into the embankment.

Exploring the banks of the Seine

There are little strips of grass, tiny windows serving beer and coffee, mini playgrounds, ice cream carts, and more all along the river. In 2013, this collection was significantly expanded with the Promenade des Berges de la Seine between the Pont de l’Alma and the Musée d’Orsay. There are little huts, play structures, and more. We spotted them from the river, but didn’t have a chance to explore them. If you’re visiting during late July to mid-August, you can also catch Paris Plage, where the city puts out great big sandboxes along the river, along with loungers and sun umbrellas.

All of this means you can wander along, without much of a plan, and find something fun to do.

paris with kids - parc de belleville playground
Gorgeous Parc de Belleville playground built into a hillside.
paris with kids - parc des buttes chaumont
How fairytale is this? Parc des Buttes Chaumont
paris with kids - parc de la villette dragon slide
The famous Dragon Slide at Parc de la Villette
paris with kids - parc de la villette canals
The lovely canal in the Parc de la Villette. I don’t actually know those people, they just happened to be there.

Go a bit further out

Our Parisian friends took us up to Parc de Belleville with its awesome hillside playground, over to Parc des Buttes Chaumont with its fairytale bridge and lookout point, and finally to the canals and the Parc de la Villette up up in the 19th. I had never been up there, and what a great place to spend a few hours. We picked up our snacks (see Aperol above) and waited while our sons raced down the truly giant Dragon. We watched people put-put down the canals in cute little tugboats, and my son even pulled out some dance moves with the local b-boys and b-girls. There were little bars and cafes all along the canal, and it was much calmer than central Paris.

Go even further out! Check out Salut from Paris‘ best day trips from Paris, she’s a local so you know it’s the real deal

Atelier Fratelli, where the locals get some excellent pizza.
Atelier Fratelli, where the locals get some excellent pizza.

Bonus tip: Atelier Fratelli

Our friends took us to one of their favourite pizza places, Atelier Fratelli. A local food truck and now a restaurant right between the 19th and 20th, this friendly spot serves pizza and focaccia sandwiches for very reasonable prices. Every focaccia and pizza is served with a side salad. ‘1Part’ pizza is a slab of their good stuff with a thick bread crust, and is plenty for one person. The ‘focaccia’ part of the menu are all sandwiches, again on their locally baked bread. I can hear you wondering why I’m suggesting Italian food in Paris. Well, one can only eat so many Croque Monsieurs, and it’s a kid-pleaser. It’s walking distance from Père Lachaise and a small hike from the Parc de Belleville.

Atelier Fratelli
26 rue de la Chine,
75020 Paris

Looking forward to our next visit – do you have any recommendations for us?

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10 Things Not to Do When You Visit Germany – and 2 You Should

Beautiful street in Heidelberg, Germany

Germany is a beautiful country to visit full of fairytale castles, beautiful rivers, canals, stunning parks and mountains – but there a few key pieces of information that will make your visit to our adopted homeland more enjoyable. After several years of living here and shepherding relatives and friends around, I have collated some Germany travel tips for you.

My 10 Germany travel tips

Carry nothing but plastic

It is really odd at first, but cash is the deal here. Many restaurants and small shops won’t take cards of any kind, so it’s worth checking or looking for a sign as soon as you come in. Because it’s less fun to discover this when you go to pay, and have no idea where the nearest bank machine is. Most waitstaff are prepared for this eventuality, but they will still roll their eyes at you. I know, I know, but Germans on average are quite distrustful of payment technology of any kind. Apple Pay? Er no.

See the red Ampelmann? Don't walk or a German person will shout at you.
See the red Ampelmann? Don’t walk or a German person will shout at you.

Cross the road against the crossing light, especially with kids

This is a huge no-no. You wait for the Ampelmann (the crosswalk light guy), even if no cars are coming. If you have kids with you, or there are kids also waiting, crossing against the light is an absolute travesty. People will yell at you about being a child murderer, or you will get a stern dressing down in German. The idea is, we are all examples to children, and by crossing against the pedestrian light, you are showing children that it’s okay to ignore it – and the next time they might get hit by a car! I have stood at a road crossing that most North Americans would term an alley, with not a single car within three blocks, along with four other people – I had my son with me so no one was going to go. Hilariously, our Swiss friends roll their eyes at this and run across the road whenever, so this seems to be a German only phenomenon.

Ignore bike lanes

Bike lanes in Germany often take up part of the sidewalk, and can be quite subtly marked. In Munich, for instance, the paving stones are a different direction, but nearly the same colour. Sometimes the bike lanes will be painted dark red. They are also heavily used, particularly in warm weather but pretty much year round. Don’t back into a bike lane while taking a photo, stand in the middle of one while waiting to cross the road, or generally assume it doesn’t apply to you – cyclists are often going quite fast and it is up to you to get out of the way if you’re in their lane. If you rent a bike, it’s also worth noting that it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk, unless you’re in a bike lane OR riding with a child who is on their bike – this changed in January 2017, so not everyone may know this rule about riding on the sidewalk with kids, so you may still get shouted at. Also, all those little one-way roads? The one way applies to bikes as well, unless you see a bike symbol with the word ‘frei’ underneath. I’ve seen police officers stop and tell people off for riding their bikes the wrong way on a one-way street.

Expect tap water at a restaurant

Don’t even bother asking, because it’s not going to happen. You pay for a bottle of water, and that’s it – and if you don’t want sparkling you have to be very clear! Sometimes if you have children and you’re obviously not German the waitstaff will take pity on you, but don’t expect this in Munich or Berlin. If you want still and not sparkling, you can ask for ‘Stillwasser’ (pronounced SCHtillwassah) or in English they may ask if you want water with gas or without, and the ‘gas’ refers to carbonation, not petrol or gas you put in your car. I know someone who, when she asked repeatedly for tap water, was given a glass and told to fill it in the bathroom. All the more reason to try the local beer and wine, really. Or Apfelschorle (apple juice mixed half and half with sparkling water) for kids.

Think you’re going shopping on a Sunday

Nothing but restaurants are open on Sundays, and not even all of those, or for the whole day. No grocery stores, no shops… nothing. Bakeries will be open for three or four hours, and that’s generally in the morning. The idea is we should all be spending Sundays with our families out and about. You will see herds of German folks out for hikes, walks, and bike rides. The other thing we do on Sundays is go to the museum or the art gallery – so those are generally open, but you will want to check ahead, particularly in smaller towns. The one exception are shops in tourist areas, so some souvenir shops will be open, but don’t count on it. I watched American tourists trying every shop door in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and wailing about nothing being open. I admit, it takes some getting used to, but once I did, I really started to appreciate the tradition of going for a walk or a hike with your family on a Sunday. If you do take part in this national activity, the polite thing to do is to nod at each group you pass, smile, and say hello.

This is the red A sign you're looking for - an Apotheke in Germany.
This is the red A sign you’re looking for – an Apotheke in Germany.

Try to buy medication of any kind anywhere but the little pharmacy

Even the shops like dm and Rossman, that would have basic painkillers and things like that in North America or the UK, will only have vitamins. You will need to go to an Apotheke, easily identifiable by a big red A outside, and ask at the counter. For everything. Look up what you need on Google Translate beforehand, or bring a package with you. It’s worth knowing that there’s always an emergency Apotheke open on Sundays, but it’s only one per area and it rotates, so use Google and type in ‘Notdienst Apotheken [city name]’ (Notdienst = emergency service), or ask at your hotel if you need one. Also, they close at 2pm on Saturdays, and often on Wednesday afternoons. Plan ahead if you know you need a medication.

Assume everyone speaks English

People will tell you that everybody speaks English in Germany, and most people speak a little bit, this is true. But I find most of the people who will say this have been to Berlin, Frankfurt, or Munich, and that’s it. Wander away from these big cities and you will find the English-speaking rate go down significantly. If you think back to the second language you learned in high school, and how you’d feel if someone walked up to you and started speaking it to you with no warning, and expected you to understand… you’ll understand the panicked look you sometimes get if you start speaking English to a German person. It’s only polite to say hello, and ask if the person speaks English in German first (‘Sprecken sie Englisch?’) before launching into your question. Better yet, learn a wee bit of German. It’s worth knowing that English was only required in school in the late 1970s or so, people older than 45 will be unlikely to speak English well. Also, if you’re traveling in the former East Germany, they did not learn English in school at all until reunification, so expect the number of English speakers to be even lower.

Eat at the restaurant directly outside the train station

This is a standard one pretty much everywhere in Europe, but the first restaurants outside the train station will be rubbish. Walk for five minutes, and you are sure to find something much better. If you’re desperate, the bakery chains inside the train station are fine for a quick bite and a coffee, though it’s essentially fast food so unlikely to be wonderful.

German public rubbish bin
German public rubbish bin

Get offended when a local tells you not to do something

German people can be quite… direct. It doesn’t help that what you can say in German with perfect politeness comes across as a demand when translated word-for-word into English. They are very proactive when it comes to telling strangers they’ve done something wrong – from going in the wrong door, to putting things in the wrong recycling bins. However, it also stretches to telling you if you’ve dropped something out of your stroller, or you’ve left your cardigan on a chair. Also, it’s worth understanding that unlike North American and British cultures, there’s often no judgement attached to the correction. It’s not about you being an idiot, it’s just about making everyday life smoother for everyone.

Make small talk with your cashier

Generally, Germans are not big on small talk. It’s completely fine, and expected, to stand there in silence as the cashier rings through your purchases. At the end, a ‘Schönen Tag’ (have a nice day) or a cheerful ‘Tchüss!’ (Bye!) is the polite way to finish your interaction. Any kind of extraneous conversation, particularly in English, will hold up the queue and you will immediately hear grumbling and muttering from everyone behind you. I know it feels odd to North Americans and Brits, friendly Americans in particular, but trust me – it’s just not the way here. Just stand there and smile, pack your groceries really REALLY quickly into a reusable bag (the cashiers never pack for you in Germany), and have your method of payment ready to go. If you need to rearrange things, there is often space to do so beyond the cashiers, but you’re expected to clear out of the way quickly.

DO

Ask a local where to eat

They are thrilled to be consulted, on average, and will be happy to suggest the best German restaurant, cafe or whatever else you’re searching for. They will even enlist other strangers, it’s beyond sweet. I’ve had people write me lists on the spot, they are so keen. And I’ve not been let down by their suggestions once yet!

Learn a little German

It will make your life much easier. While yes, in a pinch you will find someone who speaks English, this doesn’t help when you’re in a grocery store trying to find something, or when faced with signs at the train station, bus stop, or pretty much anywhere. Germany has a robust German-language tourist industry, so just because something is touristy doesn’t mean all the signs will be in English. You don’t need to sign up for a class or anything, but a few minutes a day of Duolingo for a week before you go will at least ensure you can read the bathroom signs correctly!

 

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Whether you're planning to visit Berlin, Munich, Cologne, castles, or fairy tale villages, Germany is a great place for your next family holiday - but there a few things that will make your trip a better one.

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Burg Eltz: My Favourite Castle in Germany

Burg Eltz: My Favourite Castle in Germany

Burg Eltz: I will say right up front, this has been my favourite castle I’ve visited so far. If you follow me on Instagram (and if you like castles you really should), you know we visit a lot of them. Ruins, restored, popular and empty – I love a castle. If you love this one, check out my list of four other castles less busy than the ultra tourist mobbed Neuschwanstein.

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But Burg, or Castle Eltz, in the beautiful Moselle valley, is my favourite. And it’s nowhere near as crowded as some of the more famous castles. If you’re curious, a Burg is a castle built for defence, as opposed to a Schloss, which is generally more of a home for nobility, or a palace. The lines can become blurred, however, as many of these structures were destroyed and rebuilt many times, changing their functions through the years. However, it’s never Berg Eltz, as that would be referring to a mountain called Eltz!

The gorgeous Burg Eltz nestled in its green valley.
The gorgeous Burg Eltz nestled in its green valley.

Burg Eltz History

This castle has been in the Eltz family for 33 generations, and through clever alliances it has remained in good condition all that time. It’s one of three Rhine castles never to be destroyed at some point. Coming through the Thirty Years War unscathed is a Herculean achievement, really. It’s a familiar refrain in the histories of all the other castles in southern Germany: ‘but in the Thirty Years War it was completely destroyed…’

The castle itself is built on a rocky point jutting out of a valley over a ridge from the Moselle River. There is actually a very small tributary of the Moselle that runs around the castle, and this funny little valley was once a major Roman trade route, making this a perfect place for a castle.

Inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.
Inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.

A castle of many parts

Like many castles of this age, the complex grew organically over the years as each successful generation wanted larger apartments, or just something a bit… different. The oldest part is from the 9th century, with another large portion built in the 12th century. My favourite area of the castle is from 1472, with a gorgeous bedchamber and original wall paintings of thick ivy climbing all up the walls and onto the ceiling. Each little section of the castle would house a different branch of the Eltz family, with some shared kitchens below stairs, one of which you get to visit.

Should you do the Burg Eltz guided tour?

It’s worth noting you cannot see the inside of the castle without a guided tour. Just ask when you buy your tickets when the next English guided tour will be, and you can plan your snacks or meals around it. You can visit the Treasury (described below) on your own, so you can always spend a good half hour there. It is absolutely worth going on the tour. I’ve been on several, and the guides are very patient with young children. You get to see one of the children’s bedrooms, miniature (functioning!) canons, and child-sized suits of armour. You won’t be able to bring a buggy with you, so ask your tour guide if you can leave it in their office while you’re on the tour. Be prepared: like most German castles, you can’t take photos of the castle interior, but the Rick Steves clip from this area had permission to film inside if you’re curious.

A suit of armour in the treasury at Burg Eltz.
A suit of armour in the treasury at Burg Eltz.
An extremely detailed stein in the treasury at Burg Eltz.
An extremely detailed evesin in the treasury at Burg Eltz.

Treasury

The treasury is a little section of the castle you can visit on your own, and houses the usual collection of Roman bits, a few Ottoman swords (all the castles have them as they sent men to fight the Ottomans in France in the 16th century), a couple suits of armour, some truly wacky looking little sculptures, and an adorable set of drinking steins all painted with children’s names. This little gallery has been nicely curated, and we spent a pleasant half hour peering at everything.

External courtyard at Burg Eltz.
My son loves climbing on the rocks in the courtyard at Burg Eltz.

Is Burg Eltz good for kids?

Oh, it’s great for kids. It is so castle-y, and refreshingly under-visited, so you’re not battling your way through crowds to see things. The tour was 45 minutes – and like all German castles, this is the only way you can see the interior – but the guide was patient and kept it as relevant as he could for the small people. As usual, you won’t be able to bring buggies or big hiking carriers (the backpack ones with a frame) on the tour, but babes-in-arms are fine, as are toddlers. There was a baby, plus two or three toddlers on our tour, all of which started complaining and wandering throughout the tour, but no one minded. There’s lot of space to run around outside near the castle, lots of places to clamber over rocks and burn off steam.

 

Courtyard cafe at Burg Eltz.
The courtyard cafe at Burg Eltz is a lovely place to have lunch.
Courtyard cafe at Burg Eltz.
Lovely spot outside the castle for lunch.

Visiting Burg Eltz

When visiting these castles throughout Germany, you have to remember that no central organization runs them – each noble family chooses to open them to the public or not, and arranges staff and restaurants and all that. Consequently, the quality of staff, displays, food, and toilets varies dramatically from one to another. Burg Eltz is obviously well loved, because all the staff were friendly, and everything is clean and well organized.

It’s worth noting that this castle is only open from April to October, so no, you can’t visit Burg Eltz in the winter. Which is too bad, I think it would be beautiful in the snow.

There are two cafes on site, both with tables outside on the terrace in front of the castle. It’s the usual selection of very German food, so expect schnitzel and wurst with fries, as well as some surprisingly good pasta dishes. They have some nice beer on tap as well. Don’t forget to return your beer glass directly to the cafe and ask for your ‘pfand’, that’s a deposit you paid when you bought your beer – it’s €4 so well worth it. I watched two tourists leave them on their trays! You can, of course, take them home with you as well.

Fairy tale inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.
Fairy tale inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.

Getting there

Burg Eltz is not the easiest one to get to, this is true. It’s about an hour’s drive from Trier, and not right on the Moselle, so the tour boats don’t stop there. You can get a tour from Frankfurt that will drive you there and back. If you’ve rented a car, it’s an easy day trip from Frankfurt, Koblenz, Trier, or Cologne. See below for our favourite place to stay in the Moselle Valley.

When you arrive, there is a short hilly hike to the castle from the parking lots, or you can take the little shuttle bus for a small charge. I recommend the shuttle bus, there is a lot of walking on the castle tour and around the outside, no need to tire out little legs before you even start. Get ready for the view of the castle about two minutes into the shuttle bus ride, it is magical.

By train: on weekends and public holidays from May to October you can take a train to Hatzenport or Treis-Karden, and then the Burgenbus that goes straight to the castle. Outside these times, take a train to Moselkern, and then you can take the 5km hike or take a taxi up to the castle. You can book your train right here, in English:




Alter Pfarrhaus, our favourite hotel near Burg Eltz
Alter Pfarrhaus, our favourite hotel near Burg Eltz

Our favourite hotel near Burg Eltz

We stayed in a small village along the Moselle river, right in the middle of vineyards, about halfway between Trier and Burg Eltz. The Altes Pfarrhaus is a lovely old house run by a Dutch couple {affiliate link}. Very affordable, and the food is great. If you’re driving, it’s a very easy place to stay en route. We had a lovely dinner on their huge outdoor patio, with wine from the hills across the river, and it was heavenly.

 

Part of a #CulturedKids linkup.

CulturedKids
Last updated: 16 March 2018
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Visiting Colmar with kids

Visiting Colmar with kids

I admit my knowledge of Colmar previous to moving to Germany was a sandwich named after the town that I really liked from Apostrophe in London about 10 years ago. So. Not well informed then!

Colmar is in Alsace, in Eastern France. Over the past few hundred years, Alsace, and its neighbouring region Lorraine, have been German, and then French, and then back again, many many times. As a visitor, this means you get lots of cute half-timbered houses and good sausages, as well as French country food and good wine. Alsace is a incredible wine region, producing Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinto Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Crémant d’Alsace. Lots of floral and fruity tastes dominate, but they are also quite dry. Terrific with roast chicken or turkey, and curries.

Petite Venise in Colmar Colmar street

What to do

The town itself is beautiful and full of charm. It’s well worth taking one of the little ‘train’ tours, which are really trains on wheels pulled through the streets of the old town. It gives you an overview of the area’s history and train-mad small people will love it. Bonus: it’s only 40 minutes. Also check out the boat tour on the canal which is lovely, short, and mellow. The train tours have pre-recorded audio tours in many languages, but for the boat tours, you’re at the mercy of the language skills of your captain. I didn’t find much overlap between the two tours, actually. It is worth doing both. You won’t be able to take buggies on either of these tours, though the boat tour is connected to a pub, so I think you’d be able to leave your buggy there. The train tours leave from an outdoor tourist information kiosk, so it’s unlikely you would want to leave it in the street.

Colmar has several little squares and fountains, so there are plenty of places to let antsy kids run around. In the spring and summer, the window boxes are overflowing with flowers, and even the canal railings are decked out with their own flower boxes. It’s an infinitely photogenic place! We visited in February before the flowers came out, and as you can see from my photos, it’s still beautiful.

Colmar Winstub Petite Venise Colmar

As usual, we preferred to wander the town and explore rather than visit too many attractions. Petite Venise is worth a visit, and the canal boat tours leave from here. As you wander around the town, look up. There are incredible balconies, statuettes, and elaborately painted panels above street level to ogle.

If you’re looking to go for a longer adventure along the Alsace wine route, the Trip Gourmets have a great overview of the route and where to go.

What to eat

Flammkuchen or tarte flambée is king here, which is handy because it’s very kid-friendly. It looks like a big pizza, but it’s on a very thin, crispy crust and usually features a soft, mild cheese like Münster, together with thinly sliced onions and lardons or pieces of bacon. It’s quite rich, but very good. There’s also Choucroute Garnie, a specialty of the region. Imagine sauerkraut, but cooked in wine, and then make a pile of it, and cover it with various sausages, slices of ham, and some potatoes. It sounds terrifying, and it generally looks terrifying when it arrives at your table, but if you like sauerkraut at all, it’s great. This is not your slimy grocery store kraut, but a local specialty that locals take pride in. It’s worth trying at least once, but my advice is to share a plate of it, as I have yet to finish one by myself.

Colmar street Colmar square

If you’re looking to save a bit, swing by the Market Hall, and pick up bread, sliced meats, and cheese, and a few local apples. There are lots of little squares, benches, and tiny parks nearby to devour your bounty. I had some incredible apples when we were there, as there are often little orchards dotted around the vineyards, and some local cider distilleries as well. It’s hard to beat a good baguette, nice cheese, and some good apples in my mind!

Riquewihr in late winter
Riquewihr in late winter

Where to stay

We were in Colmar for a day, and I think I could have easily spent two there. We stayed the night in a village a 15-minute drive away called Riquewihr. This was good fun, as the drive winds through the vineyards. When I saw ‘vineyards’, I mean every single spare square meter was planted with vines. I have never seen anything like it. There are loads of wineries along the route, all selling their wares from their own ‘cave’. Riquewihr itself is a picture perfect medieval town nestled at the bottom of some hills. There are old city walls, a clock tower, beautiful churches and a windy high street to wander up. I drove up it by mistake, you don’t want to do this! There’s a round that goes around the outside. I seem to be really good at picking routes that take us straight through very narrow old streets and tiny 15th-century city gates!

It’s worth noting that while it’s a beautiful little village, and accommodation is quite affordable, eating is expensive. It’s a stop on the popular Alsace wine route, and smack in the middle of the wine-producing region, so if you’re looking for a special meal with local wine, I’m sure it will be great. If you’re trying to feed a picky eater, and yourselves, without too much fuss, you’re going to pay a bit of a premium. We stayed at Hotel le Saint Nicolas and paid half-board for €29 for each adult, which covered dinner with salad and dessert, and breakfast. There’s a reduced rate for kids. For dinner we had the set menu for guests (there are no options if you’ve picked half-board) and had veal with mushroom sauce, accompanied by the biggest dish of spätzle I’ve ever seen, which is saying something as we live in southern Germany.

Riquewihr

I quite liked the Saint Nicolas, it was down one of the little cobbled streets, and the staff were very friendly and welcoming. We were able to book a triple room, which is so great when it happens, because with one child we only need a double bed and a single, and our son got a real proper bed, not a pull-out sofa. It was very affordable, though there’s no wifi unless you troop downstairs into their lounge. It’s no bad thing, I reckon, on holiday, to have a bit of downtime that is not online.

Climbing up into the vineyards beside the village the next morning was lovely, and the views out over all the vineyards in the valley was just incredible. I could have spent another day here just hiking around, visiting the shops. There are the traditional Riesling glasses everywhere, with their distinctive green stems.

Even if you’re not a big wine drinker, this region is full of romantic charm, with winding roads, beautiful villages, cute canals, and flowers everywhere. It’s well worth a little two-day jaunt from Strasbourg.

Getting there

There’s an airport in Strasbourg serviced by Air France and others, but most people will probably take a train, or come by car. Colmar is two and a half hours by train from Paris, and about three hours from Frankfurt. The small places like Riquewihr aren’t connected by rail, but it’s so close you could definitely hire a taxi for that distance.

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Visiting Colmar with Kids

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Things to do in Heidelberg with Kids

Things to do in Heidelberg with Kids

Heidelberg is a cute little city in southern Germany, about an hour by train from Frankfurt. I live here with my family, so I’ve had plenty of time to discover all the little corners, bakeries, and playgrounds. Of course, there’s the romantic ruins of the Schloss, there’s the beautiful Altstadt, but… then what? This is what the locals do with their families.

Heidelberg: Take a picnic down to the Neckarweise like a local.

Take a picnic to the Neckarweise

Neckarweise [Neckar-VEE-zah] translates to Neckar meadow, and on a nice day, it’s home to pretty much every Heidelberger in a 5km radius. There are several playgrounds to choose from: a fenced-in one for smaller kids, a water and natural stone hill with lots of streams and channels, and some bigger play structures dotted around. The meadow has lots of space for kicking a ball around, as well as a beach volleyball area.

There’s a little cafe serving ice cream, toasted cheese and ham sandwiches, and cold drinks. Clean public washrooms are available right there too.

If you’re looking for something for dinner nearby, see my last point about the Neuenheim Marktplatz, as it’s just a two-minute walk away. If you’d rather stay on the meadow, there’s a really great and super affordable neighbourhood pizza place just up Werderstraße called Il Carpaccio. The restaurant is just where Werderstraße meets Ladenburgerstraße. It’s a two-minute walk, and you can bring the pizzas back down to your spot on the grass.

Take a look at the Forest Adventure Trail (turn on the captions for English subtitles).

Bergbahn & easy forest walk

The funicular railway that goes up to the castle is not the only stop on the route. If you keep going to the top, not only do you get to switch to the old wooden funicular cars, but the view at the top is truly spectacular. Your kids will be pleased to know this isn’t the only reason you’re here, however. Circling the top of the Königstuhl (the King’s Chair in English), is the Walderlebnispfad, which translates to Forest Adventure Trail. It is an easy walk, with many stops for kids to explore and play with. From little playground structures to xylophones made of wood, this nature-themed route is built to keep small ones entertained. If you’re visiting in the summer when it gets very hot in Heidelberg, you’ll find it a welcome few degrees cooler up here. Once you’re finished your adventure, you will come out right next to the Märchenparadies…

The little mechanical horse ride in the trees at Märchen-Paradies.
The little mechanical horse ride in the trees at Märchen-Paradies.

Escape the heat in the Märchenparadies and visit the falcons

It’s not just the castle up there on the Königstuhl, there’s also an aging amusement park called Märchenparadies at the very top. It’s small, but entertaining for an afternoon – and if you’re looking to escape the heat in the summer it’s cooler up there. This is less an amusement park than a strange collection of old-school, self-powered fun park rides. Among the giant trees are concrete pads where your kids can drive little cars, ride strange bikes, and sit on jerky metal horses that go around a track.

There’s a soft play area that’s covered, and a very basic cafe that serves currywurst and wurst in buns. Entrance is 5€, and rides are a few tokens each, with each token costing 50 cents. Arrive at opening to catch the quietest time, but to be honest, even in the middle of the summer it’s not that busy. From April to the end of October, you can also catch a falcon show, at the dedicated Tinnunculus (this is not inside Märchen-Paradies, but near the top of the funicular).

The view of the Old Bridge and Old Town from one of the little motorboats on the Neckar.
The view of the Old Bridge and Old Town from one of the little motorboats on the Neckar.

Rent a little boat on the river

You can rent either a pedalo or a small motorboat from right beside the Theodor-Husse Bridge (that’s not the old bridge with the arches, but the newer one to the west) and put-put around on the Neckar river. It’s 18€ per half hour for the motorboat and 12€ per half hour for the pedalo, and you just need to leave a 50€ deposit that is returned to you when you return the boat. The motorboat is very easy to drive, and all the boats fit four people. There’s no booking ahead, it’s a pretty bare-bones operation. Handily, the same little office that rents out the boats also sells cold drinks and ice cream.

Looking for the best places to eat in Heidelberg? 

Visit the Klosterhof

Walk across the Altebrücke, and then catch the bus for a few stops, and it’s like you’re in another world. The Klosterhof is an old monastery farm dating from the middle ages, and like all good monasteries, they also have a brewery. Sample their local beer, peer at the cows and goats, take a walk in the orchards, check out the trout in the stream, and have lunch in their Gasthof. There’s a little shop with lots of locally produced things you can pack home – jams, jellies, and that sort of thing. There’s also cheese, beer, wine, and cider, so you can stock your hotel room too.

Wander down the Hauptstraße, eat gelato, then playground

This is not so much an specific activity, as what most Heidelbergers end up doing at some point in the week. Our Hauptstraße is a very long pedestrianized shopping street, and if you need anything like an extra jumper, a USB cable, or clean socks, this is the place. It runs from the Altstadt where the shops are more souvenir-and-novelty-liquor to the Bismarckplatz, where all the usual things are like H&M, Galeria Kaufhof (the big department store), Mountain Warehouse, Saturn (tech stuff, and if you need an adaptor or cable, go here), Accessorize, and all that.

There is a nice gelato place inside the little Darmstadter Hof mall at the Bismarckplatz end, but to be honest, there are gelato places all over and they’ve all been good. After you’ve picked up the necessities, head to Plöck, the street running parallel to the Hauptstraße, away from the river. Watch out for bikes, as all the locals use this as their bicycle thoroughfare, but it’s also where you can find a couple central playgrounds.

Our favourite is on the corner of Märzgasse and Plöck. There’s a clean, coin-operated public toilet there, and the super cute and tasty Bäckerei Göbes just around the corner on Plöck for snacks. Kinderladen Troll, just over the road from the bakery, is a classic German toy store, full to the rafters of amazing wooden toys. If you happen to be farther down towards the Altstadt, check out the playground opposite the school on Schulgasse, between Plöck and the Hauptstraße.

Have dinner and let the kids play

One of my favourite German things is the playground in the biergarten situation, though I should say our local pub in London had this figured out too. It is so civilized. If you’re looking for something a little nicer, try Heid’s, a Heidelberg institution. They have a beautiful garden, complete with some ride-on toys and a play structure. The food is mainly pizza and steak, but it’s very good.

For something more relaxed, check out the cluster of restaurants in the Neuenheim Marktplatz. It’s really one of my favourite things about living in the neighbourhood. Three restaurants put their tables and chairs out in the Marktplatz, that shares space with a church tower from the 12th century, and a little play structure shaped like a fire truck in a sandpit and a swing. You can sit at a nice table, have a glass of wine, while your child fills their trousers with sand. The Marktstübel does Flammkuchen, a sort of flatbread pizza with onions and bacon pieces, that most children are up for. It’s totally fine, and normal, to have your child run up, eat for a minute, and then head back to the playground. We often meet friends here, because we can have dinner out, and have a conversation.

Heidelberg, Germany is a lovely storybook German town that's great for kids - we know because we live here! Let us take you on a locals tour of our home abroad.
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