Top 10 Cities for Children


Unlike Edinburgh, there are no iconic landmarks in Glasgow, but what this stylish city lacks in the way of castles and extinct volcanoes it more than compensates for with several excellent family museums. Pick of the bunch is the Kelvingrove, with exhibits ranging from Egyptian mummies to a Second World War Spitfire (don’t miss the webcam link to the Loch Ness Monster). Nearby, you’ll find steam locos in the Museum of Transport and the three-masted SS Glenlee at Glasgow Harbour. On the opposite bank of the Clyde, Pacific Quay is the boarding point for paddle steamer cruises, as well as the location for the interactive Glasgow Science Centre.

New York
There’s no reason why children can’t follow their parents’ example by hitting the Big Apple’s shops and shows. Toy stores don’t get much better than Fifth Avenue’s FAO Schwarz, while the New Victory Theatre stages plays and musicals exclusively for family audiences. But New York’s family interest doesn’t end there. An elevator ride to the 80th floor of the Empire State Building is a must, as is a cruise to the Statue of Liberty. Dinosaur fanatics should head for the American Museum of Natural History, while aspiring Spielbergs can make movies at the Museum of the Moving Image. Central Park, meanwhile, promises good old-fashioned fun with its vintage carousel, Wildlife Center and cycle paths.

Like Venice or Amsterdam, Sweden’s canal-riddled capital has instant appeal to children, particularly if you start with a boat tour of the city. Of Stockholm’s 14 islands, Djurgården has the most family attractions, ranging from the ‘time capsule’ of Skansen, where historic buildings and costumed staff recreate traditional life, to Junibacken, where kids can explore the world of storybook heroine Pippi Longstocking. The city’s biggest drawcard for families, however, is the Stockholm Archipelago (an easy ferry ride away) with its beaches, watersports and holiday houses.

Cape Town
Flights from London to Cape Town take around 12 hours, but at least they’re direct and you only have to adjust to GMT+2. First, take a peek at Table Mountain. If it’s clear, take the Cableway to the top before the notorious ‘Tablecloth’ cloud blows in. Back at sea level, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront has shops, restaurants and the excellent Two Oceans Aquarium where kids can get nose-to-nose with ragged-tooth sharks in the 2 million-litre predator tank. The best beaches near Cape Town are at Clifton and Camp’s Bay – but be wary of strong currents and cold water. You may be better off spending a day touring the Cape Peninsula, picnicking in Kirstenbosch gardens and visiting the penguin colony at Boulders.

With its pavement mosaics, street performers and market stalls, the 1km pedestrian thoroughfare of La Rambla is a good starting point for exploring Catalonia’s vibrant capital. At the harbour end, the 80m tall Monument a Colom offers views towards the otherworldly spires of Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, while nearby Port Vell has an aquarium, IMAX cinema and even a moored submarine. A second day in Barcelona could easily be spent exploring Castell de Montjuïc (reached by cable-car) and the open-air cultural museum of Poble Espanyol. As a reward for all that city sightseeing, take the funicular to the Tibidabo funfair.

There’s little in the way of typical family attractions in Dubrovnik. For children, the fascination of this terracotta-tiled citadel has more to do with its setting. Encircling the Old Town in a curtain of stone 6m thick and 25m high, the city’s fortified walls provide an irresistible 2km jaunt for mini-crusaders. Just a stone’s throw from the ramparts, the tiny island of Lokrum can be reached by boat or, better still, on a half- or full-day sea kayaking trip. There’s a subtropical garden to explore, as well as an 11th-century monastery and a small lake connected to the open sea.

Not only does Sydney have that instant ‘wow’ factor, courtesy of its stunning harbour, but it also boasts a bewildering range of attractions, from bridge climbs to walk-through aquariums. Bright, clean, sunny and fun, Sydney doesn’t simply have suburbs, it has suburbs with surfing beaches. For the best day out, start with a cruise that drops you off at Darling Harbour where a combo ticket provides entry to both the aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World, a breathtaking biome inhabited by wallabies, parrots, frilled lizards and other native species. If, however, you prefer warships to wombats, head for the Australian National Maritime Museum, an indoor/outdoor nautical feast that includes a replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour. Hands-on science fun at the Powerhouse Museum is another option. If your kids are aged 10 or over, test their steel (and yours) on a Harbour Bridge Climb, where a clamber on the Coathanger will get you 134m above the harbour for the ultimate Sydney photo opportunity.

More buttock-clenching views are available from Auckland’s 328m-high Sky Tower. With a minimum age of just 11, Sky Jump provides elastic-cord-assisted descents where you reach speeds of 85kph for 11 seconds before slowing in the last few metres for a gentle landing. Unlike bungee jumping, there is no hanging upside down or bouncing around. So, no worries there then. Not surprisingly, the sea features prominently in some of Auckland’s top family attractions, such as Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World where you can see penguins, sharks and stingrays and explore a life-sized replica of Captain’s Scott’s hut. Native and exotic wildlife, from kiwis and tuataras to orang-utans and zebras, are always a big hit with kids at Auckland Zoo, while the Museum of Transport and Technology provides endless opportunities for fiddling, twiddling and experimenting.

Washington DC
Visiting the world’s largest museum complex might seem like anathema to kids. But far from being dusty, dingy and dull, DC’s Smithsonian Institution Museums are utterly riveting. The National Air and Space Museum is a head-spinning, neck-craning shrine to flying. Exhibits range from the original 1903 Wright Flyer to the command module of Apollo 11. You can handle a lump of moon rock, take a virtual journey through space and race paper darts. If your kids want more, the Udvar-Hazy Center near the airport, has a vast hangar where pride of place goes to the Space Shuttle Enterprise. More winged wonders can be seen in the butterfly garden outside the National Museum of Natural History. Inside you’ll find an imposing African elephant in the Rotunda, a 15-m long northern right whale suspended in the Ocean Hall (new from 2008) and various dioramas in the Hall of Mammals – where you can experience a thunderstorm and crawl through an arctic snow tunnel. Not for the squeamish, the museum’s Insect Zoo holds tarantula-feeding demonstrations and a chance to handle live insects. If you prefer bugs of the electronic variety, slink over to the International Spy Museum where the KidSpy programme of workshops, demonstrations, and action-packed missions will hone the skills of every 003½ secret agent.

It’s hard to imagine a more family-friendly city park than Vancouver’s Stanley Park – a 400ha peninsula with walking trails, cycle tracks, a miniature train, horse-drawn carriage rides, a children’s farm, totem poles, a water park and fantastic views of big ships coming and going. But it’s the Vancouver Aquarium that’s the park’s real crowd-puller. In addition to habitat-themed displays ranging from the walk-through Amazon gallery (with piranhas, crocs and sloths) to rocky coves inhabited by sea lions, sea otters and beluga whales, you can learn about Marine Mammal Rescue and other conservation programmes. Two of the best museums for children in Vancouver are Science World and the Vancouver Museum. Located about 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver, Kitsilano Beach is a favourite with locals, while Grouse Mountain (accessible by cable car) has great views and hiking potential.