Mental Health Activities For Families While Travelling
Disclosure: Love To Travel, Stay-Eat-Do are not medical professionals. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please seek professional help immediately by contacting your local medical practitioner, Lifeline or phoning 000 if in Australia.
Taking time out from everyday life is essential in anyone’s life. We all lead such busy lives – from work and school, out of hours and after school commitments, household chores, meeting financial commitments, getting food on the table and so much more. It very easy to get caught up in everything and so important that we make the time to stop (or at least slow down) and refocus on our and our mental health.
What is the meaning of Mental Health?
According to the World Health Organisation, Mental Health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
Let us break it down…
“…every individual realises his or her own potential” – meaning, every person can see and appreciate their own value and their worth.
“…[every individual] can cope with the normal stresses of life” – meaning, a person can go about everyday tasks essential to life as they know it.
“…[every individual] can work productively and fruitfully” – meaning, people can work in their chosen occupation with purpose and get the job done effectively.
“…[every individual] is able to make a contribution to her or his community” – meaning, that every person is able to make a contribution to the people or community around them in a positive way. This may be as simple as interacting with others through gestures or acknowledgement.
Why is Mental Health so important and why we should aspire to have good Mental Health?
Mental health impacts on the way we all think, feel and act. Having good mental health, enables people to live a stable life, make well considered decisions, function daily and feel comfortable in oneself.
Having good mental health is just as important as having good physical, social, environmental, spiritual or emotional health. In fact, all types of health work in conjunction with one another. A person does not a full bill of health, if they are not considered to have good health in all aspects.
Mental Health activities for families while travelling
Travelling can be hard work at times, it is not all fairy tales like we all imagine and dream it to be. It is hard on parents and it is equally as hard on kids. Some days are more difficult than others and it is important to remember that everyone will have good and bad days; and, often they will be on different days to one another. It is so important for families to have strategies that can be used to maintain good mental health while travelling.
Find a book you love and escape into its world. Reading is not only an important skill to have, but it is also very calming and slow paced. Find a comfortable and quiet spot to sit and read. Immerse yourself in your book for any given time and take a break from what is going on around you.
Colouring or crafting
Our kids love to colour and craft. We always have colouring books and pencils on hand, on any trip. Whether it is for the car, the aeroplane, campground or in a hotel room, it is a great quiet activity that is great for the minds of all. In fact, I don’t go on a holiday without my colouring book and pencils either!
Craft is a little more difficult on the road, however, we have found a great activity that the kids love – making pom poms!
Puzzles are a great activity (and sometimes slightly annoying and addictive all at the same time) to completely take your mind off things. If you are patient enough to sit and immerse yourself in a puzzle, it can be a great way to ease the mind.
If you’re holidaying in a hotel or bnb, having a puzzle to keep you occupied is easy enough. If you are moving around or camping, you might like to buy a puzzle mat, so that you can roll it up, without it being damaged.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation help you focus on being in the moment. It can help with your focus and concentration, confidence and awareness, reduce stress and manage anxiety and so much more. Ultimately, mindfulness and meditation has great benefits to your physical and mental health.
Travelling can bring about stressors that you never knew existed. While travel is brilliant in so many ways, it is certainly more challenging for some than others.
Mindfulness is so important and when you’re travelling you have great opportunities to do this really well. Being mindful is about being present with where you are in any given moment. Be consciously in the moment, with the people you are with, in the activity you are doing or the experience you are having.
If you need help learning to be mindful or meditate, there are lots of great apps you can use for free or buy online. No one meditation will suit every single person, so you may need to try a few different ones out, before you feel comfortable. The key is, don’t give up!
Exercise for Mental Health
We all know that exercise has great benefits to your physical health, what some people fail to realise is that exercise is actually essential for maintaining good mental health.
Exercise can reduce anxiety and stress, improve negative mood, self esteem and cognitive function.
If you are feeling down and need a little pick-me-up, there really is nothing better than doing a little bit of exercise. Go for a 20 minute walk or a light jog, throw a ball with your kids, take them on a bike ride; you simply need to move your body!
Relationships and communication
Maintaining positive relationships while travelling is essential. Without good communication, relationships fall apart. It is important to consciously work on your relationship with each person in your travelling tribe. Whether it is your partner or your children, you should take the time to spend with each person and foster a positive relationship.
Create moments, have conversations, ask questions, challenge one another and most importantly encourage one another. Travelling can be really difficult if communication between all parties, is down.
Get amongst nature
One of the best things about travelling, is getting out and exploring. In fact, when you travel, you probably do get out amongst nature more than you might if you were at home. Take the time to conscious explore nature, sit among trees, watch waves crash on the sand, breathe in fresh air. Nature does wonders for the soul.
Write a journal
Writing a travel journal is a great way to keep track of all the adventures you go on, places you see, attractions you visit. You can record memorable moments, funny things that happen and how you felt during your trip. It’s a great activity for children too and an excellent exercise in gratitude.
A journal to record your memories is one thing, but journelling (writing a journal) itself, is a great way to get your thoughts out of your mind. Take the time to write a gratitude journal every day, write the things that have made you most happy and if you’ve had frustrations, write them down too. Be honest with your feelings and express yourself openly in your writing.
Some people like to fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants when they travel, for others that is just not they way they work. It may depend on where you are travelling or whether you are bound by time restrictions. Whatever it might be, knowing what your parameters are and planning for them will do you absolute wonders when you are travelling.
If you are bound by time, it’s a great idea to plan, here are some quick tips:
plan what activities you want to see
plan which places you want to visit
plan your length of stay based on what you want to do in each town
There really is something great about giving to others. There are so many ways that we can give to others and it really does make you feel good. The beauty of this one is that you can literally be anywhere in the world and you can still give to others. Here are some great ways to do it:
Let someone else go in front of you in a line
Allow someone else to be served first
Show someone where to go if they are lost
Buy someone a coffee
Lend a hand to someone in need
Talk to someone who needs a listening ear
Lend a book to someone to read
Pick flowers or vegetables from your garden
Send them a thoughtful note
There are so many ways to help others and so many ways we can consciously work to have good mental health. If you have any other great ideas that we can add to our list, please leave us a comment below – we’d love to hear from you!
Mental Health Support – seek help
Talk to a professional who knows how to help. If you are travelling or on the road, make a call to your local medical practitioner and arrange a TeleHealth appointment. Reach out to a counsellor or psychologist, or a government agency. Here are a few good ones you could start with:
Strasbourg is situated on the border between France and Germany, sometimes confused as being in Germany; history shows there was a great battle between the countries to claim the region. Strasbourg is part of the beautiful Alsace region which is surrounded by the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River. Strasbourg is just minutes from the west bank of the Rhine River.
By car it will take roughly 5 hours; by train, conveniently 1 hour 45 minutes. For obvious reasons, most people travel to Strasbourg from Paris using their very efficient public transport system, with Gare Strasbourg being centrally located. The heart of Strasbourg is a pedestrian hub, so if you have a car, you need to park outside the town and walk in.
Strasbourg is a remarkable city which boasts medieval history and a vibrant and colourful feel. There are so many things to do in and around Strasbourg. From the pedestrianised streets, great cafes, restaurants and bars, Strasbourg is truly alive!
For food and wine lovers, the area is known for their great local produce and vineyards. You can enjoy a self guided gourmet tour or a wine tour in the Alsace Wine Region.
Here is a list of things to do and see when you are in Strasbourg:
Wander La Petite France – admire the narrow lanes, canals and locks – simply stunning! Keep an eye out Grande Ile which is simply fairy tale-like with half-timbered houses.
Things to do around Strasbourg and the Alsace Region
Strasbourg and the Alsace Region is a great area to explore by foot, ride a bike, drive, take a tour or even get on a train. There are great day trip opportunities from Strasbourg. The options are bound to create the most memorable visit to Strasbourg for you.
There are fantastic bike tours available from Strasbourg and will vary in duration and activities, dependent on what you are looking for.
Do yourself a favour and explore beyond Strasbourg itself! The villages in the Alsace region are simply breathtaking and not to be missed. You can easily do this if you have a car, or if you prefer to be shown around, book a seat on an organised tour. The streets are cobble stoned, quaint little laneways, beautiful cafes to stop in for a coffee and patisserie.
Enjoy the rolling hills Colmar and the cobbled street town of Euguisheim, visit the walled village of Riquewihr and visit the 12th century fortress of High Koenigsbourg.
The best wineries and grand cru in the Alsace Wine Region
If you enjoy a wine, be sure to explore the extensive and picturesque Alsace wine region. From Strasbourg you book a seat on a Alsation wine tasting tour with lunch – the perfect, hassle-free day out!
Stop in and sample the region’s characteristic white wines including Riesling. Popular villages to explore on the Alsace wine route are Mittelbergheim, Dambach-la-Ville, Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr.
Here is a list of some of the most popular vineyards and villages to visit:
If you can visit Strasbourg in December, you will have the opportunity to marvel at the world famous Christmas Markets in the Capitale de Noel – Strasbourg. Christmas in Europe is truly remarkable and known for the magic they produce at their Christmas markets; Strasbourg’s will not disappoint! The city is known to light up and ooze Christmas spirit for all ages.
This picture perfect village is nestled between two mountain ranges and therefore the weather in Strasbourg can be very mild and temperate. That said, Strasbourg experiences signficant rainfall throughout the year. In Winter, despite the chilly temperatures, you will pray for Strasbourg to snow and be covered by the white blanket.
Where to stay in Strasbourg
Strasbourg is a beautiful city to stay in and you could certainly spend several days touring around the sites. The most highly sort after area to stay is within La Petite France and the pedestrianised area. The buildings in Strasbourg are so beautiful, you are bound to find somewhere completely magical and memorable for your stay in Strasbourg.
Nearby cities and villages to Strasbourg are also well worth consideration for lodging. There are beautiful smaller towns in the Alsace Region where you will find some lovely accommodation. These include:
Like most European cities, it is a good idea to do your research, look at a map and find the location that will work best for you. There is a great range of hotels and bed and breakfasts and you are always best to read hotel reviews from past guests.
Apple Cakes originate from Dorset, Devon and Somerset, in England. While this may not be the most traditional type of apple cake coming out of England, this is a super easy, delicious recipe making baking with kids fun!
Christmas in Europe is incomplete without visiting at least one Christmas market. Christmas markets in Europe are one of the greatest draw cards for visitors, near and far. Selecting which European city you will spend your Christmas in, will require research and consideration, as the choices are so great!
Fortunately, Christmas in Europe extends well before December 25th. This gives you great opportunities to enjoy the European Christmas atmosphere in multiple cities and/or countries in one festive season. Whether you’re travelling on your own, with friends or seeking a magical family Christmas; be sure to check out some of the top Christmas markets in Europe!
WHERE ARE THE BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN EUROPE?
Lille is a gorgeous little town at the northern tip of France, near the border of Belgium. A lovely place to visit at any time of the year, however, during the festive season, it is a remarkable Europe Christmas destination.
Streets are lined with stalls, all lit up by beautiful Christmas coloured lights which create a magical atmosphere. The stalls have fantastic gift ideas and sell nativity figurines; as well as, local art, also from Russia, Poland and Canada.
Rug up for outdoor activities, including the ferris wheel which overlooks the market area. Enjoy the warm food and local delicacies, sip on mulled wine and immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit. The crepes were a particular favourite of mine, I think I lost count of actually how many I ate in a day!
The French town excels at putting on a great celebration and brings people from everywhere, including the United Kingdom! Due to the easy accessibility on the Eurostar, it is a popular city for the British to go and experience one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. This is exactly what I did, board a train from London and went to Lille, especially for the Christmas market, for the day! It was a big day out, but it was certainly well worth the journey!
You will absolutely not be disappointed if you choose to visit Lille during the Christmas period. There are many great accommodation options available in and around Lille.
Visiting a Christmas market in Germany is a must during the festive season. The Munich Christmas market offers an array of unique events, food and festivities. Running from November 23rd to December 24th the Munich Christmas market is perfect for families, couples and solo travellers.
There are Christmas markets scattered all over Munich, but the most popular are situated outside the Munich Rathaus. You’ll also find others at the Munich Residenz and the English Garden. Many of the stalls will feature handmade Christmas ornaments, the perfect souvenir from your trip!
Christmas is the perfect time to indulge, and the markets in Munich do not disappoint. You’ll find a variety of German dishes on every corner you turn, including bratwurst, schnitzel, and sweet treats like strudel. Don’t forget to stock up traditional German treats such as Lebkuchen and Spekulatius cookies.
Let’s not forget the drinks on offer too. German beer and Mulled wine or Gluhwein as it’s known in Germany, are a firm favourite among locals. And if you want an even more German experience, head to one of the many beer halls. My personal favourites are German Helles and Hefeweizen.
During your trip to Munich there is plenty to see and do away from the markets. You can explore further afield and take a day trip the famous fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein or explore the many palaces in Munich such as Munich Residenz. If you’re looking for a unique experience in Munich, book your trip to coincide with the Krampus Run – an event thats exclusive to the Bavarian and Swiss areas of Europe.
After spending a year living in Freiburg, Germany, I found its Christmas market to be my favourite across the whole of Germany and Europe. Freiburg is a small city located in Baden-Wurttemberg in south-west Germany. The traditional city holds its annual Christmas markets from November onwards, and the city comes alive at this time.
The Christmas markets flood the city centre from the cathedral square through the cobbled streets and into the town hall square. You’ll find European street food to die for! They sell traditional German foods including schnitzel, bratwurst and my personal favourite flammkuchen. This is a thin crispy ‘pizza’ with cream cheese and bacon on top. Don’t forget the German gingerbread and chocolate kisses – small marshmallow filled domes. So many options are available for presents from decorative baubles to small Christmas trees. The town hall square also has a small funfair for children and adults alike.
Winter is also the best time of year to visit Freiburg as there are so many things to do. Take the cable car up Schauinsland, Freiburg’s closest mountain. At the snowy top, there is a centre where you can hire a sledge. There is also a sledge lift to take you to the top. You can also head into the black forest where you can see frozen lakes and snow covered buildings. It’s also the perfect place to try the traditional black forest gateau!
If the German Christmas markets didn’t fill your stomach enough, I recommend visiting Martins Brau for a traditional schnitzel dinner and some German beer. Afterwards, visit Fierling to carry on your evening.
There are several accommodation choices in Freiburg and surrounds; be sure to read reviews for personal recommendations.
As one of the oldest Christmas markets not only in Germany but in Europe, Stuttgart’s Christmas market is spread out over dozens of acres and has nearly 300 stalls. With the festival lasting nearly a month over 3.5 million people visit Stuttgart’s Christmas market every year, and for good reason.
There are at least three different areas where the Christmas market stretches into downtown Stuttgart. In the area in front of the Old Palace, visitors can experience a kinderland, where small carousel rides and other carnival rides are available for children.
One of the most popular rides is the steam train ride, which takes parents and their children on a small locomotive that drives through a display of a miniature version of Stuttgart with decorated homes, festivities and people. Nearby there is an ice skating rink where small ride on penguins and dolphins are available for children who are not able to skate.
Stuttgart’s Christmas market also has a traditional Finnish market at the beginning of the festival season, where visitors can purchase Finnish food and memorabilia. One very interesting aspect of the market is a building near the Rathaus (town hall) which mirrors an advent calendar as the windows of the building are transformed into numbers to represent each day of Advent. The stalls of the vendors also get into the spirit of the holidays and have beautifully decorated rooftops, many twinkling in lights.
Among the hundreds of vendors, be sure to stop by the vendors selling traditional German gluhwein, which is a warm mulled wine, or flammkuchen a thin, crusty bread with a variety of toppings. Finally, be sure to walk among the displays presented in front of the Old Palace. Each year, the festival’s theme changes and the city has beautiful lighted displays that light up, several of which play themed music.
There are many great accommodation options available in and around Stuttgart.
After enjoying a few Christmas markets in the UK, I was delighted to visit two real German markets in Germany, two days in a row; Frankfurt first, then the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. The second being the highlight out of the two and according to my research, it is the most famous Christmas market in Germany.
Nuremberg is known as one of the most Christmassy places in the world and it delivered. I had two days to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the city as a whole, while on an epic InterRail adventure. The entire city was geared towards celebrating Christmas and was immaculately decorated with Christmas lights on all the thoroughfares.
The core area was located in the square near to Frauenkirche or Church of Our Lady, a fantastic building looking remarkable throughout the day or in the evening. The atmosphere extended into most streets inside the old city walls, with stalls selling all sorts of wares and tasty treats.
The festivities were focused down the hill from the magnificent Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, that overlooks the old town. As you head closer, the lights get more vibrant and the fragrances of Christmas stimulate your senses. Entering the main square was special – a stage, where traditional music was being played, from various countries including traditional songs and dance.
The aroma of food tickled the taste buds. For me, the gingerbread stalls were a massive draw and I kept on munching; as well as storing a few for a midnight snack!
When in Rome you should do as Romans do, so when in Nuremberg, Nuremberger sausages should be eaten in the traditional manner. They were served grilled with unique sausages in a roll – three specialities included, horseradish, sauerkraut or potato salad. To confess I didn’t have 3, I ended up having 9 throughout the day. I also obliged with local tradition, by hydrating with the locally brewed dark beers and festive warm drinks.
The best Christmassy experiences I enjoyed from many on my recent InterRail adventure with the puppy in tow.
Several Christmas markets are located in Sweden’s second city, but the largest Gothenburg Christmas market, is found in Liseberg Amusement Park. It regularly pulls in half a million visitors due to the huge selection of Christmas stalls, amusement rides and Swedish winter treats.
Based in Gothenburg, the worlds most sustainable city means the five million Christmas lights that decorate Liseberg throughout the festive period, are all run off wind power created by the theme park’s very own wind turbine. On top of that there isn’t any single use plastic in sight! Liseberg is open daily from noon until 11pm.
For shoppers, there are two Christmas markets with a total of 80 stalls and shops, selling bespoke gifts and handicrafts as well as Swedish delicacies like cinnamon buns. With so much going on, including an ice skating ballet show, a traditional Christmas buffet, thirty roller coaster rides and attractions and of course Santa’s workshop, it’s easy to see why the Liseberg Christmas market is a favourite in Sweden.
There are three other Christmas markets in Gothenburg, the most traditional is found at Kronhuset, in one of the oldest preserved buildings in the city.
The most charming Christmas market is found in Haga, which is also home to the largest cinnamon rolls in Sweden, and the most modern Christmas market only runs for one weekend at the iconic Roda Sten Konsthall. The diversity of the Gothenburg Christmas markets make it a must for anyone visiting Sweden in December.
There are several accommodation choices in Gothenburg and surrounds; be sure to read reviews for personal recommendations.
If you are looking for not only one Christmas market, but ten at once, Manchester is where you want to be! Each year in November, the Christmas spirit grips the entire city. Filling the streets with bratwurst and mulled wine, that’s the promise of Manchester Christmas markets.
They are all located in the city centre, within 5 minutes of each other. Manchester Christmas markets are open for over 6 weeks which gives you plenty of time to go check them out!
The main market, on Albert Square, is where you will find the most stands and bars but more importantly, big Santa! The other markets are located on: Piccadilly Gardens, Market Street, Albert Square, Exchange Square, New Cathedral Street, King Street, St Ann’s Square and Cathedral Gardens.
You will find all sorts of foods, drinks and quirky Christmas gifts. I’d highly recommend you withdraw cash beforehand as most stands don’t take cards and the ATMs around the markets get very crowded.
Mancunians love their Christmas Markets and they generally get quite busy. But they are also the best place to experience a true Northern English experience. People are happy and friendly so just get yourself a delicious mulled wine and socialise!
If you want to have a bit more fun, head to the ice village on Cathedral Gardens. You will find a covered ice rink (perfect to skate under any weather condition), a cavern full of ice cultures and an ice tikki bar!
Manchester Christmas markets have it all and if you love all things Christmas, you will be in paradise. They just never get old!
There are many great accommodation options available in and around Manchester.
If you are looking for an authentic Christmas Market in Europe, you definitely should check out Bratislava’s Christmas Market at the Main Square (Hviezdoslavovo Square). Visitors are amazed by the picturesque location and the unique atmosphere in Bratislava.
During Christmas time, this Market is full of local specialities, delicious food and charming goodies. People come together for having some punch or mulled wine and enjoy the true atmosphere of a winter in Bratislava. Really delicious is here the Loksa, a salty pancake or the traditional Strudl, a crisp cake filled with apple and raisins. Also the mulled vine is here in Bratislava tasty – probably because it comes from local vineries nearby the city.
In addition to amazing food you will find plenty of home-made products and traditional souvenirs – perfect to bring home some souvenirs for your beloved.
Another highlight and for many a must-do is winter skating. Especially at the Main Square you will find a very well-prepared open-air ice rink. Not only kids, also adults love to turn some rounds in this incredibly beautiful atmosphere. Skates are available to hire, so you don’t have to bring your own ones.
In the evening, local artists – singers and dancers perform directly at this Christmas Market and make each visit to an extraordinary experience. Christmas Markets have had a long tradition in Bratislava and therefore a visit to Bratislava for Christmas is absolutely recommended.
There are several accommodation choices in Bratislava and surrounds; be sure to read reviews for personal recommendations.
Hands down, the most famous Christmas markets in Austria are definitely located in the three main tourist cities Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck. However, let’s not forget the more southern part of the country. In the second biggest city named Graz, you can find the magical Christmas spirit as well. There you can find not only one, but many small and gorgeous Christmas markets located all over the city.
One of the biggest and most famous ones is the one at the main square (“Hauptplatz”). Right in front of the city hall, this Christmas market features a huge Christmas tree, a lovely carousel and many different stalls offering sweets, mulled wine, teddy bears and hand-made decoration.
Another cool Christmas market is the “Aufsteirern” market which is located somewhere unusual. On the famous Schlossberg and far away from the city center there’s a former castle moat called “Kasematten”. During summer, this place is used as an open-air stage but in winter it transforms into a festively decorated Christmas market with countless stalls offering mulled wine, delicious food and also different types of crafts.
Last but not least, the oldest Christmas market can be found at a square called “Franziskanerplatz”. It’s mainly focused on rural tradition and that’s why you can mostly find many arts and crafts, so-called “Thüringer Christmas tree decorations” and products from areas called “Styrian GenussRegionen”. Don’t worry, of course many stalls offer something to eat and mulled wine as well! Also, if you’re craving something sweet, there’s a stall selling mouthwatering chimney cakes. Be prepared to wait for a while tho, the queue is usually very long.
There are many great accommodation options available in and around Graz, be sure to read reviews of personal experiences.
Galway City located on the west coast of Ireland, is arguably not only the coolest bigger city in Ireland, it also hosts the best Christmas market. When the days are getting shorter, the nights darker and the spirit of Christmas becomes visible, then the Galway Christmas market is the place to be.
The market on Eyre Square, right in the heart of the city, includes the incredibly fun 32 metres high Ferris wheel (here you have the best views of the city!), the very popular Après Ski Bar, Santa’s Grotto for kids of all ages and more than 50 international and Irish stalls with arts and crafts.
Besides these, there is lots of great entertainment with many different music acts (Galway is anyways the best city for street buskers in Ireland!) and delicious food (e.g. Czech chimney cakes, German Bratwurst and Glühwein, French crêpes, yummy Irish fudge and much more). One of the best things about Galway’s Christmas market is the possibility to saunter through the beautifully decorated cobbled streets with lively pubs and cozy restaurants.
If you want to get away from the Christmas hustle and bustle in Galway, then you are just a few minutes away from the seashore with its romantic boardwalk of Salthill. This beautiful walk stretches for more than a mile and offers fabulous views of Galway Bay. If you are lucky you will even catch a glimpse of the traditional boats of the city, the Galway Hookers. Definitely give Galway at Christmas time a try, it is really worth it!
There are several accommodation choices in Galway and surrounds; be sure to read reviews for personal recommendations.
Barcelona may not be your best bet when it comes to seeing a white Christmas, but its Christmas market beats out many others in Europe, especially when it comes to unusual traditions.
The Fira de Santa Llucia is a 200+ year old Christmas market located in the plaza outside a Gothic Cathedral, making it extremely atmospheric. Visitors are always amazed to see two of the more unusual Catalan Christmas traditions: the caganer and the caga tio.
A caganer is a small figurine of a defecating man (or nowadays, woman) placed in the Christmas nativity scene. There are various explanations as to why, but the most common is that it’s seen to “bring it down to earth.” Nowadays, they make caganers of celebrities and politicians, too, and there are hundreds for sale at the Christmas market.
The other unusual tradition you’ll encounter at the market is the “caga tio,” a log with a face drawn on (and usually wearing a Santa hat) that is at the center of kids’ Christmas festivities here. Rather than Santa, this log brings kids presents on Christmas Day. He’s usually covered in a blanket and the family gathers around, hitting him with sticks while singing a song asking him to defecate presents (yes, there’s a bit of a theme to these two traditions). Then the blanket is lifted and the gifts are revealed.
If you haven’t been put off your dinner, Barcelona’s a great foodie destination with lots of gluten–free and vegan options too, so head out for dinner after seeing the Christmas market.
Christmas in Prague is one of the busiest times of the year. There are thousands of people that are traveling to see local Christmas markets and not just from the Czech Republic. You can find here people from the whole world. Even though it might sound very crowded, there is a lot of good reasons for visiting Prague during Christmas time.
Prague has a lot of gorgeous historical buildings and seeing them decorated by snow and Christmas lights is something spectacular.
You can get classical Czech crafted gifts for your loved ones. You can find anything from little wooden dolls to homemade aromatic candles or even specially made glass decoration. On some of the stands that you will walk by, you will see how craftsmen work on their products right in front of your eyes, which kind of give a special medieval atmosphere.
At the same time, Prague Christmas markets have a great program. On a lot of stages, you would see people singing chorals and trying to entertain both adults and kids. For entertaining adults, there is a very yummy honey liqueur or mulled wine. While kids can actually see here some domestic animals like donkeys and sheep (sort of like it was in Bethelem, nothing wild).
So as you can see, Prague might be busy during the Christmas time, but for a very good reason. Local Christmas markets are filled with great potential gifts and magic for anyone big and small.
Are you looking for the best Christmas in Europe location for your family? Below we have a compilation of personal stories and recommendations, from experienced travellers from around the globe.
We have an additional list of the best destinations for Christmas in Europe here, as well as things to do at Christmas in Europe and the best markets to visit at Christmas in Europe. Be sure to do your research as Europe Christmas destinations options are truly endless. Every city has so much to offer!
EUROPE CHRISTMAS DESTINATIONS FOR FAMILIES.
FINNISH LAPLAND, FINLAND.
Lapland, in Northern Finland, is one of the most family-friendly Christmas destinations. There is nowhere better to get into the Christmas spirit, especially in December, than the home of Santa Claus himself. Santa even has an official hometown in Lapland, Rovaniemi.
As well as being the hometown of Father Christmas, Rovaniemi is very family friendly. Most of the centre of town is pedestrianised around Lordi Square and there are numerous hotels, AirBnB’s and restaurants to cater for families. Rovaniemi also has several family-friendly things to do in town including three museums and an Angry Birds park. Of the three museums, two are of interest for families with young kids.
Arktikum is the museum dedicated to the
Arctic Circle and the inhabitants of it, including indigenous people and
animals. There are lots of different areas with interactive section for kids.
Pilke, conveniently located beside Arktikum, is a museum dedicated to showing
people how intrinsically important the forests of the Arctic Circle are to the
people and animals. Again, there are plenty of interactive areas for kids, with
a lumberjack caterpillar for kids to climb up into.
A short bus ride out of town you’ll find two places to visit Santa Claus, Santa Park and the Santa Claus Village. Not only can you meet the big man himself, but there are lots of other things to do with kids in both places. There is plenty of things to do in Rovaniemi with kids.
Whether you are in Rovaniemi or visiting the wider Lapland area, most towns and resorts have the opportunity for families to meet Santa Claus. You can also enjoy meeting reindeer and huskies and going on safari rides with them. Kids can try their hand at snowmobiling, there are plenty of ski resorts in Lapland and older kids can also enjoy a Northern Lights hunt. Lapland is an amazing place to visit with kids and one of the most family-friendly European Christmas destinations.
Looking for a new location for your Christmas family vacation? Krakow has a lot to offer as it is one of the most family-friendly Christmas destinations in Europe. With a broad range of activities for all ages and great food and luxurious accommodation that can easily fit your budget, Krakow ticks all the boxes for a family holiday escape.
With family rooms and apartments starting at under 50USD a night, book early to get a room near the Old Town. The Sheraton Hotel, for example, would be one of the best places to stay with its amazing location at the base of Wawel Castle, making the logistics of visiting attractions easier with young ones in tow. You can also rent an apartment in the area for as low as $600 per week with the advantage of having a washing machine and a kitchen.
Designed to be kid-friendly, the city’s transportation system is reliable and equipped to handle strollers. Most of the restaurants in the city are also family-friendly and are equipped with facilities that will make every dining experience pleasurable for all members of the family, from special kids menus, children play area, and feeding and changing facilities. Massolit Books & Cafe, Oberza Sasaidow Restaurant, and Wierzynek Restaurant are among the most recommended restaurants for family.
During your stay, make sure to visit the Christmas Market with its line of wooden stalls that are filled with authentic Polish crafts, food, and drinks. Every single member of your family will fall in love with the quaint Christmas decorations, the delicious assortment of fudge, and the thick hot chocolate. To add some magic to the festive atmosphere, take a carriage ride around the Old Town. And, don’t forget to fill up on padja (open sandwiches) and grilled cheese.
Other places of interest that are open all year round are Wawel Castle with its dragon legends, the crypt of the Franciscan monastery with its mummified residents. The Groteska children’s theatre, where traditional wooden puppets portray well-known fairytales. To add to the fun, take your family to the Park Wodny Aqua Park which has a big collection of slides. For a bit of nature, head to Jordana Park, where you can take your children around the lake with rented paddle-boats and canoes.
The Portuguese Madeira Island is a perfect Christmas destination for an entire family. Weather in Madeira around Christmas and New Year’s Eve is very pleasant, on average around 20C.
If you are lucky, you will have a chance to enjoy the outdoor hotel pools, and for sure, you will come back home sunbathed. This makes Madeira a perfect destination for those in the Northern Hemisphere, who would like to escape the snow and cold…but not the great Christmas spirit!
Most of Portugal’s citizens are Christians, so Christmas is an important holiday. Kids and parents alike will enjoy strolling through beautifully decorated streets. TukTuk “Christmas Lights Watching” tours are also very popular. You will see many decorated Christmas trees, palm trees, Christmas ornaments. As well as tonnes of different Nativity Scenes in different styles.
Kids will love the Christmas Village built for them in one of Funchal’s main parks called Jardim Municipal. The city centre is full of Christmas installations, including a huge, 3 metre-tall Santa Claus. Shops and shopping malls also do not stay behind and kids will have the chance to talk to Santa there. In 2019, there was also a busy fair set up next to the Funchal Marina, with attractions for kids of all ages.
When you visit Madeira Island for Christmas, it’s worth staying New Year’s Eve, as Madeira is famous for its spectacular New Year’s shows. It used to hold the Guinness record for the “Greatest Fireworks Show in the World”. Madeira Island is a great idea for any time of the year, but December is definitely one of the most beautiful periods.
I spent one
of the best years of my life living in Baden-Wurttemberg. This stunning region
in south-west Germany is home to many beautiful mountains. One of the best
parts about them is they are completely accessible to families looking for a
great Christmas destination. Not only that, but the beautiful snow scenes in
winter means you can have that white Christmas you’ve been dreaming of.
I recommend spending some time within the Black Forest. Head to Feldberg ski resort for some family skiing. Lessons are available for beginners! Alternatively, there is a sledge park at the top of Schauinsland – accessible by cable car. Here you’ll find fun for all ages. There are also multiple castles for you to visit. I recommend Hohenzollern or Lichtenstein Castle. These are great for kids and adults alike. Furthermore, take a visit to Titisee Lake – see it frozen in winter and even go ice skating (dependent on ice thickness).
You can also explore the Christmas markets in either Stuttgart or Freiburg. Stuttgart’s are more extensive, while Freiburg’s are more local and traditional. Close to Freiburg you’ll also find Europa Park – Germany’s answer to Disneyland. While the water rides are closed in winter, there is still plenty to keep the family entertained for the day. There is also a reduced entrance rate during winter. These are just some of the great places to visit in Baden-Wurttemberg.
I highly advise staying in Freiburg. This gives you a good base for many activities. From Freiburg, it is very easy to access the Black Forest by public transport or by car. Alternatively, you could stay close to Stuttgart which has better transport connections with the rest of Germany and further afield.
After living in Amsterdam for seven years, and starting our family with two young boys here, it’s no surprise that I happen to think that Amsterdam is a great family-friendly destination all year round, but I definitely think it’s a special place to visit at Christmas.
Firstly, I recommend visiting Amsterdam at Christmas and/or New Year because it’s one of the quietest times of year to come here so visitors can avoid crowds and queues, and there are even some great hotel deals to take advantage of. But more than that, there’s just a very special atmosphere to Amsterdam at Christmas.
The canals are all lit up at night, Christmas lights and Christmas trees make the streets and houses glow warmly in the dark, and there are also a number of cosy Dutch traditions and foods that are special to this time of year which kids will love.
Oliebollen are huge round doughnut-like warm treats filled with dried fruits or apple chunks and they are served from mobile kiosks that are found all across Amsterdam un the festive season. While traditionally, oliebollen are eaten at midnight at New Year, they’re also the perfect stomach-warming treat after an evening canal cruise taking in the world-famous Amsterdam Light Show which is an annual festival that turns Amsterdam’s canals into an art gallery of illuminations created by renowned international artists.
Another great festive activity for the family is ice-skating on the rink that is temporarily located on Museumplein – but don’t worry, they’ll provide chairs for kids (and adults!) to push and balance with if it’s your first time.
Don’t think you have to come to Amsterdam at the end of December to soak up the atmosphere for kids. In Amsterdam festivities start early as Sinterklass, their version of Father Christmas or Santa, arrives on the evening of 6th December delivering presents to all the kids who have left their shoes out for him.
All across the city, you’ll see children in colourful caps and clothes, dressed up as Sint’s famous helpers, his Piets. This in turn means that once Christmas is here, there is less focus on gifts and more on being with family and loved ones, which is possibly my favourite thing about Christmas in Amsterdam.
There is so much to see and do in Amsterdam, be sure to check out this ultimate planning guide for Amsterdam before you travel!
With or without kids in tow, saving money for budget travel is all about organisation and preparation. Plan well, pack well and make the effort while on holiday – it will save you loads of money!
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WAYS TO SAVE ON MEALS AND SNACKS
One of the things we
love most about travelling is eating out and trying local cuisines. We always
ensure we do those things; however, we also travel on a strict budget so most
of our meals are self-catered.
The longer we stay in a place, the more space we want and look for when booking accommodation. If we are spending several nights in the one location, we will always look for accommodation where we can self-cater, Airbnb is a great one for that.
Typically, we will
always eat breakfast in-house. If you’re lucky enough to get breakfast included
in your accommodation, that is a great bonus. In most cases, however, it is not
worth the additional money as an optional extra.
We take cereal for the
kids with us – Weetbix and sultanas for one, porridge for the other. They are
easy to pack into containers and store and as they are eaten, we use the
containers for other things. We would pack enough breakfast cereal for the kids
for 1-2 weeks, anything beyond that, we just buy while we are away (or top up
We also throw in some
dried noodles, which can act as snacks for the kids, or a meal (as required).
While they are far from a meal favourite of mine, they are easy to prepare on the
night of arrival. All you need is a kettle – most places you will stay, will
have that available for use. If your accommodation doesn’t have bowls, grab one
of your containers that you have packed. This is quick and easy and after a
long haul flight, or late arrival, it is nice to have something easy and not
have to rush out and spend money on something else.
We always pack spreads
– whatever your favourites are, pack them – vegemite, peanut butter and honey
are the ones we normally carry. Sandwiches make a quick, easy and affordable
lunch. While it’s not an interesting meal, it is a great choice when travelling
on a budget.
Discount meals or kids
Keep an eye out for
dining-out deals, like ‘kids-eat-free’. They are popular and are often found in
tourist towns. When you arrive in a town, type in ‘kids-eat-free near me’ and
see what comes up. The other one to look out for is pubs which often have $10
lunches or $15 parmigiana and pot nights. Do some quick research and some
planning when you arrive in a new place. Work out where you want to go and try
to plan what day and time is the best to go, based on the daily offers.
We take salt, pepper
and turmeric – they are things we add to our not so exciting easy meals, to
make them a little more interesting! Eggs, sandwiches, BBQ, salads, pasta. If
we are holidaying where I think we’ll have lots of BBQ’s, I will also take an
unopened small bottle of tomato sauce and either leave it in the fridge at our
Air BNB or throw it away at the end of the trip. Nobody needs tomato sauce
through their suitcase!
Snack foods for the kids are essential items. These are much easier if you are in the car, or have the space to carry them; however, I’ll never leave the house without them. Snacks are also referred to as ‘sanity-savers’ in our household – they save us from the “I’m hungry” and “I’m thirsty”, when you’re just 15 minutes down the road!
Think of your kids’
pre-packaged favourites like muesli bars, dried fruit, biscuits, bake some
homemade goodness for the first couple of days. Taking snacks, will alleviate
those unwanted desperate stops at a petrol station or convenience store, where
you’ll spend way more money than you’d like to.
Having a picnic in a
new location is a great way to ‘people watch’, as well as see what goes on in a
city. You can be immersed in cities so much by just sitting and watching.
Picnics are also an affordable meal option. Find a local supermarket and get
yourself some bits and pieces and put together a great meal for your family.
Think wraps, roast
chicken and ready-made salads, BBQ, cold meats and salad, antipasto platters.
Lots of supermarkets also have meal options ready to be served, or those that
simply require a microwave to warm up. We are known to whip up a cheap pasta
dish or cook a pizza in the oven and then take it for a picnic by the beach or
in a park somewhere. Just don’t forget your plastic containers!
containers that can be washed and re-used multiple times. They are also great
for storing half-eaten things in the fridge, keep fruit fresh and so many more
things. Containers are a great alternative to Glad Wrap and enable you to buy
things like blocks of cheese which are far more economical than already sliced
cheese or individually wrapped items.
It always pays to have a set of cutlery and a solid plastic plate in your bag too. Makes your picnic so much easier and you don’t have to rely on your accommodation having their own. A serrated knife is very handy too, great for cutting vegetables and cheese – just make sure you pack it in your luggage appropriately, especially if you are flying!
Lots of countries do
coffee really well and we love to experience a local coffee, particularly when
there is a cultural experience to go with it. However, we don’t need to pay for
them every day; also, there are countries that do not do a great coffee.
We are self-confessed
coffee snobs…it’s unfortunate because we love our daily coffee but won’t drink
instant coffee. We have trialled several coffee options along the way and often
go between them, depending on the mode of travel.
My least favourite option, but can be tolerated, is a coffee bag. Robert Timms do a reasonable coffee bag, they will tie us over until we get somewhere with good coffee. They are easily packed and very light weight.
Plunger and ground
This was a long time
favourite of ours and worked really well on all trips, until our plunger
smashed in transit. I hear you saying “Really? Glass coffee plunger?” Well yes,
that is what we had so that is what we took.
Honestly, it lasted
several trips and really saved us a lot of money. We worked out that even
buying a new one was cheaper than buying coffees every day for us – so we saved
despite the need for replacement. We still like the plunger and still take a
glass plunger despite our history. It really is effortless and it is nice that
we can both sit down and enjoy a coffee together with ease.
Mini-press and pods
A more recent device that we have been trialling on our travels, is a mini-press, which is a manual coffee pod device. If you are looking for something more solid, this is a great option. Pre-order your pods before you leave, they are light weight and they fill in all the gaps in your luggage (there is always enough room for a coffee pod or two). We typically pack enough pods for us to have a coffee per day and a handful extra.
ESSENTIAL HOUSEHOLD ITEMS
If you’re in an Air BnB or Holiday Stay, some of the everyday essential items, are not always provided. We once stayed in a holiday house that literally had the furniture required, towels and bed sheets – that was it. We had to supply toilet paper, dish washing liquid, washing powder, kitchen cloth, all toiletries and even rubbish bags.
Since then, I have
been meticulous in my packing to ensure we have the essentials for our next
holiday, at least to get us started. By taking these items, we have saved money
while on holidays – after all, who wants to spend holiday money on these boring
See our Holiday Packing List, so you don’t forget anything on your next trip.
ENTERTAINMENT FOR KIDS
Most holidays are
filled with excitement, new activities, new adventures and fun things for the
whole family. However, the reality is, there are ‘down-times’ and “this is
boring” times too. It is great to have some things for the kids to do that are
slow and quiet activities, that do not include a screen.
We create an activity
pack for our kids. We surprise them with it on day one of the trip. Despite
receiving one every time we go away now, they are still by the ‘surprise’ and
so excited to see what’s in it – if you pack the right things, it can be
Buy an A4 sized pencil case, with a zip to fit everything into. What to put in them is a little age and interest dependent. Our kids love their Travel Journals, which has plenty of space for them to write about their adventures, space for drawings and activities.
We are compiling an ‘Activity Pack For Kids’ post with age appropriate ideas – this is a growing document and we’d love your input! Feel free to add your ideas in the comments below.
ACTIVITIES, EXCURSIONS AND TOURS
Do your research, shop around, look for the best deal and book early! There are lots of sites these days that offer great deals and discounts. Do your research and find the best price. Be careful to read the terms and conditions, so that you know you are getting exactly what you are after.
Keep an eye out for local tourist magazines, you can sometimes get yourself 10% off by using a coupon from a free brochure. We were lucky enough to access this in Coffs Harbour when we went to the Dolphin Marine Centre – that was a nice little bonus and has certainly prompted us to keep an eye out for more of them!
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Holidays and travel don’t have to the Earth. However, the reality is, that we all enjoy our trips a whole lot more, if we have a comfortable amount of money saved. Careful planning, budgeting, preparation, consideration and prioritising are key ways to save money.
NOW is the best time to get serious about planning your next holiday! Get yourself a log book specifically to record your spending and map out your plan for your savings.
Dream big and let’s make this happen!
TOP TIPS TO SAVE MONEY FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY
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PLAN AHEAD, TO SAVE MONEY.
During the planning stages and in budgeting for a trip, it is good to have an idea of all of the extra things or sights you might like to see, as well as the costs associated.
Know the costs of your holiday expenses, including accommodation, flights and car hire. Based on the costs associated with the above aspects of your holiday, you will have a better idea of what is possible and how much money you will need to save for your holiday.
Know what you might like to do and see when you are on your trip. Get yourself a travel guide, do your research and understand the location. Lonely Planet Guides are our favourites, they provides lots of great information and real recommendations by people who have travelled to all of the great places you can see.
Lonely Planet Guides are available for countries, states, regions and also have speciality guides. Below are some popular Lonely Planet Guides available:
Once you’ve established your needs, make a plan. Get yourself a notebook specifically for this and get organised! Write it all down, make notes on all of your outgoing expenses and then make a plan for how you will save for your next holiday.
Work out exactly how much money you will need to save (and by when), before you lock yourself into the trip. Budget-budget-budget!
Be real! Don’t get yourself into something that you cannot get yourself out of. Work out exactly where the money coming from, to pay for the trip.
Consider your departure date and the duration of your trip, in accordance with what you can afford. Don’t get yourself to a point where you have no money while you are away – a holiday is no fun if you have to watch every penny you spend (speaking from experience here!).
RESEARCH AND SAVE.
Do your research is my number one tip for how to save money when travelling! There are so many cheap travel options and the best holiday deals are always available – you just need to find them!
Troll the travel websites, look for the best deals, keep an eye out for sales, join travel groups and learn from those out there doing it regularly.
Talk to a variety of travel agents and see what everyone is offering. Utilise schemes like Flight Centre price match!
Check out the multiple booking sites for accommodation, research for the best accommodation choices. Make sure your accommodation is suitable for your needs and in an appropriate location. Read reviews on accommodation, from people who have stayed there themselves!
Consider whether the additional cost to the accommodation, might outweigh the need to hire a car. Perhaps the additional cost of getting a self-catering apartment, might save money for you in being able to prepare meals.
Keep an eye on deals sites such as Get Your Guide, they often have great ticket prices for activities and excursions.
All inclusive holiday deals and holiday package deals are not always the cheapest way to go. Additionally, ‘kids fly and stay free’ are also not always the cheapest ways to go! Do your research!
In the lead up to a holiday, adopt a frugal living approach to life! Ask yourself whether your purchases are really necessary or whether they are just things your want. Don’t spend money on things you really don’t need!
Do you really need that new dress? Perhaps, save your money buy a new dress on your holiday instead. If you’re a coffee snob like I am, you will want a good coffee everyday. Buy yourself some ground coffee and a coffee plunger instead of spending the $5 per coffee each day.
Be organised with time so we’re not grabbing food on the run.
HOW TO SAVE MONEY FROM SALARY.
Allocate a certain amount of money to holiday savings each time you get paid and put it in a separate account so you can’t/don’t touch it. Large and small amounts of money, all help!
You can talk to your business manager at work and ask them to put a certain amount of money (or percentage of your pay) in a separate account – this way, you don’t even see it!
HOW TO BUDGET AND SAVE.
Create a spreadsheet or a system that works for you. List all of the bills you have to pay, roughly how much they are month to month and what date they are to be paid.
Work out which bills will be paid for, from week to week. Also, whether you need to put small amounts aside each week for those bigger bills, so they don’t really hurt when it is time to pay them – car registrations, for example.
Set yourselves an allowance for free spending each week, just like it is a bill to pay. Make sure you don’t overspend from your ‘play money’ or dip into other accounts some unnecessary items.
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