Top 11 unexpected city break destinations for a family trip away

By Photobox on 30 April 2019

Ready to take the family for a city break over the next long weekend? If you’ve already ticked off all the top tourist hotspots, give these 11 unexpected destinations a try and discover somewhere new.

A photo of three kids sitting on a bench in front of brightly coloured buildings.

Taking the kids away on a city break is a great way to spend a long weekend. You can introduce them to loads of local dishes, soak up some culture with a bit of sightseeing, and capture amazing memories for your family photo books along the way. But if you’re a family of globetrotters, and have already ticked off some of the world’s most famous tourist hotspots, why not give one of these 11 unexpected European destinations a try next time?

We’ve got you covered for kid-friendly museums to city parks that the whole family will love. And they’re all picture-perfect destinations too, so you’ll get some great snaps as you go – especially if you take a look at our urban photography tips before you set off.

1. Seville

For a bit of sun on your city break, jet off with the family to Seville. It’s got one of the warmest climates in Europe, so the weather should be on your side for lots of outdoor exploring. The little ones would love a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city, and there are plenty of cycle-friendly paths if you want to see the sights on two wheels.

A photo of Seville, taken from up high, on a bright and sunny day.

Things to do

  • Seville’s Cathedral and Giralda, its bell tower, are definitely worth a visit. It’s the third largest gothic cathedral in the world, and you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the city from the top.
  • You’ll get some beautiful snaps in the old neighbourhood of Santa Cruz, or Barrio Santa Cruz as it’s known locally, and all its traditional architecture. Plus, you can keep the kids busy with a few chocolate churros as you walk around.
  • If you want to venture out of the city for a little adrenaline rush, head to the Isla Mágica theme park. It’s only a 30-minute bus ride from the centre, and you’ll find loads of family-friendly water rides and rollercoasters that even the big kids in your group will love.

2. Stockholm

For a laid-back weekend trip that still has loads of activities to offer, Stockholm ticks all the boxes. The Swedish capital has great museums with plenty of interactive exhibits for the kids. There’s beautiful scenery and lots of open spaces too, perfect for exploring as a family.

A photo of the Nordiska building in Stockholm, with a café in front, taken by the water’s edge.

Things to do

  • Head to the island of Djurgården in the city centre to Junibacken – a fairy-tale-inspired museum aimed at encouraging kids to love reading and storytelling.
  • There’s also Skansen, an open-air museum where you can experience Swedish history and see the rare Nordic animals, including bears, lynx, wolverines, and more at the onsite zoo.
  • Not all spas are kid-friendly, but if you need to unwind on your trip, you can take the whole family to Yasuragi on one of their summer family days. They do overnight stays too, or you can just visit for the day.
  • Ok, here’s an idea that the parents and grandparents will love. As the home of one of the world’s favourite pop bands, Stockholm attracts ABBA fans from all over the globe. The ABBA museum is well worth a visit for all ages though. It’s packed with costumes, memorabilia, and interactive activities, so even the kids will be singing Dancing Queen by the end of the day.

3. Nantes

Paris is usually a tourist’s first port of call for a city break in France. And Bordeaux’s chateaus and wineries would be a great choice for a couple’s weekend away. But when you’ve got the little ones with you, Nantes is ideal for a family getaway. Located on the Loire River in Western France, it’s the country’s sixth largest city, but the pace is much more laid-back than a trip to the capital.

A photo of Nantes taken from up high, with a cathedral in the background.

Things to do

  • Visit the Île de Nantes, the city’s creative hub on an island in the river. Here you’ll find Les Machines de L’ile Nantes, a Victorian-inspired playground with a robotic elephant ride that sprays water on passersby. There’s always a long list of new activities and events going on here, so make sure you check out their website before you plan your trip.
  • Interactive museums are the best way to keep the kids entertained when you’re trying to teach them a bit of history. Why not take them around the 15th century Château de Ducs de Bretagne to help bring Nantes’ story to life? Their videos and exhibits will take you through the city’s past, including the history of its kings and queens, its shipbuilding heritage, and its biscuit-making industry.
  • For the perfect photo of Nantes’ skyline, head up to Le Nid (the nest) on the 32nd floor of the city’s tallest building, Le Tour de Bretagne. You can stop for snacks with a view in this quirky bar designed by cartoonist Jean Jullien, who created the bar to look like a giant outstretched stork, and the tables and chairs to look like broken eggs.

4. Reykjavik

Reykjavik is the world’s most northerly capital. It’s like a small town in size, compared to other international capitals, but it’s jam-packed with all the activities of a major city, making it perfect for exploring as a family. In the centre, you can take the kids on a culinary adventure, with tonnes of fantastic restaurants to try. You can also capture some vibrant shots of the city’s colourful buildings on your trip. And there are cosy cafés to dip into after a busy day of sightseeing. Even if you’re just there for the weekend, make the short journey out of town to see the sweeping Icelandic countryside – we’re talking mountainous landscapes, sprawling valleys, and lots of wildlife.

A photo of brightly coloured rooftops in Reykjavik, taken with the water’s edge in the background and a snowy mountain in the distance.

Things to do

  • For the best view of the city, take the lift to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church. You’ll also get some striking pictures of the church itself, as the unique design was inspired by Iceland’s rugged rock formations.
  • The kids will love all the wildlife that Reykjavik has to offer. You can take a puffin or whale watching cruise from the city’s harbour – just make sure you have your camera ready to snap all the creatures that you see.
  • No trip to Iceland is complete without a dip in the Blue Lagoon, and the kids will love splashing about in the milky-blue waters at this natural geothermal spring.

5. Copenhagen

Year-after-year, Copenhagen is voted the most liveable city in the world. It’s one of the cleanest, greenest, and most sustainable capitals on the planet, with a maze of cool and colourful streets to explore on the city’s favourite mode of transport – the bicycle. You and the kids can peddle around town, take in the sights, and bike it to one of the city’s must-see royal palaces. And if the kids are feeling adventurous with their food, you could push the boat out at one of Copenhagen’s 15 Michelin-starred restaurants.

A photo of Copenhagen’s brightly coloured buildings at the port, with small sailing boats moored up on the dock.

Things to do

  • Right in the centre of Copenhagen, you’ll find the Tivoli Gardens – a theme park that will tick the boxes for all ages. Think rollercoasters, live music, a boating lake, and wandering peacocks.
  • For a deep-sea adventure, head to the National Aquarium of Denmark (Den Blå Planet). It’s the largest aquarium in Northern Europe, with enormous walk-through tanks dedicated to different aquatic animals. Encounter rays and hammerhead sharks in the ocean tanks, come face-to-face with piranhas in the tropical rivers section, and meet adorable otters in the northern lakes and sea aquariums.
  • Little scientists will love The Experimentarium. It’s a hands-on museum that will keep the kids entertained for hours. They can learn all about sight, sound, taste, and touch in the Tunnel of Senses, play about with a laser harp, and discover the science behind bubbles in the Bubblearium.

6. Verona

Verona’s probably best known as the setting of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet. But there’s more to this northern Italian city than a couple of star-crossed lovers. It’s a network of beautiful narrow streets leading to open piazzas and a grand amphitheatre. And the best bit, you can easily do most of your exploring around town on foot, so you’ll have plenty of photo opportunities en route.

A photo of Verona’s rooftops and the river running through the city, taken on a bright and sunny day.

Things to do

  • The first stop on your tour of Verona should, of course, be to the House of Juliet to see the famous balcony. Reenact the iconic scene on Juliet’s balcony, and take a tour around the museum to see some of the movie props from the Romeo and Juliet film remakes.
  • Lake Garda is just a short drive out of the city, and the perfect place to cool off on a hot day. You can also visit Caneva World there, with its four theme parks, including a medieval world, a water park, Movieland, and its Rock Star restaurant.
  • Gardaland, one of the top theme parks in Europe, is also about half an hour from Verona. It’s a huge resort with rollercoasters and water rides for all ages.

7. Athens

Europe’s oldest capital city dates back over 3,400 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world too. A city break here with the kids would be like a weekend-long interactive history lesson – maybe don’t sell it like that to them though. But aside from its incredible archaeological sites, Athens has loads of fun activities your little ones will love.

A photo of Athens taken at dusk.

Things to do

  • Hop on and hop off the Athens Happy Train. This sightseeing experience starts at Syntagma Square and Monastiraki Square, then follows a route to the historical city centre, the old neighbourhoods, and the hill of the ancient Acropolis.
  • When you’ve explored all of Athens’ archaeological gems, head to the Allou! Fun Park for its 4D experience, the Crazy Mouse rollercoaster, and rafting at La Isla.
  • Your budding biologists and zoologists will love The Goulandris Museum of Natural History, with its huge exhibits on the study and conservation of marine life, plants, and animals.

8. Oxford

Oxford’s best known as one of the world’s top university cities, and you can work your way around its beautiful colleges and winding streets that the likes of Professor Stephen Hawking and Oscar Wilde have passed through during their times there. But there’s so much more to explore in the City of Dreaming Spires.

A photo of Oxford’s rooftops and the belltower of the city’s cathedral, with trees and hills in the distance.

Things to do

  • Pint-sized palaeontologists will love discovering the dinosaur skeletons, fossils, rocks and minerals at the Natural History Museum. And you’ll love that it’s free entry for the whole family.
  • Visit the place that inspired some of the best-loved children’s books of all time; C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. The CS Lewis Nature reserve is a little wooded haven in Risinghurst – just a couple of miles from the centre – where you can take a walk around the large pond and spot some of the local wildlife.
  • To see the spookier side of the city on your weekend trip, take a tour with Bill Spectre’s award-winning Ghost Trail. It’s rated as one of the top ten walking tours in the UK, and it’ll bring Oxford’s history to life in a series of ghostly tales and eerie illusions.

9. Vienna

Vienna’s a pilgrimage for classical music lovers. But if Mozart and Beethoven don’t make many appearances on your Spotify playlists, there’s still loads more to explore in the picture-perfect Austrian capital.

A photo of Vienna taken at night, using a slow shutter speed so the ferris wheel in the background is slightly blurred.

Things to do

  • Mini musicians will love Haus der Musik. It’s 5,000 square metres of interactive musical exhibits on everything from world-famous composers to the science behind sound.
  • For one of the best views of the city, take a ride on Vienna’s super-sized Ferris wheel. It’s one of the oldest of its kind, and you can take in amazing views of the city’s rooftops. Just make sure you have your camera at the ready.
  • Vienna’s Kaiser Kindy, or The Children’s Museum, is tailor-made for your little globetrotters. It’s a fancy-dress paradise, where the kids can play kings and queens, with crowns and capes to put on before they try out owning the throne for an afternoon.

10. Algarve

Ok, the Algarve isn’t a city, but this region in Southern Portugal is great for a weekend trip away. You can spend your mini-break on its beautiful beaches, take a road trip along the coastline, or cool off in one of the local waterparks.

A photo of a port in the Algarve, taken at sunset, with a small boat in the foreground.

Things to do

  • As memorable experiences go, dolphin spotting on a weekend getaway takes some beating. You can kayak, take a trip along the coast, or visit nearby caves to see these incredible creatures leap out of the water in their natural habitat.
  • The FIESA Sand Sculpture Festival turns the local Algarve sands into amazing art. This annual event is the biggest of its kind, so you and the kids are bound to see some serious sculpting skills on show.
  • Hit the beach for the weekend. Lagos, Praia do Amado, Faro Island, Salema, and Praia da Marinha are some of the best beaches in the region. So instead of sightseeing, you can make some memories splashing about in the crystal-clear sea.

11. Edinburgh

Edinburgh has loads of activities to offer, but it’s easy enough to explore the whole city in one weekend. As family city breaks go, a trip to the Scottish capital is the ideal blend of historical sites, like the Old Town and Edinburgh Castle, and new attractions that will keep the kids happy for hours.

A photo of Edinburgh taken at dusk. The castle is in the background on the left of the image.

Things to do

  • Get your cameras out and head up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. Walk up the Royal Mile to capture some of the best views in town. And then head to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions right next door. It’s the oldest purpose-built attraction in the city, which opened its doors over 150 years ago. And if you go up into the Outlook Tower, you can see a panorama of Edinburgh projected onto the walls by a giant periscope.
  • For a taste of life in the tropical rainforest right in the heart of Scotland, visit Butterfly and Insect World. Make your way through a series of hothouses and then get up close with creepy crawlies in its huge garden centre.
  • Dynamic Earth celebrates our planet through interactive exhibits and lets visitors experience everything from simulated earthquakes and tropical rainstorms to life on the ocean floor.

Where will your next city break take you and the kids? Whether you’ve got a weekend of sightseeing on the cards or you fancy soaking up a bit of sunshine, make sure you capture all the great moments you share for your next family city break photo book.