Taking Kids Abroad: A Wrap-up Of Our Five Weeks in Italy, France, and the UK

Photos from traveling with kids to Rome, Italy and Paris, France

This was my second summer stepping away from the studio to co-lead a study abroad group of 35+ Michigan State advertising + public relations students in Rome, Italy and Cannes, France (for the International Festival of Creativity).

The biggest change this year? Jeff co-led the trip with me, and we brought the kids along. A lot of people have asked how it went and what tips we have for traveling so long with kids, so although I’m by no means an expert and this by no means applies to all of Europe, I’ll share our personal experiences, lessons, and favorite things to do from the five weeks we spend abroad.

I’m including a mix of photos I took on my Nikon z7ii, along with a good mix of photos that I took on the camera that I always had on hand – my trusty iPhone.

Packing for Three Very Different Countries Across Europe with Kids

Since we were traveling across multiple countries by bus and train, it was important to us that we only pack one carry on and one backpack per person. We had washers in Rome and Paris, so we only packed about one week of clothes, and we used BAGSMART Compression Cubes to fit everything neatly into the suitcases. We were even able to fit in a few pool floats for Nice. Since Rome is very hot in the summer, I only packed one sweater (which I wore daily when I got to London). These neck fans also came in handy for keeping our kids happy during the hotter weather.

We also saved space by going light on shoes – I bought the Rothy’s Original Slip On Sneaker (washable) – I wore these on the plane, and my only other shoes were flip-flops for the pool. The shoes are pricey, but I tend to lean toward the idea of “own less clothes, but better quality and built to last.” Arden’s shoes, by comparison, completely fell apart by the end of the trip. We did a lot of walking.

We used luggage locks on our backpack to avoid pickpocketing (others we knew did experience pick-pocking in busier areas of Rome, so be on alert in crowded areas).

Finally, our portable picnic blanket came in handy many times during this trip. It was small enough to throw in any bag, and we were able to enjoy quite a few meals while sitting on it in parks.

Flying Overnight With Kids

As far as I’m aware, there’s really no big secret to making the overnight flight great. I brought my Coop travel pillow (I love this pillow so much that I use it all year round) and an inflatable neck pillow. We had melatonin to help the kids with the time change.

In the end, the kids only got two to three hours of sleep on the plane (someone in our row opened a window blind and let the light in, and it was game over), but we still kept them up for as long as we could the day we arrived so they could shift their bodies to the new timezone. Here’s what they looked like before and after dinner on the day we arrived (A on the left, Z on the right):

Traveling to Rome with Kids

Weather in Rome

Rome gets very hot and crowded in the summer (if you have flexibility, we loved going in the fall when it was cooler and less crowded, or go earlier in May). If you’re renting an apartment and are used to air conditioning, be aware that it’s not necessarily as common in Rome as it is in the U.S. If you want it, make sure you filter for places with AC.

Biking With Kids in Rome

Biking in Rome is not necessarily recommended for those who aren’t comfortable biking with traffic – but if you’re okay with driving on the road with multiple lanes of cars (we came across very few bike lanes during our time in Rome), e-bikes are a great way to get around the city more easily with kids.

Our kids are too old for a stroller and generally too young to walk as much as we wanted to walk, so biking was the perfect solution for us. The e-bikes were necessary, because we were staying in an apartment on a steep hill in Monteverde, and we needed the extra oomph. If you’re staying “in town” where it’s flatter, you could probably get by with a regular bike.

One note on biking – it was recommended that we get a garage space or another secure space to keep our bikes overnight. We ended up renting a few bike spaces in a garage while we were in Rome. Some hotels will have a safe place to store bikes overnight, depending on the size.

We got a flat tire on our last day in Rome because we ran over glass, but we called the rental company, and they came out to fix it within an hour.

Places to Visit/Things to Do with Kids in Rome

Here are a few things we enjoyed visiting while staying in Rome:

  • One thing we loved about Rome was our personal morning ritual of going out as a family to get coffee and croissants. We realized how expensive food in the U.S. can be by comparison – we could usually get a coffee and croissant for less than €2.50 total in and around our neighborhood in Rome (Monteverde/Trastevere).
  • We took a day trip to Pompeii by train (take the train from Rome to Naples, then take the city train to Pompeii).
  • The girls had a surprisingly great time at Castel Sant’Angelo.
  • We climbed all the steps up to the top of the Dome at St. Peter’s Basilica (free for kids – and both kids were easily able to make the full climb).
  • We loved wandering and eating in Trastevere (coloring books made apertivo time and dining more enjoyable). A lot of restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7:30 PM, so we pushed bedtimes later when we made the time change, and the kids often stayed up until 10:30 or 11:00 PM.
  • We explored Lungo il Tevere, a summer festival along the river.
  • There are a lot of nice parks to explore and get away from the crowds.
  • Zel was always on the lookout for cats to take photos of and draw.
  • We ate a lot of gelato, like you do.
  • We generally just loved biking around and exploring things in the book Mission Rome: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure (Travel Guide For Kids).
A sits in a chair on our patio in Rome, Italy
Jeff and the kids in Trastevere, Rose
A enjoys a Nutella cornet in Rome, Italy
The kids play on a playground while visiting Rome, Italy
The kids sit on Ponte Sant'Angelo with the Vatican in the background while visiting Rome, Italy
The kids enjoy pineapple juice during apertivo time in Rome, Italy
Apertivo time in Rome Italy, followed by dinner along the river
The kids eating gelato in Rome, Italy, and Zel enjoying her first pizza while visiting Rome.
Renting a bike for kids in Rome, Italy, and visiting the cat sanctuary
Grocery shopping in Rome, Italy (left) and enjoying pineapple juice and an Aperol Spritz (right)
Jeff walking in Trastevere, Rome with the kids (left) and the kids in a cargo bike in front of the Pantheon (right)
Visiting Pompeii with kids
Visiting Pompeii with kids
Traveling to Pompeii with kids
Visiting cats in Pompeii with kids
The train from Rome to Naples
Biking in Rome with kids
McDonalds in Piazza Navona with kids
Castel Saint Angelo with kids
Climbing to the top of St. Peter's Basilica with kids

St. Peter's Basilica with kids
Apertivo time with kids
Rome with kids
The Spanish Steps with kids
Exploring Rome with kids
Traveling to Rome with kids
Rome with kids - an evening bar lit by string lights (left) and Allie enjoying a cappuccino (right)
Traveling from Rome to Nice, France with kids

Traveling to Nice, France with Kids

Poolside in Nice , France (left) and the Love Nice statue (right)

I found Nice, France to be very kid friendly. They have a huge public park that has mini trampolines, a ton of beautiful wooden play structures (including a life sized blue whale), and a giant splash pad.

We swam at the beach once, but the pool was generally easier for swimming with kids.

We took side trips to Monaco (by train) and Eze (by bus) while Jeff was with the students in Cannes. Eze was my favorite, and Monaco was not a great visit with kids. If you go to Eze, don’t miss Le Jardin Exotique d’Eze (free for kids).

We also splurged on a one hour perfume making workshop at Molinard in Nice that we all enjoyed (minus Jeff, who was with the students in Cannes).

poolside with kids in Nice, France
A windy day looking at the water in Nice, France
Visiting the splash pad in Nice, France with kids
Perfume making class in Nice, France
Le Jardin Exotique d'Eze with kids
Le Jardin Exotique d'Eze with kids
Le Jardin Exotique d'Eze with kids
Eze, France cobblestone streets with kids
Dining in Eze, France with kids
Taking the train from Cannes to Paris, France

Traveling to Paris, France with Kids

The Louve in Paris, France with kids

We took the train from Cannes to Paris and stayed in a VRBO apartment (we specifically found a place with air conditioning, and we were glad to have it when it hit 93 degrees the second day there – it was back to 72 by day three).

We rented another set of bikes – this time a long tail cargo bike for Jeff and kids and a regular bike for me. Paris has done a phenomenal job adding bike lanes to the city, and it was absolutely the best way to get around the city with kids. You’ll see in the photo below that the metro was extremely crowded.

Places to Visit in Paris with Kids

Here are a few things that the kids enjoyed in Paris:

  • We biked along the Seine.
  • We stayed up late to watch the Eifel tower sparkle at 11:00 PM (we kept them up later in general the whole trip when we made the time change – check the times on the days you plan to be there, as they change based on sunset).
  • We took the stairs up to the second tier of the Eifel tower (tickets for the top sold out when we tried to pre-purchase them).
  • We took a bike tour of the grounds at Versailles, which included entry to the palace and gardens. The palace was extremely crowded, but the gardens were breathtaking.
  • We found shade and enjoyed picnics in the parks.
Our apartment in Paris, France

This is how Arden feels about riding the crowded metro ↓ 

A crowded metro car in Paris, France with kids
The Eifel Tower in the background with kids
Riding a long tail cargo bike with kids in front of the Eifel tower in Paris, France.
Riding a long tail cargo bike with kids in Paris, France.
Drinking 0% alcohol by the Eifel Tower in Paris, France
Drinking 0% alcohol by the Eifel Tower in Paris, France
Sacre Coeur in Paris with kids
Visiting the Eiffel Tower with kids
Visiting gardens and picnicking with kids in Paris
Visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France with kids
Visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France with kids
A wears a beret in Paris, France
A bike tour with kids in Versailles, France
A picnic by the lake during a bike tour with kids in Versailles, France
Visiting Versailles, France with kids
The gardens of Versailles, France
Visiting the Palace and Gardens of Versailles, France with kids
Looking down on the hedges in the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, France

London, England with Kids

The Tate Museum with kids (left) and walking the river in London with kids (right)

I’ll admit that this stop was driven in large part by Zel’s desire to visit the Harry Potter Studio tour. She will absolutely tell anyone that this was the highlight of her entire trip. Here are a few of the things we enjoyed:

Big Ben and exploring London with kids
The Harry Potter Studio tour near London
The Harry Potter Studio tour near London
The Harry Potter Studio tour near London - butter beer and the Night Bus
The Harry Potter Studio tour near London, Privet driver, the motorcycle, and the car.
The Harry Potter Studio tour near London - Gringots Bank and Dragon Alley
Diana Memorial Playground and taking the tube to the airport on the last day

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