12 Best Kid-Friendly Destinations
When traveling with toddlers, tweens, and teens, the trick is picking the right destination. Somewhere that offers hands-on activities, inspiring history, and even an animal or two can turn the dreaded “When will we be there” into “Where will we go next?”
While the German capital may not spring to mind as a must-see for families with children, this sprawling metropolis has become one of the best places on the continent to have—and be—a kid. Beyond its vibrant art and food scene (you may find no better breakfast in all of Europe), Berlin offers two things that will not only entertain the young ones, but may bring out the kid in you, too. About half a million Berliners take to their bikes each day, so you'll be in good company on one of Berlin on Bike's rentals. Choose from city, touring, and trekking bikes, all of which come with rear baskets. Even the kids can get a set of wheels, with three sizes of smaller cycles as well as child seats and trailers (reserve in advance) and helmets for all. A free route planner on bbbike.de helps you map paths through the city based on your desired speed, road surface, and the availability of designated bike lanes, of which Berlin has some 400 miles (berlinonbike.de, $13 for 24 hours). And, of course, Berlin has a "zoo story" as well. Built on the site of the 18th-century pheasantry that once supplied fowl to the King of Prussia's royal kitchen, the 168-year-old Zoological Garden was Germany's first zoo and, with 17,727 animals, has one of the most diverse populations in the world. Savvy visitors will want to sync their trips with the feeding times of their favorite animals (pandas at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., penguins at 1:45 p.m.), or splurge on a private, 20-minute visit with a single species, complete with zookeeper Q&A. And be sure to keep an eye out for the zoo's newest arrival, Kathi, a baby hippopotamus born in October (zoo-berlin.de, from $29.50 for a family ticket, private tours an additional $107)
In addition to the excellent ranger-led tours of Independence Hall (where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were adopted), a less serious but equally entertaining adventure awaits visitors. Acquaint yourself with the spirits of America's founding fathers on Philadelphia's Ghost Tour, a 90-minute, candle-lit stroll that winds past landmarks like Independence Hall; the Powel House, which hosted George and Martha Washington's 20th wedding anniversary celebration; and the 238-year-old City Tavern, John Adams's former watering hole. A cape-wearing, lantern-carrying guide points out "haunted" graveyards (St. Peter's Cemetery) and reports sightings of Benjamin Franklin, who's said to roam the city's streets. The best part: All the ghost stories are based on documented accounts, which makes them all the more spooky (ghosttour.com, adults $17, kids 4 and up $8). Once your kids' appetite for real-life thrills is whetted, head over to the world-class science museum, the Franklin Institute, for hands-on activities that teach science in a fun way, including teachng anatomy with a stroll through an oversize human heart (fi.edu, adults $16.50, children $12.50). The Please Touch Museum continues the hands-on theme, with kids learning music at the Rainforest Rhythm exhibit and exploring child-size environments (pleasetouchmuseum.org, $16).
Shiv collections and cramped jail cells don't exactly sound kid-friendly, but they offer a glimpse into Alcatraz, America's most notorious island prison—and the National Park Service is all for bringing younger ones for a visit. Hop a ferry from San Francisco's Pier 33 and stroll the damp, gray halls of the maximum-security pen, which housed criminals like Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly from 1934 to 1963. (You can even get behind bars in one of the cells, if you dare.) Don't miss the audio tour, which was updated in 2007 when former inmates and guards recorded their memories of doing time at "the Rock." If you're feeling brave, take the night tour, which lets you roam the prison after dark. Browse our favorite budget hotels in San Francisco. Alcatraz Cruises is the official carrier for tours to Alcatraz Island (alcatrazcruises.com, adults 12-61 $26; kids 5-11 $16, 4 and under free). In SF's gorgeous Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Science is more like a combo zoo, museum, and classroom, including a planetarium, aquarium, 40,000 live animals, a rainforest exhibit, and natural history exhibits such as dinosaurs and other fossils (calacademy.org, adults $29.95, kids 12-17 $24.95, kids 4-11 $19.95).