8 tips for making the most of any European fest with kids
Our boys were four and almost two when we eagerly made our way across the German border and into France to attend our first European festival. Having spent a good portion of his childhood at overseas military installations as an Air Force brat, my husband used most of the drive to reminisce about the many magical fest experiences he’d had as a child. Needless to say, I had high expectations. I could not wait to see the sights, immerse myself in the whimsical atmosphere, and taste succulent slices of roasted pig straight from the spit … just as he’d described in great detail.
While our first fest experience as a family was magical in many ways, there were plenty of tears and moments of frustration, as well. It would be dishonest of me to say there was not a cloud of disenchantment hanging over our heads at the end of the day. It’s true, exploring Europe with little ones is an entirely different adventure than it is for singles and couples who set off to explore the continent with nothing but a pocketful of euros, a backpack and an air of spontaneity to keep them going. It requires a good deal of planning, patience and preparation, but … it is all well worth it.
From our many festival experiences, we’ve learned a handful of things the hard way. We’ve also found it gets a little easier every time we go somewhere new. Here are a few of the tips and tricks that can help you make the most of any European fest with kids in tow.
1. If possible, leave the stroller at home.
Attempting to navigate a stroller over narrow, uneven cobblestone streets jam-packed with fest-goers can be awkward and frustrating at best. Invest in a good-quality baby carrier for a more enjoyable experience for everyone — your little one will stay safe, comfortable and warm snuggled up to your chest, and your hands will be free to hold a steamy cup of Glühwein and admire the trinkets and handicrafts that catch your eye.
2. Go early.
Festivals tend to get more and more crowded and rambunctious as the day progresses. To keep your family from getting too overwhelmed, head out in the morning to enjoy the sights, sounds and street fare before the evening masses arrive.
3. Bring snacks, naptime necessities and a favorite toy.
Hunger mixed with a dash of boredom and exhaustion is a recipe for disaster for young children. To avoid an epic meltdown, pack plenty of munchies — like fresh fruit and crackers, — for them to nibble on just in case the food lines are long, water or juice boxes to keep them hydrated, a blanket or lovey to soothe them when they get sleepy, and a cherished plaything or two to keep them occupied when their interest begins to wane.
4. Consider staying in the area overnight.
If you’re attending a fest more than an hour or two away, book an inexpensive room at a nearby hotel ahead of time (Booking.com is my go-to website for great deals), so you don’t have to worry about rushing through the day to get home before the kids’ bedtime. This will allow you to enjoy the festivities at your own pace, plus you’ll have a comfortable, quiet place for younger ones to retreat to for naptime during the day.
5. Dress your kids in clothing that stands out.
Although it may sound a bit quirky, bright colors, matching outfits and funny hats — the more elaborate and silly the better — can help you to quickly pick your little ones out of the crowd in the event that you get separated. When my mother-in-law was stationed in Europe in the late 80’s and early 90’s, she remembers making my husband and sisters-in-law wear large reindeer antlers to Christmas markets so she could spot them easily if they strayed too far for comfort.
6. Know where the potties and playgrounds are.
As soon as you arrive, sweep the area like Jason Bourne to locate the bathrooms and parks nearest you. You never know when you might need to make a quick escape with a potty-training toddler or fussy baby.
7. Go with friends.
Friends make everything better. The kids can entertain one another while the grown ups enjoy soaking up the sights, flavors and beauty of another European city. Life-long friendships are forged in moments like these.
8. Prepare for unexpected weather.
The weather conditions and temperatures in Europe often fluctuate drastically throughout the day, depending on the level of cloud cover. Dress in layers, bring an umbrella or poncho and keep extra pair of shoes for the kiddos in the car, just in case you run into a surprise rain or snow shower.
Be sure to check out part two of this series and more tips for making the most of any European fest with kids!