If you’ve ever been checked into a hotel by a sour-looking front-desk clerk warily eyeing your children’s grubby little fingers as they touch everything, you know that traveling with kids is complicated. You encounter hotels that won’t accommodate them, restaurants that don’t want them. People on airplanes expect goodie bags just for breathing the same air as kids do.
As parents of three, my husband and I want to see the world and take our fairly well-behaved children with us. Too often the world doesn’t want to see us. But on a recent visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, with my two eldest children, ages 9 and 6, I found the rare city ideally designed for family travel.
I had long wanted to show my children Edinburgh, with its castles and kilts, but was worried it wouldn’t be kid-friendly. Scotland has a fast declining birth rate, and Edinburgh’s is the lowest in the whole country. In a city of few children, I worried mine wouldn’t feel welcomed.
Then, too, I had lived in the north of Scotland twice during college, and Edinburgh was the party city, where you went to have a really good time. My memories — or lack thereof — made me wonder if the city was for kids at all. But it was. I had a pint with friends at the pub, like in the old days, while my kids played with their kids and drank the Scottish soda Irn Bru.
We make it a point to travel with our children. Some or all of them have been to Rome, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid and many smaller cities. No city has been quite as welcoming to families as Edinburgh.
“Family-friendly” has become code for child-centric, leaving adults out of the equation. Google “family entertainment,” and you’ll find arcades and game rooms. But few adults will be entertained by Skee-ball for long. Similarly, plenty of places treat kids like a bug problem in need of spraying. I think of one beach-side restaurant in Catalonia, Spain, which refused to alter a single dish or even produce plain rice for kids.
Edinburgh hits the right balance of fun for both adults and kids.
Start with the hotel situation. Often, just entering kids on a hotel reservation causes the price to spike or the hotel to become unavailable.
We had to stay near the airport in Lisbon one year, because no city-center hotel had ever encountered a family with three whole kids before.
But in Edinburgh, our room, overlooking the castle, came supplied with adorable child-sized bathrobes and slippers, and the kids got a little tartan-clad bear on their pillow one night.
Another difficulty of traveling in Europe with children is that single beds are somehow still a thing in the continent’s hotels. For Americans used to two queen beds in an average hotel room, it’s a challenge. But again, our hotel in Edinburgh added a third single bed at no cost.
Another plus for families: Edinburgh has large black taxis that can fit up to 6 people.
Every restaurant and pub we visited in the Scottish capital instantly provided activity books for the kids, and all had dedicated children’s menus.
When friends booked an Italian restaurant, I groaned, since everyone knows the best Italian food outside of Italy is in New York. But not only did La Piazza serve me a perfectly al dente pistachio and shrimp pasta dish that I have yet to stop thinking about, but its children’s menu also was extensive and affordable.
A highlight of our trip was visiting Michelin guide Bib Gourmand restaurant The Scran & Scallie, owned by two of the hottest chefs in Scotland, Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack. While I tore into a mouth-watering steak pie with bone marrow and a hot buttered bourbon cocktail, my kids played in a playroom before tucking into their own child-friendly dishes. Not even my own super kid-friendly part of Brooklyn had managed fine dining alongside a children’s play area.
Children inevitably slow down a lot of grown-up fun, but traveling as a family shouldn’t mean that the kids are slumped and bored while the grown-ups live it up, or vice versa.
Family travel should be enjoyable for all of the family. Other cities should follow Edinburgh’s example.
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