Exploring a new place

Sightseeing and Activities – how to plan

sightseeing - mycenae archeological area in greece
Lions gate at Mycenae in Greece

This week we share 13 perspectives from seasoned travel moms suggesting tips on planning daily activities and sightseeing. This is the fourth of our Family Travel Blog Series. If you missed previous posts, check out:

Saving Money on Transportation

Selecting Family Travel Destinations

Choosing accommodations

Follow the links to each of the contributor’s websites for other great travel tips and educational resources!

Our tips from World Wise Kid

Exploring a new travel destination is exciting but can be also be frustrating and exhausting. From our experience, giving yourself lots of time, being prepared and staying flexible are key to creating great memories.

Time. Allow yourself the opportunity to ease into a place, walking around or sitting at a cafe to observe the surroundings and environment, soaking in the sounds, smells, and energy of a place. We find that discovering sights and wildlife on our own is so much more memorable than taking an expensive tour and having someone else show us and tell us about a new place. Often tours go too fast and don’t allow time to just wonder.

Being prepared. We try to do background research as a family before getting to our destination to know about the history, culture, wildlife, language and people. A story helps the kids connect to sights. Maps are fantastic visuals.

Be flexible and forgiving. Most important is balancing the kids’ and adults’ needs. Check in with everyone and learn how to compromise. Don’t be too attached to an idea of what the experience should be. You might not have time to see it all but you have an introduction to the place and can plan to return someday!

costa rica landscape - include time to ponder in your travel plans
Make sure to allow time to wonder at the landscape and sights.
(Photo credit Dandelion Seeds)

Regina at Fulltime Field Trip

Sometimes we plan our whole vacation based on the things we want to see and the activities we want to do. Our bucket list just keeps growing. I believe every place has a great story and there is usually something for all ages. Here are my five most practical tips for sightseeing.

Balance must-see spots that require a ticket purchase with free things to do.

Be prepared in case you’re out longer than you plan. For us, this means snacks and refillable water bottles. It might be extra diapers or cash for the next family. When you’re in the moment or the commute takes twice as long as planned, be prepared.

Download the app Field Trip and find things to do everywhere.

Break up into two groups. One parent with the older kids, the other with the younger kids. Or some other way to divide that suits your family. This works great at theme parks.

acropolis, athens - family travel sightseeing
Hit popular sights early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

Workaround the busy times. Don’t plan to use public transportation during rush hour. Do take advantage of evening or extended hours for sights. Don’t visit at the busiest time of the year. Do go to things early at the opening time when you’re more apt to see the things most important to you. Always look for crowd calendar type apps and sites to stay informed.

Kirsty at World for a Girl

Travelling with babies, toddlers and young children means very slow travel for us. Sight-seeing is spread out and copious amounts of time are spent in play parks and soft plays around the world. We try to factor in outdoor activities every day whether it’s beach time or a short hike. Making sure that the children get plenty of time to run around, be wild and have fun is an absolute priority.

When it comes to family-friendly cultural experiences, it’s all about ancient ruins and history museums for us. Visiting ancient ruins with toddlers might sound nightmarish but we love it. From the Acropolis in Athens with a baby to visiting the temples in Bagan, Myanmar with kids we’ve had nothing but amazing experiences visiting historic ruins. When they were younger, we carried the kids around sites in baby slings but now they run around pretending to be explorers.

sightseeing - archeological sights - theater in athens, greece
Exploring archeological sights allow kids freedom of movement, nature and outdoor exploration and a history lesson all in one place. (Theater of Dionysus, Athens)

Likewise, the children really enjoy history museums too. We’ve had the pleasure of visiting some amazingly child-friendly museums worldwide. For example, visiting South Korea with kids, we found that almost every museum has a superb interactive children’s museum attached. A brilliant way of combining sightseeing with play.

Yamy at Go Fam Go

Fear of Missing Out or FOMO is real. It’s a common mistake to condense everything into how long the trip is. You’re already there, might as well do it, right?

Try to not be tempted to overachieve. Enjoy and relax. Don’t drive yourself nuts as I did when we went to Walt Disney World for the first time. Have time for rest and cool spots. Otherwise, it would just feel like you are running appointment after appointment between every hot spot.

Doing nothing should be in your itinerary. Take this time to rehydrate, rest your aching feet from walking, or talk to your family and reflect on what you just saw and experience.

Kris at Gadsventure

You have to be incredibly organised when planning your itinerary, especially when you are on a short trip, and when you have a bunch of kids of different ages! A recent example for us was when we went to Tokyo, for 5 nights, with 4 kids. Tokyo is such an incredible place to visit, but there is just sooooo much to see and do!

We had to consider the weather, it was freezing cold. We were really there for snowboarding in the alps which made Tokyo around 5ºC during the day.Our boys are into anime and computer games and our daughter loves animals. The baby was easygoing luckily!

So we made a list, and we prioritised. Unfortunately Tokyo Disney was not an option for us thanks to the cold weather. We didn’t fancy queueing for ages in a light Siberian breeze. But we made sure that every person had something that really appealed to them. Miss 5 got to go to a Hedghog Cafe, Mr 7 loved the robots at the Miraikan Museum and the giant Gundam Statue, while Mr 9 especially loved all the gadgets at Akihabara Electric Town. Then there was Karaoke Kan, Segaworld VR, a Maid Cafe, Kiddyland Toystore, Takeshita Street, and so much more!

Being fitting as a samuari in Tokyo while waiting for a flight.

Shannan at Captivating Compass

E=MC2
Excitement = Museums X Coffee 2 – That was our travel formula before we had teenagers. It was perfect for our little crew. It’s my number one sightseeing and activity planning tip. We’d take in a museum in the morning when we were fresh, stop for a spot of lunch near somewhere that had a place to let the kids get rid of some energy while the parents grabbed a coffee (double shot, of course). Then, it was onto the next exciting activity.

Free time to just run!

We found that our kids regularly needed time to just play – at a park, in the water, along a hiking path or out in a grassy field. Museums are fantastic! Art, history, and science are all incredibly inspiring but don’t forget to sprinkle in a bit of free play to let their little brains organize and process all that information. Now that we have teenagers, we still follow this sightseeing and activity formula. It’s worked for so many years, it’s now a comforting routine for all of us.

Nikki at Yorkshire Wonders

If you are looking to make the most out of sightseeing then what we do is make a list of all the things we want to do at a particular destination. Then we each vote on our favourites until we have a shortlist. Then we either do all the things, if times allows, or we choose the top three or five attractions that got the most family votes and do them. If you are visiting a city like London, also take into consideration how close attractions are to each other and plan your route ahead of time. 

Annette at Tips from a Typical Mom

I start by finding the website for the destination we are going to and seeing what the locals recommend. We plan our itinerary around these activities starting with the most active activity since the kids have been sitting in a car or airplane for so long.

Next, we look for deals online from websites like Groupon. There is even sometimes a “City Pass” type of card that you can purchase for each family member that gets you into the most popular places. Take your time and I’m sure you can find some great deals to maximize your time spent there.

Melissa at Disabled Disney

What do you do while on vacation? That’s where sightseeing and activities comes in! When you’re travelling you want to see and experience everything. That can end up wearing you out. We make a list of priorities that are important that we get to experience. Everyone gets to pick 1 thing that is we absolutely have to do. That way everyone gets a say in how the vacation goes.

We also look at accessibility for my wheelchair. I normally Google the location to see what is interesting around the destination and also look for tours. Another thing that we do is take a “day off” day where nothing is planned so we can rest. If you don’t get to everything you want to do just go back!

Tiffany at Mommy and Me Travels

The first thing I’m going to tell you to do is, breath and relax. You are not going to get to see and do everything in a new country or city if you are on a 1, or even 2, week vacation with kids. This does not mean that you can’t make the most of your trip and still get the cultural or relaxing vacation of your dreams. Traveling with young children just means that you have to be creative in your strategy for sightseeing. I’m sharing my top 3 lessons I’ve learned over the last several years traveling with small children.

1) Be flexible. Traveling with a baby/toddler means a lot of unplanned activities and stops. It’s nice to sit and enjoy the scenery, smell the roses, or chase a bird ;). Welcome these breaks instead of worrying about staying on a schedule.
2) Include fun kid activities. Most museums and architectural places will not keep a kids attention for very long. Plan fun things to do in-between the museum and old church, even if it is just a short stop at the local playground so that they can burn some energy.
3) Invest in a great umbrella stroller. European attractions and activities (like taking a metro) are usually much more compact than we are accustomed to in the USA.

Sarah at State by State

For me, planning what to see and do at our next destination is the best part of travel planning, but can possibly be the most difficult part as well. Every destination we have traveled to always has so many amazing things to see and do that it is impossible to fit everything in. So then, how do we pick and choose between all the many options?

Well, being that we are very budget conscious, we try to participate in family-friendly, inexpensive activities that we all will enjoy. This often includes hiking and playgrounds, but can also be visiting museums and historical sites too. Having an ASTC membership has saved us tons of money and allowed us to visit some incredible museums across the country, for free. If you don’t have one of these ASTC memberships, but you enjoy visiting museums when you travel, I highly recommend getting one.

playground
Playgrounds are a great way to balance out sightseeing.
Photo credit Captivating Compass.

Sometimes, the kids are happy just to walk around town, other times they may need a little more entertainment. We are always on the lookout for a great value. For me this translates to, are we getting a good amount of entertainment, education, or fun, for the price? By waiting until October to visit San Diego for instance, we were able to save a ton of money because kids go free the whole month. So instead of just being able to buy tickets to Legoland, we were able to visit several attractions.

Shannon at Grab My Passport

Now that we’re traveling with kids in tow, planning activities is so much different than when it was just the two of us. We’ve got to ensure that there will be things to keep our four-year-old entertained, as well as ourselves. And, it must be baby-friendly, too! Here are our top three tips:

TripAdvisor: We usually start by seeing what TripAdvisor has to say. We’ll read through user comments for additional tips and “can’t miss” ideas.

Family Travel Blogs: Obviously! We’ll do a good old fashioned Google search for “things to do in [+ city].” We’ll comb through family travel blogs for the best family-focused activities and tips, as well as “travel hacks” for traveling with younger kiddos.

Discount Deal Sites: We’re always checking sites like Groupon or Living Social for deals in the local area. You can find everything on these sites, from discounted shows, activities, restaurants, hotels, and more!

Once we’ve narrowed down our wish list, we plan out each day, leaving room for relaxing, snack times, and free time to just play around. We try to plan out restaurants too, to make sure we won’t need reservations and that they are kid-friendly!

Sarah at Dandelion Seeds

My best advice is to incorporate some memorable, fun, and unusual-for-you modes of transportation into your sightseeing activities. Preview the area you’re visiting online, including mapping distances, then decide who in your family can walk, light rail, bike, or tuk-tuk to whatever sights you’re prioritizing. If your kiddos are little, they might get a thrill from an open-air bus tour, and you’ll see places where you want to return and spend more time. The internet is great, but there’s just no way to replace getting the lay of the land with your own eyes.

Millenium bridge London- Sightseeing with kids
Allow time to connect with the wildlife while going place to place.
Photo credit: Yorkshire Wonders.

One of my favorite vacation activities of all time was a horseback ride through the rainforest of Costa Rica, surrounded by howler monkeys, before swimming in a waterfall-fed pond. Getting there was (more than) half the fun. Make the journey part of your sightseeing adventure!

Next week’s family travel blog topic: Packing Tips.


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