Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families in Edinburgh

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghOur trip to Edinburgh was one of those trips that came out of a dangerous practice.. browsing the easyJet website. For someone in my position of penny-pinching wanderer, such behaviors are, or (ahem) should be, strictly forbidden.

Four fifty-euro-return tickets and one infant fee later, I was left with a mountain of research and a challenge: have as much fun as is parentally possible with three boys under the age of six, in unpredictable-but-always-bone-chilling Scottish November weather, while spending, well.. next to nothing.

Lucky for traveling families, Edinburgh suffers no shortage of delightful diversions for the youthful crowd. Unlucky for cheapskates and parents of littles, most of them are expensive (if you’ve got the bucks, check this place out) or designed for older children (if you’ve got the nerves, creep yourselves out here).

But, have no fear. You know I’ll always share with you all the fun that can be had for little more than a song. Check out these inexpensive, fun things for families to do in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle

You can’t visit Edinburgh and not do the castle. You must. I know, it’s expensive, and I just broke one of the rules of this post. But, just go. I promise the rest of the list isn’t this pricey.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Awful fog at the castle.

We must have used up all our good weather luck the day before when climbing Arthur’s Seat. The fog might as well have been a hearty potato soup drowning out any hopes we had for a fantastic view from the castle. But, at least there’s no shortage of things to see within the castle grounds.

Our favorite sites were the National War Museum of Scotland, the prisoner of war barracks, and the crown jewels (naturally).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

National War Museum of Scotland. Lots of guns. Great for boys.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Getting our hands on the crown jewels.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Rations for prisoners of war.. except Americans who received less since they were officially “pirates.”

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Prisoner barracks.


  • Try to time your visit to see the one o’clock gun fire. We missed it because we visited in the morning and needed to grab some lunch before the appointed hour. Note that castle tickets are single entry.
  • Ask for the kid’s quiz at the audio tour desk. It’s more for the 8+ crowd, but we still enjoyed trying to answer some of the questions.
  • You can join free guided tours. We caught snippets of a few of them, and the guides were informative and interesting (maybe you really can have it all). But, they’re not easy to do with kids who aren’t accustomed to tours, so pick up an audio guide if that’s more your speed.
  • The castle is mostly pram-friendly (though I wouldn’t take an umbrella stroller on the steep slopes and cobblestones). The only place that might be a problem is the room with the crown jewels. However, I did notice some kind of secret elevator for wheelchair access which might be possible for pram pushers as well.

Cost: See current ticket prices here.

National Museum of Scotland

You don’t see me recommending museums very often here at Thrifty Travel Mama, but The National Museum of Scotland gets my full endorsement.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

I found our new family car!

Not only is it free, but it is PACKED with hands-on activities for kids. Our boys thoroughly enjoyed the Formula 1 simulator, donning scuba gear, and marveling at all the exotic animal exhibits.

And.. the gift shop is actually filled with educational trinkets you might actually want to buy at prices that you can actually afford. And.. the toilets are free and clean. And.. if you’re lucky, the rooftop terrace will be open and you’ll get another great view of Edinburgh. And.. well, you get the idea. This place rocks.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

In the Connect area, kids can actually sit in a car and drive via a simulator.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghTips

Save the museum for a rainy day. One could spend anywhere from thirty minutes to four hours here. We thought the best areas for kids were Connect, Earth in Space, and Animal World (1st floor), and Adventure Planet (5th floor). But, those are just the highlights – try to explore all the floors!

Cost: Free (suggested donation). Current info here.

Portobello Beach

The beach in November? Okay, no one went for a dip, but the boys ran in the sand, went bananas on the playgrounds along the boardwalk, and indulged in ice cream.

On a tip from my friend Katie, we skipped lunch and instead had a sort of tea at the Beach House which serves a stellar salted caramel ice cream and a mean carrot cake.

The weather here seemed to be on some sort of time loop slide show: sun, rain, clouds, repeat. So even if you have a crap weather forecast, it’s probably still worth a visit.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghThrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghThrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in EdinburghThrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh


Portobello Beach is a modest bus ride from the east side of town (about 20 minutes from Meadowbank where we stayed). After devouring your ice cream cones, take a gander at the cute stores and thrift shops along the main street.

Cost: Free, plus bus fare and pocket money for ice cream.

Scottish Parliament

Truthfully, I hesitate to recommend this total insider tip that I received from a friend for fear that this wonderful service will be abused. If you do patronize the Parliament, please don’t take advantage.

The Scottish Parliament operates a crèche (day care center) that is open to the public.. and it’s FREE. You can’t leave the building, but you can drop your children off and go have tea in the cafe without your kids, explore the exhibits in the atrium without your kids, tour the Parliament without your kids, and browse the gift shop without your kids.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

I was a little nervous dropping off my kids with total strangers in a foreign country, but the friendly staff in the crèche put everyone at ease (as did the metal detectors and strict security measures). My boys LOVED playing here, and they were sad to leave when at last it was closing time.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

We visited near the end of the day, so all parliamentary business had finished and we could view the debating hall (oooo!). If government and politics are your thing, book a free tour and crèche space in advance.


According to the Parliament visitor’s website:

  • The Crèche is registered to provide care for children between the ages of six weeks and 5 years.
  • Spaces can be booked up to 2 weeks in advance Bookings can be made by email (, by telephone on extension 86192 or in person by reporting to the Crèche Office.
  • Maximum single stay in the Crèche is 4hrs per day.
  • Visitors to the Parliament may use the Crèche free of charge.
  • Snacks are provided but parents/carers should provide lunch for children if stay is over lunchtime period or if child has any special dietary requirements. It should be noted however, that there are no facilities available to cook or reheat food. Bottle warmers are available to allow feeding of younger children and a baby changing/feeding room is situated adjacent to the Crèche.

Cost: Free. More info here.

Close Gardens

Old town Edinburgh is filled with secrets of every kind. Some of the more innocent are the close gardens, small patches of green hidden away from the main traffic artery known as Canongate (and further up, the Royal Mile).Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh

Pop into small alleys, and see how many gardens you and the kids can find! The gardens make great picnic spots when the weather’s dry.


Dungar’s Close Garden was our favorite, but it took us several tries to locate. Keep searching!

Cost: Free.

The Royal Mile

Starting from the Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament, walk along the Royal Mile up to Edinburgh Castle. Ignore the cheesy kilt & shortbread shops; instead, enjoy the architectural gems that are wedged together block after block.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families with Kids in Edinburgh


None. Just explore!

Cost: Free, unless one of your party succumbs to overpriced kilt or shortbread madness.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

I must say I’m rather disappointed we did not visit the Royal Botanic Garden. Several expat friends mentioned their kids loved romping around this conservatory cornucopia. But, we never managed to make it to the northwest side of town.

If you do go, note that you can explore the gardens for free, but the glasshouses are worth the price of adult admission (kids 15 and under are free).


Getting to the gardens by bus is very easy. Click here for info on how to reach the gardens.

Cost: Entrance to the gardens is free. Current admission prices for the glasshouses and more visitor info here.

Greyfriars Bobby

I found the little pup rather underwhelming, but if sappy legends are your thing, don’t miss a chance to snap a cheesy photo with the stone terrier near the National Museum of Scotland.


Take a break from the hubbub of the city streets in the monument-studded Greyfriars Kirkyard behind the statue. Skip the over-priced awful tourist food at the pub of the same name.

Cost: Free. More info here.

Museum of Childhood

Another free museum in Edinburgh! We plumb ran out of time for this one, so I can’t personally give you any juicy tips for your visit.


I’ve seen mixed reviews on TripAdvisor. Pop in if you have time and are already in the area.

Cost: Free. More info here.

Also, if you missed my posts on Calton Hill, Dunsapie Loch, Arthur’s Seat, and Rosslyn Chapel, be sure to add those to your list of fabulous fun to have with the family in Edinburgh.

Have your own list of kid-friendly budget attractions in Edinburgh? Add a link in the comments below!

What’s your favorite place from the list above where you’ve already been or would like to go with your kids? Signature-Marigold

Ketchup: The Past Four Months + the Future in 1000 Words (or More)

Practicing our Spiderman skills in Croatia

Practicing our Spiderman skills in Croatia

So now that I’m back in the saddle, I thought I’d try to close the distance between where I left you and where we are now.

I’d like (you) to think I’ve been nothing but a good student for the past four months, but I’m a terrible liar. While it’s true I always did my best to complete my homework, it’s equally as true that I played hookey a good bit during my studies. In between the worksheets and flashcards, our little family has had plenty of adventures near and far, both exceptional and everyday.

Ready for the recap?

In no particular order..

Multicoolty, a blog that compiles stories about expats living in Germany, featured me in May, though I wrote my thoughts way back in January. Check out what I had to say and a silly old picture I dug up from our first trip to Berlin here.


Köln (Cologne)

My husband gave me a fantastic birthday gift this year – two days alone (ALONE!!) in Köln (Cologne). This was before language lessons had started, so it was a blissful quiet time to do whatever I fancied whenever I pleased.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Keukenhof Gardens with Kids

The biggest boy exploring the tulips with me at Keukenhof in the Netherlands.

To ease my disappointment over last year’s pathetic lack of tulips at Keukenhof in the Netherlands, I took my oldest son on a quick trip for a better look. We took the overnight train up to Amsterdam, bussed over to Keukenhof to gawk at the fields of tulips, made our way back to Amsterdam, scarfed down a pancake dinner, and caught the night train back home. Whew! And yes, it was actually fun, and yes, he was a champ on the overnight trains. I would definitely do it again!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro

Flying away in Zadar, Croatia.

Several days after our up-and-back Netherlands trip, the five of us flew to Croatia for ten days. During our trip, we stayed in Zadar, Dubrovnik, and Split. We also drove through a bit of Bosnia and took a day trip to Montenegro. One of the most fun moments of the trip was meeting SJ of Chasing the Donkey and her family!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Mexican Food in Germany

The taco truck!

While we didn’t find any Mexican food in Croatia (and opted out of another fantastic dinner at Los Pilones in Amsterdam in favor of a pancake feast), we have been going gangbusters at the Holy Taco Shack taco truck. We took our American-expat-in-Luxembourg friends there a few weeks ago. They’re just as salsa-crazed as we are, and they gave the burritos two thumbs up. Now, if I could just get the taco truck to deliver…

Thrifty Travel Mama | potty trainingThis little champ has kicked daytime diapers and now only uses a nappy at night and during his nap. We did the same thing with all three boys – an awful, torturous, bodily-fluid-soaked potty training boot camp for a weekend followed by the shock and awe of daytime dryness.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Picking Strawberries in Germany with KidsStrawberry season came earlier this year, and we hit the fields several times. We made many of our favorite recipes from last year including strawberry fruit leather, strawberry syrup, and strawberry shortcakes.

Those strawberry shortcakes were made with coconut cream for me as I went dairy-free at the beginning of the year and have kept it up except for a four-week break while we traveled to Croatia. P.s. – I miss cheese and there is NO substitute that even comes close..

Thrifty Travel Mama | Losing TeethOur oldest little adventurer has lost enough teeth to officially apply for Jack-o-Lantern status, and the tooth fairy is flat broke. This photo is a few months old. He’s now missing three teeth on top, and two on the bottom!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Riding a LaufradThe youngest learned to ride a bike without pedals (Laufrad). And now we are losing sleep over his daredevil ways that now are ON WHEELS. Yikes.

Can you guess why we called it the poo hike?

Can you guess why we called it the poo hike?

As soon as the thermometer sailed over the 12C mark, we flexed our hiking muscles. In between our travels, we’ve been able to do a handful of hikes, including one we affectionately call the poo hike and one insane 15km trek with four kids and nearly no complaining. Kilimanjaro, here we come!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking in the Alps with kids

Back in the Alps!

And, speaking of hiking, we (okay, mainly me) became obsessed with the Alps after our excursion to Schilthorn last summer. Last weekend, we took our first summer hike near Engelberg, and we’ve got more ideas for Swiss outings than there are Saturdays before the snow falls again.

Due to an insane amount of planning and the wonderful generosity of friends, I managed a week of solo parenting (single parents, I know this is wimpy – hats off to you!) while my husband went off to Milan for a conference.. and to look for a new job.


The last point brings me to a big change coming for our family…

We have decided that Doc Sci won’t be renewing his employment contract here in Germany when it ends later this year. Professionally, he needs to move on; unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to do that where we currently live.

Where will we end up? Only God knows, but most likely, we’ll move back in the US, though we may consider something in Europe if the circumstances are right. This is a decision we have wrestled with for months. We love so many things about living in Europe; it will not be easy to leave our life here behind. But, ultimately, we both know our days in this city are numbered. Sigh.

And, if you will forgive me for throwing one.more.thing your way, I’ve decided to change the boys’ nicknames here. When I started this blog, I never dreamed that anyone would read it, let alone the hundreds that do. I also never thought I’d be writing for nearly four years. In that time, the boys have painfully outgrown their silly pseudonyms.

This also may be a good time to explain why I use nicknames. Yes, there’s the usual safety concerns, but really, it’s a matter of respect for me. My kids aren’t old enough to know that I write about our life on the internet (heck, they don’t even know what the internet is). As such, they have no say in the things I post.

When they are older, they may not wish to have their faces and names plastered all over this space for public viewing. So, until the day when we can have a conversation about their wishes, I’ll respect the option of anonymity by using nicknames.

But then, there’s the matter of what to call them. I thought Small, Medium, and Large was good enough for me, basic… but boring. I tried it in German, but I just can’t call my kid Gross (large).

I’m still keeping it simple, but I’m steering in the ABC direction. The boys will now go by the first three letters of the Pilot’s Alphabet that is commonly used in the travel industry – Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Plus, these names are actually spot on when it comes to their personalities, Creepy!

I’m seriously over my 1,000 word target, and that’s about all the changes and updates I can handle. If you have a blog, post a link (or three) below with exciting news, fantastic trips, handy DIYs, or winning lotto numbers. I’ve love to catch up with you, too!

Now, tell me, which of our adventures above would you like to read about first?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama


Delightful (Cheap) Diversions for Kids in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in ParisParis is an adult city in many ways. I know plenty of children live and play there, but even the youngest French citizens just seem so civilized and classy. Maybe it’s all the berets and trench coats, expensive cafes and brasseries, world-class art museums and fancy chocolatiers. But when I think of Paris, kid-friendly is about the last thing that comes to mind.

However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t travel with tots to the City of Light. You can – and should – take your children to Paris.. for the art as well as the chocolate. Just watch your wallets, and check out these inexpensive, fun things for kids to do in Paris.

The Madeline Tour

Do your kids know and love Madeline? If not, get them hooked ASAP. You might think the smallest of the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” is of no concern to boys. But mine really enjoy the story (maybe it’s the scar on her stomach?).

We pulled out the book a few weeks before our trip and read it occasionally. I made sure to pack it in my backpack so we could whip it out in front of the famous landmarks and compare the illustrations to actual places.

This turned out to be an excellent way to keep the boys interested and give them a reason why their four and six year-old selves should be interested in things like opera houses.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Examining the Garnier Opera House in the book and real life.


This website gives great information about where to find the locations illustrated in the book. However, it’s not comprehensive so you’ll need to do a bit of detective work yourself to figure out the other locations (hint: the Sacré Cœur isn’t listed on that site). See this thread in the TripAdvisor forums for comments on the location of Madeline’s house.

Cost: The DIY tour is free, but you’ll need to pay for transport to get yourself to the various sites.


Carousels are practically a Paris institution. They can be found all over the city, and children of all ages will love whizzing around on fairy-tale horses and grungy motorcycles.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

The carousel at Montmarte.


The merry-go-rounds are scattered all over the city. Click here for a list of the six most beautiful and here for a more detailed list.

Cost: During the month of December, many of the carousels around Paris are FREE! However, we found that not all carousels were gratis; only the ones with signs stating so. Otherwise, the best value we found was 10 euros for 6 tickets (nontransferable to other carousel locations, sorry).

Auto Showrooms

The Champs Elysées may be one of the most expensive and fashionable shopping streets in Paris, but you might be surprised to learn the boulevard offers something for the young and young at heart… auto showrooms.

Car manufacturers such as Peugeot, Citroën, BMW, Toyota, and Fiat compete to have the most elaborate display of their innovative models. The best part for little boys? Some showrooms allow customers to actually sit in the cars. My boys went nuts when they got to sit in a “real racecar” at Peugeot.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Kids going for a test drive. This car is a bit above their pay grade, no?


Click here for a manly take on some of the showrooms, and here for another post with loads of photos.

Cost: Free.


This is kind of a no-brainer for us. We always visit local playgrounds wherever we go. Paris has some lovely parks and play equipment, but the locations are not as plentiful in the city center as you might think. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a notable exception (for the location, not for the amazing playground) as is Luxembourg Gardens which deserves its own section below.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

A small playground can be found here, behind the Notre Dame and just to the right.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

A few other playthings are located along the south side.


A few Paris playground locations to add to your Google map:

  • Champ de Mars. Big toys are located at the non-river end of the park (with your back to the tower, it’s to the right). Pony rides, puppet shows, and go-carts are in the center of the park.
  • Parc des Buttes Chaumont. More wild and natural than your average play place.
  • Place des Vosges
  • Parc de La Villette
  • Monceau Park

Also, Lulaville has a gigantic list of Paris playgrounds that you can find here.

Cost: The playgrounds listed above are free. However, attractions such as pony rides and puppet shows cost extra.

Luxembourg Gardens

Another Madeline location, this is THE top park recommended for kids in Paris. Adults will love the peaceful atmosphere and the gorgeous fountains, statues, and monuments. Parents will appreciate the fenced-in playground for big and small kids (note the cost, below) and the bathrooms complete with changing tables and kiddie potties.

Kids will be thrilled to watch the marionette puppet show which comes highly recommended even if you don’t speak French as well as riding the park’s classic carousel and floating boats in the pond.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

An hour too late to visit the Luxembourg Gardens. Doh!


Lucky Little Travelers gives a great write-up of the park here. If you visit in winter, keep in mind the park closes quite early in the afternoon.

Cost: The Luxembourg Gardens are free, but an admission charge applies to the kids playground, carousel, and the puppet show.

The Centre Pompidou

If you’ve flipped through photos of Paris, you’ve most likely seen the Pompidou Center, a funky building that was designed to literally be built inside out. It houses modern art that adults can (hopefully) appreciate as well as interactive exhibits just for kids.


Petit Paris offers an excellent guide to visiting the Pompidou Center with kids including a breakdown of what’s interesting for each age group.

Cost: Check the center’s website for current admission prices. If you’re on a strict budget, you can pay the nominal fee to ride the escalators to the roof for a lovely view of Paris. Or, just enjoy the vibrant atmosphere in front of the museum.

Boat Tour

Given the success of our boat tour in Brugge, I knew my boys would have loved to see Paris from the Seine. However, we plum ran out of time. I’ve already got it down on our wish list for the next visit.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Boat Tours leave from here on the Île de la Cité.


Several companies run Seine boat tours. Vedettes du Pont-Neuf seemed to be the most reasonable, offering both day and night cruises.

Cost: Prices are rather steep for walk-ups. Visit their website in advance to book decently discounted tickets for adults and children.

Love Locks

I know that love locks are a “thing” in various locations all over the world. Sheesh, there’s even a bridge practically in my own back yard that’s piled high with padlocks. But seeing as Paris is the quintessential city of love, you really should make a stop and look at the gobs of metal declaring eternal L-O-V-E.

My boys are intrigued by the concept, but they don’t quite get it. T-Rex wanted to dive to the bottom of the river to find all the keys and open all the locks. I couldn’t explain to him the sheer futility involved in that (but maybe this episode of The Amazing Race would help).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Pont des Arts in the quiet of the morning.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris


Visit the Pont des Arts in the early morning to have the place to yourselves. If you want to attach your own steely statement, purchase one in advance. I’ve heard vendors hawking locks can be found at the bridge, but I didn’t see any.

Cost: Free – plus the price of a lock if you so desire.

Ice Skating

At the beginning of the Christmas season, the city of Paris sets up several ice rinks for residents and visitors to enjoy. The most well-known location is in front of the Place de l’Hôtel de ville.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

T-Rex learning to ice skate.. all he wanted to do was learn tricks like the hot shot hockey players swishing around. Actually ice skating wasn’t on his agenda.


Popular ice rinks are located at Place de l’Hôtel de ville and Montparnasse.  I also noticed a small one at the Place du Trocadéro Christmas market. Since ice skating in Paris is as fun as it sounds, it’s understandably popular. The wait time for those needing rentals (especially at the Place de l’Hôtel de ville) is utterly horrendous.

Cost: Admission to the rink is free. Skate rentals cost extra (5 euros at the time of writing).

Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are all the rage in Europe, and the whole family will love walking along the stalls, admiring the wares and sampling the food. Note that some markets are still up after Christmas, but some close before the 25th of December.

We only walked through one market at the Place du Trocadéro, but I liked this location better than many other markets I’ve seen in France and Germany. Each booth had its own country as a theme and sold various treats and trinkets from that land. Delightful!


Check the Paris Info website for locations, hours, and dates of operation.

Cost: Admission – free.

Printemps and Galeries Lafayette Window Displays

If you happen to be fortunate enough to visit Paris during the Christmas holidays, make a point to walk the window displays at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. When we neared the mega-stores, I wondered what all the fuss was about. As we pressed closer, I understood… they’re animated! Music! Lights! Wonder!Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris


The displays are obnoxiously crowded, and you’ll have a hard time navigating with a stroller. Let the kids sit on your shoulders for a better view. And, speaking of views, don’t forget that Printemps and Galeries Lafayette have some of the most amazing free views of Paris!

Cost: Free.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Even MORE Delightful Diversions for Kids in Paris

Have your own list of budget-friendly attractions for children? Add a link in the comments below!

What’s your favorite place from the list above where you’ve already been or would like to go with your kids? Signature-Marigold

The Absolute Best Thing Our Family Did in Paris.. This Time Around

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with KidsPhoto Credit

Ahh, Paris. Gorgeous, amazing, one-of-a-kind, and yet.. overdone. Doesn’t everybody have a Top 10 Things to Do in Paris (with Kids) list?

I can’t bring myself to write anything so run-of-the-mill for you. But, even if I could, the entire post would be a big, fat, whopping lie because we likely did not do 8 of the 10 things on our trip.

Instead, let’s focus on a few more relaxed, out of the way, low-key, winter-appropriate Parisian experiences. I’ll still dish on the good, the bad, and the beautiful… I just won’t wrap it all up put a “Top 10” bow on it.

Forgive me.

Forgive me?

Bouncing Around Paris – on a Bike!

Given our family’s love of the outdoors and the smashing success of our day out in Lucca last summer, I was determined to find a way to incorporate seeing Paris by bicycle.

We cycle daily around our little German town, and we love it. Who can argue with built-in exercise, no traffic jams, and zero emissions?

Lucky for us, Paris has established herself as a beacon to bike-friendliness. The city boasts the third-largest bike sharing program in the world (only two cities in China have ‘er beat) and the bike traffic lanes to support it. Unfortunately for us, the Vélib’ public bicycles are not designed for young children or parents toting babies.

The Company – Bike About Tours

Enter Bike About Tours, a recommendation from Rick Steves. While the company was technically closed for the winter, I still received prompt emails from Katharine. The prices seemed fair, the details convenient, and away we booked.

When we picked up the bicycles near the Hotel de Ville, Doc Sci chatted up the co-owner and realized he knew the other co-owner from high school! (Insert “small world” cliché here.)Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

The other thing we discovered when picking up the bikes were the variety of options for families. We ended up sticking to traditional three-speed bikes with child seats, but that didn’t stop Doc Sci and Screech from testing out a spiffy Dutch tandem that could accommodate one adult and two children. Sweet ride – but not the best idea when you’re unfamiliar with the equipment and the territory.

The Route

After a hearty handshake, we were off! Across the Pont d’Arcole, we slipped past the imposing Notre Dame before crossing the Seine once again and settling in on the Left Bank.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

We struggled to keep our eyes on the road (and the ever-changing bike lanes – yikes!) and not on the gorgeous landmarks whizzing by: Pont Neuf, Pont des Arts, the Louvre, the Orsay, Pont Alexandre III, Palais Bourbon, Quai Branly… on and on the eye candy taunted us until the object of everyone’s affection slipped into view and established herself on center stage.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

So many people claim that the best view of Paris is from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I disagree. I think Paris without the Eiffel Tower is just another skyline, and how can the tower define the landscape if you’re standing on it?

For me, the better view is from the underbelly up. Stand squarely underneath Eiffel’s creation to appreciate the sheer mass of the structure. This is no girly trinket. It might have feminine frills, but the bones are literally ironclad.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

After scraping our jaws off the ground, we zipped over to a neighborhood pizzeria to pick up a mediocre pie that we promptly devoured on a bench in front of the iron lady herself. Terrible food, gorgeous company.

We gave the cycling legs a break at the Champ de Mars playground where we heard mostly English spoken (expat hangout?) before zooming off toward the Army Museum. We were having too much fun on two wheels to pay for a look at Napoleon’s tomb.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

I had high hopes for a walk in the sculpture garden at the Rodin Museum (surely my boys could handle that?!), but Big Foot spoiled our plans by falling asleep. We were forced to continue pedaling or face the wrath of an overtired baby.

Instead, I dipped in to La Maison du Chocolat where the only thing I could afford was a to-go cup brimming with soupified hot chocolate. Hello, delicious! The truffles are handled like pearls here, and the prices are about the same. Watch your wallets, folks.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

Wearing our cocoa mustaches proud, we rode until we hit the big-time Boulevard Saint Germain. The day was wearing thin, and our nerves followed suit.  We stopped for another kid-friendly break at a small playground in front of the Musée de Cluny.

Had I not been so tired, I would’ve realized we were but a stone’s throw from Luxembourg Gardens and the fabulous playgrounds there. Ah, well, our small male army seemed satisfied with the paltry pre-fab, and Doc Sci and I amused ourselves by debating whether the sentry next to the free toilet was there to protect the paper or the people. Now, there’s a candidate for world’s weirdest job – waste watcher.

The day waned further, and we realized our bikes were not outfitted with lights (a major no-no in Germany). We rallied the troops and rounded out the day with a leisurely ride through the Île Saint-Louis and the Île de la Cité.

In case no one in history has ever told you, Paris is gorgeous at dusk.

With the bikes tucked safely back in their parking garage, we trudged back to our apartment knowing we’d have to spend the next days on foot. Paris really is better by bicycle.

Practical Tips

Just a few logistical notes…

  • We rented two adult bikes with seats attached for Screech (4) and Big Foot (1). We felt confident in T-Rex’s cycling abilities, so we rented a children’s bike for him.
  • In hindsight, it would’ve been better to rent a tandem (this kind – and yes, Bike About had one) because the bike lanes were somewhat different than what we’re used to in Germany.
  • Many roads have dedicated bike lanes and paths. However, in the absence of such a lane, bikes may use the bus/taxi lane. While we never felt unsafe in the bus/taxi lane, we were made well-aware of the drivers’ annoyance with cyclists in their way.
  • If you do not have children with you, I highly recommend the Vélib’ system as it is quite convenient and extremely cheap.
  • But for families who are looking for an excellent Parisian cycling experience, I would not hesitate to recommend or personally use Bike About Tours again. You can rent bikes or sign up for an actual tour. No paid advertisement here – just a good, old-fashioned friendly recommendation.

Have you discovered Paris on two wheels? Would you cycle the streets with your kids?


Do Vegas Up Family-Style: 5 Kid-Friendly Activities

My memories of visiting Las Vegas as a child are of endless subdivisions and eternal buffets.  The Strip then wasn’t what it is today, and the best thing we found to do was play arcade games inside Circus Circus. 

But, boy things have changed!  As today’s guest writer Kendra Thornton points out, Las Vegas may surprise you as a family-friendly (and budget!) destination. 

Do Vegas Up Family-Style

Believe it or not, Las Vegas is one of the family-friendliest places to travel in the United States. While you may associate Vegas with the more adult-themed activities that have led to its negative reputation, it is important to know that much of this is just hype.

Las Vegas may be marketed toward those who will spend freely as they imbibe in libations; however, this can easily work toward your advantage.

Businesses frequently make it cheap to travel to and stay in Las Vegas because they know that most adults will spend big money once they hit the casinos and clubs. This makes it easy for you to utilize cheap travel packages to take your kids on less-expensive and family-friendly cultural activities that I have included on this list of my favorite Vegas hot-spots.

1. Chill at Serendipity

If you have never had frozen hot chocolate, then you are in for a treat. In the rest of the country, everyone else may be warming up to a mug of hot cocoa. However, drinking it cold Las Vegas style will be a thrill for your kids. At Serendipity 3, the fun is just beginning when you walk in and are greeted by funky décor and an exciting menu. Enjoy your frozen hot chocolate as you plan your next grand adventure.

2. Thrill at Adventuredome

Inside Circus Circus you’ll find the Adventuredome, a five-acre theme park that is sure to dazzle your kids. Here, roller coaster enthusiasts from all over the world come to find their thrills. Enjoy world-famous rides such as the world’s only indoor roller coaster with a double loop and corkscrew. Then, have fun rock climbing. Those who are less adventurous will also love the arcade.

3. Lounge on a Hoover Dam Houseboat

Even if your kids have seen it all, they still have not yet had the thrill of enjoying a stay on a houseboat. A houseboat on Lake Mead can be rented for a single night or several days. In addition to being an event to be remembered, this can also be less expensive than traditional hotel stays. On a Hoover Dam houseboat, you have lodging and entertainment covered. Then, you can take in the view while enjoying the nature-side of Las Vegas vacations.

4. Experiment with Indoor Skydiving

It may or may not be your kids’ dream to jump out of a plane. Here your kids can try it out in the safety of an indoor space. This thrill is achieved by using a wind tunnel to mimic the effects of an actual skydiving experience. As a parent, you can enjoy giving your kids a great thrill while making sure safety is a priority. As an added bonus, this is even less expensive than the real thing.

5. Experience a Venetian Winter

If you would have never thought Las Vegas could be a winter wonderland, then be prepared to be surprised. At the Venetian, the halls will be decked for the season this winter. Here, you can enjoy an ice skating rink. Then, listen as real-life carolers sing holiday melodies as they roam the halls. Every night, they serve spiced cider so you can sip and enjoy the sights while visiting with your family.

This year, experience an unbelievable vacation full of holiday surprises in the amazing city of Las Vegas. Although they may say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, your family will be too delighted with their adventures to keep them a secret. Whether you explore the Hoover Dam or dine on a divine frozen hot chocolate, every moment will be savored. By exploring the other side of Vegas, your family will always remember their time in this amazing city as one of their fondest memories.

Kendra Thornton is the former Director of Communications at Orbitz. She lives in Chicago with her 3 wonderful children and loves sharing travel stories and advice from her extensive experience traveling the world.  Follow her on Twitter here.

What other bloggers are saying about family-friendly Vegas:

Would you take your kids to Vegas?  Which one of these activities would your family enjoy the most? Signature-Marigold

Cheesy Fun at the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsHave you ever met an internet friend in person? 

Back in the iffy days (as in over ten years ago in the dark ages when Facebook didn’t exist and you couldn’t just look up about anyone on the planet), I took a chance and got to know two people online who turned into wonderful, real-life friends (hi, Jen! hi, Aaron!).

I’ve since met a handful more, none of whom have turned out to be criminally inclined.  It seems that what used to be weird with a hint of creepy, or a chance of freaky is now… well, normal.

Results (not?) typical.  Do (not?) try this at home.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers here at TTM and I started emailing back and forth, excited to discover a long list of things we had in common.  And then, she went out on a limb and invited our family to stay with hers, ya know, because it would thrifty and require travel.


And, so we found ourselves driving to Luxembourg to meet Rosie and her family (you can check out her blog here).  The kids had a blast together, and we felt as if our new friends were already old friends.

Despite it’s bad rap, the Internet really can bring people closer together.

Rosie suggested we spend part of the weekend visiting the Luxlait Vitarium, a milk museum about 30 minutes north of Luxembourg‘s capital.  I had wanted to make a stop here back in March, but we chose to continue on to the castle at Vianden instead.  A few phone calls later, we were all set to drag five kids along on a dairy tour.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

Now, we travel a lot more than most families, and I spend an enormous amount of time researching kid-friendly activities at our various destinations (time I could be spent doing things like, uh, sleeping).  I end up chucking most of the suggestions I come across –  museums, zoos, theme parks, blah, blah, blah.

Often these attractions are expensive and rather unextraordinary.  I mean, a zebra is a zebra whether the zoo is in New York or New Zealand.  But, a milk museum?  With interactive exhibits?  And taste testing?  Now, that’s something I haven’t heard of before.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsIn case you aren’t up on your national milk brands (I’m not), Luxlait is the official dairy product brand in Luxembourg.  The Vitarium is a visitor center of sorts (an interactive experience, really) that’s attached to a ginormous factory that turns a gazillion liters of raw milk every day into ready-to-sell dairy products.

The entrance fee to the Luxlait Vitarium is rather steep, so our two cheapskate families visited on the weekend when tickets are less expensive.  Also, we booked an English tour to make us feel like we were getting more for our money.  And, boy did we ever!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsAfter securing our jackets in the free lockers, a staff member instructed us to don on some rather spiffy 3D glasses and a stark white lab coat.  Fully costumed, we were then treated to a hokey but entertaining welcome video.  The two characters in the film served as guides for the next hour, contrasting new and old methods of manufacturing Luxembourgish milk products while leading us through the gigantic factory.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

The kids were fascinated by the robots and machines used to fill, package, and collect the dairy products.  The adults were amazed at the spankin’ new facilities, extensive areas we were permitted to peruse, and that the whole shindig held five kids’ interest for an entire hour.

That alone is worth the price of admission, right?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsWhen the tour ended, our (human) guide allowed each person to select a Luxlait product to sample.  We gorged ourselves on chocolate milk, eggnog, milkshakes, and Luxembourgish cooked cheese (slimy and spreadable yet somewhat solid.. very strange).

Of course, we needed to work off all those whole milk calories, so we moseyed on over to the interactive stations.  Racing, biking, stomping, jumping, balancing, listening, pulling, lifting, weighing… We were huffing and puffing long before we ran out of activities to try!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsAll of the forty-plus, hands-on exhibits emphasized healthy eating and exercise… and, of course, how dairy is at the heart of both of those things.

To be honest, the whole experience felt like one continuous commercial for Luxlait products.  But, it was FUN.  Plus, the products are of a high quality and really do taste great.  Well, except for the cooked cheese.

I think the marketing genius behind the Vitarium just received a raise…

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsIn short, if you’re looking for a uniquely Luxembourgish experience that you won’t find replicated in Sydney or San Jose, make a beeline for the Luxlait Vitarium the next time you find yourself in the Grand Duchy.

For Rosie’s take on our milk museum visit or to simply stop by and say hello, click here.

Practical tips for visiting the Luxlait Vitarium with your family:

  • You can get to the Vitarium by bus or car.  Bus schedule here.  Parking is plentiful and free.
  • Try to visit on the weekend when tickets are cheaper.  Kids under 6 are free.  Current ticket prices here.
  • Book a tour (included in the admission price) in your preferred language at least a few days in advance.  Make a reservation online here.
  • Take kids potty before joining the tour because it lasts one hour and you’ll need to walk a LONG way back to the loo.
  • We brought a pram with us for Big Foot, so I can personally certify the tour is stroller-friendly.
  • Pack a picnic lunch because the cafe and restaurant are expensive.

Signature-MarigoldMore Luxembourg with Kids!  Read about our frigid morning in the city of Luxembourg here and an afternoon spent at Vianden Castle here.

19 Cheap & Easy Last-Minute Halloween Ideas

Over the last four years we’ve lived here, I’ve noticed Halloween has become more and more popular in Germany.  While I don’t see trick-or-treating going viral yet, stores have at least started carrying costumes and snacks for the occasion (though sadly, not candy corn).

This year, we’re putting on a small party for some of the kids in our building, and I needed some fun yet simple ideas for food, decor, and activities. 

I really can’t justify going to great lengths to plan an amazing bash.  My kids aren’t even familiar with the word Halloween or what the holiday really entails.  They were too young to remember the holiday in America (and we usually ended up in tinfoil in honor of Chipotle’s free burrito day).  Plus, this year we’re busy getting ready to head over to Scotland (yay!).

So, if you’re strapped for time like I am, check out these inexpensive, cute, last-minute Halloween ideas from Pinterest.  Have more fun food, decor, and crafts?  Leave a link in the comments below!


Hard Boiled Monster Eggs from Chew Chew Mama

Banana Ghosts and Clementine Pumpkins from Creamty

Spooky Popcorn Hand from Little Nummies

Spider Web Snacks from Mom Endeavors

Pumpkin Pretzels from A Thrifty Mom

Mandarin Orange Pumpkins from Serving Pink Lemonade.


Halloween Eyeball Topiaries from Crafts ‘n Coffee

Glowing Recycled Milk Jug Jack O’Lanterns from Sassy Girlz

Trash Bag Spider Webs from How About Orange

Halloween Pac Man Garland from Minieco

Plastic Cup + Sharpie Halloween Lanterns from The Australian Baby Blog


Haunted House Halloween Cut Out from Sarah Jane

Q Tip Skeletons from Crafts for all Seasons

Footprint Ghosts from Hand Print and Foot Print Art

Paint Chip Monster and Candy Corn Cards from All Free Holiday Crafts

Leftover Candy:

Candy Bar Cookies from Pip & Ebby

Leftover Halloween Candy Bark from Brown Eyed Baker

Halloween Candy Gingerbread Houses from Cake Central

November Thanksgiving “Advent” Calendar, Harvest Tree, and Turkey Pinata from Alpha Mom

It’s time to break out the craft supplies, corral all the extra candy, and give some of these ideas a try!  Which is your favorite? Signature-Marigold

Jucker Farm: Pumpkin Heaven… in Switzerland!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Jucker Farm with Kids: Pumpkin Heaven in SwitzerlandLet’s take a little quiz…  You might be an American if:

  • You count down the days until Starbucks starts serving pumpkin spice lattes again.
  • Apples are a side note, and pumpkins are the star of your fall baking line up.
  • You carve pumpkins every year, even if you’re not that into Halloween.
  • You bake a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, even if no one in your family likes it.
  • Pumpkin soup seems weird to you, but pumpkin in ice cream, fudge, donuts, cookies, candy, cakes, pies, milkshakes, and cocktails is perfectly acceptable.

To restate the blaringly obvious, Americans are obsessed with pumpkins! 

And, Germans… are not. 

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Jucker Farm with Kids: Pumpkin Heaven in SwitzerlandWhen I moved to Germany four years ago, I couldn’t believe that pumpkin wasn’t sold in cans.  Nor was it sold year ’round.  With sadness, I only enjoyed one taste of pumpkin that year – pie on Thanksgiving.

Each autumn here, I’ve gone a bit more overboard in my quest to not be left pumpkin-less at any time.  Last year, I had about 20 cups of frozen pumpkin puree to last me until the next harvest.  If you’ve seen German freezers, you’ll know that this is total insanity.

And, while the little soup and baking pumpkins sold in German supermarkets are completely adorable, they just aren’t right for carving.  Imagine trying to hack a freaky face into a cantaloupe.

Yeah, that’s just not happening.

Now that the boys are older, I feel it is my duty as an American parent to expose them to their pumpkin-crazy culture (though I will hold off on the pumpkin spice lattes for as long as possible…).

And there’s no better place in Europe to go bananas over squash than Jucker Farm.  (If you know of another, please do share in the comments below!)

Juckerhof, as seen from the closest parking lot.

Juckerhof, as seen from the closest parking lot.

Gorgeous pumpkins and produce.

Gorgeous pumpkins and produce.

Jucker Farm is located east of Zürich in Seegräben, Switzerland.  It’s not a real farm in the sense that it’s mainly for tourists and the only smells wafting by your nose will those of roasting pumpkin seeds and pumpkin kettle corn.

Before I go any further, I should mention that Jucker Farm is completely, totally, 100% kid-friendly.  If you want a Swiss family outing, this is it.  You’ll find clean, free bathrooms, changing tables, kid-friendly foods, a petting zoo, a playground, and more!

Don't forget to grab a wheelbarrow to cart your pumpkins to the car.. or corral a screaming baby.

Don’t forget to grab a wheelbarrow to cart your pumpkins to the car.. or corral a screaming baby.

Every year, Jucker Farm hauls in a wide variety of pumpkins and other winter squash for visitors to admire… and purchase.  The delectable eats are piled in big bins, not scattered on the ground like a traditional American pumpkin patch.  In addition to the raw goods, the farm shop at Jucker sells pumpkin products such as wine, oil, pasta, popcorn, and salsa.

Please be advised that while prices are not unreasonable, they are, ahem, Swiss.  It’s free to visit the farm, take a leak, and swing in the hammocks, but almost every other activity (including parking) costs a pretty penny.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Jucker Farm with Kids: Pumpkin Heaven in SwitzerlandAs if the pretty piled pumpkins weren’t enough, each year the staff at the farm creates giant sculptures out of the gourds according to a theme.  Who doesn’t want to see a fifteen-foot pumpkin Elvis?

Several pumpkin-themed events are held annually, and crowds are significantly larger on these days (check the website for exact dates or call ahead).

An obviously sponsored punkin boat.

An obviously sponsored pumpkin boat.

We visited the weekend after the pumpkin regatta.  This silly sport involves hollowing out a giant pumpkin, climbing inside, and racing across the nearby lake.  We got quite a chuckle out of imagining grown men folding themselves into these big slimy buckets and paddling frantically toward the finish line.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Jucker Farm with Kids: Pumpkin Heaven in SwitzerlandThe other big draw at Jucker Farm is picking your own fruit.  Apples, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all available at various times of the year (more info here).

Given our previous enthusiasm for self-picked strawberries and apples, I was quite excited to go after the last of the blueberry harvest.  Unfortunately, the season closed the evening before our visit (which only makes me more determined to go next year!).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Jucker Farm with Kids: Pumpkin Heaven in SwitzerlandThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Jucker Farm with Kids: Pumpkin Heaven in SwitzerlandOther fun things for kids include giant hay bales for scaling, hammocks for swinging, and apple mazes for solving.

The boys and I did have fun following Doc Sci to the middle of the three leafy labyrinths  (Mr. Smarty Pants is not only good at solving puzzles, he’s great at cheating.. just follow the most traveled path, he says), but I think they were too young to really understand or try to figure out what we were doing. Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Jucker Farm with Kids: Pumpkin Heaven in Switzerland

At the heart of the most difficult maze... want to know the prize?  You'll have to solve it yourself!

At the heart of the most difficult maze… want to know the prize? You’ll have to solve it yourself!

A little tip for cheapskates, er I mean thrifty, visitors.. you are not allowed to bring your own picnic and sit at any of the tables to eat it.  But, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice brown bag lunch.  Just take your budget eats down to the lake, and take advantage of the benches there.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting Jucker Farm with Kids: Pumpkin Heaven in SwitzerlandBy the way, the lake looked like a super place to swim.  We’ll have to come back in summer and bring our suits!

A diving board in the middle of the lake.. abandoned in autumn.

A diving board in the middle of the lake.. abandoned in autumn.

As if you couldn’t already tell, we had a fabulous time at Jucker Farm.  If you’re anywhere within a two-hour drive in the fall, I highly encourage you to pack up the kids and fill your day with fun (fruity?!) memories.

But, before I go, I just want to mention that Moms Tots Zürich has done a fine job of introducing visitors to Jucker Farm and sharing super helpful details for first-timers.

In fact, I emailed Tanya and asked her at least a dozen questions prior to our trip.  She was gracious in answering each one, so I’d like to repay the favor by sending folks her way.  For more details on Jucker Farm, or to just say hi, click here.

Headed to Switzerland? Don’t miss our Swiss adventures with kids: Schilthorn, Rhein Falls, and Stein am Rhein!Signature-Marigold

Apple Madness! A Recipe Round Up to Whittle Your Stash

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashOur boys so loved picking strawberries this past summer, that I determined we must go apple picking once fall arrived.  Well, fall is certainly here, and her glory is starting to show.  So, a few weeks ago, the boys and I headed out to a nearby farm with some friends to see how we fared at harvesting our own apples.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashI was a teensy bit worried that apple picking wouldn’t turn out to be a good activity for little boys who are even more vertically challenged than I am.  Luckily, the fruit was within their reach, and we picked about 13 kilos in less than an hour.

Um, yeah.  13 kilos…

All I can say is that it didn’t SEEM like a lot at the time.  But we were (and kinda still are) up to our eyeballs in fragrant fruit.

So, if you find yourself fortunate enough to be wandering an apple orchard or unfortunately sitting on ten bushels of the suckers, here are some scrumptious ways to use those apples up.

By the way, Kim at Stuffed Suitcase has some excellent tips on going apple picking with kiddos in tow.  Check them out here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApplesauce.  Duh.  There are a zillion variations (sugar, honey, no sugar, spiced, crockpot, stovetop).  Just pick one, and go with it.  It’s okay if you don’t have any special equipment (I don’t).  We’ve whipped up four batches of silky puree; the kids love making and eating it.

Apple butter.  Contains no butter – apple butter is really just applesauce cooked down further, usually with a little sweetener and spices.  The crockpot method is the most fool-proof, but you can also make it on the stove.  Some recipes contain a LOT of sugar;  I’d recommend only adding a tiny bit of sweetener and then adjusting to taste.

Fruit leather.  You’re basically drying out your applesauce in the oven when you make fruit leather.  Try this easy peasy cinnamon variation.

Apple chips.  Another simple, healthy, kid-friendly snack.  Even the kitchen-challenged can make apple chips.  I like the simplicity of this no-sugar-added recipe.

Dried apple bits.  Make these at the same time as the apple chips, and use the bits in oatmeal or yogurt.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApple S’mores.  This was one of those happy accidents, born out of the desire to make a quick and easy apple dessert that went along with what I was already making for dinner on the grill (these juicy fajitas).  You don’t really need a recipe, but here’s what to do:

Wash your apples, core them, and slice into 1/2″ thick rounds.  If you don’t have an apple corer, use a knife to carefully cut out the core after slicing the apple.  Grill about 5 minutes.  Then flip, and grill the other side.  When the apple slices are done, cool slightly while you roast the marshmallows.  Carefully slide a gooey marshmallow onto an apple slice, and finish with a dollop of apple butter.  Devour while warm.

Baked apples.  I’ve made these in the crockpot and the oven.  My kids loved the Skinnytaste version.  For an extra special treat, serve a la mode.

Apple nachos.  These are on my recipe list for the weekend.  Apples?  Peanut Butter?  Nutella?  Yes, please!

Apple crumble pizza.  An indulgent-yet-healthy dessert.  I served this at brunch with chai tea.  Wowzers.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple Stash

Apple butter donuts.  Alas, I do not have a donut pan, so I made these as muffins.  And instead of the glaze (though I’m sure it’s scrumptious), I filled the muffin cups with half of the batter, then added a tablespoon of apple butter before topping with the remaining batter.

Apple walnut lentil salad.  Crisp, sour apples make excellent salad toppings, especially when paired with spinach.  Add toasted walnuts, cooked brown lentils, and Parmesan cheese.  We ate ours drizzled with a balsamic honey mustard dressing which is really just a hybrid of two of my all-time favorites.

BBQ chicken apple pizza.  Everyone in the family LOVED this pizza variation.  I used an ABin5 dough, slathered it with a thin layer of BBQ sauce, and added finely sliced apples followed by a mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.  I topped it off with BBQ rotisserie chicken and sliced onions.  A new family favorite!

Apple pie grilled cheese.  Change up your lunch routine with this funky sandwich.  Doesn’t it look scrumptious?  I can’t wait to try it!

Apple cheese cookies.  I’ve made these several times now, and they make perfect road trip snacks.  I’ve got a whole post on these babies coming soon!

Scrumptious apple pie.  And last, but certainly not least, if you need a showstopping dessert for any occasion, I can highly recommend this recipe from Pioneer Woman.  You’ll never go back to regular ol’ apple pie again!  (p.s. – it’s pretty easy to make your own caramel sauce!)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashIf you’ve been paying attention, I’ve made all of the recipes above (except the nachos and grilled cheese which will be making an appearance at my table very soon)… and I still have more apples! 

So, instead of going bonkers for a few hours on Pinterest, I’d love to hear your favorite apple recipes.  Leave a link in the comments, and I’ll gladly take a peek.

If apples aren’t your thing, don’t worry – pumpkins are next!Signature-Marigold

Tips For a Cheesy Leaning Tower of Pisa Family Photo

Thrifty Travel Mama - Leaning Tower of Pisa with KidsAs I mentioned in my Tuscan Hill Towns post, Italy offers so many options – and traveling families have so little time!  I’m sure Pisa is an intriguing city, full of nooks and crannies to explore.  But sometimes, you just have to snap a photo and move on.

We did our Leaning Tower “drive-by” the morning of our visit to the Cinque Terre.  We swerved off the autostrada, bumped down a pot-holed road, and parked in a sketchy neighborhood without paying.

Hey, the sign said tickets must be purchased from 8am on.  We rolled up at 7:51am and were long gone before the uniforms had even finished their second espresso.  Not that I’m suggesting you do the same or anything…Thrifty Travel Mama - Leaning Tower of Pisa with Kids

A few tips for your own iconic Pisa portrait:

  • Get in early.  Shop keepers were already unfurling their wares, and tourists were just beginning to trickle in at this hour.  We managed a few shots before fellow posers starting mucking things up.  I’d suggest arriving during the golden hour, if possible.
  • Bring a tripod.  If you only visit Pisa once, the whole family should be in the shot, right?  I like my Gorillapod because of its versatility and small footprint.
  • Consider a remote.  Most cameras have a self-timer, but a remote is even better, especially with little kiddos in the mix.  If your camera doesn’t support a remote, try using the sports mode to take several shots in a row.
  • Be creative.  I’m not knocking the holding-up-the-Leaning-Tower pose.  You definitely need a picture of the kids doing that.  But moving on, what other zany things can you do next to this architectural freak of nature?

And if you have more time and want to visit the tower?

  • Most importantly, book your tickets online in advance!  You can do that here.
  • Second – and perhaps equally important – remember that children under 8 are NOT allowed to climb the tower (hence the reason for our drive-by).

What about the rest of Pisa?

To read about our adventures later that day in the Cinque Terre, click here.

Have you been to Pisa?  Did you take a cheesy photograph holding up the tower?  Have a link to other kid-friendly activities in Pisa?  Leave a link in the comments below.Signature-MarigoldThis post is part of Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!