Ten Tips to Make Your Family’s Istanbul Adventure a Smashing Success

Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!Have you smelled the salt in the air and felt the press of the crowds while virtually bopping around the Bosphorus and ancient city of Istanbul with us? I’m wrapping up our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series today with my top ten tips for making your own trip to Istanbul both budget-friendly and a smashing success!

Let’s get right to it, shall we?Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Get an e-visa. The majority of travelers will need a visa to enter Turkey. Unlike other countries with arduous processes (ahem.. Russia), obtaining a visa to enter Turkey is relatively painless and can be done online in advance here.

Bargain with your hotel to include breakfast and a ride to or from the airport.

Nearly every hotel I looked at (and believe me, there were scores I researched), offered free breakfast. Many also offered a one-way private transportation from the airport (Atatürk – not Sabiha Gökçen) with a stay of 3 nights, and a return service with stays of 6 nights or more.

It is possible to get to Sultanahmet from Atatürk via public transportation, but I would not have wanted to do that with the luggage we had from moving to the US. If you’re leaning toward DIY or your hotel won’t budge even when you pit different properties against each other, check out this comprehensive guide to your options as well as tips on getting from Sabiha Gökçen to Sultanahmet.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!You should know that even if you have a private driver waiting for you, finding him in the insane arrivals hall will be your first taste of the frenzy that awaits.

Pick a hotel in Sultanahmet or the Galata Tower (Beyoğlu) area.

By staying in one of these two areas, you’ll be within walking distance of as many sites as possible. When researching accommodation options, I (erroneously) thought that the Galata Tower area was too far away from most of the places I wanted to go. I didn’t know about the T1 tram or how easy it is to use. For an overview of the pros and cons of both areas, click here. For where not to stay, click here.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Avoid bringing a stroller if at all possible.

Istanbul isn’t known as the City of Seven Hills for nothin’. A simple walk from your hotel to the nearest tram stop becomes a tad more treacherous when you add a San Francisco-style grade to the route. If you do bring a stroller, you’ll likely save the kids’ energy but burn your own going steeply up and down all day long. It is possible to get on and off trams with a pram, but metro stations are more tricky to maneuver since most have stairs instead of elevators. Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Discuss cultural and religious differences in advance.

Unless your family is well-versed in Muslim culture, your kids will likely ask questions about why the women have their heads covered and why they hear the azhan (call to prayer) broadcast over loudspeakers five times per day. Encourage them to ask questions, find commonalities, discuss their thoughts, and learn about local traditions and customs like bargaining. Also, It’s always courteous (and fun!) to learn a few simple words and phrases in the local language.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Practice restaurant manners and encourage an open mind about new foods.

My kids rarely ate in restaurants during our four years in Germany (their parents aren’t, uh, crazy about German food), so they were a bit on the rusty side when it came to table manners and how to behave in a restaurant. Thankfully, the boys are usually pretty good about trying new foods, but I thought it would be fun to make a little game of it by encouraging them to find the similarities and differences such as how Lahmacun is like pizza or Kofti is different than Italian meatballs.

Save on dinner out by sharing adult portions with your kids and declining drinks.

For our family of five – and our three boys already practically eat as much as we do, we often ordered three adult portions and licked the plates clean. No leftovers means no waste and no extra cash going to meals out. We figured we could always buy Turkish bagels or fresh juice if we needed a little something after the meal.

We bought 5L bottles of water at local convenience stores and used these to refill our smaller water bottles at the hotel. We brought snacks with us from home instead of trying to find a supermarket in Sultanahmet (good thing, too, because – well, good luck with that).

Prepare for total strangers to touch your children and offer them gifts.

This happened to us in South Korea, too, but it didn’t make it any more pleasant for me or my boys. Decide beforehand what your family’s response to such gestures will be. I tried to be polite and gently decline the candy or whisk it away as soon as the stranger left. While that might have been a noble effort, in reality my kids hated being touched by strangers. Bravo smacked a man’s hand away because, “He wasn’t my friend.” Charlie was so sick of the attention that he threw down a piece of chocolate offered to him by a flight attendant. They were OVER it.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Time your visits to popular sites when crowds are smaller and in the shoulder season whenever possible.

When we visited the Hagia Sophia first thing in the morning, we were joined by throngs of other travelers. But, when we passed by it in the late afternoon, the lines were nearly nonexistent. A fluke? Maybe. I would research the best times to visit each site on your list (you may be surprised what you find). And shoulder season is always a bargain.. if you can handle the cold!

Seek out local playgrounds to reward kids and give everyone a break.

The best playground we found (okay, the only one) in Sultanahmet was Gulhane Park. The large Gulhane green space was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. The park wraps around the north and west edges of Topkapı Palace.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

The Palace seemed grand from the entrance, but that’s as far as it went for us. Yes, I know you you can peek into the sultan’s harem for an a token admission fee, but we preferred to enjoy the fresh air and rare opportunity for the kids to run free.

By the way, there’s a lovely tea garden on the far (north) side of the park overlooking the water. The tea service itself is pricey by Turkish standards, but the view is absolutely free.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

If you’re counting, you know we’re at 10 already, but I thought I’d toss in one more tip of a more serious nature..

Have a plan for what to do in case your family gets separated.

It’s no secret that Istanbul is incredibly crowded. Getting on and off trams and subways can be squishy business, and tourist buses can unload and overwhelm a site in an instant. Decide what to do if you get separated from one another, and know emergency numbers and phrases.

YOUR Family’s Adventure

You made it through all the tips (yeah!), and now you should have a better idea of what to consider, research, plan and look out for while in this crazy middle-eastern city.

‘Tis true – Istanbul is loud, smelly, and intense. It is NOT a destination for those seeking rest and relaxation, though I hear Turkish beaches are well-suited for such purposes. However, don’t let that discourage you from giving Istanbul a go; there’s lots to love and gems to be found in the middle of all that mayhem.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Here’s to your own family’s Turkish travel adventure!

What tips would you add from your own research or travel experience in Turkey? What do you wish you would’ve known before you went or what question are you hoping to answer before you go?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

All images are mine except the first one (credit).

Tasting Croatian Island Life in Hvar

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in HvarI’m wrapping up our whirlwind tour of Croatia today with notes on a place any traveler to the Dalmatian coast would be remiss not to visit – the island of Hvar. Well, one might be forgiven for skipping Hvar as long as at least one other island was visited. You simply must choose at least one Croatian island to experience. With over 1,000 of them, there’s sure to be at least one that fits your family’s travel tastes.

Getting There

Now, first things first. In order to explore Hvar, you have to, you know, get there. It is an island, after all, and attempting to swim or drive would be disastrous.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in Hvar

The easiest way is to take a ferry, or a catamaran in high season. Timetables offer plenty of options in the summer but are drastically reduced in the off season. No matter when you go, I highly recommend checking times and prices for adults, children, cars, cats, parrots, and pet gorillas here.

I was nervous about the ship selling out, so I (literally) ran down to the port first thing in the morning to buy tickets. We had originally planned to visit Mljet and Hvar, but we weren’t able to make Mljet work. We were totally over the constant chorus of begging from backseat to ride on a boat, and I was afraid we’d never live it down if we didn’t actually set sail while in Croatia.

Thankfully, all my worry was for naught – plenty of tickets, and they didn’t charge me for our four year-old!

Setting Sail

The excitement hung thick in the air as we approached the ship.

“Is THAT the ferry, mama?” Our middle one pointed to a gigantic cruise liner.

“No, buddy, that one is headed to Italy.”

Wow, Italy!

“Ours is the smaller one next to it.”

“Ohhh.. can we go to Italy?”

The disappointment of not sleeping overnight en route to the land of never-ending pizza was quickly quenched by the fascination of watching the cars and trucks drive onto our ferry. The attendants packed the vehicles in, insisting that drivers park with only a few measly centimeters of breathing room in between.

Once on board, we staked our claim to a swath of seats and set up shop. The ride from Split to Hvar takes about two hours, and the only way we can keep restless boys happy for that long is with food.

Our boat set off at 8:30am, and we brought (what I thought was) a standard amount of food for breakfast. They smashed that up in oh, about 20 minutes. I should’ve brought extra rations. Always bring extra.

Our pleas to “look out the window and enjoy the scenery!” fell on deaf ears. Luckily, a friendly Polish family sat across from us; they turned out to be gracious in conversation and donating a good portion of their own personal snack stash.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in Hvar

Arriving in Hvar

The ferry docks near Stari Grad (though you can sail to Hvar Town in summer), but the place everyone wants to see is Hvar Town itself.

Buses from the port to the town are timed to meet the ferries. The ride took about 20 minutes along a coastal road lined with grape vines and olive trees. Oh yes, island life, here we come!

Unfortunately, if you arrive by bus in Hvar Town, you’re automatically branded a tourist and you might be accosted by little old ladies shoving laminated photos in your face and demanding, “You want apartment?!” The fun doesn’t end when you leave the bus stop. They follow you into town and ask you again. And again. Note to self: be firm, and do your best not to be annoyed. They need to make money somehow.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in HvarThrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in Hvar

But, nagging aside, my first impression of Hvar was that it was rather rustic. Many of the cafes and restaurants were shut, either permanently or just for the season. It was rather impossible to believe that this catatonic town is normally known as the celebrity-studded party capital of Croatia. Even the few street vendors that bothered to show up barely budged when we walked by.

The Fortress

Well, good thing our thang isn’t parties. It’s amazing views. And the best view in Hvar is undoubtedly from the fortress. To get to it, you’ll need to schlep your crew up the narrow city streets, climbing stair after stair (though not nearly as many as the 1,000+ we conquered in Kotor) until you reach the entrance gate. Once inside the gate, it’s an easy paved walk to the top.

We didn’t have to pay admission to the fortress (perhaps because it was off-season?), but I saw booths which I assume would be open in summer. Inside the fortress, you can explore several levels, enjoy a drink at the cafe, visit a small museum, and snap some great photos of Hvar Town and the surrounding islands.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in Hvar

A small church on the way up to the fortress.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in Hvar

Where there are cannons, there are boys.

Free Fun for Kids in Hvar Town

Since almost nothing in Hvar was open, we just wandered around until we finally found a fabulous playground on the north side of town. Doc Sci and I took turns napping in the sunshine while the boys made weapons and walkie talkies out of rocks and sticks.

And, speaking of rocks, no visit to a body of water would be complete for my boys without throwing some. There’s just something about searching for the biggest rock possible and following up the toss with a satisfying PLUNK and spastic SPLASH.

Inevitably, fighting about who had the biggest rock and who made the biggest splash ensues, but this is usually solved by an offer to let them stick some appendage in the water, no matter how cold. Off came the socks and shoes, and in they went. Even I dipped a toe or ten this time.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in Hvar

The Taste of Hvar

Back in Hvar Town proper, we were left with about an hour before our bus ride and a burning desire yet to be fulfilled: buy a bottle of authentic Croatian olive oil.

We asked everyone in Croatia where to get the best olive oil. Answer? Buy it on the islands if you don’t have the hookup from a friend or relative with their own grove.

But, we were at a loss – where should we buy a liter or two when only a few street vendors were even open? None of them had that thick, fragrant olive oil of our dreams, the kind that’s literally clouded with flavor.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in Hvar

Oh, my friend, once you have tasted real olive oil (and, it tastes like olives, fancy that), you can never go back to the store-bought stuff.

We randomly noticed a shop at the green market, one that I would’ve ordinarily considered too touristy. We popped in and the owner chatted us up, offering to let us taste the oil. First his family’s everyday use oil, then a thick extra virgin green olive oil, and then a variety made from black olives. One dip, and Doc Sci and I both agreed: simply AMAZING.

The bottle we bought was made from black olives, and it is only the oil that drips down. It’s not even pressed! It’s simply collected, so the taste is very pungent and pure. We had almost no kuna left, but you can bet we left with the biggest bottle of oil that the shop offered.. and several hundred grams of delicious olives preserved only with sea salt and flavored with sprigs of rosemary.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Tasting Croatian Island Life in Hvar

As I pour a small dish of that oil in my German kitchen and dip crusty ciabatta in it, I remember our day in Hvar and our time in Dalmatia. Long after the bottle of oil is gone, I doubt I could forget that yes, this is the taste of Croatian island life.

Have you tried authentic olive oil before? What does island life taste like for you and your family?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Practical Tips for Your Family’s Visit to Hvar:

  • Check sailing times and ticket prices here, in advance. Keep in mind that tickets sell out very quickly in summer. If you plan to take a car, ask around for how many hours in advance you should line up to get on the ship.
  • We sailed to Hvar from Split, and we opted not to take our car. However, if you do opt to take a car to one of the Croatian islands, make sure to check out locations of fuel stations and keep in mind that roads on the islands can be narrow and wind through mountainous terrain.
  • When we arrived in Stari Grad, we rushed to get on the bus, not knowing how many places would be available to get to Hvar Town. It looked like a few other mini-buses showed up in order to accommodate the overflow. Tickets were 27kn/adult and we didn’t have to pay for the kids. The ride took about 20 mins, but I was told in advance it takes 30 (maybe in season?).
  • You can stock up on snacks at the Konzum grocery store in Hvar Town before catching the bus back to the ferry. There aren’t really many options for takeaway food either in Hvar Town or at the port, so either eat at a restaurant in Hvar, bring your own meal, or make a picnic out of what you can find at the grocery store.
  • Toilets are expensive in Hvar Town. The only free toilets I noticed were located at the fortress (but there may be an admission charge in high season) and on board the ferry.

 Other awesome Croatian islands for planning or dreaming:

This post is part of Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!

Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes (Plitvička Jezera)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkThe scenery at Plitvice Lakes is the kind of thing travelers’ dreams and coffee table books are made of. One of seven Croatian UNESCO World Heritage sites and eight Croatian National Parks, Plitvička Jezera deserves a spot on every traveler’s bucket list.

Unfortunately, that’s also the reason it’s often quite crowded, but more on that later. No need to start on a negative note…

Getting There

While we mostly had an enjoyable visit to Croatia, a stressful ordeal with a smarmy rental car company nearly ruined our day trip out to this amazing national park (and the next few days trying to sort it all out). Wait, I said I wasn’t going to start out on a negative note.. Fortunately, our experience with Croatian roads was better than with the sleazy sales rep!

The interstate in Croatia is very modern – smooth roads, rest stops, slick tunnels, and tolls (calculate at viaMichelin). Leaving Zadar, we found ourselves wandering through terrain that reminded me of the Burren in Ireland, rocky and desolate.

We then turned off onto another local highway that meandered though villages and fields of sheep, goats, and cows. Many of the places looked abandoned, and we noticed quite a few cemeteries, some that just seemed to be plopped in the middle of a pasture (former battlefields?). Thanks to the whatever-floats-your-boat speed limit, we found ourselves at Plitvice in no time.

Getting In

After paying the (somewhat) reduced admission fee for visiting during the off-season, we consulted the map. The park has seven outlined routes which you can browse in advance here. We chose a medium-length trail, Route C, and skipped off in the direction of the rushing water.

Notes and my thoughts on our route choice can be found in the practical tips below.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkThe Lower Lakes

One of our first glimpses of the falls was this postcard-worthy photo. Sheesh, even those not that into nature would be hard pressed to not gasp at the cascading emerald waters.

We found out that the Lakes are NOT pram-friendly about five minutes into our visit when we decided to veer off from the crowd and explore some very steep, damp steps. Good thing Charlie was securely strapped into our trusty backpack carrier…

At the bottom of the steps, we realized we’d found Šupljara Cave rather by accident. Rick Steeves tells me that this site is popular with German tourists due to its use as a film location for a “Spaghetti Western” from the 60s. Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Beyond the cave, it’s pure boardwalk bliss. Walking nearly on the turquoise water, this is as close as any visitor will get to taking a dip since swimming inside the park is prohibited. The wooden paths are narrow, and beware that oohing and ahhing when it’s crowded could result in a big splash and an even bigger fine. But do keep moving, though; the “big one” awaits..

My boys squealed with delight once we reached the Great Fall in the Lower Lakes because the cascading water was spitting at the visitors as it tumbled over the cliff. Kissed by the mist, we elbowed school groups in order to get thirty seconds alone for a family picture with the biggest rush in the park.

We then made our way through the rest of the Lower Lakes, fighting the urge to photograph every last little waterfall along the way. There are just SO MANY that by the end of our visit that (spoiler alert) I was suffering a bit from waterfall overload. I know, I know, first-world problem..

An electric boat shuttles visitors between the Upper and Lower Lakes. We took this opportunity to rest and refuel. Five cheese sandwiches later (that’s total, not each), we began our tour of the Upper Lakes.

The Upper Lakes

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkIn many ways, we enjoyed the Upper Lakes more than the Lower. While the wooden walkways in the Lower Lakes seemed to be right at water level, the Upper Lakes allows visitors to literally walk over waterfalls. It’s such fun to see the gurgling foam flood out beneath your feet.. provided of course that your children aren’t delighting in the obvious lack of rails along the path…

Also, the Upper Lakes are quieter. Fewer tourists make their way here since many are day trippers that only have enough time to see half of the park. The appeal of the Upper is breadth while the Lower draws the masses with height.

Plus, we spotted fluorescent green lizards along the Upper paths, but (thankfully) no other reptiles.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkThrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkAfter we’d had our fill of that soothing rushing water sound, we decided to call it quits. One could easily spend two days exploring every possible footpath in the park, but a half day was enough for us to capture the best of the best.

When I think back on our day at Plivice Lakes in late April, what I remember most is the color, the sound, and the vast variety in the waterfalls. No photo, no video could do a visit here justice. One must see it to believe the jade waters are really that shade and not just Photoshopped so. So, jot it down on your list – Plitvička Jezera is THE Croatian natural wonder to see!

Plitvice Lakes can also be visited in winter (see here). Would you rather go in spring when the waters rage or in winter to see the cascades magically frozen?

Practical Tips & FAQ’s for Your Visit to Plitvice Lakes:

  • Parking is available in two lots, P1 and P2, but both may not be open year-round. We parked in P2 because it was the first one we reached when we drove up from Zadar. The attendant told me that the parking lots aren’t much different if you want to see the whole park. If youw ant to see the Lower Lakes only, park at P1. At the time of our visit, parking cost 7kn/hour.
  • The national park’s website offers seven route choices. We chose C. It appears that this is the same route as H, just reversed. Rick Steves recommends this route (C) because you encounter the falls head on. However, it is all uphill; go with H if you’d rather walk downhill.
  • You can bring your own picnic to the park or you can grab lunch at one of the cafes or restaurants. Check opening times though, because they’re not all open all year. We took advantage of the wait times for trains and the boat and ate then. Not exactly the most scenic, but efficient if you’re trying to cut down your total visit time.
  • A note on weather… We visited in April and were threatened with rain all day. However, this was a blessing because the cloud cover meant we were shielded from the blazing sun. I’d guess Plitvice is a sweltering mess in the summer with 10,000 tourists and intense heat. Bring sunscreen and a waterproof jacket in case of unexpected rain.
  • A bonus of visiting in the spring – powerful waterfalls from melting snow and spring rains. I’ve read elsewhere that visiting in late summer can be rather disappointing if the waterfalls are merely trickling. Winter at Plitvice is a totally different experience. See my note in italics above for a link to winter photos.
  • Beware the crowds in summer! If you visit during the high season, you may not be able to double back on the platforms (cheat on the routes as mentioned above) or easily pass slower groups.
  • Take note of where the bathrooms are. There’s a map on your ticket, and the potties are marked on it. Pay close attention! Across the lake from P1 at the start of P2, there’s no bathroom, so be sure to make a pit stop before you cross over and begin walking the Upper Lakes. There aren’t ANY bathrooms until you read the train station at the end of the Upper Lake path. The bathroom in the parking lot (P2) was a squatty potty, but the others we visited had proper toilets.
  • What time of day should one visit? We arrived at noon, which ended up being perfect. Most of the morning day trippers had already cleared out and we only had a few student groups to contend with on the narrow boardwalks.
  • Can I take a pram or stroller? No, you definitely cannot/should not. The pathways are uneven, rustic wooden slats. There are also stairs, and we experienced muddy paths in some places. We did not see any babies or toddlers under 3 the whole day. However, we did see tons of families with children (mostly Germans – ha!).
  • Does Route C really take 4-6 hours? Well, that depends. We cheated on a few parts of the route by doubling back and cutting off a loop here and there. Our whole walk took only 3 hours. I suppose if you walked every bit of the route and stopped a lot for breaks, a picnic lunch, etc., it might take that long.
  • Is the route strenuous? In our opinion, no. We saw many elderly people and families with children, none of whom were complaining. As I mentioned above, we did visit for 3 hours, but some of that time was spent on trains/boats and waiting. It’s more of a walk than a hike, but the route from the Lower to Upper Lakes is uphill.
  • Is it safe for kids to visit? As I mentioned, we saw tons of families with children. But, please know that the paths are without railings. I think two things helped our visit: first, we emphasized the “no swimming in the park” rule in advance, and second, the park wasn’t crowded so I didn’t need to worry about the kids being accidentally or “accidentally” pushed in the water.

 

Signature Thrifty Travel MamaThis post is part of Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!

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.

Tips

  • 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

Tips

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.

Tips

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 (Creche@scottish.parliament.uk), 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.

Tips

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

Tips

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).

Tips

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.

Tips

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.

Tips

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

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.

Tips

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

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.

Tips

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?

Tips

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

Cost: Free.

Playgrounds

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.

Tips

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!

Tips

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.

Tips

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.

Tips

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

Tips

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.

Tips

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!

Tips

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

Tips

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

Mainau – The Flower Island

Thrifty Travel Mama | Mainau - The Flower IslandAt the urging of several friends, we finally (FINALLY!) visited the beautiful island of Mainau.  It’s an amazing place full of flowers, gardens, butterflies, and more.  But, be warned: you won’t want to leave!

Mainau is located close to Konstanz on the Bodensee in southern Germany.  For some reason, my GPS couldn’t find Mainau.  I just set it to Konstanz and followed the well-posted signs once we got close.  Of course, I found the coordinates after I returned home here – ha!  The island is accessible either by parking in the lot on the mainland and walking over a bridge or by ferry from a port closer to Konstanz.

Here we go!

Here we go!

Though the island does have a few hills here and there, it’s relatively flat and pram-friendly.  Bikes are prohibited, but children can bring balance bikes or scooters.  In the summer, wagons (handcars) are available free of charge from the main entrance.

The "handcars" are complimentary during the summer season.

The “handcars” are complimentary during the summer season.

For the little ones, the best part of Mainau is the gigantic water playground.  I knew this in advance, so we saved it for last.  I never would have been able to convince boys to look at the lilies when they knew barges and bathing suits were waiting for them!

Don't miss the butterfly house!

Don’t miss the butterfly house!

Instead, we hit up the Butterfly House first.  The building is shaped like a – wait for it – butterfly, and visitors enter through a gigantic caterpillar.  The inside is jungle-like with high humidity, tropical fruits, and densely packed greenery.  If you’re gentle and patient, you might even be able to get a butterfly to rest on your hand!

Beautiful butterflies.

Beautiful butterflies.

We then trudged on past some ginormous trees to the castle on the far end of the island.  A cafe and small chapel are accessible to the public, but the rest of the palace is still the private residence of the Bernadotte family.

A real redwood!

A real redwood!

Here's the inside of the small chapel.  A music festival was taking place during our visit; these children were about to sing in this lovely space.

Here’s the inside of the small chapel. A music festival was taking place during our visit; these children were about to sing in this lovely space.

A lovely rose garden sprawls out next to the castle.  I asked the boys if they wanted to explore the roses or not – I was surprised to hear an enthusiastic, “yes!”

The Italian rose garden.

The Italian rose garden.

Some serious QC going on.

Some serious QC going on.

After a satisfactory amount of sniffing, we moved on to the Italian and Mediterranean gardens.  I was lost in dreamy anticipation of our upcoming Italy trip, wondering if the landscape looked at all similar to Tuscany.  Their interest waning, the boys just wanted to watch people jumping off their boats for a swim in the Bodensee.

The Italian step water garden.

The Italian step water garden.

As I was reassuring them that lunch would come “soon,” we happened upon the petting zoo and pony rides.  T-Rex and Screech went in with Doc Sci to pet the goats, shrieking with delight when they found a baby one.

Side note: I noticed lots of children playing inside the goat pen without shoes.  Um, seriously!?  I get that Europeans want to be all earthy in the summer, but poop pellets between your toes?  G-ROSS!!

Pony rides!  The cost is 2 euros for 3 times around the paddock.

Pony rides! The cost is 2 euros for 3 times around the paddock.

Unfortunately, both boys chickened out when it came time to ride the ponies.  I knew they would like it, but neither would.. pony up.Thrifty Travel Mama | Mainau - The Flower IslandJust as a major hunger meltdown threatened to bring down the house, we made it to the playground.  This area of the island is THE point of Mainau’s existence according to little boys, the entire reason they will put up with flowers, butterflies and other girly things.

The kids can maneuver this raft back and forth by pulling on the thick rope.

The kids can maneuver this raft by pulling on the thick rope.

Back and forth.

Back and forth and back again.

Though the playground is quite extensive and features many fun playthings for children of all ages, the main draw is the water area, complete with wooden rafts that children can pilot around the murky green water (let’s not think about where those children’s feet have been…).

More barges!

More barges!

More of the playground - without water.  An area for toddlers is just on the other side of these climbing structures.

More of the playground – without water. An area for toddlers is just on the other side of these climbing structures.

Screech's favorite thing about the island (even over the water features) was this train.  Put a euro in and the ICE train goes 'round and 'round.

Screech’s favorite thing about the island (even over the water features) was this train. Put a euro in and the ICE train goes ’round and ’round.

I highly recommend bringing a bathing suit, towels, a sack lunch, and a large picnic blanket.  Spread out, and relax!  If not for the two hour drive home, we would’ve lounged ’til sundown.

I had high hopes for relaxing after lunch.  But keeping track of 3 kids near water is a two-parent job.  Maybe next year?

I had high hopes for relaxing after lunch. But keeping track of 3 kids near water is a two-parent job. Maybe next year?

Speaking of sunset, admission is half off starting at 5pm.  Prices are not cheap for adults, but children 12 and under are free!  Along with the privilege of enjoying the beautiful gardens, I was pleased to see that ticket sales went toward maintaining plentiful, clean bathrooms throughout island. I saw several baby changing rooms stocked with complimentary diapers and wipes. Though we didn’t use them, clothes dryers are provided free of charge for those families who forgot to bring swimsuits.Thrifty Travel Mama | Mainau - The Flower IslandAfter I got over the initial sticker shock, I thought the price was fair, considering the amount of upkeep that is required for the extensive grounds.  Of course, it’s best to stay the entire day to get your money’s worth!

If forced to find something negative about our experience at Mainau, I’d have to admit that since the island is so beautiful it’s naturally very crowded.  Expect to share your day with hordes of other eager visitors.

Our whole family loved Mainau, and we hope to return again some day with friends.  Who’s in??Signature-Marigold

Fun, Free Things To Do in Salt Lake City.. With Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Free Fun in Salt Lake City with KidsAs my boys grow taller and taller, the number of free activities available gets smaller and smaller.  I found it challenging to come up with a respectable list of things to keep the boys busy on our recent trip to Salt Lake City, Utah.  Admission for children to all the popular attractions in the area cost almost as much as adult tickets.  Sheesh, all I can say is thank God my kids still think playgrounds are totally awesome.

Here’s a rundown of the best fun, free things we found to do in Salt Lake City with kids!

Liberty Park. This park is one of the best I’ve seen in the US.  It truly has something for every age group.  The little ones have a large play area suited for their size, big kids can amuse themselves with a gigantic slide, and handicap children can join in with swings built just for them.  Most impressive – super sized musical pipes that require lots of banging and produce a whole lot of noise.  In summer, kids can enjoy a splash pad and fountains.

Liberty Park Rotary Playground

Liberty Park Rotary Playground

Liberty Park - making some noise.

Liberty Park – making some noise.

Liberty Park - water fountains for kids to splash around in and cool off.

Liberty Park – water fountains for kids to splash around in and cool off.

Should you find yourself in the mood to open your wallet, loads of fun paid experiences are possible at Liberty Park.  Tracy Aviary is home to hundreds of birds.  Time your visit to include story time with a feathered friend.  Carnival rides, paddle boat rentals, and a public swimming pool will also invite you to part with (a little) cash.

Liberty Park - Tracy Aviary

Liberty Park – Tracy Aviary

Temple Square & Gardens.  Mormon or not, the temple area is worth seeing.  I was intrigued by the architecture, and my boys just ran around exploring all the fountains, sculptures, and flowers.  You can also take a free one-hour tour of the gardens, May-September.

Temple Square.

Temple Square.

City Creek and Memory Grove Parks. Starting just beyond the Temple Square, City Creek Park includes a paved path running parallel to the stream that leads straight to Memory Grove Park.  Filled with statues and fountains, Memory Grove Park is a great place to rest and eat a snack or even a picnic lunch.  Combine this with a walk around the…

City Creek Park.

City Creek Park.

Utah State Capitol Building Though you’ll be out of breath climbing the San Francisco-style street to get here, the view is worth the effort.  We just walked the grounds, but dropping in to the visitor center or joining a tour won’t cost a thing.  Look for the small paths to the east of the capitol that lead down to Memory Grove Park.  P.s. – I highly recommend choosing a backpack carrier over a stroller if you’re toting little ones.

Utah State Capitol Building.

Utah State Capitol Building.

View from the top.

From the top – I sure do love me some mountain views.

Donut Falls Hiking Trail Our family really loves hiking together, and I thought this would be the perfect anti-jet lag remedy.  Except I forgot that it can – and did – snow in Utah in April.  Oops.  Fortunately, the snow was packed down enough that we could walk a ways in our oh-so-appropriate summer kicks.  Unfortunately, we never did get to see that waterfall.

The snow-covered path to Donut Falls.

The snow-covered path to Donut Falls.

Not exactly the waterfall we were hoping for...

Not exactly the waterfall we were hoping for…

Gilgal Sculpture Garden Even if you can’t force yourself to be interested in art, drag yourself across the street from Trolley Square and prepare to be completely creeped out.  While your kids scramble around the stones, you’ll be scratching your head trying to figure out of this artist mocked or admired Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith as the sphinx...?

Joseph Smith as the sphinx…?

More funky art from Gilgal Sculpture Garden.

More funky art from Gilgal Sculpture Garden.

School of rock.

School of rock.

Jordan Park & International Peace Gardens.  Come for the two playgrounds and picnic area, stay for the hortus & culture.  Twenty eight countries maintain gardens that reflect their land, and in the middle rests a monument promoting peace.  Germany’s area disappointed, but Switzerland and Japan delighted.

A little taste of Europe in the International Peace Gardens.

A little taste of Europe in the International Peace Gardens.

Stepping into Japan.

Stepping into Japan.

Downtown Farmer’s Market.  Okay, you’ll have to pay for the rainbow of nutrients you’re sure to bag, but listening to the music and soaking in the atmosphere won’t cost a thing.

What are your favorite Salt Lake City activities to do with kids? 

Headed to Salt Lake City?  See my review of the Thanksgiving Point Gardens Tulip Festival.Signature-Marigold