This summer, skip the long lines at Six Flags—and spare the kids’ teachers the same old “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay—for a city escape that’s sure to receive raves from the young and old. But we’re not talking about the usual suspects. IgoUgo members from around the world have discovered the best (and most unexpected) family-friendly cities for families of all shapes and sizes—so drive right past the Gatlinburgs, Bransons, and Anaheims of the world, and head straight for a summer in the city you (and the kids) won’t soon forget.
Despite the rising mercury in Tucson’s summer months, “be ready to spend lots of time outdoors,” says local dad of two IgoUgo member mh75. “Remember,” he says, “it’s a dry heat!” Visit the Reid Park Zoo to see lions, tigers, and bears, or get up close and personal with a different breed of locals at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a living exhibit of Sonoran Desert wildlife that should easily quiet those “boring museum” complaints. Sports fans can take in a baseball game at Tucson Electric Park, where a designated section “provides great seating for families with little ones.” Young science-fair enthusiasts will thrill at the exhibits of Biosphere 2, where they can take a guided tour of five different ecosystems and marvel at the underground aquarium. When naptime rolls around, parents will love the 6,000-foot scenic drive to the top of Mount Lemmon; the kids will be awake just in time for a picnic served against sweeping panoramas.
London’s museums and leafy parks won over Brit IgoUgo member JayBroek and his restless one-year-old son (the famous Tomato). In the home of high-end shopping and higher-end royalty, “many tourist attractions are becoming aware” of the kid-friendly possibilities. The Science Museum offers exhibits specially designed for young visitors, and there’s not a kid alive who won’t be agape at the Tower of London’s medieval weapons and armor displays, cavernous dungeons, and famous Crown Jewels. The Original London Walks, led by local actors, offers Harry Potter tours (and excellent “haunted London” tours for the older kids). Of course, no family visit to London is complete without a glimpse of nursery-rhyme icon London Bridge or a ride on the London Eye, an enormous ferris wheel that affords spectacular city views. And when the afternoon slump hits, as JayBroek found, “there are large swathes of parkland available for a little recuperation.”
It took only a few hours to make IgoUgo member melissabowman a believer in Duluth; the northern Minnesota city is packed with “space for kids to run wild.” And with long daylight hours and cool Lake Superior breezes replacing the brutal winter weather, Duluth’s outdoors come alive in summer. This young Texan mom spent an afternoon watching the boats on Waterfront Pier and chasing the birds with her son in Canal Park before watching ships pass under Duluth’s famous Aerial Lift Bridge. With more time, she might have visited the kid-friendly Lake Superior Zoo and Great Lakes Aquarium (America’s only freshwater aquarium), explored sand dunes and picked wild strawberries at Park Point Recreation Area, or hiked across swinging bridges over the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park.
Looking to get an early start on Canada Day celebrations? Follow Canuck IgoUgo member grannola to the Nova Scotia capital of Halifax for “a day-long family party” a few days before the official Canada Day (July 1). This 30-something mother of three found enough to entertain three generations of family at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History (complete with interactive, kid-centric exhibits) and the curiously named International Tattoo Parade (hint: this Tattoo has nothing to do with permanent body art). But Halifax is turning the concept of “kid-friendly” on its head year-round, with myriad “adult” attractions that offer a dose of fun for the kids. Nova Scotian Crystal offers mesmerizing crystal-blowing demonstrations; the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic features ghost- and pirate-story nights especially for youngsters; and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (yes, you read that right) provides exhibit-related puzzle and craft stations throughout the gallery, along with a preschool craft room to keep the little ones engaged.
Unexpected? Maybe not. But Orlando has much to surprise the family looking for more than thrill rides and character breakfasts. IgoUgo member C.Kowalczik, a father of two little ones from Connecticut, assures us that “there is so much more to see and do” beyond the theme parks. Try fun-focused attractions like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Orlando’s only upside-down building, or indulge the budding astronauts in the family at the Kennedy Space Center. Outdoors, kick putt-putt up a notch at Pirate’s Cove Miniature Golf, or head further afield to Blue Spring State Park to visit a designated manatee refuge or just take to the river (St. Johns River, that is) for swimming, tubing, and kayaking. Or rev things up at Daytona USA, where you’ll find NASCAR-centric IMAX shows, exhibits, racing simulators, and a glimpse of the legendary Daytona International Speedway.
For families that take a different shape, Californian IgoUgo member SFPhotocraft brings us Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Family Week is held each August for gay parents and their children to enjoy organized beach picnics, movie nights, performances, and clam bakes. “In Provincetown, everyone is themselves,” he says. “There is no pretense here.” Throughout the summer, P’town serves up an open, accepting atmosphere to complement the traditional trip to the Cape, with dolphin- and whale-watching excursions, adventure-ready sand dunes, and even a pirate cruise for kids. Many a sweet tooth has been sated at Cabot’s Candy and Highland Creamery (just outside P’town), and copious bike trails and beaches provide an outlet for the resulting sugar rush.
Traveling to Stockholm with his six-year-old son, IgoUgo member CNJMichael was delighted by the Swedish capital’s array of kid-friendly offerings. After a historical canal tour to get Dad oriented (and keep the little one entertained), the duo squeezed every last drop out of Stockholm’s long sunlight hours, wandering an open-air living history museum, riding a Story Train devoted to the creator of Pippi Longstocking, and testing out the rollercoasters at a Scandinavian amusement park. Little ones itching for room to run—and those easily bored—will love the combination of fresh air and entertainment at Kungstradgarden, the city’s oldest park, where a multitude of summer concerts and festivals unfold among its leafy paths and fountains (in winter, it plays host to an ice-skating rink).
3. Quebec City
If Montreal is the young, hip cousin of the Quebec family, Quebec City is its sophisticated aunt. But alongside the Parisian cafes and historical buildings, this capital city reveals a surprisingly kid-friendly side, as IgoUgo member zabelle discovered on a trip with her five-year-old grandson. The recently renovated zoo and aquarium were a hit (though this “sophisticated zoo patron” was quick to point out which animals weren’t present), as were the crashing Montmorancy Falls and the Wax Museum of Quebec. Little girls will love Les Dames de Soie, a local shop that specializes in handmade dolls, with a small museum of doll-making attached. And festival lovers should visit in July, when the streets burst with music during the annual Quebec City Summer Festival, an extravaganza of concerts, street performances, and carnival acts to keep visitors of all ages (and attention spans) amused.
A G-rated Amsterdam might sound too good to be true, but IgoUgo member barbara begs to differ. This young mother and frequent traveler from Atlanta, Georgia, found numerous opportunities to keep her 12-year-old son entertained—at a safe distance from the city’s famous coffee shops and Red Light District. From the Amsterdam Dungeon (more macabre carnival attraction than historical museum) to the Anne Frank House (a real-life supplement to the ever-popular Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl), this Netherlands city conquers even the most difficult territory: pre-teen boys and girls. Younger children will delight at the interactive science museum Nemo and the area’s colorful windmill displays.
1. Atlantic City
On this getaway, skip the casinos in favor of Atlantic City’s all-ages attractions, as IgoUgo member mtemail did when her whole family arrived from Ohio last summer. “In the hotel elevator, a woman looked at us and asked, ‘What is there to do in Atlantic City for children?’ The answer is ‘Plenty!’” And by “plenty,” she means the Steel Pier, an amusement park with an old-time carnival vibe; Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy, a jaw-dropping showcase of acrobatics; and Atlantic City’s namesake—its beautiful Atlantic coastline, hugged by an action-packed boardwalk and dotted with public beaches. Visitors will find their fair share of oddities in Atlantic City too: Lucy the Elephant in nearby Margate is a six-story, elephant-shaped building that dates from 1881—take a tour to learn the “hows” and, perhaps most important, the “whys” involved in building this National Historic Landmark.