Taking the kids on holiday can present all sorts of problems. Parents need to strike a fine balance between finding fun activities to keep the children happy and making sure that they get to see at least some of the culture of the chosen destination.
A short break in one of Europe's magnificent cities might provide the answer. Spending a few days away in a fabulous European location not only means quality time together as a family, but also gives the children the opportunity to get a quick dose of culture and history and to gather some new experiences.
European travel is easy, straightforward and relatively inexpensive from the UK. The added advantage to a short city break is that you'll only be staying for a few days, so you can afford to cut back on the luggage. There'll be no need to pack toys either. The children will be far too busy to get bored. There are some great destinations to choose from, too.
Rome can be a brilliant choice for a city break, especially if the kids have been studying the Roman Empire at school. Exploring Rome with kids in tow can be tricky, but few kids could fail to be impressed by the Colosseum, especially when they learn the gory tales of the gladiators. If your children like nothing better than exploring a scary place full of creepy atmosphere, the spooky catacombs beneath Via Appia Antica are the ideal place to send shivers down their spines.
Rome's Villa Borghese offers a vast expanse of parkland to explore, including the Piazza Di Siena amphitheatre, where little girls with a pony fixation can see Rome's top equestrian event in the month of May. The park is also home the world's smallest cinema, the Cinema Dei Piccoli, which shows children's films most afternoons.
If all else fails to amuse your little ones, there is always a visit to a Gelataria for some delicious gelato to put a smile on all the family's faces.
London is always a popular choice for a city break, and there is a wealth of things to do, all year round in the capital. There are shows and musicals for all the family at London's vast array of theatres, but if your kids find it difficult to sit still for more than five minutes, then something more active might be the best alternative.
London has a varied selection of hotels to choose from and the city itself has a wide choice of parks and gardens to visit, such as Greenwich and Hyde parks, or Kensington Gardens, where the wide open spaces can be enjoyed on foot, by bike, or even on rollerblades.
Animal lovers will adore a visit to one (or all) of London's thirteen city farms or London Zoo. Your little princess will be awestruck by the beauty of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, while her brother will love the blood and guts stories of imprisoned traitors and beheaded queens.
Few of the world's cities have such a plethora of museums as those that can be found in the capital. Everything from natural history, through science, to paintings, sculptures and artefacts, is on show here.
Berlin, with its reputation for thriving nightlife, may not seem like an obvious choice for a break with the children, but the city actually caters for kids extremely well. Kindercity is a 6000 square metre play and learning centre that allows children to have the run of the building. Following one of three learning lanes, depending upon their ages, the kids can make their own TV programme, learn to fix a car, make chocolates, or excavate a dinosaur skeleton. There is even a driving school for budding motorists.
Berlin is home to the Legoland Discovery Centre, where medieval castles and Berlin's landscape can be found in miniature and Sea Life Europe, where 4000 sea creatures can be found. At Magic Mountain, children can learn to climb, with supervision, of course. There are a number of other adventure playgrounds, skateboard parks and city beaches to explore too.
Staying in the city of Edinburgh is an excellent choice for a short break and has lots to offer all of the family. Children will love clambering over the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle. Visit at around lunchtime to hear the one o'clock gun, but be prepared to cover your ears – it's loud! There are child-friendly tours of the Secret City, where spooky tunnels, stairwells and catacombs can be explored. Edinburgh Dungeons is well worth a visit too.
Parents can take a step back to their childhoods and children can learn all about the toys and games of the past at the Museum of Childhood. A trip to Edinburgh Zoo is an absolute must now that the giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, have come to stay. Viewing the pandas can only be done at special viewing times, so check out the website for details.
For a short break that is just filled with fun, the clear leader of destinations has got to be Orlando, Florida. Theme parks abound in this city and its surrounding areas and kids can't fail to be thrilled. Busch Gardens at Tampa Bay offers an unrivalled variety of thrilling rides, close up animal encounters and live entertainment. Many of the animals are endangered species that cannot be seen at such close quarters anywhere else. New to the park is the Cheetah Hunt rollercoaster, which gives the rider the cheetah's eye view of the African plains as it pursues its prey.
At Universal Studios, children can step right behind the scenes of all their favourite movies and TV shows, including Men in Black and The Simpsons, before riding the film and TV show themed rollercoasters. They can have a ball at Woody Woodpeckers Kidzone, too. Harry Potter fans can visit Universal Islands of Adventure, just a stone's throw away from the studios, to explore Harry's Wizarding World and the new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.