what to do in…

Ghent – magical Christmas fun

Ghent in the Flemish region of Belgium is a wonderful pre-Xmas escape with the family. With its Christmas market, ice-rink, retro helter skelter, merry go round and big wheel, medieval architecture, canal boat rides and castle to explore this small city is a delight. We travelled with Euotunnel from Folkestone and Ghent is an easy 90 minute drive away.


Gravensteen a 12th century castle is a must see with its moat,turrets and arrow slits. We turned a corner and there it was, this impressive Counts of Flanders stone castle, completely unexpected in the city centre. Opposite the castle is the Alchemist bar with the best cappachinos in town.


Ghent’s centre is a pedestrian area making it particularly safe for wandering with many of  the main sights within an easy walking distance.  Children will love going out in the early evening when it’s historical buildings are lit up by a series of spotlights and floodlights.


We stayed at the stylish Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof, a Travellors’ Choice 2013 winner conveniently located close to the Graslei and Korenlei – two streets that line the canal with terraces, restaurants, cafes and bars –  a great starting point for exploring the city.

Norway for kids – children’s highlights

We visited Norway over Easter and I fell in love with this destination – it’s stunningly beautiful with a mass of child-oriented attractions. Norway is a expensive country, however getting there with the low cost airlines Ryanair & Easyjet can help offset the high day to day living expenses. It was our first real road trip with the children aged 7 and 5 so we kept driving distances to a reasonable length not travelling for more than 3.5/4 hours at a time. We explored the Bergen and the Southwestern Fjords region with a stint in central Norway to try some skiing and wow that was fun. We chose to stay in self catering apartments and hostels which meant the children had plenty of space, we bypassed having to eat out in restaurants and this worked out to be way more reasonable than a hotel.

1. Bergen Aquarium was a huge hit with the family. Initially, the children were attracted by the penguin and seal tanks near the entrance however it was the reptile centre that enthralled my son and the immense fish tanks that intrigued my daughter with their strange looking inhabitants. Educational talks were given in English during the seal and penguin feeding times and an unexpected bonus was the 3D cinema showing a type of ‘Octonauts’ short film.

2. We spent a fun afternoon at the Vilvite Science Centre Bergen. This is a great space for children to explore a myriad  of interactive exhibits from creating forces to predicting the weather to braving a 360 degree cycle ride that allows you to experience gravity. This Centre also had a 3D cinema showing the largest creatures ever to walk this earth – the gigantic dinosaurs of Patagonia.

3. Stavanger Archaeological Museum is a small museum with cabinets displaying treasures dating back 11,000 years including bracelets, brooches and hairpins. The swords and skeletons on display fascinated the children but what they really loved was dressing up as a Viking complete with shield and sword.

4. Geilo in winter is a ski resort and in summer offers great walking and cycling opportunities in the National Parks as well as downhill biking, climbing park, horseback riding and glacier hiking, It was the perfect resort for us to learn to ski as a family with its quiet slopes, excellent ski school and being uber child friendly.

5. Climbing Mount Floyen was a true adventure. It simply started as a gentle walk from the hostel to stretch our legs after a long car drive with no idea that if we just kept walking and climbing up that rocky path we would finally arrive at the top of Mount Floyen with an incredible view down to the city and across to the snow capped mountains.

Lisbon, Portugal – top 5 family attractions

Having just returned from Lisbon I wanted to recommend this city as a great contender for a family getaway. At this time of year, the climate is warm but not too hot, the city is ‘doable’ and there are some beautiful beaches just a short distance away. Lisbon has a great feel; it’s friendly, clean and inexpensive; children are welcomed and there are some fantastic attractions that the family can all enjoy.

Here are my top 5:

1. An absolute must, Lisbon’s Oceanarium is one of the world’s largest aquariums with around 25,000 fish, seabirds, and mammels. It has been designed in such a way that there are four different habitats reaching to a central tank creating an illusion that five tanks are one Ocean. Kids can oogle and get up close with sharks, jellyfish, penguins and otters. Located in Parque das Nações, the oceanarium can be reached easily by public transport.

2. St Georges Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge) is Lisbon’s ancient fortress and towers over the city offering amazing views over red roof tops. Be warned that it is a steep climb (you can grab a taxi or tram to take you up). In addition to climbing the towers and walking along the ramparts, the narrow cobbled streets of the small quarter of Santa Cruz are within the the walls of the old castle and are great for wandering and stopping for a pastry or cold refreshment.

3. Lisbon Zoo (Jardim Zoologico de Lisboa) to the north of the city is a must see for families. The zoo has undergone renovations in recent years and what makes this zoo stand out is its cable car track that goes over the zoo offering an unusual perspective of the animals  from above and the highly rated dolphin show.

My last two attractions are located outside of Lisbon in the old town of Sintra
(recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995). Sintra is a mad landscape of palaces, villas and monasteries built amid giant moss-covered boulders and forests.

4 Moorish Castle, Sintra – it’s a steep climb for little legs but once at the top younger ones will love running along the ramparts and exploring the fortress walls. The castle was conceived as a vantage-point overlooking Lisbon, its surroundings and the coastline and is to date back to the 9th century.

5. Pena Palace & surrounding park – built in the 19th century this is an eclectic mix of architectural styles. The palace is now a museum preserved as it was when the royal family lived here. A circular loop bus can take you between the main Sintra attractions from the town centre. You can find some photos via Sonja of toeuropewithkids.com  http://networkedblogs.com/zU5Ee

Claire Lees – 12 June 2012

Ardeche, France – top 5 things to do  in the Ardeche with kids

All of these attractions are located within the Ardeche region of France and all
within a short drive of Saint Martin-d’Ardeche.

1. Descend the Ardeche Gorges – if your kids are aged 7 and over then this is a must. Spend a day or two canoeing through limestone cliffs, stopping at secluded river beaches to cool off and splash around before continuing on your journey. Starting at Vallon Pont D-Arc and finishing at St Martin is a popular 25 km plus descent. If your kids are younger then you can hire canoes by the hour and paddle on the river near St Martin; swan pedalos with slides a firm favourite with the littlies are also

2. Crocodile Farm – This is an absolutely awesome place to get up close to these magnificent creatures. Walk through a huge indoor tropical greenhouse paradise with viewing platforms and an outside area that allows the crocodiles and giant tortoises to enjoy the sun during the summer. There are over 400 crocodiles from the rarest species to view plus a large outdoor childrens play area. The farm supports protecting and helping in the conservation of crocodiles.

3. Museum of Dinosaurs – if you decide to drive along the gorge stopping off at the scenic parking bay vistas, then it is definitely worth diverting a few kms to this outside dinosaur attraction. This dinosaur park has been built in the heart of one of the largest paleontological sites in Europe. Kids can explore a pine wood dotted with lifesize models of dinosaurs learning about all the different types.

4. Saint Marcel cave is one of the largest and most beautiful caves in Europe. Entry to the cave is through a tunnel that takes you down via a series of steps and slopes to various rooms (cavities) full of underground rivers, pools and waterfall. A guided tour takes you along walkways viewing fascinating formations caused by erosion over thousand and thousand of years; truly beautiful.

5. Medieval town of Aigueze – take an early evening stroll across the river from St Martin to Aigueze, perched precariously on a cliff above the Ardeche. Kids can lead the way, exploring the medieval streets and alleys taking a leap back in time discovering battlements, towers, fortifications and hidden doorways. Listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

Claire Lees 16 May 2012

 Jordan – top 6 places to visit with kids

1. Walking the Marsh Trial at Azraq Wetlands Reserve in the eastern desert.

2. Visiting the imposing crusader castle of Kerak complete with dungeons.

3. Walking the dry riverbeds of Dana Gorge searching for lizards and geckos.

4. Floating in the dead sea

5. Climbing a sand dune and watching the sun set over the spectacular landscape of Wadi Rum

6. And of course, the incredible temples of Petra – grab a donkey and hitch a ride up to the monastery and be mesmerised.

Claire Lees – 23 April 2012