Find free child places to keep your family holiday costs down
Family holidays can be an expensive business. Keeping the children entertained far away from home and on a budget is not always easy. We have discovered though that with a little homework and preparation before you leave home there is a lot of scope for finding free child places on holidays and saving some hard earned money.
Getting There and Getting About
Having your children travel with you for free is not impossible. However it usually requires some flexibility on when or how you travel. Let’s start with the biggest challenge:
Air travel – Whilst budget airlines offer excellent value for money they often charge the same rate for children’s tickets as they do for adult tickets. So especially with short haul flights regular carriers offering discounted tickets for children may work out cheaper overall than the budget airlines. Even with regular carriers the discount for children varies tremendously.
For example Air France typically offer a 15% discount for children on their short haul flights whilst Lufthansa offer a 25% discount across almost all their flights and Iberia will give you a huge 50% discount on its domestic flights. Children under 2 years old can usually travel for as little as 10% of the adult fare and sometimes for free on internal flights – although they will not have their own seat and will be expected to sit on an adult’s lap for the entire journey. Is it possible to find free child places when flying? Well yes – airlines are not well known for offering free seats but it is worth watching out for special ‘free flights for children’ promotions in your national newspapers because they do happen from time-to-time.
Rail travel – Very often children as old as four or five can travel for free by train and discounts on tickets for older children are readily available. If the train you’re travelling on gets busy however your child will be expected to sit on your lap or take your seat while you stand. International rail services like the Eurostar often run special promotions during the year where children can travel for free or virtually free.
Coach travel – On coaches children up to 2 years old usually travel for free and places for older children can be more heavily discounted than for other methods of travel. You do need to check on the coach company’s policy for use of child booster cushions (which may come at an additional cost) and you will need to take your own child seat with you for the smallest ones.
Ferries – Traditionally one of the most family friendly ways to travel and often with excellent deals for children. British holidaymakers can also take advantage of the annual National Ferry Fortnight when many of the major ferry operators offer free child places sometimes for children as old as 15.
Local bus/tram/metro – Many major cities allow children to travel for free on their public transport networks although the ages to which free child places apply vary considerably. Amongst the best examples we have found are in London where up to four children aged under 11 can travel for free with an adult holding a ‘Visitor Oyster Card’ and in Berlin where the ‘Berlin ABC Welcome Card’ allows up to three children between 6 an 14 to travel free with an adult.
Getting Out and Having Fun
Parks – Every major city will have some large public parks and many of them have free things for the children to do. The huge El Retiro park in Madrid has some stunning formal planting a boating lake and is also home to the Palacio de Crystal and the Palacio de Velazquez. Take the children here at the weekend to enjoy street entertainers of all sorts. In Barcelona make time for the historic Parc de la Ciutadella equipped with three dedicated playground areas and organised children’s activities. Outdoor events are common throughout the year and many of them are targeted at families. Parc de la Villette in Paris is full of fascinating quirky postmodern structures and great open spaces. There are themed gardens children’s art centre an impressive Chinese dragon slide and many events during the summer months. Check out the major parks in your holiday destination before you travel and see what they have to offer.
Museums – Admission to state owned museums is often free although sometimes limited to certain days of the week and many of them have put a lot of time and effort into appealing to children. In Paris a visit to the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution is a treat for most children – it delivers an atmospheric walk through displays of life like animals and has loads of child focussed interactivity. The superb Museo Civico di Zoologia in Rome is free to under 18s and whilst there is little interactivity that speaks directly to children the exhibits are sure to appeal. Stunning both from the outside and on the inside Barcelona’s CosmoCaixa is possibly the least boring science museum in Europe. Under 16s enter for free there is plenty of interactivity and the museum even has its own mini Amazon Rain Forest.
Zoos – It’s not easy to find good zoos with free places for children unless they are under 3 years old. Other deals do exist and discounts for older children vary but perhaps the quirkiest policy for free entry we have found is that of the famous Bioparco di Roma which allows children in for free if they are under one metre tall.
City tourist cards – These discount cards vary greatly from city to city. Some include travel on public transport networks – the Paris Pass and Berlin Pass are good examples and some like the Madrid Card are just attraction passes. You need to make the most of these cards to get the best value from them but the financial savings can be such that some of the places you visit will effectively be free for you and the children.
And finally don’t forget carnivals and parades. Whenever you travel and wherever you go it is always worth checking out the local festivals. Colourful musical and entertaining the children will love them. For example Barcelona’s and Venice’s annual carnivals are held in the run-up to Lent and are probably the best Mardi Gras celebrations outside of the Americas.