A Complete 2 Week Japan Itinerary for Travellers Seeking Affordable Luxury (Including With Kids)

A Complete 2 Week Japan Itinerary for Travellers Seeking Affordable Luxury (Including With Kids)

As far as I am concerned, 2 weeks in Japan is not nearly enough because this small country packs so much into its borders. Needs must though –  adults need to work and children need to go to school. I prepared a 2 week Japan itinerary for my family encapsulating the best of what they needed to see as first-time visitors to Japan.  Technically, my children had been to Japan before but we spent a week in Tokyo and only went as far as Hakone on a day trip. This trip though was my husband’s first time in Japan and I wanted to make sure he got as full a picture as he could in 14 days in Japan.

The garden of a samurai house in Kanazawa Japan

The garden of a samurai house in Kanazawa, Japan

Japan is not a cheap country to travel (as my husband pointed out it can give Iceland healthy competition on expenses). The challenge was to balance our love of luxury travel with affordability over the course of a 2 week trip to Japan.

Did I mention that we also only pack light on short-haul flights? We travel with a suitcase each and , there’s usually an extra stuffed toy, jacket, book etc that gets smuggled in after my final checks. Two weeks in Japan in April as far as my kids are concerned needs both summer and winter clothes because layering is a foreign concept.

A torii gate to a Shinto shrine in Nikko Tokyo

A torii gate to a Shinto shrine in Nikko Tokyo

Transportation for Our 2 Week Trip To Japan

Our Japan itinerary started in Osaka because we flew into Osaka International Airport,. We spent the first week of our 2 weeks in Japan in the Kansai region.  We then went north to Kanazawa and Tokyo for the rest of our Japan itinerary. We flew out of Tokyo Haneda Airport at the end of our 2 week trip to Japan.

Technically, our Japan trip was a 15 day itinerary because we got into Osaka late the first night. I have only counted the Japan itinerary for 14 days though because that first day was a bit wasted getting over jet lag (and what we found out later was my son getting an ear infection).

 

Rail Passes

We used our Japan Rail passes to travel on day trips during our 2 week trip to Japan. We opted to use the Green Car which is a higher class of railway carriage than the standard.

We had both a 7 day Japan Rail Pass and a  7 day Kansai Wide Rail Pass. This latter Kansai Pass was what I was going to use for day trips from Osaka. I will explain in a later article why that was not such a good idea because of both our circumstances and what the Kansai rail pass covered.

flatly of Japan Rail Pass and Green car reserved seat tickets

Our Japan rail passes and a collection of reserved seat tickets for the Green Cars.

We minimised the hauling around of suitcases on trains by staying in just 4 hotels. Well, that plan worked well except for Kyoto which was so busy we could  not find just one hotel that could accommodate us for our 4 nights in that city.

I was right to be concerned about our luggage. Our suitcases were way bigger than the little suitcases the Japanese use. Thank goodness for the Green Car carriages. They were less busy than the standard carriages and we tended to use up the luggage compartment in our Green Car carriage with our four suitcases alone. The Green Cars are also reserved seats which made our life easier. We knew where to stand on the train platform and that we had definite seats together.

Taxis

Taxis within cities are plentiful in Japan. Drivers who speak English are less plentiful. Kyoto has a Foreign-Friendly taxi service where the driver knows more English and has a bigger car to accommodate travellers. We found one such Foreign-Friendly taxi service stand at Shin-Kyoto station.

A taxi marks that it is foreign friendly in Kyoto

A foreign friendly taxi marked as such in Kyoto.

Taxi drivers are, however, incredibly polite and will work with you to get you where we are going. In big cities, even with an exact address, they may have difficulties finding your location.  In China, we had problems with taxi drivers who wouldn’t stop for us because they didn’t want to deal with non-Chinese speakers.

Tip –  Have a screenshot of where you are going on your photos so the taxi driver knows both the address and a better idea of the destination location.

Note also that the taxis are not that big. About half the time we had to split into two taxis because our luggage wouldn’t fit into one taxi.

Cars

To drive in Japan, we found out that it’s not a simple matter of rocking up to a car rental agency and renting a car. You need either a Japanese driving license or an International Driving License. I had completely forgotten that when I lived in Japan I had an International Driving License. I considered it a fairly pointless document but the Japanese did not!

Tip – If you want to drive in Japan, you must have either a Japanese driving license or an International Driving License.

International Driving Licenses/Permits are easy to get. It’s simply a matter of applying for them and getting them before you arrive in Japan. You can get the IDL in the US for a year for $25 or through the UK post office for £5.50.

What’s Considered Affordable Luxury in Japan?

As I mentioned, Japan is an expensive country and what does affordable luxury mean anyway?  One person’s affordable luxury could be another person’s barely affordable.

Here are approximate costs for our 14 days in Japan.

We decided that lodging and transport were fixed costs.

  • Our hotels averaged $300-400/night.
  • The 5 day JR Kansai Wide Pass was about £240 for 4 people (kids 12+ are considered adults)
  • The 7 day JR Pass was about £1040 for 4 people (kids 12+ are considered adults)
Tip – If you have a JR Pass, do consider staying in Osaka and commuting into Kyoto on the Shinkansen (bullet train) in 15 minutes. Our 5 star hotel in Osaka cost LESS than our 3 star hotel in Kyoto thanks to the simple rules of supply and demand.

We had lots of discretionary costs which added to our experience in Japan and our final bill. Some examples:

      • We spent approximately  $2500 on local tours for 4 people – 3 Context Tours, 2 Arigato Japan Food Tours and 1Kanazawa Walking Tours.
      • For meals, we did a mixture of Japanese convenience stores (which are fabulous), little neighbourhood restaurants and some fancy dining. For example, our dinner at a Kobe teppanyaki restaurant came out to about $300. We spent over a $150 at the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku for food which was nothing special.
      • My daughter went crazy for the animal cafes. There is usually an entry fee (which includes a drink) and the final bill depends on how long you stay. Trust me, it adds up especially 8 animal cafes later.

Japan Travel Itinerary – 14 Days

Knowing my family well, I decided we would use 4 major centres as bases for our 2 weeks in Japan- Osaka, Kyoto, Kanazawa and Tokyo. From these cities, we would be well-positioned to do day trips to other places of interest.

We would find moving around every day or two just too stressful. We were packing in a lot of cultural and historic sightseeing and I knew my family would need some rest time in between activities. Rest time for my kids meant endless animal cafes – we went to 8 animal cafes during our two weeks in Japan!

couch with family at the Living Room Pug Cafe in Kyoto

We were pug-in-love at the Living Room Pug Cafe in Kyoto.

On the plus side, the kids’ luggage would have gotten a lot lighter if we had been constantly on the move as they would invariably lose stuff every time they packed and unpacked. As it is, we had several close calls with my daughter’s iPhone getting lost in the shuffle.

Four Cities in 14 days in Japan

For our 14 days in Japan, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo are obvious choices. I chose to add Kanazawa (known as “little Kyoto”) into the mix because its historic district has the charm of Kyoto with a whole lot less tourists. Moreover, Kanazawa’s samurai and geisha districts retain their original period charm  because the city was not bombed during World War II.

Osaka

Osaka is Japan’s second biggest city and known for being a fun-loving, food-loving city. Like a lot of other travellers, we used it as a base for exploring the region around Osaka.

What to Do in (and From) Osaka

Osaka itself is a large sprawling metropolis of brash neon and good times. Just give up on Osaka Castle, nearby Himeji is so much better. Enjoy Osaka for what it is – great food, shopping and nightlife.

Check out some available tours of Osaka: food tour of Japanese snacks | hop on-and-hop off sightseeing bus | a food tour of Osaka’s markets |a food tour of Osaka’s markets

We were in Osaka for cherry blossom time and so we took the train out to Mount Yoshino in Nara Prefecture on a day trip. Mount Yoshino is covered with 30,000 cherry trees and has been a cherry blossom viewing site for the last 1300 years.

Cherry trees in blossom at Mount Yoshino

Mount Yoshino is planted with thousands of cherry trees planted 1300 years ago.

If you are not in Japan during cherry blossom season, consider a day trip to Mount Koya instead. Mount Koya is one of Japan’s holiest places and the birthplace of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.

On the bullet train, you can also make a nice day trip out of Himeji and Kobe. Himeji is known for its gorgeous white castle rising above the city, a proud survivor from Japan’s feudal era.

Himeji Castle with cherry blossoms

Himeji Castle surrounded by cherry blossoms in spring

Kobe is a fun port city world famous for its export of Kobe beef. Being foodies, we had to take a pilgrimage to its old entertainment district, Sannomiya, to have a kobe beef dinner prepared on a traditional teppanyaki  in front of us.

Kobe beef in a restaurant in Kobe Japan

You really do need to try the famous kobe beef in the city of Kobe, Japan.

Another good day trip on the train from Osaka is Hiroshima and Miyajima Island. Visiting Hiroshima is a must if only to remember the tragedies of war. Miyajima is a charming island in the harbor of Hiroshima and is a cleansing break from the sombre and somewhat depressing Hiroshima Peace Park.

Take a guided tour:  either Hiroshima and Miyajima as a full day tour or a customised tour of Hiroshima.

We wanted to go Kinosaki Onsen but were derailed by the illness of a child.  Kinosaki Onsen has been a hot springs town since the 8th century. There are hot springs hotels all around town for which you can get day passes. These hot springs are the traditional Japanese kind where men and women are segregated and no swimsuits are allowed in the thermal springs.

Where to Stay in Osaka

We stayed for 4 nights in the Osaka Marriott Miyako which is Japan’s tallest building complex. It’s also conveniently located right over Tennoji station.

There is a direct train from Osaka International Airport directly to Tennoji station that takes 20  minutes. The train is SO much cheaper than a taxi.  Tennoji is also a useful hub for both the JR line and has direct connections for visiting places outside of Osaka (like Mount Yoshino).

We were very happy with our stay at the Osaka Marriott Miyako. The hotel occupies the 38th to the 57th floor in the tower of the building complex. My kids LOVED the view from our room on the 51st floor. The lights of Osaka sparkled into the horizon at night. People come to the tower’s observation deck (for which you get a free pass as hotel guest). We agreed though that the view from our room was pretty much the same, if not slightly better.

The hotel manager at the Osaka Marriott Miyako was a life-saver when our son came down with an ear infection and he was able to get us into an English-speaking clinic in the middle of the night. With antibiotics, my son was fine (eventually) but he we were really grateful for the prompt and efficient intervention on our behalf.

Kyoto

Kyoto was the capitol of Japan from 794 until 1868 so you can imagine how important this city is to the cultural life of Japan.

What to Do in Kyoto and its Environs

Kyoto has more than 1000 temples and shrines. With a quite a few of these temples being both important and beautiful, it’s pretty easy to be templed-out by the end of your stay.

Take a tour if you can’t decide on what to see or are short of time:  a full day tour of Kyoto’s UNESCO and historical  sites | combine Kyoto and Nara in a full day tour | Kyoto half day tour 

There is so much to do in Kyoto that it is hard to compress into a short visit. We visited several major temples and shrines, Nijo-Jo Castle and the famous Nishiki Food Market. There is Gion Corner which does nightly shows giving an overview of Japanese cultural traditions and Ninja/Samurai shows. Our all-time favourite experience though would have to be Ninja classes at a Kyoto dojo.

Ninja class in Kyoto with a blowgun

My daughter as a ninja-in-training getting blowgun practice in Kyoto.

The city of Nara is close to Kyoto and was the first capitol of Japan, There are temples, shrines and gardens galore in Nara , including the must-see Great Buddha at Todai-ji temple.

Where to Stay in Kyoto

We found getting accommodation in Kyoto for our Japan itinerary incredibly difficult. In fact, we met people on of our tours who decided to stay in Osaka because they couldn’t find anywhere in Kyoto.

Tip – If you are having difficulty finding suitable accommodation in Kyoto, consider staying in Osaka. If you have JR Pass, the bullet train connects Osaka and Kyoto in only 15 minutes. And, you can stay in a higher class of hotel for less (see the expenses section above).

In retrospect, we should have stayed longer in Osaka – changing hotels in Kyoto every two days and the accompanying chaos that entailed was simply not enjoyable. We also discovered that Kyoto hotels are relatively small which means they fill up on guests very quickly. We were sightseeing all day and exhausted by evening. So hanging out late into the night and then facing a train ride home would not have been an issue for us.

Our first stay was at the four-star Mitsui Garden Hotel Sanjo, one of three boutique hotels this  Japanese hotel chain, owns in Kyoto. The location was very convenient and our room  charming (if small). My daughter loved this hotel for its pretty Japanese charm.

Then we stayed at the 3 star Gion Hanna Stay hotel. The service was friendly and the room which was set up as a little apartment was adequate. Our favourite part of this  hotel was that it came with a washing machine. Yes, despite my kids packing half their wardrobe, they still ran out of clothes.

Our last hotel, another 3-star Hotel Kiyomizu Gion was my favourite. It was spacious, pretty and had a great location. Wandering the side streets of Gion (the old Geisha district) showed us both the old and the new Kyoto – trainee geishas going to/from work passing vegan cafes.

Check out the excellent reviews for the Hotel Giyomizu Gion in Kyoto on TripAdvisor!

Kanazawa and its Environs

Kanazawa is an absolutely charming city on the Sea of Japan side (the opposite side fo the island to Osaka/Kyoto). We loved Kyoto but we may have fallen harder for Kanazawa.

Kanazawa was controlled during feudal times by the powerful Maeda family, the wealthiest of the clans under the shogunate. The Maedas channeled their money into making Kanazawa a center for Japanese arts and crafts such as gold-leaf work and lacquer work. It was a tactical move to deflect the suspicions of the wary shogun who would have been afraid they were amassing funds for war.

What To Do in Kanazawa

Kanazawa has several well-preserved districts, the Higasi Chaya district (the old entertainment district), the Kazue-Machi district (the old geisha district) and Nag-Machi district (the samurai district where the retainers of the Maeda family lived).

Take a guided tour of Kanazawa: an evening tour with a meal |  a half day private tour | a full day private tour

Kanazawa is also famous for being the location of one of the 3 best gardens in Japan, the beautiful Kenrokuen Garden which used to be the gardens for the now-ruined Kanazawa Castle, domain of the Maeda family.

Cherry blossoms in bloom at Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa

Cherry blossoms in bloom at Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa

With its fair share of museums, Kanazawa has a Museum of Contemporary Art and the sublime D.T. Suzuki Museum (a museum dedicated to the Kanazawa native who introduced Zen Buddhism to the West).

We were supposed to visit the UNESCO heritage sites of the gassho houses in the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama. We were thwarted in our plans to hire a rental car and all the bus tours were full! These villages are not easily accessible by train. Missing out on visiting these villages was probably our biggest disappointment in our 2 weeks Japan itinerary.

Take a bus tour of the UNESCO world heritage sites of Shirakawa-go, Gokayama and Takayama.

Where to Stay in Kanazawa

We stayed 2 nights at the 3 star Kaname Inn Tatemachi which is bright, modern and spacious . We had a one bedroom apartment at the hotel with views over the city. Downstairs in the lobby, there was a restaurant and bar that we could hang out in the evenings.

Check out the excellent reviews for the Kaname Inn Tatemachi in Kanazawa on TripAdvisor!

Tokyo

I used to hate Tokyo – the city was just too much of everything that makes a Japanese city. Now, I love it for its complex train system, thousands of restaurants, and endless shopping choices.

After Kyoto and Kanazawa, my husband was surprised at the paucity of culture choices in Tokyo. I had to remind him that culture is more than castles, temples and shrines! Thanks to my children , we did our fair share of looking for kawaii (cute) culture including visiting the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku. It’s a totally different world out there!

What to Do In and Near Tokyo

In Tokyo, my kids insisted that we revisit their favourite places of Harajuku (the epicentre of youth culture in the city) and Ometesando (a high-end shopping district which also has the toy store, Kiddyland). We also revisited Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple which is the most visited pilgrimage site in the world.

The 5 tier pagoda seen from the gardens of Sensoji in Tokyo

The rear of Senso-ji temple with its beautiful gardens is less crowded than its front section.

Tokyo has so much to do that our 2 days in the city did not do it justice. For  example you have a plethora of cultural sightseeing and neighbourhoods to visit:

      • The Meiji Shrine dedicated to the Emperor responsible for wrestling power away from the shoguns back to the emperors.
      • Ueno Park – a public park with temples and street performers which comes to life on the weekends
      • Tsukiji market – the biggest fish and seafood market in the world
      • Tokyo Tower – Japan’s answer to the Eifffel Tower
      • Tokyo Skytree – the world’s tallest tower (note the world’s tallest structure is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai).

Here are some of the tours you can take in Tokyo: a skip the line admission ticket to Tokyo Skytree | Tsukiji Market Tour | Tsukiji Market Tour

To give my husband his obligatory temple and culture fix in one shot, we took the bullet train to Nikko, deep in the mountains north of Tokyo. It’s a UNESCO site famous for the OTT Shinto shrine to the first Shogun.

You can take a tour of Nikko that departs from Tokyo.

Imitating the famous three monkeys in Nikko (see, hear and say no evil)

Imitating the famous three monkeys in Nikko (see, hear and say no evil)

Having mixed my onsen (hot springs) fix at the town of Kinosaki Onsen, we took the bullet train to Hakone, in the mountains west of Tokyo. It was too cloud a day for us to Mt. Fuji from Hakone.

There are guided tours that depart for Hakone from Tokyo on the bullet train.

We did, however, have a fabulous time in the hot springs of Yunessun. My kids were thrilled that Yunessun had a swimsuit area at the hot springs  which gave us the option of not being in the buff.  The more traditional Japanese non-swimsuit area is beautiful by the way. Set in a traditional Japanese garden with views of the mountains, there is not a slide in site. In fact, we were having so much fun that we skipped out on the nearby Hakone Open Air Art Museum.

Where To Stay in Tokyo

We stayed at the Akihabara Luxury Cityhouse in Tokyo for 4 nights. It wasn’t in Akihabara technically and not particularly luxurious either.

The location on the JR stop of Kanda (the stop between Tokyo and Akihabara) though was terrific. Kanda had very little of the otaku-culture craziness that I experienced in Akihabara.  We had plenty of space in our 1 bedroom apartment ( presumably space is what the luxury in the name refers to).

Variations on the Japan Two Week Itinerary

You could fly into and out of Tokyo with this 2 week Japan itinerary. In that case I would make sure you had an extra day to get to/from Tokyo so technically it would be a Japan 15 day itinerary. Alternatively, you could cut out Kanazawa which would be a shame but would allow more travel time.

You could also make this a 12 day Japan itinerary by cutting out two days. I would choose to keep Kanazawa and spend less time in Osaka. Places near Osaka that you could choose to cut down are Mount Yoshino/Mount Koya, Kobe and Kinosaki Onsen. I would definitely still visit Himeji and Hirsohsiima/Miyajima.

Alternatively you could spend less time in Kyoto to create a 12 day Japan itinerary. Two days in Kyoto would give you enough time to see the main temples, shrines and neighbourhoods of the city.

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Family-Friendly NoMad Neighborhood and Flatiron District NYC

Family-Friendly NoMad Neighborhood and Flatiron District NYC

Although the Flatiron Building has always been a famous landmark in New York City, the area now known as NoMad has really only been a trendy area in the last few years. With the clean up of Madison Square Park and the Flatiron district going residential, the area has become very family-friendly. Although all these things below are fun, my children absolutely adored the National Mathematics Museum, aka MoMath (much to my surprise). Younger and trendier than other more touristy areas of Manhattan, the neighbourhood is still good with kids (thanks to its gentrification over the last few years).

Family-Friendly NoMad Neighborhood and Flatiron District NYC

Things to do with kids in the NoMad neighbourhood and the Flatiron District in Manhattan

The NoMad Neighbourhood and the Flatiron District NYC

The NoMad neighbourhood and the Flatiron district are basically two neighbourhoods divided by Madison Square Park. NoMad is to the north of the park, and Flatiron to the south.

NoMad Neighborhood

With the arrival of the trendy Ace Hotel and NoMad Hotel, real estate professionals dubbed the area north of Madison Square Park “NoMad” since 1999. In New York city, as my friend Andrew said about NoLiTa (North of Little Italy), you know a neighbourhood has arrived when property people give it a nickname. A trendy neighbourhood emerged from the gritty urban landscape of pawn shops and bodegas.

Madison Square Park

Named after the fourth US President, James Madison, Madison Square Park was established in 1847.  The park is most famous though for giving its name to a sporting and concert arena, Madison Square Garden.

In the late 19th century, many wealthy New York families had mansions in the area, including the Roosevelt family and the Jerome family (a Jerome daughter was the mother of Winston Churchill).

In the 20th century, Madison Square Park had a fairly grim phase before the whole area got cleaned up at the turn of 21st century.

Flatiron District NYC

The Flatiron district is named after the Flatiron building, a triangular shaped building which was an architectural marvel built in 1902. It’s one of the most photographed buildings in the world and also appeared in numerous movies, like Spider-Man and Godzilla.

Family-Friendly NoMad Neighborhood and Flatiron District NYC

The Flatiron building is one of the most photographed buildings in the world. So, of course, I took a photo.

The Flatiron district itself was a pretty commercial area with lots of clothes and toy manufacturers alongside artists attracted by cheap rents. Now it’s known as Silicon Alley because of the number of technology companies in the area. It’s also become very residential with young professionals and families.

Places To Visit

Museum of Mathematics (11 E 26th Street) is a fabulous little museum for children. My kids are not fans of math at school but I could not get them out of this museum. Ironically, I met with some resistance when I announced we were going to a Maths Museum. A museum and math combination seemed a bridge too far as far as my kids were concerned. They were pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was though!

Family-Friendly NoMad Neighborhood and Flatiron District NYC

The MoMath museum fronts onto Madison Square Park

There are two floors which introduces maths concepts that many kids don’t even know are mathematics. For example, kids think they are playing but they are really learning about patterns, symmetry, cryptography and the like. Computer generated exhibits like the pattern paints or the dynamic wall show kids in a fun way wave phenomena or symmetry.

Although the top floor is for younger children, my children enjoyed both floors. The bottom floor has a lot of logic games which kept them captivated. In addition to the games, you also have a small cafe and even more activities such as the Tessellation Station where kids use magnets to make patterns.

Madison Square Park is a small green space located between Fifth Avenue and 6th Avenue from 23rd to 26th streets. It’s got a playground and public art spread out amongst the landscaping. My kids also like to watch the dogs in the dog run.

Family-Friendly NoMad Neighborhood and Flatiron District NYC

Little Miss-Butter-Wouldn’t-Melt gently shoving her brother off the hammock installation at Madison Square Park. Totally caught in the act on film.

Books of Wonder (18 W 18th Street (between 5th and 6th)) is the largest American children’s book store. Nora Ephron, director and writer, used the store as the inspiration for the children’s book store in the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail.

Family-Friendly NoMad Neighborhood and Flatiron District NYC

The NYC mural in the story time space at Books of Wonder

The store is always running events for kids of all ages. Frankly, it’s also a great place to hang out  in air conditioned comfort in the dog days of summer or escape the bitter chill of winter. I have never been able to leave this bookstore without buying something!

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site (28 E 20th St) is run by the National Park Service.  Teddy Roosevelt was a sickly child who went onto be a adventurer and president immortalised on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. It’s a small museum so pretty easy to get kids to go around.

The Lego Store (200 5th Avenue) has the usual giant displays of Lego creations you find in other Lego stores such as the one in Rockefeller Center. Unique to this location though is the giant Lego recreation of the Flatiron District. My kids are Lego crazy and can spend hours in any Lego store.

Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Flatiron District NYC:

Eataly (200 Fifth Avenue) has delicious paninis and gelato either to eat in or to go.

Big Daddy’s (239 Park Ave S (btwn E 19th & 20th St.)) is a retro-style diner where you can get the usual comfort foods such as burgers, mac & cheese and milkshakes.

Shake Shack (11 Madison Ave (at E 23rd St)) is a safe bet if your kids are craving a burger.

We ate at this branch of Rosa Mexicano ((9 E 18th St (btwn 5th Ave. & Broadway)) the night before the twins were born. Not that I’m saying that this place brings on childbirth or anything but maybe that explains our kids fascination with Mexican food??

I prefer Burger & Lobster (39 W 19th St (btwn 5th & 6th Ave)) to Shake Shack. Burgers for the kids and lobster for me!

Maybe your family really can’t agree on where or what to eat (it’s been known to happen to us!). In that case, just go to Whole Foods on 4 Union Square so everyone can just pick something for themselves from the deli counters. Sushi for one person, a sandwich for another person, and life can continue without further drama.

Family-Friendly NoMad Neighborhood and Flatiron District NYC

Family-friendly things to do, where to eat and where to stay in the NoMad neighbourhood and the Flatiron District of New York City

Accommodation near NoMad

You have several good choices for staying in the area if you are looking for cool and contemporary hotels. The stuffy more traditional type hotels tend to be further uptown.

NoMad Neighborhood

We love the Ace Hotel and hang out with the hipsters in its lobby even when we are not staying at the hotel. The downstairs Ace Hotel lobby has large tables, sofas and great WiFi. Throw in the hipper than hip coffee shop and you’ve got a perfect place to unwind after a hard day of sightseeing.

By the way, there’s an old-fashioned photo booth which throws out the coolest vintage-style photo strips. My daughter is a big fan of the photo booth!

Family-Friendly NoMad Neighborhood and Flatiron District NYC

Colorful flowers outside the Ace Hotel cafe

The NoMad Hotel attracts a slightly slicker but still young and attractive crowd. My favourite part of the NoMad Hotel is it’s library cafe where you can order a light meal in a beautiful setting. The restaurant itself was a bit too grand for my children.

FlatIron District

I have not stayed at The New York Edition but my occasional contributor, Dianna, has stayed at the hotel this year. It’s the usual trendiness with compact rooms. The bar is full of beautiful people and difficult to get into (even if you stay at the hotel). It reminded me of the way original Whiskey Blue bar used to be at the midtown W hotel way back in the day. I won’t even give a year because it just makes me feel old but it was definitely pre-children.

Gramercy Park

Alternatively, you can go to the original trendy hotel which rocked the neighbourhood when it opened in what seems another era (2006).  The Gramercy Park Hotel is within easy walking distance of this area. My daughter loves its full on dashing red glamour as well as the fact that you can get access to Gramercy Park (the gated residents-only park). The Bar downstairs has great comfy seats and even better people-watching.

If you are wondering why I am on about the public spaces are in these hotels, its because the rooms are fairly similar for what you get — cool and quirky and small. Definitely small square footage for the amount of money you pay. You can get a double double room with children (that accommodates four) or a suite that has a separate sofa bed.

The biggest differences are in their public spaces. And, I’m a fan of their bars for meeting up with old friends. When you are travelling with kids in tow, you can set them up with an iPad on a comfy couch while you have a drink with friends nearby. If I have been hanging out in the Lego Store all afternoon, it ain’t no surprise that mama needs a stiff drink and adult conversation!

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Seven Cities With Child Friendly Cycle Routes for Family Cycling

Seven Cities With Child Friendly Cycle Routes for Family Cycling

I’m sure you have seen the rental bikes that have cropped up all over the world’s major cities that let you rent a bike for a short term spin around the city.  The main downside with these bike hires is that you are not entirely sure if the numbers you need will be at the place that you want when you go to hire them. If you are travelling with a family, then you are better off using a city bike rental such as Donkey Republic to make sure your plans to cycle the city don’t get waylaid.  I’ve put together this list of seen cities with child friendly cycle routes for family cycling from my own experience.

city bike rental for families

When everyone decides to rent a bike when you want to rent as well.

We love to cycle as a family but I am also a nervous mother.  I think my children have more faith in their cycling expertise than I do. My daughter absolutely, positively refused to get on a bicycle until she was 8 years old no matter how much begging the rest of us did. She wouldn’t even get on a tandem bicycle or use a trailer. Once we stopped harassing her, she learned to ride a bike on her own accord and now she loves it. Go figure.

 7 cities with child friendly cycle paths for family cycling

7 major cities with child-friendly cycle paths for urban exploring

7 Cities With Perfect Child Friendly Cycle Routes

What makes these cities perfect for family cycling? Probably the fact that for the most part, they have a large urban park in the middle of the city for easy traffic-free cycling. When you have mixed ability cyclists, a dedicated cycle path is the best option to avoid vacation mishaps. Although both my kids love cycling now, they are not only easily distracted by their environment but also like competing with each other. I’d prefer not to test out our travel insurance on holiday.

Family Cycle in Barcelona

City bike rental in Barcelona is pretty easy for families.  I would choose to explore the 70 acres of the Parc de la Ciutadella on a bike. When we went to Barcelona, we did not hire bikes because our children had not yet learned to ride bikes.  We did not see anywhere near enough of the park’s many attractions (including a winter garden, the Barcelona zoo, waterfalls and even the Parliament of Catalonia) because we were limited to strolling. It is definitely on our must-do list for next time.

Barcelona a city with child friendly cycle routes for family cycling

A cycle through the Parc de la Ciutadella

In addition, the bike path along the beach is perfect for a family cycle ride. The path is flat, straight and lined with snack vendors and play opportunities.

Family Cycle in Madrid

Likewise in Madrid, the Buen Retiro park takes up 350 acres near the Prado Museum. Renting a cycle is the best way to see all of its attractions, including the lake, art galleries and gardens.

 7 cities with child friendly cycle paths for family cycling

Bikes in the park in Madrid

Family Cycle in London

London has a great cyclepaths in its Royal Parks in the centre of the city.  Hyde Park (350 acres) is connected to the smaller (47 acres) and St. James’s Park (57 acres).  Although at a busy intersection, the route from Hyde Park into Green Park is regulated by a traffic signal to control the heavy pedestrian/cyclist crossing.

 7 cities with child friendly cycle paths for family cycling

A bike ride through Hyde Park in London

We had no problems when we did a cycle ride through these parks. On your ride, you will pass the Serpentine, Kensington Palace and have a postcard perfect view of Buckingham Palace surrounded by gardens from a bridge in St. James’s Park.

Family Cycle in Berlin

The Tiergarten in Berlin is set on over 500 acres of parkland in the centre of Berlin. You can explore lots of statues and memorials along its 14 miles of pathways. The paths are wide and flat thanks to the near-leveling of the city by Allied troops after World War II.  They destroyed much in their wake and some of the statues still bullet holes in them which makes for a different game of “seek and find.”

 7 cities with child friendly cycle paths for family cycling

Bikes chained along the river Spree in Berlin

Family Cycle in Vienna

In Vienna, we cycled through the park that surrounded the oldest amusement park in Europe, the Prater.  Frankly, it was also an exercise in economy because renting bikes is much cheaper than to constantly keep shelling out Euros for each ride that would last only a few minutes. You pay for each ride individually at the amusement park and that can really add up. Surrounding the amusement park are hundreds of acres of parkland most of it very flat and easy to cycle.

 a city with child friendly cycle routes for family cycling

A bike route in Vienna is shared with pedestrians.

Family Cycle in Irvine

Cycling in the planned city of Irvine in Southern California is a joy. The city encourages cycling and provides hundreds of miles of on and off-street parking.  With so many dedicated cycle routes, I actually even let my children cycle outside of a traffic-free park!  If you are more comfortable in a park, then check out the hundreds of acres that make up Orange County Great Park in Irvine.

 7 cities with child friendly cycle paths for family cycling

My daughter liked to cycle the flat bits of Irvine whereas my son took the hills as a challenge.

Family Cycle in Manhattan

In Manhattan, Central Park is the place to take your family for a bike ride. Even though the city has provided more dedicated cyclepaths, Central Park is still your best bet with children on a family cycle ride. Central Park covers almost 800 acres and includes a Zoo, numerous playgrounds and a reservoir.  You will pass the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim if you would like to take a break. There are lots of vendors around where you can stop and get drinks.  You should know though that once you start the bike loop, you are stuck going all the way around it.  There are no shortcuts but there are some steep hills.

cycle paths in London

Biking through Central Park is a fun and safe activity for the whole family.

Good to Know When Cycling With the Family

Other family-friendly cycling cities that I have been recommended to me are San Diego in California and Nice in France. Everyone cycles in Amsterdam it seems but I would have reservations letting my children cycle in the city. You are sharing the road with cars, taxis, expert cyclists, trams etc.  I would think that family cycling in Amsterdam was best with older children.

My husband received a copy of Lonely Planet’s [easyazon_link identifier=”1760340839″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Epic Bike Rides of the World[/easyazon_link] as a Christmas gift. He and the rest of the family were pretty enthralled with the book. Although this book has epic rides as suggested by the title, it also suggests shorter and easier family-friendly cycle routes.

Do you have any other cities that you can recommend that have family-friendly cycling routes?  I would love to add to this list.

This article has been done in collaboration with Donkey Republic.  As ever, all opinions remain my own. It also contains affiliate links about which more can be read at the Disclosure Policy and is linked up with Monday Escapes.

5 Reasons For A Family Vacation to Zanzibar

5 Reasons For A Family Vacation to Zanzibar

Zanzibar.  The  name rolls of the tongue evoking images of distant lands and foreign climes. How could the island of Zanzibar not be exotic when the name itself is so cool? My children have been begging me to visit the island ever since one of their school friends had a family vacation to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is actually a great beach break in conjunction with a safari to Tanzania itself. It’s actually a couple of islands and the main island is called Zanzibar.  The smaller island is Pemba (more isolated and popular with honeymooners).

visiting the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania with kids

Zanzibar City is the capital of Zanzibar.  The historic centre, Stone Town, is a UNESCO world heritage site.  In addition to tourism, Zanzibar exports spices which is why it has been known as the Spice Islands in the past.

a family vacation in zanzibar

A market in Zanzibar

After 2 weeks on safari in Tanzania, our friends rented a big house in Zanzibar on the beach and with its own pool.  They had been travelling with extended family and wanted to stay together.  They book a house through VRBO.  The cost of living is very cheap and the French owners just keep staff on retainer even when they are not there.  The house came with its own housekeeper, cook and driver. It was a perfect relaxing way to end a week on safari.

a family vacation in zanzibar

I can so see myself here.

Alternatively, you can book one of the many luxury hotels in Zanzibar.  For example, the Manta Resort on Pemba island has interconnecting garden rooms perfect for families.  Added bonus:  one of the rooms has an underwater bedroom.  I can’t decide if that is a cool idea or I would just feel creeped out by having an octopus hanging out by my bedside.

a family vacation in zanzibar

a red starfish on the beach

So my 5 reasons for a family vacation to Zanzibar?

  1. Time for rest & relaxation post-safari.  Safaris can be gruelling with the early morning drives which are amazing but also a bit of a hardship on vacation.
  2. Amazing beaches and crystal waters make it a wonderful playground for all the family.
  3. A UNESCO world-heritage city centre with a long historical trading history to fulfil your culture vulture needs.
  4. Great accommodation whether in a resort or a private villa will provide all the luxury you need.
  5. Thanks to its coastal location and trading history, local cuisine is a cross-cultural delight.

a family vacation in zanzibar

Yes, I think I convinced myself.  I’ll be booking myself on a holiday to Zanzibar next year.

This post is linked up with Travel Tuesday.

Family Fun at Rio’s Carnival Bloco for Children

Family Fun at Rio’s Carnival Bloco for Children

The first thing our children noticed at the Banda de Ipanema Kids Bloco was the shaving cream being squirted by gleefully chuckling Brasilian children.  Then, they noticed the confetti being thrown around.  Our children have never thrown confetti (or squirted shaving cream for that matter) so they were really happy to get into the full spirit of Carnival Bloco for Children.  And, did they have fun!

Rio Carnival with kids

Carnival Blocos

The bloco for children, Banda de Ipanema Kids, takes place in the park around Praca General Osorio in Ipanema.  It has been happening since the 1990’s.  This year the party was on the Monday afternoon.  Similar to Children’s Day at the Notting Hill Parade, Rio’s carnival bloco for children is a family-friendly and lower-key event than the main parties.

People congregate on the outskirts of the gated park while the main activity happened inside the park.  Unlike other blocos, the parading does not leave the park so it is a nice confined area.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

The streets around a bloco become car-free for the safety of the revellers.

Blocos are street parties that happen during Carnival in Rio.  Considering the Sambadrome can only seat 90,000 people but there were an estimated 500,000 visitors as well as the millions of locals, blocos are a way for everyone to enjoy the carnival spirit.  There were 505 official blocos licensed for Carnival 2016.  Not all of the blocos are family-friendly but the Banda de Ipanema Kids at General Osorio park definitely was.

An enterprising vendor brought caiprinhas for the adults so we were able to live and let go in the mayhem.  It’s easier not worry about such concerns as environmental damage caused by confetti with a caiprinha in your hand.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

Caiprinhas for the parents!

Photo Gallery:  Carnival Bloco for Children

The whole event was good natured fun.  Not only did the children chase each other around to cause maximum shaving foam damage, the party atmosphere extended to cotton candy and caramel popcorn.  Because, of course, sugar is exactly what over-excited children needed.

I really also enjoyed people-watching.  Brasilians are friendly anyway and they LOVE their children.  The interaction between families was really sweet.  Our kids were the right age and blended right into the event.  The only teens we saw were there with younger relatives.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

I love this little girl’s gleeful smile and her father’s long-suffering look. Do what you must, that look says.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

This little one was cackling in glee at having confetti sprinkled at him.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

A little girl and her mother having fun.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

My son, the victim of a sneak foam attack, by his sister.

Rio Carnival Children Bloco

Thanks to the Caiprinha I couldn’t even get mad about the fact that we told them NOT to spray in each other’s faces. Breathe.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

This kid’s smirk clearly means he is up to no good with a spray can!

Carnival Bloco for Kids

Of course, there was a band playing music.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

No kid ever got tired of popping bubbles.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

This guy good-naturedly let himself be a target for our kids. We simply had not drunk enough to volunteer for such an act of valour.

Carnival Bloco for Kids

The thing about Carnival? Everyone likes to have their photo taken.

This post is linked to Travel Photo Thursday.