Before my family set off on our year of travel, we’d regularly research or ask friends for recommendations on where to go. Quickly, a pattern emerged in the replies. “Everyone loves babies in Italy,” we’d hear. “There are tons of all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas,” many would suggest. “There’s nothing like seeing a kid’s eyes light up at a Disney Park,” came up over and over again. But despite these common themes, we still felt an itch to find options a bit more off-the-beaten-path, at least when it came to family travel.
We also knew and embraced our own preferences. We love traveling on foot, and find comfort in having very few plans laid out. We like to explore freely and emulate life as locals. We’re suckers for public greenspaces and community events.
Fast forward nearly 12 months, and we’ve culled a list of our own recommendations for baby- or toddler-friendly travel. I’ll mention, these 4 are all places with big, relatively central airports — we certainly have a list of more remote recommendations (which I’ll save for another post), but there’s some amount of baby-friendliness that stems simply from being easy (or at least easier) to reach.
Toronto was a stop on our trip that happened by accident. In searching for affordable flights to the UK, we noticed that AirCanada was running big promos through their Toronto hub, and flying through Toronto trimmed over $800 off our total. With no research and nearly no prep, we booked 5 days just west of downtown — and that was plenty of time for us to fall in love.
There are a few things that really stand out about Toronto: it’s clean, easily navigable, and offers lots of greenspace and waterfront views. It’s also one of the most diverse cities we’ve visited, with many cultures intermixed and represented, especially in the food. After enduring some seriously harsh winters, Toronto’s spring and summers are palpably joyful, with parks packed with picnickers and public events.
One of our favorite activities in Toronto was a trip out to Toronto Island, just a 10-minute ferry ride into Lake Ontario. The island featured beautiful parklands, great playgrounds and splash-pads, and lots of rides and carnival games that our toddler adored.
Seoul, South Korea
When we told friends we were headed to East Asia, everyone seemed to gush about Japan — especially for cherry blossom season. But for whatever reason, there was far less enthusiasm about Korea, and even some surprised looks when we shared our intent to visit.
Similar to Toronto, Korea initially caught our eye because of affordable flights — tickets from Seoul to LAX were about 60% of the cost flying out of Tokyo, and flights to Seoul from other East Asian cities were typically under $100. With that, we tacked on about 10 days in Korea at the end of our time in Asia, and we’re now itching to go back.
Seoul captured our hearts (and tummies!) nearly instantly. It felt bustling and electric, while also being affordable and very safe. The cherry blossoms in Spring were striking, particularly intermixed with the urban cityscape. The food was probably some of our favorite from all our travels, and was made even better by the mix of night markets, BBQ joints, and cozy noodle shops.
But what made Korea a clear addition to this list was how wildly welcoming it was to our young son. The people of Seoul blew us away with their kindness and excitement to see a toddler. Our little guy was constantly receiving gifts and warm hellos, and on the subway, multiple people would often jostle for a closer seat so they could chit chat with him. Even with some amount of language barrier, the attitude toward kids in Korea made us feel welcomed and comfortable from beginning to end.
Amsterdam is certainly a hotspot in its own right, but many don’t realize how wonderful it is for young kids. Yes, coffee shops and the red-light district exist, but these are just minor footnotes on an otherwise warm, family-friendly haven.
We’ve now made multiple stops in Amsterdam on our travels this year, in part because the city feels so livable for a young family. We always rent bikes immediately upon arrival, and spend our days bouncing between the many parks that surround the city center, and wandering the canals on foot at night. The city is distinctly unfriendly to cars, in a way that we adore! Bikes rule the roads, with pedestrians following at a close second. It’s a true treat to not have to contend with traffic and to give our son more space to walk independently.
In many ways, Amsterdam’s city infrastructure feels designed for young families. Many of the bars and restaurants include play areas for kids. There are public, free petting zoos — yes, with real livestock and animals — embedded across the city center into apartment complexes and schools. The generous attitude toward parents in the workforce means that you see moms and dads, in relatively even proportions, out with their kids in the afternoons and sharing the childcare load.
Of all the places we’ve been, Amsterdam tops the list of where we could most see ourselves living longer term.
My final addition to this list is Melbourne, a city that’s long lived in the shadow of beachy Sydney, but has been gaining popularity in recent years. We rented an apartment in Melbourne for a little over a month, and now recommend it wholeheartedly to families making their way “down unda.”
To us, Melbourne felt like it combined the best of sunny California (the weather, the green space) and hip Chicago (the neighborhoods, the cafes). We had bikes for our entire stay and also frequented public transit, which enabled us to explore the variety of distinct pockets across the city. We boated along the river that runs through downtown (also felt like Chicago a bit), and enjoyed the bright parks, markets, and beaches (which reminded us a bit of SoCal).
But perhaps one treat about Melbourne that makes it particularly suited for a family-friendly list was the quality of playgrounds. Two of the best playgrounds we’ve ever visited in the world were in Melbourne, and one was right in the heart of downtown. The reason why? There’s a real movement in the city, and in Australia more broadly, to invite more risk-play and adventure-play. These playgrounds were creative, natural spaces that were booming with kids, and were also enjoyable and comfortable for parents. No city we’ve been to has had a better playground culture than Melbourne.
And that’s our list! As our year on the road nears its close, I’ll be adding separate “best of” articles for remote spots, road trips, and more. What destinations do you want to see highlighted?