How to improve holidays with children

Hey mum, let's raid the piggy bank

My kids have been plotting against me. Last week, I overheard them discussing cunning ways to stop me from doing what I do best: shopping. They resent having to participate in my favourite sport so much that they've armed themselves with a host of tricks to halt me in my tracks. For example, next time we come within 50 yards of our local Topshop, Patrick plans to feign a sudden attack of appendicitis. If that fails, Stanley has a plan B: he'll announce he needs to do "a number two" - always guaranteed to have me hot-footing it home.

I find all this rather unfair. These very same children are more than happy to spend every weekend dragging me round shops called Soccer Paradise in search of the best pair of trainers. But when it comes to buying things for little old me, it's a different story.

It's even worse on holiday - it's as if those immaculately dressed window mannequins are laughing at me when I pass by with my little monsters, who are capable of wreaking such havoc that I don't have the heart to put myself - or all those innocent customers - through it.

The solution? Leave them behind. A shopping weekend sans fils in Paris or Milan is just the ticket - although it's not entirely foolproof. On the few occasions I've managed to wrangle it, I've spent the whole weekend pounding the pavements in search of the perfect gifts for the kids (guilty conscience, moi?).

The secret, then, whether or not you have the kids in tow, is to make sure you know the exact whereabouts of the best toy shops in the vicinity, wherever you happen to be. One of my favourites is the Goochem Houten Speelgoed (00 3120 6124704; goochem.nl) at Huygensstraat 29 in Amsterdam. Specialising in all things wooden, this friendly shop has kept us well stocked with train sets over the years - and it's right by the museums, so that should save you a long walk.

When in Rome, meanwhile, you need to head for the Citta del Sole (00 39 06 68803805; citta delsole.it) near the Pantheon at Via della Scrofa 65. This is a real find and it is particularly hot on educational games. To save you time, everything is thoughtfully arranged according to age, from boomerangs to yo-yos.

If you're in Spain, don't miss Imaginarium (00 34 902 214 215; imaginarium.es) at the Moda Shopping Centre in Salamanca. The Spanish really understand the concept of child friendliness - children even enter through their own pint-sized door, and inside it's a veritable adventure playground. You'll find something for everyone, whether they're bugging you for a Beanie Baby or their very own inflatable city.

And finally to Paris, and Galeries Lafayette at 40 Boulevard Haussmann (00 33 1 42 82 34 56), a department store with an excellent toy section. (There's even a carousel for the kids to busy themselves.) This is my favourite because it just happens to have floors and floors of clothes to try on too.

It beats Soccer Paradise any day, which reminds me: we're meant to be going again this weekend. I can feel a case of appendicitis coming on...

Katy's top tip

My favourite place to buy presents for kids in London is the Science Museum (020-7942 4000; sciencemuseum.org). Look out for its erupting volcano kits and virtually indestructible aeroplanes.

Katy Holland ( k.holland@independent.co.uk) is acting editor of 'Pregnancy and birth' magazine

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