The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered

Q. We have three children, aged 18, 15 and 11. We would like to do something "different" for New Year this year, either in the UK or Europe. Any suggestions?

Robyn Spencer, via e-mail

A.A good choice for New Year's Eve 2001 is London. The capital has suffered more than most UK destinations from the drop in international (read American) tourists since 11 September, further exacerbated by this week's crash in New York. In response, many of London's hotels are drastically cutting their prices.

The Great Eastern Hotel (020-7618 5010, is offering rooms on New Year's Eve for £150 per night. Your children could be accommodated in a King Studio Room at a special rate of £200 per room. The hotel, which is conveniently located beside Liverpool Street Station, is staging lots of unusual extras such as film screenings and special indoor fireworks to get you all in the mood. It is also young and hip, which your teenagers will thank you for.

Another possibility is Le Meridien Hotels' (0800 028 2840) "Affordable London" promotion. During November and December, it is offering rooms at most of its five-star central London properties for £138 per room per night based on a two-night stay. The offer is subject to availability over Christmas and New Year – of which there is currently plenty at most of their properties, including The Waldorf – but you must quote the offer when booking.

If you don't fancy the crowds in Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve itself, there is the New Year's Day Parade. This annual spectacle boasts floats, entertainment and marching bands. It attracts some one million spectators every year, and starts from Parliament Square at noon. For more details about events and hotel deals, contact the London Tourist Board (020-7932 2020,

If you would rather escape the cold, then Funchal, in Madeira, is becoming a popular New Year city-break option. It's long been a traditional New Year's Eve stop for cruise ships. From 8 December to 6 January, Funchal is festooned with 250,000 coloured lights. Festivities include cultural events culminating in a cacophonous fireworks display on New Year's Eve.

For something more wintry, Prague holds lively St Sylvester's Day (New Year's Eve) celebrations in its municipal squares. These begin several days in advance and build up to a climax of pyrotechnics in Wenceslas Square. However, city breaks to Prague over New Year could prove expensive. Don't bank on big child discounts (most of which apply to under 12s). And with the flight surcharges that come with travelling at peak times such as New Year, celebrating abroad could be expensive. If cost is not an issue, availability for flights and hotels over the New Year period remains good. For example, Travelscene (0870 7774445, is offering four nights for the price of three, in Prague over New Year. Staying at the three-star Merkur Hotel the cost is £376 per person (with a £20 discount for the under 12s) including return flights, peak-season flight supplements, inbound transfers, accommodation (twin and triple share) on a B&B basis and the services of a guide.

Another good wintry New Year's Eve option is skiing. Ski specialist Crystal (0870 8487000, reports that both France and Italy are selling fast for New Year but recommends Austria as a good option for families with all levels of skiers. The company is offering £100 per person discounts at many of its Austrian resorts; a week, half-board at the Freiberg Hotel, which overlooks a lake in the Alpine village of Zell am See, costs £609 per person including return flights.

Q .As a family, we like trains more than planes. A pet project of ours is to travel by train to Sweden, using the new bridge, to visit family and friends. How much is it likely to cost for two adults and 10-year-old twins to make the journey, what it would entail and where we can get more information?

R Lacey, London

A.The 10-mile Oresund bridge opened in July 2000, connecting Copenhagen in Denmark with Malmo in Sweden, forming a complete rail link between the UK and Sweden. The journey passes through some great cities and offers good sightseeing en route.

Start by taking Eurostar (0870 160 6600, from London Waterloo to Brussels. Here, there are two options. You can either travel to Hamburg, changing there for a connection to Copenhagen, then over the Oresund bridge to Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden. Alternatively, travel from Brussels via Cologne with an overnight journey to Copenhagen. The second option, however, is only available between May and September. Of course you can go anywhere you wish on the Swedish rail network, but this may involve a change.

Both options can be booked in the UK through German Rail (0870 2435363 www. and Rail Europe (08705 848848 German Rail is offering a return from Waterloo to Stockholm via Hamburg for two adults and two children for £1,189. This journey takes nearly 24 hours; the price includes berths in a sleeper compartment.

Rail Europe is quoting £1,022 for the 22-hour journey between London and Gothenburg. The Brussels to Hamburg leg of the journey is overnight and, again, beds are provided. Conveniently, both offer the opportunity for stopovers along the way if you're planning any sightseeing.

According to the two companies, these prices are static regardless of when you travel – the prices are added together border to border and so it is difficult to build in deals, especially as a long trip like this is relatively rare. The real budget way to do it is to get a cheap ticket to Germany (e.g. the £84 special to Cologne mentioned on page 8 of this section), then take advantage of the Weekend ticket that allows unlimited travel on non-express trains in Germany on a Saturday or Sunday for £12, covering up to five people.

If you can reach Flensburg, in the far north of Germany on this ticket, the additional fare to Sweden should not be excessive and you should be able to get all the way there and back for £500 or less.

Send your family travel questions to S F Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL Or