Q&A: Where should we break our car journey to Romania?

The Independent parent: your questions answered


Q We will be going to Romania in June by car with a two- and four- year-old. Is there somewhere suitable to break the journey? Also, some advice on accommodation along the way would be helpful.


J Fulea, Coventry

Q We will be going to Romania in June by car with a two- and four- year-old. Is there somewhere suitable to break the journey? Also, some advice on accommodation along the way would be helpful.
J Fulea, Coventry

A You have not set yourselves an easy task. It's a long way to the Romanian border from Coventry – 1,200 miles, to be precise. With two under-fives in the back it will probably feel even further, but that's not to say it can't be done. You will need to allow at least three days for your journey, so I'd suggest spending each night in places where you can entertain the children for a few hours the next morning before cramming them back into the car.

There are several routes to choose from, but the most direct is to take the Folkestone to Calais train with Euro-tunnel (08705 353 535; www.eurotunnel.com). Return fares cost from £303 per car, although there are special offers. From Calais you drive east towards Brussels, roughly south through Belgium and Germany and then east through Austria and Hungary to Romania. The finer details are up to you, but you should find the online journey-planners at www.viamichelin.com and www.theaa.com useful. The former gives detailed directions all the way from A to Z; the latter will guide you as far as Austria, but might prove useful as it gives details of roadside service stations, restaurants and motels along the way.

For your first night, I suggest stopping in the German city of Cologne, which is eight or nine hours' drive from Coventry. Unlike its neighbours Dortmund and Düsseldorf, Cologne managed to scrape through the 20th century without losing a great deal of its charm. It still has an attractive medieval heart, with an abundance of pedestrian zones that make it an easy place to walk around with young children. Hotels also tend to be good value: the three-star Classic Harmonie (00 49 221 16570) on Ursulaplatz is a tastefully renovated old monastery that costs from €95 (£63) per night including breakfast for a triple room plus a cot. The hotel also has the added benefit of private parking.

The next morning you can explore the banks of the Rhine, sail toy boats on the ponds at the Volksgarten, or visit the unusual collection of lemurs – basically teddy bears with tails – at the city's Zoo (00 49 221 77850) on Riehler Strasse. It is open daily from 9am-6pm and admission is €10 (£6.60) per adult and €5 (£3.30) for each of your children. For further information telephone Cologne Tourism on 00 49 221 221 23345 or see www.willkommeninkoeln.de.

Your next stop could be the former home of the Habsburgs, Vienna, over the border in Austria and another eight- to nine-hour drive away. Though a lot more pricey than Cologne, Vienna has a fair bit to offer families and would also make a good place to take a longer break. Children will enjoy the Prater Park, not just because of the famous Wiener Riesenrad (the giant wheel that pre-dates the London Eye by more than a century) but because of the permanent funfair, the gardens, and the Lilliput railway.

You could also visit the city's aquarium (00 43 1 587 1417; www.haus_des_meeres.at; 6 Esterhazypark, open daily from 9am-6pm). This houses about 3,000 species of fish, tropical birds and some rather cheeky small monkeys in a giant Second World War anti-aircraft tower. Adults pay €8.40 (£5.60) and children aged three to five €2.60 (£1.80), and under threes get in free. For accommodation, try the Wilhelmshof Hotel (00 43 1 710 1919; www.vienna.nethotels.com/wilhelmshof) on Kleine Stadtgutgasse. It's very near the Prater, has private parking and offers decent family rooms with two children's beds for €95 (£63) including breakfast.

Relatively speaking, Vienna is only a short hop – about 200 miles – from the Hungarian capital of Budapest. Hotels in the capital are cheap and plentiful, but you might find a self-catering apart-hotel an easier option. Try the Charles Hotel and Apartments (00 36 1 212 9169), which is about 1.5 miles from the city centre and has parking and a restaurant. A family apartment with a fully-equipped kitchen and bathroom will cost about £42 a night. Before you get back into the car, let the children stretch their legs in City Park, north of Heroes' Square. Playgrounds, small gardens, a zoo and a rowing lake with a fake castle should keep them happy until it's time to get back on the road. For further information contact the Hungarian Tourist Board on 020-7823 1032 or see the websites www.hungarytourism.hu and www.budapestinfo.hu.

If you are planning to travel as far as Bucharest, you might like to consider spending a night in the border town of Timisoara. After this point, there are few tourist facilities to speak of until you reach the capital, and driving at night in Romania can be a hair-raising experience. There is not a great choice of accommodation in Timisoara, but the Central Hotel (00 40 256 190 091) has a car park and double rooms starting from about £11 per night.

To cut down on your hours behind the wheel, you could consider crossing Germany by rail. A regular car-carrying service departs from Cologne on Sundays at 8.30pm and arrives in the Austrian city of Salzburg at 9am the following morning. A one-way journey for a car and four passengers in a four-berth couchette starts from £259. Call Deutsche Bahn on 0870 243 5363.

Finally, take out the necessary insurance for your family and car. The AA (0800 085 2840; www.theaa.com) offers a breakdown and personal insurance package costing £148 for your family for a month.

Q We have booked cheap flights to Berlin for a long weekend in May. We booked in such a hurry that we didn't give any thought to how child-friendly a city it is. Will there be things that will interest our two sons aged nine and 11?
C Furniss, Norwich

A Popular for its nightclubs and numerous theatres, bars and avante-garde galleries, Berlin may seem like a destination for grown-ups. But don't be put off: the German capital is just as interesting for younger visitors.

A good starting point for information on visiting Berlin, including special events, is the German National Tourist Office (020-7317 0908; www.germany-tourism.de). Alternatively, the Berlin Tourist Office website at www.berlin.de: has a section dedicated to information for those travelling to the city with children, as does the new Footprint guidebook to Berlin (£7.99).

Air Service Berlin (00 49 30 2266 78811; www.air-service-berlin.de) organises sightseeing tours over the city using a variety of historical aircraft. It also offers "flights" on the the Highflier, a hot-air balloon anchored at Potsdamer Platz. This offers visitors the chance to ascend 150 metres above Berlin and enjoy the panoramic views over the city while remaining firmly connected to the earth with a steel cable. Each "flight" lasts 15 minutes. Children up to six years old go free; up to 14 the cost is €10 (£7) and adults cost €19 (£13) each‚.

Berlin has more than 170 museums, some of which are geared to children. These include the innovative Junior Museum (00 49 30 2090 5566, www.smpk.de) in Dahlem Dorf, just west of Berlin's botanical gardens. Part of the National Museum of Ethnology, this is Germany's only ethnological museum for children. Exhibitions offer young visitors the chance to go on a world tour beginning in Berlin, going barefoot to the Tuareg people in Africa and following the "song lines" used by Aborigines instead of maps. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday 1-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-6pm. Admission is €3 per adult (£2) and €1.50 (£1) per child under 16.

Your sons might enjoy a night at the children-only hotel, the Erlebniswelt Kinderinsel or "children's island" (00 49 30 4171 6928, www.kinderinsel.de). Should you decide that you want a night or day to yourselves, the hotel offers 24-hour care, with a range of activity courses, pyjama parties, art and craft workshops and healthy meals, all overseen by fully trained staff who can speak 12 languages between them. One night (three to five children per room) starts from €59 (£39) per child (aged up to 13).

The hotel also offers a range of sightseeing city tours and adventure days in Berlin's parks and museums. These are also available for non-residents and cost from €6 (£4) per child per hour.

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