Q. We have two children (aged three and 10 months). We would love to take a weekend break in a European city in early April. We need the place and hotel to be child-friendly and were thinking of Prague, Amsterdam or a Spanish city. Southampton airport is very convenient for us but Gatwick is also fine.
A. Pre-Easter, Prague will still be too cold to make walking much fun with young children, so of the handful of European city destinations available from Southampton airport, Amsterdam is probably your best bet. It's attractive, compact enough to walk around easily, and the Dutch are as laid-back about children as they are about just about everything else in life, and there are plenty of things to do.
Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum (00 31 20 570 52 00; www.vangoghmuseum.nl) is surprisingly child-friendly. Pushchairs are available free of charge, but more to the point, as the art itself is so vibrant, even very young children should be able to appreciate it. The museum is open daily from 10am-6pm and it's free for children under 12; the price for adults is €9 (£6.40). The only disadvantage is that you can't buy tickets in advance, so you might have to queue for admission.
Another indoor attraction worth visiting is Nemo (00 31 20 53 13 233; www.e-nemo.nl). Nothing to do with the film of the same name, it's a futuristic science park specifically for children, who are actively encouraged to touch everything. Exhibits provide a gentle introduction to science: play with electricity, blow a bubble so big you can stand inside it, or make liquorice in the "laboratory". It opens Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm and admission costs €11 (£7.30) per adult and free for children under four. You can walk in about 15 minutes from Centraal Station, even with children.
If the weather is kind, take a taxi out beyond the A10 ring road to the huge Amsterdam Woods on the south-west edge of the city. Here you'll find the Ridammerhoeve Goat Farm, Nieuwe Meerlaan 4, Amstelveen (00 31 20 645 50 34), a petting zoo on a large scale, with goats, chickens, pot-bellied pigs and spring lambs to feed and play with. Afterwards you can tuck into a goat's-milk ice cream from the farm shop. Admission is free and the centre opens Wednesday to Sunday 10am-5pm until the end of March, then daily except Tuesday.
As far as rooms are concerned I'd recommend the upmarket Hotel Estherea (00 31 20 624 5146), a series of 17th-century houses overlooking the Singel canal. It's friendly, popular with families and is in a quiet but central spot. Triple rooms start from €158 (£105) without breakfast - though be warned that prices for some weekend nights rise sharply. Or try the Eden Lancaster (00 31 20 535 6888; www.edenhotelgroup.com), a simple but well-run mid-range hotel, which offers babysitting and free cots and is within spitting distance of Artis Zoo. A triple room starts from €158 (£105) per room per night without breakfast.
For flights, you have one option from Southampton; ScotAirways (0870 606 0707; www.scotairways.com). I checked its "Best Buy" fares for early April, which offered a return fare of £119 for the adults and three-year-old, and £9 for the infant. For tourist information about the city contact the Netherlands Tourist Board on 0906 871 7777 (calls cost 60p per minute) and see www.visitamsterdam.nl.
In Spain I'd suggest Barcelona. There are lots of cheap flights from Gatwick and your toddler will probably love exploring the surreal architecture of Gaudi's Parc Guell, where the gardens are dotted with buildings not unlike children's sandcastles. And if the weather is fine, you've also got the option of a day on the beach.
Q. We're planning a couple of days in London during the summer holidays. Can I take my nine- and 12-year-old girls to meet the Queen and Tony Blair, or at least see Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament?
A. The Houses of Parliament (0870 906 3773, www.parliament.uk) summer opening is from 24 July to 4 September, matching the school holidays pretty well. You have to join an organised tour; these start at 9.15am, running every few minutes until 4.30pm, and last for 75 minutes. The tours take in the Queen's Robing Room, House of Commons and the House of Lords. Tour prices are £7 for adults, and £5 for under 16s, but family tickets including two adults and two children are available for £22.
Buckingham Palace's State Rooms will open from 1 August to 28 September, 9.30am-4.30pm daily. Entry is by timed ticket. Adults pay £12, children (six-16 years) £6. A family ticket (£30) covers two adults and three children.
Tickets can be bought at www.royal.gov.uk, or from the sales and information office 020-7766 7300, but a telephone booking fee applies. You can often buy tickets on the day at the booth near the palace.
To visit the Royal Mews or the Queen's Gallery, separate tickets have to be bought. Like the State Rooms, the Queen's Gallery operates a timed entry system. Admission for adults is £6.50 and £3 for children, or a family ticket costs £16. The gallery is open 10am-5.30pm daily; however it will be closed between next Monday and 25 March to prepare for the new exhibition of paintings, furniture and ceramics belonging to George III and Queen Charlotte.
The Royal Mews is home to the historic State carriages, including the Golden State Coach seen in the Jubilee celebrations, and remains a working stables. It is open from 1 March - 31 October, except on 18 April, 31 May and various dates in June; 11am-4pm March through to July, and October, then 10am to 5pm in August and September. Admission: £5 adults, £2.50 children; family ticket £12.50.
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