We never thought we’d be the parents that took their four kids to Germany + Austria. But here’s how we got there:
Raise your hand if you’ve opened our kids’ closet to see a forgotten (expensive) toy/game/device that your kid just had to have for Christmas? (Raising both hands and feet.) After one of those not-so-fun closet openings, something snapped in me. I was tired of Christmas gifts for my kids. Tired of stressing over giving them hundreds of dollars of gifts that would eventually be forgotten.
I wanted it to be different.
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I wanted to give them something they would remember.
After much thought and consideration, we decided on a trip in lieu of gifts. They might forget about the newest Nerf gun, but I knew they wouldn’t forget a trip.
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After more thought and consideration, we decided on Germany and Austria. We have friends in Germany, I adore the Sound of Music, my boys are ever interested in the World Wars, and maybe most importantly–I found a fab deal on airfare.
Planning a family vacation is a big job. Planning a vacation to another country is a HUGE job! When I was planning this trip, I searched all over for tips and ideas, but kept coming up short.
There were many articles about this vacation with couples or single folks, but not much info for families.
I needed help! So, here’s yours 🙂
In this post I’m sharing exactly how to get the most out of a 10 day Germany and Austria itinerary WITH kiddos in tow! I’ll cover HOW to create a great itinerary for your family and little tips I’ve learned along the way on avoiding meltdowns and overwhelm. I hope it’s helpful for you planning your trip to Europe!
How to Start Planning Your Itinerary for Germany and Austria
For me, the hardest part was getting started.
I didn’t even know where to begin. It’s great when you have friends that have traveled before you OR have experience in planning this sort of trip. My friend Liz is a great trip planner, so she helped me get started.
Start with a chart!
I loved this because it helped me visualize our trip better. One column for each day of the week with a row for: activities, food ideas, and lodging.
Start with a Calendar
We used Google sheets to create a chart of our trip. But a simple paper and pencil will work great too. I just recommend pencil opposed to pen because you’ll have to shift things around to make it fit–like a fun vacation puzzle.
Start with your MUSTS.
Musts are your travel days and any other days you have to be somewhere. For us, this was easy. We knew what days we were flying into and out of Frankfurt, Germany and the rest was open.
Make a list of all the things you want to do and pare down from there.
You could spend months in a new country and not see everything. Do some research, watch some travel shows and make a list of all the things you’d like to see. This is so fun to do as a family!
We loved watching all the Rick Steves’ videos on Amazon Video–so many good ideas there!
After you make this awesome list though, you’re going to want to prioritize. Put everything in order of interest and popularity with your family.
Our list looked like this (in no particular order here):
- Neischwanstein Castle
- Burg Eltz Castle
- Sound of Music bus tour
- Mozart’s birth home
- Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest
- Playmobil Land
- the Black Forest
- Lake Constance
- Old Town Saltzburg
- Maribell Gardens
- and more
Our Itinerary for Germany and Austria with Four Kids
We traveled with Iceland Air (highly recommend!) from our home airport, MSP to Frankfurt, Germany with a short layover in Iceland. We landed in Germany in the afternoon, picked up our rental van and headed to Riechardsroth–a small village outside of Rothenburg.
Grabbed groceries and ate in that night.
We were up early due to the time change and we headed to Rothenburg ob de Tauber. It’s a very old, very cool walled city. Middle ages old!
Ate lunch at a local spot–one one spoke English–that was interesting 🙂 We experienced our first German bread and pretzels. SO good! And also experienced our first kaffee und kuchen–the best afternoon tradition ever!
This day, we headed to Nuremberg. It was cloudy and overcast, and we were afraid it would rain on us, but it never did. Jack wanted to see the Nazi Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. It was a very well-done museum and very interesting to see.
The museum didn’t take too much time, so afterwards, we lightened the mood a bit by heading to the Nuremberg Zoo. I was surprised it was only 30 euros for our family. Zoos in the U.S. seem to be a lot more expensive.
The zoo was great and had wonderful kaffee und kuchen of course!
Today we left our beautiful farmhouse and travel south to Salzburg.
But before we made it all the way to Austria, we had to stop at the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. We actually weren’t able to get tickets for the main castle, but for the smaller Hohenschwangau Castle. It was beautiful and some have said it’s their favorite over Neuschwanstein.
The kids and I read THIS book to learn about the castle before we left.
We enjoyed the castle, but even more enjoyed walking around the lake and the view of the Alps! And of course there was kaffee und kuchen at a cafe on the castle grounds.
Salzburg was a lot different, even in the dark as we pulled into the city limits. It felt much more bustling and city-like than the Bavarian countryside, we’d grown used to seeing. Our rental was a cool apartment just a few minutes walk to Old Town.
Everyone was getting a little worn down from travel. We needed a down day. Everyone slept in–it was wonderful! All our breakfasts were eaten in our rentals, and this morning was no different. After we were fueled and caffeinated, we walked along the river and into Old Town. It was amazing how BLUE the river was!
It was easy to find Old Town–it was filled with people and lovely shops. Mozart’s Birthplace was easy to find and we had a quick tour–it was really interesting! Maybe not the best with really small kids with lots of breakable things to touch though.
Kaffee und kuchen at Cafe Tomaselli one of the oldest coffee houses in Salzburg.
Headed back to our apartment for a dinner in, a family movie night and early bedtime.
Unlike the previous day, we got up and hit the road early today. I had searched all over for salt mine tours and they all seemed to be really expensive. BUT I found one not far from our apartment called Berchtesgaden Salt Mines and it was incredible! Very quiet spot with some shopping and cafes for lunch as well. The kids loved the salt mine.
After the tour, the kids played by the river–the weather was amazing!
We left and headed up into the mountains and the lake district of Austria. The countryside is just incredible! We stopped in Hallstatt for some site-seeing. It was beautiful, but very busy. We were also there on a Sunday and most of the restaurants were closed–very common in Europe. In hindsight, we wish we would’ve stopped in a different small lake town to look around–Hallstatt was very busy. But it was still fun and we enjoyed it.
What a fun day! We started out early again with a Sound of Music tour with Fraulein Maria’s bike tours! Yes! A Sound of Music Bike Tour!! We highly recommend this company–they were awesome! If you want to really see Salzburg, bikes is the way to go.
We went everywhere on those bikes–St. Peter’s cemetery, Nonneburg Abbey, the countryside. So beautiful!
After the tour our legs were tired and we were HUNGRY! The tour began and ended right outside Maribel Gardens so we found a restaurant nearby and walked back to the gardens to walk around.
Later, we drove to Hellbrunn Schoss for kaffee und kuchen–I had the BEST apple strudel I have ever had in my LIFE! The weather was absolutely beautiful and the grounds had a huge playground, so we just enjoyed and watched the kids play–yes, even the teenagers loved the playgrounds in Germany and Austria.
Had dinner in our apartment after a fun, full day.
This was a travel day. Lots of driving. We headed from Salzburg north to Munich where we toured Dachau Concentration Camp.
This was obviously a very solemn place to visit, but also very eye-opening and beautiful. I have lots of thoughts about visiting a concentration camp–I will find time to write about it someday.
From there, we kept driving towards our next destination–Mainz. Mainz is near Weisbaden, where our friends live. The drive took a LONG time due to a crash on the autobahn. At least the view was pretty.
In Mainz, we stayed in a guesthaus, which is more like our hotels here in the U.S. We met up with our friends and had a lovely dinner in Weisbaden.
From our guesthaus, we were really close to Burg Eltz. This was a castle sort of off the beaten path. But we’d learned from watching Rick Steves’ videos that it’s his FAVORITE castle–we knew we needed to visit it!
Our friends were able to join us, which made it even more fun!
This was the only day it was rainy, but it honestly made the castle even more beautiful. The clouds made it feel even more like a fairy tale. It was stunning!
We took tons of photos and had a great lunch right at the castle.
After the castle, we headed back towards Weisbaden, but not forgetting about kaffee und kuchen, which we found at a lovely cafe along the river on the way home.
For dinner, we ate at an amazing local spot in Weisbaden along a creek where we had the best food we ate in Germany–so good!
Not much sight-seeing today. We sadly had our last breakfast in Europe–cheese, bread, meats and fruit–and headed to Frankfurt for our long flight home.
We were able to find a few goodies to take home to family on the way to the airport too–just to make our vacation last a little longer.
Consider the Kids…and Adults
It’s really important to consider your travel crew. For us and our broad group of ages (17 to 5), we knew we couldn’t have a rigid itinerary. We didn’t want a rigid itinerary as adults either!
What do I mean by rigid??
Tours at certain times, dinner reservations, etc. It’s just too much pressure to be places at certain times when you’re on a vacation like this. We had to schedule two of the tours we really wanted to do, but other than that, our trip was really flexible.
Plan for Just One or Two Home Bases
It’s tempting to want to sleep each night in a new city–see it ALL! It’s what I wanted to do at first.
But don’t do it.
Travel days and all the driving will really suck up your time in Europe. The traffic can be horrific on the autobahn and what might seem like just a few hour trip can take all day.
My suggestion is to plan for just one or two home bases.
Land in Munich and stay there for half your trip. Travel out from there on short day trips.
Or we landed in Frankfurt, grabbed our rental car and travel just an hour and a half south to a small town near Rothenburg and stayed for three nights. During the day, we traveled no further than an hour around our little village.
Keeping one home base really saves your kids from having drive too much. It also saves a TON of time on packing up your stuff over and over again.
Being in a new country can feel very strange for your whole family at first. Having a home base with your bags unpacked makes it feel more like home.
You’ll also save money by eating at your rental home instead of having to eat on the road traveling to a new hotel each day.
Down Days Are a Must
Your family will have arguments on your big trip. They will get irritable at each other. Plan for those moments. But adding in some margin to your trip will help remedy that–just like when you’re at home.
If you plan every second of your vacation, your family will be extra crabby with each other. We needed down time for going off in our own corners to read or have a break from each other.
Also, you’ll be missing out on the spontaneous exploring that happens when you have free time.
Plan for down days. Not every second of your itinerary has to be planned out for it to be magical.
Plan for Glitches
They’re going to happen. The lost luggage. The scraped knee. The forgotten undies. You can do things to avoid glitches:
- take a photo of all your passports just in case
- have a piece of mail with your home address for proof of residency
- keep Tylenol, Benadril, vitamins, and any meds in the bag you carry at all times
- plan to use a Visa or MasterCard–a lot of other cards aren’t widely accepted
- learn some essential German–we wished we’d have known more
- practice converting standard measurements to metric–we were constantly doing this!
- PACK LIGHT! You’ll have to be dragging these bags around Europe, so the less you have to keep track of, the less likely you are to lose stuff!
- Bring your electrical converters
- Download Google Translator. It’s a must! Not only can it translate voice, but you can use your camera to hold it up to signs or any writing and it will translate for you. You can download what language you want ahead of time so you won’t be using data every time you want to use it.
Here’s a few things we brought on our trip to Germany and Austria and were so glad we had!
- European electrical converters
- e-bags for keeping things straight in our bags and easy packing
- a handy holder for our cell phone in the car–saved us!
- cross-body bag–so much easier than taking off a backpack each time we needed something!
Our trip to Germany + Austria was unforgettable. Our first, but certainly not last. I miss the kaffee und kuchen every day since we’ve been home! Germany, Austria–we will be back!
NOT TRAVELING TO GERMANY + AUSTRIA ANYTIME SOON? HERE’S SOME OTHER TRAVEL POSTS YOU MIGHT LIKE:
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- 24 GIFT IDEAS WHEN YOU HAVE KIDS WHO DON’T NEED A THING
- OUR LAURA INGALLS WILDER ROAD TRIP
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