There is a moment on every holiday with a toddler when your briefly wonder whether you’ve made a terrible mistake. My most recent one came when I attempted to drink a cup of glühwein at a Christmas market in Berlin while my overtired child, who was strapped to my chest in a baby carrier, thrashed around and screamed.
“I am on holiday. It’s December. It’s festive. I will drink my festive wine!” I said to myself. I put the mug to my lips. The Popple threw herself backwards and howled. I handed the mug to Adrian and gave up.
Adrian and I took a lot of pre-baby city breaks. We never had enough money for week-long cruises or resort stays, but we could swing a cheap Ryanair flight and a few nights in a budget hotel. We mostly travelled in winter, because that’s when everything was cheapest. We’ve seen lots of European cities at their crappiest, and they were still amazing. Amsterdam. Paris. Brussels. Dublin. Oslo.
Oslo was especially nice, since we went in early December when everything was just getting Christmassy. That’s what I pictured when I suggested that we take the Popple to Berlin. I imagined the three of us wandering around the Christmas markets in the chilly air, each of us holding one of her little mittened hands.
Rule #1 of a winter city break with a toddler: They will not wear their mittens.
They may agree to wear their woolly hat, but only briefly, after which they will decide that it’s THE WORST THING EVER and pull it off the second you put it on.
You didn’t even bother to pack their snowsuit, because they cry whenever they see it.
They will get cranky because they’re cold. You will explain to them that they wouldn’t be so cold if they would just wear their mittens. They will not respond to your logic, because toddlers have their own sense of logic which is f***ing incomprehensible to the rest of us.
Rule #2 of a winter city break with a toddler: You will not wander.
It’s cold, remember, and your child is probably mittenless and hatless. Forget aimlessly exploring the city streets, discovering hidden cafes and cozy little pubs – plan some good indoor activities. But not too many activities.
Rule #3 of a winter city break with a toddler: If you try to do too much, you’re pretty much asking for a very epic meltdown in a very quiet museum.
Choose two activities max per day – one first thing in the morning (you’ll be up at 6am, after all) and one in the afternoon. Any more than that and your toddler will get overstimulated and lose it.
Try to keep the museum-ing to a minimum, since museums involve a lot of walking and aren’t usually very interesting to toddlers. That being said, the Popple did seem to enjoy the Jewish Museum in Berlin – maybe a bit too much. We sat down with a group of other tourists to watch a video about the persecution of Jews during the Middle Ages, and the Popple ran in front of the screen and started dancing.
I was mortified, but also kind of relieved that she was enjoying herself quietly. She waved her stuffed bunny around in a circle. I learned some history. We were both winning pretty hard, I think.
Rule #4 of a winter city break with a toddler: F*** naps.
Most toddlers have one longish nap right in the middle of the day, like they’ve been specially designed to be as inconvenient as possible.
Getting in that all-important nap is especially hard when you’re travelling. If you’re lucky enough to have a toddler who will sleep in a stroller, maybe they can nap while you push them around and do a bit of sightseeing.
If your child (like mine) screams whenever they see a pushchair, you can try sticking them in a baby carrier and hope that they nod off. If they manage to sleep, your toddler will thank you. Your back most definitely will not.
Or just give up on the nap all together and pray that they can make it to bedtime without totally losing their minds.
Rule #5 of a winter city break with a toddler: Nightlife? What nightlife?
Many European cities really come to life at night, but when it’s cold as balls and you’re travelling with a toddler, you’ll be back at your holiday apartment by 4:30pm every day.
No restaurants. No pubs. No clubs. You will, however, get to share a bottle of the local plonk with your other half very quietly after the toddler has gone to sleep.
Rule #6 of a winter city break with a toddler: Forget your expectations. Just go with it.
Yeah, taking a city break with a toddler is hard, especially in the winter. You won’t get to see nearly as much of the city as you want to, but here’s what you will get to see:
Your kid taking it all in.
They may not remember all the culture you’re exposing them too, but it’s shaping them in ways that you can’t even recognise yet. After all, travel does all kinds of great stuff to the brain. The Popple said her first sentence while we were in Berlin, and it’s probably because the experience kicked her little brain into gear.
I mean, how how could your mind not be blown by this?