Inspired by classic movies and books, high school history classes, ancestral roots and other factors, more than 10 million Americans visit Europe every year. And the vast majority of those trips take place during the summer when the kids are out of school. It's a great opportunity to expand young horizons and let them explore other cultures.
London alone has enough to keep the kids busy for weeks. There are old-school sights such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and the British Museum. But don't overlook new attractions like the the massive Tate Modern art gallery and the London Eye revolving wheel alongside the River Thames.
Italy offers beautiful and historic attractions in Florence and Rome. A visit to the Vatican Museum, Spanish Steps or a photo opportunity at the ancient Colosseum can provide memories that last a lifetime. So can a lingering visit to Paris; the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum are practically mandatory for any family European vacation.
Europe also has its natural side, dozens of national parks and wilderness areas that attract surprisingly few tourists. Make like the Von Trapps and take the kids hiking through the Austrian or Swiss Alps, and sample chocolate, cheese and other local delicacies along the way. Undertake a wildlife safari in the northern reaches of Scandinavia, where polar bears, reindeer and walrus roam wild and free.
Families could also plan a European beach vacation, a tour of sun-splashed spots like the French Riviera, the Greek isles and Euro surfing hubs such as Biarritz. Not to be overlooked are the countries of Eastern Europe, opened up as major tourist destinations after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not only did that historic event unite Germany's largest city; it put medieval towns like Prague and Krakow, the gorgeous Dalmatian coast of Croatia, and Romania's vampire-infused Transylvanian region on the tourist map.
One of the best ways to tour the continent is by train. Gas is more expensive than in the U.S. and it might be difficult to adjust to driving on the other side of the road in Britain and Ireland, but motor vacations are another good way to whisk the brood around Europe. Rather than being stuck in city centers, car rental offers a chance to explore the scenic countryside and small towns of places like France, Italy and Germany.
For more great summer travel options, go to latimes.com/summertravelseries.