Kids are insatiable when it comes to new experiences and gaining one-upmanship over their mates, and Europe is fertile hunting ground for novel and often even quite insane and unusual places to stay that will really give them something to brag about when term starts again.
Situated in Finnish Lapland, this place offers log cabins for up to 10 as well as snow igloos or futuristic glass igloos for up to five. There are husky, reindeer and snowmobile trips, sightings of the aurora borealis (if you’re lucky) plus visits to Santa’s cabin, among many other activities.
In Norwegian Lapland, also known as Finnmark, this enchanting option offers the choice of Arctic-themed suites with snow sculptures, sleeping two, and cosy cottages for three, inspired by traditional Sami hunting and fishing huts and available in both winter and summer. Winter activities include husky rides, Northern Lights tours and snowmobiling, while in winter there’s hiking, fishing and king crab rafting safaris.
Just 15 minutes from the largest of Stockholm's two airports, this is an airport hostel par excellence – it’s actually inside a jumbo jet, where designers have somehow managed to squeeze in 27 quirky but cool rooms, most with three beds and flatscreen TVs showing (should you desire) flight departure times. The prize suite is the deluxe one in the cockpit, perfect for two older kids; another option is the family rooms with four bunks.
Advertising itself as ‘Sweden’s most primitive hotel’ (it has no electricity or running water), Kolarbyn two hours from Stockholm offers small, grass-clad forest huts set deep in the forest where you can spend your days taking moose safaris, wilderness horse rides, or dedicated family expeditions.
Controversy Tram Hotel, Hoogwoud
This zany B&B accommodation in an old train compartment, trams (one a ‘little family tram’ specially designed for parents with young kids) or even a 'UFO' is just 40km but a world away from Amsterdam. Farm animals complete the surreal feel.
Wicklow Head Lighthouse, County Wicklow
This octagonal 18th-century lighthouse is not for the fainthearted, with 109 steps up the kitchen on the top floor. But surrounded by sea on three sides, it's the perfect place for a family adventure with older kids – sleeping four in two double bedrooms (plus an infant in a cot by request). It's available with the Irish Landmark Trust, who have several quirky places to stay with kids.
See also our features Glamping and Unusual Camping in France and A Family Break at the Domaine des Ormes, Brittany.
French châteaux don't come any more atmospheric than this one sleeping 10 in Pas-de-Calais, a short drive from the ferry ports of northern France. Focal points are a mezzanine dining room with a long table like something out of a movie set, an open fireplace, vast floor-to-ceiling windows in the double-height main living room, and a pool table. In summer dine on the terrace or enjoy a picnic in the five acres of gardens, which include a small lake.
Chez Bertrand, Paris
Stylish boutique hotels of the kind Paris is so good at are wasted on kids, so bring them to stay in one of these three wild and very cheesy apartments in the fleamarket district La Porte de Clignancourt. In Le Loft (for up to 5), kids can sleep in a Citroen 2CV; Le Studio (for 3) takes the moon as inspiration and is largely silver; L’Appart (up to 5) has rooms so blindingly pink you’ll need to sleep in sunglasses, plus a Haribo boy full of sweets.
These prehistoric troglodyte caves near Grenada have been done up beautifully and feature all mod-cons, including Jacuzzis in some. They differ in size for different sizes of families. The site has an outdoor pool, and restaurant and a laundry.
This ‘art hotel’ is a great place to bring teens in particular, who will appreciate its rooms individually decorated by contemporary artists and its location right by the beach in a delightful part of the island.
This fantastic rainbow-coloured thermal spa near Graz in the south-east, designed by the visionary artist Hundertwasser, looks like Gaudi-meets-Disney on acid. Children are very welcome, with apartments with kitchenettes for up to four, and kids’ pools and swimming lessons.
Almost too good to be true, this 16th-century ancestral home of Count Tibor Kalnoky, who returned to Transylvania after his family’s exile to run cottages for guests, is also an ecological retreat supported by Prince Charles, who owns one of the cottages. It’s in a beautiful area at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, and guests are brought to the estate by horse and cart. See Andrew Eames’ feature on a family stay at Kalnoky Castle.
See also our features on Unusual Places to Stay UK and Unusual Places to Stay Outside Europe.