5 Kid-Friendly Wintertime Trips
Skiing & skating in Sumava, building Legos in Berlin, touring a snow-covered fortress in Saxon Switzerland & more
Whether you prefer relaxing in the Czech mountains or heading over the border for a cosmopolitan weekend in Dresden or Berlin, choices abound for wintertime activities within a few hours of Prague. From experience, I have learned that to keep everyone happy, it’s often better to plan an activity or two specifically for children. If you play your cards right, you may get a dose of culture while your kids are having fun.
A Ski Weekend at Lipno
The Lipno Ski Resort located in the Sumava Mountains offers the most extensive children’s ski and snowboard teaching facilities in the Czech Republic, including a large training area called Fox Park and a new Bambini Park, which is ideal for the youngest beginners. Sign your children up for lessons at the Lipno Ski School where group and private ski and snowboard lessons are taught in Czech, English and Dutch. All three of my children learned to ski here. Expect to see mascots, like the furry Fox and Captain Lipanek, helping your children enjoy fun races and other ski games during their lessons. While your kids are learning to ski, take a run by yourself down the new “Vyhlídka” (Lookout) ski slope or grab a Bombardino at one of the resort’s slope-side cafes. When the slopes close, join other families for night sledding in Fox Park.
Don’t miss the Treetop Walkway with its breathtaking view of the Lipno Lake – in good weather you can see the Alps. If you arrive in ski boots, you can borrow shoes and store your skis on site. Once you have walked through the tree top canopy, slide down a metal slide to the bottom for an extra thrill. After skiing, head to Aquaworld to relax in the whirlpool while your children slide and play under a water mushroom. Upstairs, sip a coffee and let your children burn their energy off in the Hopsarium, a two-story climbing area with a trampoline and inflatable obstacles. If you have extra energy, parents are welcome to slide and play too. For a delicious post-ski lunch or dinner, ski right up to the pizzeria Slunecna Louka, a family-run restaurant and pension located on the right of the resort’s front side.
If conditions stay cold, bring or rent ice skates for the unique experience of skating on the frozen Lipno Dam, where the longest natural track in the world is maintained when conditions permit. The trails around the Lipno Dam offer 40-km of cross-country ski paths, a perfect option for those who don’t like downhill skiing but still want to get some exercise.
The variety of possibilities for active recreation at Lipno make the destination a fun getaway, even for families with older children. Ski resorts on the nearby Austrian border offer day-trip options for more experienced skiers.
Lift Ticket Cost: One-day Adult 660 CZK, Child 440 CZK, Children under 6 ski free (check for multi-day discounts, & free lift tickets with ski school lessons)
Tropical Islands Resort, Germany (past Dresden, before Berlin)
If your budget doesn’t include flying somewhere exotic this spring break, but you’d like to treat your family to a resort-style vacation with sand, sun and water, the Tropical Islands Holiday Resort is a perfect option for an all-day or an overnight indoor tropical experience. The resort is housed inside a dome-shaped airplane hangar that is one of the world´s largest self-supporting halls in the world. According to their website, it is the size of 8 football fields and could fit the whole of Potsdamer Platz inside. Inside the dome, parts of the ceiling are decorated with white, puffy clouds and blue skies. Despite the weather outside, you’ll feel like you belong at the beach.
If your children like warm water, they’ll be delighted by the resort’s multiple pools, including a special kid’s area with shallow water, kid’s slides and water equipment, a 200 meter sandy beach for building sand castles and various lagoons for swimming and relaxing. Swim under a waterfall, paddle in the lagoon or walk across a wooden walkway to a thatched hut to grab a tropical cocktail – it’s not Bali, but it’s about the closest you can get in Europe in the middle of winter.
For adrenaline seekers, there are four large water slides ranging from slower rides appropriate for all ages to a high-speed turbo slide that goes up to 70 km/h and is only for those aged 15+. When you need a break from swimming, towel off and walk through the Tropical Rain Forest which houses 600 different varieties of tropical plants. See turtles, dragonfish, macaws, flamingos, peacocks and pheasants. Eat dinner in the Tropical Village while watching an acrobatic show.
While your partner watches the kids, slip away to the Spa and Sauna world. For an additional price, ride an island balloon to the top of the enclosed dome to get a bird’s eye view of the tropical rain forest.
If you don’t want to do the trip there and back in one day, stay overnight in a standard room on the quiet side of the lagoon, sleep in a thatched hut in the rain forest, rent a romantic lodge or camp out in a tent. Wake up in the morning and do it all again.
Tropical Islands is an easy drive from Prague. Located 100 km north of Dresden and 60 km east of the Berlin city center (near the Schönefeld Airport), the facility is accessible on the motorway A113 or by train.
Admission Cost: Pure Tropics Adult 36 Euro, Reduced 28.50 (see website for special offers, variations)
Königstein Fortress, Germany (Saxon Switzerland) (Dresden/ Děčín area)
Before we decided to visit the Saxon Switzerland region (just over the border from Czech Switzerland), I had never heard of the Konigstein Fortress, known as the Saxon “Bastille.” Situated high above the Elbe River (Labe in Czech) on a hilltop called Königstein ("King's Rock"), the formidable fortress is one of the largest fortifications in Europe, offering an impressive view of the Saxon lands below and housing the second deepest well in Europe.
From 1233, when the fortress was first mentioned in a deed by King Wenceslas as a Bohemian castle through its reign as the seat of the Saxon kingdom to its existence as a military prison for high ranking officials, for centuries Konigstein has played an important role in Saxon history. Today, the fortress is a public site visited by 700, 000 tourists annually.
With its 750 year history, the fortress offers glimpses of late Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and 19th century architecture. As we walked up the path from the car park toward the fortress, which blends in with the craggy King’s Rock upon which it was constructed, we could see why it was never penetrated during war. The children joked they’d like to try to climb the smooth rock walls. We later learned that fear of the impregnable nature of the fortress was so great no army ever tried to attack. In 1848, an eighteen-year old chimney sweep became the only person “storm” the fortress.
Once inside the fortress walls, don’t miss the Gate House (no. 7) where the newly opened “On the King’s Stone” permanent exhibition offers a look at the castle’s extensive history through a series of 33 interactive media centers, hands-on activities for children and some of the most realistic wax figures I have ever seen. All information is displayed in German, English and Czech, and audio guides are available in nine different languages with a special children’s version in German, English and Czech.
Upon entering the Gate House, a guide ushered our children into a cloakroom where they were offered the chance to dress up for the tour. My daughter donned a long, princess gown, while the boys dressed as Renaissance soldiers in bright red jackets with gold trim and black tri-cornered hats. Swept away into the spirit of the tour, the children led us through 30 different rooms, stopping at media stations where special shortened children’s messages were available, such as “Why Wilhelm Lost His Eye” or games like finding the misplaced construction worker (wearing a plastic hard-hat) in a diorama of the medieval fortress’s construction. Our afternoon visit included walking the exterior grounds and looking down at the river below (while holding our breath because we were so high) and touring the exterior buildings including stable, garrison house and church.
Initially, I figured Konigstein would be just another castle experience to add to our growing list. After visiting, I would say that I have never been more impressed by a castle tour for children (for adults it was also top-notch). The fortress is open year-round (with extended spring hours and options).
After our fortress visit, we headed back over the border to spend the night at Kristin Hrádek, an 18th century hunting lodge nestled in the forest near Děčín. The lodge features a restaurant that received a top 10 rating in Maurer’s Selection this year. The highlight of the accommodation (besides the food) were the hunting trophies displayed throughout the lodge. My children’s favorite was a moose named Albert hanging near the stairway.
For a second-day activity, on the Czech side, the region is home to the Czech Switzerland National Park with its famous sandstone formations, including Pravčická Gate, the largest natural bridge-shaped rock formation in Central Europe. Nearby Dolský mlýn is a quiet spot for a leisurely walk in the region’s winter landscape.
Accommodations: Book a hotel in Dresden, Děčín or try Kristin Hrádek’s hunting lodge www.kristinhradek.cz
Konigstein Fortress Facebook: www.facebook.com/SchonErobert?
Konigstein’s You Tube Video
Admission Cost: Adult 8 Euro (Winter), 10 Euro (Summer), Family Pass (2 adults, 4 kids) 21 Euro (Winter) 25 Euro (Summer)
Audio Guide: 3 Euro (German, English, French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Japanese and Polish), a children’s audio guide in English, Czech or German is free for each adult audio guide purchased
Legoland Discovery Center, Berlin, Germany (Potsdamer Platz)
When we took my parents to visit my father’s relatives in Berlin after Christmas, I knew we’d have to come up with something enticing for the children. Although Berlin is replete with history and culture, I wasn’t sure if the middle of winter was the right time for a visit to the zoo or a ride on a double-decker hop-on-hop-off tour bus, which is what my children had their hearts set on. Since my father spent several years living in Berlin, I figured we’d spend time stopping at bakeries in his quest to find the perfect brotchen, a little white bread roll that carries about the same status in the food chain in Germany as a rohlik does in the Czech Republic.
When I checked what to do in Berlin with kids in the wintertime, The Museum of Technology (Deutsches Technikmuseum) seemed promising. There was a sugar-making exhibition, an aerospace section with old Lufthansa planes, rail and auto transport exhibits with carriages, bicycles and old cars. However, we had been to the National Technological Museum in Prague recently, and I wasn’t sure how different the two would be. The newly reopened Science Center branch of the museum called Spectrum advertised hands-on experiments for children of all ages, including experiments with electricity, temperature, light, motion, music, sound, sight and perception. It looked like the Techmania Center in Pilsen that my children love. We were set to go.
Then, my husband found a link to a Legoland Discovery Center located at Potsdamer Platz. There are only two other Legoland Discovery Centers in Europe (Oberhausen, Germany and Manchester, UK), and the children’s enthusiasm sealed our decision. Recommended for children aged 3-10, the Legoland Discovery Center offered everything from a large mini-Berlin constructed of Legos (it’s doesn’t have the wow effect of seeing the monuments in real life but it does give an overview of the city) to a 4D theater showing Legends of Chima™ with wind, rain and snow special effects. My youngest son’s favorite part were the 2 rides, Dragon Ride and Merlin’s Apprentice, while the older two liked the Lego Factory Tour (the guide spoke German and English) and the build and test Racing Center.
Legoland wasn’t large, but it was busy and well-staffed. Guides were on hand to explain activities as well as redirect children separated from their parents. Our children moved from exhibit to exhibit while we trailed them. By the end of two hours, we were Lego-ed out and ready to explore Potsdamer Platz. While my sons had nothing but praise for their experience, my eleven-year-old daughter said she was looking forward to seeing the Science Center next visit.
Accommodations: Try Trip Advisor at www.tripadvisor.com or Lonely Planet offers a “child friendly” list
Legoland Entry: Adult or Child (3+ years) 18,50 Euro, From 11 Euro if purchased online in advance. www.legolanddiscoverycentre.de
Centrum Babylon, Liberec, CZ
If you’re aiming for a weekend escape that’s about an hour from Prague and packs a lot into one complex, Centrum Babylon in Liberec is a good choice. Babylon includes an IQ Park (for children from age 3) with brain-boggling experiments to stimulate and entertain budding scientists. It’s the perfect place for hands-on experimenting and a nice way to combine learning with fun, particularly for younger children. Within the park is also a labyrinth with a mirror maze.
Another science-based center located in the Babylon complex is iQLANDIA. iQLANDIA is larger and newer than IQPark and geared toward older children. It includes a 3D planetarium, authentic space training, a weather simulator (perfect if you have a penchant for hurricanes or tornadoes) and a Sex Mission exhibition (on website noted as appropriate for visitors above 12). Within iQLANDIA, there are other exhibits in the fields of astronomy, chemistry and physics. My children have visited both IQ parks and said they liked iQLANDIA more, although their favorite part of Babylon by far was Lunapark.
Lunapark is an indoor amusement park area with carnival rides, slides, swings, a climbing wall and a miniature golf course. My children’s grandmother took them here, and I’ll admit that I was thankful to miss it. Seeing who could stay the longest on “Torro,” a mechanical bucking bronco, was their favorite part.
After stretching your IQ to its max, relax at the Babylon Aquapark, a waterpark decorated in the style of Jules Verne’s underwater adventure stories. There are four water slides and a wild river as well as a water castle to entertain smaller children. Swim through fountains, geysers and whirlpools, but stay away from the octopus. Highlights of the park include a 3D Laser show with music and special effects that runs daily at 10:45, 16:45 and 20:30. There is a sauna world for adults.
Liberec is the fifth largest Czech city, but it feels more like a mid-size mountain town. In addition to the Babylon Center, Liberec is home to one of the popular DinoPark exhibitions. Don’t leave the city without seeing the iconic Ještěd Tower, a hyperboloid shaped tower with a television transmitter (listed as a site of Czech cultural heritage) and hotel inside. Dine in the tower restaurant or climb to the top for a view of the nearby Jizerska Mountains. When there is snow, there is even skiing at the Ještěd Ski Resort on the mountain.
While in Liberec, stay at the Wellness Hotel in Babylon or sleep above the clouds at Hotel Ještěd.
Accommodation: Wellness Hotel Babylon (check for packages with parks included) or Hotel Ještěd
Babylon Facebook: www.facebook.com/centrumbabylon
Babylon Cost: Due to the variety of options and combinations, for the best price for advance tickets go to the E-shop (in Czech only)
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