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Europe by the kids book

A surefire way to get the kids inspired about a trip to Europe is to have them read about it first. Five children's writers tell us how to get the best out of the cities that inspired them

  • Europe by the kids book
  • Europe by the kids book
  • Europe by the kids book
  • Europe by the kids book
  • Europe by the kids book

Words Ronnie Haydon
Illustrations Damien Florébert Cuypers


Michelle Lovric longed to live in Venice when she was a little girl. Now she does. In her beautiful book The Undrowned Child, suitable for children eight and above, central character Teodora's dream to visit the floating city also comes true, but there are strange things happening below the surface. Lovric tells us how to get the best out of the watery city...

"Water is a friend and an enemy in Venice; on a good day, and even in the middle of a serious high water, Venice's water creates a dancing, joyous pattern of reflections under bridges and on ceilings. There are bizarre and beautiful things floating down the Grand Canal every day: flowers, coffins, grand pianos, palm trees, dancing Chinese dragons.

"In late December and early January the light is golden and the city is so peaceful. Then there's the Venezianissimo festival of La Befana on 6 January. Gondoliers dress up as old ladies and race down the Grand Canal - often a mist makes it all seem more magical and strange. A boat carries a huge stocking to Rialto, where choirs are singing and galani (crunchy sugar-dusted biscuits) are given out along with mud-thick Venetian hot chocolate.

"On his last visit, my nephew spent his entire pocket money taking us all on a gondola ride . It is best to do this in the evening, when the city reverts right back to her deep past.

You must ask the gondolier to head straight for the quiet canals. "If the gondola is a bit expensive, there is a way you can have a short ride in one for 50 cents (NOK4): take a traghetto . These are real gondolas that work as ferries, taking up to 14 people at a time across the Grand Canal. In The Undrowned Child, Teo meets the ghost of Pedro-the-Crimp on the traghetto between San Samuele and Ca' Rezzonico.

"Children love Venice's Natural History Museum (1730 Sante Croce, www.msn.visitmuve.it). Inside is an up-to-the-minute modern section, including a whole dinosaur skeleton and the bones of a vast primeval crocodile. The stuffed animals in this museum feature in my forthcoming novel, The Fate in the Box.

"I always take visiting children to say a respectful hello to the statue of Signor Rioba at the Campo dei Mori. He's a character in The Undrowned Child. One look at that jutting iron nose and I knew he would be rude enough to curse the bladder out of a weasel, and brave enough to fight a werewolf. On the night before 1 May 2010, a vandal decapitated 'Sior' Rioba and the whole city was prostrated with shock. A few days later, a rubbish collector found the head and it is now restored. There was a party for the return of Signor Rioba's head and the Venetians painted their noses black for the occasion."


Rupert Kingfisher is the author of Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles (ages 8-12), about a girl who learns to create bewitching dishes such as Pterodactyl bacon with Mme Pamplemousse and her cat, Camembert. Kingfisher, who was inspired by visits to Paris as a child, takes us on a real-life magical journey...

"The Madame Pamplemousse books were inspired by holidays to Paris when I was a child. Ever since then, the city has seemed to me like a magical place. Madame Pamplemousse's shop is located near the hotel where we stayed, down a narrow medieval lane somewhere in the Latin Quarter. You can walk through the Rue Mouffetard , for example, past the food markets, or along the Seine towards Notre Dame. Try to visit the Museum of the Middle Ages (Musée de Cluny, 6 place Paul Painlevé, www.musee-moyenage.fr) before the crowds get there, so you can spend some time alone with the mysterious unicorn tapestries.

"Walking past Notre Dame, you come to the Île Saint-Louis and my favourite café in Paris, La Charlotte de l'Isle (24 rue Saint-Louis en l'Isle, www.lacharlottedelisle.fr), which serves the best hot chocolate. It doubles as a puppet theatre and is elegantly cluttered throughout with puppets and other curios.

"My single favourite building in Paris is the Museum of Natural History (57 rue Cuvier, www.mnhn.fr), for its old Parisian atmosphere and also for its cabinets of strange pickled grotesqueries - a collection not dissimilar to Madame Pamplemousse's shop, in fact."


In Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent (ages 10-12) by Alan Early, all hell breaks loose in Dublin when Arthur and his friends unleash the power of the World Serpent, an evil Viking god, in a metro tunnel. Early tells us where to get a sense of Viking Dublin...

"Dublin's been around since Viking times - and has seen wars, famine, plagues and more besides. Irish people are known for being storytellers and there really is a wealth of stories waiting to be told about Dublin.

"St Stephen's Green is a pretty little park right at the top of Grafton Street. I could happily spend hours meandering down the little pathways, feeding ducks, reading or just meeting friends. The Little Museum of Dublin (15 St Stephen's Green, www.littlemuseum.ie), across from the park, is a small, quirky museum full of posters, photographs and souvenirs that give you a real sense of Dublin and Dubliners.

"One of my favourites coffee shops has to be Queen of Tarts (Cow's Lane, Dame Street, www.queenoftarts.ie). The Gutter Bookshop , also on this lane (www.gutterbookshop.com), is a friendly, independent bookstore with a great kids section.

"One of my most recent discoveries is Archbishop Marsh's Library (www.marshlibrary.ie), secluded behind St Patrick's Cathedral. Founded more than 400 years ago, it was the first public library in the country. The shelves are lined with dusty old tomes and the place is said to be haunted. The staffare happy to give tours and recount some of the stranger stories about the place - including the mystery of a real-life mummy that was found there a few hundred years ago. Best of all, they encourage children to visit and often have bookbinding or printing workshops. Since it's a small library they don't open every day, so it's best to check the website before visiting.

"The Dublin Spire (www.dublinspire.com) plays an important role in the book - it's hard to miss since it's the tallest construction in the city. A lot of the book takes place in the River Poddle. Unfortunately, most of the river is now underground, but there is one way to see it under the streets: if you take a tour of Dublin Castle and Undercroft (offDame Street, www.dublincastle.ie), you get to visit the ancient foundations of the castle walls and see some of the river here. Another must-do for fans of Arthur Quinn is the Viking Splash Tour (www.vikingsplash.com).

These tours take place on a fleet of amphibian vehicles - buses that drive on land and in the water. The guides are great fun and you're actively encouraged to roar at passing pedestrians as if you were a Viking!"


Noémi Szécsi's haunting tale, The Finno-Ugrian Vampire, has historic and satirical overtones, and is best suited for teens. Jerne, a hereditary vampire, is being pestered by her grandmother to join the family business, though Jerne is not keen to die. Szécsi tells us about the most beautiful spots in Budapest, as well as the best places to find vampires...

"Budapest has some links to the vampire myth - it's where Hungarian actor Béla Lugosi, famed for his role as Dracula, started his career, and it's where protagonist Jonathan Harker writes his first letter before setting out to Transylvania in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

"Some of the city's famous spas have an evocative Dracula-era feel. I love the Gellert Baths (4 Kelenhegyi út, www.gellertbath.com), which date back to 1918, and the Széchenyi Spa (11 Allatkerti út, www.szechenyibath.hu), which has an outdoor area pool outside that looks like a grand old palace.

"In the novel, Jerne lives near the City Park , which is home to a host of museums, the zoo and an ice rink - it's a good place to start a tour of Budapest with the kids. It's also home to the Castle of Vajdahunyad , where a significant event in the book takes place - the castle is quite similar to the castle of Dracula in Transylvania, but it was built at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. In the book's epilogue, Jerne eats dessert in the Gerbeaud (7-8 Vörösmarty tér, www.gerbeaud.hu), a prestigious traditional patisserie that's had a gorgeous makeover."


Vienna native Brigitta Höpler is the co-author of Vienna: City Guide for Children, a gorgeous illustrated guide for younger kids which tells of Vienna's history since Roman times. Höpler has been exploring Vienna's treasures since she was a little girl and shows us where to find the Vienna of her youthful imagination...

"My father used to take me around the city, telling me old Viennese legends. One of my favourite tours, also described in the book, is the quarter around St Stephen's Cathedral (1 Stephansplatz, www.stephanskirche.at). You can climb 343 steps up the south tower for a wonderful view from the top.

"In the book, you can read all the old stories my dad used to tell me, and look for wild animals on the houses and churches. Another part of the book sets children on a mission to find 32 angels - I'm not saying where they are, but kids can look out for them around the city.

"My kids love going up the Donauturm (www.donauturm.at). At 252m, it's the tallest building in Austria and has a revolving restaurant that's very child-friendly.

Another big favourite is Schönbrunn (www.schoenbrunn.at), a huge, stupendous palace set in gorgeous parkland that seems to go on forever."


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