You love the bright lights and cultural attractions of the big city. Your kids may not feel the same way. While you dream of prix fixe meals at elegant restaurants, they fantasize about slurping snow cones on a park bench. While you imagine gazing at flying buttresses in a Gothic cathedral, they see themselves digging for dinosaur bones, collecting grass stains on their summer whites, or snapping selfies with wax replicas of their favorite boy band members. Not to worry. With a little planning, you can keep kids of all ages smiling—and keep their screen times to a minimum—in these six amazing cities. Just take off the grown-up glasses and view the cities from their perspective.


San Francisco

Hop on a cable car. Come on, don’t say no! You can rumble from the top of Nob Hill down to Fisherman’s Wharf with the wind blowing your hair and gorgeous views of the Bay in front of you. Once you get a ride under your belt, rickshaw over to the Ferry Building for lunch. Or check out Golden Gate Park, an urban paradise of playgrounds, lakes, beaches, biking paths, and museums, including the California Academy of Sciences, featuring an indoor rain forest, aquarium, and penguins. Want a different view of the city? Take the family on a boat tour around the Bay. On the Red and White Fleet, children under age 5 ride free. For older kids, plan a stop at Alcatraz Island and tour the prison that housed notorious criminals like Al Capone.


London

London is the ultimate kids’ playground—kings, queens, palaces, a giant Ferris wheel, double-decker buses, and stone-faced guards with black furry hats. Where do you even begin? You may want to visit the usual hotspots in this magnificent city, but for more kid-centered fun, try these attractions: The Horniman Museum and Gardens south of the city; KidZania London, where youngsters role-play being everything from pilots to pop divas; the London Zoo, where older kids can feed giraffes as a Junior Keeper for a Day; and St. James’s Park, where pelicans are fed daily at 2:30 p.m. And if your kids are climbing the walls after a morning at Westminster Abbey, get them to Clip ‘n Climb Chelsea for some real vertical action.


Amsterdam

The Red Light District may have been fun when you were backpacking on that Eurorail Pass, but now that you’re bringing the kids along, experience another side of Amsterdam with endless activities for the under-18 set. At Children’s Cook Café, your little ones can strap on an apron and create delicious dishes. At Vondelpark, they can splash in a wading pool. Outside of town in Amstelveen, there are horseback riding lessons. If your kids tire of the Dutch Masters, check out the NEMO Science Center. And obviously, don’t leave this enchanting city without winding your way through its canals on a boat tour. For young eaters with limited palates, there’s even a pizza cruise.


Sydney

The Sydney Opera House ain’t gonna cut it. However spectacular, your kids yawn at the thought of bellowing divas and baritone men in tights. To get their buy-in for a Sydney vacation, mention the Sydney Observatory, the IMAX Theater, or the Sydney Tower Eye with spectacular views from a skywalk more than 800 feet above the ground. Once you arrive in the Harbour City, plan excursions to SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, the Taronga Zoo, or Sydney Olympic Park, with activities such as archery, trapezing, and swimming. The Justice and Police Museum caters to young ones with a law-and-order bent. And with the city’s mild climate, the outdoors beckons families year-round to beaches, parks, and harbor cruises.


New York City

It’s the center of finance, media, and culture, and New York City is also a center for family fun. From a Broadway show to a boat ride in Central Park, the city offers activities for all ages. Once you climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty or take in the view from the top of the Empire State Building, go see wooly mammoths at the Museum of Natural History or unicorns at the Cloisters. Sip tea like Eloise at the Plaza Hotel, ride the Cyclone roller coaster on Coney Island, and hop on the Staten Island Ferry for views of the city from the water. For a sugar rush, check out M&M’s World near Times Square. Or, after ice-skating at Rockefeller Center in the winter, embark on your own hot chocolate tour of the city.


Istanbul

You may be swept away by this exotic crossroads of history, culture, and art. Your kids may store different experiences in their memory banks. Miniaturk, a miniature park with models of historic Turkish structures, gives Legoland a run for its money and has a playground, a labyrinth, and a giant chessboard to boot. The Princes’ Islands, a short ferry ride from Istanbul, offer bike rentals, horse and carriage rides, and no cars to interfere with children romping about. Don’t miss the Istanbul Aquarium and the Istanbul Dolphinarium, where sea mammals take center stage. And for a trip you all will remember, book a Bosphorus Cruise. Short ones take you to Asia and back, and longer ones sail all the way to the Black Sea.


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