Are you planning on taking the family to France or Spain by Ferry? We discover the Top 10 Fun Things to Do with Kids at Ferry Destinations in France and Spain with a snapshot of what’s on offer close to the ports of Cherbourg, St Malo, Caen, Le Havre, Roscoff, Santander and Bilbao.
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Brittany Ferries offer daytime and overnight crossings to all European ports mentioned from the UK ports of Portsmouth, Plymouth or Poole. Families often pass straight through French and Spanish ports on their way to other destinations, or hang around waiting for the ferry on the way back, never quite sure what to do.
Here’s a snapshot of fun things to do with the kids, plus some ideas for where to go in the areas around the ports. Let’s start in Normandy and head south.
#1. Festyland and D-Day history in Caen
As well as being steeped in rich D-Day history, with museums, memorials, gun batteries and bunkers, this Normandy port is brimming with chateaux and gardens (which should keep Mum and Dad happy).
For the kids, the nearby, historically-themed amusement park, Festyland, has a rollercoaster, waterslides, bumper boats, medieval castle and even a circus, which teaches children about the events of 1066, William the Conqueror and the Belle Époque era. During the summer there are live performances featuring knights, pirates, Vikings and dinosaurs.
#2. Europe’s deepest aquarium and Titanic history in Cherbourg
La Cité de la Mer has a staggering 17 aquariums, including the deepest in Europe (26ft under the briny stuff) and the largest submarine open to the public in the world.
As the Titanic visited Cherbourg before its demise in 1912, there’s a fantastic exhibition about the ship called: ‘Titanic, a Return to Cherbourg’, with interactive displays and recreations of life onboard.
#3. Scenic Normandy
Just outside Cherbourg, phenomenal scenery greets you on the wild and remote Cap de la Hague (a cape at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula), which is great for walking, cycling and dining in seafood restaurants.And because it’s just three hours by ferry from the south of England you don’t have to go anywhere near an airport to get there.
Just 17 miles north of Le Havre lies Normandy’s most scenic spot, the farming town of Étretat, which forms part of the dramatic coastline famous for inspiring 19th century Impressionists.
For more inspiration check out – Top 10 Fun Things to do with Kids in Normandy
#4. St Malo – The Pirate City
With its ancient walled town of Intra-Muros, quaint cobbled streets, enticing beaches and friendly seafood restaurants, St Malo is the most dramatic of all the French ports.
The imposing Gothic and Romanesque Cathédrale de St Malo dominates the skyline and the port has a rich and exciting maritime history as a pirate haven during the 17th and 18th centuries.
For more Fun Things to do with Kids check – Top 10 Family Attractions in Brittany
#5. Roscoff – Onions, churches and exotic plants
The next time you pass through Roscoff, take time out to visit the 16th century gothic church of Notre Dame de Croatz Batz, with its twin bell tower, or take a short boat trip to the tiny island of Ile de Batz, famous for its beaches and gardens.
Back in Roscoff, Jardin Exotique is home to 3,500 exotic plant species from the southern hemisphere (including New Zealand, Australia, South America and South Africa) and full of winding paths in its 16,000m² site. Roscoff is also known for the museum of the Onion Johnnies (the stereotypical sellers who sold door-to-door in England on bicycles).
#6. Puy du Fou – The ‘best amusement park’ in the world
Deep in the lush countryside of the Western Loire region – which is covered in chateaux, stunning beaches, historic towns and cities with underground caves of of tuffeau stone and other fun things to do with kids – lies Puy du Fou.
This historical, award winning theme park, in the Vendée region, is the second most visited French theme park after Disneyland Paris and was voted the world’s best amusement park in 2012.
For more great ideas check out – Top 10 Family Attractions in Western Loire
#7. Angers – A ‘plant life’ theme park, 1,200-year-old chateau and a 100m-long tapestry.
Less than 60 miles north east of Puy du Fou is an amusement park of an entirely different sort. Terra Botanica, the first of its kind in Europe, is an educational ‘plant life’ theme park set in 110,000m² of gardens, with aquatic areas and glasshouses – and more than 40 different attractions.
Nearby, in this city of art and history, lies the impressive, 17-towered Château d’Angers, which dates back to the 9th Century and is home to the 100m-long Apocalypse Tapestry (the biggest in the world).
If you head south you’ll reach La Rochelle and its Vieux Port, one of the most photographed harbors on France’s Atlantic coast which is guarded by medieval twin towers.
You may also enjoy – The Best 10 Family Camping Spots in Europe and Camping in France.
#8. Biarritz and Hossegor – Surf, chocolate and mountains
You may have made it this far from Roscoff by road, but, if you take a crossing from the UK to Bilbao, you have two of France’s jewels less than 100 miles up the coast.
In Biarritz, the cove of Port Vieux is a safe, sheltered beach and at the Grande Plage, there are two children’s clubs. There is also the Chocolate Museum, the caves at Sare and the little train up the Rhune (a mountain in the Basque Country).
In Hossegor, if the sun is too hot or the surf too big along the 3.6 miles of beaches, head for shelter with a bike ride or walk through the Landes forest.
Recommended Reading – 5 Reasons to Visit Biarritz
#9. Bilbao – A touch of culture and the gateway to the Basque hills
The medieval streets of Bilbao lead you to a raft of museums, including the famous Guggenheim Museum of modern and contemporary art, which has children’s workshops and dedicated events for teenagers.
The town is also a gateway to the high hills of the Basque country with Pamplona along the motorway and San Sebastian to the east, famous for its Michelin-starred gastronomy and spectacular bay.
#10. Santander – Ancient history and family fun things to do with kids
Santander is a city on the sea, overlooked by mountains, with sandy beaches, gardens, a cathedral and old town.
Cantabria’s beaches and the seaside village of Santillana del Mar have plenty of family appeal. You can see prehistoric wall paintings at the Altamira caves, and at Burgos, to the south, lies the Museum of Human Evolution and the archaeological site of Atapuerca, which contains human fossils from nearly one million years ago.
For more ideas on family holidays to France or Spain visit Brittany Ferries Holidays.
Have you visited any of the destinations above? Let us know what your favourite family activity was in the comments box below.