Which? reveals the results from its 2019 airline survey
British Airways, Ryanair and American Airline have been named among the worst performers in the Which? Annual airline survey.
In contrast, Jet2, Easyjet, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic were praised for their efforts by passengers.
BA was criticised for its food and drink, seat comfort and value for money in the survey of 6,500 holidaymakers.
The airline was second from bottom in the long haul category and third from bottom in the short haul section.
Ryanair was voted worst short haul airline for the fourth successive year with passengers criticising its confusing luggage rules.
Vueling and Wizz Air were also near the bottom of the list.
Among the best performing airlines in the survey was Jet2, which gained five stars for its customer service, and EasyJet.
In the long haul category, American Airlines finished bottom of the list, with one customer claiming ‘the cabin was scruffy, the staff rude, the food awful’.
Singapore Airlines was top of the long haul list with Emirates and Virgin Atlantic also performing well.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “Year after year, the same culprits continue to sink to new lows, yet for many of us, there is a choice.
“You don’t have to keep booking with an airline that has let you down – or one that you loved for years but has slipped in quality.
“If you get a choice and you are flying short haul, choose Jet2. It is better quality than BA and often has better fares than Ryanair. If you are heading to the states, Virgin Atlantic beats BA hands-down.”
We review Stirling Castle in central Scotland to discover if it is a good day out for children
What is it?
Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s biggest and most famous castles. It was once home to Mary Queen of Scots and generations of royals.
Where is it?
In the centre of Stirling in central Scotland – midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh – it sits high on a hilltop, a steep walk from the city centre.
What did we think?
This is a huge site with lots of nooks and crannies for children to explore.
Our children loved the castle walls, the various cannon battlements and exploring down staircases into random dungeons.
It is good for exploring but there are several formal sections which are great for children too.
*The Castle Exhibition – a good interactive section telling the history of Scottish kings and showing how skeletons discovered in the grounds were identified.
*The Palace Vaults – a series of rooms with animated games and hands-on fun. You can try on medieval clothes, learn about jester’s jokes and play ancient musical instruments. This section is very child-friendly.
*The Queen Anne Garden – a lovely formal garden with space to run around and sit, which has great views of the area.
*The Great Kitchens – discover the life of a cook and servant in the castle’s old kitchens. This is an entertaining area with a video and a recreation of the food on offer in the 16th century.
*The other areas are more adult-focussed but with huge historical value such as the Great Hall completed for King James IV in 1503.
This is a large, sprawling castle where children can really explore and embrace their imagination.
*There is an explorer quiz available for children to take round, which can keep them occupied even in the more adult-orientated areas
*There is a children’s tour every Saturday at 2pm for youngsters aged five to 12.
The view from Stirling Castle
*Watch little ones closely around the castle walls, they are well signposted and fun to explore but there are some steep drops.
Stirling Castle information
Food: The Unicorn Cafe has a range of snacks and hot food with children’s portions. Children’s pick and mix boxes are also available. There is a lovely garden next door to eat outside.
Opening hours: 9.30am to 5pm in winter, 9.30am to 6pm in summer.
Cost: Adult £15, child (five to 15) £9, Under-fives free. Historic Scotland and English Heritage members free.
Best for: Ages four to 10
Time needed: Two to three hours
Access and restrictions: Free admission for carers, mobility vehicles available on site. Some areas not suitable for wheelchairs. The Access Gallery near the entrance allows those with mobility problems to discover the inaccessible parts of the castle.
Address: Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ
Have fun if you are visiting and let us know what you thought!
Advice and all the information you will need for a family visit to Blackpool Zoo
What is it ?
Blackpool Zoo is a medium-sized zoo which has been open since 1972, with animals to see including elephants, tigers, lions, orangutans and live sea lion shows.
Where is it?
The zoo is set in lovely, green woodland on an old airfield in Blackpool, near the town’s large Stanley Park.
What did we think?
The zoo isn’t too big and the route is flat and well-signposted meaning it is relaxing and simple to get around.
There were really good live shows, a well-done dinosaur safari set around a lake and a large selection of animals.
*As you go in, the Elephant Base Camp and impressive Dinosaur Safari are a great way to start. The elephants have a new indoor enclosure and plenty of outdoor space to enjoy.
*The Dinosaur Safari features replicas of around 20 dinosaurs lurking around a lovely lake. Our children loved this area and we went round it twice.
*The live shows. The Sea Lion Pool and Arena is very well done and we enjoyed a fun 15-minute show with tricks and information about these amazing animals.
*The Bird of Prey Show is also worth seeing in the Display Arena with flying macaws and owls.
*The entertainment at the children’s farm is also good fun for younger ones – they can see and touch donkeys, pigs, sheep and goats.
*At Lemur Wood, you can get close to these lovable creatures in a short walkway. This area isn’t huge but is very cute.
*An unusual species to see, our children loved the Wolf Ridge area with particularly creative signage and information as you walk up a gentle slope to where the wolves have lots of land to roam.
Our top tips
*Bring £2.50 in cash for the car park with you. The machines don’t take cards and you have to go to the reception, get a ticket and go back to your car if you don’t bring the cash with you.
*On busy days, go around in an anti-clockwise direction doing the dinosaur and elephant areas last as these seemed to be the busiest places. Alternatively see these areas first thing in the morning or late afternoon.
*Follow the show and feeding times closely. We found the shows were well spaced out and you had time to get around to all of them if you wanted.
*Get in early for the Sea Lion Show – it was full when we went – plus they shut the doors a few minutes before it starts.
Blackpool Zoo information
Food: The Nawala Street Food area near the Dinosaur Safari was the most interesting food outlet with curries, samosas as well as the usual chips and burgers. There is also the large Lake View Cafe. Alternatively, there are plenty of picnic areas in pleasant surroundings.
Opening hours: From 10am daily except Christmas Day. Closing varies depending on the season from 3.45pm in winter to 5.45pm in summer.
Cost: Family ticket (two adults, two children) £59.99. Adults £18.99, children (from 3-15) £14.50. Discounts available for pre-booking online.
Best for: Ages two to 10
Time needed: three hours.
Access and restrictions: Excellent flat site for wheelchairs and buggies. Wheelchairs available to hire. Entry discounts for disabled children and carers.
Address: East Park Drive, Blackpool, FY3 8PP. Parking on site for £2.50 per day.
Note: We were given complimentary tickets for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.
EasyJet hikes some child and baggage charges
EasyJet has raised the price of taking an infant on its planes to £25.
The infant fee, allowing children under two to travel on an adult’s lap, was £22 but has now gone up by £3 or 13 per cent.
Also, checking in a bag at the airport has gone up from £37 to £40. And checking it in at the gate, if it is deemed too big for hand luggage, now costs £50 instead of £47.
Most passengers pay for checked bags before they arrive at the airport and these fees haven’t changed.
An easyJet spokesman defended the additional infant charges saying it covered airport fees and allowed two child items to go in the hold for free, such as a buggy or car seat.
EasyJet said: “The infant fare is a fixed price to keep it simple and provide value for money.
“Whilst our cheapest fares can be similar to the infant fee, this simply demonstrates that our lowest fares help families keep down the cost of their flights.
“The infant fee covers a luggage allowance for parents of two items of hold luggage like a push chair, travel cot or car seat and covers the airport charges levied on easyJet.”
How to guarantee a fun day out for children at the UK’s most popular zoo
Chester Zoo is the UK’s most visited zoo and one of the country’s largest. It is a favourite of ours and is home to 21,000 animals and 500 different species. Here are our top tips to get the most out of a day at Chester Zoo.
Get there early
Chester Zoo is the most popular attraction outside London and has nearly two million visitors a year, so can get busy really quickly.
To maximise your time, arrive about 20 minutes before it opens (it opens at 10am, so arrive at 9.45am at the latest).
That way you can park nearer to the entrance in the main car park rather than being ushered further away into a field. You can then hit the gates as soon as they open.
(Alternatively, if you want a short visit, you could get there two hours before closing, for the late entry discount).
The painted dogs enclosure at the edge of the zoo is one of the quieter areas to explore
Walk to the furthest point first
As everyone else heads straight to the elephants which are directly inside the entrance, you need to keep walking and walking.
Either turn right and head towards the rhinos and the Islands or turn left, over the bridge and towards the chimpanzee section.
Ignore everything you see until you get to the further reaches of the zoo, then work your way BACK towards the start.
If you do this you will get around 90 minutes – even on the busiest days – when it feels like your own private zoo.
The Islands boat ride
The queues can be long at peak times and your chances of actually seeing half of the animals lurking around the waters are mixed at best.
Either head straight for the Islands as soon as the zoo opens or give it a miss until nearer the end of the day.
You can easily waste an hour queuing and doing the boat ride at busy times when you would be better off seeing other attractions.
The Islands at Chester Zoo
Think of the zoo as two halves
On the map, split the zoo in two using the public footpath. Do one half at the start of the day and the other after lunch if you are making a full day of it.
Use the monorail to speed up the process and give weary little feet a break – a single ride is a quick way of skipping to another part of the zoo in double quick time. And it’s fun to see everything from above.
Use a single monorail journey to save time
Favourite picnic spots
There are loads of places to picnic and plenty of quiet corners away from the busy eating areas.
Our favourites include the benches next to the giraffes (especially when they are outside feeding), by the painted dogs enclosure at the far right corner of the zoo next to the antelopes, in the sunken garden and in the Islands section – although seating here is a bit limited for picnics.
What if it rains?
Most of the zoo is outside so it isn’t an ideal wet weather location but there are several good areas, which will take at least an hour or two to complete. The elephant enclosure and the monkey house near the entrance are good first or last stops.
The area with most undercover sections is on the far side of the zoo around the Realm of the Red Ape, which has orang-utans and snakes indoors.
It is also close to the small aquarium near the penguin enclosure, the Tropical Realm with birds and small crocodiles and the Spirit of the Jaguar.
Another good way of staying dry and seeing the zoo is to do the monorail, you can stay on and do a lap of the park. The Islands boat ride is also an undercover ride.
Chester Zoo membership
If you pay to be a member of Chester Zoo, you can visit as often as you like for free, plus you get other benefits. Children under three are free.
Our children love Chester Zoo and it always feels clean and spacious for the animals. But it is an expensive day out so maximise your time and take a picnic.
*Head for the farthest point of the zoo as soon as you get in and work backwards. There are fewer crowds and more time to see the animals up close.
Chester Zoo Information
Address: Chester Zoo, Moston Rd, Upton-by-Chester, Upton, Chester CH2 1EU.
Opening hours: Open daily except Christmas Day and Boxing Day from 10am. Closing depends on the time of year, 4pm in winter and 6pm in summer holidays.
Cost: On the gate, adult £26, child (3-17) £22. It is cheaper to buy online in advance with a family saving for three or more people.
Best for: Ages 2-10
Time needed: It takes a full day to see the whole zoo. Minimum time to see a good selection of animals is 2 hours.
Note: All pictures in this article are courtesy of Chester Zoo.
Our five top activities for children on a family trip to London
This enormous big wheel is a great place to start any visit as it helps children get their bearings in the capital.
The queues can be long but you can book a timed entrance which is recommended in peak season. The ride takes half an hour. Tickets and information are available via the London Eye website
The London Eye
The south bank of the River Thames is popular for a family day out.
A child-friendly route along the Embankment between Westminster Bridge and Jubilee Bridge has carousels, mime artists, stalls and indoor attractions galore.
We went to the Sea Life Centre London which is a good rainy day option or, in our case, a welcome escape from the heat outside. The penguins and sharks were particular favourites.
A dose of green space is welcome on a visit to London. Our favourite city centre option was St James’s Park, a small but charming park near Buckingham Palace.
Our children also had lots of fun cooling off in Hyde Park, paddling through the Diana Memorial Fountain stream.
There are rowing boats and pedal boats to hire on the Serpentine Lido or you can take a ride on the UK’s first Solarshuttle, powered only by the sun (check opening months and times for all these activities first). The Lido Cafe Bar has tables outside by the water.
St James’s Park is one of London’s best green spaces
The famous exhibits at the Natural History Museum – or the Dinosaur Museum as our children call it – are eye-opening for children and interesting for adults too.
You can combine a visit with a trip to the more interactive Science Museum next door and entrance is free – although be prepared for long queues in peak season. For tickets and information go to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum websites.
The Natural History Museum is free to enter
Boat trip on the River Thames
For a more daredevil adventure, try the Thames Rib Experience. Speed boats take you along the river on various routes, we tried one to Canary Wharf and back.
It all starts gently enough, with guided commentary, but when the James Bond music comes on, prepare for a thrilling, high speed ride. A great way to see London from a different perspective. The minimum weight is 15kg or three stone.
The Thames RIB Experience
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What are your favourite activities for children in London? Please comment below, we’d love to hear from you.
Note: Some pictures in this article are courtesy of VisitLondon.com
Coniston is great for families – do you agree with our five top places to take the children around this south Lakes village?
Coniston Water, the fifth biggest stretch of water in the Lake District, has Grizedale Forest on one side and the Old Man of Coniston looming on the other.
There are pleasant coves and near the main boating centre, there are wide, stony patches you can explore, set up chairs or a rug and enjoy a picnic.
You can catch the rebuilt Victorian steam-powered yacht Gondola to get around the lake or opt for something more modern.
We hired a speedboat from Coniston Boating Centre – the speed limit is 10mph on the water – but in an hour you travel all around the lake.
The Old Man of Coniston
You can’t miss this mountain as it towers above the village. It is a magnet for walkers but you can do at least part of it with young children.
We would consider driving up as far as you can. There is a car park part of the way up and you can walk from there.
The first part is fairly easy before it gets steeper towards the tarns. Even if you don’t make the top, the views are great.
The Old Man of Coniston
On the eastern side of Coniston is this fabulous forest. Grizedale has lots of adventure activities including Go Ape, forest trails and mountain biking.
We hired two electric bikes from Grizedale Mountain Bikes. This may sound like a cheat, but we would recommend electric if you are pulling children behind as there are some steep climbs.
All four of us loved exploring the trails which carve their way through the forests. There is a large car park next to the refurbished visitor centre.
Hire a bike to explore Grizedale Forest and its many miles of trails
This is the perfect lakeland walk for small children. Bought by Beatrix Potter in 1929 and handed to the National Trust, Tarn Hows is man-made but it feels like it has been there for centuries.
Walk down from the car park to the 1.5 mile flat circuit around the water.
The path around the tarn is gravelled and easy for all ages – don’t forget to stop at the far end for a picture.
There are toilets and sometimes an ice cream van at the car park.
Tarn Hows is a family friendly walk for young children
Coniston is a bustling, working village, not a picturesque tourist magnet like Ambleside or Hawkshead.
However there are good pubs – the Black Bull is really popular – plenty or restaurants and cafes plus food stores.
Coniston is a working village but has plenty of pubs, restaurants and a playground
There is also a good playground on the road towards the lake.
We rented a cottage with Coppermines Cottages, they have plenty of choice around Coniston. Ours was a classic Lakeland cottage with traditional features in a good location.
Have we missed any of your family’s favourite places? We’d love to hear your recommendations for families in Coniston.
Our five favourite Lake District walks to keep children happy around Windermere, Coniston, Ullswater and Buttermere
(90 minutes, suitable from aged three and over, no buggies)
You can walk this from the top of Bowness town centre near Booths supermarket, it starts across fields, then goes through woodland before a brief steeper bit as you reach the summit.
The reward is amazing views over Windermere and there are benches and space at the top.
You can descend along various different routes, some on roads. An ideal first ‘summit’ to do in the Lake District.
The view of Windermere from Orrest Head
(45 minutes, toddler friendly)
This is man-made but it looks as if it has been part of the Lake District for thousands of years.
There are glorious views around the lake, and the entire circuit is flat and gravelled, which makes it buggy-friendly and ideal for those learning to walk.
Youngsters will enjoy crossing the small bridge at the far end and sheep spotting.
There is a National Trust car park on site with toilets and normally an ice-cream or burger van too. As a favourite spot for families it does get busy in high season so try and go either early morning or late afternoon.
Tarn Hows is a simple walk for young children
(80-minute round trip, suited to children aged three and over, but keep children close as there are steep drops)
Just above the Western edge of Ullswater is the most famous waterfall in the Lakes.
The walk starts at a large car park with visitor centre, you go up through woodland, before passing open fields and then turning right to the falls.
Pause on the bridge for pictures before heading back down. Beware – the path is very open in places with steep drops so you need to keep an eye on little ones at all times.
Stop near the end to dip a toe in the babbling river or tackle some stepping stones before returning through woodland to the car park.
The streams and woodland of Aira Force
(Two-hour round trip, suitable from aged four and above)
Catch the Ullswater steamer to Howtown on the sparsely populated Eastern edge of the lake.
Turn right at the pier, follow the signs around the lake – there is a nice stony beach near the start – and then head up.
The wide fields narrow to a small rocky path as you climb up. It isn’t steep but some parts are tight and there are drops, then skirt the lake around Hallin Fell.
There are great picnic spots with amazing lake views and a fun section of exposed sandstone which children can clamber on.
You can either turn back at the sandstone for a shorter walk or head right the way around Hallin Fell and back to Howtown.
There is a lovely tea room in the small town – but don’t forget to check the steamer timetable to catch your boat back.
Enjoy great views of Ullswater on this walk
(Two-hour round trip, suitable from aged four and above)
In the less visited and harder to reach Western Lakes lies Buttermere.
It is a spectacular spot for a gentle round-the-lake stroll with amazing views. You can park in the village and follow the footpath to the lake.
Head for the western shore, first through Burtness Wood, which is the easiest part of the walk and gives you the chance to stop at the shore for a picnic or paddle.
When you reach the far end you can either turn back through the wood or continue around the entire lake, which is about a four mile walk.
If you’re doing the entire circuit you will have to walk along the road for a short distance and then the shore path is quite rough but there is a fun tunnel towards the end on the eastern shore which does get quite dark.
Buttermere is below the Honister Pass in the quieter Western Lakes
Do you agree with our choices? What are your family’s favourite walks? Comment below, we would love to hear from you.
Read our review of this popular park and mill near Manchester
What is it?
Quarry Bank Mill, also known as Styal Mill, is one of the best preserved textile mills of the Industrial Revolution.
Built in 1784, it was the inspiration for Channel 4’s popular drama, The Mill.
Now it is a museum of the cotton industry where visitors can discover the story of mill workers and how the Industrial Revolution changed the word.
It is set amid lovely gardens to explore.
Where is it?
Quarry Bank Mill is in Styal, Cheshire, south of Manchester Airport, on the bank of the River Bollin, which provided water to power the waterwheels.
What did we think?
The gardens are very child friendly and the short walks and playgrounds are good too. The mill is interesting and fun but may be a bit much for younger children.
Recent improvements have made the gardens far more child-friendly and accessible.
The paths are new and varied, the 43 steps down towards the river proves a popular counting challenge for our little ones.
The stroll along the River Bollin is fun with weirs and colourful trees and flowers lining the route. It is an easy, safe and manageable place to explore.
There are plenty of places to stroll around
The play areas
There are two main play areas. A traditional playground with small slide, fireman’s pole and a few swings. It is small and gets packed on busy days.
There is also what they call a natural play area. This has logs to carry, tree stumps to step across and a muddy hill to scramble up.
Despite falling over and getting covered in mud, on our last visit, both areas took up an action packed 20 minutes each.
(NB The mill is closed until some time during summer 2018 for major works to install a lift).
The mill is a fun experience although best suited to those over six.
They have volunteers explaining what life was like in full costume and you can watch hand spinners at work.
The scale of the pump room and water wheel are amazing. There are good exhibits on how they made clothes in the Victorian era and many of the exhibits are hands-on.
Hands-on exhibits take you back in time inside the mill
The water works
If you head away from the mill toward the large weir, there is another short walk around a lake.
It is not a taxing stroll, you can spot birds and fish in the lake, or take a footpath towards open fields above the site. Watching the machines control the water flow keeps little eyes interested.
Quarry Bank Mill is a good wet and dry weather option. On a sunny day the gardens and walks are beautiful, on a rainy day the museum is fascinating.
Our top tip
*Eat at the garden cafe and then go for a riverside stroll in the woods next to the garden.
Quarry Bank information
Food: There are two cafes on site. The main cafe has a bit of a canteen feel but the cakes are tasty.
The new garden cafe is in a much nicer location and serves all its food and drink in disposable crockery to be kind to the environment.
Opening hours: Open daily, the estate is open 8am to 6pm, attractions open from 10.30am. The Mill is closed until summer 2018 but everything else is open.
Cost: Entry costs £50.50 for a family ticket, adults £20.25, children £10. Free for National Trust members.
Best for: ages five to 12.
Time needed: At least two hours, more if you want to take in all the talks and activities in the mill.
Access and restrictions: A lift is currently being installed so that for the first time the whole mill will be accessible to everyone.
Address: Quarry Bank, Styal Rd, Styal, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 4LA.
(The pictures in this article are courtesy of National Trust Images).
We look at the activities children can enjoy around Ullswater – waterfalls, steamers and stately homes
The second biggest lake in the Lake District, Ullswater benefits from the dramatic peaks of Helvellyn soaring above its eastern edge.
Here there aren’t the huge crowds which descend on Windermere, which means quiet coves can be found on both east and west sides.
There are plenty of stony shorelines and woods to play in. You can hire boats to enjoy the water or just picnic and take in the view.
This is your best rainy day option near Ullswater. You can choose from pottery painting, soft play and an outdoor playground.
There is also a cinema, arts shows and restaurants. Watch out for temporary exhibitions, there was a brilliant Lego one when we visited. For more information visit the Rheged website.
This spectacular waterfall is a must-see. The walk up has some steep drops so keep an eye – and a hand – on small children.
You can walk up from the National Trust car park, through the woods, to the waterfall and down the other side in around an hour.
At the end there’s a babbling river to explore and nice park to play in. For more info visit National Trust Aira Force.
The streams and woodland of Aira Force
The nature trail at this small stately home is brilliant for little ones. The trail winds through gorgeous gardens, with farm animals to see.
At the end there is a play area, cafe with a pizza oven and delicious cakes. A perfect place to spend a few hours. For more information visit the Askham Hall website.
These traditional boats are the best way around the area.
They sail between Glenridding in the south and Pooley Bridge in the north with a stop at Howtown in the middle of the lake.
We got off at Howtown to take a walk up Hallin Fell which was a memorable picnic spot.
Tickets and information on the Ullswater Steamers website.
The steamers are the best way to travel around Ullswater
Have we missed out any of your family’s favourite activities around Ullswater, do let us know in the comments below.
Our top tips for using Airbnb for a family holiday with children
We tried Airbnb for the first time for a holiday to Italy with our two children. We stayed in a remote location on a hillside in Tuscany – here is what we discovered about Airbnb.
How does Airbnb work?
Airbnb is the world’s biggest accommodation-sharing website with millions of users. It connects people looking to rent their homes or properties with those looking for somewhere to stay.
Hosts list and rent out unused spaces while travellers search for and book accommodation in 192 countries around the world.
Booking is straightforward although the sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming at first.
Make sure you use the filters to specify requirements like a pool in the summer or family-friendly accommodation.
This narrows down the search results plus there is a handy map on the site to show you where all the properties are, along with lots of pictures.
It is also wise to check the cancellation policy as there are five different levels ranging from no money back to free cancellation up to 24 hours before.
As a guest, you pay in full as you book through a secure platform, and hosts will receive that money 24 hours after guests check in.
It is definitely a cheaper option than traditional sites but beware of the hidden costs.
Our accommodation was very good value but some places stick on charges for extra residents in the small print and the cleaning costs vary quite a bit.
Look beyond the headline price per night.
This worked brilliantly for us, our host owned a group of apartments atop a hill in the Tuscan countryside. He responded quickly with loads of useful information and was always on hand to answer email queries before we arrived.
He met us upon arrival to show us around and answer any questions we had.
Some users report problems with disappearing bookings and payments. Airbnb say you should always pay through their proper channels to ensure you have some comeback if things do go wrong.
The reviews system
Airbnb is strict on reviews to ensure they are authentic so on lots of properties there isn’t much feedback.
But that does mean that the system is potentially more trustworthy than other sites.
We chose a property with some reviews (the host is often reviewed as much as the property) and found them to be spot on. We would always be cautious and book with a host who has a number of reviews.
Our host Gianfausto said “welcome to my home”. He even played the piano for guests and struck up a rapport with everyone staying there.
It felt more personal than a normal holiday and a bit different, I don’t think we have ever stayed anywhere with our children as authentic or remote.
We can see why Airbnb is so popular, it gave us a very different holiday at an affordable price.
Read a full review of our holiday here.
(Note: We received a contribution towards the cost of our stay from Airbnb but all opinions are our own).
Compare the cost of booking your seat on Ryanair, Easyjet, British Airways, Jet2 and the rest
Let’s be honest – paying to choose your seat is a tax on families.
Business travellers and even couples are not as bothered about sitting together for flight, but when you have young children, you have no choice.
Airlines have to do their best to sit families together but this is not always possible. And there are reports of airlines scattering passengers who haven’t prepaid for seats around the plane to deter them from risking it again.
How much does it cost to choose your seat on an airline?
So what is the cost of booking your seat?
We assessed the cheapest available on a route from Manchester to Spain in June.
||Price per person
|| from £3
|| from £4.49
|| from £6
|| from £6.50
|| from £7
|| from £8
|| from £9
|| from £13
The price is fairly varied with a £10 difference between the cheapest Ryanair and the most expensive Thomas Cook.
It doesn’t sound much but multiply that by four or more seats and double it for the return and you could be looking at £80 extra for your holiday.
Don’t forget there are special deals for families on some airlines and offers to buy a deal including luggage, seat and meal which can be better value.
The most comprehensive chart on airlines is this one from the Civil Aviation Authority.
Check the prices of hold luggage from Ryanair, EasyJet, British Airways, Jet2 and the rest
Hold luggage is the most expensive hidden cost on a low air fare ticket.
Unlike business travellers and couples, most families need to take at least one suitcase in the hold to carry all the extra bits and pieces children need.
So we decided to test all the major airlines to find out the true cost of a suitcase.
Our search assumed one 20kg or nearest equivalent bag on a short haul flight to Spain or equivalent distance travelling in June.
Is Ryanair among the cheapest?
||Cost per kg
Our winner was Thomas Cook, followed by Norwegian.
What our sample shows is the airlines have clearly come to a view of a rough price they can get away with for luggage.
They aren’t really competing on this cost, unlike the headline fare price.
The luggage price per kilo is fairly similar with the overall price ranging from £19 to £26.
Some of the airlines offer deals for families and cheaper luggage for children, for example, so always do your own check.
There are special deals for buying luggage, seats and meals which could reduce the overall cos too.
See our hand luggage comparison guide here.
*The most comprehensive chart on airlines is this one from the Civil Aviation Authority.
How do you keep your children safe while travelling abroad – we give you all the options
It can be a major dilemma, you’re heading abroad but what do you about car seats for your children?
You could rent them, take your own or rely on taxis and public transport. We assess all the options.
Renting car seats along with your hire car
*The benefit of this is ease and simplicity, you pick the car up at the airport, pop the seats in (once you figure out how they work) and off you go.
*It can work really well as it did when we used Auto Reisen in the Canary Islands recently, the seat was brand new and it was included in the price. If you can get that abroad, it is probably the simplest option.
*The standard of child car seats varies hugely, we have seen some truly horrible seats on offer and you don’t know what you’re going to get until you arrive.
And even then, you don’t know if the seat has hidden damage rendering it unsafe, how it has been stored, if that model has been recalled, if it has parts missing. And you don’t know how to properly fit it unless you have the manual.
*The cost is also a complete lottery. We’ve been quoted an expensive £90 per seat for a week, because the car rental companies think you don’t have a choice.
We would carefully consider the total cost of renting a car including the car hire price and seats instead of just going with the cheapest headline rate. And make sure you read company reviews to see if the seats they rent are generally of a good standard.
If you are not happy with the seat you are given when you get there, ask if you can change it for another one.
Bring your own
We have tried this and it works pretty well.
*In the long-term, it will probably be the cheapest option. We have even bought new seats to use for just for this purpose – we didn’t want to risk our day-to-day seats getting knocked about and potentially damaged and made unsafe.
*Most airlines will now let you take a car seat in the hold for free – it doesn’t come out of your luggage allowance or cost extra. Both British Airways and Ryanair allowed us to do this recently.
*Some airlines let you take the car seat with you to the gate, it can be bulky to carry around but reduces the risk of damage.
*You may also be able to take the car seat on the plane for your baby or child to sit in, if it is FAA-approved. Check ahead with your airline and know the measurements.
*You have peace of mind that the seats are safe and clean.
*The seats may take a battering travelling through the airport and on to the plane. Some people send them on the plane as they are, but they risk getting damaged.
We used to take our children’s car seats in their original boxes or a padded box to try to give them some protection but it is a hassle to pack and unpack the seats and collapse the boxes for car journeys either side.
Now, we use special bags which have made life much easier – the Venture Car Seat Travel Bag has long carry straps and now our two are much easier to carry around. The bags also prevent our seats from getting scuffed or ripped.
Using the Venture car seat travel bags
*For more information about taking car seats on a plane, see this article.
Hire at your location
Increasingly, popular tourist destinations have outlets where you can hire seats from the airport. We tried one at Malaga Airport with Tots Store.
*With a specialist supplier the seats are more certain to be good quality and cheaper.
This is the entire business for a company like Tots Stores and they wouldn’t last long offering substandard seats at inflated prices like car hire companies can get away with.
*We found the service excellent, the seats were really good quality and they explained the fitting well. The staff were efficient meeting us and it was quick and easy to take the seats back at the end of the holiday.
*You don’t have to risk damaging your own seats.
*On arrival you have to head for a different part of the airport to collect the seats, which does add a little bit of time to your airport experience.
On drop-off, you can head for the departures area but it is impossible to carry all your luggage and two car seats in one trip so this could be tricky if there is only one adult.
*The cost is likely to be less than hiring from the car hire company but more expensive than bringing your own.
Taxis and public transport
*Using public transport or taxis means less to worry about. Instead of panicking about scratches on the hire car, navigation, parking in tight spots, driving on the wrong side of the road and all the rest that goes into driving abroad – you can relax a bit more.
*The key to this approach is where you are going. Driving around some busy cities is best avoided in favour of trains, buses or taxis. In other areas, you need your own car to get around.
*Public transport will be cheapest and can be the best option in big cities. On our visit to London it was great to get around via the tube, train or bus. It made for an adventure.
Taxis with car seats can be hard to find
*We have never found a taxi abroad which has a proper child’s car seat. The best you can hope for is probably a booster seat but it is very hit and miss. You can try to pre-book a taxi with seats but we have never been successful and the whole point of taking cabs is that it is quick and easy and relatively spontaneous.
*The standard of driving is so variable too, we had one particularly hair-raising trip around Florence in a taxi.
*The cost of taking regular taxis will likely be more than a hire car – unless you are paying a huge parking fee each day.
In the UK, if the driver doesn’t provide the correct child car seat, children can travel without one on and will not be fined. They must be on a rear seat. If they are three or over they need to wear a seatbelt but no seatbelt for under-threes (see gov.uk for more information). The law in other countries and areas varies.
However experts advise that it is always safer to use a child car seat. Using a travel booster seat or seatbelt adjustor may be safer than nothing.
There are a lot of options to weigh up, consider the location and what will work best for you and let us know your thoughts, tips and ideas in the comments.
*For a full guide to flying with a baby or infant under two click here. For our 10 top tips to flying with toddlers and young children click here.
Read our report on a Brittany Ferries trip to France
A ferry can be a great way to travel with children – it breaks up a long journey, is (fairly) relaxing, you get to keep your own car on holiday plus you can pack loads into it.
The four of us have used ferries to cross the Channel for holidays to France and Denmark.
Here we review a crossing with Brittany Ferries, which operates between the UK and France, the UK and Spain and Ireland and France. We travelled between Portsmouth and St Malo.
Boarding was smooth and quick at both ports. Yes there are a lot of cars on board – our ship, the Bretagne holds 2,000 passengers and 580 cars – but it didn’t take more than 20 minutes to disembark in a well drilled operation.
One word or warning, there can be a lot of steps to climb up from the car park to the higher decks if you have small children.
A four-berth cabin on board Brittany Ferries
We booked a four-berth club cabin and our children loved it, it was a real adventure for them.
There were bunk beds on either side (the top one folds back when not in use to give more space), a small television on the wall and an en-suite with shower and toilet.
We found it cosy and very well soundproofed and both children slept well.
Cabins are not just for night times though, it is also worth booking a cabin for a day trip if you have small children. It is good to have a base and somewhere to relax (for parents as well if you have been chasing them around the ferry). Plus they are great if your child still naps.
There was plenty of choice for all budgets. There is an à la carte restaurant, self-service restaurant, cafe, and a bar.
We ate at the self-service La Baule – breakfast on the outward leg and a dinner coming home to England.
The price is reasonable and drinks at the bar aren’t bad value either.
The ferry has children’s entertainment
Early evening shows for children kept ours entertained. There was a children’s entertainer with a good line in balloon animals, a mini disco and in high season they put on a panto.
There are also two cinema screens showing family films. The screens aren’t full size but it’s a nice way to while away a couple of hours.
There is also a video games room and soft play area.
We were fortunate to enjoy good weather in both directions and it was fantastic to go out on the sundeck and watch Portsmouth harbour disappearing into the distance.
Our children loved seeing the wake caused by the huge engines, spotting the Channel Islands as we motored past and walking around the outside of the ferry.
The whole trip felt like an adventure for them and a memorable part of the holiday.
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We travelled as guests of Brittany Ferries for the purpose of this review. For more information and bookings visit their website.
Read our results to find out which airline offers the best carry-on luggage allowance.
It is a minefield – is your hand luggage bag too big, too heavy or the wrong shape?
In our experience, hand luggage bags are rarely checked or weighed but we have been caught out before so get it right before you leave home.
Here is our guide to major European budget airlines hand luggage limits.
Our hand luggage comparison guide
||55x40x20, plus smaller handbag
||No weight limit
||56x45x25 and a laptop bag/handbag
*If you want a bigger bag you pay £5 each way to guarantee priority boarding to bring it on the plane or put it in case in the hold for free.
The best overall winner for size and weight is Easyjet.
Easyjet is the winner in this category
But any airline allowing a bigger bag and 10kg limit should be fine – it can be very difficult to hit 5 or 6kg limits on baggage as often the cases themselves weigh 2 or 3kgs.
The most comprehensive chart on airlines is this one from the Civil Aviation Authority.
See our hold luggage comparison guide here.
The best towns, beaches and attractions in the southern Netherlands for families
Wassenaar – the Dutch Windsor
This small town is one of the wealthiest in Holland and it shows in the shops and restaurants.
There are lots of places to eat, a lovely atmosphere and quiet cyclefriendly roads as you would expect. There is also a great beach.
Leiden and its canals
Leiden has an excellent park and ride service on the edge of the city.
Leiden and its canals are well worth exploring
You park and catch a free minibus which drops you in the city centre and then call them to pick you up when you’re finished.
The city has a lovely canalside market with Dutch poffertjes (a Dutch batter treat like a baby pancake) on sale, which are a hit with children. There is a small fort you can climb for views over the city.
Yes, Holland is famous for being a bicycle rider’s paradise but it isn’t until you use the system you realise how good it is.
Cylcing is safe and fun in South Holland
There are special lanes a good distance away from the road – the sort of thing which rarely exists in the UK.
If you ignore the wind and the chilly north sea, the sand on the Dutch beaches is a match for anywhere in Europe.
The beach at Wassenaar is golden and perfect for sandcastles and games.
There are plenty of amenities too, restaurants and cafes, toilets and loads of space to park a car or a bike. In good weather it’s a great spot.
Wassenaar beach is a match for any in Europe and
Luciano’s famous ice cream parlour in Wassenaar is very popular.
It is at the end of the main street, has been in the town since 1996 and has dozens of flavours to choose from.
There’s nice seating outside or take your ice cream and stroll through the town.
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Coping with the heat
It can be intensely hot in summer. The temperature is at its best before 11 and after 6. We found early morning excursions and late evening walks worked best for us.
The middle of the day is the time to make sure you’re either in air conditioned accommodation or by a shaded pool.
Beware the siesta
No fewer than four times in a week we were caught out waiting for the local supermarket to open (it was closed between 1.30 and 4) and as we were staying 10 minutes drive along a gravel track that wasn’t ideal.
If you need supplies for little ones plan ahead and get all the essentials in one go. Often in small towns the choice isn’t what you might be used to and shops close in the early afternoon.
Research your parking
At busy towns like San Gimignano and Volterra it can be tricky to get close by car.
San Gimignano has a decent park and ride system but in August the car parks were almost full by 10.30am.
Volterra has even less parking near the historic centre, which means a long hot walk. The best idea to minimise a long walk is to visit early morning or late afternoon.
Keep walking to a minimum in Florence during the summer
Florence has so much to see, but not all of it is interesting to little ones and the heat soon saps their energy.
Pick one or two main sights, rather than packing it all in, and choose two close together to cut down on walking under the blazing sun.
One good option is the Boboli Gardens and Ponte Vecchio, which work well and are quite close together. Similarly the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio are quite close.
You can’t climb the leaning tower of Pisa until you are eight years old
The Leaning Tower
Yes, it’s a must with children but stick together, get the pictures done and retreat to a little market outside the walls of the site where there are toilets, snacks and stalls to browse.
You have to be eight to climb the tower so once you’ve snapped that shot there’s not much reason to hang around.
A family trip to London does not need to be as expensive as you think – read our tricks to save money
Find the free attractions
There are plenty of museums in London which don’t charge an entry fee. The dinosaurs and whales of the Natural History Museum and the next door rockets in the Science Museum are great for children.
There are also the historical artefacts in the British Museum and there’s the chance to walk the streets of Victorian London at the Museum of London.
If you want to take a step back into your own younger days, the V&A Museum of Childhood has toys, teddy bears and dolls through the decades as well as hands-on fun.
One area per day
Be sensible and tackle one part of London at a time where you can walk between attractions and save money on transport.
Try to do one section a day otherwise costs rise and children’s feet start to hurt.
This was our recent three day itinerary:
Day 1 – Westminster, London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace.
Day 2 – Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Hyde Park.
Day 3 – Tower Bridge, Tower of London.
The area around the Tower of London is one to explore
Mix your transport
It is expensive to get around in London.
If you stay centrally you can walk to lots of attractions, so pick a well-located hotel.
The Tube is the quickest option for longer trips but can be expensive, although an Oyster card makes it cheaper and children up to aged 10 are free with paying adults. You can also use contactless credit or debit cards now to pay as you go on London’s public transport, which makes life much easier, see the Transport for London website for more.
However, the London Underground can be difficult with a pram or buggy as most don’t have lifts. The wheelchair symbol on the Tube map shows stair-free stations.
If you have to go further, then the bus is the cheapest option and you can see the sights from the top deck, which can be great fun for children.
A taxi or Uber can work out relatively cheap too if you’re a large family but children’s car seats are not readily available.
Some taxi companies have children’s car seats, but they have to be booked in advance. It is legal for babies and children to travel in a taxi in London without a child safety restraint if one isn’t available. But a proper car seat is by far the safest option for your little ones.
Eat for less
It can be very expensive to eat out in London.
If you are on a budget and staying in a hotel, enjoy a big breakfast allowing you a smaller lunch.
Then think about making a picnic, we often buy a loaf of bread and cheese and make up our sandwiches to take out.
If you want to eat out, check for voucher codes and offers in advance. Read through the small print though because some chain restaurants exclude prime locations from voucher offers.
Don’t forget, London has amazing street food. We love the street food market at Camden for delicious lunches.
The Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard is a great free show but can be a long and busy wait. One tip with toddlers is watch the band warm up at Wellington Barracks instead of battling the crowds outside Buckingham Palace.
Then you can go into St James’s Park when the soldiers are at the palace and watch them marching away afterwards.
Fewer crowds and less waiting around. Check the dates of the event here Changing the Guard.
Buckingham Palace hosts Changing the Guard but we watch elsewhere
For a full list of free child friendly attractions see this link Visit London with kids.
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Do you have any tips to share for doing London on a budget?
(Pictures in this article are courtesy of VisitLondon.com)