Young children receive countless positive and lasting benefits when they are exposed to foreign cultures. Yet, as parents with busy schedules, we can most likely agree that voyaging across the Atlantic via a jet-lag inducing 9-hour flight with our little ones in tow isn’t exactly always the most convenient or realistic route to raising a culturally aware family.
Luckily, experiencing a hefty dose of European charm doesn’t have to require a long-haul flight across the Atlantic or a year's worth of budgeting and planning. There are plenty of cities right in North America bursting with authentic European charisma, culture, and history -- so much in fact, that your children will still absorb all of the positive benefits of the cultural experience right from their home continent.
Let my list of the most European-like cities in North America inspire you to start planning your next cultural family vacation!
1) New Orleans, Louisiana — French Influence
Founded by the French in 1718, New Orleans is still known for its French charm and influence to this day. Until the late 1880’s, French was spoken city-wide until it was banned from city schools entirely. Presently, 200,000 people living in New Orleans still speak French today, and many street signs still have a French translation! The city is famous for its beloved Mardi Gras festival, which dates back to French colonial times. New Orlean’s oldest neighborhood, the French Quarter, boasts numerous architectural structures which blend together it’s Creole, French, and Spanish heritage. French cafe’s dot the old streets where Creole, Cajun, and French cuisine can be enjoyed. Children can run around the many gardens, visit the children’s museum, and try French foods.
2) St Augustine, Florida — Spanish Influence
Just outside of Jacksonville, Florida, lies St. Augustine, the oldest European-settled city in the U.S, which dates back to 1565 when it was founded by the Spanish. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined with Spanish-colonial-era buildings and boutiques. Tourists can visit the museum at Fort Mose, the first free community of ex-slaves, and the city’s lighthouse. Spanish flavor, horse-drawn carriages, hidden courtyards, and restaurants that reflect the town’s multicultural heritage are all activities that can be enjoyed by the entire family!
3) Boston, MA — British Influence
In colonial times, Boston was perceived as the center of British America, and was the largest town in British North America until Philadelphia surpassed it in the eighteenth century. Walking through the streets of Boston, especially along the waterfront, will make you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time to an olde English port town. Walk the Freedom trail via cobblestone streets to learn about the many significant historic steps along the way, including Paul Revere’s house to the iconic Old state House. Boston is a charming city filled with activities that the whole family can enjoy.
4) Solvang, CA — Danish Influence
Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes escaping their poor economy in Denmark. Exploring the town’s architecture will have you feeling as though you’ve teleported into Copenhagen. Children can taste a piece of authentic Danish culture at one of the many classic Danish bakeries and restaurants. For a dose of historical education, visit the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art, or the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. The city hosts a Danish Days festival in September that features eating competitions, music, dancing, parades, and a Sunday morning breakfast with traditional Danish dishes.
5) Victoria, BC, Canada — British Influence
No need to travel across the Atlantic to enjoy English pleasures like afternoon tea, vibrant gardens, and Victorian-style architecture. Victoria, British Colombia was named after England’s Queen Victoria, and carries all of the same English charm you’d expect to find in England. The royal Butchart Gardens of Victoria transport you to the Royal Palace of London, and the numerous high tea services offered at venues throughout the city will take you a step back in time to Victorian-Era England. Crumpets, scones, Welsh Rarebit, fish & chips, among other classic English fare is abundantly available throughout the city.
6) Montreal, Quebec, Canada — French Influence
The second-largest primarily French-speaking city in the world (just after Paris) will have your little ones feeling the magnetic appeal of the French culture in no time. Montreal city was established in 1611 as a fur trading post by Samuel de Champlain, the same man who founded Quebec City. The cobblestone streets and 17th century buildings still line the streets of Old Montreal, which is the oldest part of the city. Take a horse-drawn carriage to the historic and beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica, one of the city’s oldest buildings, and climb to the top of the 1888 New York Life Building, the oldest skyscraper in Canada. Take your little ones to a streetside cafe for people watching as they nibble on baguettes for an authentic French experience!
7) Washington, D.C. — French Influence
Most people don’t realize that the capital city of the USA, Washington D.C., evokes a feeling that is uniquely French, since, after all, it was designed to be modeled to replicate Paris. Void of “modern” style buildings and skyscrapers, the city manages to maintain a quaint and classic European feel with European-style architecture, impeccably clean streets, and gardens laden throughout the city. The plentiful sidewalk cafes, where French and Italian-style beverages and fare can be enjoyed, may have you feeling that the only thing missing is a view of the Eiffel tower. There are also numerous free family-friendly activities to do, especially with young kids, including the Smithsonian museums, the National Arboretum, and the zoo.
8) Old San Juan, Puerto Rico — Spanish Influence
Once the crown jewel of the Spanish empire of the Americas, the Spanish colonial roots of Old San Juan continue to shine brightly and proudly to this day. The stunning colonial architecture remains well-preserved in the walled city and the brightly colored row houses lining the cobblestone streets are magical and peaceful to wander. Countless cafes with tapas and other Spanish cuisine on their menus fill the alleyways, and offer the perfect atmosphere for enjoying the picturesque views of the old city. The best way to experience all the charm of the city is to simply explore the endless cobblestone streets and the old Spanish fortress by foot.
9) Holland, Michigan — Dutch Influence
Holland, Michigan is a quaint, unassuming town that lives up to its literal name. It was founded by the Dutch over two centuries ago and maintains the integrity of its cultural heritage well throughout. Situated near the shores of Lake Michigan, Holland boasts its own annual Tulip time Festival each spring at the Veldheer Tulip Gardens, which resemble the tulip gardens found in the European Holland. Filled with pieces of its Dutch roots, tourists can easily explore the traditional Dutch style “village” on foot, as well as visit the 250-year old original Dutch windmill. The cute, old-fashioned downtown is complete with a nice brewery, bakeries, and charming little shops for a nice afternoon of shopping. The surrounding nature is peaceful and is lovely for exploring during the day too. Bikes can easily be rented as well for a family adventure exploring the nearby Macatawa River.
10) Lindsborg, Kansas — Swedish Influence
The charming town of Lindsborg is better known as Little Sweden, USA. Settled by Swedish immigrants back in the 1800’s, this is about as close to the real thing as you can get from the other side of the Atlantic. Even the community library is stocked with Swedish books, and a large percentage of its inhabitants speak Swedish as their household language. The local signs and roadsides are in Swedish AND English. Swedish bites can be found at one of the numerous Swedish bakeries owned by some of the relatives of the original immigrants. Have an adventurous day with your children, and encourage them to try some new Swedish foods, like lingonberry jam, Swedish meatballs, and Semla!