Certain cities and countries may not immediately strike parents as destinations for young kids, but with a bit of effort, they can prove to be incredibly engaging and fun places to take toddlers. Some are designed perfectly for little legs to run; in others, including Peru and Thailand, family is at the center of day-to-day life, which translates to incredible hospitality and warmth toward wee ones. Toddler travelers bring with them such curiosity that it enriches the entire trip for all. (Remind yourself of this when you’re up at 4am). It’s worth it, we promise!
10 Unexpected Places to Take Toddlers
From the streets of Cusco, where kids are often seen dancing in religious processions, to the agriculture-rich Sacred Valley, you’ll encounter local children and families everywhere in Peru. I vividly remember a toddler hanging out the tollbooth to the salt flats in Maras. It’s this family culture that makes Peru comforting and fun to visit with your own brood. A direct train now also takes guests directly from the Tambo del Inka resort, a Starwood Luxury Collection property in the Sacred Valley, to Machu Picchu station, making it a little easier to visit the famed Incan site. And while Machu Picchu isn’t exactly babyproofed, it’s still possible to visit for a few hours (take the bus up) with a toddler in a carrier or a hiking backpack. Consider other areas of this South American country that are perfect for families as well, including Paracas, a beach town along Peru’s western coast.
No doubt getting to Fiji is a bit of a haul for most of us. That said, once you’re there, it’s a tropical paradise of natural beauty and gracious hospitality. Between April and October is the ideal time of year to visit. While the archipelago compromises some 300 islands (!), we strongly recommend booking a luxurious bure (Fijian for thatch-roofed hut) at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Savusavu Bay. Your stay includes meals, airport transfers, excursions, the resort’s award-winning kids club and one nanny per child under 6. We had you at the nanny, we know.
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The Big Easy with kids? Take our word for it! NOLA has come a long way and there’s much more to it than Bourbon Street. The Audubon Nature Institute, a family of museums and parks in the city, includes a zoo, an aquarium and even an insectarium. At the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden, glimpse pieces by Robert Indiana, Deborah Butterfield and Fernando Botero while your toddler is happily distracted by ducks in the pond. Also, consider riding the streetcar with your little one for the ultimate in fun and cheap thrills. Save room for beignets at Café Du Monde and snag an early table at Shaya for dinner. Special kids’ amenities, from stuffed animals to baby and toddler supplies, make Loews New Orleans a perfect home base.
Famous for modern design, Viking ships, Swedish meatballs and lingonberries, this Scandinavian country is absolutely wonderful to visit with toddlers in tow. Plan on a late summer or early fall when the weather’s warm. Stockholm, comprised of 14 islands connected by 50 bridges, is a great starting point. With dozens of parks, museums such as the Vasa and the Modern Museet, and Rosendals Gardens, it’s an atmospheric and easy city to walk with kids (or push in strollers, for that matter). Cribs at hotels and high chairs at restaurants are ubiquitous and speak to a strong family culture. Consider an itinerary that starts with a few days in Stockholm (decamp at Hotel Skeppsholmen) followed by a lakeside cabin along the country’s west coast, near Gothenburg.
With stunning natural beauty, wine regions and, of course, safaris, South Africa is tough to beat for broad appeal. The flight there will likely prove long, especially with small kids, but make up for the lengthy journey by keeping the focus on nature after you arrive. Start in Cape Town, where you can explore Table Mountain (take the gondola up), visit the penguins at Simon’s Town and enjoy farm hotel bliss at Babelstoren. Following the coast along the Garden Route through Kysna is a beautiful and easy drive. The Kysna Elephant Park and Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary are good options for animal experiences, but to see the Big Five out in the wild, consider Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, which allows families with children and infants to visit (though restrictions about the game drives may vary).
Often described as a mini Paris, this southwestern French city wins big with the pint-size crew. For one, it’s very walkable (several streets in the heart of the city are pedestrian-only) and easy to navigate. Large, open squares such as the Place des Quinconces and gardens such as the Jardin Public, which boasts a playground too, are incredibly inviting for toddlers to wander about, not to mention the Sunday Chartrons market along the river. Plus, you’ll happily stumble on several carousels scattered around the city. When you do need to move about, the tram system is very stroller-friendly. Bonus: Bordeaux’s location makes it easy to the get to the coastal beaches.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Often overlooked in favor of its more famous cousins, this Pacific Northwest National Park is getting its due lately with 750,000 annual visitors in recent years. Once a volcanic mountain, it collapsed inward millennia ago and formed a caldera, later filled with rain and snow melt, that we know today as the deepest and possibly bluest U.S. lake. For an overview, drive the popular and scenic Rim Drive, a 33-mile loop around the water. There are plenty of stop-offs for photo ops and snack breaks. Kids 2 and under aren’t allowed on the boat cruises that circle the lake, so try an easy hike instead—such as the Pinnacles Trail, a flat 1-mile loop with plenty of dramatic volcanic rock formations, or the 2-mile Plaikni Falls Trail, which ends in a beautiful waterfall. With Crater Lake’s relative proximity to Portland, it’s very doable to create a weeklong family itinerary to Oregon that combines both nature and city fun.
Beaches, elephants, exotic fruits and scrumptious foods—Thailand will enthrall young jet-setters as a first foray into Asia. Like many cities in the region, Bangkok, with its 14 million residents, is a bustling metropolis. After a couple days of exploring markets, temples and the Grand Palace, you’ll be ready to move onto other areas. Chiang Mai in the north is a popular destination for its foodie scene and cooking classes as well as the reputable Elephant Nature Park. Elephants are, sadly, mistreated throughout the country for tourism, so choosing a responsible and humane elephant encounter (which means no riding) is really important. Elephant Hills camp in the Khao Sok National Park down the coast is also a great option; follow it up with beach time at Ya Noi. Though they’re a bit of a splurge, we’re partial to the all-villa Six Senses Ya Noi for seclusion and serenity.
Paso Robles, California
This rising-star wine region has plenty of fabulous vino and food for grownups, but still proves kid-friendly with several farms worth visiting and a walkable downtown square and park. Consider renting Hammersky Vineyards’ gorgeous farmhouse or booking a suite at the four-room Inn Paradiso. Hit up a few wineries, such as Justin and Daou, as well as farms like Limerock Walnut Farm and Negranti Creamery for scrumptious sheep’s-milk ice creams (they’ll let you pet the ewes too, if you ask nicely). The downtown playground is fantastic for kids to run off energy. Follow it up with poached pear salad and lentil tacos at Thomas Hill Organics, just a stone’s throw away, and great design finds at the Paso Robles General Store.
Bridging both Western and Eastern Europe, this southern Polish city has at its heart a well-preserved medieval town with cathedrals, churches and castles. While there’s plenty of history to absorb, the city is also relaxed and manageable to explore with a toddler. Make a game out of climbing up the tower at Saint Mary’s Basilica to hear the trumpeter play, a 700-year-old tradition that’s still going strong. Or visit Wawel Castle to see the statue of Smok the dragon, a character from Polish folklore. Book one of the few luxury apartments at Kanonicza22, where you’ll feel like aristocracy yourself. (Note: Since the property is operated as apartments, there isn’t a formal reception or concierge, but staff is helpful.) For the ultimate toddler thrill, take your tot on a horse-driven carriage ride around the Old Town.