While the pandemic and its challenges are still with us as we enter 2022, there’s good news on one front: family travel is back. Pent-up demand from the past two years is spilling over, so much so that we’re seeing beloved destinations and go-to accommodations book up in the blink of an eye. Availability is tight almost everywhere — from U.S. beaches and national parks to Hawaii and Alaska; from Caribbean islands to Central American adventure hotspots like Costa Rica; and from grand European capitals to relaxing stays in sought-after regions like Tuscany and the Greek Isles.
Given the ever-shifting travel landscape and the specter of changing regulations, some families are hesitant to lock in this year’s travel plans too early, but the tradeoff is that they are likely to miss the booking window for their dream trips. With that in mind, we’ve put together this list of 10 under-the-radar places we love with kids, which offer more flexibility in planning and a wider range of choices. Authentic, less touristed and far less crowded, they’re worthy alternatives to the big-name classics.
Family travel to the Balkans has skyrocketed in recent years, with Croatia topping the list and Slovenia fast becoming popular. Still under the radar yet no less appealing: neighboring Montenegro, which packs plenty of natural beauty and kid-friendly adventure into a tiny footprint. Medieval walled towns and lively beaches dot its Adriatic coastline. Just beyond, the “black mountains” that give the country its moniker are ripe for exploration, with pristine national parks, glacial lakes, hiking, canyoning, boating and more. The new One&Only Portonovi resort, on the western edge of the Bay of Kotor, is our favorite home base for families; we can book this for our clients with exclusive perks and amenities.
With warm and hospitable locals, marquee sites such as Petra and Wadi Rum, and an array of luxury hotels and resorts that welcome families, Jordan is a perfect first foray into the Middle East with kids. Though the secret has been out for a while — before the pandemic, Jordan tourism was climbing steadily year over year — demand isn’t yet so high that you risk being shut out of accommodations and private tours. Spring break is an especially good time for a visit, as temperatures are warm enough to enjoy swimming and other outdoor activities, but not at the scorching levels they reach in summer.
A classic Scottish itinerary pairs a few days each in Edinburgh and Glasgow with a week exploring the mountains and lochs of the Highlands. Venture to the country’s many islands, however, and lesser-known gems abound. The archipelago known as the Hebrides lies off the western coast; most visitors flock to its largest isle, Skye, which is close to the mainland and famed for craggy landscapes and crumbling castles. But consider jewels of the farther-flung Outer Hebrides such as Lewis and Harris, offering gorgeous beaches, mystical standing stones and traditional blackhouses once occupied by a farming community. Off Scotland’s northern coast, rugged and windswept Orkney is a great option for history buffs, rich in Neolithic ruins and more.
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Lyon might be France‘s third-largest city, but its walkability, easygoing charm and convivial atmosphere combine to make it feel more intimate than it is. Not far from the Swiss border and tucked at the junction of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyon blends past and future with aplomb: Roman ruins, modern museums, cobbled streets and a spectacular culinary scene that stands toe to toe with Paris. The spacious Parc de la Tête d’Or (the largest public park in France) is packed with fun for little ones, like carousel rides, a small zoo, a miniature railway, puppet shows and pedal boats. Want to venture farther afield? You can easily get to Paris or Geneva for a day trip — each is just 2 hours away by train.
Romania is one of the most untouched countries in Eastern Europe, and that makes it the ultimate natural playground for parents and kids. Mountains, unspoiled forests and wildflowers cover most of the countryside; families will gravitate to immersive activities that center around the landscape and impart a bit of Romanian tradition. We like starting off with a couple of days in Bucharest, the capital, then splitting the remainder of your time between the Transylvania and Maramures regions for access to picturesque fortified churches, medieval villages and more. If you have animal lovers, add in the Danube Delta for excellent wildlife watching.
Between dude ranches in the summer and skiing in the winter, Montana is a well-established family favorite, and demand in peak season is always high. Consider traveling in the shoulder or off-seasons for greater availability. We love Glacier National Park in autumn, when the foliage turns radiant and the crowds dissipate (just be aware than many in-park accommodations close in September and Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the premier attractions, may shut in October if snow falls). Autumn and late spring, just before many U.S. schools get out of session for the summer, are wonderful times for a stay at a dude ranch as well. And Yellowstone, easy to access from southern Montana, is one of our top U.S. national parks to explore in winter.
Cabo San Lucas is hardly off the beaten path, but just an hour north lies one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets for families: the sleepy town of Todos Santos. This is the place to come when you need a dose of sun, sand and R&R rather than constant activity or big-name attractions. While away the days stretched out on the sand, go on a fishing excursion or hike in the hills. For surfing, we love Playa Los Cerritos (cap off the day with fish tacos at Barracuda Cantina). Downtown Todos Santos is lined with historic missions, shops selling local handicrafts and other diversions. If you’d like a balance between action and relaxation, split your time between Todos Santos and a kid-friendly luxury resort in Cabo San Lucas to enjoy the best of both worlds.
After the country endured a slump sparked by safety concerns in recent years, Egypt‘s star is rising again. Families looking to go beyond tried-and-true destinations are lured not only by iconic sights such as the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, Luxor and Abu Simbel, but also by beach time at idyllic Sharm El Sheikh. While a cruise down the Nile is a classic addition to an Egypt itinerary, choosing a smaller vessel typically makes for a more enjoyable experience with kids; our Family Travel Advisor team can help arrange an ideal option. Tip: Summer temperatures are oppressively high, so consider traveling during spring or fall break.
Given its crystalline blue waters and arresting island scenery, you could be forgiven for mistaking Cyprus for its neighbor Greece. But this Mediterranean beauty has a character all its own, stemming partially from its divided regions (half of the island is controlled by Turkey, the other half by Greece). Reliably good weather gives rise to all sorts of water sports and active pursuits, and there is an array of ancient sites to provide a healthy dose of cultural immersion. Our favorite Cyprus property for families, the Columbia Beach Resort, is an absolute dream for all ages, with fantastic kids’ clubs and amenities plus an ultra-hospitable staff that goes out of their way to make every guest feel cared for.
Walking some or all of this ancient pilgrimage route, which ends at the town of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, is high on many bucket lists. But with kids in tow? Yes! For an active family, the unique bond that arises from this adventure will be with you for a lifetime, and it is a delightful way to experience true Spain outside the well-trodden tourist areas. The key is to work with an on-the-ground CB! partner who can tailor the experience to your needs (including comfortable accommodations) and help you maximize your time. There are starting points of the Camino in Portugal and southern France as well as Spain, so consider flying into a city like Lisbon or Bordeaux and spending a few days there before you begin the trek.
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