Teens can be notoriously demanding travelers, leaving parents scrambling to find the right location and things to do that will “hit different” (just ask…). The secret to finding the best vacation destinations with teens? Play to their individual interests. We’re letting the activities set the course in this guide with trip ideas based on what excites your crew most.
Sports-loving families will find tons to cheer about in London. Pomp and ritual are on full display in a variety of world-class sporting competitions. There are the iconic strawberries and cream to be had while watching tennis each summer at Wimbledon; cricket matches and the world’s oldest sporting museum at Lord’s Cricket Ground, the “Home of Cricket”; getting dressed to the nines for a summer day of horse racing at Royal Ascot; and more soccer (or football) than you can shake a stick at, with seven Premier League teams in greater London alone. If that isn’t enough, you can even catch NFL exhibition games in the October timeframe.
Stateside, both San Francisco and Atlanta are fabulous choices for sports galore. In the San Francisco area, you have not one but two MLB teams to choose from with the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. For other sports, get tickets to see seven-time NBA champions the Golden State Warriors; NFL mania with the 49ers; direct NHL access via the Caltrain with the San Jose Sharks; or, as a bonus, nearby MLS team the San Jose Earthquakes.
Atlanta is an East Coast magnet for sports of all kinds, ranging from die-hard college allegiances to the pros. Whatever the season, there’s always a game to watch in town — Atlanta Braves baseball, Atlanta Falcons football, Atlanta Hawks basketball and Atlanta United soccer. There’s even the College Football Hall of Fame, which is worth the trip in and of itself for football fans, and the annual Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
If your teen’s pursuits veer to the academic, consider Athens, Greece. Home to the original great thinkers, including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, deep contemplation is part of the bedrock here. Begin at Plato’s Academy, where he famously founded his school of philosophy. Big-ticket sites like the Acropolis and Parthenon are key to absorbing the scale of what Athens was like at the height of its power. Don’t miss the ruins of the Ancient Agora, the marketplace and hub of life at that time, at the base of the Acropolis.
Rome is another engaging choice for old souls who like to ponder life’s great questions. Of course, there’s the Colosseum, but with the same ticket you can access the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which were at the center of daily Roman life. The nearby Imperial Fora were started by Caesar and served as the nexus of all political activity. If you have more time, there are treasures beyond measure to be contemplated in Vatican City.
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For slightly more modern consideration, try Prague. Intellects and writers helped set the stage here for the Velvet Revolution, which in 1989 succeeded in a non-violent transfer of power from communism to a parliamentary republic. Families will enjoy Petrin Hill — literally in the middle of Prague, it offers great views over Prague Castle, Mala Strana and the Vltava River as well as being a superb spot for reflection. Be sure to linger on a walk over the Charles Bridge and visit the nearby Kafka Museum to understand more about this hugely influential 20th-century writer.
For some families, making connections and embracing shared experiences is a critical part of their enjoyment while on holiday. Treat your family to a well-manicured property with round-the-clock activities for every age group at Mexico‘s Grand Velas Riviera Maya, just outside Cancun. Whether bonding over watching your kids play supervised games throughout the day in the pool, having a drink at the swim-up bar after beach volleyball or chatting about your visit to the fantastic spa (hint: the water ritual is amazing!) — Grand Velas has it all.
The Greek Isles are famous for their stunning beauty and jaw-dropping sunsets, but some are equally famous for nightlife. For families with older teens, Mykonos and Santorini will each have your crew dancing through the day and into the night and leaving with stories that will last a lifetime. Social families will want to base themselves in the capital of Fira in Santorini and Mykonos Town in Mykonos, offering easy access to the uber-popular party beaches of Paradise and Super Paradise.
For families who would like to enjoy the company of other guests amid natural beauty, we love The Resort at Paws Up, a luxury working cattle ranch in Montana. From fly-fishing to horseback riding and campfires, you won’t lack for something appealing to do and someone to enjoy it with or learn from. The resort even hosts concerts with visiting musicians in residence through its “Campfire Stars” series.
If your vacations tend toward shedding the normal routine for a path with more purpose, consider a holiday helmed by a volunteer component. Options abound across the world, many of which revolve around animal and climate protection. Costa Rica is all about Pura Vida, or the “pure life,” and locals embrace the virtues of being thankful and not dwelling on the negative. There are many options here for giving back, including a vibrant turtle conservation program through which families can assist in the protection and survival of the turtles through beach cleanup, building hatcheries, re-planting mangroves, counting and tagging turtles, and more.
Much farther north in Canada‘s Manitoba province, families can spend time in Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world, to help scientists as they work to understand the changing environments of the tundra ecosystems. The Northern Studies Centre is an active research center on the edge of Churchill that allows participants to learn about current research and engage with scientists about beluga whales, birds and polar bears. If your family would prefer to learn about ecological farming while in Canada, consider a stay through WWOOF, a worldwide program through which you can stay and work alongside your hosts on a small-scale farm of your choice.
If you have a distinctly different corner of the globe in mind, consider a visit to South Africa to take part in an elephant care program. Families with older teens (18 and up) can even base on a Big Five game reserve to research and track elephants, rhinos and lions and learn about animal behavior, reserve management and anti-poaching initiatives.
Is your teen always ready for an adrenaline rush? For adventure with a good standard of luxury accommodations, consider Namibia. Be ready to spot giraffes, cheetah and rhinos in Etosha National Park and revel in the otherworldly beauty of a hot air balloon safari over the sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib desert. After a long day out exploring, enjoy a proper African sundowner (happy hour as the sun sets).
Outdoor enthusiasts keen to see bison, elk and maybe even a bear or two should head to Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Wyoming. Explore the terraced Mammoth Hot Springs, marvel at Grand Prismatic Spring and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and don’t miss the obligatory stop at the Old Faithful geyser. There’s something to do all year round at this American treasure. In the winter, activities include snowshoeing and skiing or an expedition via coaches with huge snow tires. The rest of the year is prime for biking, hiking, fishing and boating.
For warm weather seekers, Maui is a huge hit with families. The signature adventure starts with a super early wake-up and journey to experience the spectacular sunrise at Haleakala. (Note, make sure to book reservations for this National Park, which fill up 60 days in advance to the day.) You can also hike the crater or work with a local tour company to bike back down the volcano to Paia Town. Families will be wowed by the twisty and popular drive through the jungle and past waterfalls on the Road to Hana. Still have energy to burn? Snorkel with the turtles in Molokini and Turtle Town or in Honolua Bay. Surf lessons are a popular activity and the North Shore offers windsurfing and kitesurfing, or for the ultimate sightseeing luxury, take a helicopter tour. The hardest part will be fitting in everything your family wants to do.
Venice is a glittering showpiece for Italian art, and it starts with the shimmering mosaics of the Basilica di San Marco that were created in the 12th century. A gondola ride along the Grand Canal will reveal many stops for further artistic consideration, including the Gallerie dell’Academia, featuring Venetian masters such as Titian and Tintoretto; and the nearby Peggy Guggenheim Museum, which houses modern masterpieces from the likes of Picasso, Dali and Chagall. Just past the Rialto bridge is the Ca’ Pesaro Museum of Modern Art, filled with pieces by Klimt, Matisse and Kandisky, as well as a floor dedicated to Oriental art. Make time for a day trip to the nearby islands of Murano and Burano to learn about and see the traditions of glassblowing and crafting lace.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, has become known as an art hub for its Western paintings, bronze sculptures and turquoise, but its unique juxtaposition of art and the outdoors make it a compelling destination. First up is the buzzy art experience Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, featuring more than 70 immersive rooms. There’s the Shidoni Arts Gallery and Sculpture Garden; the boundary-pushing art of SITE Sante Fe, whose building is a piece of art unto itself; and the New Mexico Museum of Art. Don’t bypass the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the artist studios of Canyon Road.
Last but certainly not least is Miami. Families will be wowed by the extent of art to be found, starting with the Wynwood Arts District and a tour of the graffiti walls. Next up is the Miami Design District, known for its impressive public art as well as high-end stores and great food. The area is also home to the Institute of Contemporary Art. Then there’s the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) in downtown Miami plus the cultural hub of the Cuban diaspora in Little Havana. Calle Ocho (Southwest Eighth Street), the main drag through the neighborhood, is known for its many galleries, music venues, bakeries and rum bars.
If your teen enjoys unearthing the mysteries of ages past, let your itinerary gel around spots of historic renown. It doesn’t get much more mythic than Egypt, from the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx to the pharaohs’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Stop by the Egyptian Museum for an up-close look at more than 20 mummies in the Royal Mummy Room. Following the path of the Nile farther south, you’ll reach the Karnak Temple complex in Luxor, which lays claim to being the largest religious complex in the world, and the extensive Hatshepsut Temple, paying homage to Egypt’s longest-reigning female ruler. There’s plenty to ponder about her 20-year reign, during which she declared herself pharaoh and ruled as a man by portraying herself in images with a fake beard.
For a much more modern encounter, history buffs captivated by the Great War will be fascinated with Belgium. Start with the In Flanders Fields Museum, which takes its name from the war poem by John McCrae to honor the soldiers who died on the battlefields, as well as immortalizing the beauty of the grounds that gave rise to fields of poppy flowers. The town of Ypres is synonymous with the four major battles that were fought in the area; much of it was destroyed at the time. It was rebuilt in its original style and is home to the Yper Museum, which details the history of the area with engaging interactive exhibits. Be sure to seek out the Menin Gate war memorial at the entrance to Ypres, and time your visit to witness the Last Post ceremony, held daily at 8 pm since 1928 (with a pause during WWII) to commemorate those who died in battle with a bugle call and flags.
Alternatively, set your family’s sights on “America’s birthplace” with a visit to Philadelphia. In one compact historic area you can walk through the foundations of our democracy, including the Museum of the American Revolution; Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed; and the Liberty Bell, and that barely scratches the surface. Visit the Constitution Center with its interactive exhibits telling the story of the U.S. Constitution; Benjamin Franklin’s grave; and the Betsy Ross house where she designed the first American flag. Want history of a slightly creepier turn? Stop at the Eastern State Penitentiary Museum for a look at 150-plus years of criminal history, including the stories of infamous outlaws like Al Capone.
Any teen wowed by stunning buildings will gravitate to Granada, Spain. The crown jewel of the area is the Alhambra fortress. Built in 1238, it is an ode to Islamic architecture and is emblematic of the centuries during which the Andalusia region was under Moorish control. Other captivating Moorish buildings in the area include the Palacio de Dar al-Horra and El Bañuelo. Moving forward in time, check out the impressive buildings erected after the Catholics overthrew the Moors in 1492, such as the Cathedral and the Charles V Palace.
For Renaissance architecture, Florence is nothing short of dreamy. Building after building, each is more worthy of admiration than the last. The grandest of them all is the Duomo di Firenze cathedral with its iconic dome. Sitting out front in the Piazza del Duomo is the Baptistery, with its octagonal design and intricate bronze doors (actually replicas; view the real ones at the nearby Museo dell’Opera). Nearby is the Basilica di Lorenzo, which was the church of the Medici family, as well as the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David. From there, stroll to the Palazzo Pitti and its verdant Boboli Gardens, the impressive Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery. Don’t forget the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which spans the Arno river and was originally designed as a system of defense.
Back in the States, Charleston is a boon for architecture fans. It is the oldest city in South Carolina and boasts an impressive array of styles. Start with the Colonial Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon and then head to a variety of houses that are open to the public for tours, including the Georgian Heyward-Washington House and the Federal Aiken-Rhett House. The Fireproof Building (now home to the South Carolina Historical Society) is a Classical Revival structure that housed the city’s important documents and was built by the first American-born architect Robert Mills; the ornamental French Huguenot Church embodies Gothic Revival style. And though you can’t go in, you can gaze at the tall, Italianate beauty of the Patrick O’Donnell House.
Known as the City of Music, Vienna begs for exploration by fans of classical compositions. It was home to many of the world’s greatest composers, including Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Strauss, and the central square of Stephansplatz usually has people in period dress advertising nightly performances. The immersive House of Music Museum is a must, as is the Musical Instrument Museum. From there, pick your favorite composer and visit one of the many houses that have been converted into museums. There is live music galore to be found in Vienna; if you are lucky, your visit might coincide with a Vienna Boys’ Choir or Vienna Philharmonic performance.
Germany’s capital of Berlin is lauded for its modern music scene. Start with a Bowie walking tour to understand the city’s emergence as the center of punk in the 1960s and 1970s. Afterward, visit the one of the many famous record stores like Oye Records or Hard Wax. In the evening, oldest teens can sample the techno culture of clubs that started to emerge after the wall fell in 1989. If classical music is more to your family’s taste, there are three opera houses with an extensive variety of programs throughout the year. Keep an eye out for the many street music performances that are the heart of the city and crop up everywhere from Hackescher Markt to the Oberbaumbrücke (the bridge spanning the River Spree) and Mauerpark (which translates to wall park).
Nashville is famous for country music and you can hardly turn around without stumbling upon a live show — even at the grocery store or a fast-food joint! Start with a visit to the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and still a premier performance venue, then amble along Broadway, chock-full of bars and clubs with live music emanating from each. (The vibe grows more raucous as the evening goes on, but many clubs allow under-21s before 6 pm.) Leave plenty of time for the Country Music Hall of Fame, replete with Elvis’ gold Cadillac and the Johnny Cash Museum. Comb through the aisles in search of that elusive vinyl recording at local favorite Grimey’s New & Preloved Music, and for an up-close look at where favorite tunes come to life, schedule a studio tour of Music Row.
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