The year has started off with a bang! Experiential travel is hot for 2018, and we’re seeing families from around the world covet vacation time more than ever, as it’s their best opportunity to disconnect and subsequently, reconnect. It seems we have to work harder and harder to get true quality time together as a family, and parents are finding that travel is a reliable and rewarding way to make this happen. We’re all so scheduled that it’s essential to carve out uninterrupted family travel time as early as possible in the year — or before you know it, the calendar is full.
Our Family Vacation Advisor team is busy helping our clients turn travel dreams into reality for 2018. What we’re finding is that families aren’t following the herd; they are taking the time together to identify where they want to go. It turns out that the entire planet is our playground. We’re having the best time brainstorming with our clients right now, and our Advisors have shared their 50 favorite destinations for families with kids of all ages to meet this demand.
What a list! If only time and money were unlimited. But the beauty of travel is that appreciation grows for that very reason … we know the opportunity to explore the world with our children is unbelievably precious, and we truly cherish each and every moment. We only have 18 summers with our kids and we’re making them count!
50 Incredible Family Vacations: Best Places to Go in 2018
1. Jungfrau Region, Switzerland
This may be one of the most beautiful places in all of Switzerland, and that is saying something. From the valley and stunning waterfalls of the Lauterbrunnen area to the mountain lakes and exploring the Jungfraujoch, this region of Switzerland has it all. Here, you’ll find the idyllic Swiss experience of quaint villages, stunning beauty and panoramic alpine views, a perfect trio for families of all ages. Getting around is easy with a Swiss Family Pass, which covers train, gondola, funicular and boat travel throughout the country.
2. Tokyo, Japan
Japan’s high-octane capital enthralls kids from the word go. They’ll love playing live-action Mario Kart in a giant arcade and running off energy in one of the many parks that act like an oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Parents will love how safe and clean everything is, along with the beauty and history of Japanese culture. Not to be missed: the Ninja Restaurant in Akasaka — if you can find it, that is.
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3. Toronto, Canada
With its multicultural charm, kid-friendly activities and favorable exchange rate for many foreigners visiting Canada, Toronto is a destination on the rise. It’s a fabulous place for families with tons of things to do, including Ripley’s Aquarium, the zoo, the CN Tower and the Royal Ontario Museum, to name a few. Canada’s Wonderland amusement park, located in the suburbs outside of downtown Toronto, is another hot spot for families.
4. South Dakota
With kids who have become very engaged in current events this past year, capitalize on their newfound knowledge with a summer road trip to South Dakota. Take a hike around Badlands National Park and talk about why protecting public lands like this is important. Add in some history lessons with visits to the Dignity sculpture, Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore.
Among Southern African countries, Mozambique stands out by a mile. It is unspoiled, undeveloped and untamed, with beautiful beaches and secluded islands.If you are keen snorkelers or divers, this is a must. In terms of bang for your buck, Mozambique is super affordable. Very inexpensive safari options exist here as well.
Poland is a gem of a destination. The cities of Warsaw and Krakow are clean and inexpensive, and both have fabulous dining options (potato comfort food!). English is widely spoken — in fact, the Polish people like to practice their English. There are beautiful, immaculate parks everywhere, plus tons of history, beautiful architecture, and the kindest people. Affordable accommodations abound in the most beautiful of hotels.
7. Florida Keys
On a snorkeling excursion with her children in the Keys, one of our Advisors saw thousands of bright lavender jellyfish as big as dinner plates, plus electric eels and schools of brilliant fish — an absolutely stunning display of the beauty and magic of the natural world. Hurricane Irma did more than $500 million worth of damage to the Keys in September 2017, and the region is still recovering, but those offering services to the tourist industry are still in business and working hard to make up lost ground. This year is a good time to book a room at a resort that has reopened or avoided closure, and give those local fishermen and tour operators a boost by taking advantage of the incredible services they have to offer.
8. Rhine River Valley
The Rhine River is full of medieval castles that keep kids in the Dark Ages. Children especially like Rheinfels Castle in St. Goar, Germany, built in the 13th century. The labyrinth of trenches and tunnels make it a fun site as they try to recount the history and legends of this once-proud fortress. For a home base, choose the storybook town of Bacharach. perched upon the banks of the Rhine between Koblenz and Bingen.
9. Nosara, Costa Rica
Nosara has an uninterrupted, laidback rhythm — it’s a place where you can always escape and invigorate yourself for the storm-tossed sea of life. The air is a briny zephyr that’s drifted across the world a thousand times, and the beach is a bliss of ruffled sand and undulating cobalt waves. With good restaurants like Beach Dog Cafe, welcoming locals and monkeys swinging from the trees, Nosara embodies Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida” motto.
10. Yellowstone National Park
It’s difficult not to be impressed by the world’s first national park, filled with natural wonders and geological features that will wow families of all ages — not to mention the waterfalls, canyons and a wide range of wildlife. This 3,500-square-mile park is must for all families to experience. Pair it with a stay in the neighboring Grand Teton National Park for an extra-special trip.
11. Barcelona, Spain
If there were a blueprint for a family-friendly city, it would look a lot like Barcelona. Aside from the beach activities and the amazing food, it offers visits to Camp Nou stadium (home to what many consider the best soccer team in the world); Gaudi mosaic workshops; Game of Thrones villages to visit; a treasure hunt in the medieval Gothic Quarter; and sailing and fishing excursions on the Mediterranean; incredible cultural festivals throughout the year. There’s a little of everything!
Long stretches of white-sand beaches and gentle surf make the Maldives a great place for families. Snorkel in pristine reefs and maybe even with a whale shark. While you are enjoying the beach at your resort, don’t be surprised if a curious reef shark comes to check things out. Add in kids’ clubs and fine dining and it’s bliss for any family looking to get away. As a bonus, the Maldives combine easily with a trip to Sri Lanka (see No. 41).
13. Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver is a breathtaking city full of amazing food, sights, kind faces and a gateway to endless outdoor adventures. Kids love taking the water taxi to Granville Island, where there’s an indoor marketplace with room to roam, and exploring Stanley Park, which teems with family activities like the famous train ride, the water park, the Vancouver Aquarium and hiking and biking trails. Walk the old cobblestone streets of Gastown for a great meal and then head out to the Capilano Suspension Bridge for an adventure. Indulge in a stay at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, or just stop by for high tea. It’s also easy to take the gorgeous 3-hour train ride along the Puget Sound to Seattle for more Pacific Northwest fun.
14. Bula, Fiji
Kids will love the underwater world of tropical sea creatures and the amazing, unspoiled beaches. Parents will also enjoy the variety of the different islands and the great food. Add to this the renowned Fijian hospitality, their love for children and some of the world’s most spectacular sunsets. It’s a can’t-miss!
15. San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
Think past “The Arches” in Los Cabos, and head north to San Jose del Cabo for tons of family fun. From sandy coves to paddleboarding and snorkeling, from ziplines to dune buggies in the surrounding desert hillsides, the kids will be entertained all day. During whale season between December and April, humpbacks and blue whales can be seen from the beach or on one of the many fantastic charter boats available for families. Enjoy some quality time in the sun, kicking back or chasing your next adventure.
16. Windsor, United Kingdom
This charming town about an hour’s train ride outside London has lots of buzz because of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s upcoming wedding. But it holds a lot of interest for families too. The castle itself is fun to tour and often has children’s activities (sightings of Her Majesty the Queen are quite common on the weekends!). The surrounding town offers fun restaurants, shops, and street performers along the Thames. Plus, you’re only a few minutes from Legoland Windsor if you want to combine historical sightseeing with a day at the amusement park. Given its close proximity to Heathrow, Windsor is a great spot to start or end a trip across the pond.
Tanzania is the quintessential expedition for the whole family, a trip that everyone will always remember and celebrate. No matter how old you are, when you are on safari you can’t help but be captivated by the array of animals far and wide, wheeling in the sky, roving the grasslands or reposing in the serpentine rivers. When the much-too-short adventure concludes, you’ll feel as if nothing will ever dull its memory.
18. Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena has a swarthy charm. It’s on the Caribbean Sea, and great beaches are a boat ride away; there also are pirate treasure hunts for kids and a fort to explore. Families can base in a wealth of interesting accommodations, like converted monasteries. Combine a stay in Cartagena with time on the coast or a visit to Colombia’s coffee country.
19. Bellagio, Italy
What’s there not to love about Bellagio? It is known as the jewel of Lake Como, with loads of family-friendly activities, a gorgeous and relaxing atmosphere and a spectacular landscape. There’s an unlimited amount of water sports to keep the kids active and entertained (water skiing, boating, kayaking and others). Of course, the food is molto delizioso for kids and parents alike … pizza, pasta and gelato galore.
20. Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto is the beating cultural and spiritual heart of Japan, a fact not lost on the millions of visitors passing through every year. Though famous for its temples and shrines, Kyoto offers lots for younger visitors if you dig a little deeper. Make mochi rice cakes amid the rice paddies; take a Samurai sword-wielding class; try your hand at taiko drumming, a real workout; learn the delicate art of ikebana flower arrangement; ride rickshaws through the bamboo forest; enjoy a soba or tempura cooking class; and so much more.
Morocco bombards the senses with culture and has a surprising amount of family-friendly soft adventure. Parents and kids can share meals with local families, spend a night in a tent in the desert set up just for them and enjoy a camel ride at sunset. There are also beaches for a relaxing way to end the trip. And our Morocco travel planning clients always tell us how safe they felt within the country.
22. Vienna, Austria
In addition to being one of the world’s most beautiful cities, there are limitless activities to keep kids engaged in Vienna. From the Children’s Museum at Schonbrunn Palace to the Haus of Musik, where little ones can take a hands-on approach to the science behind sound, Vienna attractions are exciting for adults and children alike. The food is fantastic and family-friendly — what kid doesn’t like thin fried chicken cutlets and apple strudel?
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23. Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos brings you face to face with nature. It is that rare place where you can get up close to animals that aren’t afraid of people and don’t move. Kids are immersed in a natural classroom through active adventure, learning when and where they least expect it. Snorkel and hike during the day, then keep an eye out at night for the red glow of lava flowing down a volcano.
Vietnam is perfect for families who want to experience a new culture and have an active vacation at the same time. Spend time with the locals learning how to mudfish, weave baskets, make local candy, create your own lantern and even cook Vietnamese food. Go bike riding in the countryside to see local farms; if you are lucky, you might even get to ride a water buffalo. If you’re feeling more adventurous, how about kayaking through Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site? It’s truly the perfect place to immerse yourself in this fascinating culture.
Alaska can be explored by large or (our preference) small cruise ship, or via a road trip. Nature rules here — the wildness surrounds visitors and encourages everyone to try something new and daring. It’s also a destination of planes, trains, automobiles and ferries, a transportation fan’s dream. Bucket-list items include dog sledding on a glacier, world-class salmon and halibut fishing, glacier hikes and flightseeing.
26. Port Douglas, Australia
This quintessential beach town serves as the gateway to two world heritage sites, the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. It has a classic main street lined with shops and restaurants, a lighthouse with a city park to enjoy and a marina with private charters for reef trips and beyond. Kids will also love the rainforest-meets-beach feel of Daintree, with hiking and guided nature walkabouts to search for crocs and the elusive cassowary birds.
It’s called Big Sky country for a reason! Wild and wide open, with sweeping views in every direction and truly majestic mountains, Montana is an outdoor wonderland any time of year. Active families can get a taste of downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, sleigh rides, fishing, whitewater rafting, hiking, ranch experiences and national parks. If you’re looking for adventure combined with a place to unplug, this is your next destination.
28. Belfast, Northern Ireland
Spend a few days in Belfast for wonderful history and culture. A highlight is the Titanic Belfast museum, which allows the observers to really understand the history behind the ship, how mistakes and ignoring class systems led to a tragedy that no one saw coming (fair warning, the museum might even bring you to tears). Another highlight is a drive up the coast to Giant’s Causeway, a great locale for geography buffs. You’ll see fields of sheep, the Atlantic ocean and castle ruins all in one panoramic view. Don’t forget to share with the kids the fascinating legend of how the causeway was created!
Excellent family hotels and resorts, beautiful white beaches, natural reserves and lagoons, and wonderful landscapes and mountains are just a few of the things that make Mauritius so special. The island has a multicultural population and a variety of great activities for children. It’s perfect for a relaxing beach holiday, a more high-energy vacation filled with fantastic water sports, or something in between.
30. Okovango Delta, Botswana
Want a rush? Visit the Okovango. An on-foot safari will get your heart pumping, followed by sleeping out in the wild with the elephants and lions or motorboating just centimetres away from crocodiles. Accommodation options add to the adventure, ranging from sleeping in a tree hut to 5-star glamping with cute little fruit bats for roommates. Surrounded by the nature, with WIFI 500 miles away, it is the ultimate escape.
31. San Diego
Everyone loves sunshine, and in San Diego, you’ll get a healthy dose of it year-round. Less busy than its sunny neighbor to the north, San Diego is home to multiple amusement parks like Sea World, the renowned San Diego Zoo and its companion Safari Park, and Legoland California. Whether you want an urban escape, exploring the Gaslamp District and its many dining options with a visit to Seaport Village, or time to relax on the beaches of La Jolla and Coronado, San Diego has plenty to offer.
32. Haarlem, Netherlands
The Dutch consistently rank as some of the happiest people in the world, and a visit to the town of Haarlem is a window into understanding the national mood. The beautiful Grote Markt hosts a lively food market every Saturday, which draws hungry locals and children alike. Families may enjoy a bike ride along the quaint canals or a visit to the Corrie ten Boom House, where Jews were sheltered during World War II. If you have a day to spare, make a drive to Arnhem’s Netherlands Open Air Museum for a bit of nostalgia and a lot of Dutch windmills.
33. Alsace, France
This area is among the gems of family-friendly France. Alsace, with its picturesque towns along the wine route, animal sanctuaries (monkeys!), and low-key amusement parks, is a mix of the best of French and German food and warm hospitality. Tour the medieval towns of Strasbourg and Colmar; from the latter you can even dip across the border into Germany for a day. While Alsace is lovely in summer, its Christmas markets are some of the best and most famous in Europe — consider it for a winter getaway.
34. New Zealand
The list of reasons that New Zealand appeals to kids of all ages is vast. Nature, adventure and unique islands to explore for all, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie locations, and fun playgrounds are just a few of the high points for the kids. Plus, there’s artisan coffee, sublime craft beers and delicious wine for the parents. Need we say more?
Although Antigua suffered moderate hurricane damage in the fall of 2017, the infrastructure has rebounded and most hotels and resorts have reopened their doors. The island strikes an appealing blend of gorgeous beaches, maritime culture and historic sightseeing. For the ultimate splurge, book a stay at Jumby Bay, a 300-acre private island resort that’s just a 10-minute boat ride from mainland Antigua, with a great kids’ club for ages 3 to 11 and active pursuits for teens.
36. Bologna, Italy
Bologna is the stomach of Italy, producing some of the country’s best cuisine (try tortellini in brodo and classic Bolognese sauce). As a university town, it is youthful, hip and cool, despite the old-world ambience of its medieval architecture. Everything is open late, and there are lots of kids around even after midnight in this very safe place. Getting to Venice, Modena, Parma, Ravenna and Florence from here is easy as well.
37. Cape Town, South Africa
Put Cape Town on your bucket list! It’s a magnificent destination for both kids and adults, laden with beaches, harbors, mountans, gardens, wine tours and fabulous wildlife. Activities range from cable cars to whale watching; there’s also easy access to safari parks. The Victoria & Albert waterfront is particularly fun and cool, with good restaurants and shopping. And best of all, the exchange rate is fantastic right now for Americans, Brits and Europeans.
38. Washington, D.C.
Politics has now officially moved to social media, exposing kids more than ever to our national conversation about domestic and foreign policy. Bringing kids to see our institutions of national govermence while they are young allows them to make a vital connection: This is where it all takes place, and these are the people actually making those decisions. Visit your House representative’s office and your Senators’ offices, take a tour of the Capitol, go to see our Constitution and check out the Supreme Court. Read the words on the Lincoln Memorial and show kids where Martin Luther King once stood. Let them see firsthand that governance is real people making decisions for other real people, and it matters.
39. Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler is one of the most popular ski destinations in the world, and a magical place for families as it has something to offer for all ages and interests. Not a skier or snowboarder? Enjoy ice skating, ice climbing, dog sledding, shopping in the village, fat-tire biking and more. Whistler is a great year-round destination, attracting families in the summer months too. Kids will love the pedestrian-only village and the wide variety of activities like canoeing, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and ziplining.
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To visit Thailand is to immerse yourselves in immeasurable cultural richness. The food, the people, the temples, the beaches and the adventure are all wonderful reasons to add this bright and beautiful place to your list. A family can explore the streets of Bangkok, take in the colorful temples, soak in the crystalline waters of Thailand’s pristine beaches, or take a trek to the hills to experience the sweetness of the elephants. It’s a land filled with unique traditions.
41. Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has flown under the radar for years, but interest is picking up, and now is the time to get there before the crowds arrive. Go for exotic culture and beautiful beaches paired with ample activities on both land and water. Wildlife spotting is a popular pastime here, especially as Yala National Park is considered to have the highest density of leopards in the world.
42. Bryce and Zion National Parks, Utah
Planning a national park road trip but short on time? Look no further than Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Easily accessible by car, these distinctive parks offer completely different landscapes from one another. Bryce Canyon invites visitors to gaze down at its famous hoodoos, while Zion welcomes explorers to look up from the valley to spot wildlife and waterfalls. Families love both parks for the endless hiking trails, stunning views and kid-focused ranger programs.
43. Luang Prabang, Laos
More peaceful and less touristed than neighboring Cambodia (especially Angkor Wat) and Vietnam, Laos is coming into its own, and Luang Prabang is a standout. Stroll through the French-inflected core of the city and get up early to see the young monks’ morning walk through town. Gorgeous monasteries and temples are thick on the ground, but kids may be more attracted to the nearby Elephant Village sanctuary, which helps to rescue elephants in danger of harm from local industry.
Safe, welcoming, easy to get to and incredibly child-friendly, Oman is a terrific entry point to the Middle East with kids. Enjoy the souks (markets) and grand mosques in Muscat; go camel trekking, boating or snorkeling; watch sea turtles make their way into the water. Then spend a few days unwinding at a beach resort, an ideal way to reflect on your time in this exotic and fascinating region.
45. Sintra, Portugal
This Portuguese gem is perfect for a family who loves a blend of activity and cultural experiences. It’s set on a hillside, and you can enjoy taking a tuk-tuk up to see the colorful Pena Palace or hike a steep but sturdy trail to the incredible ruins of Castelo dos Mouros. Within striking distance of Lisbon, Sintra is not a bad day trip for foodie families either; culinary treats abound here.
46. Dude Ranches
There is nothing like a dude ranch vacation to bring a family together and connect everyone with nature. Trail rides, campfires, square dances and rodeo games all call up a simpler time of life, far removed from social media and group chats. Ranches throughout the United States represent all levels of luxury, riding experience, activities for non-riders and more … we can help you choose one that suits your needs and budget.
Though it’s time-intensive to reach, the payoff for Patagonia — which spans both Chile and Argentina — is worth the trouble. There are few places on earth where you can still feel so isolated yet so connected with the natural world. Kids who are old enough to hike, explore the glaciers and raft the rapids will be in heaven. And if you’re a ski family, the resorts around Pucon and Bariloche are enticingly different and affordable.
48. San Sebastian, Spain
Best known as a destination for food enthusiasts, San Sebastian delights even the littlest palates. You’re never far from either an ice cream shop or a playground in this historic seaside town. Ride the funicular to the top of Monte Igeldo for stunning views and an old-fashioned amusement park, or build castles on the wide, sandy beaches before choosing a spot to dine. Children are warmly welcomed in many eateries, allowing parents to sip wine and sample pintxos long into the evening.
49. Orcas Island, Washington
Just a short ferry ride from the mainland, Orcas Isand — the largest of Washington’s San Juan Islands — feels like stepping off the grid into a slower, more idyllic time. Although it is not named for the area’s distinctive black-and-white whales, it’s a prime place to see them on whale-watching tours in the late spring and summer. The focus here is on the outdoors; other diversions include hiking, tidepooling, sailing and kayaking. Make the quaint town of Eastsound your base for easy access to shops and a surprising variety of restaurants for such a small place.
Barbados is a great choice for a Caribbean family vacation. In addition to lots of family-friendly hotels and resorts, there are land and sea activities to suit all ages, from toddlers to teens. Examples include catamaran trips to swim with turtles, snorkeling, surfing, diving, paddleboarding, boogie boarding and other water sports. Kids will also love attractions such as Harrison’s Cave and Atlantis Submarines.
Of course, we can’t close out a roundup of top destinations without mentioning our beloved Tuscany. There’s a reason this region of Italy is a perennial favorite with families — with a combination of postcard scenery, fabulous food, warm and gregarious locals, picturesque hill towns and iconic cities like Florence and Siena, it is as close to a foolproof destination as you will find. Enjoy the culture of the bigger cities of Italy for a few days, then retreat for a restful week in a Tuscan agriturismo that highlights opportunities to live la dolce vita.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Virtuoso.