July 20, 2024

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The Best Destinations for a Family Vacation Around the World

13 min read

Planning a family vacation, like many aspects of parenting, is a fine art. With so many people to please, the stakes are high when plotting the perfect break. How to ensure your holiday hits the high notes? Start by choosing the destination carefully and then look for hotels that not only welcome but also encourage and entertain younger travelers. You don’t need to sacrifice comfort and style for family-friendly programming, either. Whether you’re embarking on the first adventure with a swaddled addition or you’re in transit with a teen, these family vacation spots across the globe should provide inspiration to get you going.

The Bahamas

There’s a reason why the Bahamas has been an Afar Traveler’s Choice finalist for Best Family Destination. In fact, there are several. Sun, sea, sand, and surf are just the most alliterative; the island chain is packed with festivals, cultural events, and local workshops to keep kids entertained once the boogie board has lost its appeal. For a quieter retreat, we love Cat Island, where Airbnbs and family-run hotels supplant mega-resorts and a People-to-People cultural program offers the chance to take part in a range of activities with locals.

Large pool and palm trees at Baha Mar

The Bahamas could trademark family fun in the sun.

Where to stay

Book now: Baha Mar

Baha Mar encompasses three hotels: the Rosewood, SLS, and a Grand Hyatt. Here the Explorers Club keeps kids aged 3 to 12 occupied from 9 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. with a variety of activities and games, and the Sanctuary offers the chance to feed turtles and nurse sharks, nurturing a new generation of conservationists in the process. There’s also an aviary and a flock of flamingos. Movies are screened by the pool on Saturday nights. Unencumbered parents can choose golf, the spa, or one of the 40 dining and nightlife options.

Terranea’s coastal home is the perfect spot to watch its birds of prey soar.

Terranea’s coastal home is the perfect spot to watch its birds of prey soar.

The Palos Verdes Peninsula, Los Angeles, California

Halfway between Hollywood and Anaheim and just west of greater Los Angeles’s tangle of freeways, the Palos Verdes Peninsula is a remarkably wild stretch of Southern California jutting into the Pacific. You won’t find movie studios or theme parks on these ragged clifftops. Here hiking, biking, and horse-riding trails wind around succulents and native shrubs, offering expansive ocean views at every turn. Head north for the comparatively chilled beach towns of the South Bay, including Redondo Beach, upscale Manhattan Beach, and Hermosa Beach. Or follow the road south for kayaking and whale-watching at Long Beach, the historic Queen Mary, and the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Where to stay

Book now: Terranea

Since Terranea opened in 2009, it’s been a haven for staycationing SoCal families. A full-service pool with cabanas, waterslides, and a splash pad will get you started, while the Kids Club offers babysitting so adults can experience supper at clifftop restaurant Mar’Sel. Guided coastal hikes, horseback adventures, cake making, and plein air painting (for those six and older) will keep everyone busy.

Kids have fun on the grass at Hotel Rodavento

The Hotel Rodavento’s package of activities will allow your kids to live their best life.

Courtesy of Hotel Rodavento

Mexico City, Mexico

Whether it’s the food, history, design, or a love for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Mexico City exerts a magnetic pull on adult travelers. But there’s also plenty for small- and medium-size people—and they don’t have to have seen Coco to enjoy the trip. World-class museums, sprawling parks, and top restaurants abound, and that’s before you get to the luchadores wrestlers, the Planetario Luis Enrique Erro (planterium), the chocolate museum, or the Acuario Inbursa (aquarium). If all else fails, there’s a Six Flags here, too. Did we mention the chocolate museum?

Where to stay

Book now: Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City | Hotel Rodavento

The Four Seasons lays out the red carpet for kiddos, with child-size bathrobes, cookies and milk at bedtime, diapers and teddy bears for toddlers, and crayons, coloring books, and table games for older kids, plus babysitting services and an activity concierge. Outside the city, head to Hotel Rodavento in Valle de Bravo, a lakeside town some 95 miles west of Mexico City. Here kids choose their own adventures, where cooking classes, kayaking, zip-lining, and fishing for the family’s supper are all options. A UNESCO Monarch Butterfly Reserve nearby will teach children the importance of that endangered species.

Three boys and a man in cooking class

Cooking, archery, and duck herding are options at Chewton Glen.

Hampshire, England

This southern county is brimming with attractions for a family-friendly vacation, including Beaulieu National Motor Museum in the heart of the lovely New Forest, several Go Ape rope courses for swinging from tree to tree like a crazed monkey, and Paultons Theme Park with its dinosaur world and Peppa Pig land for the true parental gluttons for punishment. The cities of Portsmouth and Southampton feature the usual urban diversions, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more historic hub than the country’s former capital, Winchester.

Where to stay

Book now: Chewton Glen

At this luxury British retreat in the New Forest, kids stay free during the summer. There’s a range of activities on offer—including biking, archery, falconry, and duck herding (yes, duck herding). The hotel offers 14 Treehouse Suites high in the foliage. Alternatively, converted Georgian mansion Heckfield Place recently secured a spot in Afar’s Stay List and offers children’s menus and special activities as well as over 400 acres of woodland to explore.

Large dinosaur skeleton in the fossil hall

The fossil hall has reopened after five years—a blink of an eye for these ancient creatures.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Washington, D.C.

D.C.’s top-notch family credentials have been on display for decades; you can’t swing a lunch box without hitting a museum, monument, or memorial. In recent years, the city has gotten better and better, with the Smithsonian’s Fossil Hall reopening in 2019 after five years along with the Kennedy Center’s REACH extension—a new space designed to allow the public to watch artistic work in progress and orchestras rehearsing. Some $9.6 billion of new developments earned D.C. a high ranking on the list of America’s Best Cities in 2023.

Where to stay

Book now: The Jefferson

Small historic hotel the Jefferson has a new walking guide, “Kids Who Made American History,” in which the property’s historian, professor Susan Sullivan Lagon, leads youngsters round the city to various places where young trailblazers had an impact. Transgender student Gavin Grimm, who took his fight for fair restroom use to the Supreme Court, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “smallest freedom fighter,” Sheyann Webb, who marched from Selma to Montgomery as a nine-year-old, are among those featured. Back at the hotel, children can peruse bookshelves curated by the likes of Barack Obama and Eva Chen while sipping a mocktail. (Parents could try a real cocktail at one of Washington, D.C.’s best rooftop bars.)

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a perfect family vacation destination. From cultural San Juan, where museums will fire young imaginations, to surf and snorkel opportunities along the east and west coasts, and hikes in the wildlife-filled green interior, the island will keep everyone busy.

Where to stay

Book now: Dorado Beach

At the Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, on the north coast west of San Juan, the Rockefeller walking trail and the Watermill Aquatic Park—an “aquatic playground” fashioned after a traditional sugar mill and featuring lazy rivers and waterslides—will tire out older kids while you relax at the spa.

Pyramid at Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá is the best known of numerous Mayan sites across the Yucatán region.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

From kaleidoscopic coral reefs to Mayan ruins, the Yucatán Peninsula is one immense educational outdoor playground for families with older children. Spectacular Chichén Itzá is one of the best-known sites, but the region harbors all manner of discoveries on land and sea. Plenty of top resorts cater to big broods, but you’ll want to make sure you leave the compound once in a while.

Where to stay

Book now: Rosewood Mayakoba

The Rosewood’s Explorers club offers eco-boat tours accompanied by a biologist, Mayan storytelling, Spanish lessons, and pizza nights.

Aquatic life near Ningaloo Reef

Whale sharks, humpback whales, and dolphins make their home among the 185 miles of Ningaloo Reef.

Ningaloo Coast, Australia

Nature provides the big draw here, too, whether you’re after a swim with the gentle whale shark (technically the world’s largest fish) by the spectacular Ningaloo Reef or emu-spotting in the sand dunes or at Cape Range National Park.

Where to stay

Book now: Sal Salis

Sal Salis, a Luxury Lodge of Australia, consists of 16 luxury tents pitched on the dunes. Children over five are welcome to stay in the camp and take part in activities. The resort also offers the chance to swim with humpback whales from August through October.

Scenic valley in Nationalpark Hohe Tauern

Nationalpark Hohe Tauern is comfortably the largest of Austria’s seven national parks.

Photo by Anatolii Lyzun / Shutterstock

Grossarl, Austria

Grossarl is a serene outdoor playground an hour from Salzburg, ideal for hiking and horse riding in the summer and the usual winter sports after snowfall. It’s right by Austria’s largest national park, Nationalpark Hohe Tauern, and the world’s largest ice cave. If you’re looking for family vacation ideas in Europe, it’s a great place to start.

Where to stay

Book now: Moar Gut

Five-star family hotel Moar Gut will take kids of any age off your hands and ensure their vacation exceeds their own expectations. The property’s “Baby Hotel” takes care of the tiniest munchkins all day long, with massages and baby swimming in between naps for infants over one month old. The “Children’s Hotel” includes a playhouse, theater, and cinema shows for middle children, and the “Teen Hotel” occupies older siblings with bikes, Segways, and other age-appropriate activities. The farm also has a petting zoo and riding stable. Elsewhere in Austria, try Almhof in Gerlos, in the Zillertal Valley just outside Innsbruck, or Hotel Löwe in Serfaus in the attraction-packed Tyrol region a few hours from Munich airport.

A jeep with passengers crossing shallow river

Spotting one of the big five might be almost as good as bagging a Pokémon.

Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa

A safari can be one of the most transformative experiences for children once they’ve hit the right age, and South Africa’s Sabi Sand Reserve (which shares an unfenced border with Kruger National Park) is a prime spot to make those memories. The big five roam some 160,600 acres here and over 300 bird species fly the skies.

Where to stay

Book now: Ebony Lodge; &Beyond Kirkman’s Kamp

Ebony Lodge, the first of the Singita luxury safari camps, offers 12 comfortable suites with private plunge pools. The activities will keep children busy all week. Stargazing, photography, and game drives are all available, and Singita’s extra family options include board games, arts and crafts, and a “Rangers’ Course” teaching animal tracking, bird-watching, and bush survival. New mini rangers are tested and awarded a certificate. Older teens, meanwhile, are taught advanced survival skills like building fires and finding water sources or may be taken to plant trees at community schools.

The 12 cottages of &Beyond Kirkman’s Kamp are another worthy option. This exclusive resort welcomes children and runs a WildChild program, encompassing everything from fishing to crafting, painting, and making bows and arrows, as well as a babysitting service.

Kenya

With the first nonstop flight from the United States to Nairobi launching in recent years, the wonders of East Africa are more accessible than ever before. Kenya’s capital is a must but the lions, leopards, and black rhinos of the quintessential safari spot, the Maasai Mara, are calling, too.

Where to stay

Book now: Angama Mara

The kids’ classes at Angama Mara take it up a notch or two, with beading and spear-throwing (taught by a Maasai warrior) among the opportunities. The hotel also offers nature walks, photography classes, trips to local schools, and stargazing. There are four interconnected family tented suites in the lodge’s two camps. Kids six and older are welcome, and childminding is included in the rate.

An overhead shot of several islands around Phuket, Thailand on a clear day with clear blue waters

Phuket is Thailand’s third largest island.

Photo by Huw Penson/Shutterstock

Phuket, Thailand

Thailand’s largest island is surrounded by sea caves and subaqueous marine life that will delight your young swimmers, but there’s also plenty to explore on shore. Head to Phuket Town for museums and shrines, Chalong for imposing temples, and Thalang for its national parks and wildlife sanctuaries before introducing young palates to the region’s tempting mix of southern Thai and Malay cuisine.

Where to stay

Book now: Anantara Layan Phuket Resort

Children aged 8 to 12 can play out their hotelier fantasies at Anantara Layan Phuket Resort, following the resort team as they prepare for the arrival of new guests at the nearby Layan Residences by Anantara, learning cooking with the chefs and towel art with housekeeping.

A raft on calm, rocky river

The family that rafts together, stays together.

Photo by Alexander Rochau / Shutterstock

Slovenia

Summer hordes fill the beaches of Croatia year after year, but for a less-trodden alternative try heading a few miles north. The much smaller country is densely packed with family-friendly delights, including caves, castles, and water parks. Try charming Piran on Slovenia’s sliver of Adriatic coast or the fortifications of Ljubljana, via a paddle on Lake Bled or rafting on the Soča river.

Where to stay

Book now: Grad Otočec

The Grad Otočec hotel is basically a fairy-tale castle dating back to the 13th century. Outside it’s all turrets and fortifications but inside it’s pure comfort. It has played host to European royalty and several real-life James Bonds, and it offers a pool, tennis court, and amusement park at its sister hotel nearby.

Lots of people on the beach in Honolulu, Oahu on a nice sunny day.

Hawai’i is a classic family travel destination, and for good reason.

O‘ahu, Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i, with its reliable weather, Polynesian food and culture, and abundance of outdoor pursuits, has long been a stalwart family travel choice. O‘ahu is also home to Pearl Harbor and dozens of movie locations.

Where to stay

Book now: Aulani

On top of the usual precision-tooled kid-friendly stuff you’d expect from Disney (character meet-and-greets, live music, movie nights), Aulani’s Aunty’s Beach House is a 5,300-square-foot space full of game tables, arts and crafts spaces, and video games with an added focus on Hawaiian history and culture.

A white tent in the forest at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort’s tents are hidden within innumerable shades of green.

Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Ancient forests, rambling pathways, and secret swimming spots are among the abundant alfresco draws that exert a magnetic pull away from the smartphone on this wild retreat a few hours from the city of Vancouver.

Where to stay

Book now: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort

The Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is all-inclusive, but nothing like your standard fries-by-the-pool fare. For starters, a horse-drawn wagon will shuttle you to your luxury tent at the 600-acre Relais & Châteaux property. From there all meals, alcohol, activities, and instruction are taken care of. Horseback riding, whale- and bear-watching, biking, climbing, surfing, and yoga are among the outdoorsy options. Kids six and older are welcome.

Four kids playing on a hammock by the pool in Paradise Springs

There’s so much for kids to do at Huttopia, parents have time to take a load off for a few moments.

Paradise Springs, California

The name might be unfamiliar even to SoCal residents. Still, this quiet corner of the Angeles National Forest has been a popular escape from L.A. since the early days of Hollywood. Established by silent film star Noah Beery Sr. in Fenner Canyon, just 90 minutes from downtown, and originally a collection of cabins amid the pines, it’s played host to William Randolph Hearst, Mae West, Jack Warner, and more. Charlie Chaplin even built a staircase in one cabin for extramarital trysts. Over the decades it’s been home to wild prohibition parties, trout-fishing enterprises, and even a Christian camp. Today the tranquil forested spot by an ever-gushing stream is owned by French glamping company Huttopia.

Where to stay

Book now: Huttopia Paradise Springs

Huttopia Paradise Springs comprises a few dozen glamping tents (try to snag one amid the pines close to the main hub) with comfortable beds, a cooler, a well-equipped kitchen, a full bathroom, and a barbecue. What the company really does well, though (aside from the best crepes and croque monsieur this side of Brittany), is foster a sense of family fun and community among the campers. Expect impromptu multifamily games of foosball, pool fun, nature hikes, and gold panning that will make you a bunch of new friends and memories.

Oman

As Pulitzer Prize–winning author Anthony Doerr discovered on a last-minute Afar Spin the Globe trip with his teenage boys, the Sultanate of Oman—a country of 4 million pointing southeast from the Arabian peninsula—equally deserves a place on this list. If you’re looking to broaden young horizons, this portion of the Middle East, where the landscape is “like southern Utah mixed with western Wyoming, with tablespoons of Mars thrown in” ticks that box and then some.

Where to stay

Book now: Six Senses Zighy Bay

The Six Senses Zighy Bay offers an immersive program for kids that includes trips to the farm and organic garden to pick up breakfast (and meet the baby goats and camels) and time at the resort’s Earth Lab, where they can create organic sustainable scrubs and masks. Ecological concerns are front and center here, with marine biologists accompanying young snorkelers to foster a love of and concern for our watery cousins.

Costa Rica

This geographically diverse country, with its cloud forests, rain forests, dry plains, and rugged beaches perfect for beginning surfers, will keep kids entertained at every turn. Throw in some howler monkeys, a few cute sloths, and a zip line or three and you have a family vacation for the books.

Where to stay

Book now: Tulemar Resort

The Tulemar Resort’s four pools and private beach will tire out the tots with ease. Or try the Four Seasons, where family cooking lessons, chocolate-making, and salsa dancing entertain during rainy spells, and kids age 4 to 12 can busy themselves at the Children’s Center. Teens, meanwhile, get their own clubhouse with basketball court, pool table, and the usual gamut of video game consoles.

Kids and adults alike will also love Botánika, a resort on the Osa Peninsula near wildlife-rich Corcovado National Park and Golfo Dolce, complete with an expansive pool, kid-friendly food choices, and staff who can help organize excursions.

This article was originally published in 2019 and was most recently updated in June 2024 with new information.


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