Published in Places & Spaces - November 11, 2021
Everyone has an opinion on what the best family holiday destinations are. For some, it’s anywhere that combines a swimming pool with plenty of ice cream. For others, it’s a city break with varied activities for kids of all ages – while many parents would argue that the best places for family holidays would involve outdoor pursuits. There are no right or wrong answers here – so this is our current round-up of where we’d like to travel with our children. Don’t agree with our suggestions? Then share your thoughts, and we’ll add your recommendations for the best holiday destinations with kids!
Explore The Rockies through the eyes of a local
If your children are outdoors enthusiasts, then you’d be hard pressed to find a more idyllic family holiday destination than The Rockies. Spanning 3,000miles, there are plenty of locations to pick from, stretching from Canada through to America and New Mexico. During the winter months, the skiing and snowboarding is exceptional, while hiking (and cautious black bear-spotting!) is fun year-round.
If you fancy heading to one of the top tourist destinations on the Canadian side, then Banff is exceptionally child-friendly – but the whole region is incredible, and the smaller towns are perfect for family adventures. The town of Canmore is ideal, as it’s on the doorstep of Banff National Park and has views of the mountains. Our members have several homes in this picturesque town, like this lovely family-friendly home swap that features five bedrooms and a hot tub in the back yard. If you’re there in the summer months, make sure you take a swim in the beautiful Quarry Lake, while skiing is just a one-hour drive away. Feeling extravagant? Then consider hopping on the stunning Rocky Mountaineer train which connects Banff to other iconic destinations such as Jasper, Vancouver and Whistler.
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If you’re exploring the Rockies from the American side, then consider basing yourself somewhere fun like Denver in Colorado which is just 1hour 20minutes from affordable ski resorts like Keystone. With breathtaking scenery and easy access to both city-life and the mountains, it’s the ultimate year-round location for an unforgettable trip. Make your trip really special with a family-friendly home swap in Denver – and while you’re there, don’t forget to enjoy city life! Beyond the mountains, there are lots of things to see and do in Denver, and kids will be particularly impressed by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Zoo and even the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. In short, there’s absolutely masses to explore, making this a truly child-friendly holiday destination.
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Get closer to nature in Sweden
If you love family holiday destinations that will keep the kids occupied and away from their screens for the whole day, then Sweden should be top of your list. From rafting rivers and swimming in crystal clear lakes through to skiing and visiting numerous castles, this is a country that is ultra child-friendly – and let’s not forget that their rich Viking heritage can be found both in the museums and outdoors, so there’s lots to stimulate young imaginations!
If you’re looking for a city break in Sweden, then we wouldn’t blame you for heading straight to Stockholm – it’s on nearly every travel bucket list, after all! But if you fancy getting slightly off the beaten track, then head to one of the many family-friendly destinations like Lake Siljan – which is renowned for being home to some of Sweden’s prettiest villages and is a hot favourite for holidaying Swedes – or Gothenburg where you can go seal spotting! Gothenburg is also home to Scandinavia’s largest theme park, Liseberg, and an interactive science museum called Universeum which has been widely lauded for being one of the best museums for kids in Sweden – though after exploring the space labs and rainforest that’s filled with tropical birds, you’ll probably feel like a big kid yourself!
And of course, no travel guide to Sweden would be complete without a mention of its world-class ski and snowboarding – though we’d suggest trying out one of the less touristy resorts. If your kids are snowboarders, they’ll love Klimpfjäll which is a hot favourite of snowboarders, while Sälen is very much geared towards families. Last but by no means least, young history buffs will enjoy taking a walking tour where they can find out about those ferocious Vikings, or you could even head to the Storholmen Viking Village which is about one hour north of Stockholm! The ‘Searching Scandinavia’ blog is a great starting point if you’d like to find out more about the top 10 places to visit in Sweden if you’re fascinated by the Vikings.
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Find unparalleled beauty in the Isle of Wight
We’re just going to state the obvious. With plenty of fresh air in their lungs, the chance to explore beautiful countryside and beaches, and the option of fish and chips for dinner, children will happily go to bed exhausted at the end of the day – making the Isle of White one of the best holiday destinations with kids! The island itself isn’t particularly huge, but that’s one of the joys of a holiday like this, because you can pack in plenty of activities without travelling too far.
First up, every child loves the ferry. Admittedly you can fly here from the UK, but why hop on a flight when kids love watching the waves crashing against the ferry so much?! Once you’ve got your feet onto dry land, head straight to your family-friendly home swap, then start making plans on how you’re going to fill your time. The Needles is a huge lure at any time of the year. In the warmer months you’ll inevitably spot sailing boats around these iconic chalk outcrops, and you can even take a boat trip to see them up-close. Take the chairlift from the beach to the cliff, and while you’re there, let the kids stop to watch the confectioners making boiled sweets at the Isle of Wight Sweet Manufactory – make sure you take a bag of rhubarb and custard sweeties home with you!
If you’ve got older kids (or younger kids who love to stay up late!), you might even want to consider taking them to the Isle of Wight Festival, which is a fun way to introduce children to the wonderful world of family-friendly music festivals. Alternatively, little ones will love Fairyland and Cowboy Town at Blackgang Chine, which is the UK’s oldest amusement park, or simply head to one of the 14 beautiful beaches for a lovely lazy day of building sandcastles – or if you’re feeling energetic, try your hand at surfing (you’ll need a wetsuit for the chillier months!)
Explore a volcano in Italy or Sicily
Mainland Italy and the island of Sicily are home to some of the loveliest family holiday destinations. From Lake Garda and Rome in Italy to Palermo and Catania in Sicily, there are plenty of iconic areas to explore with the kids. But if you fancy giving your children an experience they’ll never forget, then fire up their sense of adventure with a trip to an active volcano! Both Mount Etna and Vesuvius are active (yikes) and both can be explored – with the right precautions of course!
If you’re considering visiting Mount Etna, then we’d suggest staying away from the crowds and heading to a lesser-known town such as Forza d'Agrò, which was a filming location for The Godfather. This traditional Sicilian town simply oozes charm, and from here, Mount Etna is just a 1hour 20-minute drive away, while locally you’ll find plenty of little restaurants and trattorias on your doorstep. If you want to be in the heart of the action, then consider staying somewhere like this centrally-located home, which is perfectly placed for trips to both the Ionian Sea and Mount Etna’s two ski resorts Piano Provenzana and Nicolosi (with snow all-but-guaranteed from November until April).
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Back on mainland Italy is the iconic Mount Vesuvius, which is conveniently located for a home swap in Naples! If you’re feeling energetic, you can take the 4km round walk which takes you up the highest reaches of the cone to the rim of the crater, and offers incredible views of the Bay of Naples and the Pompeii ruins. If you’d rather take a gentler approach, then you can hop on a bus or shuttle to the lower slope. Many people also choose to visit the ruined town of Pompeii, which is eerily beautiful. If the kids need a break from the history of the area, then opt for a hike in the Sorrentine Peninsula, or go swimming in Marechiaro which is a charming fishing village. And don’t forget that a trip to Naples isn’t complete without a huge amount of Pizza Napoletana and ice cream! Take a look at Culture Trip’s round-up of the best ice cream parlours in Naples to help you decide where to try first.
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Immerse yourself in art and science in Valencia
Combining the best of beautiful beaches, child-friendly food (because who doesn't love a churro with chocolate?!) and amazing activities for the whole family, Valencia really is one of the best family holiday destinations – and happily our members have many fantastic home swaps in the area! There’s plenty to keep kids of all ages entertained for days on end, but top of your must-see list should be the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i de les Ciències). Covering around 2km, there’s plenty to see and do, but the three biggest attractions are the Oceanogràphic, the Hemisfèric and the Science Museum.
First up, The Oceanogràphic is Europe’s largest aquarium, and a centre of marine conservation and scientific research. There are 45,000 marine animals here, so you can easily spend a whole day exploring the site – the kids will always enjoy watching the sharks in the longest underwater tunnel in Europe. On the same site you’ll find the Hemisfèric, which is a digital 3D cinema that boasts an immense 900 metre concave screen, while the fantastically interactive Science Museum is located next door. Buy a combination ticket so that you can see whichever parts you fancy, and ideally set aside a couple of days to explore the whole thing.
The Turia is also brilliant for the whole family, as it’s a former riverbed that has been transformed into an amazing park, with loads of play areas for children and plenty of space to enjoy a picnic. Running through the centre of the city, you’ll be surrounded by incredible architecture, and you can even hire electric family bikes so that you can explore the full 9km of the park without breaking a sweat. Children will particularly enjoy Parque Gulliver which is a humungous sculpture of Gulliver lying on his bag. With slides and climbing ropes galore, release your inner child and imagine you’re a Lilliputian as you whizz down a slide!
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Take on two great oceans in Cape Town
Offering the perfect balance of beaches, history, culture and stunning scenery, the area surrounding Cape Town is nothing short of exceptional. And the simple fact that you can see the exact point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans join each other, makes this one of the best places for a family holiday. Seal, dolphin, penguin, and whale-watching are all big business here, while daredevils can go cage diving to get up close and personal with great white sharks. Muizenberg is a popular spot for surfers who are new to the area, while Dunes beach in the Noordhoek region and Llandudno Beach offer a less touristy experience.
Overlooking Cape Town is Table Mountain. If you and the children haven’t got the energy (or the inclination) to climb to the summit, you can hop on the handy Cableway which will whizz you to the top in just seven minutes. You should also make sure you head to Signal Hill, either at midday to hear the ‘noon gun’ cannon go off (don’t forget to warn the younger members of your family that a big bang is coming!) or at sunset to watch Cape Town light up.
If you fancy exploring the quieter façade of Cape Town, consider basing yourself just outside of the city in a lovely area like Stellenbosch or Franschhoek, both of which offer easy access to the winelands. With plenty of beautiful scenery to explore and some fantastic vineyards, the area packs in the treats for younger and older home swappers alike.
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These are just a few ideas of the best destinations to travel with the family and kids. And of course, our suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg, because there are so many incredible countries to explore. So tell us – what are your favourite family holiday destinations? And where have you enjoyed travelling with the kids? We’d love to hear your thoughts on our Facebook groups, or share your travel memories on our social media channels, using the hashtag #welovehomeswap. And if you’ve got specific recommendations on what to do and where to go in any of these countries, we’d love it if you could share these on our local recommendations map! Simply fill out this form, and we’ll do the rest.