The most beautiful family destinations
The best way to teach children about the world’s natural beauty? Get out there and explore it for yourselves! | By Joanna Tweedy | October 23, 2021
Make memories that last for a lifetime by tracking down beautiful vacation spots that are perfect for families. Whatever type of trip you fancy — classic cities in Europe, US beach towns or exotic Asian islands — we can help you find the perfect spot where your younger travelers are more than welcome.
Go East! Discover Asia’s exotic beauty, and awesome wildlife, in Sri Lanka and Thailand
Catalonia for kids: Their eyes will pop at Gaudi's striking architecture and they'll love the amazing aquarium in Barcelona
Where dinosaurs roamed: Dive into Colorado’s dramatic mountain scenery and Wild West history
Tuscany is a brilliant first trip to Italy for families, as the hilltop villages are quieter and easier to navigate than the major tourist cities but just as picturesque. One of the most famous spots is in Siena: it's a 17th-century gothic masterpiece with a huge central square, known as Piazza del Campo. Kids will love hearing about how horses thunder around it when the Palio di Siena horse race takes place twice every summer. Older children can test their legs by climbing the 400 steps of the Torre del Mangia, the piazza’s central tower, for the best panoramic views of the city.
Don’t miss the nearby Duomo (cathedral), either. It’s just $2 for children younger than 11 to get in – ages 6 and younger are free – and this medieval church effectively doubles as a celestial museum, with sculptures by Donatello and Michelangelo.
Head to Siena in the early evening, when it’s cooler, to wander down the pedestrian-friendly streets that are lined with colorful shops. Practice your Italian and order a stracciatella (vanilla gelato with shards of chocolate in it) at La Vecchia Latteria (10 Via S. Pietro), a brief walk from the Duomo.
Best-known as one of the world’s most exciting winter destinations, thanks to snow-dusted mountains, Colorado is a great family travel destination and wows whatever time of year you visit. Visual treats come thick and fast in the Centennial State via big skies, hot springs, copper-colored canyons, Wild West towns and seemingly endless pastureland. Pack your swimsuits and take little ones to enjoy a wonderfully warm dip in the many natural hot springs across the state. The spring-fed, mineral-rich pools in Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs are the most famous. The latter is also home to F.M. Light and Sons, where you can buy your kids a pair of brightly-colored cowboy boots or they can sit atop the life-size plastic horse outside the store.
Ideal for family road trips, Colorado’s highways are easy to drive and flanked by wonderful scenery. You can border hop from the northwest town of Craig to Utah for a mind-blowing day trip to see the National Dinosaur Monument in Jensen. It’s home to the biggest haul of bones kids are ever likely to see in one place. Make sure everyone packs sunglasses too; Colorado boasts 300 days of sunshine a year.
Koh Samui, Thailand
Once a must-do on the original backpacker trail in the 70s, Koh Samui has evolved to be a family-friendly resort island set in the set in the clear, turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The scenery is stunning and long, sun-soaked days can be spent exploring the limestone cliffs, hidden coves and perfectly clear waters of 42-island Ang Thong National Marine Park. Boats are easy to hire and active kids can try snorkeling, sea kayaking or even diving. Teenagers up for the climb can also hike to the top of Koh Wua Talap (“Sleeping Cow Island”) for the best views. Meanwhile, toddlers will be happy playing on the soft powder sands of Koh Samui’s best beaches.
Chaweng is among the most popular stretches of coast, with plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants close by making it a great family travel destination. For fewer crowds, make the short trip to east to Silver Beach. Local food is both delicious and inexpensive, and kids will love slurping on Pad Thai, a popular noodle-based dish.
If you’re seeking a vacation that melds European culture with grandiose architecture and natural beauty, then Quebec is the family travel destination for you. French-speaking Old Quebec rises out of the landscape like a majestic grand dame. The moment you and your children step through the city walls, you’ll feel like you’ve wandered into a setting from a fairytale, with cobbled streets, historical Victorian buildings and bijou shops.
It certainly isn’t hard to see why this destination has a UNESCO World City stamp. Old Quebec’s famous 59 “Breakneck Steps” connect the highest and lowest parts of the city and are fun to ascend. However, littler legs might prefer the less taxing option; a ride on Le Funiculaire, which whirrs tourists up the cliff face at a 45-degree angle. A little further out, young travelers can feel the spray on their boots at Montmorency Falls, a thrilling waterfall 8 miles north of Old Quebec. While there, take time to seek out the region’s best organic produce (and delicious dipped ice cream) on the pretty island of Ile d’Orleans. Try poutine, a hearty collision of fries, cheese curds and gravy. It’s the comfort food of choice throughout the Quebec region, and is almost always a winner with little ones.
St Augustine, Florida
Nestled in the Sunshine State’s northeast corner, the city of St Augustine was founded in 1565 by the Spanish, with 144 blocks of it certified as a National Historic Landmark District. Not only is it a brilliant place for children to learn about America’s beginnings, there’s also beauty in the St Augustine skyline. Centuries-old houses and forts blend with more lavish architecture that sprung up when the city was a 19th-century boom town. It’s walkable, but there’s also the option to take the city’s hop-on, hop-off trolley, which trundles past key sights, including the 17th-century San Marcos Fort and Ponce de Leon’s famous Fountain of Youth. When your mini-travelers have soaked up enough history, head to the beaches. Drive 15 minutes south on the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway to reach Anastasia State Park for 3 miles of quartz sands and gentle dunes. Just beneath it you’ll also find laid-back St Augustine beach; both are super choices for families.
Big Sur, California
Big Sur should be on your radar if you’re looking for a trip that fully immerses children in coastal nature. Some stretches are so remote that kids might spot dolphins, sea otters or whales before they see another human! There is a reason why this wild, surprisingly green, portion of the California coast has made it into dozens of films and TV shows. Choose your playlist and hit the tarmac of Highway 1; it isn’t long before the scenic drama unfolds, with waterfalls, hot springs, deep valleys and razor-edge mountains filling the horizon. Teens who’ve read John Steinbeck will see the stirring, sun-lit landscapes he describes laid out before them, and you can even have lunch at his boyhood home in Salinas (132 Central Ave). Meanwhile, there’s plenty of fun for younger children, too. Learn more about Big Sur’s marine life at Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row) or get on the water on an otter-spotting tour from Elkhorn Slough, one of California's largest wetland areas.
The epitome of small but perfectly formed, the island of Bermuda is 21 miles of pure beach heaven. You can find this tropical paradise about 650 miles off America’s East Coast. Families will love the friendly locals and the pastel-hued architecture found in Hamilton, the capital Explore the meandering coast, where the island’s famous pink sands, caused by crushed shells, are best seen at Horseshoe Bay. Church Bay and Tobacco Bay are great for snorkeling and spying colorful fish darting around. Curious youngsters can spend an entire day exploring maritime history at the Royal Naval Dockyard (5 Freeport Drive), which also has an imaginative playground complete with cooling sprinklers. And at the end of the day, catch a deep orange sunset on a fun boat ride from Hamilton to nearby Jew's Bay before heading to one of the family-friendly watering holes. Adults might order the island’s favorite tipple; the rum-based “Dark and Stormy,” while kids will love tropical fruit mocktails.
A tropical Indian Ocean idyll that counts steamy rainforest, enchanting elephants and 830 miles of blissful coast among its highlights, Sri Lanka exudes exoticism. However, it is also accessible for families thanks to welcoming locals and kid-friendly restaurants that serve deliciously mild curries with fragrant rice. Younger visitors will love the chance to try surfing in lively waves at Weligama and Hikkaduwa beaches on the South Coast; both are great for beginners. Inland, book a tea plantation tour in Hill Country. Not only will you enjoy a fine cup of Ceylon (served without milk), you’ll also see scenery that is among Sri Lanka’s most beautiful, including waterfalls and waterways (you can kayak or take boat tour here, too). For wildlife, take a gentle, organized trek into the rainforest or meet with hundreds of elephants at Udawalawe National Park. There is beauty in the rich culture, too. Small but mighty Sri Lanka has six UNESCO sites, including Galle Old Town in the south and a temple within a cave at Rangiri Dambulla.
North Island, New Zealand
Jaw-dropping scenery awaits on New Zealand’s North Island; this volcanic landscape has been wooing filmmakers and adventure fans for decades. The island’s largest city, Auckland, is a great base for family exploration, but rent a car if you can, as driving is easy and you can tick off the most beautiful sights in about two weeks. At North Island’s heart, there’s magnificent Lake Taupo — effectively a freshwater-filled cauldron left by a massive eruption 26,500 years ago — where children can fish, kayak or go for easy hikes. Head to the beach by going to Coromandel Peninsula, a nugget of land that is lapped by translucent waters and backed by dense forest. Join a glass-bottom boat tour, departing from Whitianga, to get a closer look at the volcanic terrain under the surface. Hot Water Beach also showcases the region’s rich geology; pockets of water that are made piping hot by the earth’s core bubble and froth from the sands.
Barcelona is among the most enthralling metropolises in Europe, as it is like an open-air art museum with fantastic food and great beaches. Against an almost year-round backdrop of brilliant blue skies — temperatures soar to the upper 80s Fahrenheit (around 30 degrees Celsius) in July and August — families can encounter beauty around every corner. Lose yourself in Antoni Gaudi’s fantastical architecture; kids will love the cartoon-esque sculptures of hillside Park Guell and the neck-craning grandeur of yet-to-be-finished La Sagrada Familia cathedral. Rent bicycles and mingle with rollerblading locals on the promenade next to Playa de La Barceloneta, or let little ones splash in the shallows on family-friendly Bogatell Beach. For an easy family lunch, pick up fresh bread, sweet tomatoes and just-carved slices of jamón (cured ham) from the famous Mercat de Sant Josep de La Boquería food market on La Rambla. Find an after-lunch treat at Vidal Pons, a stall that sells sweets and delicious chocolates.
No matter how little your kids are, it’s never too early to introduce them to the wonders and beauty of other cultures. Enrich their lives – and yours! -- by taking them with you on your next trip, and enjoy the memories you’ll make together for decades to come.
Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.