As the new year begins, and vacation planning begins in earnest, we thought it would be helpful to reach out to other family travel writers and ask them to share their best travel destinations for families. We received a variety of responses, spanning the globe, from exploring our nation’s capital to Canadian dude ranches to relaxing on beaches in French Polynesia.
All of these recommendations are from experts in the field, family travel writers who travel with their families for a living. They’ve experienced these destinations first hand and are sharing their favorites so you don’t have to struggle to find your travel inspiration this year. (And if you’re looking for our current travel destination recommendations, check out the 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 family travel recommendations).
There are plenty of travel destinations for you to choose from, just click on the city and you can read all about why it made the top of the list. Thanks to all the writers for sharing their favorites!
Bethaney at Flashpacker Family chooses Nashville as a great city break for families. Of course there’s the music, but there’s also great food and a tonne of fun stuff to do with kids. The playground at Nashville Zoo has one of the best playgrounds in America. The Martin ArtQuest at the Frist Center for the visual arts is a fun space to go and create art in all it’s different forms. The Adventure Science Center is fantastic for families who love to learn. And don’t forget about Nashville’s amazing food scene!
Kimberly at Stuffed Suitcase had this to say: Imagine stepping back in time when life moved at and easier pace and enjoying the beauty of the land was one of the highlights of your day. That is what a trip to the San Juan Islands in Washington State can bring to your life.
These islands, San Juan Island, Lopez Island, and Orcas Island, are just a short ferry ride from the thriving city of Seattle, but it feels as if they’re a world apart. While you’ll find your fill of culture with the thriving art scene and quaint farm to table eateries, you’ll also be able to relax and enjoy the simple beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
The San Juan Islands are mecca for outdoor adventurers, but also feature charming towns that will tempt you to go strolling and window shopping. Fill your days hiking along the beautiful trails and parks that dot each of the three main islands, or try your hand at kayaking in the crystal waters of the Salish Sea.
Finally, hop aboard a boat as you go search for wildlife in the area including bald eagles, sea lions, and whales such as resident orca pods and migrating humpbacks. End your evening with a delicious local meal and a visit to the world-class San Juan Island Museum of Art before planning your journey back into the bustling city of Seattle. A true vacation of contrasts.
Katie at Tips for Family Trips puts Washington, D.C. on the top of must see destinations for families. She says: Everyone should visit Washington D.C. at least once. Learn details of the U.S. law-making process as you tour the Capitol building, wander through one of the 17 free Smithsonian museums, or enjoy the view from the top of the Washington Monument. Take a few hours to stroll through the monuments and memorials dedicated to brave men and women who shaped U.S. history. History will come alive for children as they explore all that Washington D.C. has to offer.
Have you ever visited a dude ranch? Amy at Pit Stops for Kids, highly recommends Cranbrook, British Columbia, and especially the Three Bars Ranch. She elaborates: Situated in the Canadian Rockies, Three Bars Ranch is an all-inclusive dude ranch that’s a kid’s paradise and a parent’s dream trip.
While the ranch is casual and non-stuffy, the service is top-notch and the amenities are ample. Families plan their day with the head of the ranch each morning, with options for horseback riding, hiking, skeet shooting, fishing, ATV-riding, rafting, and more. Kids bond as if it’s summer camp, and parents can share communal meals with new friends.
Dr. Jessica Voights from Wandering Educators puts St. John’s, Newfoundland at the top of her list for families to explore this year. Why? There’s so much to see and do, whether outside (whale watching! discovering chocolate and local ice cream! counting the rows and rows of Jellybean houses! hiking up Signal Hill!) or inside (amazing museums! rocks millions of years old! so many restaurants that welcome kids! a local hands-on aquarium!).
The most important thing to bring is your curiosity – St. John’s is different than any other place she has been. Treasures unfold around each corner, so be ready to explore. You’ll be rewarded with sights, colors, sounds, and tastes like no other.
Gina at Kids Unplugged had this to say about an amazing family trip they went on this past summer to Québec: Considering a family bike trip? Look no further than Québec’s Petit Train du Nord. This past summer my husband and I decided it was time to initiate our girls to the joys of a multi-day cycling adventure, and Le Petit Train, a 200-kilometer rail trail in Québec’s Laurentian Mountains, was our destination. Part of Canada’s Route Verte, the Little Northern Train as it translates, once delivered skiers from Montreal into the mountains. The “snow train” stopped running in the late 1980s, and in 1996 the line was transformed into a recreational trail to boost tourism in the region.
What sets the Petit Train apart from most other rail trails is that every 15 miles or so, cyclists discover quaint French Canadian villages offering all variety of services, making it very doable for families. And though it winds its way through the Laurentian mountains, the trail’s flat grade makes it accessible to younger cyclists, and riders pedal easily past pristine lakes perfect for a quick dip and wildflower-filled meadows that beg a picnic.
Dana from The Talking Suitcase had two favorite cities to share, so I asked her for both. The first is Innsbruck and here’s what she had to say: From the moment we stepped off the train, Innsbruck became one of my family’s favorite travel destinations. Innsbruck is a gorgeous city located in the western part of Austria. It lies on the Inn River and is bordered by the Alps, with Germany to the north and Italy to the south. The Alps are spectacular, so don’t miss the chance to get outdoors and explore the landscape. While you could hike the trails, families will likely find it easier to use the cable cars to reach the mountain peak at an elevation of 7,401 ft.
Strolling through Innsbruck’s Old Town is a must. Even the children were in awe of the stunning buildings and of course the Golden Roof, which was constructed with gold-plated copper tiles for Emperor Maximilian I. The Alpine Zoo, playtower at Swarovski Crystal Worlds, and Arsenal Museum are just a few more highlights for kids. Innsbruck is the perfect stop for families when traveling around Europe and shouldn’t be missed in 2016.
Dana from The Talking Suitcase shares her other favorite: Bruges, Belgium is a city unlike any other. After decades of being one of the most important commercial cities in the world, Bruges is said to have slept for 400 years. The beautiful Gothic architecture seen today is a reminder of the once prosperous city, now frozen in time.
Even kids will enjoy visiting Bruges with it’s many canals, white swans, windmills and open spaces to run around. The city is easily walkable, but little ones might enjoy taking a break and exploring the town by water or horse drawn carriage. Don’t miss the chance to try famed Belgian waffles and chocolate. You simply can’t visit the country without sampling these delectable treats!
While there are many larger cities in Belgium, my family enjoyed a break from bustling city life. Bruges is large enough to have plenty of dining and entertainment options, but small enough to relax and live like a local.
SJ from Chasing the Donkey is my favorite Croatia expert. She explains why Croatia is the perfect European destination for families: There is a broad range of activities to suit kids of all ages and Croatia is known to have a family-friendly relaxed atmosphere.
One picture perfect – but often overlooked town to consider is Omiš. Located just 20 minutes from Split on Dalmatia’s Adriatic Coast, in Omiš you and take the family zip-lining, white water rafting or make sandcastles on the beach.
If you want less action packed, and more history, head to the ancient city of Zadar. The best kid-friendly attraction is the Greeting to the Sun in Zadar. This installation absorbs sunlight during the day & lights up at night. Let your kids rock out to the cool music show while you enjoy a drink at the cafe.
Tamara at We 3 Travel recommends one of the top destinations on my bucket list, Iceland. Here’s what she has to say: Iceland has so much to offer families that enjoy the outdoors, yet it is also easy to manage and navigate.
Flights are inexpensive, English is widely spoken, and, even in high season, it isn’t crowded. Families will be awed and amazed by the varying natural landscape and thundering waterfalls. Those more adventurous can take part in activities like horseback riding, glacier hiking, Super Jeep tours, dog sledding, and more. If you want a place that will enchant even your most jaded teen or impressionable toddler — the land of ice and fire has it all.
Alessandra at Tips 4 Italian Trips shares her favorite region of Italy, the Dolomites: My favorite travel destination is the north east of Italy, the area that is hometown of the huge Dolomites: 18 mountain peaks which rise to above 3,000 metres. A paradise for families in search of relaxation, activities, ancient traditions, fun, stunning landscapes and delicious food! No matter if you choose to spend your holidays in South Tyrol, Trentino or Veneto. All these 3 regions offer such a warming hospitality and unique scenic beauty. Such a fantastic holidays for everyone in every season of the year!
Nicole from Arrows Sent Forth visited Wales twice last year and fell completely in love with the country. Here’s why the country is notable in her book: Wales offers something for all families, regardless of interest. The coastline is truly spectacular, with rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, even seaside waterfalls and grottoes.
The hiking all over the country is incredibly scenic, and its rural, often isolated regions means families will have no trouble reconnecting during their stay. The history here is legendary, and no trip to Wales is complete without touring a few castles. There are many family-friendly self-catering accommodation options, from 5 star resort-style properties to quaint, basic cottages.
I think Jodi from Family Travel Magazine is spot on with this recommendation. I’ve never been, but I’m dying to go. Here’s what she has to say: The gorgeous turquoise waters of Turks and Caicos make it a gorgeous place to visit, but there are also many things for kids to see and do. From learning about nature to going on a water sports adventure, you can stay busy for most of your trip. Of course, you’ll want to factor in some time to just relax and enjoy the view.
Central and South America
Jennifer from The Vacation Gals took a family vacation last Christmas to Galapagos with her spouse, child, parents and mother-in-law! She explains the joy of this unique travel adventure: This truly multigenerational travel experience brought us all closer together in ways that hadn’t even occurred to me.
Most Galapagos trips are on smaller ships and my family group of 7 made up half the passenger list. It’s an active trip, perfect for curious minds and of course for animal lovers. Every day, we either snorkeled twice and had a big multi-hour hike, or two hikes and a big snorkel. Everything you’ve heard about the sea lions, iguanas and tortoises on the Galapagos islands is true; they lack fear of humans and as long as we were quiet and respectful we were able to see wildlife unencumbered by unnatural boundaries.
Our favorite animals to watch were the birds of the Galapagos. The cute little Galapagos penguins preened each other, the blue-footed boobies danced comically, and the male Great Frigatebirds did their best to show off for the ladies. It was a memorable trip, one that my family still talks about all the time, and one that I recommend to anyone with a curiosity about how the world works.
Tina from Los Gringos Locos would recommend a visit to see the Mayan temples in Tikal, Guatemala. She says: We went on a six week trip to Belize in 2014 and crossed the border to visit Tikal, Guatemala for a day. It was amazing. The temples are awesome. There are some that are not yet uncovered. My kids were able to lay down on a stone bed in one of the palaces. If you want some adventure and ancient history, visit Tikal.
Nichola at Globalmouse Travels would highly recommend Penang, Malaysia for families in 2016. Here’s what she has to say: Top of my list for families to explore this year is Penang, Malaysia. We had a wonderful trip there in 2015 and it has all the elements for a varied, fun family trip. There’s culture with Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple and one of our favourite activities was exploring the street art which is really interactive and kids can join in with.
The food is delicious and so reasonably priced – as vegetarians we loved Ee Beng where the children could help themselves to rice and any number of tasty dishes and it’s a great opportunity to try the local Nonya food or even have a go at cooking it yourself. There are great hotels – we stayed just out of the main town, at the beaches of Batu Ferrenghi where we also had waterparks within the hotel which went down very well with the kids after a day’s sightseeing! All of Malaysia is incredibly welcoming towards children and Penang is no exception. It’s a wonderful destination and definitely recommended.
Sharon from Where’s Sharon? has something unique to try in 2016, Sri Lanka! This fascinating island is full of variety and attractions to keep your family entertained and enthralled. From elephant safaris to ancient temples and cities to gorgeous beaches to beautiful highland tea plantations to an interesting culture, there is something for everyone and all ages. The best part is that all of this variety is on a small island meaning distances are never that large and there are many options of how to get around. Kids are also very welcome everywhere.
Mary from The World is a Book raves about Bora Bora and the islands of Tahiti (who wouldn’t?). Here’s what she shared: Bora Bora and the Islands of Tahiti may be quite popular among honeymooners but we also highly recommend it as a wonderful and family-friendly destination to explore. This island paradise with clear, turquoise waters and verdant mountain backdrops is an ideal place for the family to relax.
The islands offer a variety of water sports and activities and the unique French Polynesian culture. Our favorite activity was snorkeling and swimming with sharks and stingrays in warm, crystal clear waters. We did this activity on two islands and the sharks were harmless. We loved the overwater bungalows the islands were famous for especially being able to swim and snorkel right off the balcony and feed the fish from the living room.
Obviously you have plenty of choices here, and there are many of these destinations on our “must visit” list as well. Some of our recommendations for this year would include: Puerto Rico, Cooperstown, and Heidelberg, Germany.