The best family breaks in the world: an essential holiday guide
The annual getaway with the kids is full of challenges, but don’t let the choice of destination be one of them: here's our handy guide to the best family holidays
- By Hannah Summers -
You can’t please everyone on a family holiday… or maybe you can. These 12 trips will cater to every type of traveller – big and small – while enabling you to see some epic parts of the world, too. Pile on in!
Get the family together in Cornwall
There are rumours that children can be tricky on planes (I know, you heard it here first). If you’ve been there, done that and never want to do it again, then it’s staycation time for you, pal. And where better than west Cornwall – specifically White Shores, a gleaming, light-filled beachside-retreat-with-views that sleeps up to 11 people, including nan, grandad, the lot.
There are white sands and the village of Praa Sands to enjoy, and the Blue Chip Holidays concierge team can help you make the most of the area without the awful faff of planning. That’s whether it’s a private group surfing lesson (leave nan on the beach for that one), a trip to Cornwall’s National Seal Sanctuary, horse riding lessons, traffic-free cycling jaunts along woodland trails or a trip to the Minack Theatre, an open-air clifftop venue with performances of Goodnight Mr Tom, Treasure Island and more this year.
How: Blue Chip Holidays offers three nights at White Shores from £1,331 – the property sleeps 11 people on a self-catering basis. bluechipholidays.co.uk
Learn to dive in Malta
Getting kids to try new things is all about throwing them in at the deep end, right? Well it certainly worked for us – or that’s what we like to think. So throw them, literally, into the deep end with a diving holiday in Malta – the island, off the coast of Italy, being the only European country where you can do a PADI course at 13 (it’s 16 in most other destinations).
There are natural harbours, bays, sheltered creeks, cliffs and wrecks to make the most of, while marine life includes grouper, barracuda and more. PADI courses can be tailored to suit all abilities, and when you’re not beneath that turquoise surface, there are plenty more activities including abseiling, rock climbing and sailing classes. And if all that sounds a bit boring, you’re in the heartland of uncrowded Medieval cities and beautiful, sun-soaked beaches.
How: Sportif Dive offers seven nights at the Santana Hotel from £449pp including return flights. sportifdive.co.uk
Get chilled-out American beach vibes in Santa Monica
The big US trips don’t have to be ditched if you have a toddler in tow, they just need to be tweaked a little. The big Cali roadtrip might be pushing it, so for a small city that’s a boho little sister of LA, try Santa Monica in Southern California.
Here it’s all about the laid-back vibes, and just enjoying the beach, so head to Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier for sweet-coloured roller coasters, a giant Ferris wheel and sea views from every ride.
For something more active, the 22-mile-long South Bay Bicycle Trail is the longest oceanfront beach path of its kind, and a great way to check out the Pacific coastline. Keep the hunger cranks at bay with simple patty and bun combos at Pier Burger – Santa Monica’s answer to Shake Shack. Sure, it’s not high on nutritional value, but this is a holiday after all. For something slightly more local, try Tacos Punta Cabras for, yeah, you know.
Drive around Iceland in the winter
Learning is a bit of a drag when you’re 12 years old. That’s why filling children’s brains with useful info – while disguising it as a holiday – is a great idea. Of course, Discover the World’s new four-day self-drive ice caves, glaciers and waterfalls trip isn’t one big lesson, but it does a good job of bringing to life those dull physical geography classes (because looking at a real-life waterfall is a lot better than seeing it in a text book).
You’ll spend three of the nights at Hotel Husafell, a new hotel with naturally heated geothermal hot tubs and access to trails that lead to forests, lava formations, rivers and glaciers. The new walkway experience at the Víðgelmir Lava Caves is just a 15-minute drive away, too, which is handy.
The final night is spent at the Frost & Fire hotel in Hvergerdi, a small town built around a hot spring field, with access to the iconic Golden Circle. As if that’s not enough, Discover the World will kit you out with an iPad packed with details on waterfalls and a Mission: Explore gaming zone for those boring inbetweeny bits of the drive.
How: Discover the World offers a four-night trip (from October-April) from £610pp based on a family of four with two children under 11. discover-the-world.co.uk
Go surfing in west Portugal
Children get real kicks out of being better than their parents at activities, it’s true. And that’s why all learning to surf together is a great choice for a bonding family holiday tinged with humilation, and potentially the occasional bruise.
Abandon the big resorts that line Portugal’s south coast, and instead head to Peniche, 90 minutes north of Lisbon. Here you’ll find Surfers Lodge Peniche, a cool, vibrantly designed hotel with its own surf school. Included in your stay are daily 90 minute surf lessons with Goncalo Matos (and his bleached ponytail), accommodation in the family room (fight for the top bunk), plus breakfast and dinner.
When surf lessons are over, there’s plenty to do nearby – including a trip to the archipelago of Berlengas Island, for snorkelling, swimming and dolphin spotting, or for the typical beach and sandcastle session, there’s Praia da Gamboa – a sheltered bay with calm waters. For a touch of medieval history, check out the maze of streets of Obidos and its impressive castle.
Sleep in the mountains in Morocco
For a back-to-basics holiday infused with delicious food and epic landscapes, try exploring the mountains of Morocco. Inntravel’s Tales from Morocco adventure journeys into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, spending four nights in a family-friendly hotel on the outskirts of the village of Ouirgan.
During your stay you’ll be accompanied by an English-speaking guide, riding mules to remote mountain villages, and getting the chance to meet Berber families who’ll teach you how to make bread in a clay wood-fired oven, whipping up a tagine for lunch, weaving a brightly patterned rug – or the best bit, getting to meet the animals on their farms.
On other days you’ll be walking with – and riding on – mules to explore the Tassa Ouirgane National Park, and getting the chance to see what a school day is like high up in the Atlas Mountains. Combined with three nights spent in Marrakech, it’s a colourful, eye-opening trip that extends way beyond the traditional sun-and-sand getaway.
How: Inntravel offers a Tales from Morocco trip from £690 per adult and £585 per child, including seven nights’ B&B accommodation, guides and some meals. inntravel.co.uk
Try new activities in Croatia
Doing fun stuff on holiday adds up, and that’s why booking with an active holiday company, such as Neilson, can be the most cost-effective idea. There are beach clubs littered across Europe – each stocked with a mind-boggling choice of things to do – but the newest is the 164-room Alana Beachclub in Paklenica, Croatia.
It goes far beyond snorkelling for free, too – you’ll be making the most of the landscape (mountains, turquoise water, pine forests) while waterskiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, dinghy sailing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and trying out the newest activity on offer – rock climbing.
And don’t worry about the kids while you’re gallivanting around – there are nine different children’s clubs for children aged between two months and seven years, meaning your 13-year-old eye roller won’t be hanging out with an eight-year-old on a treasure hunt. For the really young ‘uns, between four and 23 months, there’s a ratio of one nanny to two babies, meaning you really can relax. Or at least try to…
How: Neilson has prices from £721 for a family of four (two adults, two children) including flights, transfers, accommodation, some meals and all activities. neilson.co.uk
See beaches and wildlife in Sri Lanka
Rustic beaches, mystical ruins, exotic wildlife – a Cox and Kings tour of Sri Lanka will take in all this and more, and keep the entire family happy – in some way, at least. Starting in the capital of Colombo, the 12-night trip travels north to Marawila, staying in a house surrounded by fields of coconuts, mangoes and pineapples. Then the roof is ditched for airy tents (with camp beds) in the Wilpattu National Park – home to sloths, leopards and other wildlife you’re not likely to catch in many other parts of the country, or world.
Travel on through the cultural triangle before hitting the beaches of Trincomalee, which is not only a great sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling hot spot, but has recently been recognised by many oceanographers as the world’s best site for blue whale spotting.
Sri Lanka is a great long-haul option for all times of year – in our winter, head to the west coast for the best beach weather, while the south is home to Yala National Park – it’s elephant heaven. If a tour is too much of an itinerary for you, it’s easy enough to wing it here. Hiring a driver is a common and economical way for families to travel (and they’ll know some great local guesthouses, too).
How: Cox and Kings offers 12-night tours from £2,935pp including flights. coxandkings.co.uk
Watch your children play with your footballing heroes in Sardinia
Fancy seeing your children playing football with the footballing heroes of your youth? Course you do. And at the Chia Laguna resort in Sardinia you can do just that. Throughout the summer and over May half term, the chilled-out resort will be holding football academies where your kids can learn essential ball skills, the rules of the game, and just have a lot of fun – under the guidance of some of the Premier League’s biggest names.
So treat yourself – and book your kids in to learn the skills of the beautiful game with Andy Cole, Darren Anderton and more. Coaching sessions run for 90 minutes twice a day from Monday to Friday, and conclude with a celebratory presentation. Too cool to ask Andy Cole for a selfie? Get your kids to do the hard work instead and pretend you’re a reluctant participant.
As for the setting – well, picture long sweeps of lovely beach with clear water, a range of swimming pools and restaurants, as well cool, calm interiors. You’ll win on away goals…
How: Citalia offers a seven-night holiday to Sardinia, staying at the four-star-plus Chia Laguna Resort on a half-board basis from £2,956 per family of four. citalia.com; Chia Laguna offers football coaching from £472 per child per week. en.chialagunaresort.com
Hit the beaches (and the rum bars) in Barbados
Think Barbados is a load of gorgeous beaches and lively rum shacks? You betcha it is. But the relatively short flight time (remember: there’s sunshine at the other end) makes for a safe, fun and sun-soaked family holiday that combines Caribbean cuisine, culture and fun activities.
Try an island safari tour and you’ll visit the highest cliff on the island where Jim Hackleton, devastated by unrequited love, rode his horse off the edge. OK, maybe that’s not actually a story for the kids – but they will absolutely love exploring the gullies, forests and nature of the island, while rattling around in a Land Rover 4X4.
All this is if you can drag yourself from your resort, which is a pretty big ask considering those watersports, cocktails and kids’ clubs at hand. Try the Tamarind for free watersports, cool kids’ club activities and one of the best beaches on the entire island.
How: Classic Collection Holidays offers seven nights at the Tamarind by Elegant Hotels from £4961 for a family of four. classic-collection.co.uk
Combine a city break with rollercoasters in Sweden
Carting kids around a big bustling city is a bit of a nightmare – we get it. But you can satisfy that city break craving, with the family in tow, in a manageable and small city like Gothenburg in Sweden.
Prep your body with caffeine and bouncy cinnamon buns at da Matteo (go for the flagship one on the corner of Magasinsgatan Square, there’s more space) before taking a tour along the river in a super-low boat that’ll glide its way beneath the city’s bridges while you learn interesting facts at the same time.
Then it’s onto the good stuff: rollercoasters. The Liseberg Amusement Park – which is located close to the city centre and not an annoying drive-plus-park-and-ride away – has been luring thrill-seeking crowds since the 1920s.
Visit today and you’ll have your pick of rides, from Loke (a new ride which will swing you 42m up in the air), Balder (one of the biggest wooden rollercoasters in the world), and the Liseberg wheel because, well, ya know – it’s just got to be done.
Take a road trip through the Canadian Rockies
We loved the idea of camping as kids. But now? Shudder. Please both parties by renting an RV (one of those giant campervan mobiles) and see the spectacular sights of the Canadian Rockies on one big road trip.
It’s best as a summer adventure, (although winter’s spot-on for skiing), when you’ll cruise along wide, empty roads taking in snow-capped mountains, and park up in Alberta province’s cool towns. Try Canmore for beers and caving (caving first, mind), Banff for fun climbing sessions and the tiny town of Lake Louise for canoe jaunts on an electric-blue lake.
It’s Canada’s 150th anniversary this year, so entry to the parks is free for visitors, leaving you with more cash to spend on caesars (bloody marys topped with various snacks) and, erm, petrol – travelling this way means you’ll keep on moving, seeing plenty more as you go. And if you like the sound of camping in the wilderness but don’t fancy that whole tent-pitching ‘I need a wee in the middle of the night’ part, then this is certainly the trip for you, and your family.