The warmth of locals and children’s sheer joy in things make travel with kids a blast, especially if you choose child-friendly destinations such as these.
Don’t overlook Denmark – compact and not always cheap, but built for kids. Copenhagen is home to Tivoli, a fairy tale of a central amusement park that dates to 1843. There’s lots of free music, nightly fireworks and surprisingly good food. Legoland is outside Billund in central Jutland, with a 20-million-piece Miniland of world icons (Statue of Liberty, Star Wars scenes!) made of the plastic bits (named after leg godt, Danish for ‘play well’). The rides are mostly geared to preteens.
Stay at four-star Hotel Legoland so you can be last on the rides at night and first in line in the morning.
Few cultures on earth will fawn over your children like the family-friendly Thai. Locals go gaga over little ones, and going with kids means ice-breakers from everyone from street food vendors to túk-túk drivers. Thailand’s a great choice for an exotic trip, with temples, great food, monkeys and superb beaches. Having stopped in Bangkok with its glittering temples and fun boat trips, head to Ko Chang, an island with much family potential, including nice beaches with calm waters, easy kayak trips to islands, elephant camps in the mountainous interior, and chipping in to help abandoned animals at Koh Chang Animal Project.
Aladdin Dive Cruise (www.aladdindivecruise.de), on Ko Chang, runs PADI courses and offers a range of live-aboard dive safaris.
Whether you’re looking for a beach to sit on, or much more (particularly as kids get past six or seven), Belize is an affordable Caribbean trip that is a boon for families. It’s compact, cheap and nearly everyone speaks English. There’s super wildlife to see – growler monkeys and crocodiles by land, sea turtles and (harmless) nurse sharks by mask and snorkel – plus kids can learn the drums on the beach. In the interior there’s still more fun in the water, with underground rivers to tube, jungle lodges on swimming holes and Mayan ruins reached by boat.
The chaos, colour and brilliance of India makes it a thrilling choice for family travel. Elephants, palaces, castles, trains, beaches, jungles and wildlife parks are all ingredients to help keep everyone in the family happy. The intensity of travel in India could put you off taking a trip here en famille, but Kerala is a family-friendly version: more laid-back than other regions, greener, slower paced: even the food is less spicy and sweetened with coconut milk. There are also lots of national parks for elephant spotting, palm-fringed beaches and boat trips along the lush canals of the backwaters.
Wayanad’s Tranquil Resort is a rambling plantation house with marked trails, tree houses and a pool.
There’s something about NYC that makes you feel as though real life has morphed into cinematography. It’s the big yellow taxis, the attitude and the iconic buildings, all recognisable from a thousand shows and hundreds of songs. This is a surprisingly stimulating place to go for kids of all ages, with its museums and art galleries, Central Park and the High Line park, hot dogs and NY pizza. This year, One World Trade Centre (onewtc.com), on the site of Ground Zero, opens for business: a soaring skyscraper that visitors can climb to survey this indomitable city. Bronx Zoo has a butterfly garden with 1000 butterflies and moths, and the Gorilla Forest’s 6.5-acre habitat.
Volcanoes, snorkelling, sea turtles, white sands, crystal seas and submarines: the only difficulty likely when holidaying on Hawaii is choosing which island to visit and where to go first. There’s the steam from lava flowing into the ocean on Big Island, plus the chance to walk through the Thurston Lava Tube at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The marine reserve of Kahalu’u Beach Park provides calm waters for snorkelling, swimming and wading. On Maui, you can dip under water at the Maui Ocean Center, while on Oahu there are the traditional villages of the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Get snorkel equipment on Big Island at Kona Boys (www.konaboys.com); you may spot dolphins before diving under for more sea life.
Just because you have kids, it doesn’t mean you have to kiss your city-break days goodbye. Prague is a particularly good choice for a weekend away. It’s compact enough to get around easily, either walking or by tram, which is always a kid-pleasing way to travel. The architecture feels like a fairy tale, there’s a castle perched on a hill, and the atmosphere of the Old Town Square and Charles Bridge are electrifying. Take the funicular up Petrin Hill to find an observation tower and fantastic vintage hall of mirrors. Plus, if anyone’s flagging and you need a handy bribe, wooden toys are on sale everywhere.
A fabulous apartment is No 46 (www.no46prague.com), with chandeliers and a glamorous feel, yet plenty of space for a family.
Italians love family, so in the Beautiful Country there’s no need to ghettoise yourself at kid-oriented beach clubs. You’ll get an effusive welcome all over the place and can feel relaxed in all but the most exclusive restaurants. People are used to children eating out and kids stay up late. There are breathtaking sights such as the imagination-firing ancient stadium, the Colosseum, or frozen-in-time Pompeii, under the shadow of Vesuvius. Other delights include pizza, the world’s best ice cream, beaches, boat trips, lakes, caves, mountains, and beautiful villas set in pea-green countryside where children can run, shout and play to their hearts’ content.
Italians take their holidays in the baking months of July and August, when resorts are crowded but fun. Summer is also peak festival season.
Smoking geysers, bubbling mud pots, Europe’s biggest waterfalls, the ice cap Vatnajökull (the biggest glacier outside the poles), live volcanoes, thermal pools and, in winter, the magical northern lights: Iceland is a spine-tingling destination at any age. You’re bound to find something to thrill the whole family: take your pick from horse riding, elf hunting, whitewater rafting, glacier walks, caving, sea kayaking and whale watching. And, at the risk of sounding vulture-like, post-economic meltdown, Iceland’s frankly more affordable as a family destination. Excellent exchange rates mean that this magical country is cheaper for foreign visitors than it has been in decades.
Flights to Iceland from across Europe are affordable with Wow (wowiceland.co.uk).
Lapland in winter is like something sprung from a story book. Not only is this where Father Christmas actually, truly, honestly lives, but you can take sleighs pulled by dogs, ski, cheer on reindeer races on frozen lakes, go ice-fishing or snowmobile through forests. The long, polar nights from October to March offer the chance to view the stunning aurora borealis (northern lights), while in summer, you can explore the glorious national parks in endless daylight (the midnight sun brings continuous daylight from June to August) and raft down whitewater rivers.
Lomarengas (www.lomarengas.fi) has a good selection of self-catering wilderness cottages – many with their own boat to fish for your supper.