Travel with your kids can broaden their understanding of other people and societies. Expand the whole family’s cultural horizons on these inspiring trips.
Oman is an excellent and gentle introduction to the Middle East. Elegant Muscat (where buildings have to adhere to strict rules of traditional design) can give your kids an insight into a centuries-old way of life: join a dhow cruise or just sit and watch fishermen at work. Beyond the capital, there are mudbrick villages to explore, forts and castles to battle in, and souqs where your kids can hone those haggling skills before rounding off the trip with some relaxing time at the beach. However, the thing your family will most remember is the embracing welcome of the Omanis you meet.
The best time to travel to Oman is between October and April; June to August tends to be scorching hot.
Scandinavian culture has been on trend for travellers for many years, but funky design and cutting-edge gastronomy are not attractions you necessarily associate with children. However, thanks to family-friendly resorts and the fact that kids under eight go free, Norway is increasingly popular for families introducing their children to that popular Scandinavian activity: skiing. Throw in Viking museums, theme parks with trolls and fairy palaces, elk safaris and dog-sledding (all delivered with a strong dose of properly child-focused service), and a trip to Norway will convert your kids to all things Scandi.
Don’t forget that distances between towns in Norway are huge – plan carefully to avoid too many long travelling days.
If you want to introduce your children to life in southern Africa, Namibia is the perfect starting point. There are many interesting and affordable accommodation options for families, roads are well maintained and the healthcare is good. While Namibia makes the tourist headlines for wildlife watching in Etosha National Park, the famous sand dunes at Sossusvlei and adrenaline sports in Swakopmund (all of which can be easily adapted for kids), it’s also an excellent place to learn about modern tribal culture – plan ahead to join a thoughtfully organised guided visit to a Himba settlement.
Safari companies generally only take children over eight; it’s worth looking at self-drive options if you are travelling with younger children.
From exploring Aztec ruins to running around the square of an old colonial town, learning about Frida Kahlo’s art to eating corn-on-the-cob from a street vendor, Mexico is an exuberant and friendly assault on all the senses – and it’s one your kids will never forget. Take the tempo up in fun-loving Mexico City, relax with locals on the beach in Tulum, or ride a train through the Copper Canyon (which is also home to an adventure park with seven zip-lines!). And the best bit? Mexicans adore children.
If you can time your visit for the start of November, the Day of the Dead festival gives a unique and fascinating insight into Mexican culture.
Italians love children. Children love Italy. There’s pizza, pasta and the world’s best ice cream to start with, plus a culture that welcomes kids everywhere. But how do you escape the crowds and really get to know both modern and historic Italy? Step in Emilia-Romagna: there’s Parma ham and parmesan for your little foodies, the mosaics of Ravenna for budding artists, and photogenic Bologna, which has a past to fascinate history buffs. And that’s not to leave out beach culture in Rimini, more incredible art in Ferrara and the Unesco World Heritage site of Modena’s Cathedral. Phew!
With a mock-up of a Roman canal, 3D films and interactive displays, the Museo della Storia di Bologna brings city history to life.
The adventurous journey required to reach Orkney will kick-start your family’s immersion into the islands’ fascinating cultural heritage. Once off the ferry you have 5000 years of history to explore, from the ruins of a Neolithic village at Skara Brae and the Viking legacy at Kirkwall, to the role played by Orkney in World War II, which is well documented at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre. When everyone’s had enough of the history lessons there are beaches to tear around, super-sweet Scottish tablet to be devoured and even a good chance of a dance to some traditional folk music.
Want to keep the kids busy on the beach? Get them to find cowrie shells or 'groatie buckies'.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Famously laid-back (and possibly better known for more adult pursuits), Amsterdam is a fun place to bring your family. Of course, you can do serious science at the hands-on NEMO Museum, serious art (the Rijksmuseum has excellent family tours) and even more serious history: the Anne Frank House needs no introduction and, at the Verzetsmuseum Junior, you can learn the stories of four Dutch children under occupation. But you can also take a pedalo on the canals, eat stacks of delicious Dutch pancakes, ride a famous Dutch bike and burn off loads of energy in the Vondelpark.
Both the Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt House Museum have child-friendly activities.
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Could there be a better way to introduce your family to country-music culture than a weekend in Nashville? Sure, alcohol-infused evenings in a honky-tonk might not be the most child-friendly pastime, but there are many other ways to explore the city’s rich artistic heritage. The Country Music Hall of Fame has interactive exhibits, listening booths and the chance to make your own song as a family; the Johnny Cash Museum has films to keep little ones engaged; and lastly, kids love seeing the city with the Music City Trolley Hop-On Hop-Off.
Explore another side of Nashville at the Belle Meade Plantation, a mansion with a fascinating history and grounds geared for rambling in.
For a taste of the uber-relaxed, outdoorsy, barbecue-loving culture that is quintessentially Australian, a trip to Brisbane hits the right notes for those with kids. Splash around on man-made Streets Beach (perfect for small swimmers) or let off steam in the tree-house playground at New Farm Park. Relax with a BBQ in the riverside South Bank Parklands before checking out koalas at nearby Lone Pine Sanctuary. For a taste of ancient Australian culture, there’s Aboriginal art in the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), which runs sessions for children.
Get your kids ready for their artistic adventure in Brisbane on QAGOMA’s kids website.
A visit to Kyoto is a great first step for Western kids to understand Japanese culture, as there are plenty of distractions if the cultural overload is too much. Take Fushimi Inari-Taisha with its famous torii gates: it’s a fascinating example of a traditional shrine but there’s space to burn off energy. Or the Shōren-in temple, which has carp to count and a bamboo forest to explore in its landscaped gardens. And hit the 400-year-old Nishiki Market: you can buy all sorts of Japanese delicacies before tipping out into a shopping mall for a plate of something more familiar.
Picnic in the Kyoto Botanical Garden. In March or April, the cherry blossom can last longer here.