More than likely, a child’s first travel adventure beyond what is familiar will play out in a storybook. From an early age, books help establish a life-long love of reading and inspire curiosity about places, both real and imagined. They are a gateway to insatiable wanderlust. What child wouldn’t want to stroll through Madeline’s Paris or get a taste of Harry Potter’s world of wizardry?
To help you satisfy the insatiable wanderlust that some of your children’s favorite literary works are sure to inspire, we’ve put together some family-friendly itineraries to help you do things by the book at any age.
Young travelers (2-5)
Wander through Paris, France, just like Madeline
Duration: 3-4 days
Best place to stay with children: St. Germain/6th Arrondissement
The beloved 1939 children’s book Madeline takes readers on a stroll through Paris with a cheeky protagonist and her boarding school classmates. But even if you don’t have Headmistress Miss Clavel as a tour guide, the center of Paris is compact and easy to navigate with children, whether on foot or by public transportation. The combination of iconic attractions, delightful cafés and the many leafy parks with playgrounds and activities make it a perfect kid-friendly destination.
Join Fat Tire Tours for a family-friendly cycling excursion past some of Madeline’s beautifully illustrated locales, including the Eiffel Tower, L’Hotel des Invalides, Place de la Concorde and Tulieries Garden. Baby seats, trailers and tandems and kid sizes are available. Cruise the Seine by Batobus, which docks at several spots along the river, including the Jardin des Plantes, home to the La Ménagerie, where Madeline pooh-poohed the tiger in the zoo.
For a royally good time, ride ponies or the carrousel at the Jardin du Luxembourg, the formal garden beyond the stately Palais du Luxembourg. And finally, don’t miss an excursion to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur atop Montmatre for a panoramic view of Paris, then explore the cobblestone lanes past homes covered with vines. You’ll find plenty of places to stop for a chocolate croissant or ice cream.
Seek out Wabi Sabi in Kyoto, Japan
Duration: 3-4 days
Best place to stay with children: Southern Higashimaya
In Mark Reibstein’s book Wabi Sabi, the titular character is a cat in Kyoto who goes on a quest to discover her name’s meaning, a complex Japanese concept derived from Tao and Zen Buddhism. At its simplest, the philosophy is all about finding natural beauty and authenticity in life’s imperfections, which is why you’ll drink from misshapen ceramic cups at a traditional tea ceremony. Applied to traveling with children, it means embracing that they may not want to spend all their time in all the temples and shrines of Japan’s former imperial capital.
Luckily, there are plenty of experiences that strike a balance between culture and play time in the Higashimaya district, which has the largest concentration of sacred sites, plus historic lanes and alleyways densely packed with tourists playing dress up in traditional clothing.
Bring out your inner samurai at the Samurai Kembu Theater, where the whole family can learn the way of the sword and take in a performance. Alternatively, get outfitted in kimonos for the day at Okamato Kimono, which has seven locations. Not-to-miss spots include the Kiyomizu-dera, a popular temple with hand-on activities for kids, and the crimson-red Torii gates of Fushimi Inari.
If you have a half day to spare, follow in Wabi Sabi’s paw prints to Mount Hiei, where she finally gets an answer to her question from a wise monkey. The journey by train, bus, cable car and funicular offers panoramic views of Kyoto and Lake Biwa, plus there are hiking trails through dense forest filled with wildlife, including monkeys. At the top, you’ll find Enryaku-ji, a temple complex considered the birthplaces of Japanese that’s shrouded in the clouds atop the sacred mountain.
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Early readers (age 5-8)
Explore Bogotá, Colombia like Juana and Lucas
Duration: 3 days
Best place to stay with children: Usaquén
With the help of whimsical illustrations and heartfelt prose, Washington, D.C.-based illustrator and author Juana Medina revisits her childhood in the book Juana & Lucas. The autobiographical chapter book about a little girl, her dog and her day-to-day life growing up in Bogotá wastes no time in extolling the virtues of Colombia’s capital city, especially its distinctive neighborhoods, plentiful parks and year-round springlike weather.
Juana especially likes to ride her bike every Sunday when many of the main thoroughfares close to car traffic for the Ciclovía, a city-wide pedal-powered street party for all ages. By basing the family in Usaquén, not only can you rent bikes from shops along Carrera 7 and 9, and also be close to the Mercado de las Pulgas, the weekly flea market that takes place on the same day at the Parque Usaquén. Nearby, the Tourist Train of La Sabana has weekend departures to the underground Salt Cathedral in the historic town of Zipaquirá.
Seek a Song for a Whale in the San Juan Islands, Washington
Duration: 2 days
Best place to stay with children: Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands
The book Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly has made a big splash among young readers for its heart-warming tale of a deaf girl named Iris who feels deeply connected to a particular whale whose song can’t be heard by his species. After inventing a way to communicate with him, she goes on a journey to seek him out.
Judging by the number of whale-watching tours up and down North American’s West Coast, Iris is not the only one who wants to see the majestic creatures up close. The San Juan Islands in the state of Washington are especially good for families seeking out whale encounters in the wild.
Not only is the archipelago easy to reach from Seattle, but also the surrounding Salish Sea is relatively calm and not subject to the ocean swells found in open water. Base yourself in the pedestrian-friendly village of Friday Harbor—home to The Whale Museum, where you can learn all about the world’s largest mammal. Then take a three-hour boat excursion with Western Prince Whale & Wildlife Tours, the first operator to earn the World Cetacean Alliance’s Responsible Whale-Watching Certification.
While it’s never guaranteed you’ll spot whales, a resident pod of orcas are known to feed on migrating salmon from June to August. Transient species, such as minke and humpback whales, pass through around the same time.
You don’t have to take a boat tour to spot whales, though. Just head to Lime Kiln Point State Park, where you can whale-watch from the shoreline overlooking Haro Strait. Volunteers and marine naturalists are on hand to answer questions about the wildlife.
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Get game for adventure in Tromsø, Norway
Duration: 4-5 days
Best place to stay with children: Tromsø Harbour
If your kids are among the 112 million active players of Minecraft, they may be game for an adventure in a real Arctic biome similar to the one featured in the latest book in Stacy Hinojosa’s Minecraft-inspired Wild Rescuers series about a girl raised by wolves.
Expedition on the Tundra takes her and the wolf pack to the far north. As inhospitable as it sounds, a trip above the Arctic Circle can be a blast, especially for older kids. Head to Tromsø, Norway, an ideal winter playground with a milder climate than other destinations at the same latitude.
While the coastal city has several indoor attractions worth visiting, including Polaria, the world’s northernmost aquarium, the highlight will be the numerous outdoor winter activities ranging from whale-watching to dog-sledding.
Villmarkssenter can arrange dog-sledding trips, including overnights that leave ample time for cuddling with the huskies and getting a good night’s sleep in a traditional tent on a bed laden with reindeer furs. If you’re lucky, the aurora borealis will make an appearance.
Tour the UK like a wizard
Duration: 5-7 days
Best place to stay with children: Central London / Edinburgh Old Town
The biggest-selling book series in history continues to cast a spell on people the world over, so if your kids love Harry Potter, then it’s time to plan a trip to the UK and seek out the source of his magic. To save time, book an open-jaw airline ticket to London, England, and return from Edinburgh, Scotland. After checking into a wizard chamber at London’s Georgian House Hotel, head to Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross railway station, which is a fitting start for your journey. The sign and a trolley magically disappearing through the brick wall can be found in the departures hall.
Load up on Hogwarts gear at the Harry Potter Shop next door before taking the requisite selfie. With that out of the way, it’s time to dive into the world of movie magic during a Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Leave plenty of time to marvel at the spellbinding props and sets, starting with Hogwart’s Great Hall. It’s also one of the few places to try butterbeer.
When you’ve seen all you want to see in London, rent a car to head north to Edinburgh, stopping on the way at Alnwick Castle for flight training in the same spot Harry took his first lesson. Once in Edinburgh, check into The Balmoral, where J.K. Rowling worked on her manuscripts, then meet at Greyfriars Bobby to join the Potter Trail walking tour of the city.
Finally, take time a scenic tour of the Scottish Highlands on the Jacobite Steam Train, aka the real Hogwarts Express, which runs April to October. The 84-mile roundtrip journey passes through familiar landscapes, including Loch Schiel and over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Teen / Young Adults (13-18)
Delve into Yoruba Culture in Nigeria like the Children of Blood and Bone
Duration: 7 days
Best place to stay with children: Lagos’ Ikoyi or Vancouver Island
Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone may be an Afro-futuristic fantasy novel —and soon to be film—but the storyline and its mythical African kingdom of Orïsha weaves in elements rooted in Nigeria’s Yoruba spirituality, culture and language.
Journey to the continent of Africa by way of Lagos, the steamy-hot capital city with an exciting art and nightlife scene. The city has pockets of relative calm in places like the Lekki Conservation Centre, an expansive coastal nature park with a canopy walkway suspended above crocodile-infested wetlands.
After a few days, head north to Oshogbo and Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yoruba culture. On the way, make a stop in Abeokuta, which is best known for Olumo Rock, where you can climb a giant mound of igneous rock that was once a refuge for the Egwa from inter-tribal warfare in the 19th century.
The patron saint is revered as a Yoruba deity and you may encounter vestiges of animal sacrifices. When you reach Oshogbo, the main attraction is the Osun Sacred Grove, believed to be the home of Osun, the Yoruba goddess of fertility. In nearby Ile-Ife, the National Museum has an extensive collection of archaeological artifacts. The town is also home to the traditional king, His Imperial Majesty Ooni Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II, a direct descendant of Oduduwa, the father of the Yoruba.
Find the Fountains of Silence in Madrid, Spain
Duration: 3 days
Best place to stay with children: Chamberí
Ruta Sepetys’ Fountains of Silence takes young-adult readers on a literary pilgrimage to 1950s Spain to shed light on dark secrets that still haunt the country even after Francisco Franco’s dictatorship ended in 1975. The Madrid of today has emerged from the shadow of Franco’s rule to become a vibrant and hip European city with a backdrop of stunning architecture, picturesque plazas and world-class cultural institutions, that will appeal to kids at any age.
Many of the places featured in Sepetys’ historical fiction novel still exist today, including the former Hotel Castellana Hilton—now the Intercontinental Madrid—nestled in the Chamberí neighborhood, where you can live like a local.
Follow in the characters’ footsteps to the must-see Museo del Prado to see one of the most renowned art collections in the world, but also find time to visit the Sorolla Museum, an oasis of calm in the bustling city. Spend a Sunday in the iconic Parque del Buen Retiro, where you can take a picnic, relax in the gardens and rent a rowboat on its manmade lake. History buffs can take a guided bike tour that hits some of the major historic sites and follows Spain’s journey from dictatorship to democracy.