Your toddler requires a hotel room the size of an airfield to burn off steam, your tweenie wants big-budget action and adventure, and your teens, well, they probably just want to be as far away from you as possible.

It's a fine art planning a perfect family trip, balancing all the diverse needs, providing just the right amount of stimulation, working in some decent downtime, and fitting it all into your time frame and budget. The following destinations provide would-be adventurers with a host of options a world away from that five-star hotel and the lacklustre kids club.

 A mother and two children walk down a grassy hill toward a red tent with mountains and a body of water in the background
While these destinations may seem far-flung or challenging, they will inspire the entire family and create lasting memories @ Johner Images / Getty Images

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Sheer cliffs topped by jagged peaks rise dramatically out of the water in Norway's remote Lofoten Islands. Outdoor adventure is a given here and as the islands lie inside the Arctic Circle you'll get incredibly long summer days to explore the traditional villages, take boat trips up narrow fjords, visit bird and seal colonies, discover a Viking longhouse or wander around artists' galleries. You can hike or ride the lonely hills and virtually empty roads, kayak to deserted beaches and uninhabited islets, enjoy the numerous summer festivals, and if you're lucky, even see the Northern Lights.

Horse-drawn caravan holiday, Cumbria, England

Long celebrated in children's fiction, running off to a life in a caravan has to be the ultimate childhood dream. Companies across Britain and Ireland make this possible, but Wanderlusts in Cumbria offers old-world romance and outdoor adventure by the bucket load. It's impossible to measure the value of a trip like this, but the colourful bow-top caravan, placid horses and open fires are guaranteed to induce wide grins and spark imaginations in young and old. Meander down country roads, visit caves and lakeside saunas, hike in the hills, take a bakery or bushcraft course or just enjoy the rhythmic clip-clop of the horses' hooves and the unhurried pace of life.

Three horses with riders of different ages walk in a line toward some hills
An adventure on a working ranch is action-packed and busy, and great bonding © HappyKids / Getty Images

Working ranch holidays, USA

For a taste of the Wild West and an authentic glimpse of the cowboy lifestyle, a trip to a working ranch offers action and adventure for all. You'll get big skies, dramatic scenery and plenty of time in the saddle at a variety of ranches across the USA, where you can learn to ride or improve your skills, take on some rodeo training or trek high into the hills. The C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado welcomes families with age appropriate activities that keep them busy all day long. 

Cappadocia, Turkey

A surreal landscape of honeycombed hills and conical rock formations, Cappadocia will make any child's imagination run wild. ‘Fairy chimneys’ litter the landscape and are carved out into ingenious homes, while below ground whole cities lie hidden in the soft stone. Churches and monasteries hide in the canyons, cave hotels provide a place to rest your head, and spectacular hot air balloon rides give a sense of the vast scale and staggering beauty of the region. And if you really want to make the most of your time it's easy to take a quick flight to the coast to enjoy the beautiful beaches, Roman ruins and atmospheric cruising on a traditional wooden gulet.

Four camels on a sand dune in the Gobi Desert with rolling sand dunes in the background
The otherworldly landscape of the Gobi desert is breathtaking, but the chance to visit a dinosaur graveyard - that is cool © SinghaphanAIIB / Getty Images

Gobi Desert, Mongolia

The vast, harsh landscape of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia probably won't be your first thought when planning a family holiday, but if you enjoy wild open spaces and the whiff of adventure, it provides the perfect setting for an unforgettable trip. The birthplace of Genghis Khan and home to breathtaking landscapes, the Gobi offers the chance to stay in ger camps, see dramatic ice canyons and spectacular dunes, and visit one of the world's largest dinosaur graveyards at the flaming cliffs of Bayanzag. Responsible Travel features two family-friendly itineraries suitable for children that can be tailored to your family's needs.

Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

Forget Lanzarote's cluster of coastal resorts and head north and inland to discover an otherworldly volcanic landscape home to the mesmerising works of visionary architect César Manrique. A fantasy voyage for children and a cultural fix for adults, his ingenious designs include a subterranean amphitheatre set inside an enormous lava tube, a spectacular lookout, and a surreal house built into a series of lava bubbles. Kids will also get a kick out of the eerie landscape of Timanfaya National Park where steam billows out of boreholes and your lunch gets cooked over a red-hot fissure. And if you can manage to sneak away for a bit, there's world-class surfing at Famara and steep but mostly deserted roads beloved by pro cyclists.

Tiger at Kanha National Park.jpg
Exploring the dense bamboo and saal forests of the Madhya Pradesh National Parks is truly an adventure - you may also spot a tiger © Utopia_88 / Getty Images

The national parks of Madhya Pradesh, India

India's hectic streets and crowded markets can pose a daunting challenge for families, but retreat to the national parks of central Madhya Pradesh and you discover the inspiration behind The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Eleven national parks preserve the dense bamboo and saal forests of the area but it is Kanha which is easiest to access. Home to healthy populations of Bengal tigers, langur monkeys, swamp deer and antelope, it provides an exhilarating destination for 4WD jeep tours or guided walks. Once you've had your fill of wildlife, the Taj Mahal, colourful Jaipur and the temples of Kahjuraho are within easy reach.

Herm, the Channel Islands, Great Britain

Remote yet accessible, exotic yet affordable, diminutive Herm was made for old-fashioned adventure. One of the smallest Channel Islands at just 1.5 miles long and half a mile wide, the island slips back into a deep slumber once the last boat of day trippers departs. There are no cars or even bikes here, the school has just eight pupils and kids can enjoy that increasingly rare pleasure of complete freedom. Stay in a pre-pitched tent at the Seagull campsite for instant buddies, explore the beaches, rock pools and coastal paths, and discover mysterious Neolithic tombs. You'll unplug, relax and wonder why you hadn't come sooner.

A life less ordinary

Sometimes the place you stay is so special that it's enough to make the whole trip unforgettable. Imagine your kids' delight when you tell them they're going to sleep in a lighthouse on a craggy cliff, bed down in a medieval castle or kip high in a tree house? Guaranteed to spark imaginations and a whole host of fantasy games, it's well worth looking for accommodation a little less ordinary. If you're looking for a place in the UK try Quirky Accom which lists plenty of options from windmills and railway carriages to aircraft carriers and glamping– right in the middle of a zoo.

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Learning as you go: American family adventures
Strangest places in the US to take your kids
Why a mother-daughter adventure would be great for her... and for you

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This article was first published March 2015 and updated January 2020

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