1. Self-drive safari, Namibia
Etosha National Park, with its otherworldly landscapes and iconic wildlife species in their natural habitat (not to mention 340 bird species including the greater flamingo), is accessible in an ordinary sedan on a family self-drive safari from Windhoek. A few nights in this lauded wildlife sanctuary will awaken future Attenboroughs and seeing these almost-mythical creatures of many a bedtime story in the flesh (elephants, zebras, rhinos, giraffes, lions, hyenas and leopards) will leave you with indelible memories. With accommodation from camping to luxury lodges suiting any budget and family’s needs, you really can do an African wildlife-spotting safari this year.
The best time to visit is May to October, when wildlife congregate around diminishing waterholes.
2. British Museum treasure hunt, London, UK
For kids, traipsing around a museum doesn’t cut it in the new world of electronic media and instant access to the world’s online resources. But there are still opportunities to wow youngsters at a museum, literally stuffed full of rarities from across the globe. The British Museum is not alone in doing a sterling job of making history accessible for kids, creating activities to guide younger ones through the best of their collections. Even better: join one of their free hands-on activities and share the fun of learning by making your own comic-book version of ancient Mayan history or Viking helmets for the whole family.
Download floor plans and pre-plan your visit at britishmuseum.org; entry is free.
3. Sailing the Whitsundays, Australia
Crystal clear waters and white beaches fringe the forested domes of these ‘drowned mountains’ where you can sail in calm seas protected from the ocean by the Great Barrier Reef. Camp in secluded bays and swim and snorkel among colourful marine life while you island-hop through the archipelago. For the novice a crewed charter may be best, but almost anyone can learn to skipper a sailing boat with a little training provided by the bareboat charter companies. Only seven islands have resorts here, the rest are uninhabited and waiting for you to explore.
Budget A$1000 a day for a party of six. Some crewed packages offer diving too. See tourismwhitsundays.com.au for more.
4. Ancient rock art, Dordogne, France
Ignite archaeological imaginations by learning about ancient rock art in France. Petroglyphs are pretty cool whatever your age, from youngsters who are just grasping how old the world may be, to your street-art-loving teen. The most famous here are the paintings of the Grotte de Lascaux, where Cro-Magnon artists depict a whole menagerie including mammoths, horses, ibex, aurochs and bulls. The gallery at Rouffignac is also one of the world’s oldest, and most beautiful. There is now speculation that these multicoloured frescoes signed off with haunting handprints may have been painted by the women of the clan between 15,000 BC and 10,000 BC.
Find out more about touring the picture-perfect villages and food culture of the region at northofthedordogne.com.
5. Horse riding expedition, Wyoming, USA
A slower and more engaged way to experience mountain wilderness, clopping along mountain trails by horseback is a must for anyone craving a new frontier in family activities. See mountains blooming with wildflowers, rivers flowing with trout, and moose, elk or deer grazing in meadows. There are plenty of options depending on your comfort level, from riding out to a dude ranch camp where fishing and hiking are also on the agenda, to taking a guided stock trip into the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. The valley may be packed with tourists in summer, but get off the beaten track and you’ll leave 95% of them behind you.
Find details of tours at wyomingtourism.org/thingstodo/listings/Horseback-Riding-Guides/1405945. Roads can be closed in winter so check ahead.
6. Elephant sanctuary, Sukhothai, Thailand
Thailand has so much to offer travellers, but for families wanting something especially memorable, spending time volunteering at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary will inspire and educate. The complexity of human and animal competition for land and resources, and how we relate to the animal kingdom at an up-close-and-personal level, are among the learnings your children will take home from here. Accommodation is in basic cabins with cold-water showers, so this is not for the soft touch. But paying to stay also helps fund their mission to ‘protect, expand and educate’ with the local community in the Sukhothai hills.
Book ahead as the project is popular. Information on how to get there and what to bring can be found at blesele.org.
7. Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando, USA
You’ve read the entire Harry Potter series together – now you can play-act your way around the Universal version of the make-believe land of Hogwarts. Half the time here you’ll be reminiscing about your first terrifying rollercoaster ride as a kid, the rest will see you planning your ride on a map, allowing only a brief re-fuelling pit-stop for lunch. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter ticks every family-holiday box, the first being: magical.
Park tickets cost around US$400 for a family of four. The experience is also open at Japan’s Universal Studios.
8. Snorkelling with stingrays, Cayman Islands
The extensive marine-park system of the three Cayman islands provide numerous launch spots to snorkel together among neon fish and rainbow coral gardens. And off Grand Cayman congregate huge, fearless stingrays, sliding up to suck morsels of squid directly from the hands of humans at Stingray City. Meet your new best friend, the prehistoric ray. Some may question the ethics of feeding these fish directly, but no one doubts the experience is truly exhilarating. Surprisingly, its popularity only enhances this experience: with more punters and more rays it’s a feeding frenzy at dinnertime in the shallows.
Note: friendly stingrays are still deadly marine animals, this isn’t a risk-free activity. See caymanislands.co.uk/activities/attractions/stingraycity.aspx.
9. Canopy zip line, Sacsara Valley, Peru
This one’s for adventurous adults who now have children. Strap yourself on to a flying fox and whizz between mountains for a shared experience in terror and triumph that your kids won’t ever forget. Cola de Mono Canopy zip line stretches high above the spectacular scenery of the Sacsara Valley. Apparently in six years of operation there hasn’t been an accident and the equipment is absolutely strong enough to carry you with your child (who must be over six) in tandem across a gorge. The outfit also runs kayaking and rafting trips on the Santa Teresa river for families with older children.
A preparatory course takes about two hours, and camping accommodation is provided back at base (canopyperu.com).
10. Cross-country skiing, Norway
Blanketed in snow, the moorlands and mountains of Norway turn into a wintery wonderland that you can criss-cross with lightweight skis on specially prepared tracks. The Peer Gynt Trail, named after the folkloric Norwegian, is best for families, with ski lodges at regular intervals. Cross-country skiing is free, you just need to organise ski-hire and accommodation. However, first-timers may prefer to tackle this on a tour which includes instruction, a guide and luggage transfers. The Norwegians have a very clear mountain code to follow ensuring no one puts themselves in danger.