6 destinations for a family holiday with a difference

Where to escape the ordinary with children.

March 3, 2020

by Cora Harrison

by 34

Family holidays are when you make memories and capture the golden moments of childhood.  But they can also be stressful. Whether you have an energetic toddler or a lethargic teenager, keeping everyone happy can be a challenge. And how do you make sure you all have fun while also ensuring you get a much-needed rest?

With some imagination and planning, you can escape the everyday and reconnect. Think about vacations that involve embracing new cultures, get the adrenalin pumping or include sightings of incredible wildlife. Here are some suggestions to get you started. 


Thailand has it all: magnificent religious relics, bustling cities, gorgeous beaches, and bucket-list-worthy wildlife.

You might be tempted to give Bangkok a miss, with its reputation for terrible traffic and sleaze. In fact, it can be an intoxicating introduction to the country. Whiz around the centre in a tuk tuk, making sure to sample some weird and wonderful street food as you go.  Visit Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is just as dazzling as it sounds.

High on your list should be elephants – a hit with kids no matter their age. The Telegraph recommends Anantara Golden Triangle retreat which is home to 20 rescue elephants and their mahouts, writing, ‘The river views are a big selling point, as is the huge pool, set amid tropical gardens.’

Wat Phra Kaew temple in Thailand

For a relaxed alternative to the city, head north to the chilled-out cultural hub of Chiang Mai. Explore the old town by bike, visit the evening markets, and spend a day at the zoo. Or venture into the surrounding countryside where you can go rafting or zip-lining.

For spectacular natural scenery, it doesn’t get better than the Ao Phang Nga National Park with its towering limestone islands, including ‘James Bond Island’, which featured in The Man With The Golden Gun. Or travel south for some beach time: Phuket and Krabi are both popular choices. Consider a cooking class, which can be fun and educational. 

We recommend staying at The Slate. As Frommer’s says, ‘The facilities are excellent, especially for families – with rooms ranging from pavilions and villas to exquisitely furnished suites.’


Before the civil war, Mozambique was one of Africa’s most popular destinations. Now it’s starting to edge its way back onto the tourist map.  There is lots to tempt holidaymakers, including a pristine coastline, pretty tropical islands, and documentary-worthy wildlife. Mozambique isn’t full of tourists – which is part of the appeal.

Explore the long stretch of Indian Ocean coastline with its dunes, beaches, and crystal-clear waters, home to schools of amazing fish and well-preserved coral. Visit the Quirimbas and Bazaruto Archipelagos, two of the world’s top diving destinations. In the latter, you might be lucky enough to spot dugong, dolphins, sharks, and stingrays. Or head to Lake Malawi, which is home to more species of fish than any other lake on Earth. The lake is also great for water sports, including scuba diving, paddle-boarding , kayaking and sailing. 

Mozambique has plenty of wildlife

There is also the Maputo Special Reserve, where you can see elephants, kudu, warthogs, zebras, and hippopotamuses. Gorongosa National Park is where you might spot a lion. Hop on board a traditional dhow boat and camp out on deserted islands like pirates. Or help with turtle conservation projects on Vamizi Island. 

TripExpert recommends staying at Radisson Blu Hotel & Residence, Maputo 81 which, Lonely Planet writes, ‘offers sleek, modern, well-appointed rooms, a restaurant and a full range of amenities.’


A hot climate can be difficult to enjoy when you have kids in tow. If you’d rather somewhere a little cooler, try Iceland.  The small North Atlantic island has made a name for itself in recent years. With striking scenery, friendly people, affordable flights from many major cities, and, of course, the Northern Lights, Iceland ticks lots of boxes. And, you’ll have no concerns for your family’s safety – the country has topped the Global Peace Index for the last ten years. 

Kids can have an adventure in Iceland

Iceland combines easy-going vibes with a spirit of adventure. Enjoy volcano tours, glacier hikes, and whale watching, or hire a car in order to take in the best sights. The famous Golden Circle route is especially thrilling with its spouting geysers and thundering waterfalls.  Discover the country’s diverse wildlife including the Icelandic horse, whose short and stocky stature makes it perfect for kids to ride. Explore lava caves, swim in geothermal pools, go dog sledding or join a wild reindeer safari. 

TripExpert recommends staying at Hotel Borg by Keahotels 91, which Jetsetter describes as, ‘A slice of 1930s Art Deco glamour and old-school elegance in downtown Reykjavik.’


It’s no secret that Sicily is a charming holiday destination. But have you considered it for a family vacation?  The Guardian recommends the Egadi island of Favignana, off the coast of north-west Sicily which has clear waters, picturesque coves and fresh local cuisine. And, if the kids are bored, you can easily hop on a boat and visit another island.

The Telegraph suggests visiting Sicily in October when you can escape the crowds, high-season prices, and searing heat.  Stay in an agriturismo  (farmstay) where you can experience rural Sicily and farm-to-table cuisine that is deserving of the name. 

Sicily can be a great place to holiday out of season

Explore the hill towns of Modica and Ragusa with their winding streets. Check out the coastal reserves of Vendicari or Lo Zingaro. Travel back to ancient times at the Greek temple of Agrigento or the Norman basilica of Monreale. Finally, there’s the volcano, Mount Etna  which will undoubtedly wow the kids.

TripExpert recommends staying at Grand Hotel Villa Igiea in Palermo, which Frommer’s says is, ‘still arguably the best place to stay in town.’


Tokyo probably isn’t the first place that springs to mind when planning a family holiday. It is a mega-city, after all, and the thought of fighting through crowds of people with the little ones in tow might immediately put you off.  But in fact Tokyo is a thrilling place to take the family with its mix of ancient customs and high-tech innovation.

Visit Shibuya Crossing to see one of the most iconic images of the city. Dont miss Harajuku and Takeshita Dori for unique Japanese pop culture. Also on your list should be the Meiji Shrine, one of Japan’s most important religious sights, although the kids might be more impressed by the cat, hedgehog, and owl cafés.

Tokyo is colourful and fun

For some tradition and tranquility, head to the Hamarikyu Gardens, a beautiful park with a tea house in the centre. Or step back in time at Asakusa, one of the oldest areas in the city. Make sure to visit the Sensoji temple.  Explore Hanayashiki, Japan’s oldest amusement park, or relax in Ueno Park, which has beautiful cherry blossom at certain times of year as well as a zoo. Museums to visit include the Samurai and Ninja Trick Museum. Also worth seeing is Tokyo Skytree, Japan’s tallest building, which has fantastic views of the city. And, finally, what child wouldn’t enjoy a robot restaurant

TripExpert recommends staying at Park Hyatt Tokyo 95 Departures writesCelebrated in the movie Lost in Translation, the hotel is probably Tokyo’s most beloved—in Americans’ imaginations, at least.’

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is famous for being one of the happiest countries in the world, which already sets it up as a great option for a family holiday. Because who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by smiling faces all week? But the main reason that this Central American country is such a fantastic family vacation choice is the wildlife. From the rainforest of Corcovado to the coral reefs of Caño Island, the country is home to five percent of the world’s biodiversity. Sloths, capuchin monkeys, Blue Morpho butterflies, and caimans – your kids will be amazed by the bizarre and beautiful creatures to be found in Costa Rica. 

Aside from wildlife, you can enjoy adventure pursuits such as zip-lining through cloud forests, rappelling down jungle waterfalls, surfing, and river-rafting. Fancy a slower pace to your holiday? Adults can enjoy yoga classes while the kids hang out in the pool or try horse-riding. 

Costa Rica boasts incredible wildlife

Head to the north-west for surf or the Caribbean coast for quieter beaches. Corcovado National Park boasts some of the best wildlife, while Tortuguero National Park lays claim to the turtles. Head to Arenal or Poás to see an active volcano. Visit the thundering La Fortuna Falls or laze around in the hot springs. You’ll soon understand what the Costa Ricans’ pura vida is all about. 

TripExpert recommends staying at Nayara Resort Spa and Gardens. The Telegraph writes, ‘Both a family-friendly base for adventures and an elegant romantic hideaway, Nayara Resort, Spa and Gardens combines the great outdoors with well-executed opulence.’