Oftentimes, planning a family vacation can feel like you're playing the role of a travel agent rather than a parent. You spend hours researching the best destinations, itineraries, and activities that your clients (um, kids) will love once you land. And even though traveling with children inevitably changes the dynamics and logistics of a trip—in both wonderful and challenging ways—that doesn't mean you have to completely plan around the little ones. After all, the wanderlust doesn’t stop once you have kids, and neither should the adventures you love taking.
Planning a "family-friendly vacation" should be just that—a trip that pleases the entire family, including the parents! Hit the beach, tour wineries, explore a city—take the vacations you've always loved with tweaks to the itinerary or destination that will also thrill your kids. We've got some ideas.
Using a mix of editorial insight and data from our Editors’ Choice Awards, we've come up with the best places for families this year, catered to your interests but suitable for all ages. With summer break in sight, get a jumpstart on planning, and read on for the best places to go with your tots and teens this year—sprees that are interesting, dynamic, and, of course, fun for the whole family.
Of course, you can’t go to London without visiting the classic sights like Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace (go on the official tour), Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London, but there are also loads of other kid-friendly attractions that adults will also enjoy.
The Coca-Cola London Eye is a great way to survey the land and get your bearings of the city. Your kids will love a Warner Bros. studio tour of The Making of Harry Potter, where they can learn about the sets, costumes, and film locations, including the movie’s Great Hall, Dumbledore’s office and Hagrid’s hut. Scope out sharks and eels at Sea Life London, get a photo with the royal family at Madame Tussauds London, and see views from western Europe’s highest building, The Shard. You can also learn about London’s dark and sordid past at London Dungeon, and then have a meal and visit some boutique shops at Trafalgar Square or Piccadilly Circus.
If your kids still have energy to burn, or need a break from sightseeing, visit Jubilee Gardens playground next to the London Eye, or St. James Park, not far from Buckingham Palace.
For Adventurous Parents: Indiana Dunes National Park
America has a new National Park—number 61— and we couldn’t be more excited. Previously known as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, this park, which hugs 15 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan, it's now Indiana Dunes National Park.
Frolic around with your family within 15,000 acres of woodland, grassy prairies, viscous marshes, and more than three miles of golden beach. The diverse landscape is home to stunning wildlife with many varieties of birds, and the activities here are numerous: camping, winter sledding, tapping trees for maple syrup, biking, and hiking on over 50 miles of trails. Plus, the sand dunes here, formed over thousands of years, are incredible—Mt. Tom, for example, rises 192 feet above Lake Michigan. Take the kids geocaching, and exchange a trinket treasure after following the map.
Sign the kids up for the Junior Ranger program. After completing the activity book, which can be picked up at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center, kids will earn a special badge.
For Beach Bum Parents: Rhode Island
The smallest state in America, which only takes a couple of hours to traverse entirely, touts a bewildering 400 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, so its well known for its charming seaside Colonial villages and for its sandy beaches. East Beach, Watch Hill Beach, and Salty Brine State Beach are popular choices, and even the larger cities in Rhode Island have great coastline activities—Newport is famous for great sailing experiences, and Providence, the capital, is popular for Rocky Point Park, Warwick City Park, Oakland Beach, and Conimicut Point.
While any are great options for a family outing, Misquamicut Beach, located in Westerly, is the top choice for families. Here, you'll find hermit crab races, live music, arcade games, rides perfect for littles, waterslides, and even drive-in movies at the beach. Spend a day or two jumping between all the available activities, and then take time to relax in the sun while kids toil the hours away burying their siblings in the sand.
There’s much more to do in Music City than singing and dancing at one of Nashville’s 150 live music honkey-tonk bars (but you should still take time to responsibly enjoy those, too, even with your kids in tow).
Make sure to visit the Grand Ole Opry—see a show and get a backstage tour afterward. There’s something so special about hearing live music from a stage that so many illustrious singers have performed on. Plus, you’ll sit in church pews, which feels like you’re celebrating the best kind of universal creed: music.
Pop in the Bluebird Café to listen to upcoming artists—your kids will be inspired by the grit and gumption of the newbie performers. See the stars at Music City’s Walk of Fame. The Nashville Symphony, Escape Game Nashville, Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Adventure Science Center, Centennial Park and the Parthenon (you read that right—the Parthenon is full-scale), Nashville Zoo, Rocket Fizz Candy Store, and Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art are all kid-friendly picks.
Before you head out of town, visit the Boot Barn on Broadway to pick up a pair of cowboy boots, and eat bottomless pancakes at Pfunky Griddle.
Sonoma, situated in northern California, is a popular winemaking region—there are 425 wineries to choose from in the county. Well-known options like Francis Ford Coppola, Iron Horse Vineyards, Kendall-Jackson, Korbel Winery, Ravenswood Winery, and Gloria Ferrer Winery are all in this region.
Take your family to Benziger Family Winery, and book the 45-minute open-air tram tour which teaches you all about organic wine and green farming practices, including the process of making biodynamic wines. Kids will love seeing the wine cave, and they’ll get to see the farm’s sheep herd.
Another great choice is Preston Farm and Winery. Parents can sip Grenache Blanc, hard cider, and Zinfandel while everyone in your group can taste fresh bread with a variety of olive oils, baked onsite, plus pickled veggies. Kids will love petting the roaming cats and sheep and playing a game of bocce ball.
Other activities and attractions in the area include shopping in downtown Sonoma, tasting cheese at the Sonoma Cheese Factory, riding the train at Sonoma TrainTown Railroad (a quarter-sized railroad that roams over a four-mile track), and ziplining at Sonoma Canopy Tours.
Make time for a visit at Safari West, a three-hour riding and walking safari where kids can spot over 900 animals from 90 unique species—giraffes, gazelles, zebras, buffalo, antelopes, birds, and more. And, if you can’t get enough, you can experience the adventure overnight with a stay in a glamping safari tent.
Take off on a five-night cruise from Miami to the Bahamas and the western Caribbean on an adventure that everyone in your family will love. Not only will your littles have the chance to get their photo taken with their favorite characters—Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow, Gamora, Black Panther—but also, they’ll receive special invitations to learn from the best at the Marvel Super Hero Academy inside Disney’s Oceaneer Club. Explore thematic magical worlds, visit Andy’s room from Toy Story, build your own roadster racer with Mickey Mouse, and design your own royal garb to transform into a prince or princess for the day. Entertainment abounds—stunt shows, live action thrills, interactive activities, youth clubs and more await.
Mom and Dad can enjoy time with the family and also time together—the best of both worlds—with adults-only dining, swimming pools, spa, and fitness center. It’s a win-win.
For Parents Who Are Avid Skiers: Whitefish, Montana
Fly into this small ski town in northwest Montana for a wintery adventure like no other. Lodging is plentiful—on Big Mountain or in the town—and there is no shortage of grub hubs or places to down a cold one.
Getting to the mountain is super easy with the use of the S.N.O.W. Bus, which runs regularly and picks up in multiple locations. Ski on over 3,000 powdery acres, day or night. And, if you’re new to the area and want to ski with a knowledgeable local, look for one of the on-mountain ski ambassadors—they’ll be happy to show you the slopes. Adult and kid beginners can join the ski school and benefit from the Ski or Ride package, which includes two days of equipment rentals (including helmets), novice-area lift tickets, and two half-day lessons. Kids can either take half or full-day ski lessons—while parents have adult ski time on their own—or hang out in the Kids Center Daycare, which will keep them busy with activities and art projects.
When not skiing, enjoy the charming downtown, full of boutiques, dining, and coffee shops (Montana Coffee Traders wins our vote for best coffee roaster); snowshoe in Glacier National Park with a ranger; cozy-up under a blanket for the horse-drawn sleigh ride at Bar W Guest Ranch; try out winter fat biking at Whitefish Bike Retreat; and have a nice meal at the Boat Club Restaurant, which has the best views of Whitefish Lake.
The eighth and final season of "Game of Thrones" is set to premiere on April 14 this year, and Northern Ireland sets the stage for it (figuratively and literally) with dramatic backdrops, beautiful panoramic scenery, and historic landmarks.
Celebrate and geek out at the return of the Westeros with a visit to Tollymore Forest, the very first state forest park in Northern Ireland. The park’s 1,600 acres appeared in the first season of "Game of Thrones," representing the lands around Winterfell. The Dark Hedges is another popular site, made famous for its stunning Instagram-worthy natural beauty. Tourists come from far and wide to photograph this avenue of beech trees, planted by the Stuart family in the 18th Century, which is the site of Kings Road in the second series of "Game of Thrones"—Arya Stark traveled in the back of a rickety old cart as a new recruit for the Night’s Watch in this scene. Downhill Beach, Ballintoy Harbour, Portstewart Strand, Binevenagh, Castle Ward, Cushendun Caves, Pollnagollum Cave, Marble Arch Caves, and Inch Abbey are other film sites.
Should you want to veer off the "Game of Thrones" path, kids will love visiting Streamvale Open Farm, Armagh Planetarium, Drumawhey Junction, Arc Open Farm, and WWT Castle Espie.
For Foodie Parents: Tuscany
In the lovely and slow-paced Lucca countryside, where cheese shops, meat vendors, and steep cobblestoned alleyways reign supreme, sits one of the most beautiful properties in Tuscany: Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa. Winding up the mountainside, past verdant flora and gentle fauna, high above the Serchio Valley, is where you’ll establish home base for a family foodie adventure like no other.
Enlist the help of the affable chef to take part in a cooking course that features local Tuscan wines. You’ll visit a farmer’s market in the nearby enchanting town of Barga, hand-select your healthy ingredients, and make your way to the chef’s kitchen to learn how to create a traditional Italian meal. The tailor-made regional meal will utilize the fresh ingredients you’ve just picked out with the chef. Kids can get their hands dirty in the kitchen too. They can pound the dough, shape the pasta, and stir the sauce, all while wearing a keepsake apron and chef’s hat. Afterward, soak up the sun and take a dip in the open-air swimming pool—you’ll need to work off all of that pasta and fresh bread.
If you want a few days to explore solo, consider enrolling your children in Alphabet International Camps, an American-style summer camp in Italy (all staffers speak English)—your kids can participate in sports, games, talent shows, and other classic camp activities, plus take in a new culture and meet kids from all over the world, while you get the chance to explore Italy on your own. Major parent props for the coolest summer camp experience ever.
For Parents Who Are Basically Still Kids: Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge
It’s alright, parents, you can admit it—visiting the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, opening soon, is high on your travel wish-list (with or without kids in tow). Disney Parks is putting on the final touches for their two new Star Wars adventures: one at Disneyland Resort in California, set to open May 31, and one at Disney World Resort in Florida, opening August 29.
Both parks have simulators, rides, custom merchandise, and Cantina dining, stretched out over 14 acres. The Walt Disney Imagineers didn’t hold back when designing the Star Wars land, in collaboration with Lucasfilm, which is set on a new planet located within the Outer Rim of the Unknown Regions.
Parents, it’s totally normal to lose your minds with excitement.
The biggest perk of traveling to Puerto Rico—besides putting your tourist dollars toward helping a deserving U.S. territory on the upswing from a natural disaster—is that no passport is needed to visit this Caribbean island.
It couldn’t be easier to visit and explore the diverse landscape of mountains, waterfalls, 270 miles of beaches, and the beautiful El Yunque rainforest. Wander around San Juan, the largest city and capital, and grab a bite to eat at one of the eateries. Book a hotel along Isla Verde, well-known as the hotel strip, and plant your toes in the sand.
Don’t leave without visiting the Old San Juan neighborhood to learn about the history and see centuries-old colonial buildings and fortresses. Take the kids to one of the 200 caves in Rio Camuy Cave Park and keep your peepers out for the coqui, a tiny frog that can only be found in Puerto Rico.
If you're looking to test-drive an international getaway or just immerse your kids in a place with a different language and culture, Puerto Rico is the answer.
A visit to Disney World means that you’ll be on your feet quite a bit—waiting to get on a ride, walking from tram to park or from tram to hotel, and standing in line for park noshes and nibbles. Your body will likely need a little rejuvenation. Visit one of the Disney World spas in Orlando to relax and put yourself in the right frame of mind.
Mandara Spa, located at the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, offers two complimentary hours of childcare at Camp Dolphin so you can indulge in your treatment without breaking the bank.
Or for a spa day all together, Ivy Trellis at Disney’s Grand Floridian offers services for kids (manicures and haircuts), so parents enjoy some pampering with their children. Or head to Salon by the Springs, located at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, that offers Character Couture Packages in which Disney stylists transform you into a Disney character through hair, makeup, and nails—be a villain, princess, part of the Fab Five, or create a hero/heroine look.