Top 5 summer destinations for families
Summer is on the horizon — if you haven’t planned your family trip yet, now is a good time to start. We asked our specialists where they like to go over the summer with their families. Here are their suggestions, from snorkeling among the brilliant marine life at the Great Barrier Reef to spotting caimans in the depths of the Amazon Rainforest.
Queensland and the Northern Territory, Australia
Crocodile, Yellow Water Wetlands
By James from our Australia and New Zealand team
I think July and August are the best months for families to visit Australia. The extended school break gives you enough time to take in the continent’s vast diversity. When I went last August with my two children — seven and nine years old at the time — we were there for 19 days and visited both Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Queensland’s attractions are mostly outdoors. We took advantage of Noosa’s tropical beaches to relax and indulge in kayaking and paddle boarding before driving north to Fraser Island. The local Aboriginal clan calls the island ‘K’Gari’ (Paradise) for its inland lakes, aquamarine waters and lush rainforest — the only one in the world to grow on sand.
Even farther north, Port Douglas is a great base for exploring the teeming marine life around the Great Barrier Reef, a particular treat for those raised on repeat viewings of Finding Nemo. For land-based adventures, we took ranger-guided walks in the Daintree Rainforest, where the trees grow right down to the beach.
After more than a week there, we headed to the Northern Territory, known locally as the ‘Top End’. In Kakadu National Park, we took a dawn cruise through the Yellow Water Wetlands where we saw knobble-backed crocodiles gliding serenely through the water — a shivery delight for herpetologically inclined youngsters.
The park is also known for its Aboriginal art, some of it dating back 15,000 years. Ubirr in particular combines ancient art with panoramic sunsets.
Where to stay
When families go to Australia, I always suggest staying in an apartment. The Mandalay Beachfront Apartments combine convenience and comfort in Port Douglas.
Masai Mara, Kenya
Lion, Masai Mara
By Kenya specialist Mark
In July and August, the Great Migration moves through Kenya’s Masai Mara. Immense throngs of wildebeest mill across the landscape while lion and cheetah slink along the fringes of the herd, looking for prey.
Happily, Kenya’s lodges and camps are well-equipped to deal with children’s needs. Many have spaces specifically designed for families, with interlinked rooms or tents that share a common lounge but still offer parents some privacy. And the senior guides have years of experience dealing with children.
Many family-friendly lodges provide hands-on activities for younger guests. These might involve going into safe areas of the bush with a member of the local Maasai community to learn skills like shooting a bow and reading animal tracks.
For teens, the Laikipia Plateau is a privately owned reserve that’s a little quieter, even during the high season. There are plenty of activities for energetic adolescents, including horse riding, mountain biking and overnight walking tours. Families can even go tubing down the (crocodile-free) river.
July and August are the busiest months in Kenya due to the Great Migration so safaris during this time need to be booked well in advance.
Where to stay
The Asilia Naboisho Camp in the Mara Naboisho Conservancy is an intimate camp with a family tent that can accommodate up to five. Families of four or more are guaranteed a private safari vehicle, giving you more flexibility.
Argentina and Brazil
Iguazú Falls, Argentina
Pantanal capybaras, Brazil
By Latin America specialists Georgia and Aliza
Even though July and August are winter in South America, the Amazon remains a hot and humid destination year-round. The wildlife there captivates children, teens and adults alike, and most eco-lodges offer plenty of hands-on ways to experience the jungle and waterways. There are guided walks, river safaris, piranha fishing, and nocturnal expeditions to spot caiman lurking in the dark waters.
Of course, the dense foliage of the rainforest can make it hard to spot wildlife. The Pantanal is a vast and largely unpopulated wetland, with a similar abundance of animals that are much easier to see thanks to the open ecosystem. You’ll find slinking jaguars, bumbling capybaras and strutting jabiru storks.
Farther south, at the border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazú Falls is the largest series of waterfalls in the world. Spelling differs depending on which side of the border you’re on, but the sight and rumbling sound of the enormous cataracts is equally impressive no matter where you stand.
After absorbing all these natural wonders, families often want some time to relax and enjoy Brazil’s storied beaches. Just a short drive from Rio, the island of Ilha Grande offers pristine Atlantic rainforest and palm-studded beaches with a relaxed atmosphere. Much farther north, Praia da Pipa is known as a surfing destination, but its cliff-backed beaches and aquamarine waters are also a good place to unwind at the end of a trip.
Where to stay
Wake up to the sound of howler monkeys at dawn when you stay at the low-key Amazon Lodge, which floats on the Juma River, deep in the rainforest. Thanks to the water’s slightly higher acidity, there are few mosquitos here.
Rome, Florence and Venice, Italy
Carnivale mask making, Venice
By Italy specialist Shannon
When I’m planning trips for families, I hear two constant concerns over and again: children who are picky eaters and teens (or tweens) who won’t put down their smartphones. Italy solves both those problems.
From pasta to gelato, Italian food is instantly familiar and usually tempting to even the fussiest eaters. In fact, food is one of the major attractions in Italy, whether it’s eating a slice of pizza in Rome’s Campo de' Fiori or rolling out their own linguine at a private cooking class. What’s more, the regional cuisines are flexible enough to easily accommodate vegetarians, and sophisticated enough to keep adult palates happy, too.
As for distracted teens, Italy can engage even the most jaded adolescent. From gladiator fights at the Colosseum to the gondolas in Venice, these are sights they’ve encountered endlessly in history classes, TV shows and movies. Additionally, I always suggest to families that they fill their schedule with interactive activities. It’s hard to tweet if your hands are busy making tortellini or building a traditional Carnivale mask.
Where to stay
Villa Cora offers a family room and a pool. Its serene location just outside of Florence’s downtown area makes it a good place for families to unwind after a busy morning. Staff also offer milk and cookies to younger children in the evenings as a special treat.
Tower of London
By UK and Ireland specialist Andea
A summer trip to London is a gentle introduction to international travel for children, thanks to mild weather and a shared language. What’s more, you don’t need to spend long, dull hours in a car or plane moving around within the country — the city itself has plenty to entertain children, teens and adults, no matter what their interests.
Aspiring princesses and brave knights can visit actual palaces and castles, including the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace, which are only open during the summer months. The Tower of London has almost 1,000 years of history and a private guide can tailor the tour to emphasize either the courtly romance or the military mien, depending on your children’s preference.
Many of the city’s hotels serve afternoon tea with child-friendly themes. I recently enjoyed a whimsical Alice in Wonderland tea, with a White Rabbit-shaped éclair for the children and champagne for the adults. If you want to take the tradition home with you, I suggest taking an afternoon tea lesson. During the session, you can make scones, learn about the history and etiquette of afternoon tea, and master the proper way to make, pour and present tea.
Harry Potter fans can explore filming locations scattered throughout the city with a guided walking tour. Younger children (and their parents) might enjoy singing and dancing through the Mary Poppins tour in anticipation of the upcoming movie. Families follow a guide bedecked in the nanny’s signature outfit through London’s streets, pausing to see the places that helped inspire the classic character. Children can also visit Paddington Station, where there’s a statue dedicated to a certain bear from ‘deepest, darkest Peru’, and visit sites from the recent movies, including the Natural History Museum or St Paul’s Cathedral.
Where to stay
Children who stay at the The Kensington get to camp out in their own tepee beds, with a hotel teddy bear and a milk-and-cookies turndown service. What’s more, the hotel’s restaurant serves a whimsical afternoon tea, often with child-friendly themes like Alice in Wonderland.