There is something extremely satisfying about planning unique family vacations. Whether in destinations that are new to you and your family, or a new take on a previously visited spot, unusual family vacations can be action-packed in nature or culture-driven city escapes.
Look to destinations such as Alaska, Iceland, and the Norwegian fjords for unique family vacations in the great outdoors. The Galapagos Islands are the dream for a wildlife-filled adventure, while cities including Rome and Amsterdam are filled with iconic landmarks and family-friendly museums.
Closer to home, the Caribbean can also provide a family getaway with a difference. Look beyond the region’s dazzling beaches and you will find marine parks, wildlife centers, and rainforest hikes that will leave your family with treasured memories.
Whether you’re traveling with children, teens, or adult offspring in a multigenerational group, take inspiration from these 10 remarkable family vacations for your next family-bonding break.
Go Dog Sledding in Seward, Alaska
Few family vacations beat the adrenaline rush of dog sledding in Alaska. Between June and August, the family-run Seavey Homestead in Seward operates dog sledding rides on a custom-wheeled sled, which means it can operate even without snow on the ground.
Climb aboard to experience a thrilling two-mile sled ride from Seavey Homestead to the base of Resurrection Mountain. It’s on the edge of the cinematic Kenai Fjords National Park and capped by the vast Harding Icefield, which feeds the many glaciers here.
Mush through the wilderness of Alaska before meeting adorable husky puppies. Visit the huskies’ racing kennels, and learn how Iditarod mushers train and steer the dogs.
Snorkel in a Tropical Marine Park in Bonaire
All of the brilliant white shores of Bonaire lead directly to its UNESCO-listed Marine Park, which means you will only need a mask, snorkel and fins to experience its kaleidoscope of ocean life.
Bonaire Marine Park also covers the waters around Klein Bonaire—the Caribbean’s largest uninhabited island—off the west coast of the main island. In contrast to the islands’ dry landscape, the water is a dazzling shade of aquamarine, with abundant coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves.
Wander from shore to sea to snorkel from some of Bonaire’s best beaches—1,000 Steps, Te Amo, and Bachelor’s beaches are all great options close to the capital, Kralendijk.
Dip below the water’s surface to create unforgettable family memories and witness a selection of the 350 reef fish spies and 50 types of stony coral found here, including starfish, nurse sharks, green turtles, seahorses, rays, and schools of tropical fish.
Visit Stonehenge Neolithic Site in England
Few destinations evoke the Neolithic period like Stonehenge, one of the world’s most famous stone circles that provides an essential glimpse into the past.
Located in the bucolic Wiltshire countryside, less than an hour from Southampton, this towering stone circle is shrouded in mystery. It’s thought to be around 4,500 years old, while nearby burial mounds date to the Bronze Age.
Remarkably, the hulking gray boulders used to build the stone circle were transported from Wales, around 150 miles away. The purpose of the circle is unknown, but it’s believed to be a pagan place of worship aligned with the movement of the sun. Every year, on midsummer’s day, thousands of devotees gather here to watch the sunrise.
There’s a fantastic true-to-life Neolithic village to explore, an exhibition featuring archaeological objects uncovered at the site, including a fascinating forensic reconstruction of a Neolithic man, plus a gift shop and a café.
Climb Spain’s Highest Peak in Tenerife
Looming large on the island of Tenerife—the biggest and most densely populated of Spain’s Canary Islands—is Mt. Teide, at the heart of Teide National Park.
The peak of this funnel-shaped volcano is at 12,188 feet, making it Spain’s tallest mountain. But because its base is the ocean floor, from which it rises 24,600 feet, Teide is technically the third-tallest volcanic structure in the world. There’s a second volcano within the national park; Pico Viejo lies west-southwest of Mt. Teide. With a height of 10,285 feet, it is Tenerife’s second-tallest peak.
The sensational landscape around the two volcanoes includes vast lava fields and towering, ochre-hued rock formations, with excellent amenities for visitors, including a network of hiking and driving routes.
There are two visitor centers—El Portillo and Cañada Blanca—within the park that reveal more about its geology and volcanic activity, including an account of Teide’s last eruption, in 1909.
For an unforgettable family day out, one of the best things to do in Tenerife is to join an eight-minute cable car ride close to Teide’s summit. Witness jaw-dropping canyons, Pico Viejo, and the sapphire-blue of the Atlantic Ocean on a clear day.
In winter—and Tenerife is a popular winter sun destination—the volcano will be wearing a snowy cap. So you really can say you’ve thrown snowballs in the morning and sunbathed on the beach in the afternoon.
There are four main hiking routes to choose from for active families. The most challenging is, naturally, the one to Teide’s summit, which requires a permit. Others are less taxing, including a route via Los Roques de Garcia, near the Cañada Blanca visitor center. Visit the park’s La Ruleta access point and explore the red volcanic rock formations up close.
Indulge in a Day at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon
A unique experience that every travel-loving family should try at least once is to bathe at the geothermally-heated Blue Lagoon, near the town of Grindavik, on the Reykjanes Peninsula of Iceland.
This family-friendly attraction is open to children aged two and older, making it suitable for families with children of most ages.
The open-air setting is magical, including craggy black rocks surrounding a pool of steaming milk-blue water, heated by the nearby geothermal power plant. The Icelandic hot spring is said to have healing qualities thanks to its silica and sulfur content that can aid skin conditions such as psoriasis.
The soothing water, heated to 98–102°F, is blissfully relaxing. Bathe in the warm lagoon and lather silica mud found on the sides of the pool onto your skin. There’s a swim-up bar, too, with entry into the Blue Lagoon including a complimentary drink for every guest, including beers and sodas.
There’s a fantastic restaurant, Lava; the Blue Cafe; and Lagoon Spa for mud-based face and body treatments. There’s also a shallow wading area and a separate children’s pool for little ones.
Cruise or Kayak the Canal Ring in Amsterdam
In historic Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, one of the great ways of entertaining the family is to see the city’s ring of canals from the water.
Learn about how a network of 165 canals was engineered to wrap around the medieval old town in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
An all-weather, glass-roofed boat is one of the more leisurely ways of cruising Amsterdam’s canals. See gothic churches, grand merchant houses, and pretty gabled houses that line the waterways in the districts of Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht.
Learn about landmarks such as Anne Frank House in Downtown Amsterdam, the futuristic-looking, Renzo Piano-designed NEMO Science Museum, and the exquisite Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam as you glide along the canals.
More adventurous families could take to the water by kayak, paddling along the canals with a guide. Exploring this way gives you a greater sense of connection to the city, and its sights and smells.
Go Whale Watching in Iceland
Seeing whales in the wide-open ocean is a bucket-list experience. Tick it off with your family on vacation in Iceland, one of the best places to see whales.
This small North Atlantic island nation attracts 24 cetacean species ranging from harbor porpoises to sperm whales.
Some can be seen year-round, such as minke whales and harbor porpoises, but to enhance your chances of spotting a wider variety of these majestic creatures, head to Iceland in summer.
Join a guided whale-watching trip on the Eyjafjörður fjord from Akureyri in northern Iceland to look for acrobatic humpback whales breaching and tail-slapping. You might also see white-beaked dolphins and orcas.
Around 5,000 orcas live in the waters around Iceland year-round, though they tend to come closer to shore during summer. It’s not unusual to spot the black-and-white form of an orca zooming straight underneath your whale-watching boat.
There’s also a chance of spotting enormous blue and fin whales during summertime, though sightings are far rarer than other whale species. You will likely see some of Iceland’s colonies of breeding puffins during summertime, too.
Whale-watching tours don’t just take you out into the Icelandic fjords and ocean, but teach travelers about whales’ habitat, what they feed on, and the history of whales in Iceland.
Impress your troop further by taking them to Whales of Iceland, a Reykjavík museum with 23 life-size whales on display.
Roam Krka National Park in Croatia
Discovering the enchanting Krka National Park is one of the best things to do in Croatia for a unique family vacation, particularly if your family loves the great outdoors.
This vast UNESCO nature reserve near Split covers around 27,000 acres, with the Krka River cutting through the center of the park. The river is surrounded by dense forest, punctuated by green pools and cascading waterfalls, with caves, monasteries, and ruined fortresses dotted around its edges.
Reward your travel companions with views of Krka’s cascading waterfalls, including Skradinski buk, the longest waterfall on the Krka River, with a lake formed above it. A further eight miles inland is the breathtaking Roški slap waterfall.
Wander the wooden walkways around the water and soak in the scenery. The falls feature moss-covered ridges, caves, and shallow streams, with the watery landscape enjoyed by dragonflies, butterflies, green frogs, coots, and nightingales.
Travelers can take a boat ride from Skradinski buk through the Među Gredama canyon to Roški Slap waterfall. The journey lasts four hours and includes a visit to Visovac Island, home to a Franciscan monastery encircled by a protective ring of tall trees.
Check Out Maho Beach in St. Maarten
The Caribbean offers thousands of sublime tropical beaches to choose from, so what makes Maho, on the island of St. Maarten, a unique family vacation destination?
Not only is Maho’s sand silky soft and the water bright turquoise, but the island’s airport, Princess Juliana International, lies immediately behind it, with planes taking off and landing right behind the shore. In fact, there’s just a narrow road and wire fence separating the end of the runway from the beach in St. Maarten.
The proximity of the airport’s runway creates a spectacular overhead display for beachgoers, with plane spotters able to gaze up and see, in detail, the underbelly of low-flying aircraft. The arrival and departure of huge jets is accompanied by cheers and Mexican waves and there’s a party vibe all day long.
Enjoy a bite to eat at Sunset Beach Bar, where a surfboard-turned-chalkboard displays the flight schedule for each day, and the pizzas are named after airlines.
Explore Mayan Antiquities in the Yucatán Peninsula
Give your offspring something to talk about when they return to class with a more unconventional beach getaway on the Yucatán Peninsula.
Your family could smoothly segue from languid beach days to exploring ancient Mayan ruins, including Chichen Itzá, regarded as one of the New Wonders of the World by UNESCO. Lying around two hours inland from the Caribbean coast, Chichen Itzá is around 1,000 years old and a masterclass in ancient Mayan-Toltec architecture.
One of the most beautiful places in Mexico, Chichen Itzá is dominated by El Castillo (the Temple of Kukulkan), a stepped pyramid that is most probably the vision you conjure when you think of a Mayan temple.
There’s also the Temple of the Warriors, El Caracol Observatory, Temple of Jaguars, and Platform of Venus to explore at this glorious archaeological wonder.
Connect with Nature in the Galapagos Islands
For a truly special family vacation, the Galapagos Islands offer a kaleidoscope of extraordinary nature. Arid, remote, and teeming with wildlife, this protected archipelago is scattered 600 miles off Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.
The islands are a nature-lover’s dream, boasting hardy vegetation, serrated rock formations, dramatic volcanoes, and sweeping blond beaches in the Galapagos. Among the Galapagos’ staggering array of wildlife are sea lions, flightless cormorants, Galapagos hawks, land and marine iguanas, and giant tortoises. Under the water, look for stingrays, Galapagos penguins, sharks, and sea turtles.
In fact, it was here in the Galapagos Islands, during a five-week expedition in 1835, that Charles Darwin formed his theory of evolution by natural selection. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island—where there’s a giant tortoise breeding program, exhibition hall, and native garden.
On Las Bachas, a white beach near a salty lagoon on the north coast of Santa Cruz, spot Sally lightfoot crabs, flamingoes, and blue-footed boobies.
Tiny Bartolomé Island is dominated by a 374-foot volcano. Reach the summit by walking a planked track to take in breathtaking views of neighboring islands, including Rabida, Santiago, Baltra, and Santa Cruz. Near Pinnacle Rock, on the north shore, snorkel in search of white-tipped sharks and green tea turtles.
Family vacations have the potential to create lifelong memories and inspire a lifetime of travel.
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