A family vacation is no longer about loading the kids in the car and heading to the nearest beach. Today's families are looking to stretch their imaginations, sharing their passion for travel with their loved ones. Organized by age group, our guide shows the best destinations and activities for kids of all ages. Find the right getaway for your crew, no matter who's tagging along for the ride.
Lara is a travel writer and editor with a closet full of musty thrift store finds from all over the world. Her ideal vacation is a big city one packed with live music and good food, but she admits there’s also a place for relaxing by the pool. Her all-time favorite getaway was a month hiding out in Brooklyn, getting the best museum, gallery and foodie fixes. The udon noodles at Samurai Mama still haunt her dreams...
What to do? Start monitoring flights months in advance and consider European airlines. (For example, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air is just as comfortable as major American airlines but often has round trip, nonstop London flights from several major U.S. cities for less than $500.) On your first full morning in London, check out the Changing of the Guard where the soldiers march out in their trademark red coats and fuzzy black hats, accompanied by music and royal horsemen. It starts at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sundays) but get there at least a half-hour early so the little ones have a spot they can see from. If the royal flag is flying, it means the Queen is in residence. While the kids can’t run wild in the palace itself, St. James Park is a stone’s throw away and has a lovely playground. If you’re lucky, you’ll see ducklings, swans and maybe even a pelican or two.
Why: Zanzibar may sound like an expensive, bougie honeymoon island, but take it from this solo affordable adventure traveler; it's more budget friendly than you think. Not to mention, absolutely beautiful. You can take the ferry from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar for only $35 ($50 if you want a VIP seat), but flights to and from there are usually less than $100. Yes, there are many luxury resorts like Tulia Zanzibar and Melia Zanzibar that you should definitely splurge on if you can. (Tulia has a jungle waterslide and pool floaties. Enough said.) But there are also budget options. In fact, I found an Airbnb called the Surf Escape that was only about $40 per night, right on the beach, and had on-site surf, paddleboard and wind-surfing lessons.

What to do: It’s all about being outdoors in this country nicknamed “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” Fly into Managua, and from there, head to the Spanish colonial town of Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua — the 19th largest lake in the world and home to two island volcanoes you can hike. Speaking of volcanoes, visit Cerro Negro near Leon where the kids can sandboard (basically snowboard) down the volcanic ash sides. End your trip at One Love Surf School in the Pacific coastal town of San Juan Del Sur or head to the Caribbean side to explore the Corn Islands. While in the rainforest, keep your eyes peeled for a three-toed sloth!


A trip to Europe is for families who enjoy exploring historic sites, sampling local cuisine and learning about a different culture. Visit Florence, Italy, which is an easy historic city to explore with children. Another great city to visit with kids is New York. Younger children can explore a huge variety of playgrounds, climb on giant statues representing characters from children's books, visit a zoo, ride on a carousel, visit a planetarium and watch a show at the Marionette Theater.
What to do? Start monitoring flights months in advance and consider European airlines. (For example, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air is just as comfortable as major American airlines but often has round trip, nonstop London flights from several major U.S. cities for less than $500.) On your first full morning in London, check out the Changing of the Guard where the soldiers march out in their trademark red coats and fuzzy black hats, accompanied by music and royal horsemen. It starts at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sundays) but get there at least a half-hour early so the little ones have a spot they can see from. If the royal flag is flying, it means the Queen is in residence. While the kids can’t run wild in the palace itself, St. James Park is a stone’s throw away and has a lovely playground. If you’re lucky, you’ll see ducklings, swans and maybe even a pelican or two.
What to do: Visit Panda Trek first or last in the day, when crowds are lightest, to see the zoo’s black and white superstars, as well as red pandas. Don’t miss: Elephant Odyssey, where the pachyderms often have pool parties; and Northern Frontier, to watch polar bears swimming underwater and see playful arctic foxes. Also noteworthy is the Africa Rocks exhibit (baboons, leopards, blue-eyed lemurs, etc.) that opened in 2017.

Take your vacation to the next level at Universal Orlando Resort™. Explore three amazing theme parks: Universal’s Volcano Bay™, Universal’s Islands of Adventure™ and Universal Studios Florida™, featuring the new ride Fast & Furious – Supercharged™, plus spectacular on-site hotels and more. It’s days and nights of endless, high-octane fun for every member of the family.
It’s official: Americans have the travel bug. According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), Americans logged 1.7 billion “person trips” for the primary purpose of leisure in 2014. The USTA defines a person trip as “one person on a trip away from home overnight in paid accommodations, or on a day or overnight trip to places 50 miles or more [one way] away from home.” That works out to 5.33 leisure-focused trips for every single man, woman, cash-strapped college student, sulky teenager, wiggly child, and brand new baby in the country.
Where to stay: Tanque Verde Ranch is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and they’re offering a special $150-per-night family stays for the entire summer. The family-owned property provides an authentic wild west experience with horseback riding and much more, through Arizona’s most breathtaking desert landscapes of the Rincon Mountains. The $150 for the 150th special includes breakfast and free use of the pool and general facilities. A kids camp, great for ages 4 to 12, is available for an extra fee, as is horseback riding, biking, and guided hikes.
Ancona may be a popular place to board a cruise ship bound for Croatia or Greece, but it's also a beautiful beach destination in its own right. The Beach of the Two Sisters, or Spiaggia delle Due Sorelle, located about 12 miles south of Ancona, offers white sands and clear waters with a protected shore and towering cliffs above. What's more, hotel rates in the city start around $65 a night. (Getty Images)
What to do: Though the real space shuttles have flown their final missions, you can feel what it's like to rocket into the stratosphere on the Shuttle Launch Experience flight simulator. Take mission control tours, have lunch with an astronaut and even train with one in a family Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) program, preparing for g-forces and a mock journey to the International Space Station.
Why: Kuala Lumpur is a gem most people have not found out about, which is to your benefit. Kuala Lumpur has a mix of different cultures, from Asian to Indian, which makes the food really great. While there, I was able to grab food in Little India and ate amazing chicken tikka masala, then I headed to China Town and ate the most delicious noodles. The mix of cultures even shows with the attractions. I was able to explore a Chinese temple (Thean Hou), the Bantu Caves and a mosque (the National Mosque) all in one city. Kuala Lumpur is also known for its sky bars (rooftop bars). The one to check out is Sky Bar, which has a pool and overlooks the Petronas Towers. Hotels are mega cheap, as well: You can get a five-star hotel with an infinity pool on the rooftop for only $42 a night. Check out D'Majestic Place by Swiss-Garden. Kuala Lumpur is also the hub for cheap flights throughout Southeast Asia. You can get a roundtrip flight from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand for $24.
What to do: It’s all about being outdoors in this country nicknamed “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” Fly into Managua, and from there, head to the Spanish colonial town of Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua — the 19th largest lake in the world and home to two island volcanoes you can hike. Speaking of volcanoes, visit Cerro Negro near Leon where the kids can sandboard (basically snowboard) down the volcanic ash sides. End your trip at One Love Surf School in the Pacific coastal town of San Juan Del Sur or head to the Caribbean side to explore the Corn Islands. While in the rainforest, keep your eyes peeled for a three-toed sloth!
Where to stay: Not many hotels can boast their own marina, but Marigot Bay Resort and Marina isn’t like most hotels. It also has a kid’s activity program, and a seven-night stay comes with four hours of free babysitting! At the other end of the price spectrum, Harmony Suites ranks pretty high with families who appreciate the boutique atmosphere with big hotel amenities like on-site dining.
Soar through towering trees on a zip line, raft down a whitewater river, hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, and go camping on a Great Smoky Mountains Family Adventure. This park has an incredible variety of plant and animal life, so look for old-growth trees, salamanders, black bears (do not feed or approach them!), wild turkeys, and, for a short period each spring, fireflies that blink in unison. Take selfies at Cades Cove, a popular stop for visitors, where you’ll see historic homes and churches. Go in the spring to enjoy the butterflies and wildflowers, or in the fall, when the trees turn brilliant orange, gold and scarlet. 
What to do: Watch your kids awaken their inner superheroes at the museum’s American Comic Book Heroes exhibit or walk their way through the world’s largest pop-up book in Reading Adventureland. For nostalgia, visit the Toy Halls of Fame and play your way through the history of video games at eGameRevolution. Expect to spend at least four hours at The Strong National Museum of Play.
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Why: Moab, Utah is a great place to travel to if you are looking to explore the outdoors. There are two national parks in this town — Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, along with state parks and lots of recreational land all over. You can camp for free in many different areas around town, or there are also hotels and Airbnbs. If you like to camp, then like I said, you can camp for free in a beautiful place with a mountain or canyon view. An affordable way to see Moab is to stay in one of its many cabins. For example, you can stay at Archview RV Park in a basic Camping Cabin with two beds for just $78 a night. In Moab, there is an endless amount of activities. You can go rock climbing, rafting, kayaking, explore the national parks, skydive, off-road (you can rent Jeeps and go off roading if you don't have your own), camp and more. My favorite tour is the river raft trip with Canyon Voyages.

Where to stay: Fairfield Inn & Suites has free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel and fitness facilities that include a pool and exercise room. It’s conveniently located just minutes away from Bowling Green’s local attractions such as Lost River Cave, Beech Bend Raceway And Park, Mammoth Cave, and the National Corvette Museum nearby. Rates start at $105 per night. Find out tips to make an affordable family vacation happen.


Just how cheap is it? The food and accommodation aren’t fabulous bargains -- but, oh, the shopping is. In the tourist town of Victoria Falls, a hostel bed or a hired tent will cost you $15 to $20 per night, but I scored a carved stone necklace from a street vendor for the sandals I was wearing. Bartering is common at flea markets and on the streets, where second-hand clothes -- shoes, baseball caps, and sportswear (think basketball or soccer shirts) -- have real buying power. Fill your suitcase with gently used gear and exchange it for jewelry, handmade crafts, and souvenirs like devalued trillion dollar notes.
Why you’ll love it: Travelers on the hunt for an upscale family vacation ideas filled with rich local culture at bargain prices should visit Panama, one of Latin America’s most thriving, cosmopolitan destinations—and with no currency exchange and easy direct flights from many major U.S. cities, traveling there is a breeze. Nearby natural areas offer the opportunity to see everything from swinging sloths to tiny tree frogs in their natural habitats.
Why: Encircled by massive stonewalls, this Adriatic gem is hard to resist. With its old-world charm, the city’s streets are paved with limestone giving it a cool feel during hot summer days. Its well-preserved homes and monuments range from baroque St. Blaise Church to renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rector’s Palace. It’s a perfect day excursion when island hopping along the Adriatic coast. Oh, and you won’t want to miss the stunning medieval fortresses, Lovrijenac and Bokar, which tower over Dubrovnik.
No. 10. Lanikai Beach – Kailua, Hawaii. Located on the Windward Coast of Oahu, the name Lanikai means “heavenly sea,” and travelers rave about this small half mile strip of beach. Beachgoers often take advantage of the many water activities, such as canoe tours, kayak rentals and snorkeling. “Another beautiful Hawaiian beach with golden sand, gentle breeze and surf, and amazing coral reefs just offshore,” wrote a TripAdvisor reviewer. • Beachfront bargain hotel nearby: Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head, from $242 per night on TripAdvisor • Great airfare found on TripAdvisor: As low as $356 round-trip from SFO (San Francisco) to HNL (Honolulu) TripAdvisor
Wonderful humor is applied to the actual challenges faced if you consider traveling to other worlds in our solar system. Information and science from 50 years of space exploration is used to provide a planning guide for visiting our solar system neighbors. The result is a thoughtful look at what manned exploration of other planets requires, and it's presented in the context that the reader would actually make the trip.
Why you’ll love it: The largest alpine lake meets the biggest little city in the world in Reno Tahoe. This quirky city on the rise has incredible street murals, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Guinness Book of World Records Tallest Outdoor Rock Climbing Wall at the Whitney Peak Hotel. Summer is the time for festivals: Artown in July features musical performances, interactive workshops, and art exhibits; the Shakespeare Festival, at Lake Tahoe, puts on multiple traditional Shakespeare plays—including versions for kids; and then there’s the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook Off, the country’s best rib competition. Take a drive over to North Lake Tahoe to enjoy the sun, beach, and water sports.
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Why you’ll love it: The New York Times named the Big Easy the best place to visit in 2018, and even though it may seem like a grown-up getaway, it’s actually the perfect spot for a family vacation. In addition to eating beignets around the clock and watching the free outdoor performances at Jackson Square, you can take a cruise on the Paddleboarder Creole Queen, watch for gators on the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours; get up close with nature at the Audubon Nature Institute (including the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium), the Aquarium, or the Zoo; and deep dive into history at the National WWII Museum, featuring a 4D cinema experience narrated by Tom Hanks. Plus there’s Carousel Gardens where you can enjoy more than a dozen rides for kids including a roller coaster and a historic carousel.
Jamaica is known for its gorgeous white sand beaches, Blue Mountains and vibrant culture, attracting loads of different types of visitors. Montego Bay is especially popular among families for the area's laid-back charm, relaxed beaches and calm waters, perfect for small children to play in. What's more, nightly hotel rates are affordable. (Getty Images)
Why you’ll love it: If you have baseball fans in the family, you’ll want to focus on Cooperstown, home to The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, where they honor some of America’s athletic heroes. You can also visit The Fenimore Art Museum, which boasts an extraordinary collection of American Indian and folk art, or step back in time at The Farmers’ Museum where American history comes to life with real-life experience on a working Farmstead. Then taste your way through over 40 specialty food products at the Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard, including cider that’s been made for over 150 years in a water-powered mill.
How to get here and where to stay: Check with Hawaiian Air for deals on flights starting at just $377 round-trip from the U.S. mainland as well as amazing hotel deals, such as condo-style accommodations at the Maui Sunset in centrally located Kihei for just $146 a night. They even have a kitchen where you can whip up tropical smoothies for the family. Here are all the reasons Maui is the best island in Hawaii.
Why: Encircled by massive stonewalls, this Adriatic gem is hard to resist. With its old-world charm, the city’s streets are paved with limestone giving it a cool feel during hot summer days. Its well-preserved homes and monuments range from baroque St. Blaise Church to renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rector’s Palace. It’s a perfect day excursion when island hopping along the Adriatic coast. Oh, and you won’t want to miss the stunning medieval fortresses, Lovrijenac and Bokar, which tower over Dubrovnik.
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