We have come together with our family travel blogger community one last time in this best destinations series to share with you some absolute all-time favourite family vacation spots – the one that perhaps surprised us the most and took our breathe away, the Hidden Gems for Family Travel.
Now if you’re ever growing bucket list was out of control before, grab your pen I guarantee you that list is about to get longer!
This post was first published in October 2016, updated December 2019
Antigua & British Virgin Islands, Caribbean
Lisa from Travel Loving Family
The Caribbean offers powder white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue waters perfect for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. Many people do not realise that there are 7000 islands in the Caribbean, of course, many of these are uninhabited. Many of the developed islands offer world-class family resorts with kids clubs, evening entertainment and child-friendly water sports.
I spent three seasons working in the Caribbean onboard cruise ships and after leaving for a life on land I worked for a luxury tour operator as a Caribbean Travel Specialist which involved frequent visits to the Caribbean. If I had to choose a perfect family holiday in the Caribbean it would be a week in Antigua, home to 365 beaches and one of the most popular sailing destinations in the world, followed by a week in the lesser known British Virgin Islands.
Antigua offers many fabulous family-friendly excursions. I can thoroughly recommend the following – taking a rib ride around the entire island stopping in English Harbour, a helicopter flight over Monserrat, a mangrove kayaking tour, learning to do the stingray shuffle and snorkelling with stingrays at Stingray City and a deep-sea fishing excursion. Also not to be missed is the weekly Sunday BBQ party at Shirley Heights Lookout. I loved watching local kids and visitors dance to the steel drum music whilst watching the sun setting over the English Harbour from a view-point of 490ft above sea level!
The British Virgin Islands are made up of 64 islands, islets and cays located between Anguilla and Puerto Rico. Only 19 of the 64 islands are inhabited. The BVI is perfect for families who love water sports and wish to visit an unspoilt destination which is slightly off the beaten path. I would personally recommend staying on either Virgin Gorda island (Rosewood Little Dix is a super family-friendly property), home of the popular Baths and huge granite boulders which are great fun for exploring. Or Peter Island, the largest private island in the BVI at 1,800 acres. It has five beaches and offers a wide range of land and sea-based activities.
The main appeal for families is to be able to explore the different islands either on the inter-island ferry service which runs regularly throughout the day or via a private boat. All resorts offer a wide variety of water sports – paddleboarding, sailing, kayaking and scuba diving are particularly popular.
Flying between Antigua and BVI is easy with the recently added charter flight by VI. Normally I like direct flights for travelling with my kids but this one-hour charter flight adds another adventurous element to a family holiday. The views of the surrounding islands, St Kitts, Nevis etc are absolutely spectacular too. Learn More about Lisa’s picks for top 5 family-friendly destinations in the Caribbean
Amy from Passports & Pigtails
Banff, Alberta is Canada’s majestic backyard, our larger than life playground As only one of two municipalities incorporated into a Canadian National Park, Banff, is a bucket list destination that calls to travelers around the world.
Sitting at an elevation of 1,383 meters, it is the highest town in Canada, and federal law keeps it from expanding beyond it’s current 3.93 square km border. But Banff is more than just a rocky mountain townsite. Banff is mother nature in her finest moment, a haven of majestic views, unbeaten paths, powdery slopes and back country glory, with a splash of animal kingdom and gourmet food for good measure. It is a place where Canada is able to showcase the true fortune of having four very distinct seasons, even allowing for a few to be experienced in the same day as folks take in a morning of snowboarding followed by a bike ride in the sun of the afternoon.
In winter, the ‘Big 3’ mountain resorts reign supreme and in the summer, it’s a hiking and camping paradise. With accommodations ranging from hostels and campsites to the luxury of the Fairmont Banff Springs, families can indulge in gondola rides and natural hot pools, grab a sweet along the shop-lined main street or tackle a day of heli-hiking. Banff is a place that will completely fill your family’s wander-list.”
Read more about Alberta’s majestic backyard, Banff.
Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia
Jason from an Epic Education
As a kid, I imagined being Indiana Jones. Hacking my way through the jungle, I would spar with panthers and flee from hostile natives — all in the pursuit of treasure.
Now as an adult (in age only), I have discovered a close equivalent to my childhood fantasies: Bukit Lawang in Indonesia. Aside from the dense rainforests, there are stark differences between this rural village and the daydreams of my youth. The locals here are actually warm and welcoming, and the real predator is the occasional mosquito (book accommodation near the river to avoid them).
The treasure? Incredible wildlife, including orangutans, monitor lizards, wild peacocks and monkeys of numerous sizes and species. There are also some interesting caves and a beautiful river for swimming and tubing — all available to kids who like swimming, jungle trekking and getting dirty.
Bukit Lawang’s location is both remote and accessible. Many traveling families visit Penang, Malaysia, and the Medan Airport in northern Sumatra is only a 45-minute flight away. Accommodation in Bukit Lawang varies in price and amenities, but most establishments can arrange pickup at the airport. From there it’s a bumpy 3-hour drive through villages and palm oil plantations to Bukit Lawang, which sits next to the Bohorok river. On the other side of that river is Gunung Leuser National Park, where the orangutans live.
We’ve been to Bukit Lawang twice and hope to return again soon. With the encroachment of palm oil and other industrialization, I encourage visiting sooner than later.
See more on Sumatra with Kids.
Cathy Winston from Mummy Travels
Burma isn’t top of most people’s list of family travel destinations and that’s understandable – it only opened up to tourism about five years ago, so it’s still off the beaten track for a lot of adults. But it’s actually a fantastic place to go with kids. Children are welcome everywhere: little ones will be the absolute centre of attention, so you never need to worry about whether you can go somewhere and menus are happily adapted to fussy pre-schoolers.
And there’s lots to entertain as well. Visiting the ancient temples at Bagan might not sound appealing to young kids but with a good guide, it’s fascinating looking at the carvings, wandering through dark narrow passages and hearing tales and legends. At In Dein, near Inle Lake, it was like discovering a lost city, while we also visited a Burmese cat sanctuary and saw the fantastic floating gardens. On the west coast, the sand around Ngapali Beach is totally unspoiled too and far fewer people to share it with.
We also stayed in four/five-star hotels as I wanted reliable air con and a good pool after exploring but the cost of living means that’s far more affordable here while there are cheaper options if you’re on a budget.
Looking to plan a Burma trip with kids? Here’s a great guide.
Etruscan Coast, Tuscany, Italy
Marta from Learning Escapes
With images of rolling hills, historical towns and mouthwatering food gracing the covers of travel brochures, the inclusion of Italy in a list of hidden gems may seem questionable. However, some parts of the country are still undiscovered by international tourism and are a slice of heaven for families wishing to relax in beautiful surroundings. One of such areas is the Etruscan Coast, the part of Tuscany overlooking the Mediterranean sea.
My family has been spending holidays here for generations, and with good reasons. Miles of soft sand and crystal clear shallow waters make it perfect for budding swimmers and the food is so delicious even the fussiest of eaters accepts it in handfuls (now, that alone makes Tuscany worth it!).
If you fancy a break from the beach, historical towns are a short drive inland and outdoors lovers can explore the countryside on horseback, one of the most popular activities in the area. Family comes first in Italy and Tuscany is no exception: kids are royalty here and hotels and resorts welcome families with open arms, with onsite playgrounds and kids activities, making this coast a real hidden gem locals have kept for themselves for a very long time.
Learn more about the undiscovered beaches of the Etruscan Coast.
Bec from Wyld Family Travel
When we told people we were heading to Poland we got plenty of warnings about our ‘safety’ so as a worrier I was straight away concerned about it. I could not have been so wrong. We have spent some time in Krakow and other parts of Poland and we can’t get enough.
The kids are made to feel more than welcome and we have not ever felt unsafe…which we have had in some other cities! Krakow is a place easy to walk around and the market is a favourite place for the girls. There are so many things to see and do in the city especially the Kosciuszko Mound, which has stunning views over Krakow and Wawel Castle with its story of the dragon that lives under it.
A huge highlight for us was just outside the city and it was Wieliczka Salt Mine. It was absolutely amazing to see and the girls loved it. They were encouraged to lick some of the salt but both were very quick to say ‘No Thank You!’ It was opened in the 13th century and produced table salt until 2007. Wieliczka was a real eye-opener for the girls as people made their lives down here by carving pictures into the walls of salt or making statues of significant people. There is a chapel in the mine where there are statues carved from salt and even the chandeliers are made from salt!
There are so many places to see…Krakow and Poland, in general, are real hidden gems that are so family friendly!
Read more on Poland
Nicci from Travels with Boys
Denmark is an extraordinary place for families to travel, but there’s so much more to it than the headline acts of Legoland, Tivoli Gardens, and fairytale castles. The island of Lolland, south of Copenhagen, is a family holiday paradise.
Before our holiday to Denmark this year, I had never heard of Lolland. I was unaware of the beauty of its forests, lakes and beaches. I didn’t know of its unique interactive attractions, designed with families in mind. One of our favourite places to visit was the Middelalder Centret (Medieval Centre) where we cheered on knights in a jousting battle, prepared the life-sized trebuchet (a siege warfare weapon) for firing, and had fun working the massive medieval machines.
Another favourite was Knuthenborg Safaripark, Northern Europe’s biggest safari park. Here we got up close to the 1,200 wild animals like wolves, tigers, and rhino, while driving our car through the beautiful 500-hectare grounds. And when we finished with the animals, we had an absolute blast at Limpopo Land, Denmark’s biggest nature water playground.
If you love the outdoors, Lolland is a great place to be. Ride a bike or horse through the picture-perfect countryside, go kayaking, or discover seals in their natural habitat on a seal safari. Lolland also boasts the remarkable Danish Castle Centre, Lalandia holiday centre, and the warmest bathing waters in Denmark.
Read more on why Lolland is heaven!
Jennifer from Our Family Travel Adventures
Malta is our favorite spot to visit as a family. Malta is comprised of 3 islands in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Africa. The weather is lovely with mild winters and warm summers. English and Italian are widely spoken so it’s easy to communicate. Malta offers amazing archaeological sites, stunning architecture and some of the most beautiful beaches we have ever visited.
Explore Mdina, a Phoenician walled city that served as Malta’s capital until 1530. Take a fun speed boat ride to the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island, for a day of snorkelling and swimming in crystal blue waters. Or check out Ggantila, a large stone temple structure that dates from before the Egyptian pyramids were built. The Maltese are warm and friendly to visitors and welcome families to their island.
See more of what to expect in Malta.
Margaret River Region, Western Australia
Sally-Ann from Toddlers on Tour
The Margaret River Region has long been known for its great surfing, delicious wines and even the tasty local foods. But there is so much more to this hidden corner of the globe.
The Margaret River Region has a rich history involving the local Indigenous people and some of their dream time stories which are part of the area’s natural attractions. When we visit Nilgi Cave the tour starts with the tale of how the good spirit Nilgi defeated the evil Wolverine and restored prosperity to the region. Then at our leisure, we are able to climb through the cave’s internal chambers viewing the stalagmites and stalactites lit up with pretty red, green, blue and purple lights. There are several more caves to explore within the region and as you drive to each one you bypass rocky coastlines hugging the turquoise ocean that laps onto the crystal white sandy beaches. However if your kids need more stimulation you won’t be sore for lack of entertainment with the Amaze’n Margaret River hedge maze, the wooden Yallingup Maze and it’s puzzle café, mini golf, archery, Busselton Jetty’s longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere with an underwater exploratory centre at the end of the pier, or Xscape at the Cape for action-packed adventure.
You can see why West Australians have enjoyed this hidden gem as a holiday destination since the early 1900’s and why we all continue to return – there is just so much to see and do in the Margaret River Region.
Jurga from Full Suitcase
When I told Keri that I chose Namibia for this post, she was like ‘Namibia? Family-friendly?’
Namibia has been a long-time dream for us. As soon as we though that the kids were old enough, we booked a 4-week trip to visit this hidden gem of Africa. At the time we travelled, our oldest son was 5 and the twins were 3. Years later it’s still one of the best family trips we ever made. Here is why.
Namibia has lots of wildlife, amazing landscapes, great cultural diversity, and last but not least plenty of space for the kids to run, play, and just be themselves. Add good weather, amazing accommodations and some of the best food ever, and you have all of the ingredients for a successful family trip. You can find a great self-drive itinerary here.
Still not convinced? Let me share some of the best memories from our trip. Climbing the world’s tallest sand dunes and then rolling down all the way to the bottom. Tracking a herd of desert elephants over the river bed in a safari vehicle. Visiting Himba, Damara and San tribes and getting to know cultures that are so different from ours. Watching the most amazing sunsets every evening and millions of stars every night…
Want to know more? Read the whole story on our blog Namibia with kids
Oahu, Hawaii, United States
Debbie from Travel with the Greens
With endless beaches and long summer days there are so many reasons to make Hawaii your next family holiday. Away from all the tourist traps there are many hidden gems to be found. Hire a car, put the roof down and cruise around the island.
Make Shark’s Cove, near Waimea Bay Oahu, top of your list for kid-friendly snorkelling. Grab all your snorkel gear from Snorkel Bob’s in Waikiki before your drive. After all your tropical fish finding head across the road to eat lunch at the food trucks parked there.
An easy walk for the family is to the Manoa Falls to discover the most spectacular waterfall. You will need to refuel with donuts from Leonard’s Bakery which are so delicious you will be dreaming of them for weeks after.
For a view as far as the eye can see over Oahu head up to Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. This lookout off the Pali Highway will show off the highlights of the island from the mountains to the spectacular blue ocean.
Read more travel tips and hidden gems in Hawaii
Postojna Caves, Slovenia
Richard from Life in our Van
There are some places that a guide book can never fully describe. So consider leaving the grace and splendour of Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, to discover a beauty that can sometimes only be found under the earth. A majestic, natural subterranean beauty some 50km from the capital. The Postojna Caves hold over 21km of tunnels, caverns and halls. All accessed by an underground double-track train that descends through 5km of stalactites & stalagmites. The underground paths include a non-stick substance that helps children to walk safely across each fantastic bridge. Each with amazing views of the caverns below full of magical shadows brilliantly lit without becoming overly touristic.
What will blow everyone’s minds is the relatively small growth of these stalactites. Each only growing 1cm each 100yrs. Prepare to be amazed further as the cave’s rich history extends to being owned by Italy, includes it’s own living baby dragons (Proteus Anguinus) and holds the world’s only underground post office! An excellent audio guide brings to life the ‘Spaghetti’ , ‘White’, ‘Red’ chambers with their hippo, bird and crocodile-shaped rocks. Its constant 9 degrees means it is easily comfortable to do in casual daily clothing, and every child will love the train ride through the 40m high candle-lined concert hall. Offering a good value morning activity it might even leave you the afternoon free to explore the nearby Predjama Castle (A Guinness World Record holder as the world’s largest cave castle!).
Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra
Maria from One Tiny Leap
While breathtakingly beautiful, and a must-see if you’re visiting Lisbon, it would be stretching it a little to describe Sintra and its glorious Pena Palace as a “hidden gem.” We’d like, then, to suggest an alternative if you don’t fancy tackling the crowds in Sintra: the gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira are a place we discovered ourselves only recently and would love to share with you. Just a 20-minute hike uphill from Sintra (motor-taxis can be hired if you prefer), these lush and mysterious gardens are simply enchanting, and perfect for both little ones and grown-ups too!
The grounds of this grand house cover four hectares, spanning several levels. Explore hidden passageways through caves, stand on the Juliet balcony, cross the stepping-stones under a gushing waterfall and don’t miss the stunning Initiation Well, with its circular staircase carved into the rock. The gardens are inlaid with Masonic symbology with references to the Knights Templar and alchemy, but in our opinion, their most important feature is they’re perfect for letting your little ones run around amid the creative structures, beautiful scenery and fresh air.
Nicole from The Passport Kids
Sayulita is one of the best not-so-secret beach towns in Mexico! It is 45 minutes away from the typical resorts communities of Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta, which lets you see another side of Mexico along the Pacific coast. This town has a great relaxed vibe where you can wander the streets, surf and boogie board the waves or enjoy the beach activities. Try some of the local traditional street food or dine in one of the restaurants along the beach. It’s a spot where time feels like it slows down so you can enjoy the simple things, like building a sand castle with your kids or jumping in the waves.
It’s a place where locals and tourists mingle together; and although Sayulita has increasingly become more touristy since the sleepy little fishing village, it still has the sense of openheartedness to the town. Away from the big fancy resorts of Mexico, the people and the atmosphere of Sayulita will let your family experience another side of the country which is a must. Whether it is just a day trip from Puerto Vallarta or a few nights in town we always recommend families go and check out this funky little surfer town if they are going to the area.
More ideas for a day trip to Sayulita
Karen from Mini Travellers
A place we will inevitably travel to time and time again with the kids is Sivota in Greece. Whilst Sivota itself is on mainland Greece, and you can fly to Preveza and drive down the coast, perhaps the easiest, and more scenic way to reach this secluded location is by flying to Corfu and taking either a private sea taxi or a ferry boat across to Sivota Harbour
The coastline and the sunsets, combined with the welcome breeze makes this relaxed area of Greece (although where in Greece isn’t relaxed) a hidden gem. The sea is so blue you could easily be in the Caribbean yet the ease at which you can get to this area from Europe makes it a truly exciting destination for those of you (like us) who are usually ten hours away from Caribbean style beaches.
It’s difficult to express in words why this area captured our hearts and so I’m cheating a little with this collage of photos! Don’t you just think it looks like perfection for our little family!
Here’s a great family accommodation idea for Sivota.
Elizabeth from Wander Mum
It is not a place many instantly think about visiting with children but we adored Sri Lanka and it welcomed us with open arms. Sidestepping the capital Colombo, we spent time in the second largest city Kandy, where a temple trip was followed by some traditional Kandyan dancing. My three-year-old daughter loved it!
In the Sri Lankan tea lands we discovered a cool sanctuary and hiked among the tea trees, learning a bit about the drink we consume daily. Older children could tackle the sacred mountain, Adam’s Peak, but there are plenty of hiking routes around the Ella and Hatton regions to explore. We happened to visit during the Thai Pongal festival – a fascinating experience and interesting see how the local people prepared for the harvest festival event. The best way to travel to the area is by train where you get a glimpse of some breathtaking scenery.
Of course, no trip is complete without a ride in a tuk tuk, a highlight my daughter still talks about today. In the south, Sri Lanka has no shortage of idyllic sandy beaches. Mirissa is a famous surfing spot with lessons for all the family and if nature is what you are after then there’s the Yala and Udawalawe National Parks where you can see elephants and leopards.
Sri Lanka has opened up hugely to tourism in recent years. It is a wonderful, cultural experience. Discover it before everyone else does!
West Michigan, United States
Tonya from Detail Oriented Traveller
The western side of Michigan is my favorite hidden gem, and not only because it’s where I grew up. Most often, when people think of Michigan in the United States, they think Detroit area. However, on the opposite side of the state, you have gorgeous beaches, wooded trails, craft beer and friendly people. What more do you need?
As for the beaches, the western shore of Lake Michigan is lined with sugary soft sand dunes. In fact, one of the US National Parks is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park near Traverse City. The sand dunes make a great playground for the kiddos, and tires them out! The sand on the beach is super soft, free of shells and rocks. The water is fresh water, but you feel as if it’s an ocean. The smallest distance across Lake Michigan is 64 miles after all!
Western Michigan also offers plenty of wooded trails and hiking opportunities. While it’s no mountain, it does make it easier for smaller kids to manage. In the winter, there are places to ski. Again, no mountains like in the Rockies, but still manageable for small children. In Muskegon, the Winter Sports Complex offers sledding, cross-country skiing, ice skating trails and an Olympic sized luge run.
For the grown-ups, West Michigan is home to several craft breweries. Along with the local mid-western fare dining (think German and Polish roots) and friendly people, it’s the place I will continue to bring my family year after year.
Learn more about Sand Dune Rides in Lake Michigan
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We have really enjoyed sharing with you this amazing travel destinations series – so many great ideas from travel bloggers around the world. I really encourage you to go and check out their blogs too, so many amazing stories to share.
Have we missed your favourite hidden gem? We’d love you to share!
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