Our list of top family holiday destinations.
What makes an overseas holiday destination perfect for the whole family? There’s no single answer but it helps if it’s affordable, not too hard to get to and provides enough fun things to do to keep everyone happy. If you’ve been wondering where to take your family for their next overseas vacation, here are some superb options:
#1. New Zealand
The Land of the Long White Cloud has always been a favourite holiday spot for Aussie families for many good reasons. It’s affordable and quick to get to – ‘just across the ditch’. It’s similar enough to Australia to not cause culture shock but different enough to make us feel we’re in a whole new world. New Zealand is a place of astounding natural wonders – and it’s incredibly easy to get around and see most of the best spots in a single holiday, whether you concentrate on the North Island, the South Island or tackle both. And of course the people talk just like we do – well, almost. So slap on the jandals, fill the chilly bin, crank up the hangi and it’ll be choice, bro!
Your kids (and partner) will never run out of things to do in New Zealand. For adrenaline junkies there’s bungee jumping, caving, zip lining, jet boating, river rafting, tandem skydiving, skiing and mountain biking. If you love the water there’s sailing, diving, kayaking, surfing, fishing and some of the most scenic boat tours on the planet. The trekking is world-class and those clear, star-filled nights make overnight camping truly special.
Experience the strong, dynamic Maori culture, check out those famous Kiwi wines and make your stomach sing with some of the freshest seafood and local produce you’ll ever taste. New Zealand accommodation options range from groovy hostels to five-star luxury, and everything in between.
#2. Lovina, Bali
Bali is an increasingly popular destination but many Aussies don’t venture far from the Kuta tourist strip. For families wanting a more relaxing stay away from bright lights, beach hawkers, disco bars and party-hardy crowds, it’s necessary to look further afield.
On the north coast of Bali, Lovina is as peaceful and laid-back as it gets, with black volcanic beach sand and a peaceful vibe. This place is tailor-made for chilling out but there’s still plenty to see and do in the area. The Air Banjar Hot Springs offer lush garden surrounds – but it’s best to arrive before 9am if you want to beat the crowds.
Your kids will love the dolphin-spotting boat trips and snorkelling options and there’s a good range of accommodation and restaurants to choose from1.
#3. Rarotonga, Cook Islands
If your idea of a perfect family holiday is an idyllic South Seas paradise, the Cook Islands might be just what you’re looking for. Rarotonga is the largest of 15 enchanting islands nestled in the warm, clear waters of the Pacific. From here, you can explore some of the other islands: Don’t miss Aitutaki, with its huge, picture-postcard coral lagoon filled with sea turtles, giant clams and brightly coloured fish2.
Because Australia has some of the best beaches in the world, we tend to be disappointed with some beaches overseas, but there’s no chance of that here. Rarotonga is lined with the kind of beaches that fantasies are made of: bone-white sands, swaying coconut palms, blue skies and a backdrop of craggy, rainforest-draped mountains.
There are plenty of affordable holiday houses to rent on Rarotonga, and this island is extremely kid-friendly. Have a stopover in New Zealand on the way!
If you’re looking for an affordable South Pacific destination that’s beautiful, extremely child-friendly and not overrun with tourists, you should definitely put Samoa on your list. The two main islands are Upolu and Savaii, which have plenty of sparkling white sand beaches, waterfalls, caves, blowholes and well-kept coastal villages to explore. Samoan people are super-friendly and love kids, and if you’re a fan of fresh seafood, this place will certainly tantalise your taste buds.
The islands are best visited between May and November (their cyclone season is the same as ours) and are only about five hours away from Melbourne and Sydney3. If you love to surf, go fishing, paddle a kayak or snorkel in crystal-clear lagoons full of technicolour fish, Samoa will keep you well occupied. The cheapest accommodation option is the fale – a basic but comfortable hut right on the beach that often comes with breakfast and dinner included.
On Upolu there are some great places to visit, including the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, Papase’ea Sliding Rocks and Piula Cave Pools. The stunning To Sua Trench is a 30-metre-deep trench surrounded by lovely tropical gardens and connected to the sea by an underwater tunnel. Don’t leave Samoa without seeing it!
Savaii, Samoa’s largest island, is accessible from Upolu by ferry and boasts a wealth of natural attractions, including the Alofaaga Blowholes, the Afu Aau Waterfalls and the opportunity to swim with turtles at the Satoalepai Turtle Sanctuary4.
#5. Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
When most Australian families think about holiday destinations, Borneo probably doesn’t immediately come to mind. But Sabah in Malaysian Borneo has incredible wildlife (orang-utan alert!), world-class dive sites, mountains to climb, jungles to explore, peaceful islands to visit and even the Rafflesia – the world’s largest flower.
If you want to experience a rich rainforest ecosystem and spot different animals every day, head to the Kinabatangan River where you can stay at a lodge and enjoy jungle treks, night-spotting for exotic critters or a boat tour.
If beach resorts are more your style, Sabah has plenty, with the Gaya Island Resort (five-star), Sipadan-Mabul Resort (diving-focused) and Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa (2016 Traveller’s Choice award winner) deserving mention. Check out the Sabah tourism site to see what this amazing part of the world has to offer your family5.
#6. Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Canada is a huge country and you can only see a small slice of it in a single holiday. But Vancouver Island is a wonderful place to start: It contains absolutely everything you could ask for in a family-holiday spot.
Between May and September, Vancouver Island is one of the most stunning places on earth to be. The weather is a bit milder than on the mainland, so the warm-weather tourist season lasts longer.
Several airlines fly from Australia to the mainland city of Vancouver. If you don’t want to go non-stop, have a quick break in Hawaii on the way. From Vancouver, ferries provide a scenic ride across to various spots on the island, where you’ll probably want to hire a car to start exploring.
You can go on a bear-watching tour, hike the beaches and forests, fish for salmon and stay in some of the world’s most endearing B&Bs. On the east coast, head all the way up to Port Hardy and then make your way across to the whale-watching and surfing town of Tofino on the western side. Make sure to eat some clam chowder and pick wild raspberries while you’re there – it’s expected!
This tropical Central American country is tailor-made for low-key family getaways. It’s compact so it’s always easy to access the best bits. It’s less expensive than Australia and the weather is warm all year. And because it was once a British colony (it used to be called British Honduras), just about everyone you meet speaks English.
Belize takes its ecotourism seriously. The rainforest wildlife is amazing: monkeys, toucans, hummingbirds, tapirs, iguanas and much more. Offshore you’ll find beautiful islands, stunning coral reefs and some of the finest fishing in the Caribbean.
The indigenous culture and Mayan ruins will awaken the Indiana Jones in everyone, and for relaxation it’s hard to go past a leisurely inner-tube ride down a quiet jungle stream. Belize has impressive caves too. Stay in a cabana on the beach, in a riverside jungle lodge or on one of the sun-soaked islands off the coast. Belize is a nature-lover’s paradise with solid tourism infrastructure, loads of family-oriented activities and a relaxed, easy-going vibe.
To get to Belize from Australia, the simplest option is to fly to Los Angeles or Dallas and then get a direct flight to Belize City from there. The official Belize Tourism site is a great place to learn more about this fascinating country and start planning your family adventure.
Buenos Aires has often been described as ‘South America’s most European city’ and the ‘Paris of the South’. It’s a vibrant destination with everything you need for a great family getaway. Home of the tango, big juicy steaks and warm, friendly people, it’s the perfect starting point for exploring Argentina’s most famous attractions.
In the northeast corner of the country, Iguazu Falls borders Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and is higher than and twice as wide as Niagara Falls. In the opposite direction is Patagonia, home of some of the most spectacular natural scenery on earth and a haven for outdoor adventure-seekers. If your children have always wanted to see cute penguins in the wild, this is a top spot for it.
With cosmopolitan cities, welcoming locals, colourful deserts, tropical rainforests and the mighty Andes, Argentina should definitely be on your family-holidays list6.
Talk to people who have travelled all over Europe and you’ll often hear the same comment: “I really loved Slovenia!” Bordered by Italy, Hungary, Croatia and Austria, this attractive country will surprise you in many ways. Its charming capital, Ljubljana, is perfect for family walks – and if you want some help in working out where to go, you can latch onto one of their free city walking tours. Grab a gelato from a street vendor, sample a beer or Slovenian wine in a sidewalk cafe (not you, children!) or take a boat ride up the river that runs right through the city.
Further afield, a visit to Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj is a must. If you have never been a big fan of caves, Slovenia is one place that will change your mind forever. Postojna is the most famous but it’s just one of many – there are over 10,000 separate caves in the country. You can also visit Slovenia’s coastline; there’s only 46 kilometres of it, but it’s well worth a look.
Tourist infrastructure is excellent in Slovenia and there are plenty of activities and attractions. The small villages can be quite enchanting and there’s plenty of natural scenery to keep outdoor types happy, with over 7000 kilometres of marked mountain trails. And if your children have seen the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), make sure you take them to the Soca Valley where this movie was filmed7.
Denmark may not offer the cheapest family holiday, but it’s absolutely perfect for kids. It’s a brilliant place to have a white Christmas, but Denmark’s weather is most tourist-friendly during the European summer. Everywhere you look there’s fairy-tale scenery: castles, palaces, beaches, lakes and quaint seaside cafe districts where you can sip coffee and watch the world go by.
The kids will be spoilt for choice. The amusement parks at Tivoli Gardens and Bakken are first-rate, and for water fun you shouldn’t miss Scandinavia’s largest Aquadome at Lalandia Billund. For a drier look at the aquatic world, there’s the Blue Planet: Northern Europe’s largest aquarium.
Of course, no family holiday to Denmark is complete without a visit to LEGOLAND, which offers a mindboggling array of activities and experiences to satisfy all ages8.