Off the beaten track holidays in Europe for families

Off the beaten track holidays in Europe for families

When you have children, it’s very tempting to stick to the same family-friendly holiday destination each year. There’s something reassuring, when you’re parting with lots of hard earned money, to return to the same child-friendly destination which you know will keep the whole family happy. However, if you’ve decided you’d like to try somewhere new, in this post I’ve put together some destinations which are a little more off the beaten path. I spent many years as a travel agent researching interesting and off the beaten track holidays in Europe for families.

If you’ve had some great family holidays in the Algarve in Portugal or perhaps you always return to the child-friendly beaches of Corfu, I hope some of these alternative ideas for a family holiday off the beaten track will appeal to you. So many destinations in Europe suffer from over-tourism and yet there are plenty of other holiday ideas for families close by which work just as well. And of course, many off the beaten track holiday destinations are cheaper than their more well known counterparts.

Italy off the beaten track: tried Puglia? Try Calabria

Best for: young families or explorers
You can’t go too wrong taking a family holiday in Italy but some regions work better for beach holidays than others. You’d have to head over to Sardinia to rival Puglia’s fantastic coastline of sandy beaches but if you’re keen to explore a less visited and good value region of Italy, I’d recommend the toe of Italy’s boot, Calabria.

Capo Vaticano Calabria family summer beach holiday

Off the beaten track holidays: the Calabrian coast, southern Italy

I have great memories, as a student, of spending hours snorkelling off the beaches in Calabria. The coastline is rockier than Puglia’s (but still with plenty of sand) so there’s more going on beneath the waves. You can take day trips to the Aeolian Islands and if your family are active and you’re looking to combine beach with hiking, the Pollino National Park is impressive (just don’t go there in the height of summer, it’s hot).

Papasidero, Pollino National Park, off the beaten track holidays, italy family holiday ideas

Papasidero, Pollino National Park, Calabria

Calabria is still quite an impoverished, predominantly agricultural region and you won’t find the same number of charming towns that draws tourists to Puglia. However, stay close to the pretty seaside towns of Tropea or Scilla and the beaches of Capo Vaticano and you’ll be glad that there’s no need to stray too far, you’ll have everything you need right there.

Tropea family summer beach holiday, off the beaten track holidays, ideas for family summer holidays

Family holiday ideas: Tropea, Calabria

I’m intrigued by the accommodation reviewed by the Guardian recently, at Eco Belmonte Albergo Diffuso. It looks like an interesting project. Alternatively, if you’re keen to be closer to a beach (and you’re happy to pay a bit more), the Costa Azzura or La Conchiglia should both offer an authentic Italian holiday experience.

Calabria is tricky to get to from the UK (just Ryanair at the moment from Stansted) but think of that as part of the appeal. Fly indirectly via Rome or Milan and you won’t add on too much time to your journey.

Portugal ‘s coastal natural park: tried the Algarve? Try the Costa Vicentina

Best for: surfers and kids who don’t mind getting knocked down by waves
The Alentejo coastline is seriously beautiful and the protected Costa Vicentina natural park is particularly special. Beaches backed cliffs, forests, wildflowers; pick your preferred natural backdrop and you’ll find it on Portugal’s southern Atlantic coast. We visited the region for a wedding when our older son was a year old. I can’t remember the names of all the beaches we visited or the wonderful restaurants we ate in (my first year of motherhood has left some sizeable gaps in my memory), I just know that I want to return.

Alentejo beach family summer beach holiday ideas

Family holiday ideas: our favourite  Alentejo beach, Portugal

As this is the Atlantic coast, the beaches are perfect for surfers and body boarders, but there are a number of more sheltered beaches too. We had a lovely meal overlooking Odeceixe beach which has a river running down to the sea, perfect for toddlers.

Alentejo coast Family holiday ideas off the beaten track

Off the beaten track holidays: typical Alentejo scenery, Portugal

There are strict building restrictions in the national park so you won’t find beachfront properties here, however, there are some fantastic places to stay within a short drive of the coast which offer great character and hospitality. The Casas Brancas website is pretty comprehensive and includes Monte da Vilarinha which I briefly visited, it looked heavenly.

The Alentejo coast can be reached from either Faro or Lisbon airports. The former is closer (1 hour 45 minutes) but you’ll have a more rewarding drive from the latter (2 hours 45 minutes).

Greece off the beaten track: tried the Ionian Islands? Try the Small Cyclades

Best for: island hopping adventurers
If you’re lamenting the over-development of your favourite Greek island, you’ll be reassured to know that Greece has enough islands to ensure holidaymakers don’t run out of “undiscovered destinations” any time soon.

Amorgos family summer beach holiday, off the beaten track holidays

Off the beaten track holidays: azure waters surrounding Amorgos, Greece

I wrote about the Cyclades group of islands in a previous post on holidaying with teens but the Small Cyclades in particular will appeal to families with children of any age looking for a relaxing beach holiday off the beaten track. Just bear in mind that there’s a 4 hour flight followed by one or more ferries to contend with.

To get to the Small Cyclades you can fly to either Athens, Santorini or Mykonos and then take a ferry. Some of the islands, such as Koufonissi, have little more than a harbour and a scattering of houses but if you’re after that quintessential Greek Island holiday, the Cyclades are hard to beat. The main mode of transport is your feet or perhaps a donkey. And most roads (or rather tracks) lead to a beach. I’ve earmarked Amorgos for a future trip.

Levrossos beach Amorgos

Family summer beach holiday ideas: Levrossos beach, Amorgos

The proximity of the big-name Cycladic isles means that families with differing ideas of what constitutes a holiday should find something to keep everyone happy. Selfie-stickers and Instagrammers will love Santorini, party animals can go wild in Mykonos and beach lovers who like a few more people to mingle with should find Naxos to their liking.

Schinoussa taverna Family summer beach holiday

Beachside taverna in Schinoussa

There are tour operators who have always specialised in the lesser known Greek islands who can recommend suitable accommodation in the Cyclades, Sunvil have a good range and can help with ferry bookings.

Secret Spain: tried the Costa Brava? Try Galicia in Spain’s north west

Best for: lovers of seafood and dramatic coastlines (and pilgrims)
We had a lovely family holiday on the Costa Brava in May several years ago, but it’s heaving with visitors in August. By contrast, Spain’s remote north west coast sees far fewer tourists and yet it has just as many (if not more) stunning beaches. It’s perfect for an off the beaten track family holiday. Cooler and greener than much of Spain, Galicia boasts an impressively rugged coastline including the archway-studded Playa de los Catedrales.

Cathdral beach, Galicia

Off the beaten track holidays: Playa de los Catedrales, Galicia

There are beaches for all tastes in Galicia: from protected stretches of sand for toddlers to the exposed Atlantic coast for surfers. Most countries have a place which they like to refer to as their “Caribbean” and in Galicia it’s the tiny islands of Cies and Ons. Just writing this makes me want to go there.

Cies Galicia Family summer beach holiday, off the beaten track holidays in spain

Family summer beach holiday ideas: Islas Cies, Galicia

It’s worth taking a few day trips away from Galicia’s beaches; as the third largest pilgramage site, Santiago de Compostela needs no introduction but further south you’ll also find delights such as the medieval harbour town of Baiona and the estuary town of Pontevedra. They’re great for wandering and even better for feasting on the excellent and good value seafood for which the region is renowned.

Coastal Galicia Family summer beach holiday , off the beaten track holidays in spain

Galician coastline

Self catering in Galicia is noticeably cheaper than eastern and southern Spain. Casas Cantabricas covers the whole of the north west and features some very reasonably priced places to stay. Vintage Travel specialises in Galicia and offers quality villas with pools, some within walking distance of a beach.

Galicia is accessible from various London airports with Ryanair and Vueling while across the border in Portugal, Porto can be reached from a number of regional UK airports.

Holidays in the UK off the beaten track: tried mainland Cornwall? Try the Isles of Scilly

Best for: a good old fashioned seaside holiday
Hardly a secret this one, but it still surprises me that so few Brits have visited the Isles of Scilly. No doubt the pricey flights (relative to the distance) or the journey along the traffic-packed roads of south west England come summertime play a part in discouraging visitors. However, those who make the journey to the Scillies discover an unspoilt archipelago of peaceful harbours and stunning beaches and a more relaxed way of life.

St Mary Scilly Isles Family summer beach holiday, UK off the beaten track holidays

St Mary’s Harbour, Isles of Scilly

We’ve decided to visit the Isles of Scilly this summer, combined with a stay in Cornwall. The ferry is reasonably priced and it won’t feel like such a trek if we’re already in Cornwall. There’s a good range of accommodation from basic camping to contemporary hotels with everything in between. The islands’ tourist board is a good place to start. Just make sure you book early, a lot of the properties are reserved for regular visitors so what’s left over gets snapped up pretty quickly.

Isles of Scilly landscape family summer beach holiday

Family summer beach holiday ideas: Isles of Scilly

I’m looking forward to having no distractions from my main task of beach-going. Unlike Cornwall, there’s little to do on the Isles of Scilly except enjoy the scenery: boat trips to uninhabited islands, endless beaches, clear blue seas. And I’m sure the weather will be perfect…

Scilly beach Family summer beach holiday, off the beaten track holidays in the uk

Isles of Scilly beach

Do you have any recommendations for off the beaten track holidays in Europe for families? Let me know in the comments below.

Some of the images in this post are courtesy of Pixabay.

Looking for more summer beach holiday ideas?

Best UK beach breaks for families

The best beaches in Sicily

An Italian beach holiday in Grottammare

A family holiday on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall

Reasons to visit the Isles of Scilly with kids

10 reasons to visit Le Marche in Italy

Holiday ideas with teenagers



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  1. 20th January 2018 / 11:20 am

    A student introduced me to Calabria and now I’m dreaming of those blue waters!! Such a pretty place! Thanks for sharing with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    • 20th January 2018 / 11:24 am

      You must go! And the food and drink are great there too, that’s a whole other post!

  2. 22nd January 2018 / 8:25 am

    What a fab list! I’ve barely been to any of these. The photos are incredible! I would particularly love to visit the Isles of Scilly. #MondayEscapes

    • 22nd January 2018 / 10:14 am

      I can’t wait to go to the Isles of Scilly, it sounds amazing!

  3. 22nd January 2018 / 9:35 am

    What amazing photographs and a much inspirational get away lists. The blue skies and blue waters are making me want to book the next holiday. I have had Isles of Scilly on my list for a while. I am definitely going to go this year. I had a great time in St Heliers. Jersey. Your post reminds me of quote “ World is your Oyster”. Happy travelling !!!!! #MondayEscapes

    • 22nd January 2018 / 10:13 am

      Yes, I’d love to transport myself to one of these destinations right now!

  4. Allison
    22nd January 2018 / 2:12 pm

    What a great list. I would love to go to any of these beaches. #MondayEscapes

  5. Jules (
    22nd January 2018 / 2:26 pm

    a great idea for a post. I love some of your suggestions. We always travel to the B-locations and try to avoid the touristtraps that many major beach resorts have turned into. #mondayescapes

    • 22nd January 2018 / 5:55 pm

      There’s so many places which remain off the radar. I’m always surprised by that!

  6. 22nd January 2018 / 5:31 pm

    I’d been looking into Naxos…but now I’m looking into Amorgos, so thanks for the tip! #MondayEscapes

    • 22nd January 2018 / 5:55 pm

      Maybe do both? I think Naxos sounds really great and am tempted by it myself.

  7. 22nd January 2018 / 9:33 pm

    I nodded all the way through this – you’ve picked some excellent destinations and I think I want to get to them all this year. In my dreams! I will at least tick off Italy and Cornwall, that’s for sure. Thanks for sharing this with #MondayEscapes

    • 22nd January 2018 / 9:46 pm

      It’s nice to daydream on a Monday!

  8. travelguideblogcouk
    23rd January 2018 / 12:14 pm

    We visited the Algarve for a family holiday last year and it was absolutely fantastic – the beaches were beautiful! I am a huge fan of the Amalfi Coast, Southern Italy is just breathtaking, never visited Calabria but it is now on my list 🙂 Sim x

    • 23rd January 2018 / 12:20 pm

      Yes, the Algarve is lovely. Portugal has such a great range of beaches. Calabria is rather different to Amalfi, not as pretty but does have some lovely parts and fewer tourists so definitely give it a try!

  9. pigeonpairandme
    23rd January 2018 / 7:58 pm

    Oh I’m so excited to read about Koufonissi here! I spent a night there, before heading over to Kato Koufonissi for the rest of our holiday. I was with Greek friends, and it was such an amazing adventure – I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t been with locals. The rest of your recommendations sound heavenly, too. #MondayEscapes

    • 23rd January 2018 / 8:09 pm

      So glad to hear of someone who’s been to Koufonissi! I can’t wait to explore the Cyclades.

  10. 24th January 2018 / 10:41 am

    What a useful post – thank you! Some great ideas and couldn’t agree more on the Scilly Isles. #mondayescapes

    • 24th January 2018 / 10:42 am

      How I wish I was in the Scillies today!

  11. 24th January 2018 / 1:20 pm

    Ohhh how gorgeous and summery is this post! Just what I needed to read on a cold January day! Can’t wait for summer now! #bloggerclub

    • 24th January 2018 / 1:51 pm

      Yes, if only we could be transported right now!

  12. 25th January 2018 / 7:15 am

    What a great list especially for families! We live in Southern California surrounded by beaches so I love how each of these are so different from home. This has me dreaming of beach vacations in Europe now which we haven’t really considered. We usually stay in the city centers and countryside. We loved Santorini last summer but was too crowded so we’d love to explore the other Greek islands.

    • 25th January 2018 / 7:22 am

      Well, it’s certainly very easy to combine a city and beach in Europe. My top recommendations would be Lisbon and the Alentejo or London and the Isles of Scilly.

  13. Clare Thomson
    25th January 2018 / 1:56 pm

    This is an absolutely brilliant post, Annabel! We much prefer the more laidback, lesser known destinations and I love your list. A friend has been raving about Calabria recently – she says there are virtually no tourists and I’m desperate to go to the Isles of Scilly. Great post for #FarawayFiles, you’ve certainly inspired me.

    • 25th January 2018 / 2:32 pm

      Thanks. I’m tempted by Folegandros after reading your post recently. Is it too early to plan for 2019..?

  14. 26th January 2018 / 5:47 pm

    What a great post! Love the suggestions, especially Calabria! Right off the top, you had us sold with that photo – the great beach, impressive cliffs, and charming old buildings up top…looks great! We’d seen some posts on the Small Cyclades before, but you’ve shown us even more spots to look at. We’ve got some planning to do! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    • 26th January 2018 / 5:50 pm

      Calabria is fantastic. I can’t wait to take my kids there. Great too if you like spicy food.

  15. 27th January 2018 / 1:36 am

    Love this! All of these places look so gorgeous and relaxed, and without the crazy crowds. I would love to go to Calabria and Portugal…Galicia too. I’m saving this for future travels, what an inspiring list for less-travelled places! Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

    • 27th January 2018 / 7:40 am

      Thanks. This is a great time of year for holiday daydreaming isn’t it?

  16. 28th January 2018 / 9:13 am

    Absolutely have sold me on every one of these alternate stops for some sun AND stunning landscapes. I love finding a bit of the beaten path gems – saving for some wanderlusting later! Especially from grey and a bit gloomy winter Copenhagen. Cheers! #MondayEscapes

  17. 28th January 2018 / 10:18 am

    Such an informative and detailed post. My brother moves to a Greek island in the Summer permanently having visited on holiday initially and fallen in love with it. #TriumphantTales

    • 28th January 2018 / 10:30 am

      Wow, which island is he moving to? That’s quite a life changing decision!

  18. 29th January 2018 / 6:17 pm

    oh wow these photos are amazing!!!! literally making me miss the sun and i’m desperate for a summer holiday but being pregnant with twins means it’ll easily be next summer at the earliest! I love the idea of the place in Italy, we also want to go there to trace Hubby’s family tree so maybe eventually take a long break there!!
    Thank you for sharing this with us at #TriumphantTales. I hope to see you back tomorrow.

    • 29th January 2018 / 7:55 pm

      Tracing a family tree in Italy sounds fun! Twins: wow, that’s exciting!

  19. 30th January 2018 / 9:31 am

    What a great post – and as if my travel bucketlist isn’t long enough already lol. My kids certainly do love getting knocked down by waves so think we will put Portugal up near the top of our places to go list.

    • 30th January 2018 / 11:08 am

      The beaches I mentioned in Alentejo are reachable from parts of the Algarve too.

  20. Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad
    30th January 2018 / 11:05 am

    I love posts like this, such great ideas. I always wanted to go to NW Spain, and got very close to booking a number of times but it never quite happened. Now we’re exploring Australian beaches – but I’ve still got those Spanish beaches on my list, one day!

    • 30th January 2018 / 11:09 am

      Well, you can’t go too wrong with Australian beaches! The best ones I came across were in Tasmania.

      • Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad
        30th January 2018 / 11:15 am

        We took a sneaky trip there over Christmas, and it’s fast becoming one of my favourite places ever. I think I need to go back and see some more beaches though!

  21. viewfromthebeachchair
    30th January 2018 / 3:51 pm

    This is my idea of a seaside escape! I love the blue water! #familytraveltips

  22. 30th January 2018 / 9:03 pm

    There are some really good suggestions here – thanks, we like getting off the beaten track a little so this is ideal. #familytraveltips

    • 30th January 2018 / 9:21 pm

      Thanks. Let me know if you need any more info!

  23. 2nd February 2018 / 12:45 pm

    Now I just want to go to all of those places! We had a lovely beach holiday in the South of Italy and on the Isle of Skye, totally different experiences although in both places the beaches are all stony. Would love to go to Greece next. #wanderlustkids

    • 2nd February 2018 / 1:06 pm

      I’d love to visit Skye, I’ve heard it’s beautiful.

      • 2nd February 2018 / 1:09 pm

        Oh yes it is! I have to say it was one of the best holidays with the kids we have had, we all felt like the Famous Five exploring the caves and cliffs.

  24. 2nd February 2018 / 2:38 pm

    Ahh I’m so jealous that you’re off to the Isles of Scilly, that’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. The Small Cyclades sound fabulous too, always a good sign that I’ve never heard of them! So many lovely ideas! Thanks for linking up with #familytraveltips.

    • 2nd February 2018 / 4:30 pm

      Yes, I absolutely cannot wait until we go to the Isles of Scilly. I haven’t taken my kids to Cornwall yet so that will be amazing.

  25. 4th February 2018 / 11:53 am

    I love this post! Great idea for a change when you’ve got used to somewhere you like. I’ve been to Calabria and loved the coastline – it’s a very different part of Italy!

    • 4th February 2018 / 2:15 pm

      It is, I’m looking forward to returning with my kids.

  26. 5th February 2018 / 7:36 pm

    Oh wow such great ideas here – i’d love to try Italy with the kids and Cornwall – I’ve never been! #wanderlustkids

    • 5th February 2018 / 7:55 pm

      Italy is fab with kids, a cliche but so true! And I’ve no doubt Cornwall will be perfect too, I can’t wait!

  27. 6th February 2018 / 8:23 am

    Fabulous ideas. We have LOVED Italy when we have been but if we went back would want to do something a bit different – this has given me loads of ideas! #wanderlustkids

  28. 18th February 2018 / 10:04 am

    I love the look of Alentejo beach but to be fair they all look enticing! #familytraveltips

    • 18th February 2018 / 10:31 am

      I’d love to go back to the Alentejo, it is a stunning part of Portugal.

  29. 23rd February 2018 / 12:59 pm

    That’s a fab list of ideas. We now live in Portugal but have yet to visit the Western Algarve (we live in the East). I’ve heard so many good things about Alentejo so we must make a visit there. And I also long to visit the Isles of Scilly. #wanderlustkids

    • 23rd February 2018 / 1:12 pm

      How exciting having all those beautiful places waiting to be explored!

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