Holidays with teenagers… discuss. With your children now in their teenage years, does it feel as if the end of the family holiday is nigh? You might look on this with relief, fear, sadness or a mixture of all three. However, if you’re keen to continue holidaying with your now-adolescent offspring, you might feel that you need to try something new to entice the teens along.
The best family holidays with teenagers
With this in mind I’ve selected some of the best family holidays with teenagers based on first hand experience of places I have enjoyed and also from the positive feedback I received from families with teenagers who I worked with as a travel agent. I’ve put together a selection of destinations and itineraries from simple family holidays in the UK which work well with teenagers, to fun experiences in Europe which teens will enjoy and also some ideas in more far flung destinations such as the USA and Borneo. I’ve tried to include trips which have a range of activities to appeal to the different interests and personalities within a family. So if one of your teenagers likes being at the beach with a book while another teen is a fan of bright lights and socialising, hopefully you might come across a family-friendly holiday idea within this selection.
I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts and whether there are other teenager holiday ideas which you would recommend, so do let me know in the comments at the end of this post if you’ve enjoyed other great family-friendly holidays which fit the teenager bill.
Family holiday to Canada with teenagers: waterfalls, cities and beaches
I tried and tested elements of this itinerary in my teenage years with my family so I speak from experience when I say that Canada is a great destination for a family holiday with teenagers. Start the trip in Toronto, a really enjoyable city with great shopping and excellent restaurants. Niagara Falls is within day tripping distance and in the city itself you’ll have the dizzying CN Tower to scale for epic views over Lake Ontario. The lake itself is great for jogging, cycling and water sports.
I have happy memories as a teen of travelling along the Rocky Mountaineer railway through Canada’s stunning Rocky Mountain range. However, my memories of Vancouver Island are even fonder so that’s where I recommend heading to next. Fly into Campbell River and drive through the interior to the west coast stopping at Cathedral Grove: home to a forest of giant Douglas Firs and one of the most beautiful walks I’ve experienced in Canada.
Vancouver Island’s west coast, the Pacific Rim National Park, is so utterly memorising that your children will be too preoccpied by the magnificence of the beach to remember too frequently that they are on a family holiday. There’s plenty of two and three bedroom units to rent in Tofino so there’s space for the family to spread out.
We enjoyed whale watching and bear watching trips on Vancouver’s Islands west coast, nearly thirty years ago. Seeing wildlife up close with relatively few other tourists around was a real treat. My brother had a similarly brilliant time with his daughter a couple of summers ago so it seems little has changed.
I’d recommend ending your trip in Vancouver city, a short ferry ride or plane journey from the island. My sixteen year old self proclaimed that she wanted to live in Vancouver when she grew up, such was its appeal: a city by the ocean backed by mountains is hard to come by. Admittedly I got distracted by a life in London back in the UK but I hope to visit Vancouver again with my own family.
Italy with teenagers: art, history and beach
Italy is a pretty reliable holiday destination. I should know, I sent countless families there when I was a travel agent. Here’s an itinerary which I think works really well for families who want a mix of fun, history, adventure and, of course, beach.
Start in Pisa: the leaning tower is fun, no matter how many people think it’s overrated and too packed with other tourists. Just make sure you spend the night in Pisa so that you can enjoy the real city once the day trippers have departed.
Once you’ve had the obligatory tourist photo holding up the tower, hop on a train to Rome (three hours) and have your fill of fun Roman attractions. The great thing about Rome is that you can truly tailor it to the age and interests of your kids: go to gladiator school, take a pizza or gelato lesson. Some children will relish the challenge of climbing the 500 or so steps to the summit of Michelangelo’s dome on St Peter’s Basilica, while others might be tempted to head underground to the catacombs filled with skeletons.
From Rome it’s just over an hour by rail down to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. Naples will be stifling in summer so base yourselves in Sorrento where you can hop the Circumversuviana train to Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum. To get a full understanding of the region it’s worth visiting all three places. The archaeology museum in Naples holds many important artefacts from the two ancient sites. Pompeii is huge and impressive but it lacks the details of Herculaneum. At the latter you’ll find incredibly well preserved colourful mosaics and frescoes. Make sure you visit both as they’re very different from each other but equally interesting. I’d recommend having a guide at Pompeii in the summer to steer you to the right places so you don’t overheat whilst you’re struggling to navigate the ancient streets.
Finally reward yourselves with some downtime at the beach. But don’t stick with Amalfi, it’ll be overrun with tourists. Hire a car so you still enjoy the coastal drive and head a little further south to the protected Cilento coastline which receives a fraction of the tourists. The Cilento national park is one of those “Italy hidden gems” which gets written about in newspapers every couple of years but still remains fairly low key. It has a mountainous interior and a beautiful coastline. Stay in a hotel, holiday village or apartment in the town of Santa Maria di Castellabate and you’ll enjoy an authentic Italian seaside resort. If you haven’t had your fill of history, head to the Ancient Greek city of Paestum close by.
For this itinerary I’d recommend splitting your time as follows (14 nights in total): 1 night Pisa, 3 nights Rome, 3 nights in Sorrento and a week at Santa Maria. Although obviously if you’re good at dealing with cities and heat you might decide to spend more time exploring Rome.
Go on a family-friendly walking holiday in Europe
if you all enjoy being outdoors, a multi-day hiking holiday in Europe can be a great way to spend quality time together. I’ve compiled a selection of walking holidays including coastal hikes in Portugal and Italy as well as more traditional Alpine hikes in Switzerland and France. Some of the hikes I’ve written about are easy while others are more demanding. I hope there’s something to suit everyone.
The great thing about multi day hikes is the sense of adventure and freedom, exploring somewhere new together and being away from the distractions of every day life. There’s something incredibly fulfilling and rewarding about being in the mountains all day and taking a dip in an Alpine lake or at a secluded beach.
Greece with teenagers: hopping through the Cycladic Islands
If your family has differing requirements from their holiday, Greek island hopping can be a great solution. The Cycladic group offers everything from people watching to isolation so hopefully you can find an island to match your teen’s current mood. It can be pretty good value too if you pick the right isles. To reach the Cyclades, you can either fly direct from the UK to Mykonos or Santorini (regional departure points include Manchester and Birmingham), or fly to Athens and access the islands by ferry. Depending on the ferry and flight timetables you may need to overnight in one of these three places at the start and/or end of your holiday. In fact, to make your trip more relaxing you should definitely break your journey at one of these points rather than rely on a Greek ferry to connect you with your flight on the same day. There are various island hopping combinations to consider depending in what the priorities are for your holiday.
Along with Santorini, Mykonos can be reached directly from the UK so it’s likely to be where your holiday starts or ends unless you decide to travel via Athens to one of the smaller Cycladic Isles. If you’re willing to expose your kids to a few days of Ibiza / St Tropez-style partying and still feel kind of in control of the situation by sleeping in the same accommodation as them, a few days on Mykonos will give you the opportunity to let them off the lead a bit. Full of glamorous people, elegant and over priced shops, cafes and nightclubs, this popular isle also features windmill-dotted landscapes, stunning sandy beaches and a rich history (nearby Delos is a must-see); so you can go off and explore while your off-spring sleep half the day away.
When you’re ready to prize your children (and your wallet) away from the bright lights of Mykonos, bundle them onto a ferry to pretty Naxos where the pace of life is a little slower. Here you get the best of both worlds; the island is quickly gaining popularity with beach-lovers and the locals are responding accordingly as more hotels and restaurants open each year. However, away from Naxos Town it will feel laid back and relaxing after a stay on Mykonos or Santorini.
If you’re feeling energetic (don’t attempt this in August), you could try bonding with your kids over a hike up Mount Zeus, the highest point in the Greek Islands at 1003 metres and offering impressive views from its summit of neighbouring isles. Otherwise, hire a car (Naxos is the largest of the Cycladic group) and head to one of the many great sandy beaches. Naxos can be accessed from Athens, Santorini or Mykonos and you can reach some of the more remote Cycladic islands from here.
Perhaps your teens are at that reclusive stage of life where the idea of socialising fills them with horror; in which case, bypass the likes of Mykonos, Santorini and Naxos and head to one of the lesser known isles such as tiny Schinoussa. If your children have just finished GCSEs or A Levels, you can take advantage of travelling outside the peak season and reward them with deserted beaches on which to switch off (Wi-Fi might be patchy on this island…)
Even in August, the limited tourism infrastructure means that Schinoussa will never feel very crowded (although peak season does see an increase in daytrippers from Naxos). At just 8 square kilometres, the island has little in the way of motorised transport so expect to explore the island by foot, bike or boat. Getting to Schinoussa does require a bit of travelling, a ferry journey of around nine hours from Athens or a two hour trip from neighbouring Naxos (which in turn is not reachable directly from the UK, see above). However, if you’re looking for escapism this little isle is hard to beat.
With particularly stunning beaches, Koufonissia is not quite as sleepy as Schinoussa, but for good reason. Koufonissia is made up of two small islets, Ano and Kato, the latter of which is mostly uninhabited and has the most impressive stretches of sand. This is a great place for beach lovers and snorkelers, indeed there isn’t really anything else to do except eat at one of the tavernas. Koufonissia is half the size of neighbouring Schinoussa so it won’t feel as empty but given the few places to stay it shouldn’t feel too packed either.
If Schinoussa and Koufonissia sound too “discovered” for you, head to peaceful Amorgos where the traditional Greek way of life is still very much in evidence. Travel-weary folk who are forever chasing the next Thailand (or maybe they’re already looking for the next Myanmar now, I’m out of touch), need not travel for 24 hours to a hidden corner of South East Asia, Greece still has hidden pockets where you can find THAT beach. If you’re able to visit before it gets too hot, the mountainous terrain makes for great hiking and the island’s spectacular Monastery of Hozoviotissa, clinging to the rocks 300 metres above the sea, is well worth a visit.
Back to reality, why not end your trip with a few nights on Santorini. It’s popular with honeymooners who pay top dollar for a romantic hotel with that iconic view of blue-domed churches and tiny whitewashed houses perched on black volcanic cliffs which plunge into the sea. However, families can book into an apartment or villa and enjoy the experience too. Santorini is essentially the remains of a huge volcanic eruption which is thought to have wiped out the Minoan civilisation on Crete and, along with numerous other European islands, considered to be the site of the mythical island of Atlantis. Whatever you believe, there’s no denying Santorini is stunning.
There is a daily ferry service (last time I checked…) between Naxos, Schinoussa, Koufonissia and Amorgos and they can all be reached from Mykonos and Athens too.
For nightlife, people watching, fun at the beach and awe-inspiring views try this:
If you’d rather get away from it all, try this option:
For a combination of everything you could try this:
If you’d prefer not to island hop in Greece, read my post about our road trip across Crete. Although we visited Crete with our young children, I think the island is also perfect for holidays with teenagers.
Teenage dreams: Californian road trip, USA
If you have the budget for long haul flights in peak season, a road trip through California is a classic holiday that even the most reluctant and recalcitrant of teens would be foolish to refuse. There are numerous routes to choose from and there’s something for everyone: surfing, whale watching, Hollywood glamour and pancakes for breakfast everyday should this be a draw (it is for me). Here’s an example itinerary but California offers endless possibilities for holidays with teenagers:
Fly from London to San Francisco: spend a few days exploring San Fran: hire bikes and cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge; try to lock your children away on Alcatraz (booking essential); ride the cable cars up the iconic city streets; check out what’s on at the Museum of Modern Art or enjoy dinner in Chinatown.
Pick up a hire car and drive south to Monterrey with its impressive aquarium and great whale watching opportunities, you’ll hopefully see humpbacks and orcas. Split your time exploring Monterrey and neighbouring Carmel which has a great beach.
Enjoy the amazing drive from Carmel along Highway 1 (or Pacific Coast Highway as it’s also known) through the jaw-dropping coastal scenery of Big Sur. Santa Barbara is a popular place to stay for a few days: great for wine tasting, cafes, surfing and relaxing at the beach.
Depending on your family’s preferences and how much time you have, you could end your trip with a few days in LA, people watching in Hollywood and Venice Beach or perhaps head to Disney if you’re all still young at heart.
If you have more time and fancy knocking off a few national parks (and you can all tolerate being in the car together for the best part of a day), there is a great extension to this trip. Start in Las Vegas and then head west to the desert landscapes of Death Valley. The next day, head to beautiful Yosemite, top of my wish list on my next trip to California. It offers deep forests, dramatic soaring cliffs, waterfalls, plenty of wildlife and should leave the whole family spellbound. If you want to stay here (you need several days to do it justice) book now as accommodation is limited. From Yosemite, the drive to San Francisco to pick up the rest of the itinerary is about three hours. The journey from Las Vegas via Death Valley to Yosemite is around nine hours so if you don’t fancy that, consider just visiting Yosemite from San Francisco.
Can you take your teenagers to Tuscany?
Tuscany might not seem like an obvious choice for holidays with teenagers. What could be worse than being stuck in a boring villa with mum and dad in the middle of nowhere with a dodgy internet connection? Or rather, what could be worse than being stuck with moody resentful teenagers? Well, this is Tuscany with a twist. Visit during the first week of July (assuming GCSEs and / or A levels are over) and you can experience a week of live international music at the Pistoia Blues music festival. Acts in 2016 included Damien Rice and Skunk Anansie plus various others I’m sadly not familiar with but which hopefully might appeal to your offspring. Obviously assume the term “Blues” is used rather loosely here.
Drop your kids off in Pistoia with a small tent and some pocket money and collect them a few days later. Meanwhile, take in the sights of Tuscany, go out for dinner, relax by the pool or indeed go to the concert yourselves (I think the Jesus and Mary Chain are headlining this summer). If you don’t fancy abandoning them overnight you could just let them loose for an evening but I do recall (from my visit twenty odd years ago…) the campsites being a far more civilised affair than their British counterparts. When I stumbled to the portaloos one morning I came across a line of young Italian men who had propped up little mirrors on a wall so that they could have a wet shave.
So, the key with a villa holiday in Tuscany, as with most holidays, is to book early. You should try to find a property which is walking distance to some sort of facility (shop, bar, eatery or ideally all three); has a pool and most importantly (apparently) good Wi-Fi. Now, this is where the trouble can start as villas such as these are incredibly hard to come by as generally most are located in the middle of nowhere so start looking now! If you’re heading there is early July for the festival you’ll hopefully find availability before half the UK heads there at the start of the school holidays. Alternatively, book an apartment in an agriturismo. These often have a restaurant on site or bikes for hire so your children have a mode of transport other than their parents’ car. Pistoia is located to the north of Pisa, Florence and Lucca but close enough to all of them for day trips.
If your teens can’t face two weeks inland, balance a week of rural harmony with a week at the seaside, the island of Elba in southern Tuscany works really well and it has a brilliant hotel, the Del Golfo which offers water sports from the beach and crucially is within walking distance of bars and eateries so everyone can have some independence.
Family adventure holiday with teenagers: Borneo, Malaysia
Borneo is another one of those great destinations which tick all the boxes. Wildlife enthusiasts will be blown away by seeing orangutans (this is possible: we spotted one in the wild), proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants (more tricky) and turtles. Adventure seekers will enjoy summiting Mt Kinabalu while beach lovers can choose from a range of sandy expanses on which to relax and switch off.
Unlike much of south east Asia, Borneo is a perfect destination for a family holiday during July and August as it experiences less rainfall at that time of year. The island of Borneo is made up of Malaysian states Sabah and Sarawak the tiny nation of Brunei and Indonesian Kalimantan (the latter makes up the majority of the island). During our trip, we only visited Sabah, small but packed with interesting things to see and do with teenagers on holiday.
Fly via Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu and spend a few days acclimatising at a beach hotel before heading to Kinabalu National Park. It’s an overnight trek to reach the summit of south east Asia’s highest peak but it’s worth the effort for the incredible sunrise views at the top. For those who’d prefer to expend a little less energy, the lush park is home to a wide variety of plants, including carnivorous pitcher plants and delicate orchids.
A great place to rest your aching muscles post-climb is Gaya Island. Situated in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Reserve, the island is a short boat ride from Kota Kinabalu. Days can be spent exploring the underwater world, learning about marine conservation or simply relaxing on the beach.
After unwinding on Gaya Island, it’s time to fly to Sandakan and catch a boat up the Kinabatangan River to spot those elusive orange beauties! We were fortunate enough to spot a mother and her baby in a nest at the top of a tree (they build a nest of leaves each evening), it’s one of my all-time holiday highlights. Other tourists had seen pygmy elephants and everyone saw plenty of proboscis monkeys. We also spotted snakes, magnificent hornbills and had some close encounters with leeches…
Take a family road trip across Europe
Now, the success of this type of trip very much depends on everyone’s tolerance for time spent in the car together. My friends with teens have told me that some of their best parent-teen conversations happen in the car while they’re ferrying their kids to various activities so a road trip could be a way of spend quality time with your off-spring.
The great thing about a road trip is that you can all pick a few destinations which you want to visit so everyone gets involved in the planning and has a say in where you go to. We took a road trip with our (young) kids during the summer of 2019. I wanted foodie farm stays and mountains, my other half wanted to visit some of the Italian car museums. This kids wanted to visit the locations of the Italian Job in Turin and have access to a pool or the sea. We ticked all these boxes and many more. We took in cities, mountains, lakes and beaches. We stayed in a wide variety of accommodation from campsites to relatively luxurious hotels. Of course we had a few mishaps and plenty of disagreements along the way but overall it was a brilliant success and everyone would like to do it again.
Sustainable travel: go interrailing
If you’d like to lead by example when it comes to sustainable travel, leave the car at home and take the kids interrailing. At the moment, children under 12 travel free and people under the age of 28 can receive a discount with a youth pass.
I went interrailing with friends when I was 19. It was a brilliant adventure. We spent a month sleeping on trains, visiting as many places as possible and (due to budget constraints) we ate lots of very rubbish food. But we had a great time. I’d love to do this adventure with my kids. It’s such a relaxing way to travel and I love the concept of falling asleep in one place and waking up somewhere new.
Perfect isolation: a Scilly holiday with teenagers, England
Now, this is a bit of a wild card… Imagine a place where your children can have complete freedom and independence but cannot travel more than half a mile’s radius from their parents. The Isles of Scilly are an obvious choice for families with little children, but are they a suitable destination for a family holiday with teenagers?
I think the Isles of Scilly are a good destination for inviting your children’s friends along on your family holiday. The islands are very safe with almost no crime so you can let the teens loose, (relatively) safe in the knowledge that there’s little mischief to get up to.
Each of five inhabited Isles of Scilly are tiny. The mode of transport is your feet or possibly a bike. There are daily boats between each isle and there are enough beaches for everyone to spread out and have some space: perfect for reclusive teenagers.
If your teens enjoy water sports they should be happy: there’s kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, sailing coasteering and snorkelling with seals, all readily available (although the seals need to be pre-booked as they’re very popular).
I’d recommend staying on the main island of St Mary’s where there’s a wide range of accommodation available. We rented a spacious three bedroom house in the centre of the capital Hugh Town, a short walk to a variety of bars and restaurants. The Isles of Scilly are a great option to consider for a holiday with teenagers if you all want to split up for the day and then reconvene for dinner: fish and chips on the beach at sunset perhaps or burgers at the Mermaid Inn.
Hire a villa in France with family or friends
Several years ago we rented a fantastic villa with extended family in the south of France, not far from Bergerac. There are several things about Le Manoir du Vignoble which make it a great choice for a large group: the villa has four en-suite bedrooms plus a dormitory style room sleeping a further six beds. There are two kitchens, a games room, an underground billiards room and a huge dining room.
Outside, the villa has vast gardens with a generous sized swimming pool and various outdoor games including badminton. There are bikes for guest use and within walking distance (this next bit is crucial) is the owner’s very good winery where you’ll be welcome to enjoy a tasting session. It’s a short drive to Bergerac while Bordeaux and the multitude of wine-tastic areas the region is famed for are all within day trip distance.
Although we stayed at this villa when we had a baby, I think it would be a really fun place to enjoy with a group of friends and their kids. There’s enough space for everyone to spread out and the bicycles would give older teens the freedom to go off and explore while younger teens and tweens will no doubt enjoy the many on-site facilities.
Namibia: Safari and Sand Dunes family road trip with teenagers
If the idea of being stuck in a car for hours on end in the middle of a desert with your teenagers sounds a bit much, please hear me out… Namibia is an incredible destination with plenty of fun activities for both teens and grown ups. The best way to see Namibia is on a self drive road trip. I spent ten days exploring the country pre-kids and I would love to return with my boys when they’re a bit older so that I can share this amazing country with them.
The road network in Namibia is good. A 4WD is not essential, you just need to drive carefully on the unsealed roads. Highlights include watching the sun rise over the sand dunes at Sossusvlei, listening to the local clicking language in Damaraland and taking a safari through Etosha National Park.
Teenagers will no doubt enjoy the adreneline sports on offer at the Namib Desert accessible from the coastal town of Swakopmund. Sandboarding and quad biking are both on offer as well as boat trips out to see the colonies of seals on the rocky coastline.
On safari, families can expect to see elephants, zebras and possibly lions during a drive through Etosha. There are rest camps situated next to water holes so visitors can watch the animals from a safe vantage point near their tents.
The food in Nambia is great for carnivores, less so for vegetarians. And for those with a love of dramatic landscapes and big roads, this is one of the best destinations in the world.
Active holidays with teenagers
Some kids have boundless energy so if you have teenagers who need to be kept active on holiday, there are several tour operators who offer some excellent holiday packages. Not everyone likes the club style holiday where you’re forced to socialise with fellow holiday makers. However, Neilson is one of the better operators in this market. The Portomyrina Palace in Lemnos is a particularly good option as it is located within walking distance of the island’s capital, Myrina.
At the Portomyrina, guests will have the choice of a wide range of water and land based sports included in the price. Most meals are included except for three evening meals which I think is a particularly good thing: this gives visitors the opportunity to explore some of the local eateries in Myrina or elsewhere on the island.
Recommended tour operators
During my years as I travel agent, I got to know which were the good guys and which were the more dubious operators in the travel world. Here are some of the companies I wholeheartedly recommend (and, in some instances, have consequently used for my own trips). This is not a sponsored post, these are simply my recommendations based on experience.
This is a brilliant tour operator if you like active, but independent, holidays. Inn Travel‘s strapline is “the slow holiday people”. They put together cycling and walking trips where they take care of the accommodation and transport: your luggage is transported for you as you move from place to place. Alternatively, they offer single-centre holidays where you’re based in a self catering property or small hotel. They concentrate on quieter places and use independent properties.
Although Sunvil now cover half the globe, they originally started out as a Cyprus specialist. I think they’re particularly great for last minute holidays to Greece. They feature lots of Greek islands and try to stay away from the more developed resorts. Sunvil offers a range of apartments, villas, guesthouses and hotels and they charter flights so you can book the whole package through them.
This is my favourite villa company and I’m dying to try out their villas in Galicia, in north west Spain. All of their properties are a good standard and all come with a private pool. If your teens dread the thought of being stuck in a villa in the middle of nowhere, fear not, plenty of the properties which Vintage features are within walking distance of a town or the beach.
Sticking with northern Spain, I used this company to find very off the beaten track places to stay in the Basque region of Spain. Some of the properties they feature are incredibly good value. Some of my fondest holiday memories are from a trip in this part of the country.
Do you have any suggestions for holidays with teenagers? Let me know in the comments below.
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