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 them along.
I’ve put together a selection of destinations and itineraries from simple family holidays in the UK, to fun experiences in Europe 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 teenager likes being at the beach with a book while another is a fan of bright lights and socialising, hopefully you might come across a family-friendly holiday idea within this selection.
Waterfalls, cities and beaches, Canada
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.
Hopping through the Cycladic Islands, Greece
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.
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.
Tuscany and Pistoia Blues, Italy
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.
Borneo wildlife adventure and beach holiday
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.
The best place to rest your aching muscles post-climb is the tranquil island of Lankayan an hour or so’s boat ride from the port of Sandakan. Lankayan is small and perfect. We spent most of our time floating around in the water looking at the fish and turtles before. Evenings are for epic sunsets and wandering along the beach to see what’s for dinner at the resort restaurant. There’s little else to do, we loved it. The island isn’t luxurious but if there are divers in your family, you’ll be in heaven.
After unwinding on Lankayan, it’s time to head back 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…
Perfect isolation: the Isles of Scilly, 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.
Do you have any suggestions for holidays with teenagers? Let me know in the comments below.
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