Does culture, history, turquoise sea and amazing food sound like an ideal combination? If yes, Southern Italy won’t disappoint you! My long weekend in Southern Italy started with a two-night stay in Naples. In advance, I had a bit of mixed feelings based on what […]
A 4 days getaway in Saariselkä, the northernmost ski resort in Finland is an utmost relaxing experience. Saariselkä is known especially for Urho Kekkonen National Park and the skiing tracks in the breathtaking scenery of Finland Lapland. The location is 250 km / 155 mi […]
London is a perfect destination for a long weekend city break: museums, parks, musicals, sightseeing… there are abundant options on what to see and do when you visit London with kids. Plan your family trip to London well in advance to make the best out […]
Do you enjoy outdoor adventures? What’s a perfect family holiday for you and the little (or bigger) ones? We asked travel writers around the world for their recommendations for the best family activity holidays around the globe. Explore the amazing adventures your family can have whether you would like to go hiking, boating, kayaking, cycling, skiing, snowshoeing, white water rafting, snorkeling, or surfing! Or how about a cruise on an ice-breaker ship or ride on a steam train? Sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Niagra Falls or discover the Waitomo Glow-worm caves? Or try something totally new and experiment bike zipwire and tree root climbing? Adventures await and there’s something for everyone!
Hiking in Montserrat, Barcelona, Spain
by Emma at World Best Hikes
Ah, beautiful Barcelona, where you can spend days exploring architectural wonders like Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló and Park Güell – not to mention a host of gothic and modern delights. Right? Well, yes, if you’re travelling without children… but if your kids are anything like mine then you might need a break from all those buildings.
Montserrat is the perfect antidote. Located just an hour from Barcelona, this series of tooth-shaped mountains combines nature and stunning views with the fun of a cable car and funicular railways – plus an 11th-century abbey perched high up on a cliff. You can drive there, but for a more relaxing day I recommend taking the R5 train from Barcelona’s Plaça d’Espanya station to Montserrat-Aeri station, followed by the cable car to Santa Maria de Montserrat abbey. You can buy a combined train-cable car ticket at Plaça d’Espanya station, as well as other tickets that include the funiculars as well.
Once at the abbey you have many options. For a short walk, head down from the abbey to see the shrine and chapel at Santa Cova, and then take the Funicular de Santa Cova back to the abbey. Or for a longer hike, head up to the highest point, San Jeroni. There’s a few restaurants and takeaway places at the abbey – which, of course, you can also visit. Visit the tourist office at the abbey for maps and further information, and recharge your family’s batteries in this truly lovely part of the world!
River and Canal Boating in Brittany, France
by Lisa at Travel Loving Family
We absolutely adore Brittany, France. We first went on a family holiday there nearly two years ago and we’ve been back three times since. It’s just so convenient to get to from the UK, the scenery and particularly the coastlines are stunning plus the region offers so much for outdoorsy types, like my family and I.
In July I spent a week cruising along the rivers and canals in Brittany in a self drive motor cruiser with my husband and our two boys, 4 & 7 years old. Friends thought we were crazy to take them on a boat for a week but it was one of the best family holidays we’ve ever had.
We loved navigating through the locks and under bridges, stopping in marinas for the night that took our fancy and exploring river side villages and towns. My boys thoroughly enjoyed helping out with the steering, even filling up the water tank and shopping at local bakeries was a big adventure for them.
The cost of hiring a boat very much depends on the time of year and size of boat but as a very rough guide with the company we went with, Le Boat, it is around £1,190 for a 7 night self-drive cruise for up to 6 people which excludes boat damage waiver, fuel, travel to/from the base, mooring fees and insurance.
As for advice/tips – I would say don’t feel like you need to be a professional boater to try out this type of holiday. You really don’t need to be. If you can drive a car you can genuinely drive a motor cruiser. We found the marinas really easy to moor up in and everyone on the waterways to be very friendly and helpful (obviously it helps if you speak some French). The locks in Brittany, France are mainly manned too so all you have to do is pull into the lock, throw your rope to the lock keeper and literally hold on to it to prevent your boat from banging into the sides.
Canoeing in the Dordogne, France
by Gillian at The Little Den
Known as the land of 1001 chateaux, the Dordogne region of France has something for everyone – fairytale castles, 20,000 year old prehistoric cave paintings, beautiful villages, incredible gastronomy, stunning landscapes and scenery. We fell under the charm of this paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers. One of our favorite family activities is going for a canoeing trip on the Dordogne river.
You can choose to paddle down either of two rivers – the Dordogne or the Vézère. The former is more picturesque with amazing views of riverside towns, chateaux and villages carved into the rock face. The latter is wilder – think Canada – and might appeal more to nature lovers. You get an amazing vantage point from the river and are able to see things that aren’t visible from elsewhere.
There are plenty of companies that hire out canoes along both rivers – our favorites are Canoe Roquegeoffre for trips down the Dordogne and AVCK for the Vézère. Our preferred option is to take a mini bus upstream (organised by the hire company) and to paddle down the river back to our starting point. It allows for a more leisurely pace with no pressure to meet a bus at a specific time. The cost varies depending on the distance you plan to cover and the number of people that will be taking part, however, it remains a reasonably priced family outing. This is definitely a must on your next Dordogne family holiday!
Cycling the Rhine River from Switzerland to the Netherlands
By Anya at Unexpected Occurrence
Cycling along the Rhine River from source to sea is an incredible family adventure. The route starts in Switzerland on a high pass (which you can take a train up), and from there, it’s all downhill and flat! It’s amazing for families because there’s great food and culture in the countries you cycle through, you stop in plenty of towns with history, and sights are dotted along the whole route.
You can either stay in hotels or camp, which makes it suitable for nearly all budgets. It takes roughly 3-4 weeks, but you can always slow down the pace if travelling with young kids. I’d cycle roughly 50km a day to ensure having enough time to see all of the beautiful sights and to account for lots of breaks with some great views.
Boating in Hallstatt, Austria
by Diana at The Elusive family
Hallstatt in northern Austria is a postcard-perfect town and considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Located just one and a half hours from Salzburg, Hallstatt is a great day trip if you are visiting the region.
Taking a boat on Lake Hallstatt is a great way to spend an afternoon with your family during the holidays. The town’s location among towering mountains creates for an amazing adventure. There are several options for boats: 1) row boat, 2) swan pedal boat or 3) electric boat with a sun roof. The best boat is the electric boat as it is budget friendly. Prices do vary and the latest price is approximately 15 euros for 30 minutes. There is a choice of a higher-powered engine as well.
The boat is easy to maneuver and as long as you have one with a sun roof, you can spend a long time out on the water. Be sure to eat before or after as food is not allowed on the boat. Make sure you have a camera as well to take candid shots of the village from different places on the lakes. During high summer season, be sure to get to the lake early, as the boat rentals are very popular. The boat can comfortably sit 4 people and up to 6 if you have smaller children that can squeeze in.
Cave Kayaking in Lagos, Portugal
by Pia at Next Stop TBC
Lagos is a small town in Algarve, on the Southern Portugal coastline. There are amazing views to the turquoise sea and long beaches, limescale rocks and grottos. The Atlantic winds can be gusty but when the weather is calm, it’s a perfect place to go cave kayaking especially with a bit older kids. It was the first time to go kayaking for my 8-year old daughter and it was quite an adventure and the highlight of our vacation.
You can find different kayaking tour operators in Lagos Marina. It’s a good idea to also do some research online in advance and read the reviews. Pack along plenty of drinking water and apply sunscreen in advance. Don’t forget hats and sunglasses! A waterproof case for your mobile or camera would be recommended. If your skin burns easily a UV shirt would be a good idea, otherwise you won’t need much more clothes in addition to swimwear although a light jacket could be nice on a cooler day. Leave your valuables at home and watch out for the motorboats
The Cave kayaking in Lagos, Portugal was a fantastic experience for us and the views were absolutely stunning!
Water Sports on Lake Bled, Slovenia
by Cath at Passports and Adventures
Lake Bled in Slovenia is the perfect location for a family activity holiday. It is far from a typical resort. Lake Bled is located at the foothills of the Julian Alps and was formed by a glacier. The lake is home to Slovenia’s only island and offers families a chance to partake in lots of water sports.
Firstly, you can swim in the lake, just ensure you are a good swimmer and watch out for the boats ferrying people back and forth to the island. You can swim from a few of the beaches around the lake, or from Bled Lido which costs around €10 per day for access. At the Lido you’ll find changing rooms, shallow pools for kids, a diving board and grassy banks to enjoy some summer sun from. You can also enjoy body boarding and kayaking on the lake, and even hire row boats to get to the island yourself. These are charged at a fee, with row boats starting from around €10 per hour.
As well as water sports, there are hikes in and around Bled for the more adventurous families. You can also enjoy the toboggan run during summer and skiing during the winter. For families visiting Lake Bled with kids, particularly younger ones, there is a tourist train that goes around the lake if you don’t fancy walking the circumference. But we highly recommend the walk. It takes around 2-3 hours, depending on whether or not you stop for a slice of Bled Cream cake.
Steam Train Ride in Maramures, Romania
By Corina at Another Milestone
In the northern part of Romania lays a region where traditions are still alive and nature is still wild: Maramures. A perfect place for a relaxing holiday far away from technology and big cities, Maramures has an attraction that will take you back in time: a steam train ride.
At 9 am the Mocanita (how it’s called the steam train in Romanian) departs from Viseu de Sus and after a 2-hour ride between mountains, green forests and unspoiled nature you will arrive at the destination. For more than 2 hours you will stay here and have a picnic, listen some traditional Romanian music, visit the small train museum or just sit on grass and enjoy the water’s tranquil sounds.
A half day trip with Mocanita costs around 20 euro per person and the best thing is to book it with few days in advance. Children love everything about this trip (the train ride, the break in nature where they can play) and for adults is a breath of fresh air away from the real world. On the way back to Viseu de Sus, as you start to see the houses, you feel a little bit upset that it didn’t last longer!
Cycling and Family Fun in Bormio, Italy
by Clare at Epic Road Rides
Bormio, in the Italian Alps, is at the doorstep of the Stelvio Pass and is renowned as one of the world’s best road cycling destinations. While the cycling is best suited to fit adults rather than families, Bormio is a fantastic place for an active family holiday.
Sticking with the cycling theme, our kids loved the bike path that circles the town and incorporates a playground and a fun, kid-friendly cafe en route (the cafe even boasts a real bus your kids can pretend to drive and quirky seating areas). There’s also a bike park where your kids can master cycling over obstacles such as ramps and jumps. They run daily group lessons for kids or you can book a private lesson.
Away from the bikes, there are a plethora of other activities, from playgrounds and ball pools to big outdoor trampolines, go karts and a summer toboggan run. You can also head up to the ski station, Bormio 2000, where they offer horse rides and some great walking trails.
This outdoor adventure haven is full of fantastic Italian architecture and charm. After a day of adventure activities head to the impressive thermal baths or sit back in a restaurant on the piazza, surrounded by towering mountains.
Hiking in the Dolomites, Italy
By Mike at 197 Travel Stamps
The Dolomites in Northern Italy are the ideal family destination if you want to have an active holiday. The Dolomites offer several amazing day hikes of different difficulty levels.
Depending on how active you want to get, you can either get some climbing gear and climb up a via ferrata on Catinaccio Mountain that are also suitable for children. Alternatively, you can also go on an easy hike along the Alpe di Siusi. Here you can enjoy some of the best views of the Dolomites on mostly flat and broad trails where your children can play around without the danger of steep cliffs.
Regardless of what hike you are doing, one of the most amazing things about the Dolomites is the typical Tyrolean cuisine you can reward yourself with afterwards. The children love the traditional bread dumplings or cheese spätzle that are served in most restaurants.
Skiing and Snowshoeing in Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park, Finland
by Pia at Next Stop TBC
Breathe the freshest air in Europe and enjoy the beautiful pristine nature in the Finland Lapland winter wonderland. Whether you go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing you can choose hills or flat ground, open fields, forest or go over the frozen lakes. Snowshoes really help walking on deep snow – just with a bit of practice you’ll find the right calm pace.
Select at least one hut or café to be your destination and always pack along plenty of water, hot drinks and snacks like juice, granola bars, sandwich, fruit, nuts, as well as a bit of chocolate and some sweets. Kid’s love playing games and wont even notice the length of the journey if they are having fun. Also encouragement and praise can take you far!
If you’re into downhill skiing, Ski resort Pallas is focused on offering a genuine experience of skiing on natural snow. There was a good variety of slopes for beginners and families as well as more advanced skiers. We had an amazing Easter holiday skiing in Pallas National Park and recommend it to all families loving outdoors winter adventures!
Icebreaker Cruise and Ice Floating Kemi, Finland
by Sara at Our Kind of Crazy
We think a great vacation for families with tons of activities is Kemi, Finland. Kemi is a perfect place to visit if you are looking for a dream winter holiday, but it is also great in the summer as well. Kemi is located right off of the Baltic Sea, so there are great activities available on the water during the summer, and on the ice during the winter.
One of our favorite activities was the Icebreaker Sampo. This Icebreaker cruise starts with a snowmobile ride across the Baltic Sea and to the Icebreaker ship. This ship is in the middle of the ice, and breaks through the ice as it sails. It is such an awesome thing to watch.
Right after the ship docks, in the middle of the frozen sea, you’ll have a chance to float in the icy waters which is oddly enough a relaxing experience. The cruise is for all ages while the floating is for bigger kids as they have to fit in the size small suit, around ages 8 and up depending on their size. The Icebreaker Sampo Cruise is like no other activity you’ve done before, and we recommend you taking a ride if you’re ever in Finland.
Africa and Asia
Hiking and Kayaking in Cape Town, South Africa
by Cal at Once in a Lifetime Journey
Cape Town really does have everything for adventurous traveling families. You can hike to the top of Table Mountain by sunrise and an hour later be surfing at some premium breaks, then onto MTB trails in the forest and ending with SUPing around the Peninsula. There are bikes and eScooters available for rent along Sea Point promenade, paragliding if the wind is low and even a trampoline park in Claremont.
I would say that one of the most spectacular family holiday activities in Cape Town would be to go ocean kayaking. Firstly, it is really convenient as the starting point is really central, either in Green Point or the V&A Waterfront shopping mall. Secondly, it is a beautiful experience to see Cape Town from a different angle. You’ll most likely spot some playful Cape fur seals. And if you’re really lucky, you will bump heads with dolphins and whales, as I have done before.
Note that the Atlantic ocean is quite tumultuous and pretty cold, so this activity is for fitter families. But don’t worry, the guides are really helpful and the activity is safe. Don’t forget your GoPro to capture the moment!
Hiking in Israel
by Melissa at The Family Voyage
Israel is an amazing destination for families who are interested in experiencing the outdoors! In addition to the religious, cultural and historical highlights for which the country is best know, it also offers a range of active opportunities from unique expansive deserts to lush waterfalls you’d expect to find in the tropics.
Many of Israel’s best hikes are in its national parks, where the trails quickly take you to amazing views and are manageable for kids as young as 4 years old. Some of our family favorites are Ein Gedi (a desert oasis near the Dead Sea that offers refreshing swimming holes throughout the hike), Maktesh Ramon (the largest such erosion crater in the world, located in the Negev Desert) and Tel Dan (a lovely stroll through thick forest in Israel’s far north). Each of these hikes offers a completely different experience, but you can drive from one to the other in just a few hours!
The best tip for hiking in Israel is to buy a National Parks pass. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority offers special discount cards for tourists that are valid for entry into 3, 6 or unlimited national parks over two weeks. The pass can be purchased at many parks around the country.
Bike Zipwire and Tree Root Climbing in Bohol, Philippines
by Kirstie at The Family Adventure Project
If you are after high adrenaline, low budget adventures, The Philippines is a good place to go. The islands of Bohol and Cebu have lots of inexpensive experiences packed into a small area. The Cebu Skywalk experience offers a skywalk and skyride around the outside of a skyscraper.
At the Danao Adventure Park, you and the kids can climb a tree. If they are underwhelmed by this idea they probably need to know they will be hauling themselves in a harness up 15 metres of vertical height on twisty, tangled roots, dodging ants nests and trying not to look down. Speeding back down the rope afterwards makes it all worthwhile.
But the highlight of our trip was the Rush Bike Zip at Bohol’s Chocolate Hills Adventure Park. There are plenty of zip lines on the islands but this is the only one involving bikes with rims that sit on a trapeze wire. You won’t need a bell up there; no one is going to get in your way! Afterwards calm down with a walk in the Chocolate Hills; hundreds of golden mounds stretching over several villages. Perfect for cycling around, if only you had a bike with tires….
Hiking in Penang Island, Malaysia
by Marco Ferrarese at Penang Insider
Penang is a tropical island on the northwestern coast of West Malaysia and is a perfect family destination in Southeast Asia. Indeed, from nature to restaurants with indoor playgrounds, there are many things to do in Penang with kids, and the best part is, the cost of travelling to Penang is very affordable. It’s perfectly possible to spend less than 50$ a day for accommodation, food and entry to attractions for a couple with one child.
Penang’s main centre is George Town, a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site filled with romantic Chinese shophouses and atmospheric lanes whose main touristic draw is the world-famous street art initiated here by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic in the year 2012. One of the murals, the famous “Two kids on a Bicycle”, made the Guardian’s list of best street art around the world, and it’s a popular spot for selfie shots.
But the island also has a lot more going on beyond the touristic enclave of Chulia Street, George Town’s main thoroughfare. In Penang, nature really shines, especially on the flanks of Penang Hill — a former British colonial hill station that offers hiking trails and a funicular train to the top for those who don’t feel like braving a steamy tropical jungle in close proximity to the city. On top of the hill, the Habitat is a charming eco-park with a walking trail, canopy walkway, a course of ziplines and an impressive circular bridge that’s the highest viewpoint on the island, and makes for a perfect day out with your family.
Kayaking in Thailand
By Sally-Ann Brown, Tips 4 Trips
A fun and unique family experience to include when visiting Thailand with kids is to go on sea kayaking during a Phang Nga Bay Tour. Phang Nga Bay is a 400sqm expanse of water in the Phang Nga Province nestled between Phuket and Krabi, it has stunning limestone islands jutting out of the sea. The best way to get up close to many of these uninhabited islands is by a sea kayak. The sea kayak tour includes a guide to paddle you and your kids (all wearing life jackets) through the calm waters, under the low lying natural limestone bridges and caves, into isolated grottos, amongst the tangled mangroves and you may even spot the occasional monkey climbing the scrub.
When preparing for the 1200-3600THB tour from locations including Phuket, Khao Lak and Krabi, don’t forget to wear your swimming clothes underneath your day wear. This makes it easy to strip off just before boarding the sea kayak as you will get wet during the ride. But not too wet, you can take your camera to capture your family experience sea kayaking.
Australia and New Zealand
Hiking, Cable Car and Railway in Blue Mountains, Australia
by Kirsty at Travel with Meraki
Only two hours away from the hustle and beaches of Sydney, The Blue Mountains could be a world away. From the Wollemi Pine that dates back to the age of the dinosaurs, to Australian wildlife like the Koala and beautiful waterfalls, The Blue Mountains is a place with something for everyone.
One of our favorite spots as a family is Scenic World. Here you can ride the highest cable car in the country with its glass bottom letting you admire the stunning landscape 270 meters below. Do hikes that take in the iconic Three Sisters or enjoy the more leisurely Scenic Walkway through ancient rain forest.
Another great family activity is to ride the worlds steepest passenger railway! With a 64° incline it’s a fun adventure. This part of the Blue Mountains can get very busy so be sure to arrive early to avoid queues and crowds. You can also purchase tickets online and save on the price.
Surfing Lessons in Gold Coast, Australia
Sophie Marie at Lifestyle Queensland
The best holiday for our outdoorsy, active family HAS to be the Gold Coast. There are the best beaches in Australia and so many fun things to do. There are outdoor parks galore, free barbecues all over the place and best of all, tons of great beach activities like body boarding or surfing. The Gold Coast is perfect for learners because there are so many great little beach breaks so there’s no need to paddle for miles and exhaust yourself.
My partner has been surfing since he was 12, so when I suggested me and my nephew start taking lessons he was thrilled! I signed up for a 2-hour group lesson (cost about $60AUD) and had the time of my life! Most amazing of all I actually stood up and rode a wave on that first lesson and so did everyone else in the class!!
We signed my nephew up for a group kids class. Aged 7 he was only allowed because he was already a great swimmer and one of us was in the water with him. Normally children under 8 should take private lesson so the instructor can have eyes on them at all times.
Unfortunately my surfing has halted because I’m pregnant but I’m obsessed! Best of all my 2 year old rode her first wave this week (sat down on my board on a tiny beach break but it’s a start!).
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure and you’re a family who love the water I’d definitely recommend heading to the Gold Coast and taking some lessons.
Snorkeling in Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
by Stephanie at Navigating Adventure
Queensland, Australia is a popular destination for families wanting to experience the Great Barrier Reef. The world’s largest coral reef system stretches over 2,300km along Australia’s eastern coast and can be accessed from many coastal towns and islands. The best family activity on the reef is, of course snorkeling!
Our favorite destination for visiting the Great Barrier Reef is Port Douglas – located 70 km north of Cairns. From here, you can book a snorkeling tour to Low Isles. We have found this location is perfect for families as the water is calm and warm, there is always plenty to see and it’s not far from the mainland.
There are several cruise operators travelling to Low Isles each day, and the cost starts from about $550 for a family of four. We chose a tour that included a leisurely day on the reef, smorgasbord lunch, morning and afternoon tea, guided tours by marine biologists, lifeguard and glass bottom boat coral viewing and snorkeling equipment.
We saw gorgeous coral, many reef sharks, turtles, and colorful fish on our trip. The children had so much fun and it was wonderful to see them learn about the environment and the importance of conservation.
It’s important to pack plenty of sun protection including long sleeves, hats and strong SPF sunscreen. We also recommend you take an underwater camera and travel calm tablets in case you get a rough day on the water.
White Water Rafting in Lake Taupo, New Zealand
by Meredith at Chasing Abandon
New Zealand is well known as a country full of breathtaking landscapes and adrenaline filled, extreme experiences to match. While there are plenty of sights to see and trails to explore for families with young children, we sought out unique options to help make our New Zealand trip truly memorable. Our kids wanted their own slice of adventure!
Lying in the heart of the North Island is Lake Taupo, where we had a blast white water rafting with our family of four. Thankfully the rafting companies offer an alternative to huge rapids, with family friendly experiences on smaller rapids. Leaving out of Turangi (on the south shore of Lake Taupo), there are a few different rafting companies to choose with minimum ages ranging from 3 to 5 years. We booked with Rafting New Zealand, and a three hour trip was $139 NZD/adult and $89 NZD/child. Look out for online discount codes to reduce the price.
Guides do a wonderful job of telling Maori legends about the nearby mountains and the Tongariro River while driving to the start of the rafting. While on the river, the small rapids are a perfect difficulty for the kids, yet still lots of fun for the adults. Safety was always first, with kids paddling the quiet sections of river, and tucking inside the raft during the rapids.
The guides keep things exciting on the river by sneaking up and splashing the other rafts during the quiet sections of river, and of course, making sure the kids in front get extra wet during the final larger rapids. White water rafting in New Zealand was a huge hit with our 8 and 11 year olds, and we would absolutely recommend it for other families!
Hiking and Spending a Night in a Hut, New Zealand
by Bailey at Destinationless Travel
New Zealand has the perfect solution for families who like to hike – huts. In NZ, huts are essentially basic accommodation located along various popular hiking trails. These huts are run by the New Zealand government and are in place to help people complete multi-day hikes without having to sleep in a tent.
For families, this is ideal because it means nobody needs to carry a tent, sleeping mattresses, or gas for cooking. The huts are also very comfortable as all huts are fitted out with bunk beds with mattresses and many of the nicer ones also have a kitchen with running water, gas to cook, and even bathrooms with flushing toilets! And the best part is that spending a night is cheap costing between $15-35 NZD per person per night.
Some huts are rather challenging to reach (such as the Mueller Hut) which wouldn’t be a good option for families with for young children. However, some huts are located along flat and shady trails and can be reached after only 2-3 hours of walking. Some of the best huts for families to spend a night in include the Pouakai Hut which offers stunning views of Mount Taranaki, the Routeburn Falls Hut which is one of the fanciest huts in all of NZ and located beside waterfalls, or even the Pinnacles Hut which towers over NZ’s impressive coastline.
Discovering the Glow Worm Caves in Waitomo, New Zealand
by Gemma at Mum Off the Map
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves in New Zealand are a fantastic family activity. All parents know kids love adventure and discovery. Seeing glow worms as Waitomo is all of that and more, it’s a truly magical experience for your whole family. I have traveled extensively and now live in New Zealand, and Waitomo is easily one of the best places to visit.
It’s suitable for children of all ages: there are multiple tours ranging from a shorter dry cave tour (although young children will have to walk or be carried) to adventure tours that older teens will love, where you can abseil into the cave and go on a flying fox in darkness lit only by the blue glow of hundreds of glow worms. Pre-teens might love cave tubing, where you float and paddle along an underwater river beneath shining glow worm stars. Tour prices range from approx NZ$50 for a 1-hour tour to approx NZ$250 for a 5-hour adventure tour.
United States and Canada
Visiting Niagra Falls, Ontario, Canada
by Lauren at My Favorite Job Title is Mom
Niagara Falls in Ontario Canada is an amazing weekend family destination especially for families with young children. The falls provide an amazing view that everyone should see at least once, but it’s especially impressive to young children. Activities are ideal for young children because they are in often in open areas, not loud or overwhelming, and have no age limit. The Adventure Pass Classic is a great deal and provides all of the major attractions in one package. You get the Hornblower Niagara Cruises, Journey Behind the Falls, and the White Water Walk. You also get a two day bus pass which is an easy way to get from attraction to attraction. Depending on which pass you decide to purchase, the cost ranges from $25 – $75 per person with the youngest family members being free.
We did a day trip with our 9-month-old son and the activities were perfect for him. He loved seeing the falls and feeling the spray. The White Water Walk was a perfect relaxation moment. The sound of the water is white noise to lull a child to sleep in the stroller and it’s a shaded, peaceful walk for the whole family. Attractions that involve getting wet such as the cruise and the Journey Behind the Falls, provide tiny ponchos perfect for little bodies.
So many destinations require you to leave adult attractions unexplored in the interest of making the trip family friendly. Niagara Falls is truly a place designed for the entire family to enjoy. Even with a 9-month-old, there wasn’t anything we wanted to do that we couldn’t. Toddlers can appreciate the scope of the falls and older kids can start to learn the history of their formation. There really is something to be understood and appreciated for each age level.
If you want to maximize every part of your trip, grab my family travel planner.
Hiking in Vancouver, Canada
by Erin at Little Miss Kate & Company
The Canadian West offers a beautiful backdrop with mountains, rivers, and oceans for hiking, especially in Vancouver. Depending on what you are looking for there are three opportunities for walking and hiking to enjoy the Canadian landscape.
- Experienced Hikers: if you are looking for a long hike, check out Grouse Mountain and the natural stairmaster known as Grouse Grind which is 2.9km of challenging trail up the mountainside, definitely for more advanced hikers. There is no fee to climb the Grouse Grind trail but the cost to take the Skyride back down from the top is $15.00
- Family Friendly Walking Trail: Stanley Park trails offer 28km of trail that you can walk or ride along the Sea Wall from Stanley Park all the way to Spanish Banks Park. Families can enjoy the trails, beaches, local wildlife, and cultural experiences and landmarks.
- Walk in the Trees for Kids: One of my favorite locations to go hiking and exploring with kids is located just outside of the Downtown Vancouver area and is called Capilano Suspension Bridge. The Capilano Suspension Bridge is named after a Squamish chief and translates to “beautiful river”. Last summer we visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge with our 4-month-old daughter using a baby carrier and it was the perfect family activity to enjoy the outdoors. Experience the Treetop adventure as you cross 7 different bridges and explore the treetops of the Douglas Fir Rainforest and cross the 450 metre gap on the suspension bridge across the Capilano river. This is just one of the awesome activities in Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Cost: Adults: $47, Kids 6-12 $15, Under 6 are FREE!
Snorkeling in Oahu, Hawaii, USA
by Bryann at Fitspiration Adventures
It’s no secret the Hawaiian Islands have some of the most beautiful waters and ocean creatures known to man. A trip to Oahu would not be complete without an up close and personal experience with these ocean life creatures. Luckily, snorkeling on Oahu isn’t an activity that requires much planning and can be done for free!
If you want an experience with a lifeguard on duty and don’t mind a small fee, Hanauma Bay on the east side of the island has a wonderful program for you. It is considered a nature preserve, so there are many fish to be seen. Getting there early and planning for a long wait in the ticket line is recommended as it can get quite crowded. You can rent equipment on site. Be advised there is a small fee (less than $10) and a short educational video you must watch before you are able to snorkel.
If you are a little more adventurous and/or experienced with snorkeling, I highly suggest you skip Hanauma Bay and take on a FREE experience around the island. Luckily, you can find ocean life pretty much anywhere on the island. One great place is Sharks Cove on the North Shore that has a cove with calm waters to find beautiful fish. It is very popular with tourist and locals, alike. It is safe for all ages and skill levels, just bring along your own snorkel gear.
No matter your skill level, Oahu has something for you. In addition to snorkeling, your family can also enjoy kid-friendly hikes on Oahu. Just remember to bring coral safe sunscreen to protect those beautiful creatures!
White Water Rafting in Jackson, Wyoming, USA
by Margie DQ at DQ Family Travel
Whitewater rafting is a fun-filled activity that is perfect for outdoor-loving families. We chose to do this experience on the Snake River in Jackson, Wyoming. There are many rafting companies in Jackson, as the Snake River has very popular class II and III rapids. We chose Mad River Outfitters due to their high reviews online and were very pleased with their prices ($85 for adults and $65 for children), knowledgeable guides and overall experience. Families can choose from a gentle scenic float (optimal if you have toddlers) or brave the whitewater on larger classic rafts (which we did), or smaller rafts for the more daring. There are even options to include an outdoor BBQ lunch on the river.
The best time to whitewater raft would be the summer, as the water temperatures are the mildest, near 60 degrees Fahrenheit / 15 degrees Celsius. We were fortunate that Wyoming had plenty of snowfall this past winter, so the rivers were running high. Our guide explained to us that it made for a better rafting experience. The entire trip on the river was just over an hour, with some gentle stops along the way to jump in the cool water. Water shoes, a hat, and sunscreen are highly recommended.
Our family enjoyed our trip to the West immensely. Since we were visiting Grand Teton National Park nearby, the town of Jackson was the perfect home base for our exploration. In addition to the beautiful scenery, our family loved whitewater rafting in Jackson. To date, this is my family’s most enjoyable outdoor experience and one we will look back on fondly.
Junior Ranger Program in United States National Parks
by Jamie at Photojeepers
One of the best family activities you can do is visit a national park. In the US, the Junior Ranger program teaches children to “Explore, Learn, and Protect!” The participants take an oath to protect the parks, continue to learn about the parks, and share their junior ranger adventure with family and friends.
There is a fee to enter most national parks, but there is no fee to participate in the National Park Service Junior Ranger program. Simply go to the visitor center and talk to a ranger. The program is typically for kids ages 5 to 13, but anyone can participate.
To become a Junior Ranger, kids will complete a series of activities during their visit to the park. They will share their answers with a park ranger then receive an official Junior Ranger patch and Junior Ranger certificate.
Kids can continue to earn Junior Ranger badges from home to keep the spirit of “explore, learn, and protect” once your vacation ends. Use this list of fun US National Parks to visit with kids, because a family vacation becomes and adventure when you visit a national park!
Hiking, Swimming, Cycling, and Sailing in Acadia National Park, USA
by James at Travel Collecting
Acadia National Park is the perfect national park for families. The park is next to Bar Harbor, so there are plenty of accommodation options. Free shuttle services run between town and the key points of interest in the park. There are fantastic hikes, many suitable for kids of all ages, as well as plenty of other activities. You can swim in the ocean at Sandy Beach and the warmer Echo Lake. The ocean here is pretty chilly, but the lake is perfect.
The park is also laced with old carriage trails created by Rockefeller. You can rent bicycles in Bar Harbor (and transport them free on the shuttle) and ride miles and miles (or just one or two) through the forests of the national park. Relax at the end at Jordan Pond House restaurant for popovers, which are a local delicacy (kind of like a slightly eggy muffin, but more or less hollow inside – covered in butter and jam, they are delicious). There is a large lawn here for the kids to play on and you can kayak and canoe in Jordan Pond.
There are dozens of islands scattered around, and you can go on sailing trips (especially beautiful at sunset), or take a ferry to the Cranberry Islands for lobster and short, easy walks. You can also kayak around the islands. No matter what you and your kids love to do, there is something for you in Acadia NP.
Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, USA
by Julie at TREKKN
One of our all-time favorite family destinations is without a doubt, San Francisco, California. On our first visit, we squeezed in all of the normal tourist activities, making sure we checked off that bucket list. But on our second visit, we wanted to mix things up a bit and do something we hadn’t really heard a lot about.
So we went sailing.
If you’re looking for a way to get the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge, sailing up to and under it is definitely something you should consider. My two sons and I boarded a catamaran with Adventure Cat Sailing at Pier 39 for a 90-minute sail. The crew was friendly, personable and even let my sons try their hand at the ropes.
One thing to remember is to dress warm no matter the season. Layers are key and it gets windy on the boat! But if you forget a jacket, no worries because they have some to share.
The whole sailing experience is something my boys often bring up when we’re talking about our favorite travel memories. Between getting to experience sailing and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge up close and personal, it’s not something you easily forget.
Share Your Experiences
How many of these family activity holidays have YOU experienced? What’s been your all-time favorite family activity holiday? We’d love to hear your experiences and recommendations!
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Stockholm and Junibacken, the theme park based on Astrid Lindgren’s books such as Pippi Långstocking, had been in our travel plans for ages. Traveling from Helsinki to Stockholm with kids by ferry or by air is super easy with numerous daily connections between the two […]
Guest post by Neha Singh, Dubaiwikia. Sports in Dubai? Not only is it possible but you can find lots of fun sporty activities to do when you travel in Dubai! Excited to launch this new Active Travel series zooming into different destinations around the world […]
Are you looking for Lapland holidays with a wide variety or activities and unique experiences for the whole family? Prefer a place accessible by public transportation? Ylläs, located about 200 km/125 mi north from the Arctic Circle, is a fantastic base for Lapland family holidays thanks to the wide variety of activities as well as tracks and slopes for all levels. It is ideally located at the southern corner of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. You can choose either Ylläs Ski Resort in Äkäslompolo or Sport resort Ylläs on the Ylläsjärvi side of the fell. Since I had earlier visited the first one, we headed this time the latter one to get a new perspective to the amazing winter wonderland.
Visiting Lapland – especially if traveling with kids – gets a lot easier if you do a bit of research and plan ahead. Other excellent options in Lapland include Saariselkä and Urho Kekkonen National Park, Pallas and Ylläs-Pallastunturi National Park, Salla, and Ruka (great skiing though just south of Lapland and the Arctic Circle). Read further for to discover how to design your perfect Lapland experience in Ylläs!
Snow Village Lainio Ice Hotel
Are you a Game of Thrones fan? In that case you definitely shouldn’t miss visiting Lainio Snow Village, that’s an ice castle offering snow accommodation about 20 km from Sport Resort Ylläs. Even if you’ve never watched an episode (like us) it’s certainly worth the visit. I’m not sure how I’d missed this and learned about it only towards the end of our stay in Ylläs. If you can manage the distance (around 14km from Sport Resort Ylläs), it’s possible to ski to Lainio Snow Village from Ylläs making it a great day trip. Alternatively, you can either join a tour or take a taxi if you don’t have a car. If you’re looking for a truly unique Snow Village Finland experience you could have dinner at the ice restaurant or stay overnight in the amazing ice castle rooms made of snow and ice (reservations required for both restaurant and hotel).
This is the 18th time when Lainio Snow Village has been built and every year the Lapland ice hotel has grown bigger and more impressive. Game of Thrones is the theme for a second year in a row and it’s also the last chance to visit it as we heard that a new theme is planned for next winter! We learned that the ice is from the nearby lake and actually from last winter and has been kept frozen over the summer as the construction starts in November and it’s too early to get enough ice.
I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise but it’s cold in the ice hotel, so dress warm. Especially fingers are frozen easily when taking photos so smart phone compatible gloves would be very useful! We toured the ice castle in about half an hour, but we’d recommend to allow at least 1 hour for your visit to have plenty of time to fully enjoy Lainio Snow Village and enjoy a nice warm cuppa in the café to warm up your cold fingers afterwards.
Opening times: 10 am to 10 pm
Fees: Adult 17,50 eur, Child 10 eur (4-14-year-old). Pre-booking is possible for a private tour for 65 eur. Taxi from Sport Resort Ylläs – Snow Village Lainio – Yllärjärvi cost us 72 eur (we asked the driver to wait with our luggage in the car while we toured the ice hotel).
Ylläs is one of the best places in the world for cross-country skiing even for beginners. There are plenty of easy tracks and maintenance is usually excellent. There’s a good network of cafés and skiing huts along the tracks so it’s easy to plan even long routes. There are 330km / 205mi of illuminated ski trails where it’s easy to ski even after sunset. Here’s examples of two routes that are easy and suitable for kids with some skiing experience.
Route 1: Sport Resort Ylläs to Latvamaja (via Kahvikeidas) ~15km / 9,3mi
This route offers pleasant skiing on mostly flat ground. Kahvikeidas unfortunately is no longer maintained by Metsahallitus and in private ownership there are now fees for the use of the premises which is understandable but makes the place feel considerably less welcoming.
Route 2: Sport Resort Ylläs to Aurinkotupa (circular route) ~10km / 6,2mi
The first 4 km are very easy, mostly downhill or flat till Aurinkotupa café. We had the opportunity to watch reindeer feeding in the yard. There’s also an outdoor fireplace where it’s possible to barbecue for example sausages on the open fire. We also spotted a reindeer in the yard and had the chance to watch it’s feeding. The second part of the route is more challenging with uphill climb – you could consider going in the opposite direction if you prefer.
How to plan your skiing route?
It’s a good idea to start your route plan by identifying places for breaks: cafes, wilderness huts, etc where to stop on your route to rest, have some snacks, and use restrooms. Ideally you can find a circular route so that you don’t need to return the same way. Double-check: are the distances reasonable considering your experience and fitness level as well as the weather conditions? You and especially the kids might also need some shorter breaks along the way for example to have a sip of water. It depends on your experience and fitness level how far you can go before a break is needed. What’s working well for us at the moment is to take a shorter break about every half hour and a longer break every 1-2 hours.
Check the weather the night before and plan your route and what to wear based on the forecast. Check again in the morning to make sure there’s no big changes and your plan is still valid. It’s a good idea to try to get to the tracks reasonably early in the day for a number of reasons but especially because the daylight time is limited (with the exception of late spring), the tracks are in better shape (especially later in the spring they may start getting softer in the afternoon). On the other hand, at sunrise the temperature may still be extremely cold so a bit later in the morning might be ideal. Check also the time of sunset – darkness falls maybe 30-60 minutes after and you wouldn’t want to get caught in the non-illuminated tracks later (unless everyone would happen to be equipped with a headlamp flashlight!)
The skiing routes are divided to thee maintenance classes: I, II and III. Number I is maintained throughout the season on a daily basis so it’s the safe choice early in the season or if there’s been heavy snowfall or wind. Trails in classes II and III are open only from February/mid-February till end of April and to our experience these tracks often have the most naturally beautiful sceneries.
Ylläs boasts to be home to the longest slopes in Finland (3000 meters) and it’s easy to reach the top with the gondola that’s quite a rare in Finland ski resorts. However, the gondola may be closed due to strong winds (during our visit it was closed on 2 out of 5 days) but it’s possible to check online the status of open lifts and slopes. There’s a good variety of easy and moderate slopes as well as some more challenging ones including the world cup racing slope for the fearless! It’s good to be aware that the wind and cold temperature can make the conditions quite challenging – on our first descent we could barely see anything due to heavy snowfall and goggles freezing before halfway down the slope!
After sunset at the top of Ylläs it felt eerily almost like we could have been on the surface of the moon – surrounded by utter darkness except for the blinding headlights from the huge maintenance vehicle, blazing wind and viciously flying snow. I’ve rarely been as happy as when we opened the door and entered Ylläskammio café at 718 meters above sea level and could warm up by the fireplace with hot chocolate! If you happen to visit there close to the closing time of the slopes I’d warmly recommend to take the slope 28 “Koulurinne” on the left-hand-side to get downhill since on the right side only the black slope was illuminated – luckily we realized at the last minute although it was quite a heavy climb to get to the other side from that point.
Opening times: 10 am to 5pm (open till 7pm during high season, Christmas holidays and from mid-February to late April)
Fees for 3 hours ski pass: Adult 39 eur, child 22,30 eur (6-11 years-old) + rechargeable key cards 7 eur
Check out all the skiing pass prices here: https://www.yllas.fi/en/activities/skiing-2/ski-tickets-and-prices.html
Super ski pass 3/4 or 4/5 offers the opportunity to ski at Levi, Olos, and Pallas in addition to Ylläs (either on 3 out of 4 days or 4 out of 5 days) and sounds like a perfect solution for avid downhill skiers especially if you have a car to make it easy to transit between the four Lapland skiing resorts.
Fees for equipment rental at Head Ski Rent: set (alpine skis, poles and boots) for 3 hours Adults 28 eur / Kids 19 eur (11 and under) + helmets 5 eur
Have you ever felt like learning something challenging although it feels painfully difficult? That describes my feelings towards snowboarding. About every ten years I’ve given it a go and I have to admit it doesn’t get any easier with age… I’m super slow at learning it yet enjoy challenging myself. In 90 minutes the 9-year-old had pretty much learned the basic technique while I was still basically not much beyond the starting point but happy to have survived without injuries 🙂 Just kidding, it was great exercise in perfect winter weather.
Fee for 90 min private class: 111 eur, 2h snowboarding set rent 25 eur / person
Swimming and chilling in the spa
After a long day on the skiing tracks or slopes it feels awesome to go for a swim and we were lucky to have Ylläs Hotel Saaga’s spa accessible through the indoor walkway from our Ylläs Chalet building. The spa is quite compact with a swimming pool and a couple of whirlpools. The water in the bigger pool felt a bit cool for us and the whirlpool with warmer water was fully occupied all the time. It was a bit crowded during our visit – I’d recommend checking the time table for aquabic classes and maybe visit at another time if you prefer a more peaceful spa experience. It was nice that there were plenty of water toys that could be borrowed. We especially enjoyed playing catch with a ball. There are Turkish and Finnish saunas (separate for women and men, access from the shower area).
Opening times: 1 pm to 9 pm
Fees: The entrance is included for those staying in Ylläs Hotel Saaga. If staying at the Chalets as well as others the prices are 14 euros for adults and 7 euros for children under 12 years old.
We rented fatbikes for one hour to test this way of moving on snow. It turned out to be a bit more challenging than it looks like. The terrain, weather, the quality of the bike seem to have quite a big impact on how light or heavy fatbiking feels. We started off on a uphill trail which soon proved to be a bit too much for the nine-year-old. We ended up walking the bikes quite a bit but reached a nice spot to see the views. The way down on the other hand was fast and fun. We’d recommend fatbiking to those who can go for the adults bikes which are suitable for people over 160cm/5ft 2in.
Fees: We rented our fatbikes from Jerissport that gave -20% discount for kids under 12. In total it was 35 euros for one hour, including the bikes and helmets.
In addition to skis and snowboards, it’s also possible to rent snowshoes or fatbikes from the equipment retal shops. The wintertrails where it’s possible to walk, snowshoe or bicycle are clearly marked on the skiing route map as well as signs on the tracks. We went snowshoeing in Pallas-Ylläs National Park last year, read more here.
Aurora Borealis watching
The northern lights are maybe one of the most amazing spectacles nature has to offer and there are good chance to see them in Ylläs – this is where I had the opportunity to marvel them for the first time in my life a few years ago. The most likely time of the day to see auroras is often from around 10 pm to 1am. There are some ways to forecast the probabilities of northern lights, for more information see here. One night I looked out of the window and got lucky to see a glimpse of the northern lights – so exciting that I could barely hold myself from rushing outdoors 🙂
One of Finland’s best ice swimming places I’ve experienced is located in the Äkäslompolo side of Ylläs. It’s possible to rent the private wood-heated sauna with plenty of space for 15 persons, for more details see here.
Sledding and playing with the snow
There’s an outdoor play area next to the slopes that especially around 2-7 year-olds will enjoy and there’s also a sledding hill next to the playground but you need to bring your own sled/toboggan (or rent it from one of the rental shops). My nine-year-old took a quick look and decided that she preferred climbing and jumping down the huge snow piles.
Music and entertainment
A bonus about Ylläs is that although it’s far from big cities it has a lively bar scene offering entertainment from nightly après ski to live music with front-line Finnish artists often in much more intimate setting than in larger cities. A few years ago I had the opportunity to see Maija Vilkkumaa at Taiga Restaurant and this time Sanni had a concert at the same place.
Snowmobile, reindeer and husky safaris
A wide variety of snow tours and safaris are available in Ylläs. If snowmobiles, reindeer rides or husky safaris are of interest to you this is the place to go for those adventures! See more details on safaris and other possible activities here.
Indulge in Lapland Cuisine
Ylläskammi 718 is at the top of the Ylläs ski resort, accessible by the gondola lift. The big fireplace felt like a life savior after entering from the freezing cold outdoors. A special feature and giving the place a special personal touch was the wooden cups “kuksa” from different owners hung up on the walls. The burger was tasty and the prices weren’t insanely expensive despite the special location.
Latvamaja is a traditional wilderness café in the Pallas-Ylläs National Park. We loved the decoration and above all the big fireplace at the heart of the café: it’s possible to hang your clothes to dry in the warmth of the fireplace and let them dry while enjoying some refreshments. The pancakes with jam and cream were yummy and the crowberry juice delicious. They even had oat milk available with coffee which seems to be still quite rare in these surroundings.
Aurikotupa is also a traditional café with wooden tables and benches. “Mokkapalat” and hot juice did the trick to get us re-energized to take the more challenging route back. The café also advertised home-made gluten free doghnuts which weren’t too bad at all. Indoor restrooms are a big bonus!
Restaurant Kota is located just next to the slopes. Don’t let the exterior scare you – at first sight I thought I wouldn’t enter such a touristy looking place. However, after reading the reviews online it sounded worth checking out. In addition to the looks from outside, also the initial impression of the service inside was a bit puzzling: no one seemed to take any note of us let alone guide us to a table. I was already thinking of leaving when my smart daughter urged to go ahead to the counter to make our order. Self-service was the way to go: we paid in advance for the meal, they handed us soda cans and told the glasses are on the table. The reindeer burger turned out to be very tasty with some added blackpepper. Later the staff was very friendly though: asking if everything was well, filling up the water jug, asking if we would like dessert.
On our final day we had lunch at the Yllas Saaga Restaurant at the hotel to keep things simple. I couldn’t find information about the lunch online but found some recommendations on Tripadvisor and we didn’t need to be disappointed. Especially the salad buffet was fantastic after eating way too much burgers and other fast food. The buffet included a wide selection of starters, mains and dessert as well as coffee, tea or hot chocolate. If we would have discovered this earlier we would have returned for another lunch for sure.
Fees: Adult 15 eur, Child 7,50 eur
We usually had lunch at the cafes and restaurants while breakfast and dinner we enjoyed preparing at our apartment. We bought groceries at Eelin Kauppa K-market in Ylläsjärvi at arrival (and later by skiing the 5 km there) and replenished supplies from the minimarket downstairs at the Ylläs Chalets. The prices were a bit higher than in larger markets but still less expensive than eating at restaurants, and it was the most practical way to ensure eating relatively healthy during our Lapland winter holidays.
Where to stay?
Since we were traveling by public transport our key criteria was close proximity to resort services and walking distance to ski tracks and slopes. A lot of options had already sold out when we were making our reservations only about a month in advance. I was delighted to find a modern 1 bedroom apartment available Ylläs Chalets apartments, adjacent to Ylläs Saaga Hotel.
The apartment was located on the 2nd floor with views towards the forest and slopes. It had a well-equipped kitchen where it was easy and fun to prepare meals. Sauna was a must for us and indeed it was in use almost daily. The drying cabinet was very handy for drying clothes and towels. The apartment didn’t have wifi but internet access with LAN cable. We found the storage lockers downstairs for skiing equipment convenient.
There was indoor access from the next floor to the hotel and spa via a walking tunnel. It was a big help that on the day of departure as we could move the suitcases to the hotel lobby via the indoor pathway and leave them in the luggage storage at the lobby till it was our time for departure.
What to wear?
Layers, layers and layers is the best advice to follow so that it’s easy to remove or add a layer in case you get hot or cold. Warmest possible gloves are a must. Neck warmer tube scarfs are very useful as you can pull the scarf easily up to warm your face from the freezing wind. I also recommend high quality sports socks and ski boot overboots – they’ve been a savior to my cold feet!
What to pack in your back-pack: snacks and other essentials
The freezing temperatures have their pros and cons for packing snacks. On the positive side, there’s no risk of food going bad because of heat but it can freeze! Pack along for example water, hot juice / tea, muesli bars, sandwiches, chocolate.
Pack also a skiing route map, fully charged mobile phone with maps app, power pack and charging cable (the cold temperature might use up the phone’s battery quicker than you’d expect), tissues, matches, cash, possibly some additional clothes, room keys, sun glasses, lip balm/chapstick, sunscreen (especially in the spring and if the weather is sunny).
How to get there and move around?
See the location of Ylläs and the places we visited on the map:
Bus: Onnibus overnight double-decker bus from Helsinki Kamppi to Ylläsjärvi, duration aprox. 15 hours (the bus stop is in the parking lot of Eelin kauppa store). It’s about 5km/3mi from Ylläsjärvi to Sport Resort Ylläs. There is skibus service multiple times a day, connecting Sports Resport Ylläs, Ylläsjärvi and Äkäslompolo as well as other stops on the way but the timetables weren’t a perfect match for us. See Skibus schedule and ticket informaiton here. We decided to take a taxi as we had quite a bit of luggage, skis and equipment with us. The taxi numbers can be found at the entrance of Eelin kauppa.
Train overnight (approx. 15 hours) from Helsinki to Kolari and bus from the station to Ylläs. This is a convenient option as the train and bus schedules are synced to support smooth transitions. You can select either a seat or a cabin with bunk beds for 1-3 persons. There’s even an option to take your car onboard the train but beware that there’s limited availability and at winter holidays these spots get sold out early. This is maybe the most comfortable option to travel especially if you don’t mind the sound of the railway tracks through the night.
Airplane to Kittilä and bus from the airport to Ylläs. The flight is only about 1,5 hours and there’s always a bus connection leaving shortly to Ylläs. This is the quickest option but at high season especially if you haven’t booked early the flight tickets tend to be very expensive and there’s the usual luggage limitations (check your carrier’s policy on sports equipment if you plan to bring your skis or snow boards). Finnair and Norwegian fly from Helsinki to Kittliä.
Car – it’s about 14 to 15-hour drive from Helsinki which means that in the winter it’s not possible to reach the destination before sunset. Note that although there are good roads all the way to Ylläs, in the winter the driving conditions can become very challenging, and therefore I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have experience of winter driving. Stopping on the way for a night in about half way for example in Oulu could make the drive a bit easier.
What has been your most memorable Lapland experience? We’d love to hear from you!
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Lisbon is one of the world’s oldest capital cities, built on seven hills and on the banks of River Tagus. The climate, history, architecture, food and wine have allured millions of visitors and made it one of the top 10 visited cities in Southern Europe. I was intrigued to visit, and totally charmed by the city that ended up exceeding my high expectations!
eBike tour over the hills of Alfama
Bicycling around Lisbon? Yes, sounded like a fantastic idea to see the city! But with an electronic bike? Hmm, I have to admit I wasn’t convinced it would be sporty enough. But on the other hand, I had thought about giving it a try for some time already and now was a perfect opportunity as Lisbon is known for its numerous hills! I found the tour with Boost via Tripadvisor and it sounded like a lot of fun. I booked it on my mobile on the same morning – very pleased with how well everything worked! I needed to get to the office 15 minutes before for check-in and soon our guides were calling the group together. In addition to great views and insights to the city, the tour was also good exercise, fun and informative – learned a lot of interesting facts about the city’s past. It was a hot day with over +30 degrees Celsius and I could feel the morning run in my legs, so I was a bit worried how it would work out. Luckily soon I noticed that it was pleasant to ride the bike as it was easy to turn on or off the electricity and switch gears just as on a normal bicycle. The chopper vintage style eBike actually looked stylish too!
Tagus River Waterfront Promenade
The southern part of the waterfront promenade stretches over 10 kilometers (I ran from my apartment close to Apollonia Station to Belem Tower) and provides a great flat path for walking, jogging and bicycling. There’s a few areas of cafés and restaurants with lovely terraces as well as some of Lisbon’s key sights: Cais do Sodre, MAAT, 25 de Abril Bridge (that has a bit similar looks as the Golden Gate Bridge), Padrao dos Descobrimentos, and Torre de Belém. Time flies when running on this route and (although first I thought of taking the train back) found it still interesting on the way back as well.
Cais do Sodre
The atmosphere of Cais do Sodre is trendy and energetic with people flocking to the numerous restaurants and bars. There’s a nice spot with reclining benches to sit down and relax, possibly listening to a street artist perform while gazing at the river.
Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT)
MAAT portrays striking modern architecture and with its white tiles and curvy form. The building’s roof invites to walk up to slope to the terrace with amazing views to the river and city.
Padrao dos Descobrimentos
Padrao dos Descobrimentos is monument for the Portuguese explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. Portugal was the first European country that sent explorers to search for the sea route to Asia. Vasco da Gama, Magellan and Columbus – just some of the names from history books of extraordinary explorers of the seas. It’s fascinating to think that over 500 years ago here the ships departed to trade and explore the world.
Torre de Belém
The Belem tower was originally built to protect the city. It’s quite rare to have such a military construction also look magnificent but Belem tower indeed is especially beautiful and impressive. Unfortunately, the lines are long so it’s not a place for a quick pop-in. However, it’s beautiful to see from the outside and worth the visit even if you don’t feel like queuing for the entrance.
Miradouro Nossa Senhora do Monte Belvedere
There’s a number of viewpoints on the Lisbon hills and the views are spectacular over the city and São Jorge Castle at Miradouro Nossa Senhora do Monte Belvedere. There’s a small chapel that can be visited for a quiet moment. The best part was the Maria Limao stand serving fresh homemade lemonade that tasted heavenly after the cycling in the afternoon heat.
Elevador de Santa Justa
The Elevador de Santa Justa is a unique lift designed in the 19th century by Gustav Eiffel’s student – it’s easy to see the resemblance to the Eiffel tower in Paris. The lift was built to allow people to move from the Baixa district up the Carmo Hill but today the stylish lift and the viewing platform at the top make it a popular tourist attraction and you can expect long queues if you plan to visit. However, it’s impressive with the lightning just walking by it in the evening.
Parque das Nações
Parque das Nações is the modern part of the city that was originally built for the Expo 1998 and is quite a contrast to the historic city center. There’s green parks and a riverside promenade for walking and jogging. The views to Vasco da Gama bridge – the 2nd longest bridge in Europe with a total length of over 12 kilometers (7,6 miles) – and Vasco da Gama Tower over the river are impressive.
There’s also a telecabine or cable car lift from the Vasco da Gama Tower to the Ocenarium over the river but it’s a good idea to check the schedules in advance – we weren’t lucky to be in time to give it a go.
Praca do Comercio
The commerce square was destroyed in the devastating earthquake, tsunami and fire that hit Lisbon in 1755 but it was rebuilt later. You can walk through the beautiful arch and along the Augusta pedestrian street with lots of stores towards the Rossio Square in the city center.
In addition to Rua Augusta and other streets in Lisbon city center, there’s lots of other shopping centers and malls. El Corte Ingles is a high-end department store with restaurants on the top floor. Vasco da Gama mall in Parque das Nações was our favorite as a modern mall with lots of international brand stores and a variety of restaurants. For a completely different shopping experience you can try the Feira da Ladra “Thieves market” that’s an open air flea market in Alfama open on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Restaurants and Cafes
Dinner at Time Out market
is a modern indoor market or food court with lots of different restaurant stalls with a wide selection to choose from: local food, pizza, hamburgers, salads, sushi – about anything really. There are long tables that bring a communal and relaxed feeling to the dining experience even if you’re traveling solo. It can be loud and crowded at peak times, so it might be a good idea to go early – at least on a Tuesday evening at 9 pm it was super busy but finally managed to find some free seats!
Pastel de nata at Pastelaria Alcôa
Ask anyone and indulging in Pastel de nata is one of the things not to miss when visiting Portugal! I’m usually not a big fan of pastries and cake (except raw cake) but I have to admit that the Pastel de nata with some cinnamon and powder sugar sprinkled on top are an incredibly tasty treat. One of the best places is Alcoa.
Brunch at Deli Delux
A combined deli store and restaurant and located across the street from Apollonia station with a seaside terrace. There’s 3 options of brunch sets as well as the menu to choose from. I selected the menu with eggs benedict. The cold cuts and cheese were high quality, but I missed having some fresh greens. I arrived after 11 am and there was plenty of space but an hour later the place was packed so it’s a good idea to come early to get a nice table.
Late lunch at Nicolau
This became one of my all-time favorite cafes! I was so hungry after the bicycle tour and thankful to find a table outdoors and the menu had so many healthy options to choose from! There’s also all-day brunch available. I got the guacamole, quinoa and smoked salmon salad and the green detox juice as well as sparkling water – all for under 20 euros. The cafe closes at 8pm so it’s best for brunch or late lunch. I liked the self-service with paying the bill at the counter and found the interior of the cafe stylish and child-friendly.
All-you-can-eat dinner at Arigato Sushihouse
Amazing sushi, very fresh and beautiful like pieces of art. Perfect when really hungry as the waiters go around offering more and more options, also exotic ones and dessert sushi.
Cascais is a small coastal town easily reachable from Lisbon city center by train. The train from Lisbon Cais do Sodre station takes just about 30 minutes. The public transportation ticket is valid on this trip and although it was hot the trains had at least some air conditioning. On the weekend it can get crowded so it’s a good idea to be early to ensure getting a seat on the train. Optionally, taking an Uber isn’t a bad idea especially if there’s more persons and luggage – the cost of the half hour drive was less than 30 euros.
Cascais has lots of beautiful buildings and views.
There’s several lovely beaches in Cascais and despite the crowds it didn’t feel too crowded (at least outside of the holiday season, maybe August could be too busy).
Cascais has been nominated as European Youth Capital 2018 and despite it’s small size is a vibrant place. I happened to visit during the LUMINA Festival da Luz / Festival of Light. The Festival is organized as a celebration of colors and forms and it welcomes lots of people and families who come to enjoy the light shows with music and street food.
There’s plenty of restaurants and all types of cuisines to choose from. I enjoyed a vegetarian buffet dinner at Café House of Wonders. The café is known for its rooftop terrace and vegetarian buffet (possible to request gluten free). Unfortunately, the terrace was closed due to the light spectacle, but I got a nice table outdoors downstairs.
Where to stay
I was reviewing Lisbon hotels and was really happy to find this spacious and modern studio apartment in with self-check-in close to the Alfama district and many of Lisbon’s main sights. Based on the description online I thought it would have a balcony to a courtyard but as a positive surprise it turned out to be a French balcony with views all the way to the sea over the buildings across the street. The impressive Pantheon was just around the corner too.
It was first time for me to book a self-check-in place. First, they send a code to your email to get through the front door. The self-check-in kiosk was easy to use, just needed to have the reservation number (in the email), as well as my passport and credit card ready. Just like everywhere in Lisbon, you need to pay the city tax (1 euro per person per night but max 7 euros) even though you’ve prepaid the stay. The kiosk printed out the access code to the room as well as the WiFi code.
My apartment was on the second floor and I was pleasantly surprised of its size and the view in the morning sun when waking up. I was a bit concerned at first about the noise and sound-proofing of the apartment, but I slept very well in the end. I liked the location in the old part of Lisbon and within walking distance of the shoreline and services. The only issue was that the WiFi was quite patchy, otherwise it was a great stay.
Check out also these additional ideas on best places to stay in Lisbon.
Cascais: Grande Real Villa Italia Hotel
If you’re looking for a bit of luxury weekend escape from Lisbon, Grande Real Villa Italia Hotel is a perfect place. At check-in I got upgraded to a bigger room with a nice large balcony. The bathroom with a tub was wonderful. A long swim in the outdoor sea water pool couldn’t have been more refreshing on a hot afternoon!
The hotel is located a bit outside the town center but it’s just about one kilometer pleasant and safe walk along the seaside. The hotel gym access is included in the room fee but use of the spa (indoor swimming pool and sauna) costs 20 euros. The breakfast was incredibly good with a broad selection of cold and warm options without forgetting special diets. They served an excellent macchiato with almond milk and the outdoor seating was superb.
Don’t book a hotel before doing some research on the city districts first. Lisbon has different districts with strong characteristics. I almost booked a hotel far away from the city because it seemed like a great deal and had good reviews, but it would have required taking public transportation to access all the places I wanted to go. Know what’s important to you when you travel, do some research, and compare hotel offers. Personally, if possible I prioritize walking distance to the seaside (especially if there’s a promenade for jogging/bicycling) as well as proximity to restaurants and shops.
Transportation: from airport to the city and out and about
Overall, the public transportation in Lisbon is cheap and works well. However, if you plan to use different modes of transportation (metro/train/bus/ferry, etc) don’t take just any ticket – Via Viaggem Zapping card is the best option as you just upload cash to it and can use it across the whole public transportation system. But note that what you upload on the card stays on the card without possibility to get refunded. Lisboa card (available for 24/48/72 hours) that includes admission to public transportation and a number of sights could also be a good option.
Yellow trams are a famous part of Lisbon and are fun to watch rolling in the streets. However, especially the route 28 that’s popular with tourists can be very crowded and risky due to pickpockets, so watch out if you decide to go on-board.
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At the airport, the metro station is right outside of the arrivals hall. There can be long ques to the ticket vending machines, but the line was moving quite quickly – big thanks to the employee who was helping out the tourists! After 2 stops at Oriente, I needed to change from metro to train. It was a bit confusing how to find my way but eventually figured out that it required moving up a couple of floors to get to the trains. I think I just missed one train as I needed to wait about 15 minutes but then it was just another couple of stops before arriving at Santa Apollonia station from where it was just a short walk to my apartment.
Uber service in Lisbon is fantastic and would also be a good option from the airport especially if you’re staying at a place further away from the public transportation network.
I took the train from Lisbon Entrecampos station to Albufeira-Ferreiras to visit Algarve region. The first class ticket cost just a bit more than second class and made the 2,5 hour travel pleasant on board the high-speed train traveling at top speeds over 200 km per hour. It’s easy to buy the tickets online and if you book early you could find a nice discount on the ticket. It was a nice experience to cross the 25 de abril bridge by train and say goodbye to the city from the train window.
On the way back, we had a rental car to return and it was super easy as it was right next to the airport without too long walking distance.
Lisbon is a big city that has the traffic jams of a metropolitan city at peak commuting hours which means that buses may be behind schedule if caught in congestion. In any case, don’t jump on a bus going to your destination before double-checking the route. I was happy to find a bus going to the right destination and hopped on – only to realize a few minutes later that it was going in the wrong direction and it would take around triple the time!
Next time in Portugal I’d love to visit Porto as well – here’s a 3 days in Porto itinerary from Sidewalk Safari for inspiration. There would also be much more to see and do in Lisbon than what was possible to fit into a weekend! I really enjoyed the city and would be more than happy to return to see and experience more, especially:
- Ferry from Cais do Sodré across Tagus river to Cacilhas
- Cristo Rei Monument to Christ
- Museum MAAT from the inside
- Estoril beaches
- Sintra castles and national park
Have you been to Lisbon and would you have other recommendations on things to do?
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