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Unlikely destinations for unforgettable family holidays

Lonely Planet logo Lonely Planet 13-03-2015 Etain O'Carroll

Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey © Ayhan Altun/Getty Images Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey

Your toddler requires a hotel room the size of an airfield to burn off steam, your tweenie wants big-budget action and adventure, and your teens, well, they probably just want to be as far away from you as possible.

It’s a fine art planning a perfect family trip, balancing all the diverse needs, providing just the right amount of stimulation, working in some decent downtime, and fitting it all into your time frame and budget. The following destinations provide would-be adventurers with a host of options a world away from that five-star hotel and the lacklustre kids club.

1. Lofoten Islands, Norway

Long Arctic days mean plenty of time to take in the drama of the Lofoten Islands. Image by Vicki Mar Photography / Moment / Getty Images © Provided by Lonely Planet Long Arctic days mean plenty of time to take in the drama of the Lofoten Islands. Image by Vicki Mar Photography / Moment / Getty Images

Sheer cliffs topped by jagged peaks rise dramatically out of the water in Norway‘s remote Lofoten Islands (lofoten.info/en). Outdoor adventure is a given here and as the islands lie inside the Arctic Circle you’ll get incredibly long summer days to explore the traditional villages, take boat trips up narrow fjords, visit bird and seal colonies, discover a Viking longhouse or wander around artists’ galleries. You can hike or ride the lonely hills and virtually empty roads, kayak to deserted beaches and uninhabited islets, enjoy the numerous summer festivals, and if you’re lucky, even see the Northern Lights.

Destination guide to Lofoten

Flights to Lofoten 

Hotels in Lofoten 

2. Horse-drawn caravan holiday, Cumbria, England

Traditional caravans are seen at the Appleby Horse Fair Appleby-in-Westmorland, England © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Traditional caravans are seen at the Appleby Horse Fair Appleby-in-Westmorland, England  

Long celebrated in children’s fiction, running off to a life in a gypsy caravan has to be the ultimate childhood dream. Companies across Britain and Ireland make this possible, but Wanderlusts (wanderlusts.co.uk/holidays.html) in Cumbria offers old-world romance and outdoor adventure by the bucket load. It’s impossible to measure the value of a trip like this, but the colourful bow-top caravan, placid horses and open fires are guaranteed to induce wide grins and spark imaginations in young and old. Meander down country roads, visit caves and lakeside saunas, hike in the hills, take a bakery or bushcraft course or just enjoy the rhythmic clip-clop of the horses’ hooves and the unhurried pace of life.

Destination guide to the Lake District 

Flights to the Lake District

Hotels in the Lake District 

3. Working ranch holidays, USA

Who knows what skills your kids might learn after a week on the ranch? Image by Brandy Taylor / E+ / Getty Images © Provided by Lonely Planet Who knows what skills your kids might learn after a week on the ranch? Image by Brandy Taylor / E+ / Getty Images

For a taste of the Wild West and an authentic glimpse of the cowboy lifestyle, a trip to a working ranch offers action and adventure for all. You’ll get big skies, dramatic scenery and plenty of time in the saddle at a variety of ranches across the USA, where you can learn to ride or improve your skills, take on some rodeo training or trek high into the hills. Western Oriental (westernoriental.com/travel/family-friendly-ranch-holidays) features a variety of properties that welcome families with under fives doubling up on parents’ horses and over sixes getting mounts of their own. By night you can learn to line dance, stargaze around a campfire, and sleep in a teepee.

Destination guide to Colorado 

Flights to Colorado

Hotels in Colorado

4. Cultural discovery, Thailand

Buddhist monks inside the temple in Thailand © Bartosz Hadyniak/Getty Images Buddhist monks inside the temple in Thailand  

Thailand‘s idyllic beaches are a major draw, but along with sun and sand this diverse country offers families the opportunity for a far more exotic adventure. Enjoy the beach and the glittering temples, but then head north to see the country’s beautiful national parks and immerse yourself in the daily life of a traditional village. Symbiosis Travel (symbiosis-travel.com/thailand) offers cultural itineraries specifically aimed at families, giving you a glimpse into the lives of threatened hill tribes and the opportunity to roast cashew nuts or mend fishing nets alongside villagers. You’ll get to go trekking and rafting, visit craftspeople and shamans, and provide your children with lifelong memories.

Destination guide to Thailand

Flights to Thailand

Hotels in Thailand

5. Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey © David Madison/Getty Images Hot air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey  

A surreal landscape of honeycombed hills and conical rock formations, Cappadocia will make any child’s imagination run wild. ‘Fairy chimneys’ litter the landscape and are carved out into ingenious homes, while below ground whole cities lie hidden in the soft stone. Churches and monasteries hide in the canyons, cave hotels provide a place to rest your head, and spectacular hot air balloon rides give a sense of the vast scale and staggering beauty of the region. And if you really want to make the most of your time it’s easy to take a quick flight to the coast to enjoy the beautiful beaches, Roman ruins and atmospheric cruising on a traditional wooden gulet.

Destination guide to Turkey

Flights to Turkey

Hotels in Turkey

6. Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Looking for wide open spaces to let the little ones roam? They don't come much wider than the Gobi. Image by Jenny Jones / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images © Provided by Lonely Planet Looking for wide open spaces to let the little ones roam? They don't come much wider than the Gobi. Image by Jenny Jones / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

The vast, harsh landscape of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia probably won’t be your first thought when planning a family holiday, but if you enjoy wild open spaces and the whiff of adventure, it provides the perfect setting for an unforgettable trip. The birthplace of Genghis Khan and home to breathtaking landscapes, the Gobi offers the chance to stay with nomadic tribes in ger camps, see dramatic ice canyons and spectacular dunes, and visit one of the world’s largest dinosaur graveyards at the flaming cliffs of Bayanzag. Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com) features several family-friendly itineraries suitable for children from the age of six.

7. Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

Quiet beach at Lanzarote, Canary Islands © Andreas Wonisch/Getty Images Quiet beach at Lanzarote, Canary Islands  

Forget Lanzarote‘s cluster of coastal resorts and head north and inland to discover an otherworldly volcanic landscape home to the mesmerising works of visionary architect César Manrique (cesarmanrique.com). A fantasy voyage for children and a cultural fix for adults, his ingenious designs include a subterranean amphitheatre set inside an enormous lava tube, a spectacular lookout, and a surreal house built into a series of lava bubbles. Kids will also get a kick out of the eerie landscape of Timanfaya National Park where steam billows out of boreholes and your lunch gets cooked over a red-hot fissure. And if you can manage to sneak away for a bit, there’s world-class surfing at Famara and steep but mostly deserted roads beloved by pro cyclists.

Destination guide to Lanzarote

Flights to Lanzarote

Hotels in Lanzarote 

8. The national parks of Madhya Pradesh, India

You'll be lucky to spot a tiger, but there's plenty of other stuff for the kids to eyeball in Madhya Pradesh. Image by Jonathan & Angela Scott / AWL Images / Getty Images © Provided by Lonely Planet You'll be lucky to spot a tiger, but there's plenty of other stuff for the kids to eyeball in Madhya Pradesh. Image by Jonathan & Angela Scott / AWL Images / Getty Images

India‘s hectic streets and crowded markets can pose a daunting challenge for families, but retreat to the national parks of central Madhya Pradesh and you discover the inspiration behind The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Eleven national parks (nationalparksindia.com) preserve the dense bamboo and saal forests of the area but it is Kanha (kanhanationalpark.com) which is easiest to access. Home to healthy populations of Bengal tigers, langur monkeys, swamp deer and antelope, it provides an exhilarating destination for 4WD jeep tours or guided walks. Once you’ve had your fill of wildlife, the Taj Mahal, colourful Jaipur and the temples of Kahjuraho are within easy reach.

Destination guide to India

Flights to India

Hotels in India

9. Herm, the Channel Islands, Great Britain

Belvoir Bay Herm, Channel Islands, Great Britain © Oliver Malms/Getty Images Belvoir Bay Herm, Channel Islands, Great Britain  

Remote yet accessible, exotic yet affordable, diminutive Herm (herm.com) was made for old-fashioned adventure. One of the smallest Channel Islands at just 1.5 miles long and half a mile wide, the island slips back into a deep slumber once the last boat of day trippers departs. There are no cars or even bikes here, the school has just eight pupils and kids can enjoy that increasingly rare pleasure of complete freedom. Stay in a pre-pitched tent at the Seagull campsite for instant buddies, explore the beaches, rock pools and coastal paths, and discover mysterious Neolithic tombs. You’ll unplug, relax and wonder why you hadn’t come sooner.

Destination guide to United Kingdom 

10. A life less ordinary

Ackergill Tower, Scotland © John Warburton-Lee/Getty Images Ackergill Tower, Scotland  

Sometimes the place you stay is so special that it’s enough to make the whole trip unforgettable. Imagine your kids’ delight when you tell them they’re going to sleep in a lighthouse on a craggy cliff, bed down in a medieval castle or kip high in a tree house? Guaranteed to spark imaginations and a whole host of fantasy games, it’s well worth looking for accommodation a little less ordinary. Quirky Accom (quirkyaccom.com) lists plenty of options from windmills and railway carriages to aircraft carriers and glamping- right in the middle of a zoo.

Destination guide to Scotland 

Flights to Scotland

Stay at Ackergill Tower

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