There’s no shortage of destinations around the world that cater to families, but certain places go beyond expectations. From the white-sand beaches of Jamaica to dog sledding in Finland, these international destinations offer fun, cultural experiences the kids will be talking about for years to come. These are the best international destinations to visit with kids in 2019.
1. Toronto, Canada
This Canadian metropolis is big enough to offer plenty for kids, but small enough not to feel overwhelming. Some of the popular things for families to do while visiting Toronto include Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, home to more than 16,000 marine animals; Le Dolci, for kid-friendly baking classes; and Mysterious Minds Escape Room, where kids work together to figure out how to “escape” before time runs out. Toronto also has a great food scene and there are plenty of kid-friendly restaurants in town, including Ricarda’s, an upscale family-friendly spot that has an all-you-can-eat jazz brunch with a dedicated kids’ play zone and a fully supervised area with trains, dollhouses, a play kitchen, cars, coloring books, and more.
Or take a food tour with Culinary Adventure Co. Food Tours, where a food guide will take families to Chinatown (one of the largest in North America), as well as Kensington Market, so kids can sample a variety of cuisines. The recently opened Hotel X Toronto is another reason to bring your family here. It has a 3,000-square-foot kids’ activity center, a 250-seat cinema for movie nights, and an amazing rooftop pool that kids can’t help but jump in.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel X Toronto
2. Lisbon, Portugal
For many families ready for their first international trip, Portugal is good choice. English is spoken widely there, it’s easy to get around the country, and the food is simple and fresh (great homemade pastas for kids and plenty of seafood for parents). Lisbon is known as the “City of Seven Hills” (think San Francisco) and when the little ones get tired, it’s easy to hop on a tram.
Martinhal Resorts—which has four properties in Portugal—is a great hotel option for families; in fact, it was created specifically with kids in mind! The Martinhal Chiado Family Suites, located in the heart of Lisbon, has strollers, as well as all baby essentials for the room: cribs, highchairs, little potties, step stools, and toys.
After Lisbon, families should head to the Algarve region in the south, where Martinhal’s flagship property, Martinhal Sagres Family Resort, is located. It has five swimming pools, an expansive beach, a bike shop that offers tours and hourly rentals, and plenty more. Families can spend days hanging by the beach, biking to Cape St. Vincent lighthouse, or simply relaxing in the Mediterranean sun.
Recommended Hotel: Martinhal Chiado Family Suites
A short flight from the States, Jamaica has plenty to keep adventurous kids busy. Jamaica bobsledding, 4×4 off-road safaris, zipline adventures, Reggae family catamaran cruises, and dolphin swims—the options are endless. Plus, there are some fantastic all-inclusive properties on the island. Beaches Negril is located on the widest stretch of Negril’s famed Seven Mile Beach, and has nine different restaurants, Pirates Island Waterpark, Sesame Street camps and parades, autism-friendly programming, day and night entertainment, a teens-only lounge, and so much more. The property also recently unveiled nine new family-friendly suites and rooms, which sleep up to eight guests. Beaches Ocho Rios is another great Jamaica property for families.
Recommended Hotel: Beaches Negril
4. Tel Aviv, Israel
How many big cities feature amazing beaches steps away from your hotel? Many people are surprised to find that Israel has prime sandy beaches along Tel Aviv’s coast, as well as a fantastic promenade for biking and strolling. Plus, there’s plenty of shopping in unique, one-of-a-kind marketplaces—like Sarona and Carmel—where kids can find everything from dreidels to unique desserts. Families can also visit Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhoods, including Neve Tzedek, which has museums, galleries, and a variety of charming restaurants. Kid-friendly food like hummus, falafel and pita are inexpensive and accessible everywhere.
Day trips to Jerusalem (to see the Western Wall and to experience things read about in history books or Sunday school) can be arranged by family-friendly tour operators. Hotel picks include the Norman Tel Aviv and the Tal By the Beach Hotel Tel Aviv.
Recommended Hotel: Tal By the Beach Hotel Tel Aviv
5. La Paz, Mexico
La Paz combines an authentic Mexican ambiance with the high-quality services expected from a world-class beach destination. Tucked away on the eastern side of the Baja California Sur, approximately two hours from Cabo San Lucas, La Paz is ideally situated along the peaceful waters of the Sea of Cortez. Here, families can enjoy snorkeling with baby sea lions, swimming with whale sharks, standup paddleboarding, kayaking and more. The city’s historic charm, natural beauty, white-sand beaches and turquoise-blue seas have made La Paz an in-demand destination for adventure fans, nature lovers and families. One of the best ways to experience La Paz is by boat with UnCruise, a small ship adventure cruise line. The seven-night cruise on the Sea of Cortez allows families to get up close with local marine life.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel One La Paz
6. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Known for crystal-clear waters, year-round warm temperatures and the vast number of endemic species studied by Charles Darwin, the Galapagos Islands are an amazing destination for families. Kids can spend their days getting up close and personal with amazing wildlife, going on hikes around the various islands, visiting the Charles Darwin Research Center, and kayaking and snorkeling with the area’s fish and (docile!) sharks. For families considering a trip to the Galapagos Islands, Quasar Expeditions offers seven-night luxury cruises on their newly renovated yachts, the M/V Evolution and M/Y Grace. While children are welcome on any cruise, Quasar also offers special Family Cruises, complete with child-friendly naturalists, special children’s menus, star-gazing nights, and movie and board game nights.
Recommended Hotel: Red Mangrove
7. Quebec City, Canada
Quebec City, Canada, is a year-round vacation destination, but it is especially fun and popular in the winter. The largest winter carnival in the world, Quebec Winter Carnival offers fun family festivities, including parades, snow slides, shows, a snow bath, snow sculptures, sleigh rides and skating. The carnival also features a variety of kid-friendly activities, accessible with the Effigy pass; kids under age 8 are granted access for free! In 2019, Palace George V will be home to the new Ice Palace, in the massive Loto-Québec Royal Court, which is a 30-foot-high snow sculpture. Other family-friendly activities include ice sculpture workshops, where participants create their own masterpieces, and the popular VIA Rail Ice Slide, right on Grande Allée.
Of course, there’s plenty to do in Quebec all year. During the summer months, head to the Plains of Abraham, a green oasis that’s home to the Fine Arts Museum and also hosts music festivals such as the Festival d’Ete (“summer music festival”). Or, don a costume from the 17th and 18th century to celebrate the New France Festival. For a dose of nature, visit the Montmorency Falls or take a drive through the beauty of Île d’Orléans to visit the little farms and gardens dotted across the island.
Recommended Hotel: Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac
8. Krakow, Poland
Krakow, Poland, is a picturesque city with a beautiful market square, as well as the magnificent Wawel Castle (it’s right out of a fairy tale). Families should consider a stay at the Legend Hotel, which is walking distance to the castle, the main square, and many attractions. There are many wonderful restaurants in town, including Szara Kuchni, Restauracja Pod Baranem, and The Piano Rouge, where local Polish meals (duck, pork, beetroot soup) can be found (alongside common American dishes that kids will like—think chicken and French fries).
Be sure to take a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The kids will especially love going deep under the earth to tour a once-working mine (it dates back 700 years) that is so large, it was pretty much an underground city!
Recommended Hotel: Legend Hotel
9. Lapland, Finland
While the ski season in the U.S. usually ends by April, in Lapland, Finland, it can go as late as June, due to its location far north in the Arctic Circle region. Many families head to Ruka, a tree-filled ski resort located in Kuusamo, Eastern Lapland, which has ski-in rooms, in-room saunas and balconies with dreamy views. Not only can skiers expect 200 powder-filled days a year, but the slopes also stay open until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. For those who don’t ski, there’s plenty more to experience, including reindeer sledding, snow shoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling and of course, seeing the Northern Lights.
Be sure to take the kids on a snowmobile safari to a reindeer farm (good for kids 5 and older). Families will travel through the wintry forests and over ice-covered lakes until they reach a traditional reindeer farm, where they’ll stop to feed the animals and go on a reindeer sleigh ride. They’ll head back after filling up on hot beverages, pastries and local sausage. Another highlight is taking a husky safari—where families can “drive” the sled through the snowy forests behind the adorable dog team. If you go all the way to Lapland, you don’t have to worry about the possibility of missing the Northern Lights. A sleigh pulls visitors through the forest, up the hill and far from any town lights that could pollute the view. If visitors don’t see them on the sleigh ride, they have another chance once they reach camp (set up with warming snacks, beverages and a cozy fire).
Recommended Hotel: Lapland Hotels Ounasvaara Chalets