Best family activity holidays
By Mark Frary, Editor of 101 Family Holidays
A family activity holiday is the perfect way to keep boredom at bay, encourage your kids to learn a new skill or allow them to develop a childhood hobby, whether it’s horse riding, cycling, surfing, sailing, tennis or something more offbeat like fossil hunting or looking after farm animals.
There are activities to suit most ages, from toddlers to teens and – best of all – the whole family can usually get involved. Setting off on a cycling trip, or learning how to surf is a great way to bond as a family. You share the experience together; you all get a sense of achievement and – while these may not necessarily be the most relaxing kinds of family holiday – they are invariably great fun.
Here I’m making the distinction between family holidays where there’s a selection of activities available if you feel like it – and holidays where the whole theme of the trip is centred around a particular activity, or activities. (If you’re looking for something more wild and exotic, see out guide to the best family adventure holidays).
Activity-based family resorts
Taking the first option, there are several operators offering activity-based resorts where you can pick-and-choose from numerous land- and watersports – just as you could easily opt out altogether and flop by the pool.
Club Med has a worldwide selection of all-inclusive beach and winter sports resorts where you can try your hand at activities as diverse as circus skills and alpine skiing. In Turkey, Mark Warner’s Sea Garden Beach Resort should keep watersports fans happy.
Available at luxury resorts throughout the Med, Powder Byrne Sports Academies will appeal to families with teens, while the Cotswold Water Park in the UK offers everything from a high ropes course, cycling and horse riding to kayaking, wake-boarding, windsurfing, water-skiing and fishing.
Action-packed family holidays
Raising the tempo (and adrenaline levels), there’s an equally diverse range of family holidays where activities are the heart, soul and highlights of the itinerary.
Parents and children getting stuck into activities together is the underlying ethos of trips with Activities Abroad where you could find yourself on a white-water family jolly through rapids in the Julian Alps of Slovenia, or tubing through a canyon in Turkey. Some trips are specifically for families with teenagers.
Inghams on the other hand offers action summer holidays for families in the lakes and mountains of Europe with children as young as three. Its most popular hotels include Hotel le Cret in Morzine, Club Hotel Villa Paradiso in the Italian Lakes and the Garden Hotel Theresia in Austria.
If your heart is set on a mountain activity holiday, take a peek at Peak Retreats – it specialises in the French Alps and has picked out a great selection of unspoilt resorts – some of which offer a choice of 40+ activities, from rock climbing to summer skiing.
If you fancy the freedom of the ocean waves, you could join a flotilla sailing holiday in the Mediterranean, where you’ll join a group of other people sailing from port to port. If you’re a nervous beginner you can learn the ropes first on a two-week Stay and Sail Holiday with the first week on land and the second at sea.
Of course, when it comes to ‘action stations’ few operators raise the bar higher than PGL. Your son or daughter may have already enjoyed a school trip or summer camp at one of their UK activity centres – or perhaps joined a PGL skiing trip. What you may not realise, however, is that PGL also offers family activity holidays in the UK and France. There are lots of options to choose from, including from the classic multi-activity holiday and canoeing on the Ardeche. See more family holidays in France.
For other summer camp ideas for your children, try Kingswood Camps, which boasts no fewer than 80 different activities at its seven residential camps for 7-17 year-olds. Locations include the Isle of Wight, North Wales and French Alps.
Further afield, holiday activities get an extra splash of adrenaline and excitement thanks to some exotic locations. On the Active Costa Rica trip from Families Worldwide, for example, you don’t just go mountain biking – you pedal around an active volcano. Zip-wiring sends you flying through the canopy of a tropical rainforest, while a rafting trip on the Sarapiqui River might include sightings of crocodiles.
If it’s the cost of a family holiday to such a far-flung destination that sets your pulse racing, the Family Adventure Company has a calming selection of action-packed family holidays for under £1,000 per person, including flights as well as accommodation, activities and any gear required, all breakfasts, some other meals and, of course, expert guides and instructors.
Family walking holidays
Now we step boldly into the realm of family activity holidays where it is the activity itself that dictates the style of the trip.
No doubt there are plenty of families who think nothing of stuffing rucksacks with tents, sleeping bags and cooking gear before marching into the hills on a good old family yomp. For the rest of us, though, a family walking holiday is more about easy strolling, exploring a region at a gentle pace and spending quality (blister-free) time together.
Inntravel understands this perfectly and even goes so far as removing the heavy burden of luggage from you. Bags are transported ahead each day to the next family-friendly hotel on your walking itinerary through some of Europe’s scenic hotspots. You’re equipped with detailed notes, describing everything from restaurants and beaches to wildlife to watch out for, and there’s always a sprinkling of non-walking days in each holiday.
“But our children hate walking”, I hear you cry! Don’t worry, Inntravel has thought of that as well. Walks with donkeys add a four-legged element to your holiday that’s not only constantly at hand to respond to cries of “Carry me!” but will also rapidly become your child’s new best friend.
Inntravel’s mule-supported walking holidays operate in some beautiful parts of Spain, but if you want to get footloose and fancy-free nearer to home, why not book a cottage in the Lake District? Sykes Cottages has nearly 400 properties in and around the national park where you can set out on day walks ranging from buggy-friendly ambles around Tarn Hows and a gentle circuit of Buttermere to more challenging hikes in the fells around Ambleside and Windermere. The Lakes are also awash with other activities, from canoeing on Ullswater to cycling in the Grizedale Forest.
Family cycling holidays
Kids love bikes and it’s not surprising that family cycling holidays are so popular. Don’t be put off by logistics. No one is expecting you to laden your bicycle with bulging panniers and attempt any Bradley Wiggins’ style feats of endurance.
Inntravel take the puff out of pedalling with its great range of self-guided family cycling holidays in some of the most beautiful regions of Europe. Its most popular routes are the Quiet Lanes of Mallorca where you stay in characterful agriturismos with a pool, and Bikes, Backroads and Beaches which involves exploring the hidden beaches, medieval villages and unspoiled countryside of Catalonia.
Headwater specialises in cycling and walking holidays and had so many requests from families that wanted to combine these with a stay in a villa with private pool, that it created these fantastic active villa holidays.
If you don’t want to be tied to a cycling itinerary, but still feel the urge for a spot of free-spirited freewheeling, why not base yourself on Ile de Ré on the French Atlantic Coast? With wrap-around beaches and scented pine forests, this long thin island is criss-crossed with cycling tracks and has few busy roads.
Family horse riding holidays
A saddle on a horse, rather than a bike? No problem. Audley Travel offers a fabulous ranching holiday at the Echo Valley Ranch & Spa in British Columbia. You can hit the trails on horseback, learn how to lasso, try your hand at gold panning and go “Yee-ha” at a cowboy cook-out in the mighty fine mountains and forests in this beautiful corner of Canada.
Also guaranteed to get you chewing at the bit, Aardvark’s horseback safaris include some incredible opportunities to ride in the wilds of Africa. They can arrange anything from a gentle hack for novices from a private bush home, like Ant’s Nest in South Africa, to a weeklong horseback safari, splashing through the floodplains of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, or tracking big game in Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Or how about learning to play polo? If your kids are eight or older you can learn the ropes together at Polo Valley Ranch in Sotogrande in southern Spain. It’s a great bonding experience and no riding experience is necessary.
Family surfing holidays
If there’s one activity synonymous with family seaside holidays in the UK, it’s bodyboarding. Taking the next step and learning how to surf with a professional instructor is not only hugely rewarding (for kids and grown-ups), but also helps to teach your children how to stay safe in the waves.
Family snorkelling and diving holidays
Snorkelling is another activity that can rapidly become an obsession for children on a seaside holiday. A sailing holiday with Peter Sommer Travels, pottering around the Turkish coast on a traditional gulet, provides endless opportunities for flopping overboard and seeing what lies beneath.
Taking the plunge into scuba diving is the next natural step. Numerous family resorts offer PADI Bubblemaker courses where children as young as eight can take their first breath underwater in the safe and controlled conditions of a swimming pool. Children aged 10-14 can then progress to the Junior Open Water course.
Family skiing holidays
For family skiing holidays, Esprit Ski takes care of everything, from ski classes for 3-12 year-olds, dedicated nurseries, pre-bookable ski packs and catered chalets or chalet hotels in around 15 of the best family-friendly resorts in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland. Click here for some great deals, including free children’s holidays and lift passes, free children’s ski and boot rental and discounted adult ski passes.
Cross-country skiing is just one of the alternative winter activities to choose from on a three- or four-night break in Finland with Santa’s Lapland – although a pilgrimage to meet Father Christmas is, of course, the main event.
Family farmstay holidays
If cycling, surfing, scuba diving and skiing just sound too challenging and complicated, or if you have very young children whose idea of an ‘action holiday’ is to pat a donkey on the head and collect chicken’s eggs, then a farmstay is the ideal choice.
… something for dinosaur hunters – quite possibly the most addictive holiday activity out there. You could plan an expedition to Mongolia or the Badlands, but why not start by honing your fossil collecting skills on the Isle of Wight where you can track down dinosaur footprints and look for remains of the predatory Neovenator salerii. The Dinosaur Isle museum whisks you back in time to the Cretaceous and also organises fossil walks.
Last updated: 10 January 2017