With spring break for students and Eid al-Fitr holidays on the horizon, parents across the country are putting family vacations back on their radars. Admittedly, it feels a little counterintuitive to address family-friendly travel destinations considering we’re residents of the UAE. Not only was Dubai ranked the world’s number one destination in 2023, according to Tripadvisor, but Abu Dhabi was also named the world’s best city for a family getaway in 2022 by the experts at The Family Vacation Guide. Still, we’d be remiss not to reveal our favourites, and this guide features a bit of everything – wildlife, history, beaches, theme parks, and enough adrenaline to excite children of all ages.
It may seem like an unlikely choice to begin with, but Costa Rica is actually one of the world’s best places to holiday as a family – particularly if an adventure is in order. This tiny Central American country has it all – untouched wilderness in the form of tropical rainforests and legendary volcanoes, an excellent ecotourism system, and additional security resources in areas frequented by tourists. We’d go as far as saying that it’s the ultimate starting point if Latin America is on your bucket list. And if the likes of waterfall rappelling, white-water rafting, or whooshing along ziplines feels too intense, you and your little ones can build sandcastles on Costa Rica’s beautiful palm-backed beaches.
Stay: The Springs Resort & Spa
See: The majesty of Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica’s most famous volcano, before discovering the ancient secrets of cacao through the Rainforest Chocolate Tour.
Do: Walk through the clouds at the truly unique ecosystem of Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.
Iceland regularly ranks among the safest countries in the world, making it a no-brainer for those new to travelling with the kids in tow. It also boasts a whole host of otherworldly attractions, each guaranteed to impress even the most jaded of teenagers. Nicknamed the “land of fire and ice”, this Nordic island nation is one of the best places to see the northern lights, especially between September and April. Elsewhere, activities such as whale watching, puffin tours, and dog sledding cater to all ages. As for an activity that’s unique to Iceland? Living like a Viking, of course! Head to Viking Village, where you’ll dine on traditional Viking meals as actors in Viking and Valkyrie costumes dance, sing, and tell stories – it’s just the right amount of kitsch.
Stay: Reykjavik Marina
See: The Golden Circle – Iceland’s most popular sightseeing route – by taking a bus tour that departs from Reykjavik.
Do: Bathe in the Blue Lagoon, arguably the most famous of Iceland’s many geothermal pools.
While travel is always engaging, opening the minds of young explorers, few places are as fascinating as Japan. In the capital of Tokyo, futuristic museums, robot-themed restaurants, and bullet trains stand seamlessly alongside ancient traditions like tea ceremonies. The city is also home to some of the best theme parks in the world – Joypolis and Tokyo Dome City included – with the likes of Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea under an hour away from the city centre. Your kids will also love immersing themselves in cultural obsessions such as anime, manga, Hello Kitty, and Harajuku style. As for activities you all can enjoy as a family? A hands-on taiko drumming class, a walk through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and a visit to the whimsical Ghibli Museum.
Stay: Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
See: The snowy faces of wild macaques bathing in hot springs at Jigokudani Monkey Park.
Do: Attend a Matsuri festival to indulge in street food and observe locals carrying huge, intricately decorated portable shrines.
History, natural wonders, surreal landscapes – that is the appeal of Jordan in a nutshell. As for its famously hospitable people? Just the proverbial cherry on top. Located within a four-hour flight of Dubai, the capital of Amman will appeal to history buffs as it was once home to ancient Roman and Byzantine civilisations. The beautifully restored Roman Amphitheatre, for example, was built in the built in the 2nd century and used to hold 6,000 spectators during its heyday. Adventure-seeking families, meanwhile, can snorkel off the coast of the Red Sea and ride in the back of a 4×4 across Jordan’s seemingly endless desert. Above all, it’s the ancient Nabatean capital of Petra that’s carved from sandstone that makes this Arab country a real winner, especially if an easily accessible holiday is what you’re after.
Stay: Petra Bubble Luxotel
See: The Treasury – Petra’s most famous monument – late in the afternoon, when the whole facade is bathed in a reddish-pink glow from the walls all around.
Do: Float in the mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth.
A dream destination for any family with a safari on its bucket list, Kenya features an embarrassment of riches when it comes to incredible wildlife and natural beauty – but more on that in a second. This East African country has long been popular due to exhilarating offerings like hot air balloon rides over the Maasai Mara National Reserve and feeding and photographing a herd of Rothschild giraffes over breakfast at Giraffe Manor. They famously visit morning and evening, poking their long necks into the windows in the hope of a treat before retreating to their forest sanctuary. Still, going on safari is what brings people of all ages to Kenya, with older children in particular getting a thrill out of spotting lions, cheetahs, elephants, and zebras from a 4WD with a pop-top roof. It is the ultimate game of I-Spy, after all.
Stay: Baobab Beach Resort and Spa
See: The Great Rift Valley, a geological force that almost separated Africa into two, creating one of the most serene landscapes in the world.
Do: Plan your trip between July and October in order to witness the extraordinary spectacle of the Great Migration, an annual movement by millions of wildebeest.
Another easily accessible destination for residents of Dubai? The coastal city of Colombo, which happens to be pretty relaxed compared to most capital cities in Asia. The kids – regardless of their age – are bound to appreciate the many attractions of this teardrop-shaped island. Family-bonding on pristine beaches aside, you can feed orphaned elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, climb Little Adam’s Peak in Ella, absorb the country’s colonial past in Galle, and dine on interesting local delicacies like string hoppers. Incidentally, mass tourism hasn’t returned to Sri Lanka since civil unrest and the pandemic overlapped, which means you can enjoy the island with fewer crowds. Bonus: it’s also a lot more affordable than some of the other recommendations in this list.
Stay: Living Heritage Koslanda
See: The world’s biggest concentration of leopards, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, peacocks, and crocodiles at Yala National Park.
Do: Take the iconic train journey from Kandy to Ella, viewing scenic hillsides and lush tea plantations along the way.