Six great family holiday destinations

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

When the time comes this year to pack the car so full of kids and baggage that you can’t see out of the rear-view mirror, where will you be heading? On a culturally enlightening tour of Scotland? A wild adventure in Wales? Or a delicious trip all the way to buttery Brittany? Here are some of our favourite family holiday destinations, bursting with everything from downhill bike trails to steam railways, science museums, stalactites and elephants. Take a look and get so excited that not even playing car Tetris with the luggage will get you down.

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Scottish Borders & Edinburgh 

You don’t have to head all the way to the highlands and islands to find family fun in Scotland. In Edinburgh, you’ll find a climbing centre, ghost tours, the camera obscura and historic sites to get the kids tired out, freaked out or geeked out, depending on what they’re into. You can even hit the beach down in Portobello if it’s a nice day. Over in Glasgow there’s a world-class interactive science museum too, but it’s not all about urban pursuits. There’s a dry ski slope (The Midlothian Snowsports Centre) to the south of the city, surfing beaches and the Pentland hills to get you out and active, while younger children might enjoy a visit to the animals and playgrounds of Almond Valley. 

Stay at: Steading Cottage – a gorgeous, remote escape on a working farm, which is still only half an hour from the capital. Owners Susan and Jenny recommend Sula Boat Trips out into the Forth, to see gannets and puffins on the rocks.  

See all our places in Scotland >


If the kids are into cathedrals, then a trip to Norwich’s impressive edifice is a must, but there’s plenty more in the area to keep those rare cathedral-apathetic children busy. The walking and cycling are superb, not least because the flatness of the county and safety of the paths makes them suitable for all ages and levels of skill or fitness. The Marriot’s Way, a 26-mile trail formed mostly from disused railway lines, links to the Bure Valley Path, which runs alongside the narrow-gauge railway, so more energetic kids can race the trains down the tracks. You can enjoy that race from the other side too, on a light steam-train trundle from/to Aylsham or Wroxham.   

Stay at: Laundry Cottage, a beautiful bit of classic country charm to the west of Aylsham. Owner Sarah always points families to the treehouse fun at BeWILDerwood and Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure, for obvious reasons. 

See all our places in Norfolk >


More cathedral excitement for the little ones is on offer in Kent but, once again, it’s worth having a backup. Westgate Gardens, a lovely green space in Canterbury centre, is the perfect place to take a break from sightseeing or an al fresco lunch. If that whets your appetite for the outdoors, then head for the North Downs, one of the UK’s 46 National Landscapes (fka AONBs). Here you’ll find some great walking, much of it being made accessible by a dedicated campaign of maintenance, as well as an art trail that winds between some beautiful pieces in stunning settings. Wandering the hills is a fine way to spend your time, but ignoring the Kent coast would be a mistake. As well as all the usual seaside fun (yes, even those machines that push 2p coins back and forth!), you can grab fish & chips or freshly shucked oysters and set up on the sand for lunch. 

Stay at: Stable West, a marvellous conversion with a pool to retire to after a day out exploring. Owner Charlie recommends dropping in on the gorillas and elephants at Howlett’s Wild Animal Park during your visit.  

See all our places in Kent >

Wales (south-east) 

Being based just over the bridge in Bristol, this is somewhere we spend a lot of time. A lot of parents on the team swear by Abergavenny Food Festival, or the legendary Hay Literary Festival, for a great family day out, while those with more time and good tents love Green Man. A surprisingly good spot to run off some energy is Tintern Abbey, where kids can charge around the ruins, with other castles all along the oft-disputed border offering similar scrambling. The area is especially great for the outdoorsy family, with hill and mountain walks everywhere, plus the unmissable experience of canoeing down the Wye and stopping at jetties right next to pubs. Older children (and those that never grew up) can take on superb downhill biking trails, coming home battered and muddy before rinsing off and heading to one of the many family friendly pubs for dinner.     

Stay at: Donkey Shed, a bright and beautiful space from which to gaze at the countryside before you head out into it. Owner Catherine has a soft spot for the boardwalks and paths of Puzzlewood. 

See all our places in Wales >

Spain (near Malaga)

If you’re heading for the south coast of Spain, you probably aren’t struggling for ways to keep the kids happy. Cart everyone down to the beach Playa de Salon and Playa De Calahonda are two local favourites) for the day and you’re pretty much done. If you need a little variety though, places like Sierra de Tejeda Natural Park offer incredible adventure inland, with the chance to see a wealth of bird life as well as the long, curved horns of the ibex that roam the slopes. Near Nerja, there are also some dramatic caves where stalac… (hang on… tight to the ceiling, isn’t it) tites reach down towards the cold floors of a series of impressive caverns.  

Stay at: Rustic Cottage, which defies its name with a fabulous kitchen and pool. Owner Dan says you can “ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon” with a trip to Sierra Nevada’s slopes followed by the short hop to the sand.  

See all our places in Spain >


This might be controversial to suggest, but if your kids have a sweet tooth, this is the place to take them. Many dishes and even drinks have a “Breton style” variation, which usually means that large amounts of caramel have been added to it somehow. And possibly biscuits. This works especially well for hot chocolate. There are all the beaches and seaside possibilities you might expect, with a couple of things you probably wouldn’t. The annual medieval fair in Josselin (although there are many across the region) sees the whole of the old town centre festooned with bunting and packed with performers, artisans and curious characters. There’s jousting, dancing, games and you get in free if you go in fancy dress! Back in the modern world, there are play parks and adventure sites all over the place, but Brittany is best enjoyed simply, with beach days, quiet village wanders… and caramel on everything. 

Stay at: La Chapellerie, a calm and beautiful space near St Malo. Owners Sue and Steve riverside walk to Dinan, but reckon you’ll enjoy the 1.6 hectares of gardens and woods right outside just as much. 

View all our places in Brittany >

Family planning – a few hints and tips 

Hope for sunshine, plan for rain 

All our owners have great tips for things to do, whatever the weather. Check the Neighbourhood section of a place page on the site or just ask while you’re booking or when you’ve arrived. 

Think ahead 

Spontaneity is great, but pre-booking some activities is essential and will stave off any disappointment. It’ll help to take the stress out of your days and also give a nice shape to your trip. The more you do, the longer it feels like you’ve been away!  

Home entertainment 

Remember to pack a couple of your own board games. A lot of places will have cards, Scrabble and Backgammon, but your kids are unlikely to find their favourites hiding in the cupboards, no matter how hard they look. 

Take directions 

Check directions with the owner thoroughly. In some of our more rural places, postcodes can lead you to the middle of fields. 

Ask and you may receive 

Chat to our owners about your group needs, from stairless access to travel cots, to see what they can arrange.

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

Chris is our in-house copywriter, with a flair for turning rough notes and travel tales into enticing articles. Raised in a tiny Wiltshire village, he was desperate to travel and has backpacked all over the world. Closer to home, he finds himself happiest in the most remote and rural places he can find, preferably with a host of animals to speak to, some waves to be smashed about in and the promise of a good pint somewhere in his future.
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