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22 ideas for no-fly family adventures in the UK, Europe and beyond

Whether you hit the road or sit back and let the train or boat take the strain, we've got a ton of inspirational ideas for no-fly family trips. And for bike-fit families, we've also rounded up some great cycle tours.

Published 8 Aug 2016, 09:00 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 14:24 BST
Here a group of cyclists, both adults and children, rides along a canal in Brittany, France

Cycling holidays can offer a sense of achievement to the whole family, as well as providing a means of exploring the great outdoors. Here a group of cyclists, both adults and children, rides along a canal in Brittany, France

Photograph by Getty images

Cycling trips


1. Brittany, France
Good for: Babies and toddlers
Mode of transport: Bike (plus car and ferry)
Fixed-centre bike holidays combine the freedom to explore the V6 cycle path and Nantes-Brest Canal towpath with the ease of returning to the same campsite each evening. Equipment on offer includes trailer bikes.
How to do it: bretonbikes.com  brittany-ferries.co.uk

2. Peak District
Good for: Single parents
Mode of transport: Bike (and train)
A guided cycling holiday is a sociable way to get out and enjoy the stunning scenery with other adults and kids. Traffic-free cycle paths on former railway lines include the Tissington Trail. Stay at Hartington Hall, a YHA offering an adventure playground and a pets area.
How to do it: skedaddle.co.uk  yha.org.uk

3. Paris, France
Good for: Teens
Mode of transport: Bike (and train)
The sense of achievement that comes from reaching the French capital by bike (London Eye-Notre Dame is 341 miles) is immense. There's plenty to enjoy en route, particularly if you follow the (largely traffic-free) signposted Avenue Verte, including family eco-resort Forges-les-Eaux, with its forested nature reserve and lakeside trails.
How to do it: Budget £750 per person for a four-day route, including ferry out and Eurostar home, staying in two- or three-star hotels with meals. For routes and accommodation, visit london2paris.co.uk.

4. Lake Garda, Italy
Good for: Schoolchildren/ tweens
Mode of transport: Bike (and train)
You can reach the Italian Lakes from London within a day (15h). Self-guided biking holidays typically involve three days of short, easy rides, with plenty of spare time to enjoy lake beaches, the Gardaland Park theme park and other sights.
How to do it: freedomtreks.co.uk  loco2.com

Great road trips


5. La Plagne, France
Good for: School kids and tweens
Mode of transport: Car and Eurotunnel
Clean air and a lack of crowds make the mountains fantastic in summer. La Plagne, with its 10 satellite villages, offers natural attractions in the way of glaciers and ice caves, plus mountain biking, paragliding, zip-wiring, via ferrata and organised family events. Driving means you can bring camping gear for a cheap stay — although it's a lengthy drive (La Plagne is 8h 30m from the Tunnel). Camping Le Canada in the Vanoise National Park has a treetop adventure course, pony rides and orienteering.
How to do it: eurotunnel.com  en.la-plagne.com

6. Ireland
Good for: Single-parent families
Mode of transport: Car and ferry
Driving distances are manageable and you'll be rewarded by jaw-dropping landscapes, incredible historical sites and, of course, some of that famous Irish hospitality.
How to do it: irishferries.com 

7. Isle of Wight
Good for: Babies and toddlers
Mode of transport: Campervan and ferry
Just 22 minutes by passenger ferry from the UK mainland, the Isle of Wight is packed with award-winning beaches and animal attractions. Hiring a campervan (or bringing your own) lets you go at your own pace, with overnight parking at farms and forests.
How to do it: isleofwightcampers.co.uk  wightlink.co.uk

8. Greece
Good for: Teens
Mode of transport: Car and Motorail
It's a buzz to get as far as the eastern Med without flying. Save time (and parental stress) by loading your car onto a Motorail sleeper train/transporter for parts of the journey. Drive to Düsseldorf for the overnight Autoreisezug to Vienna, then drive to Villach and board the Optima Express to Edirne, Turkey, just 15 minutes from the Greek border
How to do it: oebb.at/en  optimatours.de

Go by ferry


9. Isles of Scilly
Good for: School-age kids
The passenger ferry from Penzance (2h 40m) offers an eyeful of the Cornish coast, as well as the possibility of a dolphin or basking shark sighting en route. From the island of St Mary's, hop aboard a water taxi to tiny St Agnes, where Troytown Farm has bell tent hire, self-catering cottages and beach access, as well as delicious homemade ice cream.
How to do it: islesofscilly-travel.co.uk  troytown.co.uk

10. Morocco
Good for: Teens
Older kids will be boggle-eyed at getting to Africa without stepping aboard a plane — take a train to Barcelona (about 12h from London, with the Paris-Spain leg spent on a double-decker TGV), then a ferry to Tangier (about 32h). Tangier will dazzle with its medina, kasbah, cool cafes, beach clubs and contemporary art museum — plus hotel rooms with views of Spain.
How to do it: voyages-sncf.com  gnv.it/en

11. Netherlands
Good for: Kids of all ages
Mode of transport: Ferry and car
Overnight ferries from Newcastle (about 15h) include a play area and pirate-themed entertainment. During the summer, one ship hosts wildlife-watching sessions (common sightings include harbour porpoises, minke whales and white-beaked dolphins) and craft activities in the ORCA Wildlife Centre. On land, explore the hip but child-friendly Dutch capital and head for Center Parcs De Eemhof with its boathouses.
How to do it: dfds.co.uk  centerparcs.com 

12. Isle of Arran, Scotland
Good for: Single parents
Mode of transport: Ferry
Just a 30-minute trip from the mainland, Arran squeezes a host of Scottish highlights (from beaches, glens and waterfalls to forests, streams and mountains) into a small space. En route, and while there, spot seals, otters, eagles, basking sharks, porpoises and more than 100 species of birds. Organised holidays help single parents make the most of the island, offering family activities — such as kayaking, gorge walking and dinghy sailing — alongside adult company.
How to do it: arranoutdoor.com  calmac.co.uk

13. The coasts of England and Wales
Good for: Teens (ages 16 and over).
Mode of transport: Boat
This is a unique trip aboard the 2,500-ton working ship THV Patricia that helps to maintain buoys, services light vessels and lighthouses, and sometimes deals with shipwrecks. Take the chance to chat to officers and crew en route.
How to do it: wildwings.co.uk

14. Bay of Biscay, France
Good for: School-age kids
Mode of transport: Ferry
A whale- and dolphin-watching mini-cruise is the perfect way to ease your family into boating holidays, and to explore marine and birdlife with the help of a guide. Travel in style aboard the MV Pont-Aven with its indoor pool, and make the most of time in Santander with its lovely beaches.
How to do it: brittany-ferries.co.uk

Via the canals & waterways


15. Wales
Good for: School-age kids
Mode of transport: Barge
The Llangollen Canal in North Wales passes through gorgeous countryside and quaint villages — plus, most stunning of all, the 1,007ft-high Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to do it: waterwaysholidays.com

16. Holland
Good for: Kids of different ages
Mode of transport: Barge and bike (plus car and ferry)
The flat landscapes make for easy cycling. Combine it with barging and be as lazy or as energetic as you like. Spot windmills, feast on Edam in its hometown and spend a night on the island of Texel.
How to do it: skedaddle.co.uk

17. Scotland
Good for: Tween and teens
Mode of transport: Cruiser
A combination of hilltop castles, sleepy waterside towns, lake resorts, cosy pubs, cycling paths and nature trails amid mountain scenery makes the Caledonian Canal in the Highlands brilliant with older kids, who love helping with locks and navigation.
How to do it: leboat.co.uk

18. Norfolk Broads
Good for: Single parents with older kids
Mode of transport: Yacht
This accessible network of lakes and rivers is a great place to give kids hands-on sailing experience, although some experience is advisable due to changeable winds. A range of traditional wooden vessels can be hired.
How to do it: marthamboats.com

Go by rail


19. Interlaken, Switzerland
Good for: Babies and toddlers
It's fun if you break long rail journeys into chunks and choose trains carefully. Eurostar has coaches with baby-changing facilities, extra space and family tables, while some Swiss Federal Railways routes have family coaches with play areas and board games. Try the Basel to Interlaken route for idyllic lakes and mountains.
How to do it: eurostar.com sbb.ch/en

20. French Alps
Good for: Tweens and teens
It's more affordable and avoids crack-of-dawn flights and long transfers. However, as daytime ski trains sell out at lightning speed and overnight trains don't have couchettes, sign up to booking websites for email alerts signalling that the season's rail tickets have gone on sale. Also reserve ski equipment and lift passes online for early-bird savings.
How to do it: voyages-sncf.com

21. Brussels, Belgium
Good for: School-age kids
An easy two-hour hop from London, Brussels is the perfect spot for a short family foodie break— think waffles, chocolate and frites galore, plus mussels for the adventurous and craft beer for parents. Cultural venues include the Belgian Comic Strip Centre and the Musée Magritte, dedicated to the surrealist artist René Magritte.
How to do it: eurostar.com adagio-city.com

22. Sicily, Italy
Good for: Kids of all ages
For the last portion of the two-day journey to Sicily, the train is shunted onto a ship to cross the Strait of Messina (you can remain aboard the train or stretch your legs on deck). Hop off at ancient port city Catania to explore the trails leading up to Mount Etna, plus the vibrant fish market and beaches.
How to do it: loco2.com  campinglatimpa.com 

Published in the Summer 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK) and updated in August 2020 

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