Top 25: No-fly family travel

Isn't it time you gave no-fly travel a go? 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 bike-fit families, we've also rounded up some great cycle tours.

Monday, August 8, 2016,
By Rhonda Carrier
Train through the Bernese Oberland, Interlaken
Train through the Bernese Oberland, Interlaken.
Photograph by Getty


Where: Interlaken
Good for: Babies and toddlers.
Mode of transport: Train.
Why: 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: London-Basel (7h via Paris) from £80 each way (free for under-4s).
Basel-Interlaken (2h), from £10 each way (free for under-6s).

Where: French Alps
Good for: Tweens and teens.
Mode of transport: Train.
Why: 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: London-Bourg Saint Maurice (7h) from £111 return (£101 for ages 4-11), or Eurostar Direct Ski from £149/£105 return.

Where: Brussels
Good for: School-age kids.
Mode of transport: Eurostar (and feet).
Why: 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: London-Brussels starts at £58 return (£56 for ages 4-11) Apartment sleeping four from £119 per night.

Where: Sicily
Good for: Kids of all ages.
Mode of transport: Train (and ferry).
Why: 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: London-Catania (via Paris, Milan and Naples), one-way from £136 per adult (£90 for ages 11-25; £71 for ages 4-11).
La Timpa campsite from €65 (£51) a night.

Disneyland Paris.
Photograph by SuperStock


Where: La Plagne
Good for: School kids and tweens.
Mode of transport: Car and Eurotunnel.
Why: 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).
How to do it: Eurotunnel, from £76 for a car each way. Camping Le Canada in the Vanoise National Park has a treetop adventure course, pony rides and orienteering; a non-electric pitch for four with a car is around €20 (£16) a night.

Where: Ireland
Good for: Single-parent families.
Mode of transport: Car and ferry.
Why: 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: Return car travel and four nights at Hodson Bay Hotel on Lough Ree from £608 with Irish Ferries for a family of three during October half term.

Where: Paris, Disneyland Paris and the Ardèche
Good for: Kids of different ages.
Mode of transport: Car and ferry/Eurotunnel.
Why: This 11-day, two-centre trip caters to a range of tastes — sightseeing in the French capital, a day at a theme park, whitewater canoeing down a gorge, trapezing and mountain biking.
How to do it: PGL's Ultimate Adventure (ages 7 and over) from £645 per adult (£565 per child).
Return ferry trip to Le Havre costs £404 for a car with four passengers, (accommodation is on reclining seats, not cabin).

Where: Isle of Wight
Good for: Babies and toddlers.
Mode of transport: Campervan
and ferry.
Why: 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: Three nights' vintage campervan hire from £325, including tents.
Wightlink Ferries has return fares from £20; £10 (ages 5-15); bikes travel free.

Where: Greece
Good for: Teens.
Mode of transport: Car and Motorail.
Why: 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.
How to do it: Drive to Düsseldorf for the overnight Autoreisezug to Vienna, from €89 (£70) per car.
Then drive to Villach and board the Optima Express to Edirne, Turkey, just 15 minutes from the Greek border (tourist visa required). Return price (car and four passengers) from €700 (£313) with early-bird discount.

Ferry, Netherlands


Where: Isles of Scilly
Good for: School-age kids.
Mode of transport: Ferry.
Why: The Scillonian III 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: One-way ferries from £45 per adult (£25 for ages 2-15; £13.50 for under-2s). Return fares to St Agnes for £8.60 per adult (£4.30 per child). A bell tent for four at Troytown from £320 a week.

Where: Morocco
Good for: Teens.
Mode of transport: Ferry and train.
Why: 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: London-Barcelona from £121 per person return.
A sample Barcelona-Tangier fare for two adults and two children with a cabin is £470.
Grand Mogador Sea View & Spa hotel offers double rooms starting from £64 per night, including breakfast.

Where: Netherlands
Good for: Kids of all ages.
Mode of transport: Ferry and car.
Why: 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 new-in-2016 boathouses.
How to do it: Newcastle-Amsterdam crossings from £492 for car, cabin, dinner and breakfast. Houseboats for four in Amsterdam from £100.
Center Parcs De Eemhof has boathouses for six for midweek stays in October half-term from €1,190 (£967).

Where: Isle of Arran
Good for: Single parents.
Mode of transport: Ferry.
Why: 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: Arran Outdoors offers four-night holiday from £800 for a family of four on a full-board basis.
Return ferry to Lochranza costs £11 for one adult and two children (ages 5-15).

Where: Wales
Good for: School-age kids.
Mode of transport: Barge.
Why: 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: Three/four-night breaks in October half-term on a barge departing from Chirk, and sleeping four, costs £911 plus fuel.

Chirk Aqueduct, Llangollen Canal.
Photograph by Getty

Canals & waterways

Where: Holland
Good for: Kids of different ages.
Mode of transport: Barge and bike (plus car and ferry).
Why: 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: Eight days from £810 for adults (£560 for ages 3-11; £660 for ages 11-17), including ferries, barge and meals.

1Where: Scotland
Good for: Tween and teens.
Mode of transport: Cruiser.
Why: 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: Hire a self-drive cruiser boat on the three-night Highland Fling Short Break, from £725 for a vessel sleeping 10.

Where: Norfolk Broads
Good for: Single parents with older kids.
Mode of transport: Yacht.
Why: 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: A three-person (three single beds) 26ft-long yacht costs from £406 for a weekend or mid-week break.

Disney Cruise Line in the Norwegian Fjords. Image: Matt Stroshane


18 Where: Norwegian Fjords
Good for: Single parents.
Mode of transport: Cruise liner.
Why: Of the four Disney Cruise Line departures from the UK, this is the most enticing — especially for fans of Frozen — with fjords and themed entertainment.
How to do it: 11-night cruise from £1,1789 per person in a cabin on a full board.

19 Where: New York
Good for: Tweens.
Mode of transport: Cruise liner.
Why: Viewing NYC's skyline from the deck of the Queen Mary 2 is an experience none of the family will forget. The week's crossing will fly by with the help of a planetarium, 3D cinema, play zones, pools and sports courts.
How to do it: Transatlantic crossings on a full-board basis from £969 for adults (£470 for ages 2-17; free for under-2s; no children under six months).

20 Where: The coasts of England and Wales
Good for: Teens (ages 16 and over).
Mode of transport: Boat.
Why: This is a unique trip aboard a 2,500-ton working ship 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: Seven nights aboard THV Patricia costs £3,510 per double cabin, including food.

21 Where: Bay of Biscay
Good for: School-age kids.
Mode of transport: Ferry.
Why: 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: Two nights with cabin from £170 each.

Mountain biking near Hayfield in the Peak District.
Photograph by Getty


Where: Brittany
Good for: Babies and toddlers.
Mode of transport: Bike (plus car and ferry).
Why: 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: A week's break from £210 per adult (£195 for ages 10-17; £95 for ages 4-9; £63 for under-3s), including tent and bike hire.
Plymouth-Roscoff ferry from £189 one-way with car, two adults and two kids.

Where: Peak District
Good for: Single parents.
Mode of transport: Bike (and train).
Why: 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: Three-day Derbyshire Trails Family Cycling Holiday from £265 per adult (£226 for ages 16 and under), including accommodation, breakfast, lunch and collection from the train station.

Where: Paris
Good for: Teens.
Mode of transport: Bike (and train).
Why: 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

Where: Lake Garda
Good for: Schoolchildren/tweens.
Mode of transport: Bike (and train).
Why: 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: The six-night Family Lake Garda trip from £311 each, including B&B and luggage transportation; bike hire from £60. London-Desenzano del Garda train via Paris and Milan from £97 per adult (£71 for ages 4-11), one-way.

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Published in the Summer 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK). All prices correct at time of original publication.

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