Best of the World: seven unforgettable family journeys for 2022 and beyond

Now is the time of year when many of us plan an adventure for the year ahead. And with countless trips put on hold in recent months, there’s plenty of pent-up desire to set out and explore again — but where to go?

Fishermen at the Saint George branch of the mighty Danube River, Dobruja, Romania.

Photograph by AWL Images
By National Geographic’s Global Travel Editors
Published 18 Nov 2021, 13:48 GMT, Updated 19 Nov 2021, 14:47 GMT

If you’re looking for inspiration, editors from National Geographic Traveller titles around the world have picked the planet’s 35 most exciting destinations for travel in 2022. Five categories — Adventure, Culture and History, Nature, Family and Sustainability — frame unforgettable experiences that reveal the beauty and diversity of the world around us. The pandemic may have changed when, where, and how we travel, but there’s no doubt that we’re excited to pack our bags and hit the road again.

1. Danube River

Take a cruise through storybook land

Boating the Danube can seem like travelling through a realm of fairytales, with its scrolling views of castles, medieval towns and stately palaces that help to bring European history vividly to life. The river twists through 10 countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine), and most Danube cruise itineraries include stops in at least four of those, with special family sailings featuring child-friendly onshore activities.

School lessons focusing on Middle Ages feudalism take on vivid dimensions when exploring Veste Oberhaus in Passau, Germany, one of the largest surviving castle complexes in Europe. Ages-old Hungarian equestrian traditions come alive on a southern Hungarian ranch, where fearless csikós, or mounted herdsmen, ride standing upright, balancing on the backs of two galloping horses.

When off the water, look to wheels. Board Vienna’s iconic giant Ferris wheel, the Riesenrad, or take a bike ride among terraced vineyards in Lower Austria’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Wachau Cultural Landscape.

From National Geographic Traveler Romania (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

Drone view of marshes along Nanticoke River, Eastern Shore, Maryland, US.

Drone view of marshes along Nanticoke River, Eastern Shore, Maryland, US.

Photograph by Alamy

2. Eastern Shore, Maryland

Discover the marshlands that shaped Harriet Tubman

The history of the Underground Railroad flows through the waterways, wetlands, swamps and tidal marshes of Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This is where the secret network’s most famous ‘conductor’, Harriet Tubman, was born enslaved, grew up and honed the skills — such as trapping, hunting and navigating by the stars — she used to escape to freedom in Pennsylvania. She then returned 13 times to rescue more than 70 enslaved friends and family. Her heroic story is told at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, one of the more than 30 stops along the 125-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.

To bring Tubman’s story to life for kids, Alex Green, co-owner of Harriet Tubman Tours, suggests a kayaking adventure in the byway’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge where, as a child, she trapped muskrats and worked alongside her father, a timber inspector who taught her how to move around the marshlands.

“We talk to kids about how the confidence and lessons Harriet learned inside the terrible institution of slavery drove her to accomplish incredible things,” Green says. “Harriet never gave up and she never stopped learning. That’s a lesson they can take home.”

From National Geographic Travel US (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

A trio of flamingos feeding in the shallows at Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary, Bonaire.

A trio of flamingos feeding in the shallows at Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary, Bonaire.

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Bonaire

Dive into one of the oldest marine reserves in the world

Dazzling sunlight, a turquoise sea, palm trees, white beaches and a laid-back atmosphere: Bonaire ticks all the boxes for an idyllic tropical destination. But compared to many other Caribbean islands, Bonaire (population 21,000) is quiet and still relatively wild and unspoiled. And off its coast lies one of the oldest marine reserves in the world.

The Bonaire National Marine Park was established in 1979 and has been on the provisional UNESCO World Heritage List since 2011. The reserve encompasses 6,672 acres of coral reef, seagrass and mangrove vegetation. Bonaire’s healthy reefs are a magnet for divers and snorkellers who can spot up to 57 species of coral and more than 350 different fish species.

Several of the island’s dive schools participate in the Reef Renewal programme, in which volunteers can grow and maintain corals in underwater nurseries, then plant them into the reef. Anyone who can dive can come and help after completing the PADI Reef Renewal Diver course.

Accessibility is another bonus; you don't need a liveaboard or other boat transport to start exploring — at 54 of Bonaire’s nearly 90 public dive sites, you walk from the beach or a pier straight into the water.

From National Geographic Traveler Netherlands (Barbera Bosma)

View over the tightly packed streets of the Albaicín in Granada, Spain.

View over the tightly packed streets of the Albaicín in Granada, Spain.

Photograph by AWL Images

4. Granada, Spain

Marvel at the geometric beauty of the Alhambra

Built as a palace-city by 13th-century Nasrid sultans — rulers of the longest-lasting and last Muslim dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula — the Alhambra (‘red fort’) is considered the Moorish architectural jewel of Europe. The almond-shaped profile of this UNESCO World Heritage site rests on a hill above Granada, one of the most picturesque cities in Spain.

But it’s the mathematical wizardry on display here that’s particularly fascinating for families. Intricate mosaics, arabesques (a repetitive, stylised pattern based on a floral or vegetal design) and muqarnas (ornamental vaulting) make the Alhambra a masterpiece of geometric beauty — and a colourful classroom for age-appropriate exploration of maths concepts, such as shapes, symmetry, proportion and measurement.

Maths also flows through the Alhambra’s other main design feature, water. Water provides the refreshing spirit of the gardens and the murmur of its fountains but is also an element of the architecture itself.

At the Palace of the Lions, one of the Alhambra’s three original royal palaces, families will marvel at the central fountain. Its elaborate design features 12 stone lions supporting a large marble basin on their backs and — thanks to the technical wonder of complex hydraulics — spitting water from their mouths.

From Viajes National Geographic Spain (Manuel Mateo Pérez)

People on the main street of Kas in the afternoon sunshine, Turkey.

People on the main street of Kas in the afternoon sunshine, Turkey.

Photograph by 4corners

5. Lycia, Turkey

Learn about nomadic life in the sunny Mediterranean

The nomadic yörüks, originally from different Turkic groups that ranged from the Balkans to Iran, once roamed the plateaus of the Turkish riviera. Most of the yörüks (literally ‘walkers’) have now settled — but many of their thousand-year-old customs are alive and well. Located in the historical Lycia region in southwestern Anatolia, Teke Peninsula is one of the spots where yörük culture remains strong. Teke yörüks live a semi-nomadic life with their tents, kilim rugs, herds, shepherd dogs, and transhumant traditions, set against a mountainous, Mediterranean backdrop full of olive trees.

In recent years, tour companies have started to merge the marvels of Lycia with yörük life. Families can trek parts of the famous Lycian Way; visit ancient sites like Patara, Xanthos, or Letoon; and swim in crystal clear waters while spending nights in hotels, guesthouses, tents, or villagers’ own homes. But it’s the children who have the most fun, as they can experience yörük culture by making syrup with pomegranates, cooking local pastries, milking goats, or taking part in the olive harvest.

“History, nature, and culture, they’re all here. We wanted to turn this beautiful landscape into a learning platform, but also into a playground,” says Kerem Karaerkek, the chief guide of the Middle Earth tour company. “I love how the kids get excited when they step into a yörük kitchen or when they go on a treasure hunt in ancient Lycian ruins. You can see the sense of wonder in their eyes.”

From National Geographic Traveler Turkey (Onur Uygun)

6. Nottinghamshire, UK 

Robin Hood country gets a revamp

Fresh from an exciting £30 million revamp, the 400-year-old Nottingham Castle has thrown open its sturdy wooden gates again and is bigger than and better than ever. The highlight is a permanent new exhibition dedicated to Robin Hood and his fellow Nottingham rebels, with the focus on interactive fun including storytelling and ballads in a mocked-up forest clearing, as well as longbow-firing, digital archery competitions and sparring with Little John in the beautifully designed gaming spaces.

Throw in some caves to explore (the castle sits on a mass of sandstone rock that was tunnelled through by locals and used at various times in history as a tannery, pub cellars and an air-raid shelter), along with vast grounds in which to run amok, with family trails, seasonal events and a fantastic new family adventure playground, and you have all the makings of brilliant day out combing fun and learning in equal measure.

It would be remiss to visit Nottingham without branching out to Sherwood Forest, home to the folkloric Hood and his band of Merry Men. In 2018 the forest opened a new visitor centre, and a 450-acre nature reserve, managed by the RSPB. Along with birding, this outdoor playground is crammed with things to do, from cycling and walking between giant ancient oaks (the most famous of which, Major Oak, has lived through the Viking period, the battles of Hastings, Agincourt and Waterloo, Shakespeare’s birth and death, two World Wars and more than 50 monarchs) to organised bat walks, bug hunts and wood crafts.

Elsewhere in Nottinghamshire, Newstead Abbey, ancestral home of Lord Byron, offers up more alfresco fun in its parkland and gardens with their lakes, ponds, cascades and resident peacocks and swans. Seasonal family trails net you a prize if you solve all the clues. You can even stay at the Abbey, in the lovingly restored Gardener’s Cottage in the heart of the grounds, complete with its original mullioned windows.

From National Geographic Traveller UK (Rhonda Carrier)

Youngsters flying kites at Birdoswald Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall, Cumbria, England. 

Youngsters flying kites at Birdoswald Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall, Cumbria, England. 

Photograph by Steven Barber

7. Hadrian’s Wall, UK 

The UK re-frames its ancient Roman frontier as its big attraction

A simultaneous celebration of both the old and new, this UNESCO-listed structure — which was begun in AD 122 and formed the north-west frontier of the Roman empire for nearly 300 years — marks its 1,900th birthday in 2022 with a year-long festival of special events and activities. Think live outdoor performances, historic reenactments, sunset music sessions, an illuminated garden, thought-provoking outdoor art installations, compelling talks and even a Roman Big Birthday Bash. It'll all be spread across the entire 73-mile length of this coast-to-coast route, in all three counties that it crosses: Northumberland, Cumbria and Tyne & Wear.

And, this year, the region gets a big injection of cash: £30m in government and charity funding to improve transport links and upgrade visitor centres. It’s hoped the wall will become one of the country’s most-visited landmarks, with a goal of attracting an extra million tourists annually, to compete with such sights as Stonehenge and, further afield, The Great Wall of China.

It’s a lively region for families to learn about ancient history. Key sites and attractions along the wall’s length include the Roman Army Museum, Corbridge Roman Town with its fountain house, markets and temples, South Shields’ Arbeia Roman Fort with its full-size re-creations of a commander’s house, the Roman Frontier Gallery in Carlisle, and the Ravenglass Roman Bathhouse, to name but a few. And the stunning windswept landscapes you’ll encounter on tours of these sites only add to the sense of drama and history. Low in light pollution, many sites are excellent for budding astronomers — Northumberland’s The Twice Brewed Inn with its custom-built observatory offers stargazing packages and family rooms.

Iconic enough to have inspired the Wall in George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels (inspiration for A Game of Thrones), the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site is also now home to The Sill, the state-of-the-art National Landscape Discovery Centre with its permanent and temporary exhibitions, plus a new youth hostel handy for Vindolanda Roman fort, and its unique, eco-friendly grasslands roof is perfect for family picnicking.

From National Geographic Traveller UK (Rhonda Carrier)

Published in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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