Best of the world: seven destinations for family journeys in 2023 and beyond

From epic landscapes and cultural reawakenings to conservation initiatives and family favourites, National Geographic Traveller’s Best of the World list is back with the destinations that should be on your radar for 2023

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Published 26 Oct 2022, 14:46 BST
Wax palms in Colombia’s  Cocora Valley

Wax palms in Colombia’s  Cocora Valley.

Photograph by AWL Images

1. San Francisco
An urban trail and a new recreation area with stunning Golden Gate views get top marks from families

In San Francisco, city kids can learn that becoming a trail hiker doesn’t necessarily mean a trip into the wild. The recently completed Crosstown Trail meanders across the city diagonally, from its southeastern corner at Candlestick Point to its northwestern tip at Lands End, winding through gardens, up hills and across urban streets for nearly 17 miles.

Along the way, the trail skirts the Presidio. This 1,491-acre military post turned popular national park offers stunning Golden Gate Bridge views and in July celebrated the opening of the 14-acre Presidio Tunnel Tops. Designed by one of the same firms behind Manhattan’s High Line, the new site is set on top of concrete freeway tunnels and buzzes with a plastic-free nature play space, food trucks and campfire talks.

2. Trinidad and Tobago
One of the most important leatherback turtle nesting sites in the world emphasizes the importance of sea turtle conservation programs

Consider that sea turtles survived the dinosaurs, but might not survive this century. Kids eager to help save the turtles — and encounter hundreds of them as well — can head to Trinidad and Tobago. With loggerheads, greens, leatherbacks, hawksbills and olive ridleys (five of the seven species of sea turtles) swimming off its shores, this Caribbean nation is a mecca for turtle tourism.

Nesting sites are found on both islands, with leatherbacks the most numerous — during the nesting season between March to August, an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 turtles mass on the nation’s shores. Trinidad’s Grande Riviere beach, on the island’s north coast, is the densest leatherback nesting ground in the world.

Turtle-watching programmes led by approved guides generate revenue to help save these creatures, which are under assault from climate change, habitat loss and plastic pollution.

3. Colombia
The enchanted land of Encanto has birding, Indigenous cultures and alluring coasts and mountains

Colombia’s boisterous birdlife is as colourful and tuneful as Encanto, the hit Disney animated film set in this biodiverse South American country. More than 1,900 different birds (almost 20% of the world's avian species) live here, in places like the Perijá Mountains, making Colombia the richest roost for birdlife on the planet.

Where can families flock with them? The Northern Colombia Birding Trail, for birders both extreme and more casual, explores the country’s range of habitats. Tours with the National Audubon Society use 4X4 vehicles to visit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the planet’s highest coastal mountain range, as well as beach-blessed Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean coast. Visitors can spot species including the crested quetzal, Santa Marta parakeet, and the sickle-winged guan. Colombians and Wayuu Indigenous peoples work along the route as bird guides.

4. Manchester, UK
This mecca for football fans is growing as an arts and culture hub

In 2023 Manchester launches a number of attractions to encourage its post-pandemic revival. The year’s centrepiece is the spring opening of the Factory International, a new £186 million downtown cultural space designed by Rem Koolhaas’s architectural firm. Named after the local record label that made hometown bands Joy Division and New Order globally famous, the Factory will become the permanent home of the Manchester International Festival. The city’s biannual, cutting-edge arts jam showcases the best in theatre, opera and music for all ages.

The year also marks the reopening of the reimagined Manchester Museum, which features new galleries focused on Chinese, South Asian and British Asian culture and a specially designed inclusive, family-focused Belonging Gallery that showcases how humans, plants and animals thrive together. Also coming into its own is the National Trust’s new ‘sky park’ on the Castlefield Viaduct, a walkable Victorian-era railroad bridge.

5. Switzerland
A precision rail network leads to quaint Alpine towns for chocolate, hiking and skiing

On any given day, Switzerland’s transit network carries 6.6 million riders in a country of only 8.7 million people, tempting families on holiday with some unique trips on its famously punctual trains featuring spectacular mountains, classic cookies and even a Wonka-esque chocolate tour.

The Gotthard Panorama Express begins on a Lucerne steamboat crossing the city’s famous lake before boarding a train in Flüelen for a trip to Switzerland’s Italian-influenced south. A cookie train from Berne to Lucerne stops for a nibble at the Kambly bakery where kids can bake their own cookies and design a biscuit tin to take home. A chocolate train departing from Montreux starts with chocolate croissants and hot chocolate served onboard, stops in Gruyères to explore its medieval old town and world-famous cheese, and winds up in Broc for a tour of the Maison Cailler chocolate factory.

Making it all sweeter is the Swiss Family Card, a rail pass that allows anyone under the age of 16 to ride either free or at a 50% discount.

6. Bath
The only double-listed World Heritage Site in the UK is developing new attractions

Bath may be one of the UK’s most visited cities, but it hasn’t been resting on its laurels in recent years. After a £5.5m renovation of its Roman baths in 2011, and becoming a double-inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021 — one of 11 European spa towns — the Bath World Heritage Centre opened in May 2022, featuring interactive exhibits and displays about Bath’s history, Georgian architecture and unique geology.

But the city founded as Aquae Sulis by the Romans is not just about its ancient past. In September, Cleveland Pools, Britain’s oldest lido, reopened after decades of neglect. Situated by the River Avon, the Grade II*-listed outdoor swimming pool dating back to 1815 was restored after an 18-year campaign to restore it.

And the £20 million Bath Abbey Footprint project, which saw a complete restoration of the medieval abbey church, has neared completion with its new Discovery Centre.

7. Wicklow, Ireland
A multi-million pound treetop walk is just part of the Irish garden county’s new appeal

Wicklow is Ireland’s ‘garden county’ — similar in size to England’s Cotswolds and crammed with mountain trails for hikers and bikers, stately Palladian mansions, wild waterfalls and an underrated coast. As of this year, it’s also home to Ireland’s tallest slide and an exhilarating new walkway that gently ramps up to immerse visitors in the tree canopy itself.

Beyond the Trees Avondale is a revamped experience at Avondale Forest Park. The fully accessible canopy walk opens up birds’ eye views of an estate with over 100 tree species, while the swirling, 12-storey slide is the centrepiece of a wooden structure shaped like a giant pint of Guinness (the whoops you hear spraying about inside are from adults and kids alike).

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