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9 ultimate family holiday bucket list destinations

Need some holiday inspiration? Bronte Gossling reveals the dream destinations that should be on your family’s ultimate bucket list.

Every family has a list. You know, the travel bucket list that gets referenced every time you start talking holidays. A list that, until now, was only a possibility in the realms of your imagination. Not any more. We’ve collated the dream bucket list for families with tips on how you can save to make them a reality.

Visit Finland

Image credit © Visit Finland

1. Hometown of Santa Claus

Lapland, Finland

Home to 190,000 reindeer, 749 fells and the one (and only) Santa Claus, Finland’s northernmost region, Lapland, is the must-see shining star on top of our Christmas travel list. Marvel at the phenomenon of 24-hour sunlight in summer or — for those lucky enough to visit in the wondrous winter — the magnetic lights of Aurora Borealis dancing around the sky.

If your little ones are particularly inclined to the jovial laughter of St Nick, journey to his main headquarters in the charming town of Rovaniemi, where he greets children 365 days of the year. Another highlight for those who venture to the 'Hometown of Santa Claus' is the Angry Birds Activity Park, where children (and children at heart) can climb, slide and swing around an open-air playground dedicated to the figures of the addictive mobile game.

Complete your Lapland visit with a one-of-a-kind husky safari, and feel the fresh, crisp winter air as you travel the wilds on a sled. And if you’re worried about the ending of a great family adventure, don’t be. Keep the magic alive by writing a letter to Santa when you return home, and relive the joy as little ones open their unique response from the legend himself.

Image credit © Disney

2. Disneyland

Worldwide

The Circle of Life works in mysterious ways. Your parents made peace with the constant singing of 'Part of Your World' and reruns of 'The Fox and the Hound', so it’s only poetic that the cycle repeats for you – this time with 'Let It Go' (I wish) and 'Moana'. Yet at some point, the whole family has to pack up their storybooks and well-loved Blu-rays, and explore the living testaments to Walt Disney’s fantastic imagination in person.

The success of Disneyland Park, which opened in 1955, spurred such a huge demand that a whole new subsidiary, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, had to be created to cater for the crowds clamouring for more parks, hotels, resorts and, eventually, a cruise line. It’s easy to see why; aside from the lust-worthy locations such as Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, the attractions themselves have a certain magical air about them.

Perhaps the fact that you can’t go longer than two minutes without collapsing into a round of infectious laughter or seeing a child’s dream of meeting Cinderella come true has something to do with it. Complete your holiday by enjoying the tailored hospitality of a Disney Resort or 24-hour entertainment on the high seas aboard a Disney Cruise.

African Safari

3. An African Safari

South Africa

It’s a common misconception that kids and safaris do not mix well; there are plenty of game lodges that welcome them with open arms. Immerse your clan in a sensory experience with the warm savannah breeze rustling your hair as you explore Pilanesberg National Park. Only a two-hour drive from Johannesburg, this wildlife hotspot is one of the most accessible safari destinations in Africa.

If you’re looking for a wilder encounter, Addo Elephant National Park is the place. You’ll also encounter the rest of the Big 5 and, depending on the time of year, you might even sight sharks or whales from coastal lookouts. Not to be forgotten is Madikwe Game Reserve, the most private and family-friendly of them all. Not only is it home to Jaci’s Lodges, whose children’s safari survival programme is a must for older kids, but nearby is Sun City and Sun International’s flagship hotel, The Palace of the Lost City, which is packed with great activties for the kids.

Paris

4. Paris

France

There’s nothing quite like waking up to the tantalising scent of freshly baked French croissants and baguettes, something that can only be fully appreciated in Paris.

Visit its magnifique museums and galleries to see celebrated artworks such as 'Mona Lisa' at the Louvre and Musée d'Orsay’s 'Water Lilies'. Grab a blanket and enjoy a picnic in one of the city's pretty parks where children can sail toy boats, ride ponies, watch puppet shows and ride carousels. Make your way towards the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs-Élysées, but not before stopping off for a macaron at Ladurée. Scaling the Eiffel Tower is a must, whether you wait for the lift or climb the 704 steps to the second floor, 115 metres above the city.

New York City

5. New York, USA

New York, New York has all the greatest hits when it comes to family travel, with amazing places to see, play and stay. Stop for a salty pretzel before setting off to see a bird's-eye view of the whole city from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. It’s best to visit first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds, or at dusk to see the lights of the Big Apple twinkling.

Tucker the kids out by walking the length of Central Park, cheer on the New York Yankees or sail across the bay to Coney Island. Kids will love Broadway shows like 'The Lion King', 'Aladdin', 'School of Rock' and 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. And, in December, ballet-lovers can see the New York City Ballet perform 'The Nutcracker'.

Then there’s the Museum of Natural History, one of the largest in the world. Covering two square blocks, you’ll need a game plan if you don’t want to miss out on your favourite exhibits.

Great Wall of China

6. The Great Wall of China

Huairou, China

One of the New 7 Wonders of the World, The Great Wall of China is arguably the oldest and greatest relic of Chinese history, with its origins commonly said to date back to the seventh century BCE. Despite the fact that the wall was last estimated to be more than 21,000 kilometres long and crosses over mountains, into rivers and across deserts, making some parts of it off limits to visitors, its magnificence is not hard to experience.

The wall is most accessible from Beijing, with the more popular sections being towards Beijing’s north and east. Located about 73 kilometres north of Beijing, Mutianyu is a favourite among foreign tourists and is a notably family-friendly section of the wall, due to the fact that it only takes half a day to tour. Mutianyu, as one of the only fully restored sections of the wall, is also the ultimate example of ancient Chinese fortifications, with 23 uniquely designed watchtowers and fortresses spread evenly along its length. And the best bit? Tired little feet can rest easy on cable cars, which run up and down the wall.

Want to tackle the mighty wall? You can read how Evie Farrell of Mumpacktravel and her daughter did it on a girls'-own adventure in China here.

Carnival Cruises

7. Cruising the Pacific

Pacific Ocean

Out of the hundreds of islands, islets and reefs that populate the Pacific Ocean between Australia and the US, it’s understandable that you might feel a little overwhelmed choosing which to visit with your little pirates. The perfect solution, of course, is island-hopping in style on a cruise. With accommodation that also gets you from point A to B and all-inclusive meals and entertainment, it’s the ideal solution for a transpacific Carnival Cruises adventure from Honolulu to Sydney.

Feel the white (or sometimes black) sand between your toes and snorkel crystal lagoons. Get a taste for Polynesian culture in Tahiti and stop off in friendly Fiji after crossing the International Date Line. Each day, you’ll have your choice of aquatic adventures. Parents looking for a break can finally relax and rest their eyes, lulled into a state of serenity by the sound of the waves lapping at the shore, while the kids frolic in the sand. It’s not all soft sun and long naps, however; the beauty of cruising is that there are plenty of activities to choose from, for every age, making a cruise holiday the perfect balance of proper relaxation and absolute excitement.

Australia Big Lap

8. The Big Lap

Australia

It’s time to stop talking the talk, and start driving the drive – that is, the year-long 'Big Lap' that every Australian and their dog aspires to complete at some point in their lives. Pack the kids into your 4WD (or low-range gearing equivalent) and hit the road to drive the 40,000-kilometre circumference of our sunburnt country. Of course, if you’ve never been off-road or outback driving before, we suggest getting ready by doing a 4WD training course.

Believe us, you’ll be grateful when you can successfully manoeuvre yourself out of that tight spot that could delay the completion of your trip. Once you’ve got your fast and furious skills down-pat, purchase a satellite phone, map and extra drinking water and you’re all set.

Now the only question left is… clockwise or anticlockwise? If you start your trip in Cairns in summer, head south and avoid the Red Centre because temps are fiery. Once the southerly winds turn from pleasantly cool to chilly, venture back up north, to explore the tropics and the land of orange dust.

Iceland

9. Iceland

Iceland is so hot right now. Known for its dramatic landscape of sweeping glaciers, volcanoes, lava fields and hot springs, Iceland is a year-round wonderland that has been steadily rising as a trending family holiday destination.

Explore the natural surrounds that this Viking land is famous for in Vatnajökull National Park, which is one of the largest national parks in Europe and covers more than 13 per cent of Iceland. This diverse landscape is the epitome of a song of fire and ice; although a majority of the park is under the icecap of the Vatnajökull Glacier, subglacial volcanic activity combined with the icy waters makes for spectacular viewing.

The pretty harbour capital of Reykjavik, surrounded by stunning volcanic fields, boasts myriad museums and easily accessible family activities such as playgrounds and kid-friendly spas. Visit the Laugardalur Valley for the Family Park and Zoo, ice-skating, roller-skating, an outdoor sculpture garden and enomous thermal pool.

If you’re not here during summer's midnight sun, spend a night sleeping in an insulated, inflatable Bubble Lodge, which allows you to spend a protected night under the stars and colourful northern lights.

This article appeared in volume 53 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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