14 Incredible Adventure Ideas – Top Up Your Bucket List
East or west, where is best for a family adventure? Where in the world do we recommend as adventure destinations? We’re always on the look out for great adventure ideas at conferences, trade shows and blogger gatherings, swapping notes on research, checking out new offers and trends, discussing developments, to be able to bring you our round ups of top adventure destination ideas. So grab yourself a coffee and read on. It might be time to update your bucket list.
Family Travel Trends
If you a list kind of person and want to skip straight to this list of 14 top adventure destination ideas, scroll down now. If on the other hand you’re curious about family and adventure travel trends or how Stuart and I put this thing together, read on here first.
Family travel can sometimes feel like two steps forward and one step back. In the UK of late, flight taxes have been pushing up the cost for large families to go on holiday, while the government continues its policy fining parents for taking kids out of school to travel off peak. (Although a recent survey of the travel industry found 37 per cent of parents were prepared to take the fine and travel anyway. Go us!) On the plus side the low cost airlines have realised that their cattle truck model of fighting for seats doesn’t work. I realised that a long time ago when Hannah threw up over an entire rugby team and Stuart was at the back of the plane, totally unaware. Although ensuring you can sit together on flights is becoming something of an issue.
Elsewhere, resorts and hotels are recognising the power of the family pound. I’ve noticed increasing numbers of hotels introducing special kids programmes and initiatives. Some, like selected Taj Hotels, even come with Hamleys hampers or a mini check in! They’re also realising that it’s the small things that make the difference. As a family we’re always very excited by child sized dressing gowns, welcome doughnuts and ducks for the bath. (London’s St Pancras Renaissance bath ducks are gold; not actual solid gold, it’s not Vegas you know!) But then larger families are still being penalised by booking sites who make it impossible for a family of five to book one large family room instead of paying out for two doubles.
Adventure Travel Trends
In the world of adventure travel, adventure is going mainstream, especially for families. Where once adventure was the province of specialist operators offering esoteric adventures and expensive trips to exciting or exotic locations, these days more and more regular hotels, resorts and destinations are putting adventure activities on their local menu. It’s a great trend for adventure seeking families, opening up ways to add microadventures to the most traditional destinations. Other research suggests extended family are also getting involved, with grandparents taking kids on safaris and aunties taking their PANK pounds to tourist destinations. (That’s Professional Aunty No Kids, in case you were wondering.) I wish I had one of each to take me away.
Anyway, beneath all the trends, consumer research continues to suggest that families are pretty clear about what they look for when making travel choices; places that offer good value for money, that appeal to and cater for both kids and adults, where they can create strong family memories, and where they will be safe and healthy. And that’s what we’ve been looking for in choosing these adventure destination ideas; destinations that do all of that AND offer the chance to do something new, different, adventurous, esoteric, exciting or culturally enlightening. There’s a few destinations we’ve checked out ourselves, some we’ve set our sights on for the future and a few for the bucket list.
1 Dubai – City, Culture & Adventure in the Middle East
This time our top tip for family travel is the United Arab Emirates. A trip to this region from the UK doesn’t have the travel costs associated with Africa or the USA; the entire family can fly for under two thousand Euros. Dubai has a relatively new £160 million passenger airport terminal, and there are good package deals to be had. And the lack of a mass drinking culture means you won’t be sharing a beach umbrella with the kind of holiday maker you avoid at home. (But do treat the kids to a non alcoholic cocktail- they’re out of this world!)
The Middle East is a great example of how you can experience a very different culture with lots of home comforts thrown in. Everything is on a grand scale in Dubai. You can stand on the tallest man made structure on earth.(Burj Khalifa) You can bomb down an almost vertical water shoot, go diving with sharks, swimming with dolphins or take a helicopter ride over the city at Atlantis The Palm. If you like to prebook, companies like Expedia offer some unusual outdoor activities like camel riding, sand boarding, desert safaris and Bedouin camps. You can even ski indoors while the heat blasts the sand outside. You can still explore the traditional Dubai with a bargaining trip to Deira souks or a day’s sailing in on a Dhow cruise. You can help rehabilitate turtles. And if you have children under 12, they’ll love Kidzania – an interactive city where children get to do all the jobs. If you can get your hands on a car, within a few hours you can be at Ferrari World on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi – a gleaming Emirates city featured in this list of adventure destination ideas.
2 Qatar – Desert Sport, Camel Racing and Cruising
Sticking with the Middle East, just a morning’s drive down the coast from Dubai brings you to Qatar. An area rich in natural beauty, it offers 560 kilometres of coastline and a fascinating sea-faring history. (Before the discovery of oil, Qatar depended on fishing and pearling.) The desert is the thing here and you can try out activities like dune bashing, sand skiing and even sand singing! You can go on an Arabian night safari too, and watch the dunes transform in the twilight. And if you visit between October and April you can also watch the rather unusual sport of camel racing – ‘the sport of sheikhs.’ Sport is on the up in Qatar; it is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup and bidding for Olympic Games too, although not without controversy.
Qatar is also rich in culture with some amazing museums and galleries. If you have a penchant for luxury, you’ll love the opportunities for shopping and spas. But you can also enjoy some down to earth shopping in the colourful restored souks of Doha.
3 Winter in the Pyrenees – Skiing in a Catalan Style
Enough sun and sand already! Here’s a recommendation for a winter mountain break. As European as the Alps, but not quite as expensive, the Spanish side of the Pyrenees mountains offers a good alternative to skiing in France or Austria. We have been out to resorts including Vall de Núria, la Molina, Masella, and Vallter where you can try your hand at mushing (riding with husky dogs), night skiing, cross country skiing and trekking with crampons . You can also hop a ride on a snow machine. But it’s not just winter sports that excite us about this destination. We love the Catalan food. We love the family culture and the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. (Check out our posts on our visit to Costa Brava – a fantastic summer destination!) And if you’ve time on the way home, the picturesque city of Girona is a must. It may be chilly outside but what child would turn down ice cream made by chefs from the worlds best restaurant?
4 Barcelona – and the “Costa Barcelona”
If you love nature and prefer to wait until summer for your fix of the mountains, you could always tie in a visit to Costa Brava with a trip to the Costa Barcelona. El Garraf National Park (and the nearby Olerdola County Park) is a limestone paradise for the hiker with short and long walking and biking trails studded with caves, potholes, wild olive palm and pine trees. There are some great wine tours available, and if you fancy some sunbathing there are 26 beaches on an 18km stretch of coastline just south of Barcelona including Santa Susanna. The village of Calella even offers enclosed areas specifically for families where children can play on inflatables. And just an hour away is the spectacularly arty city of Barcelona.
5 Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way – the Longest Drive
The Irish are marketing the Wild Atlantic Way as the longest coastal drive in the world. And it seems this 2,500 kilometre route around the whole of the West Coast of Ireland is what it says on the tin. And what’s more much of the planning work has been done for you. You can simply turn up and follow suggestions for visiting craftsmen at work and musicians at play. But the main attraction is the extreme beauty of the landscape from the steep granite cliffs to the gnarled fingers of rock that reach far into the ocean.
Limerick, which is just off the route was the 2014 Capital of Culture. And what’s more, last year it was more than a bit sunny! (although beware the midges in damp warm weather.)
6 Lubljana and Slovenia – Small and Perfectly Formed
Forget Tallin and give Budapest a miss to try Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, a hidden gem for a European weekend getaways. Slovenia is good value for money and while it’s not on the budget airlines routes, it is accessible from places not too far away across the border in Italy in Trieste or from Zadar in Croatia. The capital has some great attractions. Take the tourist train or funicular up to the castle (Ljubljanski Grad) where you can have an affordable panoramic lunch on the terraces. Or take a walking tour of the city. Ljubljana is manageable in a day but if you have a weekend, there’s some great attractions nearby, including Tivoli Park.
And if you can stay a week, like we did, you’ll be pleased to hear that you can explore most of the country by car in a short space of time. Slovenian nationals pride themselves on being able to raft, ski, bike, hike or go monster rolling in the mountains in the morning and swim in the sea after lunch and you can follow their example. The limestone Julian Alps and Triglav National Park offer great walking, climbing and off road biking. Bled is one of the most picturesque places you will ever visit and in my opinion has the world’s best cream cake. And the karst caving area is unbeatable for underground experiences and for beautiful traditional Slovenian karst villages. We honestly can’t recommend this compact, handbag sized country highly enough.
7 Colombia – the Only Risk is Wanting to Stay
Colombia still has a reputation for danger. But if you visit the right area, it can be one of the most rewarding and undeveloped tourism experiences in the world. “The only risk is wanting to stay” says Sine Madsen, Manager of Andes World Travel, who organise specialist trips in the area for groups and families. Her words echo one of the country’s tourism campaigns.
“Colombia is like Peru was fifty years ago. Or like Vietnam 20 years ago” Sine tells me. “You get the feeling of being somewhere really authentic. We don’t have Machu Picchu or Titicaca but we can offer the experience of really being out in the wild and off the beaten track.” Colombia offers some rich contrasts, stretching from the verdant coffee area to the desert and rainforest. It has two very different stretches of coastline too; one volcanic and the other all Caribbean white sand and coconut palms. A family can combine a city break in Bogota with a visit to the highlands and then chill out at the beach. Accommodation is generally unassuming and undeveloped. “If you don’t like being ripped off then it’s the destination for you,” Sine says. “it is more akin to stepping into the daily life of the people than being helicoptered in as a tourist.”
8 Namibia – Crowds of Animals not Tourists
If you Safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park you’ll be joined by hundreds of slathering creatures. No not the lions, but the other tourists, going out on identikit trucks chasing the same wildlife. It’s said that in Namibia if you see a lion, you are likely to be the only person to see that lion that day. And not just lions; Namibia has the world’s largest population of free roaming clack rhino and expanding populations of elephant, lion and cheetah. The Kalahari is known as a haven for free roaming elephants. Unusually, this South West African country, which borders South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Zambia, has conservation written into the constitution.
The Namibian conservation scene includes private nature reserves alongside National Parks. The NamibRand Nature Reserve is one of Southern Africa’s largest private reserves, founded to help create a fence free sanctuary in the South West Namib desert. In its 30 year history it has linked up thirteen former sheep farms to extend desert boundaries allowing wildlife to roam unhindered over greater territory. In June 2013 the bordering Namib-Naukluft National Park became Namibia’s second World Heritage status, recognising the special nature of its sand and seas.
The African desert environment makes for world class night skies, free of light pollution making Namibia a prime stargazing destination. Interestingly Namibia classes the night sky as one of its reserves and NamibRand Nature Reserve was awarded an International Dark Sky Reserve Gold award in 2012. Further inland amidst the Hakos Mountains, the Hakos Guest Farm has its own International Amateur Observatory. Guests staying at the AstroFarm can make arrangements to use the observatory facilities as part of their stay.
9 The USA – an Almost All States Tour
We all know that America has some great towns and cities, but how to choose? Well, if you have a couple of months to spare then you don’t have to. Trek America runs the Great 48, a 48 states road trip tour (with an added option of doing the last two; Hawaii and Alaska). It’s not cheap, but everything is sorted out for you including 70 nights accommodation. Looking at the itinerary I reckon you might spend more time on a bus than out seeing the states, but you could nick the itinerary and do it yourself at your own pace. When the kids were little, we road tripped up the West Coast for a month in a rental car, then spent a week travelling from Seattle to New York by train, stopping off at Chicago, Boston and Washington. It wasn’t as manic as a 48 state tour, we didn’t even count the states we passed through, but we saw and experienced a lot including many of the Great National Parks on the West Coast and a smattering of big time American cities.
10 Montenegro – Mountains, Mountains, Mountains
Is Montenegro the new Iceland? We think it might be. This manageable Balkan Republic (Less than 14,0000 sq kilometres in total) offers a huge amount to outdoor enthusiasts. The country is gearing up for mass tourism and investment has been made into its infrastructure; there are huge camper van parks and hotels springing up in strategic locations around the country and its National Parks. But word hasn’t spread beyond the (very busy) butterfly Bay of Kotor yet. Despite visiting in August we had a campsite in the magnificent Durmitor National Park almost to ourselves and even in the iconic Old Town of Kotor, we managed to rent a flat for a long weekend at the last minute. Kotor is made for wandering, with its tiny churches and even smaller alleyways.
The bay that spreads out beneath the Old Town (take a walk up to Kotor Fort for maximum impact and photo opps) is one of the most beautiful stretches of coast I have ever seen. We biked the route and the cliffs seemed to fall straight into the sea. We had a fun morning canoeing out to The Lady of the Rock island in Boka Bay and then swimming back to the pretty town of Perast. And there are some seriously unique and challenging things to do within a day’s drive from Kotor, like making your way up the hairpin bends of the Ladder of Cattaro, once the only way into the Montenegrin interior, or climbing to the mausoleum of the national hero Njegos in Lovcen National Park. One word of good news to the greedy; food is cheap, and the portions are enormous, but not as enormous as the mountains that seem to be everywhere.
11 Bosnia and Herzegovina – beyond the Balkan war
Bosnia isn’t for the beach lover. It only has twenty four and a half kilometres of the sandy stuff and this is cramped and commercial. When the former Yugoslavia was carved up after the recent war, Croatia got the sunshine coast, the blue, blue sea and the pretty whitewashed villas. But I found Croatia to be overcrowded and in places overrated and Bosnia the undiscovered gem. While it still has some startling reminders of its past in the way of land mines and abandoned buildings, it has an interesting culture, is good value for money and there are hardly any cruise ship passengers – always a bonus. You could spend months here trying to understand the history and Bosnia’s place in it and there are some good museums tracing its past.
The tourist capital Mostar is an intriguing mix of temples and cathedrals, (sometimes the catholic bells and the Muslim call to prayer ring out at the same time) The iconic old bridge that was so publicly destroyed in the war has been immaculately restored and it’s great to have dinner under it or watch the divers jump from it into the icy cold water. One fantastic excursion from Mostar is to the The Kravice Falls. With many different waterfalls you can bathe and and jump into, up to a height of 28 metres, it’s like bathing in a mini Niagara. Check out the video of my microadventure to find the falls with Cameron.
12 Berlin, Germany – the Ever Changing City
If you want a winter escape to a city that seems like it’s in a constant state of flux then Berlin is a good bet. The collapse of the Berlin Wall may seem a long time ago but the city is still shifting and changing as a result with new buildings and development springing up every year and a creative energy that infuses the arts, music and cultural scene, and the odd hotel too. If you’ve ever wanted to sleep in a cage or a floating bed then you simple muc check out Propeller Island, probably the most unusual ‘hotel’ I’ve ever stayed in.
Check out the graffiti art on the Berlin Wall and visit the most famous hot dog museum in the world. Stand on the Potsdamer Platz square that David Bowie sung about in his most recent album and check out the first traffic light in Europe; it’s a bit of a local celebrity. Berlin is seriously quirky in places too. An extraordinary cabaret had us stumbling on stage through a fridge door, and the graves of the Brothers Grimm are a tourist attraction, if you can find them. What’s more, a new trend for Berliners is taking tea at cafes in graveyards.
Despite the wall’s absence, it’s still very present. There are some iconic things to do in Berlin. Like pedal under the iconic Brandenberg city Gate like royalty once did in their carriages (although they obviously didn’t actually pedal). Like most European capitals you can tour on foot or by bus and there are great guided bike tours available to help you see the sights the green way. Although Berlin is one city where we’d suggest you set your green credentials aside for a morning to take an ‘old Eastern European style’ self-drive tour of the city in an old Trabi car. It’ll be the most fun you’ve had in ages. (We even loved in it -10 degrees when our hands stuck to the driving wheel.)
13 Kosovo – a Country in Dispute
This one is a bit of a wild card and I don’t expect you to book a family holiday there. But if you are visiting The Balkan countries it’s well worth a look. A word of warning, border crossings can be complicated due to political and historic sensitivities. So before travelling do your research. Like we didn’t!! Having read about it in the guidebook I expected Kosovo to be chaotic, but while not all cows roamed off-road in the mountains, and traffic was plenty busy in the city, and in the rain people cycled holding umbrellas, the city of Peja (Pec) was fairly manageable in a car. Do make sure you have insurance though and, if you approach through the mountains from Montenegro, keep your eyes firmly on the winding road and stop to look at amazing vistas where the mountains drop away to Peja on the edge of the great plains below.
In Peja cafe life is king and the beer is recommended. But it was also a unique cultural experience. We spent a couple of happy hours looking at ornate C13th and C14th frescos at the UNESCO Heritage Site Peja Patriarchate. This is the home of the Serbian Orthodox Church and like other Serbian monuments in Kosovo, protected by KFOR troops. Perhaps they help contribute to the overwhelming atmosphere of peace in the building. Beyond the church lies the incredible Rugova Gorge, one of the most spectacular areas in the Balkans. Through the gorge runs a ribbon of road that winds up startling hairpin bends high above the Drini river, through dramatic granite overhangs and handmade tunnels up towards Montenegro. Up here lie hundreds of hidden, unexplored caves, great hiking possibilities and, about halfway up, a wonderful restaurant serving local specialities. The road is presently closed at higher levels but in time may also be reopened to connect with Montenegro. For now it remains an outstanding dead end of natural attractions and a fantastic place for some wild exploration by car, on foot or by bike. The tourist board have spotted the potential and installed a little hut at the bottom of the gorge where you can get help with bike hire, maps and advice. Let’s just say they are not terribly busy. Yet.
14 Rio, Brazil – not just for footy fans
Rio’s popularity took off after the recent World Cup. With the football over, it’s still got its world famous statue and Latino passion by the bucketful and seems to be drawing in more visitors than ever before. If you want to experience a city whose time has come then head to Rio de Janeiro. Carnival time sounds fun….