10 Bucket List Family Vacations for After the Pandemic

It's time to update your family vacation bucket list.
Tourists riding horses through wildflower meadow in Iceland (Photo: Shutterstock)
Photo: Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us in one way or another. Whether you’ve suffered through illness or the loss of a job, residence, or loved one, family vacation ideas may well have been the furthest thing from your mind. But while we still have a ways to go before all pandemic-era restrictions are lifted, more and more parents are thinking about places to visit with kids when the pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror. 

Best Places to Visit with Kids After the Pandemic

As you update your family travel bucket list with new countries and new must-do experiences to have with your children, here are some family vacation spots that deserve serious consideration. Each of these places to visit with kids offers a bevy of child-friendly tourist attractions, family-oriented activities, and the chance to make memories that will last a lifetime.

1. Reykjavik and the Golden Circle, Iceland

The geothermal waters of Sky Lagoon in Iceland (Photo: Elva Erlingsdottir)
The geothermal waters of Sky Lagoon in Iceland (Photo: Elva Erlingsdottir)

For a relatively small island, Iceland packs more than its share of fun family vacation activities. Start in the capital of Reykjavik, where the sun barely sets between mid-May and mid-August, and the temperatures never get too hot or too cold for kids to enjoy in the summer months.

You’ve probably heard of the Blue Lagoon and its steaming geothermal waters, but one of the best—and trendiest—things to do with older kids these days is The Ritual at Sky Lagoon. This immersive geothermal experience is an upscale take on the geothermal spa experience, blending warm water, cold water, warm steam, and dry heat with fresh air in an unforgettable experience that even the sulkiest teenagers will enjoy. 

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Other fun places to visit with kids in and around Reykjavik include Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, the most famous hot dog stand in the country; Omnom Chocolate Ice Cream Shop, where you can enjoy a Nutty Wolf, arguably the greatest ice cream concoction on Earth; and Perlan, an innovative exploratorium with the world’s first indoor ice cave and a simulated Northern Lights experience. 

Outside Reykjavik, take an easily navigable road trip on the legendary Ring Road, which will bring you first to the volcano that’s been erupting and spewing molten lava since spring ’21, past a plethora of jaw-dropping waterfalls, up close and personal with glaciers and icebergs, and close to clownish puffins in the village of Vik. Before you know it you’ll be up north near the charming harbor town of Husavik, home to some of the best whale watching excursions anywhere in the world. 

2. Paris and Normandy, France

Kids splashing in the water outside the Louvre Museum in Paris (Photo: @margokobrina via Twenty20)
Kids splashing in the water outside the Louvre Museum in Paris (Photo: @margokobrina via Twenty20)

Whether your kids grew up reading about Madeline and the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” or are currently obsessed with Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir on Netflix, a trip to Paris is going to blow their minds. And when you choose to get there on a new French bee flight from Newark, you won’t be blowing your budget, either. This low-cost carrier offers the perfect combination of 11:00 p.m. departures from the States (allowing you to sleep as you cross the Atlantic) and evening return flights (which gives you bonus time in Paris on the last day of your trip).

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In the City of Light, treat the kids to lunch at Les Café des Chats, an actual  “cat café” where a dozen fluffy cats live and lounge among the patrons. Almost everyone can find something to enjoy at the Louvre Museum, but a postcard-perfect afternoon in Luxembourg Gardens might appeal to kids if museums aren’t your family’s thing. The absolute best places to visit with kids, though, are the winding streets and twisting alleyways where you can wander freely and make surprise discoveries—always with a fresh baguette or Nutella crepe in hand.

Extend your Paris vacation with a train ride to Claude Monet’s house and garden in Giverny, the very spot where his world-renowned waterlilies came to life on canvas; or a day trip to Louis XIV’s opulent Palace of Versailles, as stunning today as it was at the height of its glory. For more history, visit the incomparable Mont Saint-Michel for a Hogwarts-esque experience not far from the D-Day landing sites in Normandy. 

3. The Maldives

Seascape with long jetty and water villas in the Maldives (Photo: Shutterstock)
Seascape with long jetty and water villas in the Maldives (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Maldives is one of those places to visit with kids that most families only dream of. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we should seize the day—and that means taking that dream vacation to paradise. Doing so with kids has never been easier, more rewarding, and more relaxing thanks to one resort’s expanding menu of family-friendly offerings.

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Visiting the Emerald Maldives Resort and Spa should be near the top of your post-pandemic bucket list, because kids are pampered and treated every bit as luxuriously as adults there. Think family cooking classes where they’ll learn to make a batch of genuine Italian gelato with local ingredients, yoga sessions designed especially for young people, and rejuvenating spa treatments like a chocolate clay body wrap. What better way to put all the stress, fear, and change of the pandemic behind them?

Add in a two-bedroom beach villa with a private garden, an under-the-stars outdoor shower, and a private turquoise pool, and you have the makings of the most magical and memorable post-pandemic family vacation on the planet.

4. New York, New York

Day dreaming in New York City (Photo: @Tintim via Twenty20)
Day dreaming in New York City (Photo: @Tintim via Twenty20)

Maybe you stayed away because the Big Apple was the epicenter of the virus in the U.S. during the first wave. But today much of the city is vaccinated, Broadway theaters are expected to reopen in September, concert venues have robust calendars of shows, and the city that never sleeps is once again opening itself to tourists. 

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Your kids will love exploring The Vessel, Little Island, and The High Line, three of the best free things to do in NYC. Listening to buskers and jazz musicians jamming in the parks is another fun activity with kids. Even if you’ve visited the usual tourist sites in Midtown before, there’s always something new and different to see in the Villages (East, West, and Greenwich). 

Other ideas: Dig into scrumptious scones at Alice’s Tea Cup on your way to The Met and the American Museum of Natural History, and dip down to the financial district to take in the solemn 9/11 Museum and Memorial. No matter what your family loves most, New York City has it in abundance.

5. Alaska Cruise

Seaplane in Alaska (Photo: @jeniferc76 via Twenty20)
Seaplane in Alaska (Photo: @jeniferc76 via Twenty20)

Cruise ships are already a bastion of kid-friendly fun, what with the waterparks, 24-hour soft serve ice cream, roller coasters (on the new Carnival Mardi Gras), zip lines and laser tag (Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas), and go-karts (Norwegian Encore). But family cruises to Alaska on an affordable cruise line like Carnival is a next level-family vacation. 

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Book an epic 10-day post-pandemic cruise from San Francisco or a weeklong journey from Seattle to see nature in a whole new light. You’ll eat fresh seafood, enjoy excursions to places like the Yukon Territory, and have opportunities to high above the glaciers on a seaplane or get up close and personal with bears in the wild.

6. Western Norway

Sunnylvsfjorden fjord with cruise ship and famous Seven Sisters waterfalls in Norway (Photo: Shutterstock)
Sunnylvsfjorden fjord with cruise ship and famous Seven Sisters waterfalls in Norway (Photo: Shutterstock)

One of the prettiest and most pristine places to visit with kids on the planet, Western Norway—specifically the 500 miles from Bergen to Trondheim—is also the particular slice of heaven that my two daughters would drop everything to return to again and again. It’s there among the colorful wooden buildings, KODE museums, Fløyen Mountain, and the sublime Olivia Restaurant, that you should begin your Norway vacation. 

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After Bergen, head north via scenic roads and car ferries to experience the charming Flåm railway, the “Norwegian Book Town” of Fjærland, and Jostedalsbreen National Park, until you reach the art nouveau city of Alesund and its picturesque archipelago. 

Continue along the Atlantic Road—a stunning drive hugging the rugged and wild coast—which will take you over the most-eye popping bridge your kids have ever seen. By the time you reach Trondheim, you’ll have traveled through a wonderland of idyllic Scandinavian towns. And chances are that your kids, like mine, will be eager to do it all over again.

7. Chilean Patagonia and the Atacama Desert, Chile

Torres del Paine national park in Patagonia, Chile (Photo: @webersintia via Twenty20)
Torres del Paine national park in Patagonia, Chile (Photo: @webersintia via Twenty20)

Stretching from one end of South America to the other, the climate and topography of Chile is more diverse than nearly anywhere else on Earth. In the north, your kids can experience an otherworldly landscape of salt flats, saline lakes, geysers, volcanoes, and rock formations, including one area appropriately called Valle de la Luna, or the Valley of the Moon. As impressive as northern Chile is during the day, however, it’s even more impressive after dark. The whole universe presents itself when you go stargazing in the Atacama desert. 

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In the center of the country, Chile’s cosmopolitan capital of Santiago is backdropped by the snow-capped Andes and offers up museums, restaurants, neoclassical landmarks, and a lot of family fun that can be enjoyed in just a few nights.

Of course, you haven’t fully seen this safe and friendly country until you’ve ventured south to Chilean Patagonia. The lower third of Chile is as close to fiction as a factual place can get thanks in large part to Torres del Paine National Park and Magdalena Island. When booking your Chilean adventure, remember that in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed, so our summer is their winter. 

8. Athens and Ancient Greek Sites, Greece

Family race in the Olympic Stadium in Athens (Photo: @rainbow_travellers via Twenty20)
Family race in the Olympic Stadium in Athens (Photo: @rainbow_travellers via Twenty20)

Take your Percy Jackson-obsessed grade schoolers straight to the source material once you feel safe and comfortable exploring crowded cities again. Start in Athens and see some of the most iconic Europe tourist attractions, including the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Temple of Athena. But that’s just the start of the Ancient Greek fun. There are so many more amazing ruins to see, including Hadrian’s Library, founded by Emperor Hadrian in 132 CE; and The Olympieion, also called the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

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Climb the steps of the Olympic Stadium, a replica of a massive ancient athletics stadium built for the 1896 Games, and make a run or two to burn off the calories from all the gyros you’ll consume while wandering the ancient city’s crooked streets. 

Other places to visit with kids who love Percy Jackson include the Temple of Poseidon on the Aegean coast in Sounio, the Cave of Zeus (the purported birthplace of the god) located on the island of Crete, and Delphi, where your kiddos will want to listen to the prophecies of the Oracle while visiting the Temple of Apollo.

9. Singapore

Bird's eye view of Singapore City skyline in Singapore. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Bird’s eye view of Singapore City skyline in Singapore. (Photo: Shutterstock)

In many ways, Singapore seems like a fantasy land. It’s both a big city and a tiny country—yet when Singapore is measured by ambition and cleanliness, few places on Earth show more promise for the future. It’s also the most family-friendly destination in Asia, and almost everyone speaks enough English to meet you in the middle after you and your family have learned some Singlish (a hybrid language of the many ethnic groups in the country). 

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Take Gardens by the Bay, for example. This naturalistic escape features iconic structures and a chance for your family to connect with unusual plants, blooming flowers, and a literal floral fantasy on the ground and in the air via the OCBC Skyway. In the evening, you can see thousands of animals from around the globe in their natural environments during the Singapore Night Safari

While enjoying this family vacation wonderland, be sure to spend an afternoon at the architectural gem that is the ArtScience Museum. Inside this open tulip of a building, you will see Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine as well as a wide range of exhibits which at any given moment may include anything from Harry Potter film sets to Titanic artifacts. 

Speaking of iconic architecture, splurge on a stay at the glorious Marina Bay Sands Hotel to cement your family vacation memories. 

10. Lisbon, Portugal

Sunset over beautiful Lisbon, Portugal (Photo: @Sabr06 via Twenty20)
Sunset over beautiful Lisbon, Portugal (Photo: @Sabr06 via Twenty20)

Often overlooked by Americans in favor of nearby Spanish destinations Madrid and Barcelona, Lisbon’s chic urban life and riveting day trips make it one of the top places to visit with kids anywhere in Europe. In this thriving capital city, you’ll enjoy climbing up and descending the winding alleyways of the Alfama neighborhood, riding the picturesque tram cars when your legs need a break, and eating far too many pastel de natal pastries. On Fridays in summertime, families can explore the Castelo de São Jorge for free while enjoying live music, expansive city views, and stunning sunsets.

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Shop and have lunch at the XL Factory, a stellar example of architectural reuse; see a match at one of Portugal’s two top-flight soccer teams with magnificent stadiums; and get around easily by riding on the clean and safe public transit system. 

And while Lisbon is a remarkable city, you really should plan on at least two day trips: one to the flamboyantly colorful Palace of Sintra, which looks like a real life Crayola factory; and another to the adorable beach town of Cascais. Each is a direct 45-minute train ride from the city center. 

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Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is a dad of two teen daughters, an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, music lover, and English football fanatic who has written about parenting, family life, travel, food, culture, and more for The Washington Post, Parents Magazine, Fodor’s, Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest, and PBS among other fine publications. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK. Jeff is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of Stanchion, a quarterly print literary and photography magazine. He lives in the East Village neighborhood of New York City with his wife, one remarkable rescue pitbull, and four cats.

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