12 Best Kid-Friendly Destinations
When traveling with toddlers, tweens, and teens, the trick is picking the right destination. Somewhere that offers hands-on activities, inspiring history, and even an animal or two can turn the dreaded “When will we be there” into “Where will we go next?”
It's a great big world out there, and packing up your little ones for a jaunt—whether it's to a nearby city, neighboring state, or across "the pond"—can be daunting. But when it comes to traveling with kids, all destinations are not created equal. We've covered our share of hot travel spots in the U.S. and Europe and we've found that those cities and landmarks that are best for family travel have a few things in common: Accessibility, a nice mix of indoor and outdoor activities, and a certain ineffable "wow" factor that you'll know when you see it on your children's faces. Here, a dozen of our favorite family-friendly destinations.
COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG, VA
Everyone in this living-history site likes to play dress-up, and visitors are no exception. At the Great Hopes Plantation—a re-creation of the town's original 1700s farm—a stash of old-timey accessories await, from tricorne (three-pointed) hats for boys and shifts and mop caps (bonnets) for girls. The costumes come in handy in the field, where kids can perform 18th-century household chores, such as picking bugs off potato crops, fetching water from the well, or hoeing the soil, that are likely to make clearing the dinner dishes seem like a breeze by comparison. Great Hopes Plantation can be accessed through regular admission tickets. Upcoming events for 2013 include a celebration of Presidents' Day, an exhibit dedicated to historic keyboard instruments (such as colonial-era harpsichords), and Painters and Paintings of the South, opening in March. (history.org, adults from $22.95, children from $11.50, under six free).
Everybody knows the National Mall is the place to be in D.C., right? But how about riding the streets of Washington, D.C., including the Mall, in a boat on wheels? Set in a WWII-era amphibious vehicle, the 90-minute D.C. duck tour covers both land and sea. The first leg hits the history-packed National Mall—look for the 19-foot-tall Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol building, and the Smithsonian museums—and then switches to a scenic river trip. Highlight: The boat pauses at Gravelly Point, a park located just a few hundred feet from the runway at D.C.'s Reagan National Airport, so you can watch roaring planes take off and land (trustedtours.com, adults $31.50, kids 11 and under $16.20). Don't miss hour-long tours of the U.S. Capitol, offered Monday through Saturday, and it's best to reserve a spot on one of these popular tours in advance (visitor center entrance at First Street and East Capitol Street, N.W., visitthecapitol.gov, admission free). And at the National Museum of American History, you'll find countless artifacts from the nation's history, including the exhibits The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden and Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963 (1400 Constitution Ave., N.W., americanhistory.si.edu, admission free).
Thanks to literature and film (think Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, and a certain young wizard), American kids already associate London with mystery and discovery. And the city doesn't dissapoint. Archaeologist (and mother of six) Fiona Haughey leads two-hour trawls along the muddy banks of the River Thames. (Once so polluted that city residents avoided going near the river, the Thames is now alive with healthy fish—and tour boats!) Previous searchers have taken home Elizabethan pipes, Tudor tiles, and even horse teeth (walks.com, beachcombing walk $12, all ages). For young history buffs, the Tower of London is an unforgettable experience, where you can ogle the 23,578 gems known as the Crown Jewels, take a Yeoman Warder tour that includes hair-raising stories from the tower's history, spot the six ravens who make the Tower their home and, according to legend, whose presence assures the continuity of the kingdom, and of course let your curious—and bravest—kids explore the interactive prisoners exhibit about the people who lived and died in this most iconic of prisons (hrp.org.uk, adults $33, children $17).
Even die-hard Yankees fans have to admit that visiting Fenway Park, Major League Baseball's oldest stadium, is an exercise in Americanism: Babe Ruth pitched there! Ted Williams hit a 502-foot home run! Fenway turns 100 next year, but its features are still intact. Check them out for yourself on a guided 50-minute tour, where hands-on exploration is encouraged: You can touch the Green Monster (the park's 37-foot-tall left-field wall), peek into the dugout, poke around inside the press box, and even walk across the baseball diamond, depending on how friendly the grounds crew is feeling that day (mlb.mlb.com, Fenway Park tours, adults $12, kids 3-15 $10, seniors $11). Boston is also, of course, the epicenter of America's Colonial history. Who needs a social studies book when the Freedom Trail lets you learn about Colonial history as you walk in its footprints? For example, from June through November, you can learn from an 18th-century ship captain while parading around Boston's waterfront on the 90-minute Pirates and Patriots tour, led by an actor in 1770s naval garb, focuses on maritime history and introduces the scrappy, ship-raiding characters that inhabited the city's North End during the Revolutionary era. Stops include the aptly named Long Wharf, once the longest in the world and the center of Boston's colonial shipping industry, and Griffin's Wharf, site of the 1773 Boston Tea Party. (thefreedomtrail.org, Pirates and Patrios Tour runs from June through November, adults $12, kids 6-12 $7).