Magical places to visit with children before they grow up

Michelle Bhatia

written by
Michelle Bhatia

updated 04.06.2024

Kids grow up fast. Blink and they’re teenagers, irritated by everything you do and pouring scorn on your ideas of what constitutes a good time. So, while they’re still happy to hang out with you, make the most of it. Here are places so spellbinding that they desevre to be seen through young eyes – magical places to visit with your children before they grow up, and grow out of you.

9. BeWILDerwood, Norfolk – one of the UK's most magical places

Some theme parks offer nothing for parents, bar tired legs from standing in queues, a queasiness from being forced upside down on rides that defy the laws of physics, and a considerably lighter wallet.

BeWILDerwood is different. This wonderful woodland playground in Norfolk offers a sprinkling of magic for everyone. There are treehouses to explore, dens to build and aerial ropewalks. You'll also find zipwires, a maze, and stories of magical woodland folk, such as Swampy the Marsh Boggle and the Twiggles, relayed during a gentle boat ride.

There’s interactive storytelling in cosy bell tents, crafts activities and face painting. The setting is a large part of its appeal, with 50 acres of forest to play in, and also the fact that everything is built from sustainable wood. Parents, connect with your inner child!

If that's caught your imagination, discover more reasons to visit Norfolk — the area has plenty to keep all ages happy. You might also want to read up on the best day tours and holidays for children in Britain.

Where to stay to visit BeWILDerwood, Norfolk

A mere three miles from BeWILDerwood, The Wherry Arch is a great family-friendly option, while Swan Dyke Cottage offers home comforts in stunning surroundings.

Find more fantastic family-friendly places to stay in Norfolk.

BeWilderwood tree house @ BeWilderwood

A treehouse at BeWILDerwood, one of the UK's most magical places @ BeWilderwood

8. Disneyland Paris, France

You picture yourself strolling along the banks of the Seine in Paris, stopping off for un café au lait in a quintessentially Parisian café and spending the day admiring art in the Louvre. There’s one snag – you’ve got kids in tow. That’s where Disneyland Paris comes in. It not only offers pure enchantment for kids, just one day here is a bargaining chip for grown-up time in the city.

Disneyland Park

Leave your cynicism at the turnstiles and embrace the fairytale. The park is made up of four ‘lands’ with enough rides to provide excitement from morning until the gates clang shut at night. Rollercoasters that hit highest on the screamometre are Discoveryland's thrilling Space Mountain Mission 2 and Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland (based on the Wild West).

Adventureland offers family fun and excitement by the bucketload, Don't miss the excellent Pirates of the Caribbean ride and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. Fanatasyland is perfect for little ones – see your kids’ eyes light up at the sight of the Sleeping Beauty Castle and share their joy from a hug with a favourite Disney character.

Walt Disney Studios Park

Next door to Disneyland Park is Walt Disney Studios Park. Plunge into the world of Disney and Pixar on the production backlot and animation studios. See terrific car stunts and special effects shows, discover how those iconic cartoons are made, and enjoy more fun rides.

With Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips, our travel agent in Paris will create a personalised itinerary to help you explore the magic of Disneyland Paris in a way that suits your family.

Where to stay to visit Disneyland Paris, France

For the ultimate Disney experience, check-out Disney's Hotel New York - The Art of Marvel. Alternatively, the Bambi-themed Sequoia Lodge gives guests the chance to meet Disney characters over breakfast

Discover more child-friendly places to stay near Disneyland Paris. And, for more advice on accommodation read our experts' guide to the best area to stay in Paris.

Disneyland, Paris © rifqa.j/Shutterstock

Enchantment abounds at Disneyland, Paris © rifqa.j/Shutterstock

7. Kruger National Park, South Africa

They’ve seen elephants in their encyclopedia, they’ve pretended to look for lions in the woods, had their faces painted as a zebra. But nothing compares to seeing these animals up close, in real life.

A wildlife safari is an unforgettable experience for kids – and adults – and one of the best places for this trip of a lifetime is Kruger National Park in South Africa. Covering an enormous 19,485 sq km (we’re talking roughly the size of Wales), it’s home to the Big Five: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos, as well as zebras, giraffes and so many more besides.

It’s fairly easy to spot these magnificent creatures, alongside some of the hundreds of species of birds that live or pass through the park. Also watch out for resident reptiles (“…and if you see a crocodile don’t forget to scream!” as the nursery rhyme goes).

Go on a guided bush walk or rent a car and drive around at your own pace, stopping off to watch a family of baboons quenching their thirst at a water hole, or a giraffe munching the leaves of an acacia tree.

Stay overnight at a safari lodge, restcamp, basic bird hide, or one of the park’s campsites, such as Tamboti. Children will love gathering around the campfire at the end of the day’s safari, swapping tales of animal spotting.

Rough Guide tip: You can improve your chances of having an unforgettable experience by checking out the best time to visit Kruger National Park. And to get the most out of travelling with your kids, read everything you need to know about visiting South Africa with kids.

Where to stay to visit Kruger National Park, South Africa

Ukuthula Bush Lodge offers a pool and easy access to the Kinyonga Reptile Centre, while Sheppard Boutique Guest House has family rooms.

Chacma baboon Kruger National Park, South Africa © Shutterstock

Chacma baboons having a drink in Kruger National Park, South Africa © Shutterstock

6. Little Angel Theatre, London, UK

Tucked away down a little alley in Islington, north London is a children’s puppet theatre. While the 100-seater is tiny, it's huge on make-believe and talent. It's been the home of magical and innovative shows for over 50 years.

There are performances aimed at tiny tots, as well as for older kids, from adaptations of firm faves, such as Julia Donaldson stories, to shaping Shakespeare into wonderful kid-friendly shows.

Once the show is over, explore the Big Smoke on foot to burn off that excess excitement — discover the best walks in London.

Where to stay to visit Little Angel Theatre, London

A mere bus or tube ride from Islington, the Camden Lock Holiday Inn is an affordable family option. Or you could rent an apartment close to London Zoo and Camden Market.

Explore more hotels in London.

Sicilian puppets, Italy © Paolo Gallo/Shutterstock

You're never too old for a puppet show © Paolo Gallo/Shutterstock

5. Lapland, Finland

Any child who's lain awake on Christmas eve, listening out for the sound of sleigh bells on the roof will go wild with delight at the idea of visiting Santa’s actual home. Be prepared for questions: Will I meet Mrs Claus and the elves? Can I live with Santa?

You can fumble your way through your answers or distract them with descriptions of all the other magical things about visiting Lapland in northern Finland. If you’re going in winter there are reindeer and husky sleigh rides, snowy woodland ski trails, ice-covered lakes for skating on, and dazzling displays of the Northern Lights.

Once you’ve done the obligatory visit to Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, where you can meet Father Christmas all year round (doesn’t he have toys to make?), you can enjoy exploring the wonderful wilderness of Lapland.

Warmer months offer lake cruises and swimming, forest hikes and berry picking. Bask in the magic of unbroken daylight — from mid May to late July the sun never sets. And, although perhaps nothing can top the excitement of meeting Santa, for any child who has read We’re going on a Bear Hunt, an overnight bear safari has got to come close.

If you're inspired by the idea of visiting the Arctic Circle and seeing the Northern Lights, you may also be keen to visit Norway's Arctic north. Don't miss this if you're also a fan of whiskey – you can visit the world's northernmost distillery!

Where to stay to visit Lapland, Finland

For the ultimate Christmas experience, try Santa Claus Holiday Village. The four bedroom Hillside House isn't short on seasonal atmosphere, either.

Explore more accommodation in Lapland.

Husky sledge in Lapland © BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock

Ride on a husky-drawn sledge in snowy Lapland © BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock

4. Costa Rica

A child’s picture-book fantasy of exotic creatures, mysterious jungle, volcanoes and hot springs, Costa Rica is a giant outdoor playground and one of the most magical places to explore with kids.

There's such an abundance of wildlife that on a trek through the forest you might see playful monkeys swinging through the trees or a sloth eyeballing you from a branch. Kids will marvel at the sight of a caiman’s eyes glinting from a riverbank and a tree frog leaping across their path.

Filling the air are the calls of dazzling birds, such as toucans, hummingbirds and Scarlet Macaws. You can get a birds-eye-view of the forest canopy by ziplining through the trees – an exhilarating adventure no matter your age.

Try a canopy tour in the cloud forest. If that sounds a little too hair raising, hanging bridges are also a great way to explore the forest from up high.

With Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips, our local travel agent in Costa Rica, Roberto, will create a personalised trip plan and quote, just for your family.

When planning your trip, be sure to check out the best beaches in Costa Rica, for there’s plenty of water-based fun to be had here, too. Enjoy a family surf lesson on the Nicoya Peninsula or get afloat on the rivers. Splash about in swimming holes next to waterfalls, and soak in volcanic hot springs in Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal.

In fact, all kids love volcanoes, and looking down into the crater of the active Volcan Poás, knowing it could still erupt, will blow their minds.

Where to stay to visit Costa Rica

Overlooking a lake and boasting a children's playground, Bluebay Bugenvil Lake Lodge has a whole lot going for it. Meanwhile, Monteverde's La Picuya mountain retreat holiday home is great if you want to go it alone, and close to a host of family-friendly activities.

Explore more accommodation around Arenal Volcano National Park – a fantastic base for those travelling with kids.

Sloth in Costa Rica © Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

Sloth hanging out in the forest in Costa Rica © Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

3. Rome, Italy

Your child’s homework is to write a day in the life of a Roman, so how about bringing Ancient Rome to life by a visit to Italy’s capital? The Flavian Amphitheatre, or Colosseum, the world’s largest amphitheatre, is sure to wow them with its history of gory gladiator battles.

Taking a family-friendly tour is the best way to deal with crowds and to keep kids engaged. You’ll walk in the shoes (or rather, gladiator sandals) of a Roman fighter as he walked through the gladiators’ gate into the giant arena to engage in mortal combat. And you’ll go underneath to the hypogeum, where lions and bears, were kept in cages, before being brought up to take part in the bloody fighting.

Mentions of school will inevitably elicit groans from your kids, but ask them if they want to go to Gladiator School and you’ll get a rather different response.

Start with a tour of the little museum, discovering artefacts and weapons of gladiatorial life and trying on the clunky armour. Then spend a couple of hours waving swords around (albeit wooden ones) while dressed in traditional tunics, and learning the moves to help you emerge victorious from battle.

Gladiator School is run by Gruppo Storico Romano and located at: Via Appia Antica 18, a 15-minute taxi ride from the Colosseum. While the website is somewhat difficult to navigate, you can book tickets through Get Your Guide.

Ready to plan your trip to Rome? Our Tailor-Made Trips local travel agent, Martina, will plan a trip itinerary just for you, based on your family's unique needs.

Where to stay to visit Rome, Italy

You could rent the lovely Lemon Tree Apartment Sistine Chapel, which has a beautful garden in a brilliant location. Alternatively, Charme 308 is in the heart of Rome — close to the Castel Sant'Angelo — and offers family rooms.

For more acommodation ideas, read our guide to the best area to stay in Rome before exploring a host of hotels in Rome.

Colosseum, Rome © Farbregas Hareluya/Shutterstock

Inside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy © Farbregas Hareluya/Shutterstock

2. Harry Potter Studio Tour, Hertfordshire, UK

Talking of magical places leads us to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Fictional it may be, but you can visit the Warner Bros studios for a magical tour of the making of the Harry Potter movies.

Nose around Dumbledore’s office and peer among the 500 bottles on display in the Potions classroom. Walk through the Great Hall and the Gryffindor common room, and peek into the windows of the old shops on Diagon Alley. Film yourself flying on a broomstick (OK, via special effects), sit on Hagrid’s motorbike and have a sip of butterbeer.

The huge number of props, costumes and information provide such insight into how J.K. Rowling’s stories were translated to the big screen, that parents will find the tour just as interesting as their excited offspring.

Be warned: you’ll need an extremely strong magic spell to leave the gift shop without spending a small fortune.

Where to stay to visit Harry Potter Studio Tour, Hertfordshire, UK

For countryside charm close to the studios, try The Grove, Chandler's Cross. Alternatively, check out hotels near Kings Cross, London, where more Harry Potter fun can be had.

Find more family hotels in London.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour ‘The Making of Harry Potter’, Goblin cashier in Gringotts Bank, props and costumes used in the production of the films © RichartPhotos/Shutterstock

Goblin cashier in Gringotts Bank, Warner Bros. Studio Tour ‘The Making of Harry Potter’ © RichartPhotos/Shutterstock

1. Galápagos Islands

It’s as if a magician waved a magic wand and conjured up a wildlife wonderland. Giant tortoises bigger than the family dog amble past with quiet determination and sea lions snooze on the beach while children play in the sand just a few feet away. Blue-footed boobies mosey on by without a care in the world and marine iguanas watch from the rocks without concern.

In fact, all the animals are unfazed by human visitors. The remote Galápagos Islands, 1000km off the coast of Ecuador, has resulted in a lack of natural predators.

Go Snorkelling and you may see massive turtles, reef sharks (don’t worry, they’re harmless), rays, sea lions, Galápagos penguins, and playful seals among the schools of tropical fish.

Idyllic beaches hug the islands’ shores. Tortuga Bay on Isla Santa Cruz is a winner – calm waters for swimming and a lovely stretch of white sand. Other gorgeous spots include Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela, and Isla San Cristóbal’s Puerto Chino and La Loberia, a highlight being its large sea lion colony.

All that considered, it's clear to see why the Galápagos Islands feature in our best places on earth for 2022.

Want to learn more useful information before your upcoming trip to Ecuador? Read our tips for traveling in Ecuador, explore our Galapagos itineraries and find out when is the best time to visit Galapagos

You might also find it helpful to read about what you need to know before traveling to Ecuador and check out our guide to Ecuador with kids.

Where to stay to visit the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

With a full kitchen, pool and close proximity to Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz's commercial centre, the Galapagos Cottages is a great option if you're travelling with kids. Staying on Isla Isabela? The family-run Wooden House Hotel is fabulously located and welcoming with it.

Discover more places to stay in Isla Santa Cruz, Isla Isabela, and Isla San Cristóbal.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise © Maridav/Shutterstock

Giant Tortoise on Galápagos © Maridav/Shutterstock

For more inspiration on great places to visit with children, check out our 30 best places to go with kids and practical tips for travelling with young children. We also have advice on travelling with children on a budget.

Fancy hitting the open road? Find out all you need to know about taking a van trip with children.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Ready to travel and discover
South Africa?

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍