The summer holidays may be over in the UK, but it won’t be long before the October half-term arrives and children are off school again for a week.
The autumn break is the ideal opportunity to escape the UK. If the rain and overcast days are bothering you, some European cities are still basking in temperatures in the mid-20s. A nature escape may also catch the eye, with the landmarks of Iceland remaining resplendent and the Arctic Circle welcoming the start of Northern Lights season.
Further afield, the end of migration season is fast approaching in the safari parks of Kenya and Tanzania. The world’s foremost cities are as great as ever, with Paris swatched in autumnal tones as it celebrates hosting one of the world’s most important sporting tournaments, the Rugby World Cup.
For a selection of potential destinations, read on; we’ve rounded up some of the best places to go for a half-term holiday that the entire family will enjoy.
Costa Dorada, Spain
Catalonia’s Costa Dorada is one of the best places in Spain for a family-friendly break that has a little bit of everything, from city exploration to theme park visits.
A quick trip to Barcelona is easy enough, with the city’s labyrinthine network housing a vast range of things to explore, from the grandeur of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia or Park Guell to quaint tapas joints and the charming Mount Tibidabo, home to a local theme park. Kids might enjoy watching a football or basketball match, exploring the 1992 Olympic Park or visiting beaches such as Barceloneta or Bogatell.
With average highs remaining around 23C, it will still be warm enough to spend most of the day at the beach on your visit to the ‘Golden Coast’. Picturesque towns such as Sitges and Tarragona have their own stretches of golden sands replete with child-friendly resorts, while further south, the country-famous PortAventura theme park, also home to a water park and Ferrari Land, is a great option for a day trip that will keep children entertained.
How to do it
For an action-packed holiday by the Mediterranean, Thomas Cook has a package for the PortAventura Hotel Gold River. It provides free entry to the theme park for the duration of your stay, plus one day of entry to Ferrari Land and discounts on the waterpark, giving you the option of whiling away the days on rides in between day trips to Barcelona and the surrounding towns. Prices start at £383pp for five nights’ accommodation, return flights and park tickets.
Read more on travel inspiration:
Though it may be better known as an upmarket city of glamour, Dubai is both surprisingly affordable and suitable for families. A range of new hotels and recently built attractions means that there is plenty to do to fill your days, while landmarks such as the Burj Khalifa will likely fascinate those of all ages wanting to scale the tallest building on the planet. The Old Town – and its souks – are ideal for learning about Dubai and Islamic history and culture, while a ride in a dhow boat along Dubai Creek is a pleasant way to spend part of an afternoon.
Beaches such as JBR will cater to both parents and children looking for a little relaxation, and parents can enjoy some of the world’s premier shopping centres (all with the benefit of air conditioning). Perhaps most importantly, however, is the range of theme parks that Dubai is home to. From Legoland and Global Village to the Universal-like IMG Adventure Park and the vast Wild Wadi waterpark, there’d be enough to keep the whole family busy for weeks if you needed to.
How to do it
For a truly luxurious half-term escape, opt for a stay at the Atlantis, The Palm, courtesy of British Airways Holidays. One of the city’s most iconic hotels, it is home to over a mile of private beach and offers plenty of kid-friendly activities, including water sports and a daily kids’ club. A stay here also comes with one free day pass to the attached Aquaventure park, the largest water park in the world, and the hotel’s aquarium. Prices start at £1,515pp for five nights’ accommodation, half board, return flights and 23kg of checked luggage.
Within Reykjavik, the Hljomskalagardur park – with the charming Tjornin Lake – and the city’s Botanical Gardens provide serene spaces for a relaxing stroll. The park surrounding the Hallgrimskirkja is much smaller, but is a good place for a quick walk before ascending to the church’s viewing deck for the best vistas of the city. Close by, the geothermal pools of the Blue Lagoon will likely be a hit with kids, offering the opportunity for an outdoor swim whatever the weather.
The majority of Iceland’s natural sites can be explored within a few days. Many are just a few hours away from the capital: the Geysir, the black sand beach of Reynisfjara, Mount Kirkjufell and the extraordinary 60-metre tall Skogafoss waterfall are all within three hours’ drive, and the Thingvellir National Park – a great choice for hiking and wild swimming in the Silfra fissure – is less than an hour away. The Vatnajokull National Park, home to one of the largest glaciers in the world, is a little further away at around five hours.
How to do it
For a quick, accessible tour of some of the country’s most famed sites, opt for the South Iceland Winter Fly-Drive package from Regent Holidays. After picking up your hire car on arrival, you’ll cross Skogafoss, Thingvellir, the Geysir and more – including the famous Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon – over a period of five days, with stays in different Icelandic towns along the way. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to hike, climb and wild swim.
Prices start at £890pp including all accommodation, return flights, car hire (with unlimited mileage) and breakfasts.
To describe a city as famous as Paris as “having a moment” may seem strange, but it’s true; the City of Light will host the Olympics in 2024, while in late October 2023 it will be the battle ground for the two teams contending the 2023 Rugby World Cup final. While there are other host cities, no city in France has quite the same range of activities, nor is as splendidly picturesque.
What you do in the French capital depends on the family interests, though a visit to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Champs-Elysees and the banks of the Seine are up there if you want to tick off the ‘best bits’. Other renowned galleries, districts and parks include the Louvre, Montmartre and the Jardin du Luxembourg, where a series of rides and playgrounds will keep younger kids entertained for hours.
For those of a certain age group, no family trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to Disneyland too. Sitting less than an hour from the centre of Paris, a day at the park is easily combined with a city break.
How to do it
Magic Breaks provide several accommodation and park ticket options in each of the Disneyland’s hotels. Off-site hotels are available but without the park entry included; tickets for three days during half-term are around £250, so the best-value option is a stay at the Hotel Santa Fe. With free shuttles to the main area you’re in the best position to take advantage of the park’s early entry times, with three days’ worth of fun at your fingertips. Prices start from £317pp, including accommodation and park tickets (excludes travel).
Masai Mara, Kenya
October marks the last month of the dry season in the this part of Kenya, and though the earlier part of the month is supposedly best for seeing the wildebeest migration, a visit in the half-term still provides opportunities to see the Big Five and experience the vast plains of one of the world’s most incredible national parks. The weather is pleasantly warm on average, though lows are around 12C, so it’s best to take some cold-weather clothing for the mornings and evenings.
For most children, the possibility of seeing any of the main game animals (lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and buffalos) will be enough to capture the imagination, though the Masai Mara is also a particularly good place to spot cheetahs, giraffes and zebras on the savannah and hippos or Nile crocodiles in the Mara River. This once-in-a-lifetime experience can be completed with a stay in a safari lodge, where accommodation ranges from large huts to luxe safari tents, and guests fall asleep to the hum of animal activity.
How to do it
Trailfinders has a three-day, two-night safari package in the Masai Mara that offers three separate game drives, giving plenty of opportunity to see the full range of local animals. Prices start from £888pp and include return transport from Nairobi, six meals across the three days and all the relevant park fees.
A wave of russet-roofed, stone buildings rising from the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik is famed for its charming Old Town. Surrounded by centuries-old city walls and paved in limestone, the area is a network of wide streets, hidden alleys and grand squares that houses a seemingly never-ending range of bars, restaurants and shops.
A walking tour of the entire area is a good option for learning more about the city, and Game of Thrones fans will enjoy a themed tour of some of the sites used in the series, including Lovrijenac Fort (The Red Keep) and the Jesuit Staircase. Alternatively, take a walk around the fortified walls, or for even better views of the city, catch the Dubrovnik cable car, which leaves from a stop outside of the Old Town and ascends Mount Srd.
There are also plenty of nearby beaches for enjoying a relaxing day on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Some of the best include Copacabana, Lapad and Lokrum Island, all of which also offer water sports.
How to do it
There are plenty of providers offering trips to Dubrovnik, but Jet2’s package stay at the Sun Gardens hotel is among the best for families due to several pools and kids’ clubs, as well as an outdoor play area and nearby beach. The hotel also contains seven a la carte restaurants and one buffet, so even the fussiest of eaters will likely find something to suit. Prices start at £540pp for a self-catered four-night stay with flights, transfers and 22kg of checked luggage per person.
For the chance to see a true natural phenomenon during your half-term break, choose Tromso. This city in the far north of Norway sits in the centre of the Aurora Oval, and its tourism website confidently declares that it is “one of the places in the world with the highest probability of seeing the Northern Lights”.
Though your evenings will be taken up by hunting the aurorae, days can be spent exploring the city and the surrounding area. September and October are usually the only months where there’s a possibility of seeing the lights without freezing conditions.
Hiking is especially popular in autumn, with husky-sledding, boat tours and fjord excursions also available. Back in town, the planetarium and science centre offer immersive experiences for kids, and a trip on the cable car gives amazing panoramic views over the city, lakes and mountains.
How to do it
The Aurora Zone offers a Northern Lights City Break package, with kid-friendly activities consisting of a visit to a husky camp and an evening Northern Lights cruise. Prices start at £795pp, including three nights’ accommodation, airport transfers, four meals and activities.
Read our reviews of the best hotels in Europe