The best European family vacations allow you to spend quality time with your clan with minimal stress and planning hassle, and the top European family holiday resorts do just that.
Ask your family what they want from a holiday and you are bound to get a host of conflicting requests. Demands for plenty to do, versus time to do nothing. Music and games, versus blissful quiet. Exciting cuisine, versus pizza and ice cream - I could go on. It is no wonder, then, that creating the kind of resort that parents - and their children - want to return to is something of an art.
The destination must be right. The beaches must be safe and family-friendly. Ideally there will be some relaxed sightseeing on offer and not too much in the way of nightlife. Opinions will then vary about the hotel itself but, to make life easier, we have narrowed down the best resort destinations for a bells-and-whistles, family beach vacation in some of the best places to visit in Europe.
The seven resorts highlighted below are home to a range of hotels, with different price points and different styles of accommodation. So simply take a look and decide which is the best fit for your tribe.
The best European family vacations
1. Paphos, Cyprus
A firm favourite with anyone looking for late-season sun, Paphos suits older children particularly and offers Blue Flag beaches (though lots are pebbly/rocky) with an average temperature of 26 degrees well into the autumn, making it one of the best places to visit in October. Seek out the hotels that are designed for families but still manage to be beautifully stylish.
There are plenty of myth-tinged adventures to be had outside of the many resort hotels, with abandoned Cypriot villages to visit, Roman mosaics to see at The House of Dionysus and Aphrodite's rock to paddle at. Families can also dip a toe in the goddess's bathing pool, found within the Akamas nature reserve. Active kids can also try rock-climbing in a nearby gorge or pony-trekking.
Where to stay: Slick, five-star properties in Paphos, such as those offered by Scott Dunn, feature white drapes on cabanas, top-notch spas and action-packed kids clubs. Try Almyra (rooms from £185, almyra.com), which has cool, contemporary decor, five restaurants, a spa, many amazing swimming pools and some particularly adventurous childrens’ activities.
2. Alcudia, Majorca
Set on a long, white-sand bay that is backed by palm trees, Port d’ Alcudia is a bustling resort with an attractive marina lined with some good restaurants. Just minutes away, and adding to its appeal, is Alcudia town, which is set inland and has some medieval buildings and atmospheric streets, hemmed in by fortified walls.
There is also lots to do up and down the 3km of soft, Blue Flag beach. The sea is clean and shallow, so swimming is safe and there are lifeguards in summer. Older children will appreciate the wide range of watersports on offer, with everything from sedate, stand-up paddleboarding, to paragliding available.
Where to stay: The best family resort is Zafiro Palace Alcudia (rooms from £99 a night, zafirohotels.com), a five-star all-inclusive with all the pools, clubs and activities a child could wish for, plus a spoiling spa and tempting restaurants for parents.
3. Halkidiki, Greece
While the Greek islands are usually the first place people look when thinking of the best European family vacations, mainland Greece has plenty to offer and arguably more freedom and flexibility for a two week trip.
A region of lush, green headlands reaching into the Aegean, Halkidiki is a beach-lover’s dream, with an array of sheltered and tranquil beaches to explore, all lapped by turquoise water. Sithonia is the peninsula with the most beaches and countless, quiet coves.
Kassandra’s beaches are more organised, with Possidi a popular choice for families, with shallow water. Cycling is a growth activity here, which might be something that families with active children can try.
Where to stay: The Sani Resort hotels offer a varied choice of accommodation and a cycling academy. Sani Asterias (junior suite from £274 a night, sani-resort.com) is the most exclusive. The low-level buildings and suites overlook a marina or the private beach and there is more of a boutique feel here than at Sani Beach, though the latter is also popular with families. Asterias is good for young children, with a calming feel, children’s menus and even a service where babies and toddlers are watched on the beach while parents take a dip in the sea.
4. Elounda, Crete
Crete is one of the best European islands for a fun and sun-filled family vacation and this former fishing village on the north-east of the island has it all, in modest proportions. Families love its attractive harbour, the traditional villages that can be visited nearby and the choice of safe crescents of sand and shingle. The former leper colony of Spinalonga is also close by, for some easy sightseeing, as are the underwater ruins of ancient Olous, for older children who can snorkel.
Elounda is home to some of Crete’s best hotels, so expect some upmarket affairs that appeal to families wanting a hassle-free break where they can be sure children are taken care of.
Where to stay: The five-star Domes of Elounda (suites from £255 a night, domesresorts.com) resort offers refined service and stylish facilities that are a touch above the average, with eco-friendly playgrounds, an Ofsted-approved nursery, evening art sessions, puppet theatre, circus skills and a range of handy in-room amenities. A great affordable luxury vacation destination.
5. Algarve, Portugal
It may have its over-developed sections but there are still plenty of reasons why the Algarve is popular and one of the best places to visit in July every year. With a gorgeous selection of golden sand beaches and cliff-backed coves to choose from, plus friendly, whitewashed fishing villages in between, the region offers reliable sunshine and easygoing charm.
Its trademark vistas - burnt ochre landscapes set against a deep, azure sea - are easy to find, yet hard to beat. With a long tradition of welcoming visitors from overseas, there are some standout hotels for families too, with many great options that offer reliably good value for money.
Where to stay: The spacious and expertly-run Martinhal resorts are deservedly popular. Visitors return for their renowned kids clubs - which have expansive facilities, that include imaginative playgrounds and giant trampolines - babysitting and spas. Martinhal Sagres (two-bedroom ocean houses from £360 a night, martinhal.com/sagres) is set next to an unspoilt, golden beach, and offers guests townhouses, ocean-view houses or villas to stay in.
6. Costa Adeje, Tenerife
With two Blue Flag beaches and options for laidback shopping, this is one of the livelier resorts on this list, with bustling restaurants and opportunities to hear live music in the evening in high season. The beaches suit older children and offer the full range of watersports, alternatively, families can take boat trips out whale and dolphin-spotting or can make a splash at one of two huge water parks.
Where to stay: With access to the promenade at Playa del Duque, Bahia del Duque (rooms from £300 a night, thetaishotels.com) is a luxurious family-friendly hotel with Renaissance-style architecture, an award-winning spa, eight restaurants (one of which has a Michelin star), plus a selection of exclusive villas. The hotel is offering new experiences that focus on nature, such as volcano treks to Mount Teide, private stargazing trips and even a submarine experience.
7. Santa Margherita di Pula, Sardinia
Sardinia is blessed with powdery beaches and coves but this nearly 10km-long stretch of creamy sand has a secluded feel to it, thanks to its location and due to the dense pine woods at its back. Between the trees are a handful of smart resort hotels, along with some exclusive, private villas dotted about.
Above the glass-like sea, older children can windsurf, beneath, there is a multitude of fish. The overall effect is one of well-heeled peacefulness, making this an ideal choice for a family who wants to feel as if they have got away from it all, while having all the little comforts they need to hand.
Where to stay: The Forte Village complex includes nine swimming pools and a range of hotels, some that have bungalows for larger family groups. The resort also has its own waterparks, sports academies, bike hire, a spa and the Wonderland amusement park, filled with television characters. Forte Village Bouganville (bungalows from £530 per night, fortevillageresort.com) is the most affordable and offers patios among flower beds.
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Natalie Paris began her career writing news before she moved into travel, where she then spent a decade writing, commissioning and editing content for the website and print section of a national newspaper.
She is now a freelance travel writer who enjoys getting stuck into features, reviews, lists and opinion pieces. She has two young children and so writes a lot about travelling with them, as well as music festivals, culture and food.
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