Captive animals vs. the open plains
Captive animals vs. the open plains (Photo by osseous)

Family holidays ideas - not a theme park in sight!

Sick of theme parks, kids' clubs and zoos? Here is our creative selection box of family trips to help you swerve the clichéd route, and navigate your way through the barrage of cheesy holiday ads and identikit holidays.

Go wildlife watching in South Africa
Children are as programmed to want to go to Disney World as we are to want to go to the pub after work on a Friday, and though Disney's Animal Kingdom may try its best to immerse visitors into an African 'theme', why go and see animals in a faux-safari when it's just as easy to see them in Africa proper. 'But what about malaria?' we hear you cry. Don't let the prospect of taking antimalarial medication put you off a family trip to Africa and don't be fooled into thinking Disney's Animal Kingdom is the only alternative either. Step in South Africa: a safari destination that could have been designed for families, with incredible wildlife which you can watch while on safari without all the pill-popping and mosquito nets. Much of the country is malaria free, with a low risk only in Kruger.

Explore Indiana Jones' Jordan
Theme park vs. real explorers
Theme park vs. real explorers (Photo by davebloggs007)
In pursuit of fortune, glory and historical fact finding, archaeologist Indiana Jones engaged in daredevil adventures across the globe. Does this scream theme park to you? Thought not. Now, we're no Disney bashers (said us, never), but we do think that recreating the spirit of Indi's adventures requires a little more authenticity than a VIP queue jump on a first-come-first-served basis. Scrap Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure and go on a real one in Petra; hand-carved into sandstone cliff, the Treasury at the Jordanian ancient site is the mind-blowing secret temple in Indi's Last Crusade. Besides that, Petra, Jordan's 'rose-red city', is utterly fascinating and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Sure to get young minds far more switched on that a four-pint cup of cola would.

Experience Spain beyond Benidorm
Benidorm vs. the real Spain
Benidorm vs. the real Spain (Photo by Jose A.)
There is no greater love affair than that between the Brits and Benidorm, a sad fact really and one where the phrase 'to each their own' has never applied more vehemently. There's nothing wrong with a fly and flop family holiday in the sun of course, and what kid doesn't like a bit of bucket and spade action, but venture beyond the Costas and Spain is a fascinating country that's far greater than the sum of it's warm-weather parts. There's the sun-scorched Moorish cities of Andalucía to explore, or the beautiful beaches and green hills of Galicia, not to mention cliffs, caves, mountains and plains where you can hike, bike and canyon together. Try whitewater rafting on the rivers of the Pyrenees, kayaking around the turquoise lakes of the Andalucian Altiplano or even hiking in the breathtaking Picos de Europa, a frequently snow-draped limestone massif - enough to keep kids of any age and their parents occupied.

Croatian charm that won't break the bank
Center Parcs vs. beautiful Croatia
Center Parcs vs. beautiful Croatia (Photos by Niki Odolphie and Alberto Otero García)
Think half term, think Center Parcs; an obvious and excruciatingly expensive option for a short family break. Yes, it has subtropical swimming pools, forests, and its supposed trump card - a UK location; but for a truly authentic alternative that brings you every conceivable outdoor activity in two hours' flying time and, hallelujah, has a year round climate, so you won't get financially fleeced to flock there only when the sun shines, consider Croatia. For water babies, the amiable archipelago is a constant stream of aqua adventures - the Plitvice Lakes National Park alone is home to 16 lakes and a host of tumbling waterfalls; for families who like their adrenalin served thick and fast, why not spend an action packed week sea kayaking, biking and hiking around the Dubrovnik region. The options are endless. (And there's no Café Rouge.)

There's more to Finland than Father Christmas
Flying visit vs. magical Finland
Flying visit vs. magical Finland (Flight photo by Niels Heidenreich)
Now call us old fashioned, but we were under the impression that there was a lot more to Finland than flying there and back in one day to visit a former nuclear bunker and queue to see a man impersonating Father Christmas (because of course he's very real and also very busy in his workshop at the mo.) Doubtless an experience about as memorable as yet another overpriced toastie at Center Parcs. Here's an idea: go to Finland, see the fat man dressed in red if you like, but stay for longer than a day? That way you can take your time and waste not one drop of its splintered archipelagos, 188,000 lakes, back to basics nature and seriously characterful locals, not least miss out on a husky safari, which is an experience akin to a great big snowy bubble of adrenalin-charged happiness. Remember, a Finnish holiday is for life, not just for Christmas.
Convert currencies