25 Bucket-List Places to Take Your Kids

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mother and son embracing in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
Photo credit: Imgorthand/istockphoto

Parents are afforded roughly 18 summers to take their children on family vacations that not only shape their development as human beings, but also provide entertainment and create lasting memories together. If you subtract the years when children are very young and unable to truly absorb all the benefits of travel, the opportunity for such trips is even briefer. With that in mind, here are some of the bucket list trips to take your child on before they turn 18 and head out to explore the world on their own.
beautiful Philadelphia downtown skyline at sunset
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Expose your children to the birthplace of the nation's independence in Philadelphia. Tour Independence Hall National Historical Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — to show them where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. Then, walk across the cobblestone street to visit the Liberty Bell Center and learn about how everyone from Abolitionists to women's suffrage advocates and Civil Rights leaders took inspiration from its inscription.
buffalos in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
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Regarded by many as the first national park in the world (some argue the oldest is Bogd Khan Uul National Park in Mongolia), Yellowstone showcases some of the most stunning landscapes in this country. From watching the famed geyser Old Faithful erupt to walking around Grand Prismatic Spring, to encountering bison and bears, Yellowstone can be a captivating experience for children. Yet another option is to explore the park by kayak. OARS offers five and six-day kayaking trips that allow young participants to build their confidence in the outdoors.
Indiana Dunes, IN
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Occupying 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline with sandy beaches, more than 70 miles of trails, and at least 350 species of birds, Indiana Dunes Country offers countless memorable family activities. Kids can explore 10,000 years of dunes history dating back to the Ice Age at interactive museums including the Porter County Museum, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For those who prefer the outdoors, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and State Park offers hiking, camping, and an opportunity to simply enjoy a family day at the beach.
Memphis, Tennessee
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The legendary home of blues, soul, and rock n' roll, Memphis is on many travelers' bucket lists. But for kids in particular, one of the top reasons to visit is the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum tells the story of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement — from slavery to today's human rights movements, kids can learn about everything from the freedom fighters of the 1950s and 1960s to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and more.
Plymouth, Massachusetts
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In September 1620, 102 passengers departed from England and headed for the New World, ultimately landing in what became Plymouth, Massachusetts. Today, the destination provides interactive learning about a formative chapter in U.S. history. Plimoth Plantation is a living history museum and brings the Pilgrim and Wampanoag story to life through costumed educators. Beyond the plantation, the town offers activities like whale watching, evening ghost tours, and harbor cruises.
Galapagos giant tortoise on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
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The Galapagos includes 18 major islands and more than 100 smaller bodies of land. The region is home to a fascinating array of animals, from giant tortoises to iguanas, fur seals, and sea lions, plus 26 species of native birds. The islands are a UNESCO World Heritage site and a living laboratory for scientists and naturalists, not to mention the key role they played in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Exploring the islands via cruise or small boat tours is the most environmentally-friendly option.
male mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda
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The East African nation has become a popular choice for multi-generational travel, attracting families interested in learning about conservation and other cultures. Kids 15 and over can trek with rare mountain gorillas in the country's lush southwestern mountains of Bwindi Forest. Uganda is one of just three remaining countries where mountain gorillas still live in the wild — only about 800 are left in the world.
airboat full of tourists in Everglades National Park, Florida
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A unique Florida wetland ecosystem covering more than 1.5-million acres, the Everglades are the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. Visitors can boat along the wetlands, bike through pinelands, and spend time hiking in search of the many cool critters that call the park home. Manatees, roseate spoonbills, ivory-billed woodpeckers and the rare Florida panther are just some of the animals that live here.
tour boats on Seine River, Paris
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In addition to Paris being a great place to introduce children to famous art and stunning architecture, the City of Lights also offers a variety of unique and kid-friendly tours. Suzanne Wolko, creator of the site PhilaTravelGirl, recommends behind the scenes tours of a patisserie to watch macaroons and chocolate being made, or a boulangerie tour where baguettes and croissants are prepared. Some companies even offer treasure hunts in famous Paris museums.
Big Ben Clock Tower and London Bus
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Home of Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, and some of the world's best there is plenty for children to explore in London, a city steeped in history and culture. And while there, don't miss getting outside the city to explore Stonehenge with children, allowing them to walk in the footsteps of our Neolithic ancestors at one of the best-known prehistoric monuments in Europe.
Boston Public Garden in Boston
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One of the top activities in Boston for families is a Freedom Trail tour, which takes participants through the history of the American Revolution with guides in 18th-century costumes. History is just one of Boston's attractions. The city is overflowing with engaging activities for younger travelers, says Chez Chesak, former executive director of the Family Travel Association. More top options include swan boat rides at the Boston Public Garden, Duck Boat tours of the city, and the sprawling Museum of Science.
group of brown nears fishing for salmon in Katmai National Park, Alaska
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Among the many unforgettable options recommended by Erin Kirkland, author of "Alaska On the Go: Exploring the 49th State with Children," is bear-viewing flights with Rust's Flying Service, which allow for observing the state's stunning, rugged nature. Another popular activity is rafting and fishing along the Kenai River. Consider guided fishing or glacier tours, too. For young foodies, Juneau Food Tours offer a kayak-and-food tour combo.
waterfall in Costa Rica
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Lonely Planet describes Costa Rica as a playground for families. Known for being home to some of the most stunning rainforests in the world, one of the most memorable ways to get up close is via a canopy tour, which involves sightseeing via zip line. River rafting, exploring waterfalls, surfing, and wildlife watching are among the other kid favorites here. And did we mention the volcanos?
Pennsylvania Avenue and United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.
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There is much to be learned visiting the many world-class museums here, not to mention touring the Capitol building, walking past the White House, and exploring the Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials. Museums not to miss in D.C. include the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Children's Museum, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where kids can watch money being printed.
Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia
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Yes, it may be a long flight, but if the kids can survive that part, Australia has a lot to offer families. One of the first stops should be Sydney, Australia's biggest city, where families can explore Sydney Harbor, take in the stunning Sydney Opera House, and get a surf lesson at Manly Beach. For families that really like to get away from it all, Tasmania offers engaging history and accessible wilderness. While there camp at Freycinet National Park, which is home to dramatic pink granite peaks, secluded bays, and white sandy beaches.
Reynisfjara Beach in Iceland
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Glaciers, black lava, the Northern Lights, and a culture and landscape vastly different from the United States give kids a lot to discover in Iceland. It's also an extremely safe and friendly country. Top sights here include black sand Reynisfjara Beach, the Blue Lagoon (a geothermal spa filled with sea water that's believed to be healing) and Thingvellir National Park.
Honokalani Beach
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Hawaii is a natural place to engage children in both fun and learning. Hana on the island of Maui can give junior geologists some inspiration with Black Sand Beach (Honokalani Beach) and the Hana Lava Tubes, which were formed 960 years ago from molten lava spewing into the ocean. If the swimming and hiking isn't educational enough, the family can see the benefits of conservation efforts in the Garden of Eden Arboretum where nurturing native plants and emphasizing proper land use and development techniques have preserved some of the island's native beauty.

African Bush Elephants in Kruger National Park, South Africa
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When visiting Kruger National Park with children, book a safari that caters to young visitors. Some camps offer interactive bush walks, during which game rangers teach children how to identify animals by their spoor (tracks) and droppings. Want to visit on a budget? African Budget Safaris offers trips starting at $824 per adult and $412 for kids under 12.
ruins of the Roman Forum, Italy
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A city with nearly 3,000 years of globally influential art, architecture and culture on display is a must for any young traveler's bucket list. The iconic Roman Colosseum where gladiator games were once held is endlessly fascinating for young minds — and they recently opened the highest levels of the historic amphitheater to the public for the first time in four decades. Yet another fun way to expose kids to the city is through a walking tour that includes gelato sampling. And don't miss climbing to the top of St. Peter's Dome at the Vatican, where you'll have sweeping views of the city.
Athens, Greece and Acropolis in the evening
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Athens offers a first-hand view of world history for young minds. Kids can travel back to the golden age of Pericles with a visit to the Acropolis and learn about the birthplace of democracy. After visiting the ruins, stop at the Acropolis Museum, which showcases the archaeological finds from the famed site. To help engage children even further, the museum even provides backpacks for kids filled with games, activities and a family trail map that leads kids through the museum.
Lower Manhattan cityscape, New York City
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The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island (the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the U.S.) and the Empire State Building are just some of the fascinating experiences for children in the Big Apple. There's also the American Museum of Natural History and the One World Observatory, which commemorates the 9-11 attacks. Want to add a little delicious fun to the mix? Try a Brooklyn Chocolate Tour where kids can sample artisanal treats. Get a New York City Explorer Pass to save money on all the activities.
cityscape of Cochem and the River Moselle, Germany
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A visit to Germany can expose children to fairytale-like castles (particularly in Bavaria), medieval towns, the story of the Berlin Wall, and for those old enough, even teach them about the Nazi regime and the atrocities suffered by Jewish citizens during the holocaust. Yet another fascinating stop is Stuttgart and the Black Forest, where there's opportunities for farm stays and walking forest trails.
visitors enjoying views of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
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What would childhood be without a visit to one of the country's greatest natural wonders? Chez Chesak says one of the best ways for kids to truly appreciate and experience this sprawling wonder is to hike down into the canyon (at least a little bit.) There are also ranger programs at the park designed to engage kids. The park also includes the Yavapai Museum of Geology, featuring exhibits that explain the deposition of the rock layer.
Amsterdam sunset city skyline at canal waterfront
Photo credit: Noppasin Wongchum/istockphoto

The canals, the colorful architecture, and Anne Frank's house are some of the top reasons to bring your young traveler to Amsterdam. The hands-on NEMO science museum is another memorable stop, offering chemistry experiments, mathematics discoveries, and more. The city is also home to the Van Gogh Museum, the world's largest collection of the artist's work. Also, don't miss taking a canal boat ride to take in the city's unique architecture.
crowd on Main Street USA at Disney
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What's not to love about Disney World if you're a kid (or even a grown-up)? Thanks to a park that spans 40-square-miles, families could easily spend a week here creating lasting memories as they meet beloved characters, go on rides, and even travel the world (via the world showcase of 11 nations at Epcot). It's no surprise many come back the next year (and the year after that) and do it all over again.

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