If history is your thing, and the kids find movies like Troy fascinating, then Athens offers a wealth of treasures for the entire family. The Greek capital’s classical beauty is only enhanced by tree-lined boulevards, an easy-going atmosphere and tavernas galore, plus there’s the added thrill of coming across ruins all over the place.
A trip up to the ancient citadel of Acropolis, home to the Parthenon – perhaps the most enduring image of Greece – is perfect to get your tots acquainted with Greek history, and how philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates and Pythagoras shaped the course of civil societies. Visit early in the morning to see the marble structure, considered the finest example of Classical Greek architecture, in a new light.
Don’t miss the fabulous Acropolis Museum, where nearly 4,000 archaeological exhibits take up a sprawling 14,000 sq m of space, and where the kids can borrow a backpack with three different games to play while looking at the exhibits. And if you’re in Athens on a Sunday morning, head to Syntagma Square, where Evzones guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Parliament participate in a grand change of guard ceremony.
Getting there Dubai to Athens return fare on Emirates starts from Dh2,529.
Staying there Put up at the Hilton Athens, which is close to all the main sights in the city. It also has a babysitting service and kids’ pool. From Dh776 a night for a king guest room. Visit www.hiltonathens.gr/en.
With turquoise-azure waters, coral atolls and a cornflower sky that blends into the Indian Ocean in the horizon, the Maldives is a honeymooners’ hot spot. The impossibly romantic nation, a collective of about 1,200 islands dispersed across the sea just north of the Equator, offers year-round sunshine and beachy weather, interspersed with storms that lend it tropical charm. And although a trip to the country can burn deep holes in your pockets, its beautiful atolls are hard to resist for a quick amorous getaway or even a family vacation.
Malé, the capital, is a known hub for all kinds of seaside activities, but did you know that its Old Friday Mosque, dating back to the mid-17th century and made of coral stone, is the oldest in the country? For a quirkier experience, visit the National Museum, which is home to all kinds of displays from objects that speak of the country’s history to Maldives’ first gramophone and a skeleton of the rare Longman’s beaked whale.
However, no visit to the country is complete without exploring its water world, brimming with amazingly diverse sealife. A snorkelling expedition reveals stunning coral reefs, over 2,000 varieties of fish, as well as rays and sharks. Scuba diving is also a popular activity here, although a majority of visitors prefer lazing on the beach or languishing in one of the many luxury resorts.
Getting there Dubai to Malé return fare on flydubai starts from Dh2,214.
Staying there The beautiful Constance Halaveli, 25 minutes away by seaplane from the capital, offers 86 villas with private plunge pools. Enjoy a range of activities here such as diving and snorkelling, or get pampered at the luxe U Spa by Constance. From Dh6,244 a night. Visit www.constancehotels.com.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
A hop, skip and jump from Maldives is Sri Lanka, a tiny island country where dew-kissed greenery, a foaming sea and rolling hills are punctured with sunny fishing villages and urban centres to create a colourful tableau of nature and culture. The bustling capital, Colombo, throbs with life, and has an exciting culinary and art scene. About an hour’s drive away, the Mt Lavinia Beach is ideal to catch sunsets, while the nearby National Zoological Gardens will greatly appeal to the little ones, what with its dancing elephants, exciting sea lion performances, and antics of Sanju the chimp.
But Sri Lanka is nothing if not straight out of The Jungle Book, where wildlife thrives across its numerous sanctuaries and national parks. Drive down to the Bundala National Park, a Unesco-accredited biosphere reserve and bird-watching haven, and make a day of it with all the family. However, for greater variety of fauna, Yala – a few hours away by road – is a great bet, and its game drives and overnight camps are hugely popular. To see the quintessential Sri Lankan elephants in the wild, hit up Udawalawe National Park, which is home to at least 250 of them!
Getting there Dubai to Colombo return fare on SriLankan Airlines starts from Dh1,145.
Staying there Jetwing Beach is a luxurious beachside property in Negombo, around 45 minutes from Colombo. It offers stunning views of the Indian Ocean. From Dh506 a night. Visit www.jetwinghotels.com.
This western Indian state, best-known as the subcontinent’s party capital, offers so much more than just merry-making until daybreak. A spectacular scenery dotted with waterfalls, acres and acres of rolling hills crowned by dilapidated forts, deliciously fragrant spice plantations, and of course, brilliant beaches lend Goa a laid-back feel that’s perfect for a vacay with friends or family.
What makes it even more charming and interesting is its colonial (read Portuguese) heritage, which informs much of its culture even today. Mashed up with local influences, Goa’s architecture, including its incredible baroque churches – think the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a Unesco World Heritage Site – tells vibrant stories. Add to this quaint fishing villages and wildlife sanctuaries and you have a veritable treasure trove of sights to take in.
Trot the wild child to the lush Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary to say hello to black panthers, bison, deer, porcupines and birds, or trek up the magnificent Dudhsagar Falls and camp under the falls overnight. If you’re an adventure lover, parasailing over the Arabian Sea will prove amply exciting, as will taking a boat out to spot dolphins from Palolem Beach.
Goa’s markets are a riot of colours and a fantastic introduction to the sensory madness that India is so well-known for. The Mapusa Friday Market in north Goa is a major tourist attraction and peddles everything from local produce to clothes, jewellery, pottery, carpets, spices and other odds and ends. Speaking of spices, a trip to the Sahakari Spice Farm is a must – you’ll smell a blend of fresh, organic spices including vanilla, cloves, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg as well as many herbs. The state is also an exciting culture hub, with a fantastic jazz and art scene. Don’t miss the gallery of Mario de Miranda, one of India’s most celebrated illustrators, in the capital Panjim, and you could take home a tee or mug with one of his works printed on them.
Getting there Sharjah to Goa return fare on Air Arabia starts from Dh1,220.
Staying there Vivanta by Taj – Fort Aguada is an idyllic retreat by the sea in Candolim, and its culinary prowess is well-matched by its gorgeous views and the Jiva spa. From Dh485 a night. Visit www.vivantabytaj.com.
Just over an hour away from the UAE in the Arabian Gulf, the island country of Bahrain is exceptionally family friendly. One of its top attractions is waterparks, and there’s no way you can miss Wahooo!, the Middle East’s first indoor-outdoor waterpark sprawled across 15,000 sq m. It has rides for kids and older thrill-seekers, and a fabulous wave pool the entire family can dive into.
Another must-visit site is the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, where the Middle East’s first Formula One Grand Prix took place over a decade ago. Kids aged 12 years and over can go karting here, but that’s not to say that grown-ups can’t have some fun as well. Take your place in a Top Dragster, one of the world’s most powerful drag racing machines, which boasts a top speed of 274kph! It promises one hell of a ride.
The country has several interesting museums such as the Museum of Pearl Diving and Bahrain National Museum. But for a truly memorable time, go glamping in the desert and sleep under the stars like the Bedouins.
Getting there Dubai to Bahrain return fare on Cathay Pacific starts from Dh419.
Staying there With three outdoor pools and a private beach, Art Rotana is an oceanfront luxury resort. From Dh857 a night. Visit www.rotana.com.