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10 Family-Friendly Vacation Destinations That Even Your Jaded Teenagers Will Love

Want to unplug your high schooler and get your middle school kids to stop rolling their eyes when you mention a family trip? Check out these family vacations for teens that will have even "seen it all" big kids staring wide-eyed in wonder.

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South Africa

Whether it’s climbing to the top of Table Mountain in cosmopolitan Cape Town or searching for The Big 5 of safari lore (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and Cape buffalo) in the wild bush of Kruger National Park, few places on the globe offer the level of thrills available every moment of a South African adventure (which is happily an affordable travel destination that makes you feel like a VIP). Micato Safaris, which specializes in arranging trips throughout Africa for families, says: Devices are put on hold and imaginations are engaged on family safaris. Fabulous sights are seen, horizons stretched, educations enhanced, and bonds strengthened. And if that weren’t enough, there an added bonus: For every trip booked with Micato, they send a child to school. Talk about a win-win. Stuck without a passport? These U.S. islands are great for the whole family.

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Thailand and Cambodia

Thailand is such a friendly destination it’s actually known as the “Land of Smiles,” making it an easy choice for a family vacation with teens. In addition to gracious service and amazing culinary delights, all within a family budget, there’s plenty to capture teen’s attentions, whether it’s visiting glowing temples by boat along the canals of Bangkok, interacting with rescued elephants at animal sanctuaries in the lush forests of the Golden Triangle in the north, or exploring the palm-tree fringed beaches of tropical Phuket in the south. A quick hop north of the border brings you to the treasures of Angkor Wat in Cambodia where you can all climb the ancient temples at dawn to see the sun rise over the 900-year-old ruins. Anantara Resorts are ideal for teens, with destination pools, great access to local attractions, fantastic snacks and restaurant offerings, plus their resident “gurus” can coordinate and escort families on adventures in any of these exotic locations.

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Cruising the Rhine River in Germany

One of the best vacations for teens and intergenerational families is a river cruise along the storybook Rhine. Even the biggest kids are impressed by the three dozen castles that line the Rhine River Gorge, best seen rolling along the river on a comfy river cruise, jumping off at ports to see Heidelburg Castle up close, tasting the wares at a pretzel factory, or choosing outdoor adventures such a ziplining near the Triberg Waterfalls. Amawaterways ships all carry bikes on board for exploring and have a pool on deck for truly immersive sightseeing.

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Lagoons, and glaciers, and volcanoes—oh my! Not to mention some of the most incredible waterfalls in the world, natural thermal baths, and Viking heritage—Iceland literally has something for every teen adventure seeker within its diverse and beautiful natural landscapes. Adventures by Disney offers family tours that take in everything from whitewater rafting down a glacial river to hiking over waterfalls to cruising right along icecaps creating a perfect family adventure with teens.

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Yes, it’s a big state. But we couldn’t choose just one of the state’s vacation destinations for teens in what’s recently been dubbed Kidifornia. Choose from funky San Francisco where you can bike across the Golden Gate Bridge or visit the prison island of Alcatraz; hip Los Angeles to people watch in Venice Beach and shop in Santa Monica; Yosemite National Park to get back to nature and see the towering Sequoias (you can even bring your dog to this national park); or Palm Springs to swing a golf club and ride the longest rotating aerial tramway in the world! Mix and match your own adventure; you won’t be disappointed.

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Vibrant Tokyo, with its teen-friendly cafes, manga, and youth-focused culture, is just part of the reason Japan should be the top of a family vacations with teens list. Hop on a speeding Bullet Train, try your hand at origami, or try a vacation cooking school to learn how to slice up perfect sushi. For a different kind of knife attraction, don’t miss the Ninja Dojo experience in Kyoto or Edo Wonderland historical park in Nikko, says Audley Travel whose Japanese specialists craft unique family trips to the Land of the Rising Sun.

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New York City

How could the “City That Never Sleeps” not be a pull for teens? From the graffitied streets of the Lower East Side to the bustling sidewalks of Chinatown to the wind-in-your-face speed boat tours of the Hudson River on The Beast, there’s excitement around every corner. No one, teens included, can stay stoic at the memorial to 9-11 at the Twin Towers sites, or not be moved by a visit to immigrant ancestors at Ellis Island. Balance out the history with the neon lights of Times Square and a Broadway show.

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Italy is a non-stop buffet, both for the stomach and the mind, of teens. First there’s gelato, pizza, and pasta quite literally on every corner. If you’re taking a family vacation with teens in Rome, book a tour of the Colosseum to go down to the dungeon depths where the animals and gladiators stayed before their matches. In Florence, take a cooking class to learn to make fresh pasta, or hike to the top of the duomo to literally be inside the massive rooftop dome. In Venice, don’t just float on a gondola, learn to punt your own with a unique gondola lesson that their sure to remember. Before you book your trip, brush up on these Italian phrases everyone should know.

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The Galapagos Islands

Marvel as a penguin dives into the water in front of you, find yourself eye to eye with a young sea lion blowing bubbles in your snorkeling mask, or watch as green sea turtle glide past as you float above rainbows of tropical fish. One of the best vacations with teens and families who love water and wildlife is a cruise through the remote and fantastical Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. Quasar Expeditions offers family cruises aboard their intimate ships that offer fascinating looks at the amazing ecosystems of the islands with their guides, plus close-up views of the whales, dolphins, and rays that swim in the surrounding Pacific Ocean waters.

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Peru is a perfect vacation destinations for teens looking to improve their Spanish while they uncover the mystery and wonder of Machu Picchu on a family adventure that also includes kayaking on a lake high in the Andes, feeding alpacas and llamas, and even paragliding along Lima’s coast from colorful Miraflores. A&K Family Journeys lead teens and parents on escorted tours around the myriad highlights of Peru, including time to meet local kids for a game of soccer.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is an intrepid explorer and award-winning travel journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She covers topics ranging from family travel and Disney to honeymoons and romantic beaches and everything in between.