Packing up the kids and sailing off into the sunset sounds like a pretty idyllic way to travel. Granted, my sea legs are not the strongest and I like to be in sight of dry land most of the time but I like the sound of family Sailing Holidays. Not only can you be master of your own destiny, sailing from port to port, but learning to sail together binds you as a family. You have to work as a team, everyone learns new skills and takes on individual responsibilities, and you spend a lot of time together as a family (often in a very small space!).
Not long ago I spoke to author and adventurer Caspar Craven who, with his wife and three children, sold up and set sail around the world. It was, he says, the best thing his family ever did. It’s highly unlikely that I will ever embark on a trip like his but as we explore ideas for our family summer holiday, a sailing holiday is one that we are considering especially given how many beautiful places there are to explore by boat in Europe. Here are seven of the best.
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The best places to sail in Europe with kids
Ionian Islands, Greece
With turquoise seas and long summers, it’s no wonder that thousands of sailors visit the Ionian Islands every year. Expect lots of white-washed villages, beautiful beaches, traditional tavernas and sun-kissed harbours as you sail from port to port. Start from Corfu or Lefkada and sail your way past the seven larger islands and myriad smaller ones stopping at as many of them as you can manage. The Lonely Planet guide to Greece has a great section on the Ionian Islands.
- Beautiful crystalline waters
- Sea caves and blue lagoons
- Centuries-old olive groves
- Charming seaside towns
- White sand and pebble beaches
Sporades Islands, Greece
You can never have too much of a good thing which is why Greece is on this list for the second time. The Sporades Islands lie to the North of Athens, in the Aegean Sea, and are famous for their green-blue seas as well as being the setting for the 2008 Mamma Mia movie! They’re also known for the summer meltemi winds, which can be strong at times so this is a destination for more experienced sailors. But if you can tell your ‘lee ho’ from your ‘ready about’ then this area is a dream to discover by boat. Stop at one of the pretty islands or drop anchor in a sheltered bay and sleep under the stars.
- Lesser known but beautiful islands
- Only four of the 24 islands are inhabited
- Beautiful beaches and stunning blue waters
- Rich in aquatic life including monk seals and dolphins
- Delicious local cuisines
Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
I visited Croatia some 14 years ago and we island hopped by ferry, which I loved, so I can only imagine how much fun sailing here would be. There are some 1185 islands dotting the Adriatic coast and the best way to explore them is by boat. Expect historic towns, charming fishing villages, sun-soaked beaches and lots of good food. You can’t go wrong with any of the islands, really, but obviously Dubrovnik and Split should be on your radar as well as Hvar, Korčula and Vis, home to the blue cave of Biševo.
- Beautiful and diverse islands
- Amazing swimming spots
- Pristine forests and stunning waterfalls
- Incredible food and wine
Island hop between this group of tiny Portuguese-owned islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Still relatively undiscovered, these nine volcanic islands boast lush green vegetation and hot springs that you can bathe in. The waters surrounding the Azores are rich in sea life including dolphins and whales, who may just swim alongside your boat.
- Lesser known so fewer crowds
- Incredible marine life including 25 different species of whales
- Hot springs, fumaroles and mud pools
- Delicious traditional cooking
Devon might not boast the same kind of weather as some of these other destinations but it’s still a great place for a family sailing holiday. The Jurassic Coast, the strip of ancient coastline that stretches from East Devon to Dorset, is home to rock formations dating back some 185 million years! Set sail from Weymouth and tootle along the coastline stopping along at characterful coastal and river towns along the way.
- Pretty boating towns
- Agatha Christie’s private holiday home on the River Dart
- Lundy Island, otherwise known as Britain’s Galapagos
- Fossil collection in Charmouth
For somewhere a little different try Corsica, one of the best kept secrets of the Western Mediterranean. Its location means that it hasn’t seen the same kind of mass tourism as other corners of France meaning a slower and more traditional way of life. Expect unspoilt beaches, small fishing villages, hidden bays and the perfect climate. Don’t miss the capital Ajaccio (birthplace of French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte) and the lively town of Bonifacio, home to a medieval clifftop citadel
- Calvi, reputedly the birthplace of Christopher Columbus
- Stunning beaches and evergreen forests
- The Gulf of Girolata, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- The only desert in Europe, the Desert des Agriates
The Balearics, the cluster of islands of Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera, are popular party destinations but they’re also a great place to set sail. The islands are home to sun kissed beaches, hidden bays, stunning landscapes and delicious Mediterranean cuisine. They also boast and fascinating history having hosted everyone from the ancient Greeks to European hippies. Conditions are perfect for novice skippers too; calm waters, mild temperatures and lots to see and do.
- Secluded coves and white sand beaches
- Year-round mild climate
- Mahon, the second deepest natural port in the world
- The vibrant city and Balearic capital, Palma de Mallorca
Where have I missed? If you love to go on family sailing holidays then please let me know in the comments your favourite places to sail!