Originally published in Family Vacationist December 8, 2023
Last updated and reviewed for accuracy on December 16, 2023 by Ashley Rossi.
Whether you’re headed to a popular family vacation spot with your kids or planning a big multigenerational vacation with grandparents and cousins, making your perfect family vacation ideas a reality is never easy. Guided family tours remove the hassle of mapping out an itinerary and choosing lodging and activities, though, and they’re especially nice once you’ve arrived at your destination and can sit back and let your guide handle the details.
Best Guided Tour Companies for Family Tours
From action-packed vacations to more relaxed sightseeing experiences, the best family tours and tour operators take care of all the messy details. Here are my picks for the top guided tour companies that will make your family travel adventures a total breeze.
1. National Geographic Family Journeys with G Adventures
If you’re looking to travel the world in an adventurous and educational way, you can’t beat National Geographic Family Journeys with G Adventures. Appropriate for families with kids ages seven and up, these family tours explore everywhere from U.S. national parks and Iceland’s glaciers and fjords to Costa Rica’s rainforest and the desert sands of Morocco. The trips draw on National Geographic’s expertise in areas like photography, geography, conservation, and wildlife to help bring destinations alive for families through interactive activities and experiences.
Each tour is led by two “Chief Experience Officers” who are specially trained to work with children, and tour descriptions detail the physical activity rating and service level of each particular trip. Family-friendly hotels are chosen that speak to the culture or character of the destination and have amenities like swimming pools when possible. Meal times include plenty of opportunities to try the local cuisine as well as options for not-so-adventurous eaters.
What’s included on family tours with G Adventures: Tours include all accommodations, most meals, transportation and fees for scheduled activities, and snacks and water. Families also have time to explore the area on their own and can add on optional activities if they choose.
Travel tour company Trafalgar offers more than 200 itineraries that help families enjoy memory-making experiences. Trafalgar’s tours help families learn about different cultures and take part in out-of-the-ordinary adventures in a stress-free way. With family tours in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and Australia and New Zealand, there’s a wide range of destinations and activities to suit all ages and family members. The average group size is about 40 people per trip.
Itineraries feature planned activities plus downtime to explore at your own pace, as well as the opportunity to add on optional experiences. Travel Directors take care of the details and provide an insider’s perspective on each destination. Popular family tours include a Costa Rica excursion filled with wildlife watching and a volcano trek; a pioneer adventure in the American West with visits to national parks and a train ride through the scenic landscape; and a tour of Italy offering pizza-making lessons, visits to famous landmarks, and even a stint at gladiator school.
What’s included on Trafalgar’s family tours: Tours include all accommodations and transportation during the trip plus most activities and meals.
3. Adventures by Disney
With the word Disney in its name, it should come as no surprise that Adventures by Disney is a go-to choice for family tours. Adventures by Disney (ABD) offers immersive guided tours led by Disney-trained “Adventure Guides” and local experts who help families truly experience the culture of each destination visited on all seven continents.With ABD, family tours include Land Adventures (typically with 30 to 40 guests), while its Expedition Cruises and River Cruises vary in size by destination. For a more intimate experience, families can book a Private Adventure for up to 12 travelers.
All of the company’s family tours deliver “the Disney difference,” which includes special access to local sites, activities and accommodations carefully chosen for families, memorable surprises, and the stellar service for which its parent company is known. Family tour itineraries are designed to promote togetherness, but there are also activities geared toward getting the “Junior Adventurers” (children 12 and younger) to have fun together while parents relax or explore on their own.
What’s included on Adventures by Disney’s family tours: Transfers to and from your arrival and departure spot, all transportation during the tour, accommodations, most meals and snacks, scheduled activities and entertainment, and most gratuities are included in Adventures by Disney’s tour price.
4. Thomson Family Adventures
Small group tour operator Thomson Family Adventures has been running family travel tours since the 1990s, and its expertise in that area definitely shines through. Itineraries are crafted with carefully vetted accommodations and activities, and the company prides itself on a “white-glove experience” that helps both kids and adults go beyond the basics in a destination to make lasting memories.
Its family tours feature about three to four families (and no more than 20 guests) on each tour. Expert guides lead the way, and some tours also have special guides called “rafikis” (Swahili for “friend”) to help kids get to know each other and explore the local culture. Bucket-list destinations like Tanzania, Baja, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands are popular family tour destinations offered by the company.
What’s included on family tours with Thomson Family Adventures: Tours include accommodations, entrance fees for activities, land transportation, guides, and most meals and snacks. Some destinations also include flexibility for families to explore on their own. Family groups can also book custom trips for a private family vacation experience.
Active travel company Backroads offers family trips divided into three distinct age groups: families with kids and teens (best for ages nine and up), families with older teens and 20s, and families with adult kids in their 20s and beyond. Doing this allows the company to tailor the tour activities, programming, and travel times to the specific age groups and bring together folks of similar interests and travel styles.
Backroads runs its guided tours in the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East. Popular family tours include hiking and biking in Alaska, an adventure tour of Costa Rica, and a bike tour of Tuscany. Each tour focuses on family activities and dedicated kid time and adult time for socialization among the generations (the kids might all eat together one night, for example, or the adults might head off on a bike ride while younger travelers are otherwise entertained). Family tour groups average about 16 guests per trip, but most U.S. trips can accommodate up to 26 travelers.
What’s included on Backroads’ family tours: Tours include accommodations, most meals and snacks, private tours at attractions, bikes and other equipment, and most gratuities.
6. Explore Worldwide
The small group family tours offered by Explore Worldwide generally range from three to five families with a maximum group size of between 16 and 20. The tour company offers kid-friendly tours in Asia, Europe, Africa, Central America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and North America that are suitable for children ages seven and up.
Families can also choose the level of activity they want based on everyone’s ages, interests, and abilities. The company’s “Relaxed” tours include morning downtime and pool days. “Moderate” tours have a little more activity but still some downtime. “Full-On” family tours feature busier days and some early morning starts. Expert local tour leaders help keep tour goers of all ages engaged and interested along the way, and families can skip an activity if they want to rest, relax, or explore on their own.
What’s included on Explore’s family tours: Explore Worldwide’s guided family travel tours include all accommodations, most meals, and excursions. The company seeks out family-friendly lodging with pools and unique stays like tree tents or houseboats.
7. Tauck Bridges
Tour operator Tauck’s collection of family tours (called Tauck Bridges) includes guided land journeys, European river cruises, and a small ship ocean cruise in the Galapagos Islands. These tours are designed “from the ground up” specifically for families, prioritizing elements like hotels with swimming pools and family-friendly restaurants built into every itinerary. Riverboat tours can accommodate up to 130 passengers, while group sizes for land journeys tend to average between 35 and 40 people.
The tours work well for parents traveling with young children, grandparents traveling with their grandchildren, and multigenerational family groups. Tour guides called Tauck Directors lead families on these excursions. Popular family trips include tours of the American West like the Cowboy Country tour through Wyoming and South Dakota and the Red Rocks and Painted Canyons tour in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. European itineraries are also popular with families and range from a tour of Ireland to a family river cruise in Portugal.
What’s included on family tours with Tauck: The company’s guided family trips include accommodations, all excursions, admission to all attractions, all gratuities, most meals, airport transfers, and luggage handling. Families can also book private customized tours for family groups as small as 10 people.
8. Escape Adventures
Families who want to get out and get moving on vacation will find plenty of group tour options through Escape Adventures. This tour company for active travelers offers a range of family tours throughout the United States (and one in New Zealand) where families can see the sights while biking, hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, kayaking, or canyoneering.
You don’t have to be a family of seasoned adventurers to enjoy all of the company’s family travel tours. While some offerings are tailored to experienced bikers and paddlers, others are well-suited for beginners. Tour descriptions offer information on age level, fitness level, and elevation range. Lodging options range from “first-class camping” to cabins to luxury inns. Tour groups with Escape Adventures are small—just six to 13 guests—and the guide-to-guest ratio averages one guide for every five guests.
What’s included on Escape Adventures’ family tours: Tours include all accommodations, transportation during the tour, meals (except where noted on itineraries), snacks and nonalcoholic beverages, group supplies and community gear, park fees, a mobile first aid and mechanic station, and a support vehicle or vehicles. Participants will either need to rent bikes or ship their own to the destination.
9. Intrepid Travel
Family tours offered by Intrepid Travel bring together three to five like-minded families for true cultural immersion in the tour destinations. And because Intrepid’s guided family tours have an average group size of 10 people, guests often gain access to more intimate experiences than those available with larger tour groups.
Itineraries feature plenty of activity to keep the kids entertained plus some downtime for taking a breather, and most hotels along the way have pools. A focus on sustainable travel runs through all of Intrepid Travel’s tours: Families might plant vegetables and gather produce in Costa Rica, visit an orangutan rehabilitation facility in Borneo, or learn about Masaai culture in Kenya. Closer to home, tour goers can follow a wolf tracker in Yellowstone National Park or watch a glacier calve in Alaska.
What’s included on Intrepid Travel’s family tours: Intrepid’s family tours include all accommodations and in-trip transportation as well as some meals and activities. Families can also add on optional activities at some spots for more in-depth exploration.
10. Road Scholar
Originally founded as Elderhostel in 1975, the tour company now known as Road Scholar provides a range of tour options for lifelong learners with a focus on “boomers and beyond.” The not-for-profit organization has been offering programs for grandparents and their grandkids since 1985 and now has more than 80 learning adventures for family travelers of all ages.
Road Scholar’s Grandparent and Family Programs make multigenerational travel easy, allowing families to focus on spending time together and soaking in their destination. Road Scholar trip leaders and other experts take care of all the decisions and make sure that multigenerational travelers don’t miss any must-see or must-do experiences.
Popular tours for grandchildren and grandparents or for multigenerational family groups include a wildlife-filled Costa Rica adventure, a Galapagos excursion where travelers can swim and snorkel with local sea creatures, a tour through South Dakota with a stop at Mount Rushmore, and a “Teenagers in Paris” tour for grandparents and their adolescent grandkids. Tour descriptions indicate the activity level needed for participants to keep up with all the action.
What’s included on Road Scholar’s family tours: Tours include lectures, field trips, and hands-on experiences led by experts; all accommodations; most meals; and transportation and gratuities throughout the program. Participants also receive coverage under the Road Scholar Assurance Plan, which provides 24-hour assistance in the event of an emergency and insurance for emergency medical evacuation.
11. VBT Bicycling Vacations
For families with older kids and teens interested in multigenerational travel, VBT Bicycling Vacations offers a range of biking tours where participants pedal through scenic destinations around the world, including Italy, Croatia, British Columbia, and Chile.
VBT’s guided bike tours have two trip leaders, one who bikes with the group and one who drives the support van offering water, snacks, and a ride for any travelers who need or want a break. Tours also include a bike and helmet, accommodations and most meals, admission fees to attractions, and cultural activities.
What’s included on family tours with VBT Bicycling Vacations: Families confident in both their biking and navigation skills can opt for a self-guided biking tour. These tours include accommodations, bikes, breakfast, route info, and suggestions for local activities, but offer lots of flexibility and the ability to customize your experience. Tour descriptions include info on daily mileage covered and biking time as well as how challenging (or not) the local terrain will be. You can also add an air package for maximum ease.