Travel writer Mark Frary takes us through 8 great science holidays to take with kids and teens around the world.
I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of a geek. I studied astrophysics at university and old habits die hard. When it comes to holidays, I’m always keen to add an educational angle, particularly if there’s a bit of science involved. I suppose you could call such holidays geekcations.
If you like the idea of a geekcation, join me on a quick tour of the world viewed through thick-rimmed spectacles.
Hunting for fossils on the Jurassic Coast
Britain’s Jurassic coastline is the ideal spot for a geekcation spent hunting fossils. The family attraction Seaton Jurassic opened in Devon in March 2016 and is a brilliant addition to the area. It lets you journey back to the prehistoric era through a range of permanent exhibitions, events and talks. Stay in a cottage and use it to explore the whole coast to Lyme Regis and beyond. The Linney in Colyton sleeps four and is a short tram-ride from the coastal town of Seaton.
Caribbean with a geeky twist
Puerto Rico offers the Caribbean experience of palm trees and white beaches but with more. On a trip earlier this year, we did the beach but also spent an amazing day in the El Yunque rainforest where we saw bananas in the wild with hummingbirds hovering and darting, and I shared my well-worn Dadfacts about rainfall and tropical plants to anyone who would listen (possibly no one). A swim underneath a rainforest waterfall with my 10-year-old son was one of the highlights of the holiday. The island is also home to the world’s biggest radio telescope in Arecibo. Norwegian started low-cost services on brand new 787 Dreamliners to the island last year and the seasonal service starts again this autumn.
In the footsteps of Galileo in Tuscany
One of the world’s greatest astronomers, Galileo, lived and died in Tuscany and it is still a great place to observe the heavens (as well as eat, drink and otherwise relax). Stargazers can rent out an entire 13th-century farmhouse with its own observatory and you can even hire in an astronomer to talk you through what to see. Villa Ferraiola also has a pool, sauna, three Roman spas and a cinema room and sleeps large groups of up to 27.
The elusive Northern Lights in Norway
The aurora borealis are occasionally visible from Britain but you will dramatically increase your chances of seeing them by heading north. Andenes on the island of Andoya in northern Norway is a great place to try to catch them. It is also home to Andoya Space, which provide educational activities, seminars and conferences related to space technology, space physics, atmosphere, astrophysics, climate and environment. There is even a European Space Camp for young adults aged 17-20 from all over the world. You can learn about the science of the Lights, experience virtual space missions and see what day-to-day life in a space centre is like. Andenes is also a great base for whale-watching and the local museum has an excellent exhibition on whale biology and ecosystems, including a sperm whale skeleton. Regent Holidays offers itineraries and tailor-made tours.
Mixing cruising and volcanoes in Greece
Volcanoes hold a particular fascination for kids and (Dad-joke warning) you have to ‘lava’ holiday that incorporates one. The island of Nisyros in the southern Dodecanese in Greece was formed through volcanic activity (it last erupted in 1888) and you can now wander inside the craters. The Polyviotis crater measures a quarter of a kilometre across and you can look at the fumaroles, where steam belches from out of the Earth. A great way to do this trip is to hire a traditional gulet and cruise between the islands, starting and ending at Kos, served by flights from the UK.
Geology with added cheese in Cheddar Gorge
Britain’s answer to the Grand Canyon is Cheddar Gorge – OK it’s a bit smaller but you do get to eat a lot of the local cheese. Start off with a walk around the Gorge itself, taking in the Lookout Tower and learn about the area’s karst limestone geology. Then descend into the caves beneath where the kids can learn about how stalactites and stalagmites form. Spend a week in Somerset and enjoy other nearby attractions, such as Bath and Glastonbury.
From sea to sky in the Maldives
Seeing the night sky at its best relies on getting away from it all and the Maldives are as about as away from it all as it gets. Soneva Fushi, a classic desert island resort, is a pebble’s throw from pristine coral reefs and hearing the kid babbling about their first sight of that colourful underwater world is truly emotional. As night falls, head to Soneva’s observatory for a tour of the dark skies with astronomer Dr Parag Mahajani. Even without a telescope you can see more from here than you ever will in Britain.
It’s about time in Greenwich
If you are interested in time, then go to the place where it starts and ends – Greenwich in London. At the Royal Observatory you can see John Harrison’s famous timepiece which solved the problem of calculating longitude for British sailors as well as taking the obligatory photo with one foot on either side of the meridian. If you are there at 1pm, you can also see the red Time Ball on top of Flamsteed House drop, a crude time signal for sailors on the Thames. The Observatory is also home to London’s only planetarium. Combine a visit here with a shopping trip to the Big Smoke.