Travelling with your elderly dad can be rewarding – and surprising.
There are various circumstances which might lead you to take your Dad on holiday. Perhaps he has outlived his spouse, and is adjusting to life on his own – as happened to my Dad. Maybe he hasn’t done a lot of travelling before, and needs a companion to help him navigate through that first trial run.
My parents had done plenty of travelling of their own, but only within the UK. My mother’s fear of flying prevented them from venturing overseas. So Dad was completely unacquainted with airports, flying, culture shock and language barriers. Where would be the best place to take him, to introduce him to the challenges and joys of overseas travel? He was a reasonably fit 76 year-old, so we had a decent choice of places to visit.
Eventually we decided on Italy, after learning that my sister and her family were going to be in Tuscany. I decided to book business class flights to Pisa to make it extra special for Dad. I have fond memories of us getting tipsy in the British Airways lounge at London Gatwick before boarding our flight – Dad’s first ever! It turned out to be the first of several trips together, because Dad ended up getting the travel bug.
In case you also decide to take your Dad on holiday, here are the places that we enjoyed exploring together.
Note: the links to hotels in this post are affiliate links, as are other links marked with an asterisk*. If you book through our site, we receive a small commission but there is no extra cost to you. Please see our marketing – disclosure page for further information on how this site earns revenue through affiliate marketing and advertising.
Dad’s highlights: live music, the Duomo, Museo Galileo
We spent a few days in this beautiful city before travelling on to meet our family members in Lucca. Florence is the perfect place to take your Dad on holiday if he loves history, art and architecture.
Dad loved the warm temperatures, cobbled streets, historic buildings and the Vespas whizzing around everywhere. We soon developed new routines: strolling around different neighbourhoods after breakfast, stopping at a pavement cafe for cappucino and water, then more exploring until lunchtime.
In the evenings, we would find a place for dinner alfresco then soak up the magical atmosphere of the city, which came alive at night. Dad used to play the violin in a dance band, so he loved to listen to the jazz trios and classical musicians who often played in the piazzas. This was not something he ever got to do at home.
The breathtaking architecture of Florentine buildings made a big impression on Dad, especially the many resplendent churches and most of all, the Duomo. Both of us were spellbound by its sheer scale and intricate decoration. Wherever we went in the city, we seemed to be able to see it, so it became a useful landmark for us.
Along with many other visitors, we visited the Uffizi Gallery and marvelled at Michaelangelo’s statue of David and the works of Italian masters. But Dad’s favourite was the Museo Galileo, where we could see the amazing timepieces and scientific instruments used by the genius astronomer. Being a toolmaker, Dad was fascinated by the collections of objects and diagrams. We came away with a deeper appreciation of the great man’s achievements.
There are plenty of pretty places you can visit in the Tuscan countryside if you want a change of scene. Lucca and San Gimignano are both accessible by train from Santa Maria Novella station.
WHERE WE STAYED
Our base was the 4-star Hotel Santa Maria Novella, which was only a few minutes’ walk from the railway station. This beautiful traditional hotel overlooked the piazza of the same name. It had a rooftop pool and courtyard cafe bar.
Dad’s highlights: canal dinner cruise, Anne Frank’s house, visit to Keukenhof
Dad grew up in a canal-side village in Worcestershire, England, so I thought he might like to see the grand canals of Amsterdam – and I was keen to discover the city myself.
I have written about our trip in a separate post, When not to take your Dad to Amsterdam for the weekend, so I will just write a very brief summary here.
After our short flight of just over an hour from Gatwick, we arrived to find Amsterdam in the midst of preparations for Queen’s Day – the world’s greatest street party – which happened to coincide with our visit! This turned out to be both a good thing and a bad thing. It was a very unique experience, but meant that we had to battle through even more crowds than usual to get anywhere.
Canal dinner cruise
We managed to arrive at the dinner cruise* departure point just in time, after pushing our way through the crowded streets! Cruising the city through packed canals full of partygoers on boats, orange flags and balloons flying everywhere, was incredible. Our lady captain did a fantastic job of navigating so many obstacles.
Enjoying a delicious dinner, within a very civilised and safe environment, was probably the best way that Dad and I could have chosen to be a part of Queen’s Day without being fully exposed to its more excessive elements!
Anne Frank’s House and Keukenhof
While Amsterdam recovered from its massive hangover during the very quiet subsequent days, Dad and I strolled around the various neighbourhoods and visited some of the sights. The Anne Frank museum left a deep impression on us. It was hard to imagine how this young woman and her family coped with 2 years in hiding during the Nazi occupation, only to be discovered and taken to a concentration camp.
A trip to the Bulbfields of Keukenhof* was a pleasant day out from the city. We marvelled at the extensive fields of colourful tulips, extending as far as the eye could see.
I highly recommend Amsterdam as the perfect place to take your Dad on holiday. It really is impossible to get bored in this incredible city. But unless you both love a wild party, it might pay to avoid Queen’s Day (now King’s Day)!
WHERE WE STAYED
We pushed the boat out a bit for this one, booking 4 nights at the 5-star Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam. No regrets – we absolutely loved it. The underfloor heating in the bathrooms was such a luxury – as was the indoor pool, courtyard cafe and elegant public rooms. I included The Grand in my Top 18 bucket list hotels.
Dad’s highlights: the Alcázar, lunch at Hacienda Benazuza, María Luisa Park
Given Dad’s appreciation of the stunning architecture in Florence and Amsterdam, I decided that Seville would be the perfect place for our next holiday. Less busy than Madrid or Barcelona, but just as beautiful.
Dad adored the Andalusian whitewashed buildings and wrought-iron grilles draped with bougainvillea. He also loved the hot sunny weather, which tipped close to 40 degrees in the afternoons. Being a very dry heat, he was able to weather it well. When it reached its peak, we would seek shelter and an iced beverage inside an air-conditioned bar. Or follow the locals and take a siesta.
Dad had never seen anything like the incredible Moorish architecture of the Alcázar, with its intricately carved arches and beautiful tiles. Its courtyards, pools, fountains and patios provided welcome respite from the heat of the day.
We enjoyed strolling in the stunning palace gardens, which were a film location for the Game of Thrones series.
María Luisa Park
Finding shade and cool places became something of a theme for our holiday! One of our favourite sanctuaries was the lovely María Luisa Park, where we would buy an ice cream and watch the world go by from under a palm tree.
The park is a botanic garden, filled with native and exotic trees and plants. The fountains and pools create a calming atmosphere, and there are some rather cool monuments to illustrious Spanish authors like Cervantes. On the edge of the park is the impressive Plaza de España, with its beautifully-tiled pavilions and arches celebrating the regions of Spain.
A lunch outing to a country hotel seemed like a good way to escape from the heat of the city. Hacienda Benazuza is a beautiful 10th century Moorish farmhouse which once belonged to King Alfonso X of Castile. The Hacienda is located 27k west of Seville, near the town of Sanlúcar la Mayor. We travelled there by taxi.
We enjoyed a wonderful lunch in the poolside terrace restaurant, then wandered through the surrounding gardens which are full of orange and olive trees. It was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
Seville is a great place to take your Dad on holiday – but in hindsight, I recommend not doing so in high summer! A shoulder season would be more comfortable.
WHERE WE STAYED
The charming 4-star Hotel San Gil, located in the old town, was a lovely place to stay. Our rooms had French doors opening onto a pretty courtyard. The hotel also had a small rooftop pool and terrace. The city centre is about 2km away, which was perhaps a little bit far for Dad to walk, but we enjoyed stopping for coffee on the way.
Dad’s highlights: ferries, wine tasting and a trip to Venice
Since Dad had thoroughly enjoyed his first visit to Italy, I decided to take him to a different region – Brescia. We headed for the delightful Gardone Riviera, on the western shore of lake Garda. (Point of interest: a Gardone restaurant, Lido 84, came seventh in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2023! – quite an achievement for a small town).
Breakfast on our lakeside terrace was a very pleasant way to start the day. Unlike the unbridled heat of Seville, Garda was warm and humid, the blue sky usually filtered through fine misty haze. It didn’t take long to explore tiny Gardone, so we set about visiting other towns around the lake. The best way to do this was by ferry.
Lake Garda ferries
Lake Garda is a great place to take your Dad on holiday if he loves sailing. There are some private sailing and cruising options, but there are also the municipal ferries. How we loved the ferries! Such a civilised way to travel. We were able to visit nearby towns such as Salò and others on the eastern side of the lake, like Bardolino.
We tended to choose the slow ferries, being slow travellers, but a faster hydrofoil also served some routes. Those who wanted to pack in a lot of visits in one day could buy a ‘hop on, hop off’ style of day pass.
Lake Garda has one or two wineries around its shores, but Dad and I decided to take advantage of a half-day wine-tasting tour to the Valpolicella region, about 80k to the east. After a brief stop to see the city of Verona, we carried on to the vineyards.
Valpolicella is a dry red wine that doesn’t need to be aged. It’s therefore lighter and fresher than other red wine varieties, and dangerously drinkable. Dad and I laughed at how our coach group was quiet and reserved on the outward trip, but noisy and uproarious on the way home!
The wineries we visited were very hospitable and served nibbles with the tastings while explaining their processes and different varieties. We enjoyed strolling around the vines and learning a little about viticulture. Needless to say, Dad and I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting and purchased some wine to take home.
This was too good an opportunity to miss – a day trip to Venice and a sunset cruise on the lagoon. I told Dad he simply must see one of the most photogenic cities on the planet.
We arrived in Venice after just over 2 hours on the coach and were taken on a walking tour of the historic centre. Dad was overwhelmed by the beauty of the city – the Grand Canal, Rialto bridge and St Mark’s Square. After a very decent lunch at a family-run restaurant with our tour group, we had some free time to wander around. Naturally, we had to try a gondola ride.
The sunset cruise on the lagoon was spectacular. This was definitely the best time to take such a trip, as there were fewer tourists and the boat was less crowded. It was the perfect end to our holiday. Italy was fast becoming a favourite of Dad’s.
WHERE WE STAYED
The Grand Hotel Gardone was our base for this holiday, right by the lake. It’s an elegant palazzo-style hotel with beautiful public rooms and a gorgeous lakeside terrace.
Some years after this visit, I returned to Lake Garda with my husband. See my post Beautiful Lake Garda – 2 free spirits test a package holiday .
Dad’s highlights: Valletta harbour cruise, Gozo and Sant’ Anton Gardens
In all honesty I can’t remember what inspired us to choose Malta, a country of 3 islands, for our next holiday – perhaps we’d read something about it or seen it on television. We did think it would be a nice easy Mediterranean destination offering something a little different from southern Europe.
Most of the beauty I’ve seen on Malta lies in what has been built on its islands. I haven’t come across any lush landscapes or scenic natural areas as such, although they may well exist. As always, it was the architecture and history that Dad and I really enjoyed – the golden limestone buildings, Moorish arches and stunning churches. Food and drink were also excellent. However, the standard of driving, especially by taxi drivers, was something else. We decided that Maltese drivers were even crazier than Italian ones.
Another crazy thing about Malta, which Dad and I remembered fondly and talked about long afterwards, was the omnipresence of fireworks. Malta has a serious firework fetish. They would go off constantly, even during the day when their effect was minimal! We later learned that the craft of pyrotechnics has been a big thing in Malta since the late 19th century.
During our stay we visited a number of seaside resorts such as St Julian’s, Sliema and Marsaxlokk, taking local buses. While Dad thought that some of our lovely Northumbrian beaches back home in the UK were rather nicer than Malta’s, he did enjoy the considerably warmer temperatures and endless sunshine.
Valletta harbour cruise
Dad and I were staying in Attard, a town just west of Valletta, so we took the local bus into town one morning to explore the capital. To give us a break from the stress of road travel, we booked a harbour cruise. This was definitely our preferred way to appreciate this amazing city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Centuries of history can be seen along the Valletta’s skyline. But the stand-out monument is a 20th century one – the dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Constructed in neoclassical style between 1958 and 1981, the basilica is one of the major churches of Valletta.
On another day, we decided to take advantage of an organised trip to the island of Gozo. A coach picked us up from our hotel and took us to the ferry terminal at Cirkewwa. The brief crossing took around 20 minutes.
Our favourite part of the trip was an afternoon stop in Mdina. Located on a hill, this medieval fortified city was once the capital of Malta. It has atmospheric winding streets and stunning views of the rest of the island.
Sant’ Anton Gardens
We stumbled upon these beautiful walled gardens by chance, as they were close to our hotel. Nobody had mentioned them so we were delighted to discover them. Some of the trees are over 300 years old and there are duck ponds, fountains, paths leading to rose gardens and lots of exotic plants and trees.
The gardens were a wonderful place of peace and serenity, a far cry from the crowded beaches and tourist towns. Nearby is a stunning palace which is the official residence of the President of Malta. We wondered whether the President ever popped out of his office to enjoy a stroll in the gardens.
Malta could be a good place to take your Dad on holiday if, like mine, he is a bit of a sun-worshipper (the islands’ latitude is about the same as that of Los Angeles). Aside from the wonderful weather, Malta is also very cosmopolitan and welcoming, especially to British visitors given the long-standing connections between our countries. Whether you’re seeking a lively resort or a peaceful place to unwind, Malta offers something for everyone.
WHERE WE STAYED
Probably because it is away from the main tourist resorts, I found a great deal for us to stay at the 5-star Corinthia Palace Hotel. Anyone who has stayed in a Corinthia hotel before will know how luxurious and wonderful they are. We loved the pool, the terrace and the friendly staff.
Of all the hotels we stayed in, the Corinthia was probably Dad’s favourite along with the Grand in Amsterdam. Clearly he had developed a taste for the luxury end of things!
The choice of where to take your Dad on holiday obviously depends on what you both enjoy doing, and what he is able to do – depending on his age and state of health. But if you’ve never travelled with your Dad before, then I would definitely recommend it. It gives both of you a unique opportunity to bond and – if applicable – to help each other with your bereavement and grieving process.
I admit that our trips were not without their moments! Travelling with an elderly relative can be challenging. Dad tended to wander off without me noticing, leaving me panicking! But I’m so glad we did those travels together. We reminisced about them long afterwards and they have given me some wonderful memories. Best of all, they gave us lots of time to talk in depth about so many things that often get passed over in the busyness of everyday life.
Written in loving memory of Arthur Lawrence Edwards