Maybe you’ve been traveling regularly since you were young…
Or maybe you’ve just started planning your first big trip. Either way, one thing’s for sure: Travelers in their 50s have the self-awareness to plan and enjoy some amazing trips.
You aren’t wowed by the crowds at over-hyped hot spots. You want a unique experience! At the same time, you don’t want to spend two weeks lounging around a single locale. You’re ready to celebrate your hard work and make the most of time away—traveling extensively without worrying about sub-par hotels, sketchy tour guides, or blasé cruises. It’s a great time to get out and enjoy life.
We asked frequent travelers to share their favorite vacation spots for travelers in their 50s. Some of their answers surprised us (and have us scouring the internet for cheap flights).
We know what you’re thinking: Antarctica doesn’t exactly offer a welcoming environment, particularly if you’re used to sun-drenched vacations on tropical islands. Average temperatures range from 14 to -76 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 to -60 degrees Celsius), so calling the continent “unforgiving” would be a massive understatement.
Still, if you’re willing to brave the elements (and dress in layers), Antarctica offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Antarctica is one of the most beautiful places on earth,” Sandy from St. Louis told TravelAwaits. “The challenge is to keep it pristine and awe-inspiring as more people visit.”
In recent years, Antarctica has developed a surprisingly robust tourism industry. Traveling there generally means boarding an expedition ship or cruise; you probably won’t be staying at a hotel–although, if you’ve got the money, the gorgeous White Desert luxury hotel is certainly a sight to behold.
If you’re not looking to break the bank, Antarctic cruises are available for a few thousand dollars (all expenses included, of course). You’ll see incredible wildlife and enjoy a polar paradise, and given that most cruise ships have plenty of heating, the trip won’t be too physically taxing.
Best for: Nature lovers who want a different type of travel experience (and plenty of compelling stories to tell their friends).
2. Normandy, France
“The Normandy region of France is a historian’s dream setting,” said Lynne, a traveler from Dallas, Texas. “From Bayeux to the beaches at Normandy, this area of France is often overlooked for sun-warmed Provence or the bright lights of Paris.”
A self-driving tour is essential for savoring every moment of the splendid countryside, quaint villages, and fabulous gastronomical offerings. Bus tours of the beaches are also available. Stops often include the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, the German battery at Longues-sur-Mer, and the Arromanches Museum, along with awe-inspiring visits to D-Day landing sites.
“Favorite stops along our week-long trek included lodging in the town of Bayeux and visiting the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer,” Lynne said. “Being a military family and devout Aggies–Texas A&M University–the beaches of Normandy were especially meaningful with the history of Rudder’s Rangers storming Point-du-Hoc and the landing of American troops on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.”
Of course, Normandy’s historical significance doesn’t begin or end with D-Day.
“For family genealogists, Bayeux hits a bullseye on many research targets as the nexus for all things concerning the Norman conquest of the English by William in 1066,” Lynne said.
Best for: History buffs, or anyone looking for an unforgettable stop on a broader European vacation.
3. Napa, California
For wine lovers–and anyone who can appreciate a glass of the good stuff–Napa makes for a gorgeous vacation setting. The Napa Valley is home to America’s finest wineries, and the nearby Sonoma Valley makes for a nice rustic counterpoint.
Granted, Napa can be expensive (especially when compared with Sonoma Valley), but if you’re traveling to expand your palate, you’ll find no shortage of options. Michelin-rated restaurants like La Toque, Kenzo Napa, and Gran Electrica are essential stops for foodies, while Napa’s historic downtown area should excite architecture aficionados. Major wineries like Robert Mondavi, Stag’s Leap, Merryvale, and Duckhorn offer tasting tours for $15 to $50 (and some facilities even wave this tasting fee if you purchase a bottle).
If you’re traveling with kids, Napa offers plenty of family-friendly activities, too, including the nearby Old Faithful Geyser, an ideal spot for a picnic. The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art is a fine place to see well-curated collections from the Bay Area and beyond, with 217 acres of scenic natural space (including a 37-acre lake).
Best for: Wine lovers, obviously, but if you don’t know a Pinot Grigio from a Pinot Noir, don’t worry. Napa offers a rich set of options for any California vacation.
4. Anna Maria Island, Florida
A barrier island located in the Gulf of Mexico, Anna Maria Island has a certain throwback charm. You’ll find the best of what any trip to Florida has to offer: Quaint seaside cottages, lively bars and restaurants, and breathtaking views.
“White sand beaches, abundant home rentals, and great restaurants–the Sandbar and the Beach House offer beach dining with a view of the sunset,” Sheryl, a traveler from Edwardsville, Illinois, told TravelAwaits. “The Waterfront Grill, Rod and Reel Pier, and Harry’s are not to be overlooked. The north end of the island is our favorite area, featuring golf cart rentals, bicycling, and mopeds. So much fun!”
If you prefer an active, engaging vacation, you’ll have a great time, but if you’re looking to unplug and unwind, you won’t be disappointed either.
“Pine Street has charming shops featuring wine and cheese, gourmet donuts, spas ,and boutiques of all varieties,” Sheryl said. “It’s a very safe area. Very senior friendly, very family oriented. We just returned from enjoying our annual visit. It’s a great winter escape.”
The seven-mile island is home to three cities: Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria. Wherever you go, you’ll be able to enjoy a wonderful vacation on your own terms.
Best for: Tropical vacationers looking for variety and tranquility.
5. Snowmobiling In Yellowstone
“Cold weather is our thing, and snowmobiling through Yellowstone in February was an awesome adventure,” said Glen from Park City, Utah.
Yellowstone is, of course, a popular summer destination for tourists. There’s nothing quite like the natural splendor of the world’s first national park in the summertime–but true adventurers will want to see Yellowstone during the colder months. The crowds disappear, the snow builds up, and the park takes on a pristine silence.
Head out on a snowmobile tour, and you’ll see herds of elk and bison roaming the snow. You’ll pass by ice-covered mountain peaks and frozen waterfalls. It’s a truly enchanting experience, but it’s not too physically demanding for the 50+ crowd.
Most snowmobile tours include a lengthy training session, but if snowmobiling isn’t really your thing, snowcoach tours are also available. The National Park Service maintains a list of snowmobile/snowcoach tour providers. Just be sure to plan in advance; tours are typically available from December to March, at which point the entrances close and the plowing crews start making their way through the park.
Best for: Adventurous travelers who aren’t afraid of cold temperatures.
6. Asheville, North Carolina
In recent years, Asheville has shed its “hidden gem” reputation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the growth in the town’s tourism industry ensures that there’s always something new to do.
If you’ve never experienced Asheville, you’ll want to check out Biltmore, an American castle built by George Vanderbilt in 1895. The 250-room structure sits on a massive estate with gardens, a functional farm, and a world-class winery.
You’ll also want to stroll through downtown Asheville, a gorgeous city center with breweries, restaurants, and talented street performers. If you’re a history buff, a ticket on the Gray Line trolley gets you a guided tour that highlights the history of the “City of Surprises,” and with unlimited hop-on/hop-off privileges after 10 stops, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore on your own terms. The nearby Pisgah and Nantahala national forests offer explorers a chance to experience the beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains (bird watchers will want to keep an eye out for peregrine falcons)
Asheville is an outstanding choice if you’re looking for an offbeat, unique trip. Just be sure to plan carefully; there’s no wrong time to visit, but most tourists tend to hit town in the summer. If you’re heading out during the peak season, you’ll want to book early.
Best for: Laidback explorers looking to enjoy one of the Southeast’s true gems.
7. Edinburgh, Scotland
Scotland offers a variety of incredible experiences, and if you’re serious about exploring the country, Edinburgh makes for a great starting point. It’s the country’s capital, and with a bustling nightlife, gorgeous natural surroundings, and a practically unlimited selection of historical landmarks, it’s a must-visit for any UK travel plan.
Visit Edinburgh Castle or take a day trip to Loch Ness, Glencoe, or the Highlands. Arrange a historical walking tour, or if you’d prefer to find your own way around the city, book a hop-on/hop-off tour. If you’re a whisky fan, visit one of the town’s legendary distilleries.
Once you’re in Edinburgh, you can easily coordinate your itinerary within any budget, and even if you spend months in the city, you won’t run out of things to do.
Best for: Anyone looking to explore one of the world’s great cities (and anyone with Scottish heritage).
8. Blackberry Farm Luxury Hotel In Tennessee
“Located in the Tennessee mountains just south of Knoxville, Blackberry Farm in Walland provides a luscious setting for relaxation and breathtaking vistas,” Lynne said. “The accommodations are spectacular in an easy-going and comforting, classic American style. From individual cottages with heated floors and large windows facing the peaks and forests, to farmhouses that can host family gatherings, lodging at the compound has something for anyone wanting to be pampered.”
The word “pampered” is appropriate here: Blackberry Farm is certainly a high-end resort, but it’s worth its premium price (we checked a few dates, and couldn’t get a suite for less than $1,895 a night). For the money, you’ll get a complete experience: The cottages feature wood-burning fireplaces, fully stocked pantries, and various other premium amenities. The Carriage House suites, for instance, come with a golf cart, perfect for navigating the idyllic grounds.
Located in the Smoky Mountain foothills, Blackberry Farm is a pastoral paradise.
“Known for its extensive wine cellar, the Farm offers farm-to-table cuisine along with culinary, wine, fly-fishing, and organic gardening classes throughout the year, as well as entertainment and special events,” Lynne said. “Spa delights are also available.”
Best for: Luxury vacationers looking for a bucolic paradise.
9. Northwest Passage Cruises
The Northwest Passage is just about as far as you can get from Antarctica, but components of the experience are the same–you’ll spend most of your time on a ship enjoying the incredible views.
However, the similarities end as soon as you reach land. In the Northwest Passage, you’ll see expansive fjords, Inuit villages, and a remarkably diverse assortment of wildlife (yes, that includes polar bears and penguins).
It’s a remarkably affordable voyage, all things considered; you can spend a few days in the Arctic for a few thousand dollars, or manage the entire passage in 19 to 30 days, depending on the cruise line. It’s a small price to pay to explore the icy wilderness of one of the world’s last pristine natural environments.
In the 1800s, trips through the passage were fraught with danger, and many explorers died trying to forge a path. Today, the danger is gone, but the marvel and mystery are certainly intact.
Best for: True explorers (who don’t mind pampering themselves with cruise amenities).
10. African Safari Tours
What’s more thrilling than an African safari? Enjoy watching the sun rise over the Sahara or see lions in their natural habitat at the Okavango Delta.
Part of the fun is the unpredictability of the environment. Sure, you’re likely to see elephants, hippos, and big cats, but the sheer variety of Saharan species ensures that no two trips are identical. Frequent travelers recommend Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, an enormous reserve with 580 square miles of land. You’ll see traditional Maasai villages, and if you plan your trip between July and October, you’ll see the Great Migration–millions of zebra and wildebeest cross the terrain, creating a dramatic scene that will impress any traveler.
You can customize your African safari experience to include golf, skydiving, or a hot air balloon trip. If that sounds a little too exciting, you can just kick back on one of Kenya’s white-sand beaches.
Best for: Wildlife lovers and adrenaline junkies.
11. Hill Country, Texas
If you love the legends and aesthetic of the American West, a trip through Hill Country will provide a satisfying mix of natural marvels, breathtaking landmarks, and historical eccentricities. It’s a different trip for every traveler, and there’s no right or wrong way to plan your itinerary, but we’d suggest starting in San Antonio and gradually making your way through the heart of the Lonestar State.
Cities like Bandera and Kerrville provide enough Western charm for the most hard-hearted cowboys, with plenty of gift shops and family-friendly restaurants. Make your way to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for hiking, backpacking, and birdwatching, or rent a boat to paddle down the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers.
Even if you never get off the beaten path, you’ll find that Hill Country’s beaten paths are like no other–gorgeous dirt roads specked with wildflowers offer brilliant photo opportunities in the spring. This is the type of trip that requires a bit of research, but it’s a fantastic choice for frugal travelers (and anyone who loves a good barbecue).
Best for: Families, lovers of Wild West lore, and vacationers who enjoy crafting their own path.