Fly into Nairobi – on a good day the capital offers views of Mount Kenya to the north and Mount Kilimanjaro to the southeast. You can also see animals up-close and personal at the Langata Giraffe centre, a not-for-profit sanctuary set up in the late 1970s to save the dwindling population of Rothschild giraffes from near-extinction.
Head for the Nairobi National Park, which affords a safari experience just 10km south of the city centre, with many indigenous animals, including black rhino, giraffe, lion and leopard, roaming wild against the unique backdrop of the city. Within the park, visit the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, which rears orphaned elephants by hand before releasing them back into the wild.
Venture into the Masai Mara, the best-known game reserve in Kenya, with vast plains stretching through the Great Rift Valley towards Tanzania and 225km south of the capital. You have a decent chance of spotting Africa's Big Five – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino – especially if you choose a camp close to the River Talek. A safari here is a particularly good option for family holidays – what you lose in solitude you gain in the sheer number of things to see, from the merry dance of young warthogs to herds of nonchalant elephants. The Mara is also the stage to Kenya's top tourist attraction, the great migration (see below, When). It's incredible to watch hundreds of thousands of wildebeest storm through the muddy waters of the River Talek (many not making it thanks to resident crocs and big cats waiting for their early-morning nibble).
Take budding ornithologists to the quieter Hell's Gate National Park northwest of Nairobi and south of Lake Naivasha, with more than 100 species of resident birds including buzzards, vultures and the rare lammergeyer eagle.
Visit Meru National Park, where 'Born Free' lioness cub Elsa lived out her days. One of the lesser-visited reserves, it begins in the foothills of Mount Kenya and stretches over 1,800km2 down towards to the Tana River in the east. More rain in this area means it's naturally lush, and there is plenty of game to see, albeit less than in the Masai Mara.
Have a gander at Mount Kenya, the highest mountain in Kenya and second highest in Africa after Kilimanjaro, reaching 5,199m. Its often-jagged terrain is best suited to adventurous families – though it's not flush with game, safaris are available here. If you're in the area, the luxurious Mount Kenya Safari Club is an institution that's worth a visit.
Another adventurous option is a camel safari to explore the ranches of Laikipia in Kenya's wild north – Sabuk Lodge is a family-friendly base.
Chill out in the beachside resorts of Mombasa, Malindi and Watamu Bay, once the sole domain of honeymooners, now catering more for families. Malindi has a marine nature reserve that's excellent for snorkelling for all ages, plus scuba-diving for older children and adults. You also take a relaxing sailing trip in the Indian Ocean on a traditional dhow from Lamu Island.