If your children think they’ve seen it all, they’re wrong. From rollercoasters to adventure trails, performances to experiments, there are plenty of exciting attractions out there. Here is our pick of the best attractions that your family must visit before the children grow up.
1. The Natural History Museum
Why go: This really is the grandfather of all London museums – the beauty of the building, the mind-boggling exhibits (from meteors and dinosaur eggs to Neanderthal skulls) and the creative interpretation coming together to create one of the country’s most magical spaces. Look out for the whale skeleton occupying the entry hall, but don’t miss the largest piece of gold ever found (or a model of it, anyway) nestled in the minerals gallery. You can easily spend a day here – the new T Rex Grill, complete with animatronic dueling dinosaurs, serves tasty steaks, falafel sandwiches and pizzas. Try to avoid weekends, when the crowds descend. And if you really want to get to know the museum, book a treasure hunt with ThatMUSE (best for ages 6 and up).
Best for: Children aged 3 and over. If time is limited, families should make a bee-line for the dinosaur gallery with its animatronic T-Rex, and the Earth Hall.
Details: Admission is free, although there is a charge for some temporary exhibitions. nhm.ac.uk
Why go: Set in 50 acres of woodland on the outskirts of Wroxham, Bewilderwood offers the perfect antidote to the gaudy commercialism of many theme parks. There are no rides, no special effects or fast-food outlets – just lots of outdoor fun to be had climbing trees, crossing rope bridges, building dens and hiding out in treehouses. Designed by Tom Blofeld, a local children’s author, the park is populated by magical creatures from his books, and there are craft activities and seasonal events such as Halloween lantern parades and Easter egg hunts.
Best for: Toddlers to early teens. Younger children will love the story-telling sessions and puppet shows, while older children tackle the Sky Maze tree-top adventure and zip wires.
Details: Prices are based on height rather than age: Under 92cm free; 92 –105cm £14.50; over 105cm £16.50. bewilderwood.co.uk
3. Alton Towers
Why go: If it’s white-knuckle thrills you’re looking for, Alton Towers still leads the pack with some of the UK’s fastest and most exhilarating rides. The big new attraction for this year is Galactica (watch video of the ride here), a virtual-reality rollercoaster which simulates the sensations of a space voyage. Last year the resort opened a rollercoaster restaurant, with diners able to watch their food loop-the-looping along a track to their table. You can make a weekend of it by checking into one of the resort hotels and visiting the adjacent Water Park the next day – and you could even stay at the CBeebies-themed hotel.
Best for: Even the most jaded teens will be thrilled by rides such as Nemesis Sub-Terra and Oblivion. Height restrictions apply on some rides, but under-6s will find plenty to keep them entertained in Cloud Cuckoo Land and the newer CBeebies Land, where they can meet characters from their favourite TV shows.
Details: Alton Towers: From £55 adults and children over 12; from £45.60 children under 11; under 3s go free. 30 per cent discount for booking online. Water park: £18 adults and children over 12; £11.75 children aged 3 – 11. 10 per cent discount for booking online. altontowers.com
Why go: Earning your driving licence from the Lego City Driving School is a rite of passage for any self-respecting five-year-old. Some 80 million Lego bricks have gone into the creation of this colourful park. There are thrilling rides and myriad ways to spend money in shops. Yes, the queues can be lengthy (unless you pay extra for the queue-jumping Qbot device, which is useful though it does not cover all rides) but the 150 acres of rolling Windsor parkland, imaginative rides and entertaining live shows more than make up for it. Exit via the biggest Lego shop in the country.
Best for: Legoland is pitched squarely at the under 10s, with pre-schoolers particularly well catered for in Duplo Valley, with its gentle rides and water-play park.
Details: From £32 per person; under 3s go free. 25 per cent discount for booking online more than seven days in advance. legoland.co.uk
5. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
Why go: You’ve read the books, you’ve watched the films, but no self-respecting Harry Potter fan will want to miss the chance to go behind the scenes at the film studios where all eight of the movies were made. Sharing the secrets behind the most successful film series of all time and yet still managing to keep the sense of magic alive, this studio tour gives visitors access to two sound-stages and a backlot filled with original sets, animatronic creatures, props (including Harry’s Nimbus 2000 and Hagrid’s motorcycle) and costumes. Learn how the special effects are created, step into the Hogwarts Great Hall, and have your picture taken on Platform 9 3/4 with the Hogwarts Express.
Best for: Potter fans aged 7 and over, and anyone with an interest in filmmaking.
Details: £39 adults; £31 children; under-4s go free. Note: popular times, like half-term, can book up weeks in advance; wbstudiotour.co.uk
6. Warwick Castle
Why go: Few heritage attractions work harder to keep their young visitors entertained than this medieval stronghold in Warwickshire. Impressive though the turrets and ramparts are, it’s the daily programme of events, guided tours and live shows which really bring this place to life, from jousting tournaments to the firing of the huge trebuchet. The Horrible Histories Maze, with its time-travel challenges, will entertain children; and there’s comfy lodge accommodation in the Knight’s Village for those who want to stay overnight.
Best for: All ages. Families with older children or teens (minimum age 10) can pay extra for a timed ticket to the Castle Dungeon, where some of the more gruesome aspects of the castle’s history are brought to life with the use of special effects and costumed actors.
Details: £16.00 adults; £11.50 children; children under 4 go free. tickets.telegraph.co.uk
Why go: It may be a little frayed around the edges in places, but if you want to show your kids some traditional seaside fun, Blackpool still has it in buckets and spades. When you’ve finished exploring the Golden Mile, with its sandy beach, donkey rides and amusement arcades, the white-knuckle thrills of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and its sister park for younger children, Nickelodeon Land, await. Rainy days (not unheard of in Lancashire) are catered for at the Sandcastle, the UK’s largest indoor waterpark, and Madame Tussauds. And, of course, no trip to this seaside town would be complete without paying a visit to Blackpool Tower, with its grand ballroom, Skywalk viewing platform, circus show and cinema.
Best for: Seaside nostalgia. Pre-schoolers will love the Model Village and Blackpool Zoo, while teens can test their nerve on The Big One, Britain’s highest roller-coaster at Pleasure Beach.
Details: The Blackpool Resort Pass gives entry to the town’s top attractions at a reduced rate, including Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Sea Life , Madame Tussauds, and the Blackpool Tower. From £55 for a pass giving entry to six attractions (blackpoolresortpass.com; visitblackpool.com).
8. Ironbridge Gorge
Why go: A heritage site which celebrates the industrial revolution may not get quite such an enthusiastic reaction from your kids as the promise of a trip to a theme park, but prepare to overrule any objections – they’ll thank you for it. This beautiful valley along the river Severn, spanned by the world’s first iron bridge, was once home to countless factories, furnaces and workshops, whose story is told in no fewer than 10 museums. At Blists Hill Victorian Town, costumed actors give an insight into life in the valley as they go about their daily lives in their cottages, shops and places of work. There’s a Victorian fairground, an old-fashioned sweet shop, and horse and cart rides. At the nearby Enginuity science and technology centre, children can learn about locomotives and robots, while the Coalport China Museum and Jackfield Tile Museum run craft workshops where they can try out their pottery and painting skills.
Best for: Blists Hill will appeal to all age groups, but school-age children will get the most out of the hands-on exhibits at Enginuity and the craft workshops and demonstrations run by the other museums and sites.
Details: The Annual Passport Ticket allows unlimited admission to all 10 Ironbridge Gorge Museums for one year: £25.15 adults, £15.65 children, £66.50, including online discount family ticket. ironbridge.org.uk
9. Museum of Science and Industry
Why go: You won’t find a more entertaining or child-friendly introduction to the world of science, technology and industry than this museum in Manchester – with a strong emphasis on the role the Northwest played in the development of all three. Displays are themed around transport, power, textiles, communications and computing, which sounds dry, but the wonderful hands-on gadgets and demonstrations keep things lively. In the Experiment! interactive gallery, children can create a tornado, see their own skeleton and test their reactions against the speed of light. The museum is on the site of the world’s first railway station, Manchester Liverpool Road, and at weekends you can take steam train rides around the grounds.
Best for: There are monthly Experitots activity sessions for pre-schoolers and the Experiment! gallery is perfect for primary age children.
Details: Admission is free, with charges for special events. msimanchester.org.uk
10. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Why go: Home to two historic warships and a World War II submarine, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard offers a fascinating insight into Britain’s naval history. The excellent guides here vividly evoke life on board HMS Victory, the wooden vessel best-known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar, and the iron-hulled HMS Warrior 1860, once the pride of Queen Victoria’s Fleet. You can also climb on board HMS Alliance, Britain’s only remaining World War II era submarine, take a peek through the working periscopes, and find out about life undersea from real submariners. If your children still have energy to burn, take them to Action Stations, an interactive attraction with the UK’s tallest indoor climbing tower, a Laser Quest game, rope course, and various simulators.
Best for: Children aged 5 and over. The climbing tower and simulators at Action Stations offer varying levels of difficulty for older children. The minimum age for Laser Quest is 6. The Sky Tykes rope course is aimed at children aged 2 – 7.
Details: Tickets to individual attractions cost £18 for adults, £13 for children. An All Attraction Ticket: £35 adults; £23 children; from £64 family ticket. 20 per cent discount for booking online. All tickets give unlimited entry for one year. historicdockyard.co.uk
11. Eden Project
Why go: Want to experience the sights, smells and sounds of a tropical rainforest? To wander in the shade of Californian redwood trees? Stroll through orange and lemon groves? Pick coffee beans or grapes from the vine? You can do all of this without leaving the UK at Cornwall’s Eden Project, one of the most innovative and inspiring attractions in the country. Underneath this cluster of huge temperature-controlled “biomes” children can learn about the relationships between plants and people, explore the idea of sustainability and experience different climates and habitats first-hand. Seasonally-themed events and activity days ensure no two visits are ever the same. The Skywire, the longest zipwire in England at 660m, allows you to soar over Eden’s biomes at up to 20mph. There’s an on-site hostel and campsite, if you wish to stay.
Best for: All ages. Small children will love the Discovery Trail, adventure playground and storytelling sessions, and even the Rainforest Canopy Walkway is accessible for buggies. Adventurous over-8s can tackle the zipwire and giant swing.
Details: £27.50 adults, £14 children, under 4s go free. 10 per cent discount for booking online. Skywire: prices from £25. edenproject.com
12. Tower of London
Why go: From the Crown Jewels to the Ravens in the Tower, the images, stories and superstitions associated with this iconic building will be familiar to many school children, but there’s no substitute for seeing the real thing. The entertaining tours offered by the Yeoman Warders (otherwise known as Beefeaters) with their tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution and torture, are a good starting point. Alternatively you can pick up a family trail at the entrance, or try out one of the Tower’s “digital missions” – interactive adventures played on an iOS device. Download the Time Explorers app before your visit and you can meet historic characters and help solve their problem by tackling a series of challenges that will take you around the tower. During school holidays there are costumed guides and craft activities.
Best for: School-age children. The Tower is not particularly pushchair-friendly and sections of the Yeoman Warder tour and the Torture exhibition are not suitable for young children. But the dramatic performances are a hit especially with primary school-aged kids.
13. Port Lympne
Why go: The Aspinall Foundation has been working in wildlife conservation for more than thirty years. From breeding rare and endangered animals within its UK-based wildlife parks to habitat preservation around the world, its mission is impressive. If your children want to see their favourite wild animals, head to the Kent-based park for the safari experience, and feed giraffes from the safety of a jeep. Most thrillingly, Port Lympne has a range of elegant overnight options – from glamping to Tiger Lodge – which allow you late access to the animals in a beautiful Kentish setting; all proceeds go right back into conservation, so it’s an ethical option for a minibreak.
Best for: All ages.
Details: Adult day passes: £25; cihld day passes: £21. A night at Tiger Lodge in low season costs from £950 on a weeknight, rising to £1,000 on a weekend night. Other options include self-catering treetop houses or glamping; see aspinallfoundation.org.
14. Science Museum
Why go: You could visit this South Kensington stalwart every day for a month and you still wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface of the wonders that lie within. From the basement play area which introduces pre-schoolers to some of the basic principles of science to the top floor flight simulators, its five storeys are crammed with interactive exhibits which teach us how the world works, via a series of irresistible gadgets and gizmos for children to prod, push and experiment with. The regular free science shows and hands-on experiments plus special events over school holidays make repeat visits essential.
Best for: Parents of pre-schoolers should head straight for the basement Garden play area. Older kids will get a kick out of the Exploring Space gallery and the Flyzone simulators (age 9 and over). Inquisitive teens will enjoy the What Am I? gallery, which allows you to discover what your voice sounds like as a member of the opposite sex, morph your face to see what you’ll look like as you age, or collect DNA to catch a criminal.
Details: Free, but there’s a charge for the IMAX Theatre, flight simulators and some exhibitions. sciencemuseum.org.uk
15. West End theatre
London’s West End is famous for putting on some of the best family entertainment in the world. Shows like The Lion King, Matilda and Les Miserables will inspire children to aspire to a life in music. While tickets don’t come cheaply, for a glorious month in August, children can enjoy many of the shows for free. Kids Week was launched 19 years ago by the Society of London Theatre with the aim of encouraging young people to get involved in performance. Originally just a week long, it’s expanded to fill the month of August, with more than 40 shows offering free tickets and a programme of free activities and workshops. Typically the line-up features free tickets for shows such as The Lion King, Billy Elliot, Matilda, Wicked, War Horse and The Gruffalo.
Best for: Ages four and up. Budding thespians can sign up for backstage tours, post-show Q&As and dance and singing workshops.
Details: See individual theatres for tickets to shows. Tickets for Kids Week 2018 go on sale in June, for performances from 1 – 31 August. A child aged 16 or under can go free to any participating show when accompanied by an adult paying full price. Parents can also purchase up to two extra children’s tickets at half price. kidsweek.co.uk
16. Drusillas Park
Why go: Everything at this award-winning zoo in East Sussex is on a small scale – including the animals – but that’s all part of its charm. It’s home to more than 1,500 animals, from meerkats to monkeys, a small farmyard, and a walk-through aviary where you can feed nectar to the birds. Children will love the Safari Express train rides and the Hello Kitty Secret Garden themed area which has three gentle rides and a Hello Kitty House and Parlour. There’s also an adventure play area, indoor soft play centre, climbing wall, a new three-ride attraction called Go Safari! and a Get Wet! splash zone where kids can splash about in the fountains, water jets, and ground geysers.
Best for: Children aged 2 – 10.
Details: From £18.95 for adults and children. Under 2s go free. Family tickets start at £37.90 for one adult and one child. 15 per cent saving for booking online. drusillas.co.uk
17. Paultons Park and Peppa Pig World
Why go: Whether you love or loathe the children’s TV series of the same name, there’s no doubt that this family attraction ticks all of the right boxes for the very young. There are seven gentle rides, an indoor play area, splash zone, cafe and shop. Peppa tends to hog the limelight (excuse the pun) but allow plenty of time to explore the rest of Paultons which has 70 rides all set in beautifully-landscaped gardens. The Lost Kingdom transports families 150 million years back in time to the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Best for: Anyone over the age of 6 will find the attractions of Peppa Pig World a little tame but Paultons has plenty to keep older children and teens entertained.
Details: £34.25 adults and children over 1m high. £133 family ticket. Children under 1m go free. 15 per cent saving for booking online. paultonspark.co.uk
18. Blaenau Ffestiniog
Why go: In the heart of Snowdonia national park, this former slate-mining town has completely reinvented itself as Britain’s most innovative activity centre. At the heart of the action are The Llechwedd Slate Caverns, an impressive network of quarries and mines which once “roofed the world”. The caverns are home to a number of exciting zip-line adventures and Bounce Below which, with its subterranean network of giant trampolines, must surely rate as one of Britain’s quirkiest attractions. Outside, the quarries make the perfect rugged terrain to test your mountain-biking skills at the Antur Stiniog centre. Nearby, Zip World Fforest is another new addition to the fold with its treetop adventure course.
Best for: Active families with children aged 7 and over. Many of the activities have minimum age or height restrictions.
Details: Llechwed Slate Caverns Deep Mine Tour: £20 per person; family discount of £5 when you buy three tickets. llechwedd-slate-caverns.co.uk. Bounce Below: £25 per person. Zip World Caverns: £60 per person. Zip World Titan: £180 per group of four. zipworld.com. Artur Stiniog: half-day mountain biking tickets £18.50 per person. anturstiniog.com
19. Edinburgh Castle
Why go: Perched dramatically on a volcanic crag, this brooding fortress has dominated Edinburgh’s skyline for almost 900 years. But Edinburgh Castle is more than just a photogenic backdrop to the city’s Old Town. It was recently voted the UK’s top Heritage Attraction for the fourth consecutive year and when you discover the wealth of history contained within its battlements, it’s easy to see why. From the “Honours” (Scotland’s crown jewels) to the Stone of Destiny – which has played an important role in the coronation ceremonies of British monarchs through the centuries – the castle houses some of Scotland’s most precious artefacts. Children will love exploring the ramparts and the dank prison cells where enemies were locked up. Make sure you’re there at 1pm for the daily firing of the medieval Mons Meg cannon. Look out for the regular “meet the cast” events, when costumed characters from the castle’s past roam the grounds.
Best for: Children aged 5 and over. The steep inclines are not pushchair friendly.
Details: £17 adults; £10.50 children; under 5s go free. edinburghcastle.gov.uk
20. Edinburgh Festival
Why go: For one month every summer, Edinburgh hosts the largest arts festival on earth, with thousands of shows taking place in more than 300 venues across the city. The Fringe is known for its stand-up comedy and cabaret, but there’s plenty here for families, too. In 2015 there were more than 180 children’s shows on offer, as well as daily street theatre performances taking place on the Royal Mile and family-friendly ceilidhs and craft markets. It’s also worth having a peek at the programme for the Edinburgh International Festival which runs simultaneously. Amid the usual fare of classical music concerts, theatre, dance and opera, there will be two dance pieces which have been programmed with children in mind. And of course, the grand finale Fireworks Concert at Edinburgh Castle is always a great spectacle for families accompanied by music from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Best for: There are children’s shows catering for all ages, but teenagers will get the most out of the whole festival experience. The minimum age for many (but not all) of the comedy and cabaret performances is 14.
21. Camera Obscura
Why go: The 19th century version of CCTV, this Victorian marvel is the high point, literally, of one of Edinburgh’s most charming and unexpected attractions, World of Illusion. From trick mirrors to creepy holograms, you can explore the lower floors of this tower after spying on the tiny people on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile from the camera on top.
Best for: this is a thought-provoking dose of science and illusion for anyone from toddlers to pensioners.
Details: Camera-obscura.co.uk Open 10am-6pm November to March, longer hours in summer. Admission: adults £15.50, children aged 5-15 £11.50, under 5s free.
22. Kielder Water and Forest Park
Why go: With 250 square miles of forest surrounding the largest manmade lake in northern Europe, this wild corner of Northumberland is essentially one great big adventure playground. From sailing and waterskiing to mountain-biking on purpose-built MTB trails, horse-riding and hiking – all of which can be organised via the park’s three visitor centres – the list of activities is seemingly endless. The park is also home to one of England’s largest populations of native red squirrels, a bird of prey centre, an outdoor art and sculpture trail, and – its trump card – the magnificent Kielder observatory, where you can peer through the huge telescope into the night sky at regular family-friendly astronomy events.
Best for: active older children.
Details: For details of activities and operators within the park see visitkielder.com. Mountain bike hire from £25 a day, thebikeplace.co.uk. Kielder Observatory Family Astronomy events (kielderobservatory.org).
23. The National Space Centre
Why go: Tim Peake’s mission on the International Space Station has captured the imaginations of a generation of children. With six interactive galleries, the UK’s largest planetarium, a 3D-simulator experience and 42m high rocket tower, this is the perfect launch-pad to introduce budding astronauts to the wonders of space exploration.
Best for: School-age children will get the most out of the gallery exhibits and planetarium shows, but the centre has recently introduced special “Small Space” events aimed at toddlers. See website for dates.
Details: £14 adults, £11 children, under-fives free. Parking £3. spacecentre.co.uk
24. Go Ape!
Why go: On the ground, it’s parents in charge; kids falling in line behind. But move the conversation 13.6 metres up into the air, and the power dynamic may shift. Go Ape has 31 locations around Britain, and its high ropes courses offer thrilling challenges for children and parents alike.
Best for: children 1m and taller
Details: £36 per adult; goape.co.uk