Laura Hall of Kid & Coe introduces 18 of the very best things to do with children in the United Kingdom
With its castles, countryside, world-class museums and vibrant cities, the United Kingdom is a wonderful location to visit as a family. A week-long stay can introduce you and your kids to a variety of culture, adventures and relaxing escapes; come for longer and you may not want to go home. From taking afternoon tea to visiting ancient ruins, there is a lot to keep you entertained.
Just one thing though: bring an umbrella. The weather is far from predictable (and that’s why so many of us locals talk about it so much!).
This ancient pile of stones is Europe’s best-known prehistoric monument. Stroll round it with the kids and an audio guide in hand and discover what it was like to live 5,500 years ago. Along with the stone circle itself, there is a museum with multimedia exhibits and Neolithic houses to discover. Tip: nearby Avebury has a Neolithic stone circle too – and at this one, you can walk beside and touch the stones.
National Trust houses and castles
Wherever you are in the UK, you are never far from a National Trust house, castle or protected space. These special places are not just points of interest for history fans – with excellent children’s trails, imaginative play areas, dressing up opportunities and cafes, they can keep a whole family entertained for hours. Bodiam Castle in Kent is one of the best – but there are many more to discover on www.nationaltrust.org.uk
The Eden Project
Cornwall is always worth taking a detour for – this leg of land covers the far southwest of the country, has great beaches and even better local food. The Eden Project is its blockbuster family attraction, a series of enormous curvaceous greenhouses full of tropical plants designed to educate children about the importance of protecting the environment. It also hosts seasonal events for families, with ice-skating in winter, egg hunting at Easter and plenty more.
London’s South Bank
Walk beside the River Thames, admire Tower Bridge, sit and watch street performers or visit Tate Modern and be amazed at the installations and contemporary art. There’s always something to see beside the river here on London’s South Bank, and most of it is free.
Oxford or Cambridge
Take your pick – you don’t need to visit both. These ancient university towns are both cultured and beautiful but have a different feel. Oxford, an hour from London, is more urban, with a bustling high street and ornate colleges hidden behind rows of shops, while Cambridge is a small market town with the grand buildings of its colleges at its fore. Taking a punt – a shallow boat – down the river is a great way to see the sights in either town.
With a brooding castle overlooking the city, a zoo with a pair of Giant Pandas and ghostly walks to be taken under the city’s streets at The Real Mary King’s Close, there is a lot here to entertain kids. Art galleries, shopping and walks up Arthur’s Seat complete the picture.
Take in a football match
You don’t have to have tickets to a top level game – in fact, these are as hard to come by as gold dust – experiencing what we call the ‘beautiful game’ is part of the British experience. Local teams slog it out over 90 minutes cheered on by their fans. Make sure you buy a pie at half time.
The Lake District
Altogether more genteel, the Lake District is one of the UK’s most visited national parks, an area of mountains and lakes close to the Scottish borders. Strap on some hiking boots and walk up a mountain or two, or if you’re not feeling so active, take a boat tour of Coniston or Windermere. If you like climbing, hiking, boating and fishing, it is an unmissable spot.
Hotels around the country regularly offer an afternoon tea for non-residents, so why not join in? The tradition is to have a pot of regular tea, china cups and a variety of finger sandwiches, savoury baked goods and cakes. It’s a special treat with kids, and no, we don’t have it every day. It’s a special treat for us Brits, too.
Seven Stories, Newcastle
The National Centre for Children’s Books is called Seven Stories and is in Newcastle. If your kids love to read, or love children’s book characters, this is the place for them! They have a packed program of events and several daily story times.
The Natural History Museum
If you only visit one London museum, make it this one. Kids of all ages will find something here to inspire and entertain them, from towering dinosaur bones to an earthquake room, explorer trails and animatronic dinosaurs. Regular exhibits include the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award and an ice rink outside at Christmas.
For a taste of English life outside the main cities, the Cotswolds are a wonderful place to explore. This area to the west of London is made up of pretty villages with thatched cottages, fields, and winding rivers. Throw bread to the ducks, shop for antiques and watch a local team play cricket on the green in summer. It is quiet and idyllic and just what we all wish English daily life really was like.
The Harry Potter tour
The magic of Harry Potter comes alive in the London Warner Brothers Studio Tour. Step into the Great Hall of Hogwarts, try a cup of frothy butterbeer and watch the kids ride a broomstick. It’s terrific fun for fans of all ages.
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
One of the filming locations for Harry Potter, Alnwick Castle near Newcastle is one of the UK’s best castles to visit as a family. It has a huge tree house, a beautiful garden and hosts a variety of family events, from dressing up as a medieval peasant to broom riding and artisan crafts.
The Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace
A rite of passage for any child living near London, the ceremonial changing of the guards is a riot of color and takes place at 11.30am almost daily outside the palace. In it, one regiment of scarlet-clad guards with enormous fluffy black hats takes over from another, with pageantry and drumming making it special.
The Tower of London
England’s grisly history doesn’t get more colorful than this: this palace on the Thames has played host to queens and kings, beheadings and executions, unlawful imprisonments and even a medieval zoo. The full tour, complete with red-clad Beefeater guards and black ravens, is an impressive introduction to the country’s history and is worth every penny.
Durdle Door, Dorset
On the south coast of England, Durdle Door is a limestone arch near to the similarly impressive Lulworth Cove, a semi-circle of golden sand enclosing a shallow, calm bay. It’s a beautiful place to play, build sandcastle and enjoy a quieter side of England.
The Roald Dahl Museum, Hertfordshire
Close to London and housed in the town where the author lived and wrote, the Roald Dahl Museum sheds light on the creative processes and ideas behind the writer of Danny the Champion of the World, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and more. Great Missenden is fun to explore, especially at the weekend when the museum runs family trails themed around characters including The Twits, and you can walk to the graveyard where Dahl is buried and the BFG has left a pair of footprints.
About the author:
Laura is the Director of Communications of family travel website Kid & Coe www.kidandcoe.com, and has traveled widely with her two young children. The website offers a variety of accommodations worldwide for families looking to travel, with properties specifically set up with baby care items, toys and bikes to help make your vacation easier and more enjoyable.