There’s no denying that theme parks can cost a bomb. But provided you plan ahead, for example by booking early and online and bringing a picnic, you can keep costs down for a day that is fun-filled and a firm favourite among children of all ages.
Good news is that growing competition means the UK’s theme parks are forced to provide regular offers such as two-for-one tickets, as well as offering lower prices for family tickets, and if you plan to visit regularly, annual passes can save you a fortune.
Do your homework though. Some of the parks are better for littluns, whilst others specialise in the white knuckle rides more suitable for teenagers upwards. Then there are those that cater for all ages, even grandparents.
Too far to travel? A growing number of theme parks have their own hotels, while others have teamed up with local hotels to offer deals.
Best theme parks in the UK
Best theme parks in the UK
1/10 Legoland, Berkshire
Families can have a swashbuckling time in the new Pirate Shores area and splash and play in DUPLO Valley. Then there’s the seemingly endless rides, many of which don’t have height restrictions, making this a particularly good option for younger children. If you can afford it, buy a Q-Bot as queues get long on busy days. Online from £35.10 for adults; £31.05 for children. Under threes go free.
2/10 Alton Towers, Staffordshire
CBeebies land is the latest addition, serving as a reminder that Alton Towers isn’t just about white knuckle rides. Mind you, this theme park does do adrenalin rushes particularly well, what with Nemesis, Rita, Air and Oblivion and most recently, the Smiler, the world’s first 14 looping rollercoaster, with added psychological effects. Online from £36.90 for adults; £32.40 for children. Under fours go free.
3/10 Lightwater Valley, North Yorkshire
Located near the cathedral city of Ripon, and only half-an-hour’s drive from Harrogate, this is home to Europe’s longest rollercoaster, the six-minute Ultimate. Attractions for less fearless types include the Angry Birds activity park, the Eagles Creek petting farm with tractor rides, and the Lightwater Valley Falconry, with raptor displays. Online over 1m from £19.50; under 1m from £5. Under twos go free.
4/10 Thorpe Park, Surrey
Height and speed are the name of the game with rides at Thorpe Park, with some of the highest and fastest rides in Europe among the 30 rides and attractions. It’s well laid out, with plenty of space to spread out for a picnic and as there are five big water rides, prepare to get soaked. If you need to stay over, consider the new Thorpe Shark Hotel. Online from £25.99 for over 12s; £23.99 for under 12s. Children under 1m are free.
5/10 Paultons Park, Hampshire
Littluns will love Peppa Pig World, with its undeniably cheery vibe and seven Peppa-themed rides. Then there’s the main park, which is great for all ages, from the all-new hand-crafted Victorian carousel to EDGE, where riders swoop and spin on a giant disc. We’re not sure why, but queues seem to be shorter here than some of the other theme parks. Online adult or child (over 1 metre) tickets from £23.50. Children under 1 metre go free.
6/10 Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Lancashire
Tie your theme park visit with a trip to the seaside. There’s an impressive 125 rides and attractions across 42 acres at the end of Blackpool’s promenade, with plenty of new ones including InFusion, Big One and Valhalla. Other attractions include an ice skating arena, adventure golf course and even a museum, plus our favourite – the Wallace & Gromit ride, Thrill-O-Matic. Online adult wristbands from £19.99; Junior wristbands from £17.99. Under twos go free. Or get a Pleasure Beach Pass for £6, which includes several attractions and a show.
7/10 Drayton Manor Theme Park, Staffordshire
It doesn’t get better than this for Thomas fans, who will not believe their eyes when they get to Thomas Land, the only attraction of its kind in Europe. Among the themes for slightly older kids is Ben 10, while adrenalin junkies can enjoy the new Air Race and Apocalypse, which has been voted as UK’s scariest ride. There’s a zoo too. Online from £20 for 60+ year-olds; £25 for 12-59 year-olds; £20 4-11 year-olds. Under fours go free.
8/10 Chessington World of Adventures & Zoo, Surrey
New for 2014 is the new Chessington Azteca Hotel, with 69 themed rooms that overlook Chessington’s awesome wildlife. Fear not if you’re not staying over, as animal lovers can enjoy the zoo and Sea Life Centre, as well as the 40 rides and attractions, or combine both with Zufari: Ride into Africa, which features encounters with flamingos, giraffes, antelope and rhino. Online prices for adults and children from £25. Children under 0.9m go free
9/10 M&D’s, Lanarkshire
This is Scotland’s biggest theme park. Stand-out rides include Tsunami, the only inverted rollercoaster ride in Scotland with corkscrew twists, turns and loops, while Amazonia is Scotland only indoor tropical rainforest. The High Diving Pirates have a great new show on this year. Unusually, parking is free. Online wristband for under1.3m from £13.10; over 1.3m £17.50. Under 2s go free, depending on height.
10/10 Oakwood Theme Park, Pembrokeshire
Oakwood is the only theme park in Wales and home to Megafobia, voted the best ride in the UK and third best ride in the world by the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain. Be warned queues can be up to three hours for this ride alone, though. Worried it will rain? Take cover in the new Hook’s House of Havoc, a giant new pirate-themed indoor soft play centre. Online £19.50 for over 13s; £13.50 for 3-12s. Under threes go free.