Easter means many things to many people: a tendency to overindulge in cocoa-based products; bunnies, daffodils, the gentle peal of church bells across fragrant country landscapes; the chance to down tools as two bank holidays (or just one in Scotland) foment a lovely long weekend.
But for parents, it means one thing. A looming four-day expanse where children need to be entertained (with a further two weeks of school holiday ebbing scarily beyond). How to take care of a void that had previously been given over to homework and early nights?
The answer does not necessarily require a dash to the airport. Nor does it have to be a pricey cottage break in a leafy British setting. But it could mean a day or two in the city.
Contrary to perception, Easter is an excellent time to visit some of the UK's major urban centres. With an absence of business travellers, hotels are undersubscribed, and rooms can be available at low rates if you look in the right places. See some of the late-notice websites – hotels.com; laterooms.com; hotwire.com – for deals for the coming weekend.
Furthermore, cities are usually geared up for family jaunts over Easter. Museums often stage special events aimed at junior visitors, and green spaces can be alive with festivities that mix treasure hunts and energy-burning games with the constant spectre of chocolate.
This year's Easter weekend – Friday 29 March to Monday 1 April – comes with the complication of a shift in time. The clocks go forward to British Summer Time at 1am on the night of 30-31 March – a move that will deny you 60 crucial minutes in bed on Easter Sunday morning, but will, in turn, guarantee an extra hour of daylight to play with every evening.
This guide focuses on child-friendly options for Easter weekend, but also keeps an eye on the rest of the school holiday. You can find further suggestions via the national tourist board websites: visitengland.com; visitscotland.com; visitwales.co.uk; visitbritain.com.
It's a sweet thing, sweet thing
York Chocolate Festival, featuring chocolate-tinged workshops, tastings and lectures, runs from Thursday to Monday at the heart of this ancient city revolving around the Chocolate Market (yorkchocolatefestival.co.uk). Chocolatiers will have stalls on St Sampson's Square and Parliament Street (Thu to Sat, 9.30am to 5.30pm). At the Lord Mayor's Easter Egg Hunt (Sat, 10am to 1pm), you'll be asked to collect a "treasure sheet" (£1.50) at Jorvik Viking Centre (01904 615505; jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk) and visit six city sites to decipher clues and earn chocolate rewards.
The Chocolate Festival in Bristol is a touring bandwagon that rolls on to the Centre Promenade at the harbour on Saturday and Sunday (10am-6pm; festivalchocolate.co.uk). Stalls will offer standard treats, and cakes, fudge and – most intriguingly – chocolate wine.
Leigh Woods (0117-973 1645; nationaltrust.org.uk/leigh-woods), an oak forest next to Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension Bridge, is one venue for the National Trust Easter Egg Trail (eastereggtrail.co.uk) (Fri, 10am to 2pm, £2.50) along with Nostell Priory (01924 863 892; nationaltrust.org.uk/nostell-priory), a mansion outside Wakefield (Fri and Sat 11am to 4pm; Sun 10am to 4pm; Mon 10am to 3.30pm, entry £1.50, in addition to Priory entry: adults £10, children over five £5).
Cadbury World (0844 880 7667; cadburyworld.co.uk) in Bournville, Birmingham, has an "Easter Eggstravaganza" (Fri to Mon, 9am to 4.30pm, Sun 9.30am to 4pm), with an egg trail and bonnet making (adults £14.95, four-15 year-olds £10.95).
Delights at the museum
If forced to flee indoors, the Life Science Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne is an enticing option for curious minds (0191 243 8210; life.org.uk; 10am to 6pm, Sun 11am to 6pm) has "Chocolate Heaven" workshops (Fri to Mon). "Do Try This At Home", meanwhile, shows youngsters how to create new inventions from old toys (until 19 May). Adults £8.25, under-18s £6.45 and family tickets are £24.10.
The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester (0161 832 2244; mosi.org.uk) has "All Aboard This Easter" (from 23 March to 14 April, daily, 10am to 5pm; free). There are hands-on games of trial and error where kids can build their own locomotives and paper planes (these two activities start on 2 April).
Circus-themed story sessions are also on the menu. Swansea's National Waterfront Museum (029 2057 3600; museumwales.ac.uk; daily 10am to 5pm; free) is devoted to industry and innovation, but turns to Easter on Friday (noon-4pm) with a "Mad Hatter Eggstravaganza" – a chance to meet Alice's Wonderland companion and his pal the March Hare. The "Looking Glass Trail" (Saturday to Monday, 11am-4pm) also borrows from Lewis Carroll's realm and lets children use a magic mirror to discover clues.
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow (0141 276 9599; glasgowlife.org.uk; 10am to 5pm except Friday, and 11am to 5pm Sunday; free) hosts "The Ugly Bug Crawl" on Saturday and Sunday (11.30am to 3pm, first half-hour for toddlers) – here, children can encounter creepy-crawlies in the indoor garden area.
A day in the park
While trusting in the British weather can be risky, many a park will be awash with merriment (rather than rain, hopefully) over Easter. Croxteth Country Park in Liverpool (0151 233 6910; croxteth.co.uk) has two options: the Easter Bunny Joke Trail (daily 11am to 5pm; 29 Mar to 14 Apr) will mix big-eared humour with cuddly creatures at the park's Home Farm; if the skies open, the Croxteth Hall Easter Egg Hunt (daily 10.30am to 5pm; same dates) will ask children to uncover Easter egg pictures and clues within the rooms of the 16th-century Croxteth Hall, above. Admission (to the whole estate) is £7 for adults, £5.40 for children, £17 for families.
Junior visitors to Wollaton Hall and Deer Park (0115 915 3900; nottinghamcity.gov.uk) in Nottingham can try the "Super Hero Trail" (daily 11am to 5pm, until 30 April), picking up a clue sheet (£1) from the 16th-century Wollaton Hall and using their powers to solve a mystery – while parents look at the sculpture and jewellery on sale at the park's Easter Craft Fair (Fri to Mon, 11am to 5pm).
And Avenham Park in Preston (01772 906 464; preston.gov.uk) will put on an "Easterland" bonanza on Monday (10am to 5pm; free), which will involve puppet shows, "mad scientists", Victorian magicians and egg-rolling.
Something for adults
The holy grail of any Easter, something that can entertain parents and their offspring may be on show in London, at Kew Gardens, left (020-8332 5655; kew.org). "Chocolate Quest" runs from 29 March to 14 April (daily 9.30am- to 5.30pm, to 6.30pm from 31 March; adults £14.50, under-16s free). This "time-travelling adventure" will trace the tale of chocolate through 4,000 years of Mayan cultivation, the Spanish "discovery", and chocolate's Georgian manufacture – while placing the story in a suitable rainforest context. Meanwhile, face-painting sessions and an egg hunt on Easter Sunday will ensure that junior family members do not suffer plant-boredom.
After Easter weekend
Beyond Easter, there's the Edinburgh International Science Festival from 23 March to 7 April (sciencefestival.co.uk) with "Adventure Bots and the Temple Gods", at the City Arts Centre (0131 529 3993; edin burghmuseums.org.uk; 10am to 5pm except Sunday, 12 to 5pm), where eight year-olds and overs can build and program mini-robots, left, (adults £7, kids from £6.50). In Cardiff, there's Techniquest (029 2047 5475; techniquest.org; daily 10am to 5pm; adults £7, under-17s £5, families £23) with "Amazing Eggsperiments" (23 March to 7 April), child-accessible egg experiments – and the "Great Egg Race" (25 March to 5 April, except 30-31 March) where you build vehicles to move fragile items. In London, the Bank of England Museum (020-7601 5545; bankofengland.co.uk/museum) has "Easter Eggcitement" (2-5 and 8-12 April; 10am to 4.30pm; free) with a treasure trail, Easter baskets, and safe-cracking.
Enough of eggs? Easter weekend will also see London retreat to last summer, with the first chance to see the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as it metamorphoses from sports venue to public space. The Park will officially open on 27 July, but hard-hat tours of the site (29 March to 14 April; up to 11 tours a day, 10am to 3pm; from £7) will offer a preview – and access to the giant ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture (0844 581 4995; noordinarypark.co.uk).