Britain’s tourism chiefs will be crossing their fingers and toes, hoping that the good weather continues and encourages us through the gates of the nation’s tourist attractions this summer. In 2012, British residents poured £57bn into the domestic tourism industry’s coffers on days out, according to the latest findings from Visit England, with the number of summer day trips up 10 per cent on the previous year.
And there are plenty of reasons why that trend should remain on an upward trajectory in 2013, with new attractions and enhanced experiences lined up to capture the crowds across the country this summer. Here’s a selection of some of the best.
Cracking time in Bristol, Gromit
Follow in the paw prints of Gromit in Bristol. The south-west city has enlisted its famous canine son to attract visitors to its streets this summer, with Gromit Unleashed, a trail of 80 giant hand-painted sculptures of Wallace’s loyal hound, by British designers including Sir Paul Smith and Cath Kidston, around landmark locations until 8 September.
Download the trail free at gromitunleashed.org.uk. Some of the city’s attractions are getting in on the act, too – At-Bristol (0845 345 1235; at-bristol.org.uk; admission £12.90) is hosting Gromit-themed activities, including workshops with an Aardman Animations model maker, from 25 July to 1 September.
A fruitful time in Kew
Messing about in boats is the seasonal fun on offer at Kew’s Palm House Pond until 1 September. The water feature has been transformed into the Tutti Frutti Boating Lake by food artists Bompas & Parr, with a floating pineapple island at its centre, around which you can navigate one of a fleet of colourful craft. There’s a secret banana grotto to explore within its blue waters too. The eccentric attraction is part of Kew’s IncrEdibles festival, running until 3 November, which will showcase the many edible species growing in the gardens (020 8332 5655; kew.org; admission £14.50, plus £4.50 for the Tutti Frutti Experience ).
Sprinkle fairy dust in Wales
J M Barrie’s fantasy Peter Pan becomes a reality this summer at the Oakwood Theme Park (01834 815170; oakwoodthemepark.co.uk; admission £21) in Pembrokeshire, where Neverland has just opened in time to welcome the summer crowds. From Skull Rock, a pirate-themed log flume with a 12-metre sculpted skull and a 12-metre freefall drop, to the soft-play area, Hook’s House of Havoc, there are 10 rides and attractions to try out at this new three-acre space that cost £4m to create.
Go wild in Norfolk, Kent and Manchester
Get the kids off the computers and down to Wildrootz (01328 851465; pensthorpe.com; admission £10.75), a new action-packed activity space at Pensthorpe Wildlife & Gardens in Norfolk due to woo summer day-trippers when it opens on Friday. More than 30 items of play equipment will include a slide tower called The Worm and a zip-wire through the trees titled The Flyway.
Outdoor pursuits are the order of the day at Riverhill Himalayan Gardens (01732 459777; riverhillgardens.co.uk; admission £7.25) in Kent, where new family events for summer include Boat Making (24-28 July), Jewellery Making for Wild Warriors & Woodland Nymphs (14-18 August) and Bark Art (28 August-2 September).
And SeaLife Manchester (0871 221 2483; visitsealife.com) has recently opened SeaTrek, Europe’s first seabed walk – a one-hour underwater experience for over-eights in a tank full of sharks, rays, fish and a giant green sea turtle, named Ernie; £60.
Visit a royal Victorian beach on the Isle of Wight
Queen Victoria’s private beach at Osborne House (01983 200022; www.english-heritage.org.uk; admission £13.40) on the Isle of Wight – where her children learnt to swim – reopens for a second year, until 31 August, with the addition of some traditional Victorian fun. New for this summer, Punch and Judy will be making an appearance every weekend in July and daily throughout August, and there will be games of quoits and skittles to play, too. While you’re there, check out The Alcove, where Victoria took in the views across the Solent, and the bathing machine that she and the family used.
Scale the heights in Blackpool
Notching up its 113th season, Blackpool Tower (0871 222 9929; theblackpooltower.com; various prices) has raised the bar for summer 2013. The Blackpool Tower Circus will put on a record programme of 364 shows, including summer spectacular “Around the World with Mooky and Boo” until 10 November, starring a global cast of acrobats. Meanwhile, the Tower itself has been cloaked in a Diamond Dress, featuring 20,000 new lights. The Eye and 4D Cinema Experience, Ballroom, Dungeon and Jungle Jim’s soft-play centre complete the iconic attraction’s offering.
Build a sandcastle in Oxford
Avert your eyes from those dreaming spires – the sight to see in Oxford this summer is an unlikely swath of sand. Landlocked Oxford is the latest city to follow the trend for urban beaches (01865 252200; visitoxfordandoxford shire.com; open 10am-11pm), dumping 23 tons of sand in the Castle Quarter and decorating it with deckchairs and palm trees.
A line-up of suitable activities will take place on the impromptu shorefront until 1 September, including volleyball and petanque competitions, barbecues and cinema nights.
Follow the bear to Hampshire
The National Trust’s campaign “50 Things to Try Before You’re 11¾” campaign picks up the pace in the summer with a varied nationwide programme featuring everything from bug hunts to outdoor theatre performances.
At Mottisfont (01794 340757; nationaltrust.org.uk; admission £11.25) in Hampshire, the high-summer fun is themed on Winnie the Pooh, with a special exhibition of E H Shepard’s illustrations, and a family nature trail, Winnie-the-Pooh’s Great Expotition, featuring Poohsticks races on the River Test, tracking a Woozle and designing traps for Heffalumps. Until 15 September.
A bird’s eye view in Cornwall
The Eden Project (01726 811911; edenproject.com; admission £23.50) has opened the first segment of its Rainforest Aerial Walkway, which takes visitors from the Rainforest basecamp through the canopy of its steamy indoor jungle to the Nest lookout (the second phase will see the walk continue to a cliff path). Along the way, you’ll learn about the Baka indigenous people of the rainforests in Cameroon, the Congo basin and Gabon by listening to their music, seeing their shelters and discovering their way of life. From the Nest, you’ll be able to get to grips with the rainforest’s biodiversity.
2011 was a major year for Scotland’s visitor attractions: The National Museum of Scotland (0300 123 6789; nms.ac.uk; free, exhibitions extra) reopened in Edinburgh after a £47m refurbishment, and Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, Riverside, opened in Glasgow (0141 287 2720; glasgowlife.org.uk; free; some events extra).
To keep record-breaking visitor numbers up (four million extra visitors were recorded at Scotland’s tourist attractions last year), both are staging events throughout the summer. The National Museum of Scotland’s blockbuster summer exhibition examines Mary Queen of Scots (until 17 November) and there’s also a free fringe music festival from 3-24 August during the Edinburgh Festival and after-hours experience on 17 and 24 August. Riverside has a host of family-friendly events, including a back-to-the-1980s photo shoot on 10-11 August and charity bike run on 31 August.
Park and ride
Thorpe Park’s (0871 663 1673; thorpepark.com; from £24.99) newest rollercoaster, The Swarm, has added two rows of backwards-facing seats to give the ride an extra stomach-churning dimension this year. The trains appear to travel through a crash scene, past an upturned ambulance and via destroyed billboards, corkscrews an inverted drop through a plane wing and zero-gravity roll.
The Surrey park has also opened the doors to the Crash Pad Hotel, a minute’s walk from the gates. Doubles start from £135 including two days’ park admission for two guests and breakfast.
In Staffordshire, Drayton Manor (0844 472 1950; draytonmanor.co.uk; from £20) has just opened a new family-friendly monorail in Thomas Land. Winston, the Fat Controller’s inspection vehicle, will take groups of four around the Thomas the Tank Engine-themed section of the park on his Whistle Stop Tour, with views of Knapford Station and the rest of the Thomas-themed attractions.