Lambs gambolling on soft green hills, smoke rising from the ivy-clad chimneys of honey-coloured cottages; the Cotswolds is a rural idyll drawing thousands of tourists each year from around the world.

Lambs gambolling on soft green hills, smoke rising from the ivy-clad chimneys of honey-coloured cottages; the Cotswolds is a rural idyll drawing thousands of tourists each year from around the world. But this expanse of English countryside - stretching from west of Oxford to north of Bath, east of Gloucester to south of Stratford-on-Avon - isn't just about cream teas for coach parties. There are plenty of children's attractions, too.

Best animal encounters

Lions at large in the Cotswolds? Don't panic - the Cotswold Lion is a breed of sheep, the kind that made the area prosperous in the days when wool was its chief industry. It is just one of the rare breeds that can be found at Cotswold Farm Park near Stow-on-the-Wold. The first attraction of its kind in the UK, it remains one of the best, providing an entertaining and educative day out while continuing serious conservation work.

Cotswold Farm Park (01451 850307; www.cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk) closes for winter on 31 October. Until then it is open daily. Adults £4.95, children 3-16 £3.50, family (two adults, two children) £15.50.

Also try: Cotswold Falconry Centre (01386 701043); Cotswold Wildlife Park (01993 823006); Cattle Country (01453 810510); Birdland (01451 820480); Cogges Manor Farm Museum (01993 772602).

Best natural landscapes

Why cross the pond to New England when you can go leaf-peeping in Gloucestershire? This is perhaps the best time to visit Westonbirt - The National Arboretum, near Tetbury, just as it puts on a fabulous autumnal display. Take a guided walk through Westonbirt's 600 acres - and 18,000 specimens of tree - or do it yourself with the help of a free leaflet by the curator, Simon Toomer. Westonbirt also holds special events. Coming up: The Enchanted Wood Illuminated Trail, in December, when atmospheric lighting creates a magical mile-long route.

Westonbirt - The National Arboretum (01666 880220; www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt). Open daily 10am-dusk. Adults £7.50, children £1, family (two adults, two children) £15. Enchanted Wood, 5pm-8pm, 3-19 and 22-23 December. Adults £5, children free, family £11.

Also try: Batsford Arboretum (01386 701441); Painswick Rococo Garden (01452 813204).

Best grand designs

The birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and home of the 11th Duke of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace was built in the 18th century to a design by Sir John Vanburgh and stands in grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. That's pedigree. Apart from the magnificent palace, there's a railway, maze, lake and pleasure gardens, plus special events. Coming up: Masks and Mayhem, 23-31 October, a re-enactment of an 18th-century tale about highwayman Claud Duval.

Blenheim Palace (0870 060 2080; www.blenheimpalace.com) open until 12 December, 10.30am-5.30pm, daily in October, Wednesday to Sunday in November and December. The park is open daily 9am-4.45pm year round. Palace: adults £12.50, children aged 5-15, £7, family (two adults, two children) £33. Park and gardens: adults £7.50, children £3.50, family £18.

Also try: Berkeley Castle (01453 810332); Bowood House and Gardens (01249 812102); Sudeley Castle (01242 602308).

Best time-travelling

Step back to the Roman era at Cirencester's Corinium Museum, recently revamped to the tune of £5m. The story of Corinium - the second largest Roman town - is told through lots of new child-friendly interactive displays. As well as having Roman fun, visitors can chart the history of the Cotswolds up to the 19th century, with exhibits including a reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon grave.

Corinium Museum (01285 655611; www.cotswold.gov.uk). Open Monday to Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 2pm-5pm, throughout the year, except Christmas. Adults £3.50, children £2, family (two adults, two children) £8.

Also try: Gloucester Museum and Art Gallery (01452 396131). Dean Heritage Centre (01594 824024). Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum (01242 237431).

Best deals on wheels

Win lots of Brownie points by taking your teeny-weeny ones to the home of Brum, from Children's BBC. The Cotswold Motoring Museum and Toy Collection is an award-winning attraction in Bourton-on-the-Water that will sate the appetite of any tiny (or overgrown) tot hooked on all things mobile. Exhibits include Austins, MGs, Rileys and Rovers from the 1920s and 1930s and a collection of pedal cars.

Cotswold Motoring Museum and Toy Collection (01451 821255; www.cotswold-motor-museum.com). Open daily, 10am-6pm, adults £2.95, children £1.95, family (two adults, two children) £8.95.

Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (01242 621405).

Best small wonders

Downsize to a world in miniature at The Bourton Model Railway - a delight for trainspotters, and their sons, with three displays of British and Continental trains spreading over 500 sq ft. The unique selling point of this particular attraction is that visitors can control the trains. It also has a superb shop for model railway enthusiasts.

Bourton Model Railway (01451 820686; www.bourtonmodelrailway.co.uk). Open weekends, 11am-5pm, October-March, adults £1.90, children £1.50.

Also try: Bourton Model Village (01451 820467).

Kate Simon stayed at Bank House in Longborough, courtesy of Rural Retreats (01386 701177; www.ruralretreats.co.uk). A two-night break at the cottage, which sleeps six, costs from £316 from 1 November. The Rural Retreats 2005 brochure is now available. Kate Simon travelled to the Cotswolds courtesy of National Car Rental (0870 400 4560; www.nationalcar.co.uk) which offers three-day car hire from £52.

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