Keeping the kids entertained at home over the October half-term holiday can be challenging, with often rainy, overcast days causing a potential headache for parents.
But you don’t have to go far to have fun. A half-term staycation can provide an opportunity to see the best of a new town, city or county in the UK, with plenty of destinations packed with family-friendly attractions and activities, whether you’re looking to bundle little ones out on an autumn yomp or stay busy indoors in museums and galleries.
The range of wet-weather activities in cities such as Liverpool gets even more extensive in the colder months, while London’s plethora of tourist sights is no less impressive when the summer sun retreats.
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Bath and Edinburgh grow even more picturesque and atmospheric as the leaves change colour and the nights draw in, while adventurers won’t let a little rain put them off the fantastic hikes and magnificent views of the Lake District and the Cornish coast.
Get inspired with our selection of the best places for a family staycation during half-term.
The Lake District
For a quintessentially English break head to the Lake District. Accommodation options range from classic hotels to private log cabins and self-catered stays, where hot tubs and wood-burning stoves keep the family cosy as they gaze over the mountains. By half-term, the green landscape will have changed to a heady mix of gold, orange and brown, while hiking trails are far less crowded.
Depending on the age of the kids, the family can take on a variety of walks, from relaxed strolls to valiant attempts to conquer the tallest peak in England, Scafell Pike (978m). Some water sports and activity centres close earlier in the month, though there are several places to rent canoes, kayaks and paddleboards, and you can take the Windermere Lake Cruise up until 29 October.
Towns including Keswick, Bowness-on-Windermere and Ambleside are other good places to explore, with atmospheric market squares and plenty of shops, restaurants or pubs to spend a relaxing evening in.
The Scottish capital is one of the UK’s most picturesque cities, centred around its historic Old Town, a Unesco-listed network of cobbled streets that includes the Royal Mile (the city’s main thoroughfare) and the colourful facades of Grassmarket.
Edinburgh’s cultural standouts are the National Museum of Scotland (which contains over 20,000 artefacts and offers free entry) and the National Museum of Modern Art (where visitors can see works by Picasso and Matisse). With Halloween just around the corner, a trip to the Edinburgh Dungeons is particularly timely, and Harry Potter fans will love the Potter Trail, a free tour of several locations that inspired the people and places of the famous magical book series.
If the weather holds, a climb up Arthur’s Seat provides views over the city that are only rivalled by those from Calton Hill, where the Acropolis-inspired National Monument of Scotland stands. If all else fails, Edinburgh Zoo is a fail-safe attraction, with lions, pandas, giraffes and tigers all on show.
A city with a dizzying array of things to do, London is an ideal half-term destination for families who want to pack as much as possible into their itineraries. Many of the main sites can be admired just by walking through the city, whether strolling through Covent Garden, going to the gates of Buckingham Palace or taking in Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. There are places that you’ll want to pay to enter, such as the Tower of London, but numerous museums are free to enter and have great activities for children: the Natural History Museum, British Museum, National Gallery, Science Museum, V&A and Tate Modern, to name a few.
Time spent wandering through markets is a great way to while away an afternoon, whether you want to sample the flavours of Borough Market, hunt for antiques on Portobello Road or simply explore the vast range of stalls at Camden Market. Alternatively, catch a matinee performance of Matilda in the West End or get kids to run off some energy at one of the capital’s numerous parks, such as Regent’s Park, Hyde Park or the more wild Hampstead Heath.
One of England’s prettiest cities, Bath is famed for its impressive Georgian architecture and Roman Baths, and is the only city in the UK that is Unesco-listed. During autumn, the seasonal hues bring a pleasant colour to a city that is best explored on foot.
Though kids may not immediately appreciate the designs of the Royal Crescent or Pulteney Bridge, they’ll likely be captivated by the ancient remains of the Roman Baths (entry to which is free for children under six years old). For those over the age of 16, a trip to the Thermae Bath Spa is a unique experience where visitors can take a warm swim – even in winter – while overlooking the city in the evening.
A walk around the Parade Gardens or Prior Park gives kids the opportunity to let off some steam, and Bath sits just on the edge of the Cotswolds, allowing visitors to explore quaint villages and verdant countryside.
The southeastern tip of the UK is well-known as one of the country’s main tourist destinations. Its coastal towns are particularly popular, with places such as Newquay, St Ives and Falmouth offering typical Cornish Riviera charm. Though the county is most popular as a summer destination, its towns and natural sites are still radiant – and far less busy – later in the year.
The idyllic portions of coastline are a defining feature, and while swimming or surfing in the rain may not appeal to some, a walk along any of Cornwall’s Atlantic coast trails can easily fill a day, with enthralling sections on the 130-odd mile route between Padstow and the Lizard.
A visit to the Eden Project, a series of biomes that house “the world’s largest indoor rainforest”, or the county’s most renowned art gallery, the Tate St Ives, is a great way to pass a day. Younger kids will appreciate Newquay’s Zoo and the Blue Reef Aquarium, while the museum at Bodmin Jail is a novel experience that houses what must be one of the UK’s coolest hotels.
Few UK cities are as energetic as Liverpool, with the buzz of proud locals and students mixing with characterful neighbourhoods and recent development projects to form a city that is wildly entertaining for all ages.
Music-minded children will be keen on a trip to the Liverpool Beatles Museum or The Beatles Story before seeing some live music. Venues such as The Cavern Club, Jacaranda or The Shipping Forecast has live performances from as early as 11.15am, and kids are usually allowed in until around 8pm.
Liverpool is an ideal size for exploring on foot, and along the Mersey River, the Three Graces (three iconic buildings from the early 1900s) dominate the waterfront, while further along the Royal Albert Dock stands as a reminder of the city’s maritime heritage. The Merseyside Maritime Museum is dedicated to this history, and on the third floor The International Slavery Museum sensitively confronts the darker side of this mercantile past.
You can take a trip to the Tate Liverpool or the Museum of Liverpool before leaving the waterfront and heading back into the city centre or exploring the treasures housed in the warehouses of the Baltic Triangle.
Pembrokeshire is one of Wales’ most picturesque spots, with quaint seaside towns, hundreds of miles of walking routes and dozens of sections of delightful coastline. Beaches such as Barafundle Bay, Freshwater East and Manorbier are still enchanting on overcast days, and a walk along any of the cliffs tops on the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coastal Path provides some of the best views in the UK.
Milford Haven is a good choice for a more lively place to stay, especially by the waterfront, while Tenby is the county’s destination for the stereotypical British seaside break – even if it is October – with four main beaches that are dotted with fish and chip shops, ice cream parlours and striped beach huts. Though there is less to see in Pembroke, it is a handy base for exploring the surrounding beaches and is home to Pembroke Castle, an imposing medieval fortress that dates back to the 12th century.
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