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Family travel

The best UK holiday destinations for families

The British Isles have a plethora of child-friendly spots. Natalie Paris picks 10 of the best

Saturday 02 March 2024 14:08 GMT
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Sometimes you can’t beat a staycation. Thanks, in part, to the temperamental weather, the UK has a huge array of indoor activities to entertain families. Step outdoors, meanwhile, and there are pretty, pastoral scenes and rugged landscapes to explore – from the Lake District and Cornwall to Northumberland and Devon.

Not forgetting our varied coastline, characterful towns and historically important cities. There’s plenty to excite all members of the family, no matter if they’re two or 82. The UK offers gorgeous walking and hiking, beautiful wild swimming spots and plenty of trails for activities like mountain biking and running. Head to one of the major cities like London or Manchester and you’ll be spoilt for choice with child-friendly galleries and thaetres, as well as reaturants that cater for all ages.

Whether you want to show the children a world-class museum or simply go for a romp in the hills, read on to discover our favourite family holiday spots, then choose your own adventure.

Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Fans can take a Jane Austen tour of Lyme Regis where Persuasion is set (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Combine traditional seaside fun with monster appreciation on the fossil-lined Jurassic Coast. Lyme Regis has become a quietly stylish spot and makes a splendid base. It is flanked by two beaches – one sandy and the other (Monmouth) made up of grey pebbles, with a section of ammonite pavement at one end. The town’s Dinosaurland Fossil Museum has more than 12,000 specimens on show, including a collection of Ichthyosaurs. Find old-fashioned seaside resorts at Swanage and Weymouth, or the South West coastal path offers blustery clifftop walks. Branscombe to Beer is a picturesque section – try a mackerel fishing trip from the shore at Beer. Prior to this, the Undercliffs National Nature Reserve also deserves exploration, with vegetation so thick and luxuriant, kids will be transported to another world.

Stay

The genial Alexandra Hotel, Lyme Regis, has sea views, a large lawn, a range of bedrooms and two self-contained apartments ideal for families.

The Lake District, Cumbria

The natural beauty of The Lakes appeals to all ages, while Windermere is ideal for families with younger children. The tourist town of Bowness has facilities for little ones as well as access to the lake for boat rides or walks along its gravelly shores. Brockhole is a country house with boat and kayak hire, treetop swings, archery and an adventure playground. Popular too are the fluffy characters that bring Mr McGregor’s garden to life at the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, or introduce children to Wordsworth’s daffodils at Dove Cottage, in Grasmere. An easy, family walk near Ambleside is the trail around Blea Tarn; Ullswater is easily reached from Windermere too. Another family highlight is the easy walk up to the Aira Force waterfall beside Ullswater and, if you’ve energy left, Gowbarrow Fell, behind, offers views of the lake.

Stay

Linthwaite House Hotel has an elevated position above Windermere, standalone suites for families, bikes to borrow and its own tarn with a rowing boat.

London

The pyramid structure floats on the Serpentine in Hyde Park (Christo and Jeanne-Claude Photo: Wolfgang Volz)

England’s capital has enough to wow children for endless repeat visits. Broaden young minds by strolling past Parliament and the guards at Buckingham Palace or by marvelling at the Natural History Museum, the British Museum and the Science Museum. Stretch their legs at Kew Gardens or any of London’s parks – such as Hyde Park, where there’s boating on the Serpentine, or Crystal Palace, with its stylised dinosaur statues. You will never be short of stimulating activities in the city and just riding the Tube can be an experience for little ones. Whole weekend to spare? Pop north on the train for a Harry Potter Studio Tour. End your day in song, being dazzled by a world-famous show in the West End.

Stay

The Resident in Kensington, is close to the big museums and Earls Court station. Deluxe rooms can sleep four and have mini-kitchenettes with a fridge and microwave.

Cornwall

Let their imaginations run wild at the Lost Gardens of Heligan (Lost Gardens of Heligan)

If your children love waves and bodyboarding, head to the north coast of Cornwall, where Newquay is popular with teens and Bude attracts all ages. Otherwise, the Fowey area and the emerald headlands of the Roseland and Lizard Peninsulas appeal to families. Cornwall’s most famous attraction – the Eden Project – hosts the largest rainforest in captivity in its biomes, plus sculptures, outdoor gardens and a canopy walkway. Just west of here, the Lost Gardens of Heligan became overgrown after WWI, then were rediscovered and restored to their former, captivating beauty. St Ives has eye-candy beaches and art at the Tate. Otherwise, there is fun to be had jumping waves in hidden coves or imagining life as a smuggler in villages like Polperro that seem to tumble down to the harbourside.

Stay

Fowey Hall Hotel has undergone a major refurbishment. As part of the Luxury Family Hotels group, expect free childcare, outdoor games, kids menus, babysitting and even a child-friendly spa with two pools once the second opens in late April.

York

Older children and teens will revel in the vivid history underpinning this city. To get a measure of it, walk a section of York’s 13th-century walls, of which nearly two miles have survived. Further back in time, the Jorvik Viking Centre remembers the Jorvik Vikings, offering a multi-sensory ride in “time capsules” that take you through 10th-century streets, along with live interpretations and galleries. Jorvik DIG, meanwhile, gives younger children the chance to get their hands dirty in four excavation pits littered with finds that resemble actual archeological digs in York. Finally, take teenagers with a strong constitution to The York Dungeon, for live re-enactments of York’s more gruesome historic periods. The National Railway Museum has easier-to-digest charms, if your children are into vintage trains.

Stay

No.1 by Guesthouse has stylish rooms, pantries with complimentary snacks, bedrooms with pre-erected tipis, record players and Instax cameras that kids can borrow to take their own photos.

Pembrokeshire, Wales

Pembrokeshire contains the UK’s only coastal national park and its vast stretches of undeveloped golden sand offer plenty of space for beach games. Families can walk beside impressive cliffs, visit traditional seaside towns and go on wildlife-spotting boat trips too. Barafundle’s small bay is one of the most picturesque to visit, though its clear waters are a 15-minute walk from Stackpole car park. Expansive Whitesands Bay is good for bodyboarding but Broad Haven’s beach – further along from Barafundle – is the best all-rounder, offering the safest swimming, paddleboards, kayaks and rockpools. There is a wide choice of holiday parks to stay and play in or Tenby is a perennial favourite for a base, with its town beaches, colourful houses and fishing boats sheltering in the harbour.

Stay

The Park Hotel in Tenby has sea views, family rooms and an outdoor swimming pool.

Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

Stepping stones: the Giant’s Causeway in Co Antrim

Perhaps Northern Ireland’s most well-known landscape, and a natural World Heritage site, the hexagonal basalt columns that form stepping stones here are great fun to hop over and photograph. They are owned by the National Trust, which offers visitors guided audio tours. Children can learn about the legend of giant Finn McCool, ancient geology and coastal erosion. There are fairy tale rock formations to spot plus the wider coastline along the Causeway Coastal Route offers other activities such as sea safaris, medieval Dunluce Castle and the hair-raising Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Teenagers can play Indiana Jones (you’ll probably have to explain it to them) by crossing the bridge as it wobbles nearly 30m above the raging Atlantic.

Stay

The Lodge Hotel in Coleraine on the Causeway Coast has smart family rooms with bunk beds.

Yorkshire Dales

The Dales is a region of velvety fells, pikes and postcard-pretty villages that will appeal to families who enjoy fresh air and gentle walking. In the south, the numerous footpaths around the romantic riverside ruins of Bolton Abbey and Fountains Abbey are good for an amble. There are waterfalls to discover too: one at Malham Cove, a large limestone crescent, and others for older children to find along the four-mile Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, past spectacular Thornton Force. White Scar Cave (England’s longest show cave) is nearby, featuring underground cascades and an ice-age cavern filled with stalactites. Family mountain biking is possible in many places too.

Stay

The Lister Arms is a friendly boutique inn with tasteful, homely rooms – some of them family-sized – near Malham Cove.

Edinburgh

Visit Edinburgh virtually during lockdown (Getty/iStockphoto)

Edinburgh impresses with its fascinating castle, looming over the city, and daily cannon firings. Children can explore the dungeons, see the crown jewels and hear exciting tales from the fortress’s past. There’s a lot to take in, so leave plenty of time for a visit. Down on the Royal Mile, teens might enjoy a humorous ghost tour, or check out the Real Mary King’s Close, a tour that retells frightening stories in passageways below ground. At the Camera Obscura, holograms, illusions and light shows play tricks on the mind while also teaching kids a bit more about the city. Burn off any remaining energy by climbing Arthur’s Seat or wandering around Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

Stay

The Scotsman Hotel has a central location in a heritage building, a pool, children’s menus, fridges in rooms and babysitting.

Windsor

Legoland makes for an action-packed day out (File photo)

Either as a side-trip to a visit to London or as a destination in its own right, Windsor has two main attractions: its castle and Legoland. The 11th-century castle – the Queen’s weekend residence – is easy to spot, just step out of the train station and the stone walls and turrets are right there. Its grandeur is best appreciated however from the three-mile long avenue of trees that cuts a line through the Windsor Great Park. The following day can be spent at Legoland, a theme park certain to inspire creativity in kids. As well as the tiny, brick-built replicas of famous destinations, you’ll find fairly tame rollercoasters, a 4D Ninjago experience and a submarine ride. Awesome, as a plastic, cylindrical-headed man might say (though you can expect queues).

Stay

De Vere Beaumont Estate is a country pile with rooms that take kids beds, ample gardens and a scenic location close to the Thames.

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