Beaches, balloons and fabled monsters: UK days out for kids

In Beach, Family, Travel Inspiration, UK by Russell BowesLeave a Comment

Very soon schools will be emptying for the summer – and up and down the land parents will be struggling to think about how to keep those little ones amused for the next six weeks.

Thinking back to my own childhood, family days out with my grandparents were one of the highlights of the summer holidays; through June and early July I would be counting down the days till the holidays began and I could get out and about exploring towns, cities and the countryside, visiting new places and having fun with my family.

Coming up with enough ideas to fill a six-week break is almost a marathon in itself – and with pressures on all our wallets these days, it’s good to have a mix of activities which includes those you can do on a budget, or better still for free. To help out with a few family-friendly ideas I’ve scoured the nation from North to South and East to West to put together a list of summer holiday activities that will appeal to kids of all ages.

From the very small to those of us who are still big kids at heart, we’re all set for a very happy holiday.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside: Beachside in Brighton

Brighton's eclectic lanes

Brighton’s eclectic lanes Photo: Beverley Goodwin

Whether it was 20 years ago or last week, as soon as the sun comes out I’m thinking about the seaside. Walks along the promenade; sandcastles on the beach; piers stretching into the gorgeous blue sea; ice cream: I could go on. My all-time favourite beachside destination has to be Brighton. The seaside city is a great destination for days out with children as there are a world of activities to keep your little ones busy. From the amusement arcades and rides on the pier, to taking a boat trip from the marina or just playing on the pebbly beach, whatever outdoor activities your brood is into you can find them here.

Brighton is famous for its eclectic shopping area ‘The Lanes’, filled with everything from boutique stores and record shops, to antique shops and trendy cafés. If you bring teenagers with you they’ll probably want to head down here and explore this uniquely vintage quarter.

As the British weather can turn in an instant, it’s a good idea to plan for indoor activities too. My favourites include a visit to the fabulous Royal Pavillion with its Indian-feel architecture, and learning about what lurks beneath those beautiful waters at Brighton’s Sea Life Centre. Kids in Brighton have great ideas for family trips to Brighton, from where to eat to what to see.

Katherine Atkinson from Kids in Brighton:

“Brighton is a great place to visit with children. There is so much to do in a relatively small area. The main attraction is of course the beach. Whilst many may complain about the pebbles, families with kids soon realise how much fun the kids get from throwing them in the sea, a free activity that can last for quite some time! And you don’t get sand blown onto your picnic either!  There are plenty of family-friendly activities along the beach as well as numerous places to eat”.

Up, up and away: Ballooning over Bath

Hot-air balloon ride in Bath

Drift across the countryside Photo: Bath Balloons

It always amazes me how fearless children can be (I am excluding my younger, more safety-conscious, self from this of course). One adventurous activity even the staid and sensible younger me would have enjoyed is a trip up in a hot-air balloon. I may not be one for flying, but the idea of gently floating over the idyllic English countryside (think Somerset here) sounds like a perfect way to while away the day. Throw in a fantastic sunrise or sunset and what more could you ask for?

Tony from Bath Balloons says:

“Our aim is to give everyone a pleasant, enjoyable and safe flight. Ballooning is an adventure, a magic carpet ride, something not to be rushed. The flight will last for about one hour; the whole outing usually takes between three to four hours. Where we go is entirely dependent upon the wind. No two flights are the same. The average distance we travel is ten miles, affording you stunning views of the surrounding scenery. Age is no barrier to enjoying this spectacular journey, as our passengers’ ages range from nine to ninety!”

Adventurous children will probably love taking to the skies and watching the world slowly drift by – and it’s a good way to get teenagers off their smartphones for long enough to enjoy some family time (I don’t think phone signals go that high!). If you’re planning on taking the family up in the air make sure you’re all over the age of nine.

Petting zoos and picnics: Pembrokeshire’s perfect coast

Check out the coast too Photo: David Evans

Check out the coast too. Photo: David Evans

I’m coming back down to earth for my next recommendation. If there is one thing children love it’s animals of all sizes. I remember visiting a local farm park in Hertfordshire as a child and watching the unbridled joy on my younger brother’s face as he played with the animals. Though I may be grown up now I still like a visit to the zoo, though usually on an adults-only day! To keep children of all ages (and those of us who are children at heart) entertained, I’d recommend a day out at the award-winning Folly Farm, which combines a park, zoo and adventure play areas. This should more than keep the family entertained with lots of amusements and things to do for at least a day.

Zoe Wright, Head of Marketing at Folly Farm:

“Folly Farm, previous winner of the Best Family Day Out in Wales award, is ideal for families with children both young and old. With over 700 farm and zoo animals, an indoor adventure playground, a huge indoor vintage funfair and a whole host of outdoor play, there is something for all ages, whatever the weather. Picnic friendly, plenty of highchairs; babychange facilities; parents’ room; lost child wristbands; breastfeeding friendly: these are just some of the things which make Folly Farm ideal for families.”

Monster hunting in the Highlands: Quest for Nessie, Loch Ness

Loch Ness

Loch Ness. Photo: Karoly Lorentey

I’ve always been fascinated by mysteries. Strange sightings or odd animals always got my wandering attention and they don’t come much more strange or mysterious then old Nessie. Dive into Scotland’s biggest mystery with a day out around Loch Ness. Take a cruise out to see what you can find. I can’t guarantee you’ll catch a glimpse of her lurking beneath the waters – but you will get the best views and holiday snaps of attractions such as Urquhart Castle, the Great Glen and the rest of the spectacular Scottish countryside.

Stop in at the Loch Ness Visitors Centre, a previous winner of ‘The Best Visitors Experience in the Highlands and Islands’, and learn about the 500-million-year-old history of Loch Ness as well as the myth and mystery which has surrounded it in more recent years; I’d check out the monster exhibition!

Nearby Loch Ness there’s a wealth of family-friendly activities on hand such as horse riding, visiting Cawdor castle and – for the grown-ups – the Glen Ord Distillery, a must for whisky lovers.

Magic caves and kid-friendly hikes: Cheddar Gorge, Somerset

My final recommendation takes us back down to Somerset – out into the countryside with activities for kids who are a little more, well, hyper. Tire energetic youngsters out with a day full of fresh air and hikes at Cheddar Gorge. Start with an underground exploration of two of Britain’s best underground attractions, Gough’s and Cox’s caves. You’ll be transported to a magical realm by spectacular rock formations, mirror pools, fountains and choral music. Let the kids join the eternal battle of good vs evil in the Crystal Quest, an interactive story based on ancient myth and legend.

Gough's Cave

Gough’s Cave. Photo: Kurt Thomas Hunt

Get out in the open and take a walk along the cliff tops; at around three miles it’s not too challenging a distance (though there will be a climb at the beginning of the walk) so even the smallest feet should just about make it round. Bring a picnic with you and enjoy it whilst looking at the stunning panoramic view from Horseshoe Bend, the walk’s highest point. There are plenty of things to see on your walk when little ones need to take a break, including getting up close with local wildlife – and with scenery as spectacular as this you won’t want to rush your way around. If you want to take in the majesty, but feel a little less energetic, hop on the Open-Top Gorge Bus Tour; you will still get some stonkingly good views while keeping your knees intact, avoid any little feet wearing out, and have a guide telling you all about the local landscape. For inspiration on places to stay in the UK. Don’t forget to check out our family-friendly holiday guides.

These are just a few great UK days out for kids. Share your favourite day-trip spot in the comments below.

Special thanks to @FollyFarmWales @BathBalloons @KidsinBrighton

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About the Author

Russell Bowes

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Russell is originally from leafy Hertfordshire, England but now lives in the bright lights of London. He has travelled to many parts of Europe and South-East Asia. His favourite trip was to Athens and Santorini, Greece in 2012. When he is not writing about travel he can be found working on his blog where he posts all sorts of recipes and adventures from his kitchen.



Russell BowesBeaches, balloons and fabled monsters: UK days out for kids

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