The top most visited attractions in the UK for 2018 was announced this week and it made me start to think; what would my own top 10 be? As it turns out whittling it down to just 10 proved impossible, and even 15 was pretty tough, but here they are my favourite family days out;
No 15. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
Harry Potter World (as I call it) should quite possibly be number one on this list but there are a couple of things that really let it down. One is the cost (£140 per family) and the other is a real issue with overcrowding around the main sets. If you can get past these problems then it is a fantastic day out for any Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all the books, watched all the films, played both the Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit games and got many of the t-shirts but there were loads of things that I learned about the making of the films I didn’t know before. It was a nice touch that several of the original actors were involved in films throughout the exhibit.
Diagon Alley was great fun to walk through. Dumbledore’s Office was incredible; there was so much detail. Sadly the Hogwarts Express was a bit disappointing. I won’t spoil it by saying what is at the end of the tour but it took my breath away. Find out if I thought it was good value for money here.
No 14. Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
Hardwick Hall is a bit of a trek from Aylesbury, but I’ve done it in a day a couple of times. It’s actually 2-4-1 because you can visit both the main hall and the ruined old hall. Hardwick Hall “more glass than wall” really was an architectural masterpiece in its day and was the brainchild of the formidable Bess of Hardwick. When you go inside everything is on a vast scale. The Great Chamber is almost unbelievable. Not only could you fit my house inside it, you could fit several of my house inside this ONE ROOM. Instead of wall paper every single wall is covered in tapestries. Whilst you know that is how medieval homes were decorated, it’s stunning to see.
The house itself was a highlight for me but it’s not necessarily that interesting for smaller children. There is plenty to do in the gardens and wider estate though. There are loads of sheep, lakes, a welly wildlife trail and even a fairy house. There are also lots of games on the lawn that everyone is free to play with.
Just as an aside, it doubled as Malfoy Manor in the Harry Potter films.
No 13. Avebury, Wiltshire
Stonehenge is world famous, and so are the traffic jams it causes. I’ve been to Stonehenge and it is impressive, but I’d still prefer to visit Avebury. Firstly, as stone circles go, it’s huge. There’s a village running through the middle of it! Secondly, you can walk around and right up to the stones. It can be a bit hard to get a sense of scale at Stonehenge, but that’s certainly not an issue here.
In addition to the stones there is also a truly unique National Trust manor house. Because none of the contents are originals you can touch and pick-up absolutely everything in the house. You can play the games, sit in the chairs and read the books. Different rooms relate to different periods on the house’s history which gives you a good variety of things to explore. Oh, and it’s the only NT property I know of where you can have a nap on the beds. Read more about Avebury here.
No 12. Paradise Park, Hayle, Cornwall
This was a “little” place we found whilst on holiday and fell in love. We didn’t expect to be here all day, but we didn’t leave until kicking out time and ended up going back the following year. It’s a relatively small site but actually it doesn’t feel like it. They have a good variety of birds and other animals to see. The other animals include Otters, Red Pandas, Red Squirrels and Rabbits. You are allowed to feed various farm animals as well, always a hit with my boys.
They have a couple of different flying shows throughout the day. The birds involved in the show are real characters and the team really add to the atmosphere. You absolutely must not miss the final show of the day – it gave me goosebumps. It’s just so majestic. In addition to this there is a very good soft play area. It’s actually on a par with many stand-alone soft play areas.
No 11. Cotswold Wildlife Park and gardens, Burford, Oxon
Any list of family days out really should include a zoo and of all the zoos locally Cotswold has to be my favourite. Why? Well, firstly it’s the best value for money in terms of ticket prices. Secondly it feels more relaxed and less busy than other zoos nearby. They still do trails and seasonal events, but these tend to be more low-key than the all-singing, all-dancing events on offer elsewhere, which also helps to keep the cost down.
The site is a manageable size so you can look around all the animals in one day and they all seem to have decent sized enclosures. We really liked the Lemur walk-through. It’s popular but it’s not excessively busy so you actually get the opportunity to see the Lemurs!
No 10. The Big Sheep, Bideford, Devon
Ahhhhh, The Big Sheep. I possibly shouldn’t love this place as much as I do, but we’ve been several times and we’ve always had such a good time. The only reason that is is lower down my list that it should be is purely geographical, it’s not local to me otherwise it would rank be significantly higher.
The staff here are incredible. They’re funny, engaging and passionate about the animals they care for. They have a good balance of animals vs activities and the shows are such a highlight. We always make sure we see each of the shows every time we visit. Another thing which is a big plus for this place is that, although it’s popular, it’s not overcrowded so you can explore at your leisure and you don’t have to wait ages to get on the rides. Plus there are plenty of indoors things to do (including the shows) if the weather is a bit dodgy. Have a look through my review here.
No 9. Hampton Court Palace, Surrey
Hampton Court Palace had been on my to-visit list for a very long time but it wasn’t until recently that I actually managed to go. This place has to be one of the biggest visitor attractions in the UK. It’s mind-bogglingly big. The “kitchen” is 75 rooms for goodness sake!
What’s great at Hampton Court is that there are lots of different parts of the Palace dedicated to the different eras of its history, it’s not all about Henry VIII. The palace is also very well preserved and there are plenty of rooms open so you can visit whatever the weather. The gardens are brilliant and highlights include an amazing adventure playground, maze and several record breakers. Find out all about my visit here.
No 8. Cliveden, Buckinghamshire
This is one of the most popular National Trust properties in the UK and that’s actually the reason it’s slightly lower down my list than the number of times I’ve visited would warrant. I wanted somewhere slightly less known to be my favourite NT property.
Anyway, back to Cliveden, the house itself is now a VERY exclusive hotel but the grounds are open to visitors and there’s plenty to keep you entertained. There are various different sections, with the Water Gardens being the post popular spot for families because this is where the maze and the main playground areas are. Have a look at my post for lots of photos. Cliveden is perfect for both lazy sunny days where you set up camp and let the kids run around or for autumnal walks to blow away the cobwebs. We come here all the time.
No 7. Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxon
Blenheim Palace is a perfect day trip from Bucks, in fact you can easily spend hours there between school runs, and there is so much to do. I’ve been around the house but I didn’t take the children, purely because there was so much outdoors for them to do we didn’t get chance. And that’s despite having tickets that are valid for a full year and visiting 6/7 times. There is a butterfly house, huge maze, fantastic adventure playground, cheap miniature railway, lakes, waterfalls, beautiful gardens and more. They also do a jousting tournament twice a year which is so much fun we went both times.
For families Blenheim Palace is more about the gardens than the house, or at least it was for us, and it has one of the most unique combinations of activities that we’ve been to. They do lots of stuff during school holidays so it’s always worth double checking the website if you’re thinking of visiting to see what’s on and when. You can see lots of photos and more details here.
No 6. The National Space Centre, Leicester
I find space and everything about it awe inspiring. If it weren’t for minor details like not being remotely qualified, I’d love to go to space one day. Until that happens I have to console myself with a trip to Leicester.
This is a really family friendly museum for kids of all ages. There are tons of hands-on experiments and exhibits for everyone to get involved in. The “We’re all made of stars” show was both eye-opening and interesting. Whilst you’re there you can drive the Mars rover, play various interactive games, have you photo taken on the moon and launch a rocket over lunch! Another great thing is that tickets are valid for a year so you can go back again and again. Read more about the Space Centre here.
No 5. Green Dragon Eco Farm, Nr Aylesbury, Bucks
There are lots of open farms all over the UK, of varying sizes and costs. I think that we are really lucky to have a brilliant one just down the road for where we live. Because it is so local it goes in at number 5. Green Dragon Eco Farm has been around for a couple of years now and its gone from strength to strength. Some of the more expensive open farms seem to focus more on the additional activities and less on the animals, but I think Green Dragon strikes a much better balance. There are lots of different animals to meet, the site is a really good size and the staff were fantastic. Their new wildlife zone is still a bit of a work in progress but already it gives you something a bit different from other places.
Once you’ve had enough of the animals there is a soft-play area, sand pit, large outdoor play area and pedal-karts to name a few things. Not all open farms are full days-out but you can easily spend the entire day here as long as it is dry.
To find out more click here.
No 4. Charlecote Park, warwickshire
Choosing a favourite National Trust property isn’t easy for me – I’ve been to over 80 and there’s only a couple that I disliked visiting. But for several reasons Charlecote Park takes fourth place on my list and so is my highest ranking NT property. There is a good range of things to do on the estate; a Deer park, a beautiful church, a lake, rivers, rare breed sheep and cattle and some really nice gardens. That’s not to mention the house itself and the fascinating outbuildings. They have a laundry, brewery, secret house and a brilliant kitchen.
Charlecote just seems to have a really relaxed atmosphere, and there are various things you don’t tend to find at other NT places I’ve visited. Plus they do a really nice scone. Have a look at the link to see my full review.
No 3. Warwick CAstle
Nominated by eldest child. Over the years I have visited quite a few castles. From the ruins of Tintagel (“That’s not a castle Mummy, that’s a pile of rocks” Eldest child, aged 5) up to the splendour of Windsor Castle but Warwick has to be my favourite. Many of my followers will know I have a soft spot for the Tudor period, and Warwick Castle was quite a busy place back then! For the more brave amongst you there are the dungeons (I’ve not been down there in years though), for those with strong legs there are the castle’s towers and walls to climb (there are a LOT of steps), plus the state rooms and time tower. They also have daily shows and special events; we got to see the Trebuchet being launched, a stunning bird show , a mini-play and an archery masterclass.
In the wider grounds there is the Horrible Histories maze, lots of gardens to explore and Peacocks running all over the place. Overall I think this is very much a dry-day activity. They actually do a rainy-day guarantee; if it rains for more than an hour when you visit then you can return for free within 60 days. Not bad at all!
Top tip – always book online, they also do lots of partner/discount offers so it’s worth looking out for those. Under 3’s are free but if you have under 5’s then check out their little warrior pass – £10 for one adult and one child, £5 for each extra child.
No 2. The RAF Museum, London
The RAF museum makes it to number 2 because it’s a full day out and it’s completely FREE to visit (just pay for parking). Although it’s in London the journey is nice and easy, even at weekends. The museum has hundreds of aircraft on display, in all shapes and sizes. What I particularly liked is that throughout the exhibition areas there are displays telling you about the personal stories of real-life RAF staff.
The museum has had a recent revamp and now there is a large hands-on exhibit where you can test your technical skills. There are numerous planes where you can look around the cockpits etc and there are a couple of mock-ups that the kids can scramble around. The only downside is that these are VERY popular and there’s lots of pushing and shoving. We gave up in the end.
The children’s play area is AWESOME. I’m sure my boys could have quite happily stayed there all day given half a chance. It’s all themed around planes and helicopters and it’s very popular with kids of all ages.
For my review of the RAF museum click here.
No 1. the Hawk Conservancy, Andover
Whilst Andover might sound a million miles away from Aylesbury, it is actually easily done as a day trip, albeit a long one. The Hawk Conservancy was recommended to us and Blue Peter badge holders get in for free, so we thought we’d give it a try and I’m so glad we did. It was amazing!!!
The staff were all passionate about the animals they care for, knowledgeable and really friendly. I’ve said it before, but a good team of staff really can make a day out. We were there from opening until closing, got to see loads of bird shows and had some amazing experiences. It also has an epic kids play area that we literally had to drag the boys away from so we could go and see the owl show. In the end they weren’t too disappointed because they got to participate in the show by being trees.
I cannot recommend this place highly enough. It absolutely had to be my No 1. family day out. For my full review click here.