Jun 20, 2012 6:09:15 AM
Child-friendly UK: keeping your family united across the kingdom
Having children with you on your travels doesn’t mean that you, or they, have to miss out on the fun. Here’s our guide to some of the UK’s best family-friendly attractions, whether you’ve got a short time in London or you’re heading to Wales for a week.
London has plenty of sights that parents and kids can enjoy together, and many of them are free, including the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and all of the city’s parks, many of which have excellent playgrounds. Pricier but popular attractions include London Dungeon, London Zoo, Madame Tussauds, Tower of London, London Aquarium and the London Eye.
On top of that, there are a number of city farms and the big galleries have activities for children.
Newcastle in England’s northeast is friendly, full stop. Although at first glance the bonhomie mightn’t seem to extend past buying rounds in the pub, on closer inspection there’s plenty to keep the young ’uns entertained. The utterly wonderful Seven Stories is the perfect destination for any kid who has an imagination.
Closer to the centre the Centre for Life and the Discovery Museum are brilliant and should keep the kids busy for the guts of a day. The most popular park in town is Leazes Park, just north of St James’ Park, which has a rowing lake, but the nicest of all is Saltwell Park, an elegant Victorian space behind Gateshead College.
Leeds’ most interesting museum is undoubtedly the Royal Armouries beside the snazzy Clarence Dock residential development. It was originally built to house the armour and weapons from the Tower of London but was subsequently expanded to cover 3000 years’ worth of fighting and self-defence. It all sounds a bit macho, but the exhibits are as varied as they are fascinating: films, live-action demonstrations and hands-on technology can awaken interests you never thought you had, from jousting to Indian elephant armour – we dare you not to learn something.
If any one thing is emblematic of Cornwall’s regeneration, it is the Eden Project. Ten years ago the site was a dusty, exhausted clay pit, a symbol of the county’s industrial decline. Now it’s home to the largest plant-filled greenhouses in the world and is effectively a superb, monumental education project about how much man depends on the natural world. Tropical, temperate and desert environments have been recreated inside the massive biomes, so a single visit carries you from the steaming rainforests of South America to the dry deserts of North Africa.
Edinburgh has a multitude of attractions for children, and most things to see and do are child-friendly. Kids under five travel for free on Edinburgh buses, and five- to 15-year-olds pay a flat fare of 60p.
There are good, safe playgrounds in most Edinburgh parks, including Princes Street Gardens West, Inverleith Park (opposite the Royal Botanic Garden), George V Park (New Town), the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links.
If it’s raining, you can visit the Discovery Centre, a hands-on activity zone on Level 3 of the Museum of Scotland, try out the earthquake simulator at Our Dynamic Earth, or take a tour of the haunted Real Mary King’s Close.
Although Glasgow is a bigger, busier city than Edinburgh, it’s an easy city to travel around with children due to its extensive public transport system and friendly locals. The city boasts excellent family attractions, including the Glasgow Science Centre and Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery & Theatre which both vie for Glasgow’s top child-friendly attraction. The People’s Palace and Museum of Transport are also recommended. A boat trip along the Clyde can be a lot of fun for kids.
W5 is the city’s biggest draw for kids – it’s hard to drag them away once they get started with the hands-on exhibits. The Odyssey Complex houses other attractions including a video-games arcade, a ten-pin bowling rinkand an IMAX cinema. Belfast Zoo is a perennial favourite, and the Ulster Museum also has plenty of exhibits and special events designed for children of all ages.
For outdoor fun, head for the Botanic Gardens or the adventure playground in Cave Hill Country Park. Or you can try crazy golf with a difference at Pirates Adventure Golf, a landscaped, 36-hole course decked out with waterfalls, fountains and a giant pirate ship.
A friendly, manageable city, Cardiff is a great place for kids and has a particularly good range of child-friendly sights. Possibly best of all is Techniquest at Cardiff Bay, but the National Museum Wales is also well geared towards younger visitors. Children will enjoy the Cardiff Road Train at Cardiff Bay and boat trips to visit the barrage. If the sun’s shining, there are the wide expanses of Bute Park to explore. Just outside Cardiff is the splendid St Fagans National History Museum, with lots of activities during the summer, and the great castles of Caerphilly and Castell Coch.
Find out more in Lonely Planet’s Discover Great Britain travel guide