There are some brilliant attractions at this adventure theme park within the rolling Berkshire countryside. New for 2013 is Duplo Valley Splash and Play featuring the Drench Towers water play structure. Recent additions include the Lego themed hotel, a 150-room hotel with themed accommodation, and ‘Atlantis Submarine Voyage’, a ride where visitors travel through a one million-litre tank in a slow-moving underwater vehicle to see live sharks and stingrays swimming amongst Lego mermaids.
The zoo, opened in 1931, is still deservedly popular and has ten gorillas, two tigers, two lions and a family of leopards, as well as smaller animals. At Chessington World of Adventures, many rides are geared towards families with young children, unlike the more extreme offerings at nearby stablemate Thorpe Park.
Many of the rides here are designed for teens and older children, and have height restrictions. That said, parents with young (or short) children will find plenty to do at Neptune's Beach (a big paddling spot) and Octopus Garden (little, friendly rides). Teenagers will love the gore of horror-themed white-knuckler Saw, and the spiralling water drop raft ride Storm Surge. The staff at Thorpe Park are mostly young and extremely friendly
Set in Britain's woods and forests, Go Ape centres are fantastic places for monkeying around in the treetops. The high rope courses offer adrenaline-packed aerial adventures for the over-tens (height and weight restrictions apply). Families can swing, scramble, climb and slide to their hearts' content amid the rope bridges, trapezes and zip slides. Climbers are fitted with sturdy safety harnesses, so there's no need for the gripping skills of an actual ape.
For any child who has ever dreamed of driving a vehicle or controlling a digger, this is a real treat. In this earthy barrow in Kent, there are giant machines, dirt diggers and a sky shuttle. Many of the attractions have height restrictions, so do check before you set out, but there are lots of attractions aimed at young children including mini Landrovers, mini dumper trucks, mini tractors and dodgems.
Henry VIII had many homes, but this one positively oozes historical drama.The world-famous gardens are truly wonderful, with the maze taking centre stage in any child's itinerary. Themed activities are plentiful during the school holidays, and on selected bank holidays and weekends Tudor cookery demonstrations take place in the huge kitchens, where children love the bubbling cauldrons and game-bird carcasses.
Two palaces for the price of one. The remains of the Tudor palace include a bridge over the moat, as well as the impressive Great Hall. The biggest draw now, though, is the art deco property erected adjoining the Great Hall in 1936 by textiles heir Stephen Courtauld. The furniture and fittings look like a film set. Upstairs there's a chance to enjoy a home movie of Stephen and Virginia with their pet lemur, Mahjong (who had his own, specially designed quarters).
Hever Castle is quite small, but what stories its walls can tell. Most famously, the castle was the family home of Anne Boleyn. Children are always riveted by the violent life and times of Henry, and this is a great place to introduce the subject. There's also a brilliantly designed water maze. Visitors must choose a path across the pond using stone slabs and trying to avoid the surprise jets of water that surge into the air if they stand on a forbidden path.
Children love random facts, and Hatfield House has many juicy ones to its name. It was here that Queen Elizabeth I spent her childhood and learned of her accession to the throne while reading under an oak tree in the park. A children's quiz encourages youngsters and adults to discover and study fascinating individual items within the house. There are tantalising views of the private maze and family gardens from the windows, and recently Hatfield Park Farm and Bloody Hollow Adventure Playground have been added to the attractions.
This magnificent turreted pile looks out over the Thames towards Kew. It was here that Henry VIII's fifth wife Catherine Howard awaited her execution. The rooms, designed by Robert Adam, are breathtaking. Outside, children will love the nineteenth-century Great Conservatory, and running around in the Capability Brown-landscaped gardens. Then there's the London Tropical Zoo enclosure, full of endangered animals like piranhas, snakes, crocs and poison tree frogs.
Run by the team behind London Zoo and set in 600 acres of Bedfordshire parkland with views across the Chilterns, Whipsnade offers a huge variety of animals including all the favourites – chimps, lions, elephants, camels, zebras, hippos and giraffes. The emphasis is on learning about how the animals live in near-as-possble natural habitats, with viewing huts providing exceptional views through glass walls.
Families can watch animals in their enclosures, including pigs, sheep, cows and more exotic animals like wallabies and reindeer. But the animals are also here to entertain, in the form of sheep races, geese obstacle races, goat climbing displays, falconry displays and ferret fun runs. Enticing activities include frisbee golf, adventure playgrounds and a giant sandpit with working ride-on diggers.
Woburn Safari Park is a chance for children to see exotic animals in wilder and larger outdoor habitats than can be expected at London Zoo. Take a drive through the plains and see tigers, elephants, giraffe, bears and wolves stalking across their acres. Families can also take a foot safari to get up close to the lemurs, monkeys and penguins. As well as the animals, there are lots of activity areas dotted around the park.
The Lodge is a sprawling nature reserve containing woodland, heath and grasslands, presenting ample opportunities for birdwatching and exploration along five miles of walking trails, picnic spots and landscaped gardens. Explorer Backpacks are available for children, which include binoculars, bug viewers, wildlife guides and activity booklets.
Tiny, sweet and quintessentially English, Leigh-on-Sea is a quiet seaside resort 30 miles east of London and a lovely family day trip. The main street of Old Leigh is lined with cheerful cafés, and on the seafront are cockle sheds and working boats. At the west end, a tiny sandy beach gives way to a muddy gulch when the tide goes out - kids love it, but parents might want to take some spare clothes and a plastic bag for the journey home.
It's only at high tide that Mersea Island is actually separate from the rest of Essex, when a stretch of the B1025 is submerged beneath the waves and becomes the Strood causeway. Once there, the island is a flat five miles across with plenty of simple pleasures to enjoy. The local farmed flat oysters and Colchester natives are legendary. Next to the oyster farms are boatyards, working fishing boats and yachts in the summer season, as well as sand and shingle beaches.
Camber Sands withholds its beauty until the last second - it's hidden beyond a mountain of sand dunes. The beach itself is a vast seven-mile sweep of soft sand that's half a mile wide at low tide. Families enjoy the views from behind their windbreaks and then emerge to build sandcastles or paddle in the sea. The constant breeze also makes it popular with kite boarders and windsurfers, but they are kept within a restricted part of the beach.
The charm of the steam era lives on in Sussex, where the Bluebell railway line chuffs and puffs through the countryside for 14 kilometres. There are Fish & Chip specials departing during July and August; Steam & Cream trips (eat a cream tea while on board) are scheduled until the end of September and Family Fun days take place on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout August with Punch & Judy shows on Wednesdays and magic shows on Fridays.
Ashdown Forest is the former medieval hunting forest where AA Milne got the inspiration for his Winnie-the-Pooh stories. There are two Winnie-the-Pooh walks of different lengths (which can be downloaded from Ashdown Forest's website) that take in points of interest from the famous bear stories. Set out on an 'expotition' and find the place where Pooh and his friends found the North Pole, the Heffalump Trap and Lone Pine, Roo's Sandy Pit, and more.
Londoners come here to take their pick of the seasonal produce. Soft fruits are favourites in the summer months and there are plenty of vegetable fields and orchards too. Staff at sheds at each individual field issue pickers with suitable containers, and then weigh produce in at the end. Make a day of it by stopping at the farm shop to stock up for a picnic on the designated field by the river.
The woodlands of Chislehurst hold a secret beneath their roots. Thirty metres below ground is a complex of manmade caves carved out of the chalk by Druids, Saxons and Romans. Since then the caves have been turned to all sorts of purposes: during World War II, they acted as Britain's largest bomb shelter. The 45-minute lamplit tour covers a mile of the tunnels; children will enjoy locating the Druid Altar, the Caves Church and the Haunted Pool.
Bekonscot Model Village is a haven of miniatures - children are just the right height to appreciate its Lilliputian charms. Spread across one and a half acres, its 200 small buildings, 1,000 animals, 3,000 inhabitants and hundreds of tiny vehicles are a delight, with lots of visual jokes to enjoy. A model railway runs through the site over bridges and through stations, and there's also a ride on train that takes you around the site.
Bletchley was the British centre for codebreaking and military intelligence during World War II. Older children will be fascinated by talk of secret missions and the race to decode complex passwords and secret languages. There's also a code trail that lets them have a go. Small children will enjoy the Thomas the Tank Engine model train layout and the display cases of period toys, as well as the playground, open spaces of the 29-acre site