Keeping the children entertained on an extended vacation is never easy but the UK is packed with attractions to help. For the younger kids, sea and sand are usually a winning combination in the summer months and, being an island, there is no shortage of beaches in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
A good starting point is the Jurassic coast of Hampshire and Dorset. Weymouth has a wide expanse of sand and safe bathing for youngsters and all the usual ingredients for a UK seaside town, which means fish and chips, rock candy, donkey rides and amusement arcades. There’s a Sea Life Centre in the town, which isn’t far from Dorchester where you’ll find Britain’s only Dinosaur Museum and the Dorset Teddy Bear Museum. Along the coast, steam engines operate on the Swanage Railway which opens the door to a host of interesting adventures. The six-mile track runs past Corfe Castle, where you can alight and explore the ruins.
The admission price usually includes a treasure hunt for the kids and there is a model village in close proximity. At the end of the railway line is the old inland port of Wareham, home to the world-famous Monkey World. More than 200 apes, mostly rescued from the illegal pet trade or smuggling rings, live on the 65-acre site and there are keeper talks regularly throughout the day. Fathers and sons might enjoy the Tank Museum at Bovington, which houses around 300 armoured vehicles from the First World War to the modern day, or the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Ilchester in Somerset. The exhibits here include the first British-built Concorde.
Further west, you can enjoy a day out at Paignton Zoo. As well as the animals, there is a miniature train as well as indoor and outdoor play areas. Devon and Cornwall has some fabulous beaches and, inland, there is something for everyone at the Flambards Experience near Helston. Fun rides, streets from bygone areas, award-winning gardens and picnic areas await.
Lots of London attractions are geared towards the more mature visitor but there are plenty of opportunities for interaction at the Science Museum in Kensington and people of all ages enjoy a ride on the London Eye. The Cartoon Museum in Russell Square and Hamleys toy store on Regent Street are both enchanting in their own way, especially when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Wales has an abundance of creepy castles; Caernarfon, Conway and Pembroke are among the best, and also a number of scenic railways. The Ffestiniog Railway steams through Snowdonia, while the Snowdon Mountain Railway takes you to the top of the tallest mountain in England and Wales itself. The Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway does a similar job in the Highlands of Scotland, while the Jacobite Steam Railway takes you around Ben Nevis and will be recognised by fans of the Harry Potter films. In Northern Ireland, the stepping stones of the Giants Causeway just beg to be explored and exhibits in the accompanying Visitors Centre tell the tale of the giant Finn McCool, who legend says stepped out from these shores.
Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach on the Golden Mile attracts thousands and thrill-seekers every day and its famous Illuminations can be viewed from September onwards, while the UK is also well endowed with theme parks. Alton Towers in Staffordshire is among the biggest while Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey and Legoland, near Windsor, service the south of England. In Yorkshire there is Flamingo Land near Malton and Lightwater Valley near Ripon, and the Midlands has Gullivers Kingdom and Drayton Manor. Cadbury World in Birmingham is as near to chocolate heaven as you’ll find and a rival for Willy Wonka! You can even buy a giant memento of your visit in the store afterwards – just don’t let the kids unwrap it before you get home.