Top 10 things to do in the British summer holidays

Bailiffscourt Hotel and Spa, West Sussex
Bailiffscourt Hotel and Spa, West Sussex

School’s out – great for your little ones but not so great for you once they start climbing the walls. Here’s our guide to some great British days out to make the summer holidays go smoothly

Leeds Castle,Kent. Credit: VisitEngland

1. Leeds Castle, Kent

Why should the kids have all the fun? This summer holiday why not visit ‘the loveliest castle in the world’? This moated castle has been owned by six of England’s medieval queens and was also used by King Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. This summer there are lots of activities to keep youngsters amused, including an open-air performance of children’s classic Peter Pan and kids’ classic films.

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2. The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Legend has it that this baffling collection of basalt columns, which have intrigued visitors for centuries, are the result of a feud between Irish giant Fin McCool and his Scottish counterpart Benandonner, with the former building the causeway so he could cross the Irish Sea without getting his feet wet to fight his foe. Today it is still a magical sight and one that promises to fire the imagination. While here make the short trip to Carrick a Rede to test your mettle across the rope bridge, an exciting prospect for any youngster.

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3. The ArcelorMittal Orbit, London

Over-eight-year-olds can brave The Slide at this Olympic Park landmark. The world’s longest tunnel slide at 178m long, it takes a hair-raising 40 seconds to reach the bottom, circling the Orbit 12 times en route.

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4. The Tower of London, London

This iconic landmark on the banks of the Thames is always a winner with families. You can marvel at the sheer opulence of the Crown Jewels, see the very spot where Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded at Tower Green, or visit during one of the historic reenactments and imagine what it would have really been like to be sent to the tower.

The Beamish Museum
The Beamish Museum

5. Beamish open-air museum, County Durham

This fantastic open-air museum tells the story of England’s North East during the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s. Different summer activities are organised every day, from science experiments to Suffragette marches, this is a great way for kids to learn about British history while having fun. Try It Tuesdays see a host of activities, from croquet to trying on Georgian costumes, while on Thunderous Thursdays kids can learn about the dangers of working down a coal mine.

Knights and princesses in the making at Hever Castle
Knights and princesses in the making at Hever Castle

6. Hever Castle in Kent

13th-century Hever Castle was once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and there’s lots on offer for modern-day children this summer. Take your pick from jousting events, knights and princesses school and Hever’s fantastic water maze (bring a towel). A new playground for under-7s means there’s plenty of fun to be had for kids of all ages. 

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7. RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey

Join the ‘Jurassic Trail’ and find out about prehistoric plants and dinosaurs in these beautiful gardens, gifted to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1903. Kids can also take part in dinosaur-themed activities this summer, while creepy-crawly shows and falconry displays are also guaranteed kid-pleasers.

Audley End House, Saffron Walden. Credit: VisitEngland
Audley End House, Saffron Walden. Credit: VisitEngland

8. Audley End House and Gardens, Saffron Walden, Essex

This beautiful English Heritage property in East Anglia has a host of child-focused events this summer, including a performance of Alice in Wonderland, ‘Ugly Bug Safari’ – a hunt for mini-beasts – ‘Knights and Princesses’, with lessons in chivalry and etiquette, and ‘Train the Troops‘, in which children can become Home Front heroes as they discover Audley End’s secret wartime past.

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9. Duart Castle, Scotland

For a real sense of adventure, why not escape with the kids to the ancestral home of  Clan McLean on the Isle of Mull this summer? Explore the ancient keep and dungeons, walk the battlements and take in the extraordinary views out across the Sound of Mull

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10. Tractor Ted at Bowood House, Wiltshire

Bowood House is home to one of Britain’s biggest adventure playgrounds as well as a lovely farm where kids can meet the animals and watch chicks hatch. For grown ups there are acres of beautiful parkland, designed by ‘Capability’ Brown, to explore, while inside the house there are all manner of treasures, from Queen Victoria’s wedding chair to Napoleon’s death mask. Visit over the weekend of 18 and 19 August and you will also get access to Tractor Ted’s Big Machine Weekend, which will feature tractor and trailer rides around the Bowood Estate as well as a Tractor Ted bouncy castle and slide.


For more ideas of day-trips in the holidays, see our feature on days out within an hour of London