The United Kingdom's top attractions for families run the gamut—from screaming thrill rides and totally immersive child-sized worlds to wonderful animal exhibits and family-friendly cultural attractions.
There's no need to put off a trip to the UK just because you have young children, either. Family travel can be fun for everyone as long as you remember to include child-friendly attractions in your itinerary. Fortunately, most of these attractions are also fun for teenagers and adults—everyone can find their inner child on a trip to the United Kingdom.
Harry Potter fans and anyone interested in a detailed look at what's involved in the making of movie magic will love the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter.
The movies' most iconic sets, including The Great Hall, Dumbledore's Office, Hagrid's Hut, The Gryffindor Common Room are open to the public at the studio, 20 miles northwest of London, where the movies were filmed.
The studio tour is conducted on foot and features costumes, props, and behind-the-scenes secrets of the franchise. While there are no rides or theme park thrills, kids old enough to have read the books and enjoyed the films will be enthralled, and there are interactive experiences including the chance to ride a flying broom.
Picture a town where kids run everything: They work as doctors and dentists; train as actors and put on shows for their parents; and do the jobs of airline pilots, firefighters, and law enforcement officers.
Such a place exists at KidZania, a children's role-playing attraction that offers 100 different role-playing activities in 60 different establishments like shops, offices, hospitals, factories, and race car pit stops. Parents can watch from discreet windows, but kids run all the activities inside the play space. The tiny workers even earn KidZania's own currency (Kidzos) that they can spend in the shops.
KidZania is monitored and safe. The play space only has one entrance and one exit, and once in Kidzania, children are fitted with RFID bracelets that keep tabs on them. Children can only be removed at the exit while in the confirmed presence of their parents.
What better place to introduce children to the experience of live theater than the West End? Kids Week, sponsored by the Society of London Theatres, has been held since 1998 and has grown from a one-week festival to an entire month of performances in August each year.
During Kids Week, a child under 16 can attend a performance for free with a paying adult ticket holder, and two more children can come along for half price. During the week, there's also an array of free events, workshops, storytelling, and activities.
Tickets go on sale in June, and the participating shows are announced near the start of the month. The best way to find out what's happening is to subscribe to the Society of London Theatre Family Bulletin. That way, even if you can't come for Kids Week in August, you can find out about other family-friendly shows, promotions, and competitions in London throughout the year.
Legoland has 150 rides, all kinds of shows, water slides, and boat trips, and everywhere you look, you'll find amazing creations made of Lego pieces. In Miniland, at the center of the park, 35 million pieces of Lego have been used to create scenes from London, Paris, Amsterdam, and elsewhere in Europe.
There are surprises everywhere, including a fire-breathing dragon at the entrance to the resort and an incredibly realistic Chewbacca guarding the entrance to the Star Wars exhibits.
The park is aimed at children between 2 and 12 years old, but some of the rides have height restrictions for the younger ones. You can also stay overnight at The Legoland Resort Hotel. The hotel, which opened in the middle of the park in 2012, includes two days of free entry to the park for each guest.
Longleat is one of the best safari parks in the world—and the oldest outside of Africa. The park has a huge maze, a boat ride on a lake full of seals, a train ride, and an adventure playground designed like a child-sized castle.
For the adults, there is a stately home, garden, and park (landscaped by Capability Brown) to explore. Regularly voted the U.K. Family Attraction of the Year by all kinds of guides and domestic magazines, Longleat won't disappoint visitors of any age.
For more than 600 years, nearly a thousand mute swans have nested at the Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset each year, and as a result, they've become completely tolerant of, if not indifferent to, close up encounters with humans.
Spending a day with the world's only man-managed nesting colony of mute swans is a great activity for adults and kids alike. Watch the swans build their nests and tend to their eggs. Visitors might even get to see the cygnets hatching, especially in May and June, when hundreds of cygnets break free of their shells and wander around the paths of the nesting site.
Europe's deepest aquarium is a magical exploration of the world's oceans with fascinating displays and utterly beautiful aquaria.
At The Deep, the main tank is more than 30-feet in depth and has manta rays, sharks, strange looking Australian sawfish, and schools of smaller fish (about 3,500) that, remarkably, don't get eaten.
Don't miss the "jewel" tanks that demonstrate the jellyfish cycle of life and the Twilight Zone with its strange, almost prehistoric critters.
Ten museums over 80 acres illustrate the industrial revolution beside Thomas Telford's cast iron bridge, the world's first. The Ironbridge Gorge, known as the Birthplace of Industry, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the location, visitors can learn about the first factory-made products and the tools and machines that made them.
Nearby, there's a Coalport China Museum, a tile museum, a pipe makers workshop, a reconstructed Victorian town, and more—if that seems a bit dry and grown-up, be assured the interactivity makes it a blast for children. Leave plenty of time because there is simply too much to see in one day.
Another option is visiting Enginuity, an interactive design and technology center where kids can learn how things work and design their own bright ideas. Also, don't miss Blists Hill Victorian Town, where your family can experience a day in the life of ordinary people during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Contained in a series of transparent geodesic domes that squat on the Cornwall landscape like sci-fi mushrooms, the Eden Project describes itself as a place that "is all about man's relationship with and dependence upon plants."
The Enden Project is a "green" theme park where issues and questions around nature and sustainability are explored. Although not specifically aimed at kids, there are plenty of child-centered activities including trails, restaurants with healthy children's menus, and play structures naturally "grown" from willow and bamboo.
The Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Blaenau Ffestiniog, within the Snowdonia National Park, are at the heart of a feast of family-friendly activities. What began as a modest, illuminated attraction in a disused slate mine has grown into a multi-activity center.
On the Deep Mine Tour, the steepest cable railway in Britain plunges into the heart of Llechwedd mountain and back. Tour guides come from families with generations of links to the slate industry. Younger children love the hard hat experience.
Once underground, let the kids loose on the Bounce Below, a vast underground playground with bouncy, trampoline-like nets filling the caverns. For the adventurous, ZipWorld Caverns takes participants on a journey through otherwise inaccessible caverns on zip lines, rope bridges, via ferrata, and tunnels. The tour is limited to children older than 10, involves some onsite training, and can take about three hours.
Great for visitors of all ages, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is the oldest visitor attraction in Edinburgh, which first opened in 1853. Filled with tricks, puzzles, illusions, special effects, and all sorts of new and old technology alike, this unique attraction includes five floors of illusions as well as a spectacular rooftop view of the city.
Nestled into the forests of Hoveton, Norfolk, the BeWILDerwood attraction is a 50-acre park filled with whimsical fun, head-scratching puzzles, zip-line adventures, interactive story-telling events, and puppet shows.
Appropriate for kids up to 12 years old, BeWILDerwood is the brainchild of kids’ author Tom Blofeld and features characters from his book including Hazel the Wood Witch, Moss & Leaflette, Swampy, Mildred the Crocklebog, and Snagglefang.
A UNESCO-listed natural phenomenon, the Giant's Causeway in Bushmills, Antrim, in Northern Ireland gets its name from the large system of basalt columns that look like stepping stones for giants disappearing into the sea.
Features include walking trails, an interactive visitor's center, and the Wishing Chair—a natural throne formed from perfectly-arranged columns. Kids of all ages will enjoy climbing up and down the stone "steps" and learning about the history of the region on the Giant's Causeway Experience at the Visitor's Centre.
The world-famous open-air museum Beamish—also known as The Living Museum of the North—tells the story of life in northern England in the 1820s, 1900s, and 1940s.
Located in Stanley in County Durham, this unique attraction invites guests to dress in period garb and meet a cast of characters from England's past. From plowing the fields to descending into a coal pit, school-age children of all ages can enjoy this truly immersive experience.
Located in Alton in Staffordshire, the Alton Towers Resort is an all-inclusive amusement park and hotel complete with a waterpark and kids' play place, making it the perfect destination for families of all ages.
Kids aged 10 and up can embark on thrilling rollercoasters, including the first vertical drop rollercoaster in the world, Thirteen, as well as fairground rides, playhouses, and haunted houses. Meanwhile, younger kids can spend the day in the Term Time CBeebies Land Hotel, a colorful world of rainbows and interactive exhibits.
If your kids are fans of animals and nature, head to Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo in Begelly, Pembrokeshire.
From learning how to milk cows and goats to petting goats, rabbits, miniature ponies and pigs, and donkeys, there's plenty of interactive amusement to be found on Folly Farm. Additionally, kids will get a chance to see wilder animals like lions, giraffes, meerkats, and Humboldt penguins up close.
Housing everything from Egyptian mummies to an entire wing dedicated to insects, The World Museum in Liverpool, Merseyside, is a must-see attraction for natural history fans visiting the United Kingdom. Explore the cosmos in the planetarium, discover different traditions from around the planet in the World Cultures Gallery, and marvel at real casts of dinosaur skeletons in the prehistoric wing.
One of the most famous and oldest attractions in the United Kingdom, Stonehenge is a must-see on any trip to the region.
Located near Amesbury in Wiltshire, Stonehenge is easily accessible from London, and many companies offer private tours of the prehistoric monument with transportation included in the cost. Other things to see and do near Stonehenge include exploring Neolithic houses, touring the Stonehenge exhibition at the visitor's center, dining at the nearby cafe, or buying a souvenir at the gift shop.