Successful family vacations depend on plenty of fun things to do with your kids that will entertain all ages. Whether you are visiting the UK with your children for their first taste of "abroad" or simply looking for a few fun outings to liven up school vacations and school holidays, these family-friendly outings in England's Southeast are bound to create great loads of fun and lovely family memories.
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Legoland has 150 rides, all kinds of shows, water slides, boat trips and more. And everywhere you look, you'll find amazing creations made of Legos. 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 as well as an indoor Star Wars Experience, complete with sound effects, lighting and music. The park is aimed at children between 2 and 12 years old and some of the rides have height restrictions for the younger ones.
The new Legoland Windsor Resort Hotel, opened in 2012 makes an overnight stay for the family a cost effective option since it includes two days free admission to the park for everyone staying.
Highlight: The children's menu promotes healthy choices with advice from children's food expert Annabel Karmel.
Windsor Castle one of the Monarch's principal official residences, is also one of Britain's most iconic landmarks. It's not far from Heathrow Airport and arriving passengers - even if they have never been to Britain before - can usually recognize it from the air. A residence and fortress for almost 950 years, it is the oldest and largest continually occupied castle in the world and a must-see attraction.
Family activities in the education center and special family trails and quizzes make the visit as rewarding for children as it is for grownups. Family tickets are good value and can be reused throughout the year.
Highlight: Queen Mary's Dollhouse and the fashion dolls France and Marianne are big hits with little girls - and big ones too.
Beaulieu in Hampshire
A visit to Beaulieu, a country house in the New Forest, is a great day trip from London that is jam packed with things to see and do. It is home of the National Motor Museum, offers a look at Victorian upstairs-downstairs life in a manor house, has a beautiful garden, the ruins of a 13th century abbey, a restaurant, outdoor amusements for children and lots more.
Highlight: The James Bond Experience features real memorabilia, props - and cars - from at least eight different James Bond films. Aston Martins, Jaguars, the Lotus Submarine Car from The Spy Who Loved Me. And, from the same film, the world's first ever used jet ski.
Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks
These two wild animal parks, were set up by the late John Aspinall, to breed and protect endangered species for return to their native environments. Howletts Wild Animal Park, on 90 acres of ancient woodland, and Port Lympne Safari Park, 600 acres with includes a mansion house and gardens, are featured on the BBC program Roar. Both are not zoos but natural animal environments where you can visit the world's largest Western Lowland Gorilla family group in captivity and the UK's largest herd of African elephants. There are also wonderful big cats - Siberian Tigers, Snow Leopards and dozens of other rare and beautiful animals.
Highlight: Take an overnight safari April to October and stay in Port Lympne's Livingstone Lodge.
One of nine wetland centers run by the Wildlife Wetland Trust, the Arundel site is a delightful natural environment for both adults and children to explore. Rare wildfowl, from all over the world shelter in its wildfowl lakes. There are interesting sustainable buildings made of thatch and reed and free boat safaris in electric boats. Quiet visitors can use hides overlooking the main lakes to spot Kingfishers and other native birds.
The Arundel Wetland Centre is convenient for families walking the eastern end of the South Downs.
Highlight: The Blue Duck Waterfalls are the place to see New Zealand blue ducks - among the rarest ducks in the world, in a recreation of their natural habitat.
Oxford Castle Unlocked
Oxford Castle has a history that goes back about a thousand years - and there are parts of this castle that, until recently, had never been seen by the public in all that time. It has been a prison, a royal household, a defensive earthworks and is even the location of a smart hotel. But it's the underground dungeons and tunnels of Oxford Castle Unlocked that provide the location for creepy thrills and ghoulish delights especially suitable for older children.
Highlight: During school vacations, special events like Creepy Crawlies costume workshops and Big Bug Hunts are scheduled for younger kids. Visit their website for the schedule.
This former West Sussex chalk quarry, in the beautiful South Downs countryside, is now a museum of the world of work in the southeast, from traditional rural crafts to early technology. Resident crafts people in workshops around the 36-acre site, demonstrate traditional skills. Among them are a blacksmith, potter, stained glass maker, broom maker, foundry man, and a walking stick maker.
And the location, opposite Amberley rail station (less than an hour from London Victoria by train), could not be more convenient for a London day trip.
Highlight: Take a free trip around the site on a vintage double decker bus or a narrow gauge railway. The museum's vintage vehicles include steam engines, buses and fire engines.
The world's oldest model village began more than 80 years ago as the largest outdoor Gauge 1 garden railway in the UK. The model village grew, created by London accountant Roland Callingham, his gardener and various volunteers - including enthusiastic local school boys. Revived in the 1990s - with a few modern touches added, Bekonset remains charmingly old fashioned - a pre-war glimpse of rural England with the kind of detail that enchants kids and their dads from February through October.
Highlight: The Gauge 1 garden railway that started it all - a network of historic equipment running 10 scale miles (or 450 actual metres). Realistically-signalled main line, branches and sidings, with passenger and goods trains.
In my memory of the Norwegian children's story Three Billy Goats Gruff, a fearsome troll hid under a bridge waiting to gobble them up. There's no troll here - but there are billy goats and nanny goats galore - in fact every single species of domestic goat found in the UK. Also llamas, wallabies, rabbits, ponies, donkeys, guinea pigs, pigs, ducks and geese. This is a year round petting farm for children, with a kids cafe and facilities for children's parties.
Avoid tantrums by staying away from the pet shop, where small animals bred on site are offered for sale.
Highlight: Feeding the animals - and tractor rides in good weather.
This award winning museum and gallery, operated by the county council, uses Roald Dahl's stories and characters (as well as several special characters created for the museum by Quentin Blake) to engage children in imaginative activities and discoveries.
Among the activities:
- Discover inventions with Willy Wonka
- Investigate minibeasts inside the giant peach
- Crawl along Fantastic Mr Fox's tunnel
- See the Twits' upside down room
- Explore sounds with the BFG
- Dress up in Victorian school clothes under the watchful eye of Miss Trunchbull
Highlight: All kinds of secret, funny, hidden things to discover
And not far away, check out the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden, Bucks
The Xscape group of indoor sports and activity centers are recent and popular entrants into the family entertainments market in the UK. In Milton Keynes, about an hour from London, the company runs real snow indoor ski slopes. Adults and children can ski and snowboard on a 170 meter long main slope, covered with 1,500 tonnes of fresh, real snow. There's also a lesson slope for beginners and a range of family activities for younger kids and non-skiers.
Highlight:Sledging (sledding) for kids 3 years and older, and ice sliding in an inflatable ring, on a carved out ice run, for kids over 7.
When the corn is green, you and your family can get lost in it. A gigantic and challenging new maize maze is created every summer from July until early autumn. There are plenty of games and trails to play along in the maze as well as crazy golf, giant trampolines, a giant sand pit for toddlers, a tea shop and picnic area.
Highlight: Kids can try milking Ermantrude, a giant wooden cow.
From its origins, as an otter rehabilitation and conservation center, 30 years ago, this small park in an ancient woodland of the New Forest, has grown into an important captive breeding and conservation center for a range of wild, woodland animals. Injured and orphaned wildlife, brought to the center by local veterinary practices, the RSPCA, local wildlife trusts and members of the public are rehabilitated for release into the wild. Those that cannot be released remain at the center as "ambassadors" of their species.
In addition to otters and many owl varieties, the center homes fox, lynx, wallaby, ferrets, wild boar, Scottish wildcat, mice, hedgehogs and more.
Highlight: In the animal house, watch otters swimming underwater
Imagine a huge chunk of English time travel in the middle of the a Hampshire Leisure Park. Milestones is a sort of indoor "open air" museum where visitors can wander a network of streets presenting life as it was from the Victorian era to the 1930s. There are shops - including a 1940s style sweet shop, a village green, a working Edwardian pub. Costumed interpreters bring the past to life with regularly scheduled special exhibitions and family-friendly events.
Highlight:Dress up in Victorian clothes or navigate the museum with activity sheets and I-spy trails.
The Isle of Wight claims to be the most important site for dinosaur remains in Europe. This new museum, built to resemble a Pterosaur, houses a well displayed collection of fossils and reconstructions that date from the early 19th century. The best part of this for kids is that dinosaur fossils are still being discovered all the time and they might discover one themselves. An Iguanadon toe bone was found by a 7-year-old boy from Kent on a nearby beach on New Year's Eve, 2009. Easy to reach from Waterloo Station in London, it's about a 20 minute walk from the nearest rail station in Sandown.
Highlight:Book a guided fossil hunt, year round to such fossil rich sites as Brookland, Yaverland Beach and Shanklin, and make your own discovery.
Little and big boys and tomboys of all ages love this place, where kids as young as 5 years old can ride and drive big earth movers - JCB diggers, dump trucks, go-karts and more. There are giant dirt diggers and rides that take you way up in the air on a crane. Run by a company that rents out big earth movers, someone with a big empty piece of land had a great idea. Any one who's ever played with a big yellow dump truck will have a ball.There are also branches in Yorkshire, Devon and Durham.
Highlight:Ride 50 feet in the air on the Sky Shuttle