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Attractions in the UK | Our Best Of Guide within easy reach of our Holiday Parks
Located right on the beach in Newquay, the Blue Reef Aquarium hosts a huge array of marine life from a variety of the world’s habitats. Watch sharks and rays gliding past and walk through the underwater tunnel to view the beautiful coral reef, populated by fish in myriad colours, shapes and sizes. The captive breeding programme has a nursery with fry on display, and the helpful, knowledgeable staff put on daily Meet the Creatures shows and demonstrations.
Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station
Once one of the largest satellite earth stations in the world, the downs of the Lizard Peninsula are still dominated by the giant tracking dishes, which received the first live transatlantic satellite TV broadcast in 1962. A bus shuttles visitors around the operations site, and the Visitor Centre has an interactive exhibition area where you can operate a satellite dish, control a robot and even email an alien.
With the largest glasshouses in the world, the biomes here are truly awesome – and that’s just from the outside. Inside the rainforest biome it is stunning, with its waterfalls and exotic flora. The Mediterranean biome is home to olives, cotton, and citrus orchards. Outside the biomes the landscaped gardens rise from local plants up to the Steppes, the Prairies and Chile on the upper slopes.
Having been at the mercy of Vikings, Normans, pirates and outlaws over the centuries, Lundy is now in the more gentle hands of the National Trust. It’s a 2-hour cruise from either Ilfracombe or Bideford, offering great views of the Devon coast and filling you in on the treats in store on Lundy. You might even be lucky enough to see a basking shark. An imposing medieval castle stands above the only landing place on the island, and paths lead all across the island from the small village beyond.
Lundy means Puffin Isle in Norse, and although the puffins are not as populous now, there is a large number of birds, animals and plants to spot in this dramatic landscape.
There is a great contrast between the model village, a world of tiny buildings, people and vehicles with landscaped gardens of miniature conifers and shrubs with streams and waterfalls, and Kents Cavern, a complex of caves and passages, thought to be the oldest known dwelling in Europe.
The model village also features some indoor exhibits with a 3D film show and a model railway. When the Cavern was first excavated in the 1820s a hoard of bones was found, including sabre-toothed cats, mammoths, and later excavations uncovered a human jawbone over 30,000 years old, and the UK’s oldest flint axe-heads. Guided tours take you through half a million years of the cavern’s occupants, including the Ice-Age animals, Neanderthals and the Romans.
Dartmoor and the Finch Foundry
The granite stacks and ragged moorland that make up the wilderness of Dartmoor is home to wild ponies and windswept walkers navigating the many fascinating routes. If you’re well prepared, with suitable clothing, footwear and maps, you’ll be well rewarded with the raw beauty and discoveries of stone circles, old mines and deserted quarries.
On the northern edge of Dartmoor, in the village of Sticklepath, is the Finch Foundry – a rare, working forge, powered by the River Taw. It produced tools from 1814 until 1960 and houses the last authentic trip hammers in the UK. The working demonstrations of the machinery are humbling.
A spacious, modern zoo with a well-considered layout, Colchester runs a train around the various zones. There is so much on show that it’s tricky to see it all in one day, with highlights like the largest straight underwater tunnel in Europe, where you can view the sealions zipping about above. There are also around 50 displays and feeding sessions each day so it’s a good idea to plan your route.
Laid out across several acres, this is a brilliant day out for children under 13. The Tropical House is one of the largest butterfly houses in the UK – the enormous Owl butterfly the largest on show here. There are also real owls to see in the outdoor aviaries, as well as parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, birds of prey and mynah birds. There are also plenty of flightless animals to discover, including otters, meerkats, giant tortoises and lemurs, and you can actually wander through the wallaby enclosure.
There are lots of animal-encounter sessions each day including feeding and flying sessions combined with easily-digestible information.
This off-road, outdoor karting centre has four different sizes of karts and three circuits, for anyone between the ages of 5 to 75. There are course marshals and a comforting attention to training and safety. The large spectator area has catering on hand.
A slab of African Savannah imported into coastal Suffolk might seem a stretch of the imagination, but this 100-acre site recreates this amazing habitat beautifully. There is a train with an informative commentary for when you get weary and look-out towers where you can observe lions, giraffes, hyenas, cheetahs and more at close quarters.
Rescuing ponies, horses, donkeys and mules, this is the largest equine charity in the UK, occupying 70 acres at this location in Fritton, near Great Yarmouth. Visitors can wander around the paddocks and stables, and meet the rescued residents, watch demonstrations and learn about caring for our four-legged friends.
Blakeney Point on the North Norfolk coast gives holidaymakers a great opportunity to view the permanent colony of Common and Grey seals, basking on the shingle spit or even popping up beside the tour boat, which you can take you from either Blakeney or Morston Quay. You can also disembark and take a look around the information centre in the Old Lifeboat House.
Open from March to September, there is plenty to see on the farm during lambing and calving seasons, and piglets, chicks and ducklings being born throughout the year. There are daily milking demonstrations and horse-drawn cart rides, and a big indoor play area with loads of straw bales to jump around on.
At the north end of Skegness, Natureland is renowned for its work saving baby seals and rehabilitating them for reintroduction to the wild, as well as helping dolphins, whales and birds. Visitors can lend a hand in feeding sessions and there are other animals to enjoy, including rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep, ducks, as well as the more exotic crocodiles and penguins, and the butterflies in the tropical house.
There’s loads of soldiering fun to be had at this park in Scarborough (for 6 years+), including the brilliant miniature tank-driving course and two inflatable challenges (this assault course is for under 13s). You can also go for it in the combat zone with the outdoor Laser Battle and the Paintball Shooting Range.
The two viewing hides make this a great place for Twitchers, the insect-rich habitat and proximity to the coastal flyway drawing many species, including Garganey, Teal, Tufted Duck, Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat. The regular winter flooding also makes it a wonderful wetland habitat for mammals and amphibians, and it has an internationally-renowned population of great-crested newts.
An authentic evocation of the British Navy in Nelson’s time, the centre-piece of the Hartlepool Maritime Experience is HMS Trincomalee, built in 1817 and the oldest British warship still afloat.
Visitors can tour both the ship and the quay, with costumed actors providing flavour and fascinating information to the 18th century backdrop. It really is an immersive experience, so take care not to get press-ganged by the Marines.
Just south of Bamburgh Castle, this busy fishing harbour on a stunning stretch of coast is often just seen as a boarding point for tours to the Farne Islands Wildlife Reserve, but it has plenty to offer, not least because it is reputed to be the birthplace of the kipper – an accidental innovation, apparently. The Marine Life and Fishing Heritage Centre tells the story of the town’s fascinating development and there’s an aquarium for children and some chills in the darkened rooms of the Haunted Kingdom.
The wonderful narrow-gauge steam trains that now chuff through the Esk Valley belie the grimy industrial origins of the line – it was built to transport iron ore from upper Eskdale to the port of Ravenglass, where most passengers now start their journey. The route is 7 miles long but passengers can jump on and off at stations along the route - there’s plenty to see, for example, at Dalegarth a short trail leads to the Stanley Force waterfall.
Windermere is the largest lake in England and visitors can take leisurely cruises down to its southern end, soaking up the gorgeous scenery surrounding the water. At Lakeside there is an aquarium exhibiting freshwater habitats - the focal point is an amazing underwater tunnel, which gives a lakebed view of carp, perch, bobbing ducks and, if you’re lucky, the legendary giant catfish.
Beatrix Potter fell in love with the Lakes on childhood holidays and in Beatrix Potter World in Bowness-on-Windermere the characters from her books are delightfully rendered, be it Mrs Tiggywinkle busy in her kitchen, Peter Rabbit’s garden, or Jeremy Fisher in his pond.
In Llanberis, on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, Electric Mountain is an engineering triumph. The largest man-made cave in Europe – St Paul’s cathedral could slot inside it – Electric Mountain produces fast-response hydroelectric power, mainly catering for power surges in the national grid, but it is capable of powering the whole of Wales. There is information galore and a bus tour, which takes you through dark tunnels into the gargantuan inner workings and turbines – an awesome experience.
Teifi Valley Railway
Once at the heart of the Welsh wool industry, the lovely Teifi Valley is home to the National Wool Museum and the Teifi Valley Railway. It’s a round-trip coming in at around 40 minutes, steaming you gently through glades and lush valleys and past stunning waterfalls.
East of Aberystwyth, the mine evokes the grim working conditions once endured by men, young children and ponies alike. Guided tours take you into the mine and show how silver was drilled from the mineral seams. Visitors can also learn the art of panning for silver – with the bonus of being able to keep whatever you find.
After all the underground explorations, the Devil’s Bridge Falls are an excellent above-ground diversion, with an ancient monastic path running down one side of the cascade.
Close to Tenby, Manor House Wildlife Park houses many species of mammals, birds and reptiles in the natural surroundings of its 45 acres. The more exotic animals include Zebra, Camel, Antelope, Reindeer, Tapir and American Bison, and visitors can wander amongst the animals in the large enclosures of Wallabies, Flamingos, Maras, Rheas, Ostriches and Emus.
In the Close Encounters area children can feed and pet baby animals or even hold snakes in the Snake Experience. There are also fabulous daily falconry displays with Eagles, Hawks, Falcons and Owls.
The Caves at Wookey Hole near Wells lie at the edge of the Mendips, where the River Axe emerges, having worn its way through the subterranean limestone. Guided tours take visitors through the varied and spectacular natural cave features, with spooky tales and prehistoric history along the way. Visitors emerge from the tour into a valley populated by life-size dinosaurs, and there is an authentic paper-making mill to explore, and a large indoor play area.
Marvel at the hunting and flying prowess of hawks, falcons, eagles and owls in the regular displays, whilst learning about their historical roots as the classy hunting weapon of the nobility.
In Allerford, near Minehead, the farm itself dates back to the 15th century and also has a collection of docile farm animals to pet. Children can bottle-feed lambs in the right season, and a miniature Shetland pony gives rides to small children, whilst older children can have a go on the Welsh Cob.
Abbotsbury Swannery was established by 14th century monks in a bid to enrich their dinner plates. The swans have nothing to fear these days, though, as it has evolved into a conservation project – apparently the world’s only managed colony of nesting swans with up to 100 breeding pairs of Mute Swans on the Fleet Lagoon. Visitors can walk freely amongst the nests of the swans, which seem more accommodating that your average hissy swan.
Nearby, in the village of Abbotsbury itself, the Tithe Barn, the only remnant of the medieval Abbey, is home to a Children’s Farm, which has plenty of animals to pet, including rabbits, donkeys, cows and pigs. There are also pony rides and goat racing, with children able to refuel competitors with bottles of milk during pit stops.
Near Wareham, this is one of the largest collections of armoured vehicles in the world, tracing the history of the tank from its introduction to the trenches of World War I through to the modern day. The museum is divided into three areas, The Discovery Centre, The Trench Experience and Tank Story, with lots of interesting information and an interactive trail for children.
Portsmouth has been the beating heart of the Royal Navy for more than 500 years and the Historic Dockyard captures all its rich and chequered history in detail. Nelson’s famous HMS Victory is in magnificent condition and can be explored on the fascinating guided tours. HMS Warrior is also pretty imposing, the first iron-clad steam warship in the world. Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose is not on display until 2012, but there are plenty of fascinating exhibits from that time. The ticket includes a harbour tour by boat, entry to the museum and Action Stations, which has loads of exciting interactive exhibits, challenges and active fun, eg climbing walls. There’s an awful lot to pack in and the tickets are quite expensive, but they are valid for one year for any exhibits you don’t manage to see in a day.
Alternatively, you might try the Spinnaker Tower, which dominates the Portsmouth skyline with its amazing design. The views from the top are incredible and it also boasts the largest glass floor in Europe, for those who don’t suffer from Vertigo…
The zoo, in Arreton, not only manages to support conservation by participating in international breeding programmes, it also packs loads of entertainment with 200-odd species placed in imaginatively constructed rainforest habitats with rivers, waterfalls and pools. Lest you be tempted to dip your hands in the cool water, remember that piranha are on patrol.
Keep a sharp eye open for the creatures wandering the forest, including ocelots, lemurs, sloths, tapirs and tamandua. The monkeys, like the pygmy marmoset and howler monkeys, might make a more high-profile introduction.
From the train line that runs between Ryde and Shanklin, disembark at Smallbrook Junction just outside Ryde, and you can join the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, which runs for 5 miles to Wootton. The authentic Victorian and Edwardian carriages let you travel back in time, and tickets are valid for the day, allowing you to jump on and off at any of the three stations along the way. At Havenstreet, the railway’s HQ, you can watch the restoration work in the workshop, and there is a play area, woodland walk and museum.
In Alfriston, Drusilla’s is renowned as one of the country’s best small zoos, with a policy of not keeping larger exotic mammals like lions, tigers and elephants. It is a great place for Under-10s and you can walk through the bat house and meerkat tunnel, and right through the lemur enclosure. Feeding time with the penguins is always fun and the Thomas the Tank Engine railway is always on hand to ferry children along.
There is an interactive passport challenge to complete and the Zoolympics offer children the chance to pit themselves against the physical attributes of the animals.
Close to Chichester, the collection of falcons, hawks and owls perform incredible flying feats in the regular demonstrations. This serves as the platform for the fascinating exhibition, which traces the development of flight from the prehistoric Pterosaurs through to our feathered friends, with sections on the flight of bats and insects too.
Established by Elizabeth I, the dockyard is a wonderful display of Britain’s naval heritage with three vessels to explore – the Victorian sloop HMS Gannet, the World War II destroyer HMS Cavalier and 1960s submarine HMS Ocelot. The museum has authentically-attired guides to show visitors around the Ropery with the opportunity to have a go at rope making. Children can also team up with an apprentice shipwright in the recreation of the 18th century dockyard with lots of interactive exhibits.
Adjacent to the Dockyard is Dickens World. The author spent his boyhood in Chatham, and you can immerse yourself in the world that he would have known in the busy Victorian Courtyard. You can also take a Great Expectations boat ride, dare to misbehave in Dotheboy’s Hall schoolroom, or get spooked by Scrooge’s ghosts.
Billed as the ‘world’s smallest public railway’, it runs on a narrow-gauge 15-inch track, but actually covers 13.5 miles. Operating since 1927, it runs from Hythe through Romney Marsh and over the shingle flats of Dungeness. You can hop on and off at the various stops along the way, including New Romney to see the engine sheds and model-railway exhibition. The shingle headland at Dungeness is the largest area of shingle in Europe and stretches as far as the eye can see, making it an almost alien landscape.
With near-enough 50 different types of animal and fun rides, there’s plenty to entertain children on the farm. There are lots of tame animals to pet and feed, and an exotic range, including guanacos, squirrel monkeys, alpacas, wallabies, Asian otters and miniature Zebu cattle.
Adults will be pleased to find the indoor and outdoor play areas, an aerial runway, ringo sledging, Tunnel Land and the Combine Castle, where their children can burn off excess energy.
The Scottish Seabird Centre is an award-winning five-star attraction with a host of amazing wildlife to discover at home in its stunning habitat overlooking the islands of the Firth of Forth and the white sandy beaches of North Berwick.
You can spot puffins, diving gannets, dolphins, hatching chicks and seal pups taking naps – the Discovery Centre offers extreme close-ups with some of these with its amazing live cameras, and there are also boat trips available.