Our rundown of essential holiday experiences for kids features farms, festivals, wild watery adventures and even a spot of digger driving. with more child-centred inspiration in our feature on magical places to visit with children before they grow-up.
There are family days out that involve being a spectator or sitting down for a ride. And then there are family days out with Preseli Venture in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire. The enthusiastic team at this outdoor adventure specialist have cooked up an adrenaline-packed day for families that's all about getting active, getting wet and getting fully immersed in the natural environment. Pick two out of three activities - coasteering, sea kayaking and surfing - then don wet suits and take the plunge to explore the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast.
What makes the whole day sheer joy is that the instructors take on the responsibility of the tuition, kit and safety, leaving families with the freedom to focus on having fun together. All trips set out from Preseli Venture's impressive Eco Lodge (look no further if you're looking for cosy family-friendly accommodation), and if there are any family members who don't fancy the adrenaline hit - or haven't yet reached the minimum age of ten - there's plenty to do nearby: stroll to the beach at Aber Mawr, drive out to Strumble Head lighthouse, cycle country lanes or visit dinky St David's, Britain's smallest city.
As you approach Eureka!, the only purpose-built children's discovery centre in the UK, the echoes of The Wizard of Oz are unmistakeable. You follow the yellow brick road and leave behind Kansas-monochrome Halifax for the vivid colours of Oz. Once inside, it's all primary colours. The kids are primary, too - Eureka! is designed specifically for children up to the age of 11.
As you enter, to the right Archimedes waits to be dunked in his bath. Our Global Garden provides an early highlight, ranging across six world environments, from the jungle to the arctic; at either end, toddlers' sections encourage under-5s to roam and explore. In Living & Working Together, a role-play area teaches older kids how to get to grips with grown-up life - in the bank (Halifax of course) they can take cash out of an ATM, sit on a chair made of a million pounds (not, alas, real notes) and dodge the alarms in the bank vaults. A hundred other hands-on activities crowd the M&S shop, a post office, a garage. Everything - phone box, lift, front door - is used to elucidate and explain and educate.
With spectacular colourful costumes, beautiful princesses, valiant heroes, raucous sing-alongs, slapstick and communal shouting, pantomime is undoubtedly fabulous no-holds-barred entertainment for kids, with even the smallest and shyest shedding their inhibitions to boo the baddies, applaud the goodies, laugh heartily as custard pies shoot back and forth across the stage, and belt out songs with the Pantomime Dame. The fast-talking Dame - invariably a man despite the name - rules over this particular brand of chaos, with the most outrageous outfits and by far the best and funniest lines.
There are no better fast-talkers than Glaswegians, which makes the city a great venue for panto fun at Christmas. For the traditional panto experience, head to the King's Theatre, where classics such as Snow White, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk will introduce the nippers to both frolicsome entertainment and fairy-tale archetypes. Meanwhile, the much-loved Citizens Theatre, the second oldest working theatre in the UK and a venue with a strong reputation for innovation and diversity, has refined its panto tradition into what they prefer to term a Christmas Show.
Who would've thought it possible - a derelict farm revived, hundreds of pigs raised, a range of food products, numerous TV shows, a book, a butterfly house and a restaurant, all within seven years. The amount of work that has gone into Jimmy Doherty's farm in Ipswich since he bought it in 2003 is staggering, and still he builds and expands and adds. Once you've arrived, checked out the farm shop and herb garden and had a snack in the Field Kitchen, head through into the heart of the farm via the "Nature Trail", where the fun really begins. Well-thought-through fun. With pigs.
Over 400 wallow and stamp in knee-deep mud - their pens stretch into the distance and each of the rare-breed beauties has a good-sized plot to themselves. From the lookout point, kids can watch Essex pigs, Gloucestershire Old Spots and Saddlebacks, and if it's the right time of year, plenty of piglets run and jump and fight and squeal. There's more: Guinea pigs live in grand Lilliputian style in their village of brightly painted houses, and the pygmy goats and Jacob sheep are reliably curious about anyone who wanders close to their pens; ferrets peep out of hollowed-out logs, and on the chicken safari, rare-breed poultry frantically try to avoid the advances of curious toddlers.
Pitch your tent, pull on some wellies, don a pair of fluorescent tights, a set of wings and some facial hair, and you're all set for four days of unabashed wackiness at Britain's most family-friendly festival. Set in a secret location and with a line-up of undisclosed musical acts, Shambala remains small in scale, free of corporate sponsorship, strongly ecologically sound and retains an inclusive ethos that embraces both families and serious partiers.
The organizers of Shambala excel at pleasing everyone, with adult stuff that pleases kids - radical circus performances, thumping dance music, site-specific art - and kids' stuff that pleases adults - hula hooping, crazy golf, even advanced tree climbing (with nets and pullies to help you reach new heights). Still, most families with kids under 8 find themselves hanging out in the children's area, where they can get busy with messy play at Artful Splodgers, baking and straw flower-making at Biddie's Bingo Hall, and enjoy the clownish antics of the performers in the Big Top
Welcome to Bewilderwood, a homespun fantasy world that is one of Britain's most unusual attractions for children. Based on a series of books by local author Tom Blofeld, it's the reedy, watery environment of the Broads brought to life for kids - both a land of make-believe based on the characters in the books and an overgrown adventure playground full of rope bridges and ladders, zip wires and rickety tree houses. You get around by way of marshland walkways and forest paths, and a boat takes you around a tiny broad where Mildred the lisping vegetarian crocklebog blows water at you.
Its mixture of spooky fantasy and adventure has something for kids of all ages, from toddlers to daredevil teenagers, and there's a wittiness to the whole thing that is refreshing and fun.
Isn't driving a JCB every boy's dream? Well it's not just boys of all ages clamouring to get behind the wheel of construction machinery at Diggerland Devon: the girls and even grannies and grandpas are flocking for a piece of the action. The series of muddy fields that make up Diggerland may not be a beauty hotspot. But to any kid for whom messing about in tractors, dumping some dirt and excavating terrain is just about a perfect day out, it is a simple and brilliant invention.
There are JCBs, tractors, dumper trucks, giant diggers, dirt diggers and more to get behind the wheel of. But even then the fun is far from over. Get high in the flying bucket of the Spindizzy, hop on the Dig-a-Round and take in a bird's-eye view from the vertiginous Sky Shuttle. Young drivers can legally joyride as they navigate a 4WD police car around a bumpy course, while pre-teens can drive battery-powered Land Rovers.
Diggerland Devon, Verbeer Manor, Cullompton, Devon, .
Imagine yourself as an astronaut during the launch: facing upwards, strapped into a fire-breathing space shuttle, with 3Gs of force squeezing down on every fibre of your body. You'd probably be terrified. Reverse this situation so you're facing downwards, and then pile on another 1.5Gs of force, and you're some way to describing how it feels to ride Oblivion, the world's first vertical roller coaster, at Alton Towers.
Admittedly, the ride can't compete with a space shuttle's 17,500mph top speed. But you don't need any training to enjoy it. All you have to do is join the queue and begin preparing yourself for a 150ft drop into a steaming black hole. Eyes open or eyes closed, that drop feels incredible. For the first second or two of carefree euphoria, you'll surge straight down towards the earth. Then you'll tunnel below the surface on a terrifyingly gloomy section of track, before emerging into the daylight for a 190-degree banked turn that makes your skin rumble with delight. Right then, even without a space shuttle, you'll feel like a hero.
Whether you're hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path or simply dipping into southwest Wales for the day, you'll have seen plenty of fine national park scenery by the time you arrive at Marloes Sands, not far from the country's westernmost point. Even so, this glorious sweep of silver-beige sand will take your breath away. So generous in extent that you'll scarcely believe your luck, Marloes Sands is a beach for kids to cartwheel, hopscotch and run until their hearts pound as loudly as the waves. Utterly unspoilt, it's also perfect for swimming on warm, sunny days.
Peering into a rock pool feels rather like gazing at an underwater miniature garden, bright with fronds of seaweed. The deeper pools, replenished by each tide, are always busy with creatures that need to stay submerged to survive; look carefully enough and you may see tiny shrimps and gobies, shore crabs, sea spiders and insect-like sea slaters. Equipped with a net, a bucket, a magnifying glass and an identification chart, kids can count up the species, scoring points as they go. If they're competitive, they'll want to check the periwinkle shells, just in case there's a hermit crab tucked inside - definitely worth a bonus score.
With one Mr G. Osborne as its MP and a resident population of the bejewelled and perma-tanned, Tatton, in leafy Cheshire, is among the UK's wealthiest constituencies. At its heart sits Tatton Park, a vast estate that's one of the greatest days out in the northwest.
The herds of deer roaming the 1000-acre park will make children's heads swivel on the drive through the gates, while the mansion and formal gardens are glorious, but the big attractions for kids are the well-designed Adventure Playground, with over thirty rides, and the Home Farm, an authentic 1930s working farm with Rare Breeds Accreditation. Here children can stroke, feed, groom and cuddle an assortment of goats, hens, ducks, pigs, horses and donkeys and visit a period cottage and a working pottery. Stars of the show are Tallulah the massive Tamworth pig, Blossom the Clydesdale and Rosie the Red Poll, each with adorable offspring. Any child with even a vague interest in animals will love it, and if they've fallen for a particular creature they can revisit/stalk it online, thanks to the farm's webcams, or even adopt one of the Big Three.
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