Ultimate guide to things to do in the UK with kids
The UK is ideal for travelling with children for its diverse attractions, relatively compact size, magnificent wealth of outdoor activities and variety of entertainments for all ages.
England is home to bustling cities with a wealth of quality entertainments and exhibits for children – London and Oxford are highlights. Try camping or a farm-stay in the countryside for an idyllic English getaway. Wales, modern and fun, is geared toward family travel, offering interesting castle explorations, beachside towns and adventure sports galore. Ireland is a diverse destination of ancient and modern walks of life – visit Dublin, with wonderful kid-centric activities, Galway City, Ireland’s ‘most Irish city’ – its artsy bohemian vibe will appeal to older kids – and the Connemara Peninsula and Cliffs of Moher for awe-inspiring scenery. Scotland is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world – The Isle of Skye and Glen Nevis are particularly acclaimed regions where a variety of adventure sports abound. The capital city, Edinburgh, is superbly family-friendly, full of playgrounds, festivals and interesting tours dedicated to children.
The kids will love
England – London, Oxford & Shropshire
London is jam-packed with children’s attractions – the city’s many museums and theatres have dedicated programs and entertainments for children and the city abounds with parks and playgrounds for children (notably St James Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens). Oxford has kid-centric museums, Harry Potter themed explorations and magnificent spiralled buildings. Shropshire is home to sprawling castles, landscapes and traditional villages waiting to be explored.
Wales – Cardiff & Mid-Wales
Cardiff is a modern, fun city exploring featuring castles, beaches and interesting ancient sites in its surrounding valleys. Mid-Wales is home to a wealth of outdoor adventures – farm-stays, horse riding, two national parks and sweeping landscapes to explore.
Ireland – Galway City, Dublin & Connemara
Galway City, at once historic and modern, is bohemian, artsy, bustling with entertainments and a medieval town to explore. Dublin is full of kid-centric entertainments – hands-on museums, Viking exhibits and sprawling parks. The Connemara Peninsula and National Park is home to beautiful sweeping mountains, woodlands and a breathtaking coastline – hike, bike or horse ride through the National Park trails.
Scotland – Edinburgh, The Isle of Skye, Loch Lomond & Glen Nevis
Edinburgh is full of activities for kids – the Edinburgh and Fringe Festivals hold street theatres, ice rinks, playgrounds and fairgrounds for kids, as well as year-round playgrounds through Edinburgh’s parks, gardens and some underground tours and museums. The Isle of Sky is home to breathtaking landscapes and ancient castles. Loch Lomond and Glen Nevis are a beautiful outdoor escape – Loch Lomond is Britain’s largest lake and tourist hot spot during summer, while the nearby Glen Nevis region is perfect for hiking, water-sports, exploring castles and some witnessing beautiful acclaimed scenery (filmed in both Harry Potter and Braveheart).
Best time to travel
Generally, the best time to visit for reliable weather and outdoor activities throughout the UK is summer, June to August. This is high season in all four regions, bringing the warmest weather and increased crowds. England particularly becomes very crowded during this period.
If you are looking to avoid crowds and high accommodation prices, the shoulder seasons are preferable if cooler, wetter weather allows. In England, Wales and Ireland, the shoulder seasons run from September to October and approximately April to May. Crowds and prices are lower through these periods, while the weather, relatively cold and wet, doesn’t reach the freezing temperatures of winter. In Scotland, shoulder seasons are May to June and September, bringing beautiful scenery in May and June.
Low season throughout the UK is winter, generally November to February in England, Wales and Ireland, and lasting October through April in Scotland. There is cold, wet weather across the UK, bringing much lower prices and crowds. Northern and rural parts of England and Ireland have reduced opening hours or close down during this period. Scotland experiences freezing temperatures throughout winter and in December only experiences daylight until 4pm.
Things to do in the UK with…
Young kids will have a wonderful time in Wales and England. Both countries are super family-friendly and its cities, particularly London and Oxford, are full of engaging hands-on activities for children.
Scotland is outdoor entertainments galore for kids of all ages. Hike, bike, horse ride, engage in water-sports across some of the most acclaimed scenery in the world. Capital Edinburgh, is a superbly kid-friendly city full of playgrounds, festivals and interesting tours dedicated to kids.
Ireland, its medieval bustling cities, sweeping landscapes and complex history will be truly appreciated by older kids. Galway City has a cool, bohemian vibe that will appeal to teenagers, and the breathtaking scenery of Connemara and the Cliffs of Moher are a memorable and unique experience that will be more appreciated by older kids rather than toddlers.
Surrounded by mountains, northern Thailand holds an almost mystical appeal. In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, you’ll find heaps to see and do. The city is home to more than 300 fascinating temples and eye opening traditional practices, plus the fascinating Walking Street Markets, where teens can stock up on trinkets and cheap clothes. And while the pretty moated city offers rich history, culture and tradition, it is also home to some of Thailand’s most teen friendly resorts. It is also an excellent base for visiting the mountains and for exploring neighbouring forests, rice fields and national parks for bamboo rafting, white-water rafting and trekking.
Not too far from Chiang Mai is Chiang Rai, a culturally diverse region that is home to Thailand’s minority Hill Tribes. Here you’ll find a more traditional Thailand, and visiting families can even enjoy a homestay with a hill tribe family for the ultimate in cultural immersion.
Getting around the UK
Car travel is the best way to get around the more remote and regional areas of the UK, but proves less useful between the major cities, particularly in England where there can be major traffic jams. The price of rentals varies across the UK, but are generally cheaper than Europe. Rentals in England and Wales range between approximately $26 and $46 per day depending on the vehicle. The best deals are usually made by booking online in advance, and car seats are available for hire for an extra fee upon booking. Car hire in Scotland and Ireland is usually cheaper, as low as $15 to $30 per day.
Bus: Long-distance bus travel is the most affordable way to get around the UK, though time consuming. National Express is the main coach company and have discount ‘coachcards’ which offer 30% off for students and families, as well as Brit Xplorer passes for extensive travel. There are also several smaller coach companies that offer various passes on unlimited travel across specific regions in Scotland and Wales. It is worth doing some research on specific areas you will be exploring before booking as there are some great savings to be made on passes, as well as booking far in advance.
Train: Long-distance train travel across England is usually faster, though more expensive than coaches. There are around 20 different companies that operate throughout England. The Family & Friends Railcard pass offers 30% discounts for adults and 60% for children, while the 16-25 Railcard saves 30% for youths in England, Wales and Scotland. BritRail passes are also available for non-British citizens and are useful for savings in England, though are not particularly cost-effective for other parts of the UK. Scotland and Wales each have several train passes for specific regions that are worth researching before purchasing a pass. In Ireland, trains are often preferable to coaches as they are far less time consuming and costs are comparable. Irish Rail operates in the Republic and Translink NI Railways in Northern Ireland.
Ferries and boats operate between Ireland’s offshore islands, as well as ferries and cruises are popular for travel across Ireland’s many lakes and rivers. In Scotland, ferry services run between the Scottish Isles and mainland through companies Caledonian MacBrayne and Northlink Ferries. The recently introduced Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) scheme in Scotland has reduced fares on these ferry services by up to 60%.
Air travel is generally expensive and time taken comparable to train travel for most routes. However, flights are useful for circumstances such as flights connecting Ireland to Scotland, Wales and England, and for visiting the Scottish Isles (services include Eastern Airways, Flybe/Loganair and Hebridean Air).
More about the UK for families
- Hotels throughout the UK offer family rooms, cots and babysitting services, while others are specifically adult-only. Always check prior to booking.
- B&Bs and family-friendly hostels are good options for families, often with options of family suites or adjoining rooms, while Airbnb and cottage rentals are great for rural destinations.
- Camping is popular for travelling families in England, particularly during the warmer seasons, and great for kids to make friends while travelling.
What to pack
- The UK is very child-friendly. Baby and child essentials are widely available, baby changing facilities are common and strollers are suitable for most cities, though baby carriers are recommended for the region’s wide range of outdoor adventure activities.
- Insect repellent is recommended for summer and spring as midges (biting insects) are a common pest, particularly in Scotland.
- Layered clothing and quality rain gear is recommended year-round, most particularly in Scotland which is known to experience ‘four seasons in a day’ and sporadic weather changes even during summer.
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