We take our children on a family trip to an award-winning Christmas light festival
Family festive opportunities are in short supply this year so our trip to Lightopia at Heaton Park in Manchester was eagerly awaited.
Organisers promise a safe and socially distanced event.
We took our children after school for a 5.20pm start, here is our full guide to the Christmas festival.
What is it
The Lightopia Festival – Christmas at Heaton Park – is an award-winning and socially-distanced lantern and light festival.
It takes place around a series of lit art installations and laser beams, which have been set up at the park in Manchester.
When it it
Lightopia at Heaton Park runs from November 20, 2020 to January 3, 2021.
The event is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, except during school holidays and closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Gates Open at 5pm, last entry is 8.30pm and it closes at 10pm.
How much are tickets
Tickets are booked in advance, they are £20 online for adults (or £22 on the day), £13 for children (or £15 on the day) and £60 for families of two adults and two children (£68 on the day). Children under three can go free.
Essential carers of disabled visitors can attend for free, the disabled visitor pays the normal admission fee.
*What we called the Rainbow Tree
Children stand on a circle and their moving feet sends different coloured lights shooting up the tree, creating a beautiful display.
*The laser show on the lake.
Visitors are directed to stand in socially distanced spaces to watch this lovely show towards the end of the trail.
*Food and drink
There are stalls and bars dotted around the trail selling food like hot dogs, carvery baps, chips, donuts, malled wine and hot chocolate.
*Prepare to queue at the start, entry is in 20-minute time slots and we did have to wait when we arrived, but it is organised very well so that you are spaced out from the groups in front and behind.
*It’s quite a spaced out route, you will walk a bit further than some other light shows, so take a buggy if you have young children.
*It is all outdoors so dress for the weather and ensure children are wrapped up warm and wearing sensible footwear. You will always be on a path but look out for the occasional bit of uneven ground as it is dark.
Is everything included in the price?
All the displays are included in the ticket price. There are stalls selling food, drink and those flashing hand-held contraptions that our daughter loves. It was card only for payment.
How long will it take?
It takes about an hour and a half but that depends on how fast you walk and whether you buy food and drink. Take your time walking around, to take it all in, you certainly don’t need to rush.
Where to park
There are car parks on site and it is best to book in advance, then follow the directions on your email confirmation.
There was lots to keep them entertained, here are our top tips for what to do with children on a family boat trip along the canal or a holiday in the area.
The market town of Llangollen is a fabulous day out for children.
When travelling by canal, the part between Trevor Bason and Llangollen town is narrow and not suited to beginners.
If you don’t attempt it, it’s still worth spending time in Llangollen before you collect your boat or after you have finished your canal cruise if you are nearby.
To enjoy the town centre, join families relaxing on the rocks next to the River Dee. There are lots of flat stones to walk acroos on the river and shallow pools in between. Families often pop down there to enjoy an ice cream or fish and chips with a view.
You reach the river stones via the Victorian promenade, which is a lovely walkway raised above the river. Next to it there is a large playground.
Children will also love the spectacular Horseshoe Falls, where the canal and river meet to form a weir, a couple of miles west of the town.
You can see kayakers flying down this part of the River Dee and there are pleasant walks.
There are three meres near to this stretch of canal. You can moor up to walk around Colemere, or stop at Blakemere to admire the view.
If you moor up overnight in Ellesmere there is a walk to the town’s lake through woodland off the towpath near Blackwater Marina.
Blakemere at Ellesmere
It is about a 10-minute walk through a lovely wood to the mere, then you can go to the visitor centre, or head clockwise around to the sculpture trail and wide-open playground.
The town itself is pleasant enough to stroll around with a few takeaways and Vermeulens Delicatessen famed for its pork pies. You can walk back to your boat along the canal next to a giant Tesco, which is handy if you need to stock up.
This wharf in Llangollen is part of a World Heritage site.
Welsh cream teas are served at the Wharf Tea Room, with views out over the town and canal.
You can try a horse drawn boat trip from here – they have been running from the wharf for more than 100 years. Trips are 45 minutes or two hours.
Horse drawn boats from Llangollen Wharf
Llangollen Steam railway
This heritage railway line starts at Llangollen Station and runs alongside the River Dee, travelling through the picturesque Dee Valley.
It has events for families throughout the year such as meeting Thomas the Tank Engine.
There is a small cafe and a couple of lovely walks to view the aqueduct. One walk heads along the Llangollen Canal a short distance, down the original Offa’s Dyke path, through some narrow, steep woodland and out onto a bridge with a great view.
Alternatively, you could head out of the marina towards the aqueduct but before you reach it, turn left onto a public footpath signed Ty Mawr Country Park. Walk along the path and then turn right and head down to the river. It is a lovely spot, with a muddy beach, rocks to climb on and even a paddle in the river on a hot day. You then walk back towards the aqueduct and end up underneath its huge towers. This gives children a chance to appreciate the scale of the 200-year-old structure.
Moor up and explore
The beauty of travellng by boat on the canal is that you can stop almost anywhere. We found lots of lovely country walks this way.
The towpath is usually flat and often gravelled so is fine to cycle or scoot in a lot of places.
If your children are older you can send them off the boat along the towpath and collect them when you catch up with them further ahead.
Here are our pick of the best beaches in and around Dawlish.
This is a flat, sandy beach with shallow waters. It is very family-friendly with lifeguards keeping watch over the summer months.
It is a Blue Flag beach – awarded for high standards of cleanliness and safety.
The large car park is set behind a grassy area which you walk through to reach the beach.
The sand is separated into sections by rows of wooden groynes. There is a high, sloped wall above the sand so only walk down via the regular steps provided and hold on to younger children’s hands as you approach.
There can be big waves on a windy day which makes the beach good for bodyboards and surfing.
But when the weather is calm it is a safe bathing spot too.
Heading from the town to the beach you drive past a large funfair and there is an ice cream shop and cafe opposite.
If you fancy a good walk, the beach travels up to the mouth of the River Exe. It also backs on to a wildlife reserve.
Dogs are not allowed on Dawlish Warren beach.
Address: Dawlish Warren Beach, Beach Rd, Dawlish, EX7 0NF.
The town of Dawlish has a beach which is a short walk from the centre.
It’s quite pebbly and travels all the way to Red Rock at Dawlish Warren.
We went on a windy day and the sight of the big waves bashing the sea wall was spectacular. Although paddling/swimming in the sea was definitely off the agenda.
There’s a railway station next to the beach. The railway line runs alongside the beach and there’s a wide footpath between the line and the sand.
Dawlish is a small but pleasant place for a stroll and there is a car park and on-street parking.
The river runs through a park with ducks and swans. There is mini-golf in the park and plenty of cafes or ice cream shops.
We visited Gaye’s Creamery for their famous ice cream cone with clotted cream on top!
Dogs are allowed on part of the beach.
Address: Dawlish Town Beach, SW Coast Path, Dawlish, EX8 5BT.
We walked right alongside Dawlish beach and found:
This beach is about a 10-minute walk from the centre of Dawlish, if you start at the railway tunnel, you can follow the sea path round to the right (with the sea on your left).
Our childen had a great time here, it’s a sandy/stony beach with a sheltered spot/open cave, good for keeping warm unless there’s an easterly wind.
The curved bay is good for swimming and the dramatic red sandstone cliffs with the railway at the bottom forms a spectacular backdrop.
There are rock pools, a few colourful beach huts (some available for hire), a cafe with ice cream shop and occasional dolphin sightings.
The beach used to be known as Gentleman’s Beach, because in Victorian times only men were allowed to bathe there!
The nearest parking is on the street opposite the railway line. You can cross a footbridge from there to get to the beach or enjoy the view from the coastal path above. There is also a car park and on street parking in Dawlish town centre.
Dogs are not allowed on Coryton Cove beach from May 1 to September 30.
This is one for the adventurous families.
You park in Holcombe village and then walk down the steep Smuggler’s Lane to access the beach.
From there head under the railway line and up onto a sea wall path.
Keep a close eye on little ones as there are steep drops until you reach some steps down onto the beach. And the steps are narrow and open to the beach.
It is a sandy beach with good waves for bodyboarding.
You also get dramatic red sandstone cliffs at each end which you can imagine as ideal cover for smugglers who made use of this remote beach in years gone by.
There is a kiosk at the bottom of Smuggler’s Lane selling drinks and snacks.
This is also an excellent spot for train spotters as you can get really close to the trains heading in both directions along the line.
This narrow, isolated beach is used mainly by locals and there are no lifeguards.
Dogs are allowed on Holcombe beach.
Address: Holcombe Beach, Holcombe, Teignmouth, Devon, EX7 0JL.
A new roller coaster aimed at pre-school children has opened at one of England’s most popular theme parks
The world’s first DUPLO rollercoaster has opened at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort.
The DUPLO Dino Coaster, for children aged around two to five, is part of the attraction’s bigger improved DUPLO Valley area.
The ride has dino-themed carriages which soar around supersized DUPLO dinosaur models, 18 times bigger than if you were to build them at home.
Legoland staff think it will be the perfect first rollercoaster experience for little ones, who need to be 0.9 metres or over to ride it.
The area has also has a new show and new supersized DUPLO models, great for family selfies, plus its own official character, Dexter the Dog.
Outdoor play area Brickville has become DUPLO Playtown with a new rocket play structure for budding astronauts and there is a new puppet show at the DUPLO Puppet Theatre.
DUPLO Valley Airport has a new look with with three coloured helicopters for little pilots to choose from.
Existing family rides at DUPLO Valley include the riverboat Fairy Tale Brook ride and the DUPLO train.
Duplo Valley, Legoland Windsor
The area also hosts the resort’s outdoor water play areas – Splash Safari and Drench Towers.
Meanwhile the park has launched a new adult and toddler annual pass to be used while older children are at school.
For £49, a toddler (classed as under 0.9 metres) and adult can visit the theme park as often as they like during term time (Monday to Friday), with 20 per cent off at restaurants and a 10 per cent discount in the shops.
Children under 0.9 metres get free entry anyway to the LEGOLAND Windsor Resort all year round.
Day tickets are from £29 per person when booked online in advance.
A 70-acre unique woodland attraction is soon to open in South Cheshire
A family day out full of fun, imagination and adventure is set to open in time for May half-term.
BeWILDerwood Cheshire – A Curious Treehouse Adventure – is throwing open its wonky wooden gates on Saturday, May 23, 2020.
It is in a forest setting where children can ‘run wild’ and promises ‘no noisy rides, no technology and no junk food’.
It’s the second Bewilderwood site in the country – the first in Norfolk, has won a host of awards.
The sites are based on the magical children’s BeWILDerwood book series by Tom Blofeld, bringing to life a cast of captivating characters.
BeWILDerwood author and creator Tom Blofeld
The Cheshire site, which has been in development for three years, will feature Curious Treehouses, Wobbly Wires (zip wires), Slippery Slopes and a variety of giant wooden play structures to navigate such as a Broken Bridge.
There will also be aerial ropewalks, climbing walls, balancing logs and mazes.
Face painting and activities like interactive storytelling shows and crafting sessions are included in the ticket price and parking is free.
It is aimed at children aged two to 2 but teenagers and adults can enjoy the equipment too as the focus is on family fun.
Fun for all the family
Toddlers and children who are too small to go on the bigger bits have their own areas, Toddlewood on the Hill and Tiptoe Valley.
Food can be bought at the Cosy Cabin and Munch Bar and picnics are welcome.
Tickets are based on height rather than ages and can be bought online.
Books from the BeWILDerwood series including A Boggle at BeWILDerwood, The BeWILDerbats and A BeWILDermuddle are also available to buy online.
The best Easter 2020 entertainment from egg hunt to lambing activities, walks and spring festivals
Spring is a great time for family fun and adventures and getting outside with your children.
Here are our pick of the best Easter activities planned around the South East of England.
Waddesdon Manor is having a Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt from April 4 to 13.
Discover fun facts about nature and new parts of the gardens while taking part in an egg hunt around the grounds. Children £3, grounds admission applies.
Children can also enjoy an Easter petting farm at the manor which runs from April 15 to 19.
Get up close and personal with new furry, hairy or feathered friends this Easter, as animals return to Waddesdon’s stable yard. Free with grounds admission.
Farmer Palmer’s, just outside Poole, is planning family-friendly Easter-themed activities.
The Easter fun includes hands-on experiences with the animals that populate the farm and an Eggstravaganza featuring hundreds of chocolate eggs over the weekend (April 10 to 13).
Entry from £12.50, children aged two are £5.50 and children under two are free. For more information go to the website.
The annual Marbles Match and Easter Bonnet Parade takes place in the imposing shadow of Battle Abbey, site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The marbles match
Visitors will be able to watch local teams lose their marbles in a traditional competition dating back to 1945. It starts at 10am on Good Friday, April 10.
Spectators of all ages will also be able to give marbles a try or take part in the Easter Bonnet competition. For more information go to the website.
Visit Gambledown Farm where in Spring, lambs are bottle fed, bluebells and daffodils are out and children can see baby chicks.
If you are looking for a family Easter break, the farm offers barn stays and glamping set in 270 acres of Hampshire countryside, go to the website for more information.
Chicks at Gambledown Farm
Gilbert White’s House Garden Bird Easter Egg Hunt runs from April 4 to 19. Children can hunt for painted eggs in the gardens and meadow, which are all based on the eggs of the birds which nest in the grounds. Find them all and claim a chocolate egg.
The cost is £3 in addition to the general admission price, adult £12, child under 16 £5, for more information go to the website.
Gilbert White’s House
There will be an Easter Sunday Cruise and Egg Hunt on the John Pinkerton II canal boat on the Basingstoke Canal through beautiful Hampshire countryside on April 12.
Take a leisurely afternoon cruise to King John’s Castle where children can search out their Easter eggs. All trips are crewed by trained volunteer members of the Basingstoke Canal Society, a charity dedicated to safeguarding the canal. All proceeds are used to maintain the canal for the future. It is a two-and-a-half hour return trip.
The price is adults £12, children £6. Book online here.
The John Pinkerton II canal boat
Jane Austen’s House Museum is arranging some family-friendly activities. There will be an Easter egg trail, family walks and a Young People’s Writing Workshop. Booking is required for the workshop (April 4 to 19) and walks (April 8 and 15), go to the website.
Meet Bobtail Bunny and forest friends Betty Bunny, Hennie the Hedgehog and Red the Deer at Paultons Park from April 4 to 19, go to the website.
Easter at Paultons Park
Butser Ancient Farm will be celebrating the ancient festival of Eostre and the goddess of Spring. Visitors will be able to meet the Saxons from Herigead Hundas with demonstrations, traditional crafts, cooking and DIY archaeology experiments. There will also be mini-mosaic making, wattling and more.
And Butser’s Roman IX Legion will be in residence in the Roman village with fighting and marching demonstrations, archery, Roman cooking, crafts and more.
It runs from April 10 to 13, prices are from £9 for adults and children aged three to 16 are £5. Go to the website for more information.
There will be Easter fun at Hever Castle from April 2 to 19 April.
Children can hunt for colourful carrots and bunnies in a free Easter trail in the castle or take part in two free Easter egg hunts in the grounds at 11am and 3pm.
They can also create an egg-shaped decoration to hang on the Easter tree in a free craft activity.
Admission prices, castle and gardens: adults £18.80, children aged five to 15 £10.70 and under-5s free. See the website for more information.
Easter at Hever Castle
Spa Valley Railway in Tunbridge Wells is having Easter activities from April 10 to 13 April.
Spot all the Easter bunnies alongside the railway between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge. A chocolate egg will be available (whilst stocks last) for all children taking part.
Resident steam engine ‘Ugly’ will be in action each day and standard fares apply.
Adult tickers are £10, children aged two to 15 are £5 and a family ticket for unlimited travel on the day is £28.00 when booked online in advance here.
Easter sees the return of the Worthing Observation Wheel. Standing at a height of 46 metres, the WOW is the tallest wheel on the south coast offering views of up to 10 miles across the South Downs and along the coast. See here for information.
A family day out at the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020
The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020 is a popular event every year with families.
The UK’s biggest display of leisure vehicles, static holiday homes, lodges and tents is spread over five halls at the NEC in Birmingham.
We’ve been today with our children – it was very appealing given the constant rain that has plagued the half-term holiday.
It’s a great price – adults are just £10 on the door this year (seniors £9) and children under 15 are free. Parking is free at the NEC but it is a long walk from the car park so consider getting one of the free shuttle buses especially if it is raining.
Once you get inside there are scores of caravans and motorhomes to explore – ours loved climbing inside, trying out the seats, working out how the beds worked and imagining they were ours.
There are lots of tents you can buy too, you can see all the different sizes and types all set up.
There are also extra activities, which make it more worthwhile taking children.
There is a climbing wall, a nine-hole mini golf course made out of miniature UK landmarks and a small circuit to try out electric bikes and electric scooters.
The Haven stand had a fantastic ranger from Nature Rockz teaching fire lighting.
There is a theatre area with special guests like Shane Richie, Matt Allwright, adventurer Darren Hardy and chef, author, and Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain.
We watched a chat with the rather lovely Dr Hilary Jones from ITV’s Lorraine, who was discussing the benefits of breaks and holidays, fresh air and exercise.
There was also a dog arena where we saw an agility demonstration and made friends with some gorgeous cocker spaniels.
Plus there are holiday lodges and glamping tents and representatives from holiday parks and other destinations offering ideas for family trips.
And lots of stands selling everything you need if you go camping or caravanning.
The show runs until February 23 2020 at the NEC in Birmingham.
Grannies go free at Alton Towers in 2020 to celebrate the opening of the World of David Walliams
Staffordshire theme park Alton Towers has revealed that the star attraction of its soon-to-open World of David Walliams themed area will be Gangsta Granny: The Ride.
The world-first ride experience is inspired by Walliams’ biggest selling children’s novel Gangsta Granny.
Fans will also be able to stay overnight in one of four Gangsta Granny themed bedrooms in the Alton Towers Hotel.
Stay overnight in a Gangsta Granny room
We revealed last year that the World of David Walliams will be arriving at Alton Towers this Spring (2020) with a host of rides and attractions, bringing to life much-loved characters from the author’s children’s novels.
To celebrate the launch of Gangsta Granny: The Ride, Alton Towers is offering a new Grannies Go Free pass for 2020.
Published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben who discovers that his Granny is secretly an international jewel thief.
David Walliams works with Alton Towers on the new Gangsta Granny ride
Comedian, actor and best-selling author David Walliams OBE said: “I’m absolutely thrilled that Gangsta Granny is becoming a ride at Alton Towers.
“I never imagined it would happen so it’s a real delight to see my characters brought to life in a ride.
“I’ve worked really closely with the team at Alton Towers to make sure the ride is just as funny and exciting as the book. I think children and their parents and even their grandparents are going to love it!”
The new 4D ride experience will see guests join the main characters as they attempt the greatest heist in the history of the world: to steal the Crown Jewels.
On-board a royal carriage, they will set off on a Crown Jewels tour only to be caught up in Ben and Granny’s adventure.
The ride will whizz, twist and spin passengers 360 degrees through a series of scenes where they will see, feel, hear and even smell an electrifying and unique retelling of the Gangsta Granny story.
Using state-of-the-art special effects, 3D projection-mapping and animation inspired by the artwork of Tony Ross, passengers will descend with Ben and Granny into the sewers, be chased through the streets of London and even come face to face with the Queen.
In other parts of the David Walliams area will be Raj’s Shop, a Royal Carousel, Raj’s Bouncy Bottom Burp and other surprises.
John Burton, Creative Lead for Alton Towers Resort, said: “David’s stories are full of witty characters, intrigue and exhilaration so it’s been a fantastic challenge to build all that into a new ride experience.
“It’s the first time we’ve attempted such a complex combination of a physical ride experience, high-tech special effects and brilliant story-telling to ensure guests feel they are with Granny and Ben on every step of their adventure.”
Alton Towers in Staffordshire, a member of the Merlin Entertainments family, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
It opens for 2020 on March 21.
The park says the new area will open in the Spring but has not given an official launch date yet.
Grannies (and Grandads) go free
Alton Towers is offering one free adult (aged 60 and over) ticket per full price child ticket when bought by March 20. The free tickets can be used during the 2020 season (March 21 to November 1, 2020). For full terms and conditions, go to www.altontowers.com/tandcs
Gangsta Granny-themed rooms
There are four themed rooms in the Alton Towers Hotel. They cost from £281.50, based on a family-of-four with bed and breakfast, book via altontowers.com
Gangsta Granny Facts
It was first published on 27th October 2011.
The anniversary edition was published in 2018.
Gangsta Granny was David’s first children’s number one bestseller.
It stayed at the top of The Sunday Times top ten for 24 weeks.
Overall sales of Gangsta Granny are 1.75 million in the UK alone.
Gangsta Granny has also been adapted for the stage by the Birmingham Stage Company.
A television adaptation was commissioned by the BBC in 2013 and first aired on BBC One on Boxing Day 2013. The cast includes Miranda Hart, Rob Brydon, David Walliams as Ben’s Dad and Joanna Lumley as The Queen. It is currently available to view on Netflix.
David closed 2019 as the UK’s biggest-selling author. His titles took three of the top 10 overall bestselling books of 2019 as well as the top three bestselling children’s books of the year.
He is one of the most influential children’s writers and has revolutionised reading for children.
Since the publication of his ground-breaking first novel, The Boy in the Dress (2008), global sales of his books have exceeded 37 million copies.
Across his titles, he has celebrated a total of 55 weeks at number one in the overall book charts and more than 150 weeks at number one in the children’s charts – more than any other children’s writer.
His most recent novel, The Beast of Buckingham Palace, was published in November 2019 and went straight to number one in in the overall industry bestseller charts where it remained for four weeks and included the coveted UK Christmas number one spot.
*For more information on Gangsta Granny: The Ride and other new attractions inspired by the books of David Walliams visit www.altontowers.com/Walliams.
We escape the cold and rain for indoor Christmas fun at EventCity in Manchester
Winter Funland 2019
Where is it?
EventCity, opposite the Trafford Centre in Manchester
What is it?
The biggest indoor Christmas event in the UK. It includes a pantomime, ice rink, circus, Santa and huge funfair.
It replaced Winter Wonderland in 2018, which was at the site previously.
When is it?
Before and after Christmas – it runs for a month until January 4, 2020.
How long does it last?
Visits are in sessions of four hours.
What did we think?
It was good value for money compared to other Christmas events as it is mostly all free once you are inside including the fair rides, ice skating and two shows.
Plus it was a relief to know we’d be warm and dry whatever the weather after knowing plenty of people who have got soaked through after paying a lot of money for outdoor festive treats.
It perhaps lacked a big Christmas feel and would have benefited from more staff dressed up or more festive decorations.
But if your children love rides, you are on to a winner.
*The funfair with lots of rides suitable for young children up to about 10, including carousels, mini coasters and dodgems. There were queues for most things but not horrendously long. It was a lot quieter in the last hour.
*An ice rink for ages four and up. It is fairly small and was not too busy when we went. There were several penguin supports for children.
*The circus – there are three performance times you can choose from in each session. You sit around a smallish round stage being amazed by a series of performers including a couple on rollerboots, two motorcyclists inside a sphere and acrobats.
*The pantomime/Christmas show – this was in the same area as the circus. It wasn’t quite as good as the circus and a few people walked out of our session. The four actors tried their best but the show wasn’t particularly Christmassy and two of them were in slightly scary alien costumes!
*Santa – this year’s grotto is next to the entrance and is open half an hour before session times so you don’t have to lose any of your four hours waiting to see Father Christmas. Queues to see him close an hour before the end of each session.
Fastpass tickets are available to visit Father Christmas to cut queuing time and give you an allocated 15-minute timeslot. Book when you buy your tickets.
Facilities for parents
*There is plenty of space to park prams and buggies.
*There is a quiet breastfeeding area and baby changing facilities.
*There is a baby chill-out zone where little ones can be out of their prams.
You are not supposed to take your own food and drink inside.
There are stalls selling food and drink including pizza, carvery baps, chips, donuts, popcorn and candyfloss, plus plenty of tables to sit at to eat. There is also a bar.
All-inclusive tickets are £23.50 per person, under 3s and carers are free. It is £89 for a family of four — two adults and two children or one adult and three children. Children are aged up to and including 16. Tickets available via www.winterfunland.co.uk
Tickets can be printed off or displayed on the screen of your phone/tablet etc.
Parking is included in the cost.
What is not included in the cost
Food and drink, a present from Santa (this can be paid for before if wanted) and photo opportunities.
There is also a cloakroom charged at £1 per item.
Children aged three to 10.
Access and restrictions:
The venue is fully wheelchair accessible but check which rides can be accessed. There is disabled parking and disabled toilets.
EventCity, opposite the Trafford Centre in Manchester.
Winter Funland Manchester postcode for satnavs is M17 8AS.
The city of Winchester is known as England’s Christmas capital and its market was recently voted one of the best in Europe.
So we take a December trip to the home of Alfred the Great to find out what its Christmas appeal is for children, plus see our video below.
The Winchester Cathedral Christmas Markets
The centrepiece of the city’s festive fun is this beautiful market which runs for 34 days around Christmas.
There are 110 stalls around Cathedral Close. You enter via the side of the building through some arches and onto the market which has dozens of stalls selling Christmas gifts, arts and crafts.
The main food and drink section of the market is at the far side. There are the usual selection of German sausages, Gluhwein and more. Our two enjoyed testing the pancakes from an excellent crepes stall, which was reasonably priced and properly cooked by two ladies from France. There was also a man toasting marshmallows and another roasting nuts.
There is also a British Crafts Village section, which you enter via a small platform, with a nativity scene at the end.
The market is very popular with 350,000 visitors each year and it was busy when we went which means you need to keep a close eye on your children. Also, there are no toilets in the market itself, the nearest ones are at the Cathedral Visitors Centre.
The ice rink
In the centre of the markets is a covered ice rink. It offers one-hour skating slots through the day from 10am with the final one starting at 8pm.
The busiest times are in the late afternoon but numbers are limited so even in a full session the ice isn’t too busy.
A family skating ticket for two adults and two children costs £37.95. it also costs £5 to hire a Penguin skating aid, which is essential if your children are new to skating and makes for a more fun experience on the ice for beginners.
The rink has a large Christmas tree in the centre and viewing areas at either end for family and friends to watch.
You can collect your skates in the waiting area up to half a hour before your allocated time slot. All children’s sizes are catered for and there is a £1 charge to leave bags in a locker.
It is a great festive atmosphere with lights and music on the ice adding to the fun. There is also an ice bar and cafe next to the rink for hot and cold food.
Across the city
Winchester takes Christmas very seriously and even away from the cathedral there was a large market along the High Street when we visited. There were plenty of local stalls and food outlets at that market as well.
The two nearest Christmas activities near Winchester are at Marwell Zoo, which we reviewed earlier in the year, read about it here. The zoo has a special Christmas at Marwell experience which can be booked as either a daytime or evening visit. Only the daytime experience includes a visit to the zoo itself.
The Watercress Line has a Santa Special train running until December 24. Children receive an activity pack and gingerbread on board while adults can enjoy white wine and mince pies. Tickets are available by advanced booking only.
Also, in Winchester there is a Meet Father Christmas event running at the Great Hall. From December 21 to 23, you can meet Santa in one of the city’s grandest buildings. Tickets include that all-important meeting plus a festive gift and Christmas-themed crafts.
Where do I park?
Parking is difficult but there are three park and ride options. If you are coming from the East, you can use either Barfield or St Catherine’s Park & Ride. Visitors from the south can use South Winchester.
If you want to try and get closer to the city centre, then the Chesil multi-storey car park is your best bet. We parked here and it was about a 10-minute walk to the cathedral.
For more information go to visitwinchester.co.uk
(We were given free entry to the ice rink for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own).
We take our children to ‘Lapland’ in the UK for a full family festive experience
It is one of the country’s most popular Christmas days out for families who want to experience Lapland without the cost of travelling to Finland.
So here is all you need to know about Lapland UK, plus our top tips for visiting and please watch our video below!
What is it?
A full Christmas experience for children which tells the story of Father Christmas, complete with elves, snow, a personalized Santa visit, toy making, gingerbread decorating, ice skating and more.
Where is it?
In ‘Lapland’ accessed by magic from Lapland UK, in Whitmoor Forest near Ascot in Berkshire.
How it works
1. Children get a special invitation each to visit ‘Lapland’ through the post telling them they have been chosen to help Santa make toys. There is a special app you can use so that two of the elves you will meet, appear on your invitation through your phone to talk and build the excitement.
2. When you get there and check in, each child is given an Elf Passport to have stamped at various points. You can also buy Jingles here – elf money that the children can spend there – £1 is one Elf Jingle.
A pouch of Jingles
3. The tour starts in a round room where elves tell the Father Christmas story, teach elf rhymes and the elf wave and build up the excitement for the children (Little Folk) and adults (Big Folk) until finally opening the doors to ‘Lapland’.
The doors to Lapland
4. You walk past snow-topped cabins to the toy workshop. Here, as in other places around the site, children have the option of entering through much smaller doors than the adults, which is a nice touch.
5. Inside the workshop, they are entertained by more elves and then each child helps to make a toy (a soft snowman our year, which they stuffed and added buttons to and a nose and scarf etc), which they hand over to be wrapped for Santa to deliver to children on Christmas Eve.
6. Then it’s through one of several magical tree tunnels to the next area, a kitchen where Mother Christmas is waiting, she talks to the children, they decorate gingerbread biscuits then listen to a story.
Mother Christmas tells a story
7. After that it is on to the Elf Village where you have an hour-and-a-half free time to ice skate on the outdoor rink, visit husky dogs and spend your Jingles in the toy and sweet shops, food and drink outlets. There is even a special post office where children can write a letter to Santa, have it sealed and post it themselves.
8. Then it’s on to the main event – visiting Father Christmas. You walk through a magical forest, past elf homes and past the reindeer to a waiting area.
Elves come and out and call each family group through using just the children’s names. Then you are taken down a winding path to visit Santa in a log cabin, who amazes the children by knowing special details about them. He gives them a present (soft husky toy dogs when we went) and they find their names in his good book. They have a photograph taken by an elf.
Are they in his good book?
9. In the next area, you collect your free photograph and are slipped a toy like the one your child made earlier so that Santa can deliver it on Christmas Eve. Then it’s out through a gift shop where there are lots of accessories you can buy for your husky! And then it’s out the door and back into the car park in ‘England’.
What is included in the price at Lapland UK?
*An elf passport.
*Making a toy activity.
*A version of the toy they made in the toy factory to take away secretly to give them on Christmas day.
*The gingerbread that the children decorate.
*Ice skating and hire of skates.
*Meeting Father Christmas.
*A gift from Santa – soft toy husky dogs our year.
*A printed family picture from the Santa visit.
What costs extra at Lapland UK?
*Food and drink.
*Extra pictures from the Santa visit.
What did we think?
This is a magical Christmas day out for young children and very well organized. The staff are all fantastic, taking on the role of elves and reindeer and the children loved it. It is a fabulous four hours of festive entertainment.
Is Lapland UK worth the cost?
This is a staggeringly expensive Christmas experience. It is a shame this costs so much money as it just isn’t possible for many people, particularly bigger families.
For the four of us it was over £450 on a weekday – which works out at over £100 an hour. We were lucky enough to be treated to it for a special family birthday. I don’t think we would be able to justify doing it again another year.
If you can afford it and want to splash out, make sure your children are the right ages to appreciate it, I would say, no younger than three and of an age where they still believe in the magic of Christmas.
Top tips for Lapland UK
*Do take advantage of the app to make your child’s invitation come to life, it is a magical start to the experience.
*Get there half an hour before your time slot to park, walk to the start, check in etc. You can not start the experience until your time slot so there is no point getting there any earlier.
*Buy Jingles at the start – £1 is 1 Elf Jingle, they come in a red velvet pouch. Children can use them to pay for things in the Elf Village and you can cash in those you don’t use at the end. We bought ours £5 worth each and it was enough (a lead for the toy husky from Santa was just £3 in the gift shop at the end, but beware there are lots of toys which cost a lot more)!
*Personalise your visit online. Make sure Santa has all the details he needs to show your child that he knows all about them. But don’t worry if you don’t get chance to do this as you can tell them at the desk when you are waiting to see the Big Man (just make sure little ears can’t hear you)!
*Ice rink – children can have skates which go over their shoes and are easier to balance on instead of proper ones. There are also support penguins for young children to hold on to or stand on.
*Consider taking a change of clothes in case children fall over on the ice rink. It was raining when we went and there is no cover so the surface was wet even though staff were frantically trying to keep the water off it.
*You could spend a lot of money in the Elfen Village if you aren’t careful as a lot of it is shops and food and drink outlets so take your time doing the ice rink and the Santa letter writing!
Our five-year-old’s verdict
“We saw Father Christmas and he gave us some huskies. And we went in the Enchanted Forest. It was fantastic! I liked seeing Santa Claus best.”
The National Trust property in Cheshire hosts its popular illumination display for the third year
Thousands of visitors will be heading to Dunham Massey over the festive period to enjoy the magical light trail around the park and garden.
And we’ve had sneak preview of this fabulous Christmas display, so here is our review, top tips and all you need to know, plus watch our video below.
What is it?
Dunham Massey – a National Trust property with deer park and gardens – is hosting its third annual Christmas Light Trail.
Thousands will head to the Cheshire site for the fabulous experience, which is perfect for families.
It features dazzling light displays, music, fairground rides, food and drink.
When is it?
The illuminations run from November 22 to December 30, 2019.
Ticket start times run every 20 minutes between 4.30pm and 8pm.
How much are tickets?
Tickets are prices from £17.50 for adults, £11 for children aged three to 16 and under-threes are free. A family ticket is £54.00.
*Before you go into the formal gardens, the house itself is lit up at the front with a fabulous laser display.
There is also a light display when you reach the back of the house, along with rings of fire.
*There are lots of memorable features as you go around including huge glittering reindeer near the start – apt for a park which is home to lots of deer, firework lights in the trees, a laser walk and lots more.
*The large lawn area inside the gardens is lit up in a sea of lights, changing pattern, in front of a tunnel of glittering lights.
*You can toast marshmallows in fire pits in the rose garden. These can be bought at a stand in the corner of the garden – £1.50 for a large marshmallow on a stick – there are several flavours including gingerbread and caramel.
*There is different music as you go around including songs from Christmassy films – a Frozen song at the start thrilled our daughter.
*There are a few fairground rides in the Stables Courtyard for younger children – a carousel, helter skelter, merry-go-round and swing boats.
*There are food and drink stalls selling mulled wine, hot chocolate, hot dogs, chips, pizza, churros etc.
*You are not supposed to take your own food and drink but I did see several people with their own marshmallows (and sticks) to toast.
*Wrap up warm – it is all outdoors.
*Book a parking space in advance – even if you are a National Trust member with free parking.
*Father Christmas appears on the trail as part of a small show. There is no grotto or individual meeting.
Is everything included in the price?
Fair rides, food and drink are extra. You buy ride tokens – £2.50 each or £10 for five if bought in advance when you book your tickets.
Some stalls accepted payment by card. There is no cash machine.
How long will it take?
The route keeps to the paths and ensures you don’t miss anything. It is around a mile long and takes around an hour and a half but you can stay as long as you like until it closes. It is wheelchair and buggy-friendly but is dimly-lit in places and can get busy.
Can you catch a glimpse of the lights if you happen to be already at Dunham Massey when it gets dark?
If you are there just before the gardens close at 3.30pm, you may see some of the lights as it starts to get dark but you will not get anywhere near the full effect.
Do National Trust members need to pay?
National Trust members pay full price, there is no discount. Parking is free for NT members, but you still have to reserve a space ahead of time as the car park gets busy.
National Trust Dunham Massey, Altrincham, WA14 4SJ
For more information and to book go to the website.
We take our children on a family trip to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
What is it:
The Harry Potter Studio Tour is a magical long look behind the scenes of the famous wizarding films.
It is at the actual Warner Bros. studios near London where a lot of the filming for the eight Harry Potter movies took place.
This is nothing at all like a theme park – there are no rides.
Instead, fans can explore the sets, see the thousands of props and costumes and have their pictures taken with iconic memorabilia and backdrops.
It has won lots of travel awards hailing it the best UK attraction and best family day out.
What did we think?
Harry Potter fans will adore this attraction. There’s absolutely LOADS to see. It’s a four-hour (or so) look at how the films were made.
It makes you appreciate how much work, talent and creativity goes into making films like these.
It’s a really memorable day out – our oldest child is a fan but our youngest – who is too young for the books or film yet – also enjoyed it.
*When you first enter the main lobby before the tour, a huge dragon hanging from the ceiling gives the wow factor. (Apparently it’s Ironbelly from Deathly Hallows Part One, but we haven’t watched that far yet)!
*The tour starts in a room where people in ‘pictures’ on the the walls are talking to you – fans, actors such as James and Oliver Phelps (who play Fred and George Weasley) and Harry Potter writer JK Rowling. Then you go into a small cinema and watch a short film with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson talking about making the movies. At the end, the screen lifts up revealing the door to the Great Hall.
*The Great Hall – the iconic heart of Hogwarts Castle is the perfect area in which to start the experience. The space in the middle is clear for visitors but tables are laid for dinner along the sides. Sadly we didn’t get to enjoy a great feast!
The Great Hall
Models of the characters wear some of the costumes. It’s great to see the size of Hagrid at the front, next to the other teachers. The ceiling is arched but not enchanted (this was created afterwards with special effects). A guide comes in to the hall with you, pointing out areas of interest, you are free to explore on your own from then on.
*Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Although this part is a reproduction of the actual set, this room takes your breath away as you walk in – it’s vast. And sparkly! With marble columns, huge chandeliers and goblin bankers sitting at their desks.
*Diagon Alley – you don’t get to go in the shops, but can peep in at the famous store fronts like Flourish and Blotts, Mr Mulpepper’s Apothecary and Ollivanders wand shop. One shop even has a broomstick floating in the window.
*The Hogwarts Express. You see the train at platform 9¾ and can climb on board, walking along the narrow corridor but not going in any of the small carriages. This train was the one used on location for exterior shots only.
But you do get the chance to sit with your family in a carriage nearby with a green screen for a window. You have your picture taken (to buy if you want afterwards) and are given emotions to act, which is great fun. A video then plays on the screen/window to simulate the train moving through different landscapes, but be warned – Dementors appear at the ‘window’ at one point which can be scary so sit younger children nearer the camera.
*Wand training – our children loved being taught how to use a wand. Participants stand in front of mirrors and follow a demonstration video, learning wand moves, with help from a guide.
*The guides – they are fabulous. They are spaced around the attraction, are friendly, approachable and very knowledgable. They know loads of fascinating facts so make sure to talk to them.
*Green screen photo areas. You are put in Hogwarts robes, in the house of your choice, unless you have your own. You can pose for a ‘Have you seen this Wizard’ poster picture, ride a broomstick over London and buy the resulting pictures and video.
*Dobby the house elf interactive motion capture experience – stand in front of three different stages of the CGI process and watch Dobby reflect your movements – my daughter loved this bit and didn’t want to leave.
*Seeing the animatronic versions of creatures like Buckbeak the Hippogridd and how they were made.
*The props – there are so, so many amazing with such attention to details. For example in Snape’s Potions Classroom there are more than 950 potion jars with weird and wonderful props inside.
*The tour ends with a stunning model of Hogwarts Castle. There are interactive screens here showing how it was built (in 40 days) and how it was used in the films.
*The shop at the end is huge with lots of quality (expensive) merchandise.
*DO NOT turn up to the Harry Potter Studio Tour without pre-booking a ticket. Buy one in advance from the website.
*Book tickets as far ahead as you can as, even though 6,000 people a day take the tour, they sell out quickly.
*Tickets are timed entry, to control the amount of visitors entering. You can take as long as you want going round so it can get busier throughout the day. We booked our tickets for the first time slot of the day (9-9.30am the day we went) and didn’t have any crowds or queues to face – even half an hour behind us, people were queuing for things we hadn’t.
*Opt to have your tickets posted then you can go straight in on arrival, otherwise you have to collect them from a ticket window and there might be a queue.
*Arrive at least 20 minutes early to park and get through the security checks – bags are checked and people are scanned with metal detector wands.
*After the security checks you enter a room where you can collect a handheld digital guide for £4.95. These enhance the tour for adults and some children, they give extra details and facts for visitors as they walk around.
*Also in this first room you can collect a free children’s ‘passport’. They can be stamped around the tour and make for a nice memento. They also give clues for spotting the golden snitch.
*When leaving the door with the talking pictures to enter the cinema, go through the door on the left and then you can sit on the front row of the theatre and be first into the Great Hall. If it’s your birthday you may even get to open the doors.
*A couple of parts can be frightening –
The Forbidden Forest – it’s only a short walk through, but it is dark, there is fake mist rising and eerie sounds and movements.
Buckbeak in the Forbidden Forest
If your children would be scared by big spiders – take the first turning on the right inside the forest to miss a part complete with a big Aragog and family.
If you have children who don’t want to enter the forest at all, ask a member of staff and they will take you another way round. Once through the forest, you come out at Platform 9¾ and see the Hogwarts Express – if you tell them this it might get them through!
The other frightening part for some children is at the end of the fabulous Gringotts section where a dragon appears to run at you breathing fire.
You can hear the roar from the room before, which causes the walls to ‘shake’. When you look in, it’s a set of a destroyed Gringotts made to look deeper than it is with a clever screen. A digital but very realistic Ukrainian Ironbelly moves towards you, setting the bank on fire. It’s a short sequence on repeat and anyone who doesn’t want to see it has about 10 seconds to run through this room before it starts again. Our children were worried so a heroic member of staff brandishing a sword to ‘defend them’, led them through.
Wands for sale at the shop
*Be prepared to spend money once inside – we are normally careful but here we ended up paying for two green screen pictures and two green screen videos (£50), food in the café as we were away so couldn’t make a packed lunch, plus a little gift in the shop at the end, totaling £90 on top of already expensive tickets.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter information
There are a couple of cafes at the entrance/exit (Chocolate Frog Cafe and Hub Cafe) along with a food hall.
Half way around the tour is the Backlot Café with seating inside and out. Staff will supply hot water for heating up bottles here. This is also where to buy butterbeer and butterbeer ice cream. You can queue separately for this.
You can take a picnic, but you must eat it at the Backlot Café half way round.
Opening hours: vary throughout the year, check here.
2019: Adult £45, child aged 5-15 £37, family (2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children) £148,
2020: Adult £47, child aged 5-15 £38, family (2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children) £150.
Children aged 0 to 4 are free but still need a ticket. Carers are also free.
You can also buy a complete studio tour package which includes a studio tour ticket, digital guide and souvenir guidebook. An adult package costs £54.95 for 2019 and £56.95 for 2020. A child package costs £46.95 for 2019 and £47.95 for 2020. These give a saving of £4.95.
There are also deluxe tickets including studio tour entry with a two-hour guided tour, reserve parking, a souvenir guidebook, a butterbeer, four free photographs and a video at one of the photo opportunities and a hot meal and drink.
The Deluxe ticket includes entry to the Studio Tour with a complimentary two hour guided tour, reserved parking, a souvenir guidebook, a Butterbeer, four free photographs and a video at one of our photo opportunities and a choice of hot meal and drink. They cost £225.
Best for: Harry Potter fans aged eight and above and equally interesting for adults!
Time needed: Around four hours but you can stay as long as you like.
Access and restrictions: Most of the studio tour is suitable for wheelchairs but some areas are difficult including the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley. It is also suitable for buggies/pushchairs/prams or these can be left in the cloakroom.
Address: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR
We answer ALL your questions about Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
The Warner Bros. studios in Leavesden near London were home to the hugely popular Harry Potter films for over 10 years.
And now fans can go ‘backstage’ at the Harry Potter studios where the magic was made.
Here we answer all your questions about Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.
Also, don’t miss our full review and all our top tips here and watch our exclusive video of our day out at the studio tour below:
Is there a Harry Potter World or theme park in England?
No, there is the Harry Potter Studio Tour – a multi-award winning UK attraction near London.
What is the Harry Potter Studio Tour?
It’s a huge self-led back stage tour at the studio where a lot of the filming for the Harry Potter movies took place. You can see real sets from the films, costumes, props and creatures, plus take part in some interactive green screen fun.
Is this one of the best Harry Potter experiences?
Yes, the Harry Potter Studio Tour is great for adults and children because it is authentic. Many of the sets, costumes, props and creatures you see here were used in the Harry Potter films. They show the work and craftsmanship that went into the films.
Where is it?
It’s at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, where much of the film series was shot, home to the movies for over 10 years. Leavesden is 20 miles from London, near Watford, England. The full address is: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR.
How to get there
You can drive by car and park in the car park directly outside or take a return bus tour from London or other parts of the country. You can also get a train to Watford Junction and then a shuttle bus, run by the attraction.
When did Harry Potter Studios open?
The studio tour opened on March 31, 2012. Unusually, the crew had saved a lot of the sets, props, animatronic creatures and costumes in case they were needed again for future films. They are now on show for the attraction, next to the working film studios where all eight films were made in Leavesden.
What can you see on the tour?
There’s far too much to mention but it includes The Great Hall, The Forbidden Forest, Gringotts banking hall, the Griffindor common room and boys’ dormitory, Snape’s Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s Tower, the Weasleys’ Burrow, Hagrid’s Hut, the portrait of the Fat Lady, the Mirror of Erised, and the giant clock pendulum.
There is also Malfoy’s Manor, Dolores Umbridge’s pink office, the Hogwarts Express, The Knight Bus, Privet Drive, the Hogwarts Bridge, Godric’s Hollow House, the Ford Anglia, Diagon Alley, Buckbeak, Aragog, the scaled model of Hogwarts Castle used in the films. Plus thousands more animatronics, props and costumes.
Trying out the Knight Bus
Are there any rides at Harry Potter studios?
No but there are interactive features including wand lessons, green screen picture and video areas where you get to ride a broom over London and a Dobby motion capture experience where the house elf reflects your actions and more.
How long is the tour/ how long do you need to spend at Harry Potter Studios?
*There is no time limit – you can stay as long as you want – unless you have a ticket for later in the day and it is closing time! You’ll need at least three hours. If you take your time and look carefully at everything, you could easily spend four or five hours here.
Can I just turn up on the day?
No, you will not get in. You must pre-book a ticket. You will be given a time slot to arrive. We chose the earliest slot and were pleased with the lack of queues at that time as crowds had not built up.
When should you arrive?
They recommend arriving at least 20 minutes before your time slot to go through security checks.
Can you arrive earlier than your time slot?
Yes you can, you can look around the lobby or eat or drink at one of the cafes, before your tour starts. You may also be able to get on to an earlier tour.
What happens when you arrive?
You collect your tickets (if they were not posted to you), show your tickets, go through security (bags are checked and people are scanned with a hand held metal detector wand), then you go into the first area where you can collect a digital audio guide if wanted. Here you can pick up free ‘passports’ for children too, which are easy to miss. Youngsters can then stamp them as they go round the attraction and search for the golden snitch.
Is the tour guided?
Only the start is guided (unless you pay for a deluxe tour). The guide takes the group into a room with talking pictures on the wall – fans, actors and Harry Potter author JK Rowling, then through to the cinema room where you see a short film with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson telling of their life making the films. The guide then takes you into the Great Hall and explains more to you before leaving you to take the rest of the experience at your own pace.
The Great Hall
What is a deluxe tour?
Deluxe tours are more expensive. They include a guided tour, photo package, meal, butterbeer, guidebook and special parking.
Are there staff around during the tour?
*Yes there are guides dotted around. They are really lovely, don’t hesitate to talk to them, they know a lot and it will enhance your experience.
Who would enjoy the tour?
Mainly Harry Potter fans old and young but also people interested in the process of film making, sets, costumes and props. Children aged eight and over would get the most out of it. Teenagers seemed to be really enjoying it when we went.
Can you take pictures and videos?
Yes, everywhere except the cinema and green screen areas, which is great as there are lots of great photo opportunities. Pretend to push your trolley through the wall at platform 9 3/4, ride in the flying Ford Anglia, hold the Sword of Griffindor, pose in Diagon Alley, the Great Hall and much more.
Do people dress up in Harry Potter outfits?
If your children want to dress up, definitely let them. We saw some people dressed up, most were in normal clothes, or Harry Potter tops etc. Staff provide cloaks for the green screen pictures but we took our children’s own outfits to save time and they ended up wearing them for the rest of the tour which was great for our pictures.
Are there restaurants or cafes?
*There are a couple of cafes at the entrance/exit – Chocolate Frog Cafe and Hub Cafe – along with a big food hall.
Half way around the tour is the Backlot Café with seating inside and out. Staff will supply hot water for heating up bottles here.
Where can you buy Butterbeer?
This sweet non-alcoholic drink can only be bought at the Backlot Cafe, midway through the tour. It is not suitable for vegans or people with a dairy allergy as it contains some dairy but is suitable for those with gluten, wheat and nut allergies. It can be bought in a souvenir tankard which you can rinse and take home.
You can also buy Butterbeer ice cream here, available in a souvenir sundae dish to take home or a cone.
Can you take a picnic/packed lunch to Harry Potter studios?
Yes, you can take your own food but it must be eaten at the Backlot Cafe halfway round the tour.
Do you pay for parking?
No, parking is free. We were on the first tour of the day and were able to park right outside the doors. Have your tickets or booking confirmation ready to show them before you park.
Can you be dropped off?
Yes, you can be dropped off right outside.
Are there any frightening parts?
The two main scary bits are The Forbidden Forest and a fire-breathing dragon at the end of the Gringotts section. The forest is dark and eerie, inform staff if your children want to miss this part, and they will take you another way. When you enter the forest take the right turning to miss the bit with Aragog and big spiders.
Some of Aragog’s family
Staff can also help get through the room with the Ukrainian Ironbelly Gringotts dragon – there are 10 seconds between the sequence, which is on repeat, to run through.
Can I see Hogwarts Castle?
The tour ends with a stunning model of the castle. There are interactive screens there showing how it was built and used in the films.
What if it is raining or snowing?
This is a great attraction if the weather is rubbish as most of the tour is inside. Apart from one area – the backlot – where the exterior sets are – the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and Hogwarts Bridge.
4 Privet Drive
What is included in the ticket price?
The tour and experiences such as a wand skills mini-workshop, making a wand jump up to your hand by saying ‘up’ and picture opportunities with the sets and props including the Hogwarts Express and pushing a trolley through the wall at Platfrom 9 ¾.
What is not included in the ticket price?
Pictures and videos made from the green screen attractions.
Obviously also allow for food, drinks and purchases from the shop, it can get very expensive.
What age is this for?
Older fans will get the most out of it – with the patience to stop and look properly at everything. Children from aged eight are likely to enjoy it the most.
Where is the shop?
You will be lucky to escape without having to buy something here and the items in the shops are great quality, but pricey. There are a couple of smaller shops on your way around and one huge store at the end (you can also look in here at the start).
The studio has an online shop too, if you want to have a look before you go or order something afterwards that you wished you had bought.
Is there any provision for visitors with autism?
There is a sensory room within the studio tour to give a calming environment for people with autism and other additional needs.
Are there any disabled toilets?
There are accessible toilets throughout the tour. There’s also a Changing Place facility in the lobby, accessed using a RADAR key, with a hoist (take your own slings), height adjustable changing bench, toilet and washbasin. It is big enough for a wheelchair user and two carers.
Is there a cloakroom?
Yes, there is a cloakroom where you can leave coats and bags free of charge as well as buggies, pushchairs and prams.
Where are the baby changing facilities?
There are baby changing facilities in every toilet block.
Is there a parent and baby room?
Yes, there is an area for parents to feed with a nursing chair and changing tables next to the Backlot Café.
Any interesting facts to end on?
Yes – over the ten years, an incredible 588 sets were created at Leavesden Studios.
Also, Daniel Radcliffe went through 160 pairs of glasses and 70 wands during filming for the Harry Potter film series!
We take our children for a day out at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire
What is it?
Blenheim Palace is a grand historic house and gardens. This World Heritage Site was the birthplace and home of World War Two Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.
It has over 300 years of history and is now home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough.
Where is it?
On the edge of the town of Woodstock in Blenheim, Oxfordshire, eight miles from Oxford.
The Great Courtyard
What did we think?
This is a grand venue and our two were excited to be visiting a ‘palace’. It is set in spectacular grounds with a large lake.
*Our two really enjoyed having audio guides, which surprised us. There was no separate children’s commentary but we spent much longer inside the palace as a result of these devices, they enjoyed looking out for the portraits that were being shown and talked about on their handheld devices.
*You can walk or catch a little train from the car park to the Family Pleasure Gardens. Sadly, it was pouring with rain when we visited but on a dry day, we would have spent longer in this area which included swings, puzzles on the floor and a maze.
As it was raining we made a beeline for the butterfly house. It warmed us up and the children enjoyed being surrounded by butterflies.
*A 300-year-old cedar tree there, the ‘Harry Potter Tree’, was in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Snape was dangling from it in a flashback.
If it is raining, take a towel to dry the train seats and swings etc. And, try to do the inside areas when it is forecast rain – the palace, the butterfly house, the shops/cafes.
Blenheim Palace information
Food: There is a restaurant and three cafes including a pizza café next to the Family Pleasure Gardens. Picnics are also allowed.
Opening hours: The palace is open every day from 10.30am to 5.30pm, park open daily 9am to 6pm.
Cost: Adults £27, children aged five to 16 £16, children under five free, family ticket (two adults, two children), £67.50. The price includes the audio guide.
Best for: Ages six and above.
Time needed: Four hours.
Access and restrictions: The site is largely accessible for wheelchair users and for buggies.
The wildlife park is two miles south of Burford on the A361 on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, in Oxfordshire.
What did we think?
It is a cross between a traditional zoo and a visit to a National Trust-style stately home and gardens. There are lots of interesting animals for children to see, but adults can also enjoy strolling around the lovely gardens.
Watch our video below before reading our highlights, top tips and essential information!
*There are good views of the animals, even for little ones thanks to cleverly designed fences and slopes.
*You can get face-to-face with the giraffes as there is a high viewing point called the Giraffe Walkway.
*The adventure playground and skymaze is a fantastic play area for children, even those older and more daring.
The adventure playground
*The fabulous gardens – beautiful to walk through on the sunny day we were there.
*The range of animals include red pandas, giraffes, rhinos, penguins, lions, wolves, tropical birds, meercats, zebras, tapirs, camels, otters, lemurs, monkeys, snakes and crocodiles. In case you have an elephant-lover, note that there are no elephants at this zoo.
*There is a farmyard section where you can pet goats in an open field.
Our top tips
*We asked a member of staff for the best route to walk around the park and as we had arrived first thing she recommended we visit the walled garden first of all. See the penguin feeding at 11am and the lemurs feeding at 12pm in the Madagascar area, then head around the park either clockwise or anti-clockwise. That brings you into the grounds in time for a picnic.
A meerkat relaxes
*There is a little train which takes you around the park and which is worth doing to rest tired legs at only £1 per person (under 3s are free). It runs from April to October, weather permitting. There isn’t an organised queuing system though so make sure you don’t miss your turn to get on board. The train ride lasts around 10 minutes and departs from near the walled garden and playground. There is a place to leave pushchairs and wheelchairs next to the platform and there is room for two wheelchairs on the train.
*The lemur collection in the Madagascan Walkthrough, is only open for part of the day so check opening times if you are keen to do this.
*A guide book and map costs £2.50. If you just need a map there are boards around the site. Just snap one on your phone and take it round with you! Or click here for an online map.
*Dogs can be taken here as long as they are kept on a lead. There are some areas with free ranging animals that they aren’t allowed into including the Bat Belfry, Reptile House, Children’s Farmyard.
Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens information
Food: Picnics are allowed and there are plenty of nice spots and benches to eat them.
There is a restaurant – the Oak Tree Restaurant – behind the manor house. And seasonal (only open on busy days) kiosks selling hot drinks, ice creams and snacks.
Opening hours: Daily 10am to 6pm April to October, 10am to 5pm November to March. Last admission two hours before closing time.
Cost: Adults £16.00, children aged three to 16 £10.50, under 3s free. E-tickets booked online in advance are £14.00 and £9.50.
There are no disabled concessions but there is a discount for groups of six or more disabled people and their carers.
Best for: All ages but it is a large site so under 5s might get tired without a buggy.
Time needed: At least three hours, potentially all day if you take your time.
Access and restrictions: This is a flat site with good paths throughout so great for wheelchairs prams and buggies. There are disabled toilets in every toilet block as well as a Changing Places toilet near to the gift shop with a bed, ceiling hoist and shower (ask in the gift shop for the security code to get in).
There are wheelchairs available to hire for free. Mobility scooters can be hired for a charge and must be booked in advance.
Address: Cotswold Wildlife Park, Bradwell Grove, Burford, OX18 4JP
We review Crocodiles of the World in the Cotswolds and give our tips for visiting families
What is it?
This is the UK’s only crocodile zoo with 150 crocodiles and alligators plus other reptiles like Komodo dragons and giant tortoises. It was opened in 2011 by crocodile conservationist Shaun Foggett.
The centre wants visitors to learn about crocodiles and see them closely but safely, to boost awareness and conservation.
Where is it?
Crocodiles of the World is at the bottom of the Cotswolds, a mile off the main A40 to Oxford not far from Burford, in Oxfordshire.
What did we think?
There are lots of types of crocodiles, caimans and alligators – creatures you don’t often see in zoos, so it was great to get up close to some of the bigger ones! It is fairly small, the site is a little ramshackle in places and some parts are very humid to keep the crocodiles feeling at home.
*The zoo is split into four sections, the largest creatures are in the Crocodile House, smaller ones in the main zoo, there are also two outside areas including an education zone housing otters and meerkats.
*There are lots of talks through the day with something every half an hour between 10.30am and 4pm. The Croc Talk we attended was really interesting, relaxed and well delivered. We learnt plenty, including the difference between a crocodile and alligator (crocodiles have their bottom teeth visible when their mouth is closed, alligators don’t).
The croc talk
*The Komodo dragon is an interesting sight and has a reasonable-sized enclosure next to the picnic and play area. A good place to sit, eat and relax outside.
*There is a small playground with modern equipment outside, which is handy as the main zoo and crocodile house are both very hot and humid so the creatures can feel at home. You need a blast of fresh air so the playground is handy. There is a small slide for under 5s and some good monkey bars in a climbing area.
Watch our video below before continuing to our top tips to read before you visit.
Our top tips
*The biggest and most dramatic crocodiles and alligators are in the Crocodile House. It isn’t that well marked and we nearly left without seeing this area altogether!
*It is EXTREMELY hot and humid in the Crocodile House and can be close to unbearable for young children so head straight to the top section with the huge saltwater and Nile crocodiles then work back down. That way you see the best creatures before you get too hot and sweaty. Our son lasted less than a minute before he needed to go outside so missed this part.
This one is not real!
*The talks are good and well-spaced out through the day, try and combine one Croc Talk and a feeding session too to get the most out of your visit. The site isn’t huge so without doing the talks it won’t take long to get around everything.
Crocodiles of the World information
Food: There’s a small cafe – Croc Cafe – which serves hot and cold food, drinks and ice creams. Picnics are allowed with tables outside near the playground.
Opening hours: Open every day, 10am to 5pm.
Cost: Adults £8.95, children aged three to 16 £6.50, under 3s free. Family tickets (2 adults, 2 children) £27.00.
Best for: Children aged four upwards.
Time needed: 90 minutes, a bit longer if you want to hear more talks.
Access and restrictions: The site is flat and wheelchair friendly, especially the main croc house. There are a couple of steps in other sections. There are disabled changing facilities.
We take our children to the Forbidden Corner in the Yorkshire Dales to see if it lives up to the hype
What is it?
The Forbidden Corner is a weird and wonderful family attraction, billed as the strangest place in the world.
This four-acre garden is a maze of paths, mysterious tunnels, doors, steps and underground chambers. Plus, quirky statues, strange noises and jets of water catching people unawares.
It was first created for private use and later opened to the public.
Where is it?
It is in Leyburn in North Yorkshire, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.
What did we think?
This is a unique family attraction, unlike anywhere else we have been. Our children were quite scared in parts but came away saying they had loved it.
Watch our exclusive video before reading our highlights and top tips below!
*The ‘map’ you are given upon entry is not a map. There is no route, it shows you pictures of all the things you need to find in the garden, in no particular order, so take a pen to tick them off. There is no way to tell how big the site is or where anything is, it is a labyrinth with endless nooks and crannies to explore.
*We got there when it opened (11am the day we went) and there were only a few people waiting to get in, plus it never felt too busy as they limit numbers via booked entry times. You can stay as long as you want so I understand it may get much busier later on.
*There are several parts where you may get wet. Your movement triggers water sprays that will catch you if you stop. These bits are fun for children to run through, once they have built up the courage.
*When you think you must have seen everything, you find a whole new section or more paths to try.
*The carved wooden play area is beautiful.
The play area
*The cafe is reasonably priced with good options for children.
*Don’t just turn up, you are unlikely to get in, you must book in advance and they limit numbers to prevent overcrowding. Book via the website.
*The first surprise you come to is a giant square head (main picture) – you make your way through its large mouth and it makes a loud burping noise as you pass its throat – if your children are scared of this as ours were, there are small paths each side to bypass it. They can maybe try it later if they’re feeling braver (our son later did it twice).
*There are other parts that can be frightening to some younger children or anyone who might be claustrophobic or frighten easily – in fact the whole experience is equivalent to a mildly scary haunted house at a theme park. It is free to children aged three and under because of this. There are underground parts that you can avoid – including the ‘mausoleum’ which has warnings outside and is not for the faint-hearted – our children didn’t do this bit.
*There is a word hunt where you look for brass letters and make rubbings of them, which adds excitement.
*To find everything, you have to explore every path and every option and some lead to dead ends. Check all the doors even if they look like they won’t open. Some parts are easy to miss like the play area or the little garden off it with a fountain which has a ‘show’ every 15 minutes.
*Make sure everyone goes to the toilet before entering the garden! There is apparently a toilet in the garden, but we never found it. There is one toilet in the play area, others where you queue to get in and outside by the car park.
*Try to stay together as it would be easy to lose each other and there is patchy phone signal. Keep hold of toddlers particularly as there can be steep steps around a corner or various paths to navigate and you won’t know which they have taken.
*If you need accommodation, there are apartments and barn conversions next to the entrance to Forbidden Corner. This was fully booked when we looked and we ended up staying at a youth hostel 25 minutes away, with stunning surroundings, see here for our review.
*You exit through a gift shop but the prices are reasonable.
*Forbidden Corner has special ‘blue days’ where you get four tickets for the price of three.
Forbidden corner information
Food: There are tables in the garden but picnics are restricted to a spot near to the car park. There’s a nice, reasonably priced cafe with children’s meals like pizza and chips and spaghetti bolognese (£3.45), plus jacket potatoes, paninis, pies (£2.10) and sandwiches. And cakes (special mention for the divine caramel and chocolate cake I devoured).
There is also a restaurant next to the car park.
Opening hours: Open every day for around seven months of the year. Opening hours vary and you will be given an entry time when you book online (don’t just turn up). If you want to book on the day, call 01969 640638.
Cost: Adults £13, children (four to 15) £11, children three and under free, family ticket (two adults and two children) £46.
Best for: Ages seven to 12.
Time needed: At least three hours.
Access and restrictions: You can not take a pushchair or pram around, there are steps and narrow paths. It is also not suitable for wheelchairs. Dogs are not allowed at Forbidden Corner, only guide dogs.
Address: The Forbidden Corner, Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Middleham, Leyburn, North Yorkshire. Use the postcode DL8 4TQ for sat navs.
Have you been to the Forbidden Corner? What did you think? We’d love to hear from you.
We were given free entry for the purpose of this review, all views are our own.
We take our children for a picnic, walk and play at Tittesworth Water in the Peak District National Park.
What is it?
This family day out is around a water storage reservoir with walks, a good outdoor play area and cafe/restaurant.
The reservoir, fed by the River Churnet, is run by Sever Trent Water and was built in 1858.
The water from it can supply up to 45 million litres a day to homes and businesses.
Where is it?
It’s in the village of Meerbrook in the Peak District National Park, just off the A53, three miles north of Leek.
What did we think?
This was a lovely day out, with a good mixture of walking and fun for the children in the play area. It was a sunny day and we took a picnic. We also had a snack later at the café, where you can sit inside or out.
*The walk – there are two main, signed routes – a red one of 1.5 miles or a yellow one of five miles, they both start out the same so you can decide further into the walk.
We did the red route – it’s not a circular route around the lake, the first part (which you also travel back along) is open and the second part through woodland. The longer, yellow walk is said to have wonderful views and is hilly but the red is billed as wheelchair and buggy-friendly, but is narrower and certainly not flat in places.
*The play area – a good size with some exciting equipment for different ages and a sand pit.
The play area
*Some navigation systems (including Google Maps when we visited) take you to a farm. Helpfully they’ve put a sign up explaining it is not the reservoir.
*You can’t swim in the water but if you want to get on to it, go to Tittesworth Water Sports and Activity Centre. From there you can try sailing, kayaking, raft building and paddle boarding. For more information see this link.
*If you want to plan a walking route before you get there you can download a map of the site here.
Tittesworth Reservoir information
Food: There are plenty of areas for picnics (barbecues are not allowed). There is a nice cafe/restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. It has a lunchtime children’s menu, with meals like pasta or sausages for around £4.25 or a child’s lunchbox, available all day, for £4.35. There are baby’s food and bottle warming facilities in the restaurant too. You can also buy ice creams from a kiosk in the corner of the play area.
Opening hours: Open every day except Christmas Day. Visitor centre opening hours are: April to September 10am to 6pm. February, March and October, 10am to 5pm. November, December and January 10am to 4pm.
Cost: Entry is free, car park is £3 for two hours and £5 for all day.
Best for: All ages.
Time needed: As much as you want depending on the child’s age, you could easily fill three hours.
Access and restrictions:
*The red route is signposted as suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
*Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead.
*There are toilets around the site, including those with disabled and baby changing facilities.
We review Stirling Castle in central Scotland to discover if it is a good day out for children
What is it?
Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s biggest and most famous castles. It was once home to Mary Queen of Scots and generations of royals.
Where is it?
In the centre of Stirling in central Scotland – midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh – it sits high on a hilltop, a steep walk from the city centre.
What did we think?
This is a huge site with lots of nooks and crannies for children to explore.
Our children loved the castle walls, the various cannon battlements and exploring down staircases into random dungeons.
It is good for exploring but there are several formal sections which are great for children too.
*The Castle Exhibition – a good interactive section telling the history of Scottish kings and showing how skeletons discovered in the grounds were identified.
*The Palace Vaults – a series of rooms with animated games and hands-on fun. You can try on medieval clothes, learn about jester’s jokes and play ancient musical instruments. This section is very child-friendly.
*The Queen Anne Garden – a lovely formal garden with space to run around and sit, which has great views of the area.
*The Great Kitchens – discover the life of a cook and servant in the castle’s old kitchens. This is an entertaining area with a video and a recreation of the food on offer in the 16th century.
*The other areas are more adult-focussed but with huge historical value such as the Great Hall completed for King James IV in 1503.
This is a large, sprawling castle where children can really explore and embrace their imagination.
*There is an explorer quiz available for children to take round, which can keep them occupied even in the more adult-orientated areas
*There is a children’s tour every Saturday at 2pm for youngsters aged five to 12.
The view from Stirling Castle
*Watch little ones closely around the castle walls, they are well signposted and fun to explore but there are some steep drops.
Stirling Castle information
Food: The Unicorn Cafe has a range of snacks and hot food with children’s portions. Children’s pick and mix boxes are also available. There is a lovely garden next door to eat outside.
Opening hours: 9.30am to 5pm in winter, 9.30am to 6pm in summer.
Cost: Adult £15, child (five to 15) £9, Under-fives free. Historic Scotland and English Heritage members free.
Best for: Ages four to 10
Time needed: Two to three hours
Access and restrictions: Free admission for carers, mobility vehicles available on site. Some areas not suitable for wheelchairs. The Access Gallery near the entrance allows those with mobility problems to discover the inaccessible parts of the castle.
Address: Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ
Have fun if you are visiting and let us know what you thought!