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.
We visit Cockfields Farm in Oldham on a busy half-term day to assess this popular attraction
What is it?
Cockfields Farm is a petting farm with indoor and outdoor play areas and themed events throughout the year.
Where is it?
It is in Oldham in Ashton-under-Lyne, 10 miles east of Manchester, in north-west England.
What did we think?
I was very impressed – when we went there was a fantastic wizardry Harry Potter-style event. Staff had gone to lots of trouble and expense to make it special, plus children were encouraged to dress up for it.
We ended up staying over five hours and the children loved it. Without the Harry Potter activities there would have been less to do but there are indoor and outdoor play areas including a big bouncing pillow. The weather was good which helped as we were outside for half the time.
There are a selection of animals to see including llamas, pigmy goats, pigmy hedgehogs, lizards, snakes, rabbits and guinea pigs. A relatively small collection but there are set times throughout the day where you can meet and hold them.
*The variety of activities on offer and areas to play.
*An indoor role play ‘street’ with shops, a police station and a theatre.
*A big bouncy ‘pillow’ outside – a mixture between a bouncy castle and a trampoline.
*The chance to hold some of the animals during special sessions.
*The fantastic themed events during school holidays.
*The outdoor sandpit and play areas.
Watch our video of our day at Cockfields Farm then read our top tips for visiting Cockfields Farm below.
Our top tips
*Check out the website to see what themed events are coming up – the Harry Potter themed week when we went was amazing.
*Get there when it opens in school holidays as it gets really busy and the car parks fill up fast, although there is a parking marshall.
*Make sure you know what time events are on throughout the day so you don’t miss something your children would enjoy.
*It is costly so plan to spend a long time here if you can, on a nice sunny day to get your money’s worth.
*There is a café but to save spending extra money you can take a picnic – there are quite a few picnic benches outside.
*Some of the activities cost £1 extra including the diggers and quad bikes, so have some pound coins ready if you want to and take this extra cost into consideration when deciding whether to go. All the animal talks and interaction are included.
Cockfields Farm information
Food: There is a café or you can take a picnic – there are benches and tables outside.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10am to 4.30pm. Sundays 10am to 4pm.
Cost: £8.95 per person (children under the age of one are free). Check the website for prices before you visit as they can be higher during special events. Discounts online.
Best for: Ages three to eight
Time needed: From two hours (we spent five hours there)
Read our review of all the best bits of the fabulous Tatton Park in Cheshire plus the costs for National Trust members
What is it?
Tatton Park is one of England’s largest historic estates – it has a stately home, 50 acres of landscaped gardens, 1,000 acres of parkland with deer and meres. There is also a working farm and large playground.
Where is it?
Tatton Park is near Knutsford in Cheshire a few miles from junction 19 of the M6 motorway.
What do we think?
There are so many options for children on a day out here, truly something for everyone. You can explore the parkland for just £6 a day for a family – or pay extra for the other attractions.
The park is vast with plenty of different areas to explore.
There are two large meres where sailing takes place, woodland walks with deer to spot and places to picnic.
The wide paths through the park for cars are also popular with cyclists and supervised children on bikes and scooters.
You can park at different points inside (it is £6 per car, there is no National Trust discount for parking).
The gardens cost extra (free for National Trust members) but can be a quieter, different and beautiful area to enjoy on busy days.
They begin with fruit and vegetable patches before expanding off a central path to some fabulous areas.
Our particular favourites are around the Japanese Gardens (you can only venture inside on a guided tour) and the bridges over the pools. There is quite a tricky maze, regular family trails to follow, a fun scarecrow hunt in February, Easter Egg hunts at Easter time and other activities all year round.
Note – you are not allowed picnics, bikes or scooters in the gardens.
The peaceful Japanese Garden at Tatton Park
A five-minute walk from the main car park is Tatton Park farm. Entry is £7 for adults, £5 for children (half price for NT members). It is a traditional 1930’s working farm with pigs, horses, donkey and chickens.
There are old tractors to sit on and Aunt Mary’s 1940’s cottage. In one barn you can ride on toy cars and tractors.
Next to the farm is a good adventure playground, picnic area and woodland trails.
Pigs are just one of the animals at Tatton’s working farm
Home to the Egerton family, the house contains a huge library and other artefacts.
The main interest for children is exploring the large servants’ kitchen and living quarters, which are nicely done. The mansion is used for events at Easter and Christmas geared to children.
There is a huge playground next to the main car park which is always very busy.
There is often a small train to take children from the playground to the farm (at a cost). Burger and ice cream vans are on site too.
In the main stables courtyard near the garden’s entrance there is often a couple of carousels (£2.50 a go). There are also two restaurants – a large self-service area and the smaller Gardeners’ Cottage.
Unlike most National Trust sites, National Trust members still have to pay to park at Tatton Park, which costs £6, unless you park in Knutsford and walk in, but it is quite a walk to the main part.
However, entry to the house and gardens is free to National Trust members and entry to the farm is half price.
Tatton Park is geared towards children – you can have fun here without entering any of the paid attractions but if you do choose – the farm and gardens are the best value.
Our top tips
*Enter Tatton Park from the smaller, less-used Knutsford entrance and you can drive through the park to get a feel for it and park next to Melchett Mere for a good picnic spot.
Tatton Park information
Food: Picnics are welcome, except in the gardens. There are two cafes/restaurants in the courtyard, near the garden’s entrance – a large self service area called the Stables Restaurant, perfect for children and the smaller and more formal Gardeners’ Cottage. There is also a shop selling ice creams.
Opening hours: It varies depending on the time of year and the farm is open at more limited times, check here for details.
Cost: Car parking costs £7 (even to National Trust members). A Totally Tatton family ticket to all attractions is £33. Adult ticket £7 per attraction, child (aged four to 15) £5. National Trust members – free entry to gardens and mansion, half-price entry to farm.
Best for: ages three to 10.
Time needed: Doing every attraction is a full day out. Visiting the park for a walk or bike ride can be done in 90 minutes.
Access and restrictions: All Tatton’s shops and the Stables Restaurant are fully accessible to wheelchair users. Electric buggies (gardens only) and manual wheelchairs are available for loan but can not be used to move between attractions and in the park. Book a wheelchair loan on 01625 374400.
Address: Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6QN.
Have you been to Tatton Park? Do you like it as much as we do? Let us know in the comments.
(Pictures in this article are courtesy of National Trust Images and Tatton Park).
What to see and do with children at the National Trust’s Dunham Massey near Manchester
What is it?
A stately home with gardens, a large deer park, good walks and cafes, run by the National Trust.
Where is it?
Dunham Massey is near Altrincham in Cheshire, just a few miles from the main A556 dual carriageway.
What did we think?
This is one of the best places to take children, the grounds are safe and large, there are good facilities, regular special family trails, shows and events.
There is enough to keep you interested at Dunham Massey for at least half a day.
The large deer park has long paved stretches for scooters and bikes (child bikes only allowed), plus lots of areas to build dens, play hide and seek, explore fallen trees and small ponds.
There are lots of deer in the park and they are fairly tame so you can get quite close – sometimes they even hang around by the house and cafe area. It is a very safe, flat and expansive park to play in.
The deer are regular visitors to busy areas
You have to pay extra to enter the gardens (free to National Trust members). There are paths throughout with flowers all year round. It claims to be one of Britain’s biggest winter gardens.
There are regular children’s trails to pick up at the entrance and follow, especially at Christmas and Easter.
The rose garden and bridge over the lake are fun parts for children. It is a lovely area to explore and enjoy.
Dunham Massey’s gardens are colourful and host regular family trails
Pretty much your traditional National Trust old house, of interest to lots of adults but a bit dark and gloomy for children, without a great deal to keep them amused.
However, it does have regular exhibitions and events – it was turned into a World War One hospital recently which was an interesting experience for our little ones. It costs extra to enter the house (free to National Trust members).
The house at Dunham Massey from above
A newish visitor centre has a shop, cafe and toilets at the entrance. Remember to get your garden or house tickets from there before you go any further – even NT members need a ticket.
The cafe at the visitor centre has a nice outside seating area but it gets busy.
We prefer the restaurant in the park, which is large with family seating area, but this also gets busy and peak times. There is an ice cream shop in this area too and toilets and it is nearer the gardens and house entrance.
Dunham Massey is a great place to take scooters or bikes and explore the parkland, the gardens are also worth a visit although you can probably give the house a miss.
Our Top Tips
*You need tickets for the house and garden even if you are National Trust members. Get them at the main entrance before you go any further – you can’t buy them anywhere else.
*It gets very busy at weekends in good weather – and you often have to queue for the car park so try and go very early or later in the day.
Dunham Massey information
Food: There are two nice places to eat, a cafe in the visitor centre at the entrance and the other,our favourite of the two, a restaurant off the courtyard, with hot food and delicious cakes. It is big but very popular and can get very busy. There is also an ice cream parlour in this part. Picnics are also welcome in the park but not the gardens.
Opening hours: Open every day in school holidays from 10am to 5pm. During term time, it is open Tuesday to Sunday and closed on Mondays.
Cost: Car parking £7, includes entry to the park (free for NT members). Family entry to house and gardens £36.25, garden only £25. National Trust members free.
Best for: ages three to eight.
Time needed: Can easily fill half a day or just pop to the park for an hour or so.
Access and restrictions: There is free disabled parking. The ramp running from the car park to the Visitor Centre is accessible by wheelchair and mobility scooter, but is quite steep. Wheelchairs and personal mobility vehicles (PMVs) are available to borrow from reception. Book in advance to ensure availability on 0161 941 1025.