/ TAG / CHILDREN

Biddulph Grange Gardens – review, guide and top tips for this National Trust site

Biddulph Grange Gardens – review, guide and top tips for this National Trust site

Everything you need to know about Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire

Name

Biddulph Grange Gardens

What is it?

Biddulph Grange is a series of beautiful landscaped Victorian gardens with surprises around every corner.

A walk here is a feast for the senses through pockets of China, Italy and even ancient Egypt, through tunnels, rockeries, an adventure playground, tree-lined avenues and around a lake.

Part of its magic lies in the way the areas are cleverly hidden from each other through landscaping.

It is a National Trust site – don’t confuse it with Biddulph Grange Country Park next door, run by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, whose 78 acres of woodland did used to form part of the Grange estate.

Tree-lined avenue at Biddulph Grange National Trust

Tree-lined avenue

Where is it?

Biddulph Grange is in Biddulph, in a valley on the edge of North Staffordshire near to Congleton in Cheshire and north of Stoke.

The history of Biddulph Grange

The house and garden were the creation of James and Maria Bateman, who lived there from 1842 for 27 years and their friend, marine artist Edward Cooke. It had previously been a farm.

James employed specialists to collect plants for him from all over the world. They were placed with trees and eclectic garden buildings.

James moved to London in 1868, his son John remained at Biddulph Grange until he sold it in 1872 to Robert Heath who lived with his family there for 50 years. During this time a fire destroyed the middle section of the original house, an Italianate-style villa and it was rebuilt in 1897.

From 1922 until 1991 it was used as a hospital then it was bought by the National Trust and opened to the public.

The National Trust undertook a huge garden restoration project which continues today.

What did we think?

We have been many times as this is one of our favourite National Trust sites, it possibly even scoops the top spot.

It’s simply stunning and the different sections keep any walk interesting. 

It is especially fabulous for children when they have trails and activities to do.

Highlights

*The view at the start

At the start of your journey, you stand with your back to the house on a terrace above the garden and can take in the view of  the Italian garden. You won’t be able to resist taking a photograph here but you may as well keep your camera or phone out as there are so many picture-worthy spots.

Looking down from the start at the Italian section at Biddulph Grange National Trust

Looking down from the start over the Italian section

*The Chinese Garden

It is easy to miss the Chinese Garden, yet it is arguably the most memorable part, bright with colour and complete with Chinese plants and architecture including a bridge and temple.

*The woodland play area

If you walk up the stunning tree-lined Wellington Avenue (worth a highlight section of its own), there is a path off it which takes you through woodland which is now home to a series of wooden frames and stepping stones for children to negotiate their way along, plus a see-saw. This is a fantastic, more recent addition to the gardens.

Playing in the wooden play area at Biddulph Grange National Trust

The Stumpery 

A stumpery is a garden feature similar to a rockery but made from parts of dead trees. The stumpery here, designed in 1856, was the first to be built anywhere and went on to be widely copied in many Victorian gardens and, even in the woods of Highgrove, Prince Charles’s home in Gloucestershire.

Egyptian Garden

This includes stone Sphynx, topiary obelisks, a topiary pyramid and a temple-style building containing the Ape of Thoth sculpture by Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins.

The tennis lawn

There are often activities laid out to do in this section. And in the spring there is a cute little daffodil maze to walk through.

More highlights

There are highlights around every corner including tunnels through rock, a lake, a geological gallery and of course the stunning plants, trees and flowers like monkey puzzle trees, azaleas and dahlias – the gardens are famous for their Dahlia Walk.

Dahlia Walk (taken in March) at Biddulph Grange National Trust

Dahlia Walk (taken in March)

Top tips

Can you see inside the house at Biddulph Grange?

No you can’t. The house itself became derelict until a developer bought it and converted it into nine apartments.

You can still access some of the buildings though, used as a cafe, shop and toilets.

Fish food

You can buy fish food for £1 a bag to feed the big fish in the lake.

Biddulph Grange House

Plant sale

You can buy flowers and plants in an area just past the car park on your way in or out.

Trails

Biddulph Grange really comes into its own for families around special occasions, we particularly love visiting at Easter.

National Trust used to team up with Cadbury but these days organise their own with more emphasis on enjoying nature and the surroundings and carrying out activities rather than solving clues. Children still get a chocolate egg at the end.

The trails are fabulous at taking you around all corners of the garden and Biddulph Grange pulls out all the stops.

See footage of our last Easter trail at the end of this article.

Arrival time

If it’s a Bank Holiday or special occasion, I really advise getting their early to get a parking space and avoid any queuing.

What is the best time of year to visit?

If you have children, it’s lovely to visit when they have an event on like the Easter trails.

The gardens change with the seasons. The dahlias start to bloom in July and reach their peak in early-September.

Biddulph Grange information

Parking: There is a free car park – free for National Trust members and included in the ticket price for non-members. There is also an overflow car park. 

Food: There is a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, lovely in the sunshine. There is also a picnic spot next to the car park.

Opening hours: Vary depending on the day, but 10am to 5.30pm for much of the year, check out the times for specific dates here.

Cost: Free for National Trust members, £12 adults, £6 children, less for family and group tickets latest ticket prices here.

Are dogs allowed at Biddulph Grange?

No, only assistance dogs.

Best for: All ages.

Time needed: I would say you need at least two hours here, but on a sunny day with friends you could spend much longer.

Access and restrictions: It is not an accessible site, although a lot of the site has pathways, it is on a hill, there are more than 400 steps and uneven surfaces.

Address: Biddulph Grange Garden, Grange Road, Biddulph, Staffordshire, ST8 7SD.

Website: Biddulph Grange Gardens

Related content:

National Trust membership – everything you need to know

The 20 best National Trust gardens in the UK revealed

Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money on a family day at this hugely popular attraction for families

Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money on a family day at this hugely popular attraction for families

How to guarantee a fun day out for children at the UK’s most popular zoo

Chester Zoo is the UK’s most visited zoo and one of the country’s largest. It is a favourite of ours and is home to 21,000 animals and 500 different species. Here are our top tips to get the most out of a day at Chester Zoo.

Get there early

Chester Zoo is the most popular attraction outside London and has nearly two million visitors a year, so can get busy really quickly.

To maximise your time, arrive about 20 minutes before it opens (it opens at 10am, so arrive at 9.45am at the latest).

That way you can park nearer to the entrance in the main car park rather than being ushered further away into a field. You can then hit the gates as soon as they open.

(Alternatively, if you want a short visit, you could get there two hours before closing, for the late entry discount).

painted dogs eat meat at Chester Zoo

The painted dogs enclosure at the edge of the zoo is one of the quieter areas to explore

Walk to the furthest point first

As everyone else heads straight to the elephants which are directly inside the entrance, you need to keep walking and walking.

Either turn right and head towards the rhinos and the Islands or turn left, over the bridge and towards the chimpanzee section.

Ignore everything you see until you get to the further reaches of the zoo, then work your way BACK towards the start.

If you do this you will get around 90 minutes – even on the busiest days – when it feels like your own private zoo.

The Islands boat ride

The queues can be long at peak times and your chances of actually seeing half of the animals lurking around the waters are mixed at best.

Either head straight for the Islands as soon as the zoo opens or give it a miss until nearer the end of the day.

You can easily waste an hour queuing and doing the boat ride at busy times when you would be better off seeing other attractions.

A boat at the centre of the islands development at Chester Zoo - a recreation of a tropical coastal area

The Islands at Chester Zoo

Think of the zoo as two halves

On the map, split the zoo in two using the public footpath. Do one half at the start of the day and the other after lunch if you are making a full day of it.

There used to be a monorail to speed up the process and give weary little feet a break – but that is no longer available.

The monorail at Chester Zoo

The former monorail

Favourite picnic spots

There are loads of places to picnic and plenty of quiet corners away from the busy eating areas.

Our favourites include the benches next to the giraffes (especially when they are outside feeding), by the painted dogs enclosure at the far right corner of the zoo next to the antelopes, in the sunken garden and in the Islands section – although seating here is a bit limited for picnics.

What if it rains?

Most of the zoo is outside so it isn’t an ideal wet weather location but there are several good areas, which will take at least an hour or two to complete. The elephant enclosure and the monkey house near the entrance are good first or last stops.

The area with most undercover sections is on the far side of the zoo around the Realm of the Red Ape, which has orang-utans and snakes indoors.

It is also close to the small aquarium near the penguin enclosure, the Tropical Realm with birds and small crocodiles and the Spirit of the Jaguar.

Another good way of staying dry and seeing the zoo is to do the monorail, you can stay on and do a lap of the park. The Islands boat ride is also an undercover ride.

Chester Zoo membership

If you pay to be a member of Chester Zoo, you can visit as often as you like for free, plus you get other benefits. Children under three are free.

In conclusion

Our children love Chester Zoo and it always feels clean and spacious for the animals. But it is an expensive day out so maximise your time and take a picnic.

Top tip

*Head for the farthest point of the zoo as soon as you get in and work backwards. There are fewer crowds and more time to see the animals up close.

Chester Zoo Information

Address: Chester Zoo, Moston Rd, Upton-by-Chester, Upton, Chester CH2 1EU.

Opening hours: Open daily except Christmas Day and Boxing Day from 10am. Closing depends on the time of year, 4pm in winter and 6pm in summer holidays.

Cost: For up to date prices go to Chester Zoo tickets

Booking online saves you up to 10% off our gate prices but need to be booked before 9:30am on the day you visit.

Visitors with disabilities can have one carer free of charge when buying a full price adult or child ticket online – collect carer tickets from Ticket Sales windows when you get to the zoo.

Best for: Ages 2-10

Time needed: It takes a full day to see the whole zoo. Minimum time to see a good selection of animals is 2 hours.

Note: All pictures in this article are courtesy of Chester Zoo.

Five family-friendly activities around Windermere in the Lake District

Five family-friendly activities around Windermere in the Lake District

Read our pick of the best options to keep children entertained in the heart of the Lake District

The World of Beatrix Potter

This interactive attraction in the heart of Bowness is great for small children. It isn’t big and won’t take more than an hour but the models are great, there is a charm about it.

Our favourite parts of the World of Beatrix Potter are Peter Rabbit’s Garden and the Virtual Walk section.

Peter Rabbit at the World of Beatrix Potter attraction in Windermere

The World of Beatrix Potter

Lakeland Motor Museum

This museum has only been open a few years on this site, a few miles from the foot of Windermere. It is really good with 30,000 exhibits including all types of car and motorcycle.

There is also a Bluebird exhibition next door – telling the story of the Campbell speed record-breaking family – which is fascinating. There is a good cafe on site. For more information visit the Lakeland Motor Museum website.

Aquarium and train

You can arrive at this spot at the southern tip of the lake via car or via boat with Windermere Lake Cruises. Lakes Aquarium gives a small but comprehensive look at all the creatures you can find in the Lakes – and some from further afield.

Our children were pleased to see crocodiles and monkeys as well as cod and jellyfish, during our last visit.

You can combine this with a train trip on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway – a fabulous steam engine which runs from March until October. A combination of lake cruise, aquarium and railway makes for a fun-filled day.

Fell Foot Park

This lovely National Trust spot at the foot of Windermere is one of our favourites.

There’s a good playground, benches for a scenic picnic, a cafe and boat hire if you want to get on the water. A really good, safe place to explore with children.

two boats on Windermere

Fell Foot Park

Walk above Windermere

The scramble up to Orrest Head is one of the most accessible Lakeland walks. At 783 feet, it is a good first summit for three and four-year-olds to conquer. In fact, I (possibly foolishly) managed this one at eight months pregnant.

Park on the main road above Bowness near to Windermere Railway Station. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the summit where you are rewarded with incredible views across Windermere.

What are your family’s favourite activities around Windermere? Please comment below, we would love to hear from you.

Child-friendly London – how to keep little ones happy in England’s capital city with our guide to the best activities

Child-friendly London – how to keep little ones happy in England’s capital city with our guide to the best activities

Our five top activities for children on a family trip to London

London Eye

This enormous big wheel is a great place to start any visit as it helps children get their bearings in the capital.

The queues can be long but you can book a timed entrance which is recommended in peak season. The ride takes half an hour. Tickets and information are available via the London Eye website

Some pods on the London Eye on a sunny day

The London Eye

South Bank

The south bank of the River Thames is popular for a family day out.

A child-friendly route along the Embankment between Westminster Bridge and Jubilee Bridge has carousels, mime artists, stalls and indoor attractions galore.

We went to the Sea Life Centre London which is a good rainy day option or, in our case, a welcome escape from the heat outside. The penguins and sharks were particular favourites.

The parks

A dose of green space is welcome on a visit to London. Our favourite city centre option was St James’s Park, a small but charming park near Buckingham Palace.

Our children also had lots of fun cooling off in Hyde Park, paddling through the Diana Memorial Fountain stream.

There are rowing boats and pedal boats to hire on the Serpentine Lido or you can take a ride on the UK’s first Solarshuttle, powered only by the sun (check opening months and times for all these activities first). The Lido Cafe Bar has tables outside by the water.

A sunny day at St James Park in London with daffodils and people relaxing

St James’s Park is one of London’s best green spaces

Museums

The famous exhibits at the Natural History Museum – or the Dinosaur Museum as our children call it –  are eye-opening for children and interesting for adults too.

You can combine a visit with a trip to the more interactive Science Museum next door and entrance is free – although be prepared for long queues in peak season. For tickets and information go to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum websites.

Outside the Natural History Museum in London next to the road and tube stop

The Natural History Museum is free to enter

Boat trip on the River Thames

For a more daredevil adventure, try the Thames Rib Experience. Speed boats take you along the river on various routes, we tried one to Canary Wharf and back.

It all starts gently enough, with guided commentary, but when the James Bond music comes on, prepare for a thrilling, high speed ride. A great way to see London from a different perspective. The minimum weight is 15kg or three stone.

A speedboat on the River Thames with the Thames RIB Experience

The Thames RIB Experience

RELATED CONTENT: How to do London on a budget with children & our top tips for a cheaper break

RELATED CONTENT: We review a top secret family break in London and share our tips for seeing all the best attractions with children

What are your favourite activities for children in London? Please comment below, we’d love to hear from you.

Note: Some pictures in this article are courtesy of VisitLondon.com

 

Read our review of a family day out at Eureka! The National Children’s Museum in the north of England

Read our review of a family day out at Eureka! The National Children’s Museum in the north of England

Our top tips for taking children to this popular museum in Halifax

What is it?

Eureka! isn’t a place with just a children’s section, a children’s corner – it’s completely dedicated to little ones.

This interactive museum aims to make learning fun for children aged 0 to 11.

Where is it?

It has been open for 25 years in the centre of Halifax, next to Halifax Railway Station.

The museum has six zones:

All About Me

We loved this part of the museum, an interactive learning area about health and the human body.

You can get a whole body scan, talk to a brilliant robot called Zoom which entertained our children for ages and do an ultrasound on a pretend mum.

Children talk to Zoom the robot at Eureka! in Halifax

Our children loved Zoom the robot

It is very hands-on with a chance to learn about senses, bones and healthy eating, all in a bright, airy space.

It is on the top floor at one end of the museum, so make sure you leave enough time for this area during your visit.

A big model of teeth and gums in a dental section at Eureka! museum in Halifax

The dental section will raise a smile – photo by Bevan Cockerill

Miniature Town

The recreation of a street allows children to operate petrol pumps, change wheels on cars and work on a checkout at a mini-Marks and Spencer.

Some of the exhibits in this section are now a bit dated (an Austin car won’t mean much to youngsters today) but the children didn’t seem to mind.

Interactive cars at Eureka! museum in Halifax

Children love pretending to put petrol in cars

Spark Gallery

There was nothing dated about the Spark Gallery space which had the latest technology to play with including a chance to control racers on a touch screen and tackle computer games, but with an emphasis on learning.

Play areas

There are a couple of play areas, in particular a good one with a desert theme for under-fives. We couldn’t test the outside space because it was covered in snow but there is a huge sandpit and sensory trail.

I also noticed a couple of ‘baby oasis’ areas where babies could be put down for a stretch and a wriggle around.

In conclusion

We were impressed. Our two, aged three and seven, both loved Eureka! and got loads out of this museum. And both have since asked to return.

Top Tips

*When you pay once you can then visit Eureka! as many times as you want for a year for free, making it much better value for money.

*There is a lot of car parking (pay and display) but make sure you drive past the building to find the nearest parking spots.

Eureka! information

Food: There’s a cafe (with gluten free and vegetarian options) but it gets busy and you are allowed and actively encouraged to take your own packed lunch/picnic.

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: Entry costs £13.95 for everyone three and over, £5.95 for children aged one and two and under-ones are free.

Best for: ages three to eight.

Time needed: can easily fill half a day, enough for a full day out. It gets busy but is quieter towards the end of the day after 2pm. And as many people visit when it rains, it is also quieter on sunny days.

Access and restrictions: There is award-winning access at this attraction and carers go free. Eureka! offers a service called Extra Pair of Hands for help with disabled visitors for two hours during their visit.

Visitors with autism do not have to queue if the waiting time is long. There is a quiet space called the Chill Out Room guide for visitors with sensory difficulties away from the rest of the museum.

Address: Eureka! The National Children’s Museum, Discovery Road, Halifax, HX1 2NE.

Have you been to Eureka? What did you think?

 

Tatton Park in Cheshire with children – read our review and top tips to make the most of a family visit

Tatton Park in Cheshire with children – read our review and top tips to make the most of a family visit

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.

Our highlights

The park

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

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.

colourful flowers in a Japanese garden at Tatton Park

The peaceful Japanese Garden at Tatton Park

The farm

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 and piglets walking at a farm

Pigs are just one of the animals at Tatton’s working farm

The mansion

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.

Child-friendly facilities

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.

National Trust

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.

Conclusion

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).

Review: A family trip to Stonehenge with children and our tips for visiting this wonder of the world

Review: A family trip to Stonehenge with children and our tips for visiting this wonder of the world

All you need to know about Stonehenge in Wiltshire

What is it?

Stonehenge is one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe.

It is a huge man-made circle of standing stones, built over hundreds of years. Nobody knows exactly why Stonehenge was built, but people probably gathered there for religious ceremonies.

Research shows that the site has continuously evolved over 10,000 years. The structure that we call Stonehenge was built between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago and was once part of a larger sacred landscape.

With over 10 million visitors a year, Stonehenge is one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions

Where is it?

It stands on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, England and its giant stones can be seen from miles around.

Highlights

Visitor Centre

There is a £27 million visitor centre, 1.5 miles from the stones, which opened in 2013. There is plenty of free parking and it is very nicely done.

The entrance to Stonehenge Visitor Centre

The entrance to Stonehenge Visitor Centre

Once you’ve got your tickets you can go into the new museum. Our children were encouraged to enter through a ‘magic door’ into a 360-degree video of Stonehenge in all weathers.

Our children loved pretending it was really snowing and it got them excited about the museum.

A 360-degree video of Stonehenge

A 360-degree video of Stonehenge

A 5,500-year-old skeleton and a timeline of Stonehenge proved the other most interesting items for our seven and three-year-old children in this museum.

Outside there are examples of how hard it was to move the huge stones and recreations of Neolithic Houses. You  can go inside them to see how some of the earliest settlers lived.

Reaching the stones

You can walk but it is 1.5 miles and would take a long time with small children. Stonehenge put on regular buses, every five minutes, shuttling from the visitors centre to the stones and back.

Our three-year-old loved the bus ride and it made the experience more exciting for her. You can stop off half way and walk up to the stones if you prefer but in February it was easier for us to take the bus all the way.

The bus you catch at Stonehenge from the museum to the stones

The bus to catch to the stones

The Stones

Visitors are dropped off a few hundred yards away and then make their way up a wide path.

You can get within about 30 yards of the stones, there are a range of viewing points but on a busy day it can be a battle to find a clear spot to take a photo.

Part of the fun is seeing tourists from around the world posing for their snaps – we even found one American doing a handstand! There are information boards around the site, which are child-friendly.

 

A visitor does a handstand in front of the stones at Stonehenge

What a pose

In conclusion

The facilities, which also include a shop and busy cafe, are good. The museum, although small, is thoughtfully done and the 4,500 year old stones inspired all ages.

At £50, it isn’t a cheap way to spend a couple of hours but this is a child-friendly attraction.

Top Tip

It costs £50 for a family ticket to Stonehenge but it is free to English Heritage and National Trust in England members (not National Trust Scotland members) if booked in advance.

If you take into account that family membership of either is around £100 per year (National Trust £114, English Heritage £96) it is worth joining before you visit.

If you are paying on the day, £50 is quite a lot for what will probably only take a couple of hours – unless you are going for a long walk in the woods on site.

Stonehenge information

Food: Picnics are welcome and there is a cafe near the shop in the visitor centre.

Opening hours: Varies depending on the time of year. Entrance through timed tickets.

Cost: Entry costs £49.40 for a family. Adult entry is £19.00, child (5-15) is £11.40. Free entry for National Trust in England (not Scotland) and English Heritage members if booked in advance.

Best for: ages eight to 15

Time needed: Two hours

Access and restrictions: The main areas are accessible by wheelchair.

Address: Stonehenge, near Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7DE

Have you been? Tell us what you thought of Stonehenge below.

The five best Lake District family walks for children and toddlers

The five best Lake District family walks for children and toddlers

Our five favourite Lake District walks to keep children happy around Windermere, Coniston, Ullswater and Buttermere

Orrest Head

(90 minutes, suitable from aged three and over, no buggies)

You can walk this from the top of Bowness town centre near Booths supermarket, it starts across fields, then goes through woodland before a brief steeper bit as you reach the summit.

The reward is amazing views over Windermere and there are benches and space at the top.

You can descend along various different routes, some on roads. An ideal first ‘summit’ to do in the Lake District.

a man looks out over Windermere from Orrest Head

The view of Windermere from Orrest Head

Tarn Hows

(45 minutes, toddler friendly)

This is man-made but it looks as if it has been part of the Lake District for thousands of years.

There are glorious views around the lake, and the entire circuit is flat and gravelled, which makes it buggy-friendly and ideal for those learning to walk.

Youngsters will enjoy crossing the small bridge at the far end and sheep spotting.

There is a National Trust car park on site with toilets and normally an ice-cream or burger van too. As a favourite spot for families it does get busy in high season so try and go either early morning or late afternoon.

Tarn Hows in the sunset

Tarn Hows is a simple walk for young children

Aira Force 

(80-minute round trip, suited to children aged three and over, but keep children close as there are steep drops)

Just above the Western edge of Ullswater is the most famous waterfall in the Lakes.

The walk starts at a large car park with visitor centre, you go up through woodland, before passing open fields and then turning right to the falls.

Pause on the bridge for pictures before heading back down. Beware – the path is very open in places with steep drops so you need to keep an eye on little ones at all times.

Stop near the end to dip a toe in the babbling river or tackle some stepping stones before returning through woodland to the car park.

a racing steam near Aira Force in the Lake District

The streams and woodland of Aira Force

Howtown

(Two-hour round trip, suitable from aged four and above)

Catch the Ullswater steamer to Howtown on the sparsely populated Eastern edge of the lake.

Turn right at the pier, follow the signs around the lake – there is a nice stony beach near the start – and then head up.

The wide fields narrow to a small rocky path as you climb up. It isn’t steep but some parts are tight and there are drops, then skirt the lake around Hallin Fell.

There are great picnic spots with amazing lake views and a fun section of exposed sandstone which children can clamber on.

You can either turn back at the sandstone for a shorter walk or head right the way around Hallin Fell and back to Howtown.

There is a lovely tea room in the small town – but don’t forget to check the steamer timetable to catch your boat back.

Ullswater on a sunny day

Enjoy great views of Ullswater on this walk

Buttermere

(Two-hour round trip, suitable from aged four and above)

In the less visited and harder to reach Western Lakes lies Buttermere.

It is a spectacular spot for a gentle round-the-lake stroll with amazing views. You can park in the village and follow the footpath to the lake.

Head for the western shore, first through Burtness Wood, which is the easiest part of the walk and gives you the chance to stop at the shore for a picnic or paddle.

When you reach the far end you can either turn back through the wood or continue around the entire lake, which is about a four mile walk.

If you’re doing the entire circuit you will have to walk along the road for a short distance and then the shore path is quite rough but there is a fun tunnel towards the end on the eastern shore which does get quite dark.

Honister Pass with a view of Buttermere

Buttermere is below the Honister Pass in the quieter Western Lakes

Do you agree with our choices? What are your family’s favourite walks? Comment below, we would love to hear from you.

Is the National Trust’s Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire a fun day for all the family?

Is the National Trust’s Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire a fun day for all the family?

Read our review of this popular park and mill near Manchester

What is it?

Quarry Bank Mill, also known as Styal Mill, is one of the best preserved textile mills of the Industrial Revolution.

Built in 1784, it was the inspiration for Channel 4’s popular drama, The Mill.

Now it is a museum of the cotton industry where visitors can discover the story of mill workers and how the Industrial Revolution changed the word.

It is set amid lovely gardens to explore.

Where is it?

Quarry Bank Mill is in Styal, Cheshire, south of Manchester Airport, on the bank of the River Bollin, which provided water to power the waterwheels.

What did we think?

The gardens are very child friendly and the short walks and playgrounds are good too. The mill is interesting and fun but may be a bit much for younger children.

Highlights

The Gardens

Recent improvements have made the gardens far more child-friendly and accessible.

The paths are new and varied, the 43 steps down towards the river proves a popular counting challenge for our little ones.

The stroll along the River Bollin is fun with weirs and colourful trees and flowers lining the route. It is an easy, safe and manageable place to explore.

a couple stroll next to Quarry Bank Mill

There are plenty of places to stroll around

The play areas

There are two main play areas. A traditional playground with small slide, fireman’s pole and a few swings. It is small and gets packed on busy days.

There is also what they call a natural play area. This has logs to carry, tree stumps to step across and a muddy hill to scramble up.

Despite falling over and getting covered in mud, on our last visit, both areas took up an action packed 20 minutes each.

The mill

(NB The mill is closed until some time during summer 2018 for major works to install a lift).

The mill is a fun experience although best suited to those over six.

They have volunteers explaining what life was like in full costume and you can watch hand spinners at work.

The scale of the pump room and water wheel are amazing. There are good exhibits on how they made clothes in the Victorian era and many of the exhibits are hands-on.

a woman dressed in old clothes operates a cotton spinner

Hands-on exhibits take you back in time inside the mill

The water works

If you head away from the mill toward the large weir, there is another short walk around a lake.

It is not a taxing stroll, you can spot birds and fish in the lake, or take a footpath towards open fields above the site. Watching the machines control the water flow keeps little eyes interested.

Conclusion

Quarry Bank Mill is a good wet and dry weather option. On a sunny day the gardens and walks are beautiful, on a rainy day the museum is fascinating.

Our top tip

*Eat at the garden cafe and then go for a riverside stroll in the woods next to the garden.

Quarry Bank information

Food: There are two cafes on site. The main cafe has a bit of a canteen feel but the cakes are tasty.

The new garden cafe is in a much nicer location and serves all its food and drink in disposable crockery to be kind to the environment.

Opening hours: Open daily, the estate is open 8am to 6pm, attractions open from 10.30am. The Mill is closed until summer 2018 but everything else is open.

Cost: Entry costs £50.50 for a family ticket, adults £20.25, children £10. Free for National Trust members.

Best for: ages five to 12.

Time needed: At least two hours, more if you want to take in all the talks and activities in the mill.

Access and restrictions: A lift is currently being installed so that for the first time the whole mill will be accessible to everyone.

Address: Quarry Bank, Styal Rd, Styal, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 4LA.

(The pictures in this article are courtesy of National Trust Images).

How does Airbnb work – we review a family holiday and report back

How does Airbnb work – we review a family holiday and report back

Our top tips for using Airbnb for a family holiday with children

We tried Airbnb for the first time for a holiday to Italy with our two children. We stayed in a remote location on a hillside in Tuscany – here is what we discovered about Airbnb.

How does Airbnb work?

Airbnb is the world’s biggest accommodation-sharing website with millions of users. It connects people looking to rent their homes or properties with those looking for somewhere to stay.

Hosts list and rent out unused spaces while travellers search for and book accommodation in 192 countries around the world.

Booking

Booking is straightforward although the sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming at first.

Make sure you use the filters to specify requirements like a pool in the summer or family-friendly accommodation.

This narrows down the search results plus there is a handy map on the site to show you where all the properties are, along with lots of pictures.

It is also wise to check the cancellation policy as there are five different levels ranging from no money back to free cancellation up to 24 hours before.

As a guest, you pay in full as you book through a secure platform, and hosts will receive that money 24 hours after guests check in.

The price

It is definitely a cheaper option than traditional sites but beware of the hidden costs.

Our accommodation was very good value but some places stick on charges for extra residents in the small print and the cleaning costs vary quite a bit.

Look beyond the headline price per night.

Host liaison

This worked brilliantly for us, our host owned a group of apartments atop a hill in the Tuscan countryside. He responded quickly with loads of useful information and was always on hand to answer email queries before we arrived.

He met us upon arrival to show us around and answer any questions we had.

Some users report problems with disappearing bookings and payments. Airbnb say you should always pay through their proper channels to ensure you have some comeback if things do go wrong.

The reviews system

Airbnb is strict on reviews to ensure they are authentic so on lots of properties there isn’t much feedback.

But that does mean that the system is potentially more trustworthy than other sites.

We chose a property with some reviews (the host is often reviewed as much as the property) and found them to be spot on. We would always be cautious and book with a host who has a number of reviews.

The experience

Our host Gianfausto said “welcome to my home”. He even played the piano for guests and struck up a rapport with everyone staying there.

It felt more personal than a normal holiday and a bit different, I don’t think we have ever stayed anywhere with our children as authentic or remote.

In conclusion

We can see why Airbnb is so popular, it gave us a very different holiday at an affordable price.

Read a full review of our holiday here.

(Note: We received a contribution towards the cost of our stay from Airbnb but all opinions are our own).

Fuerteventura’s Corralejo beach is full of surprises on a family holiday to the Canary Islands

Fuerteventura’s Corralejo beach is full of surprises on a family holiday to the Canary Islands

We take our children to review the all-inclusive Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach in Corralejo, Fuerteventura

“Everybody is naked,” said my brother in a mock whisper.

The glorious beach at our hotel in Fuerteventura is full of surprises.

Not only is Corralejo bigger and sandier than any beach I can remember. With gently crashing turquoise waves, perfect for the children to try out their new bodyboards. And camel rides along sands which stretch for miles from the front of our hotel, the Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort.

A boy bodyboards in the sea on Corralejo beach in front of the ClubHotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort.

Bodyboarding in the sea on Corralejo beach

But one day as we turn right out of the hotel and venture further along in search of rock pools, we unwittingly gatecrash a naturist section.

This eye-opening experience was not part of the plan for a family trip away to celebrate my mum’s 70th.

My embarrassed mum picked up her pace, I tried not to snigger like a child while the actual children with us didn’t bat an eyelid, except my eight-year-old nephew who asked if it was legal.

While I had carefully dressed my son and daughter in their UV swimsuits, the youngsters in this area were in their birthday suits, while relaxed adults strolled in and out of the sea.

And the giggle we had about it later (apologies to naturist readers) confirmed this as a holiday to remember.

Hotel

The Riu Oliva Beach is a huge, all-inclusive resort set back from the sands.

We are Riu regulars and love the good food, child-friendly pools and fun feel of their hotels.

We knew this one was soon to be refurbished but the location more than made up for the slightly tired surroundings.

One of the pools at the Riu Oliva Beach hotel, with the beach behind

One of the pools at the Riu Oliva Beach hotel, next to the beach

The hotel is divided into a main tower and a lower rise annexe area better suited to families, where we stayed.

Our family room had a lovely large balcony, double bedroom and two single sofa beds for our children.

Swimming pools

There are two swimming pools – the fish-shaped one was where we spent most of our time. It is well designed for children with varying depths and an island to swim around.

Hotel guests relax by one of the wimming pools at Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort

The fish-shaped swimming pool at Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort

On one side is a handy shop, filled with temping inflatables for the children and buckets and spades.

Restaurants

On the other side of the pool is the smaller of the two main buffet restaurants.

There is also a restaurant specialising in Asian cuisine and another boasting Canarian favourites.

Our party of 11 – aged from three to 70 – all found something to their taste.

Entertainment

There is children’s entertainment daily with a party at 5pm, plus an adults’ show every night at 9.30pm.

A children’s disco would also have been welcome in the early evening which we have had at other Riu hotels.

All-inclusive

All-inclusive here means just that, all we paid for all week was a camel ride along the beach. And our inflatable dolphin for the pool!

Having all your food and drink included certainly makes it easier when you are in a big group as we were.

Surroundings

The nearby town of Corralejo has a pretty square, markets, a water park plus a ferry to nearby Lanzarote.
But we found plenty to entertain us at the hotel.

A camel ride along Corralejo beach in front of the Riu Oliva Beach Resort in Fuerteventura

A camel ride along Corralejo beach

In conclusion

Mornings in the pool, afternoons at the beach and evenings enjoying the food, drink and entertainment.

One magic show for children was especially good.

You might find plusher venues in the Canaries but I doubt you will find one in a better spot to enjoy the landscape.

Just remember to watch where you walk if you want to explore the sands.

Or pack extra sun cream.

*For a more detailed review of the hotel, see here.

Accommodation: We stayed as guests at Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort, an all-inclusive hotel in Corralejo, Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, Spain, for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.

Duinrell holiday and amusement park in Holland gives triple the fun for children on a family holiday

Duinrell holiday and amusement park in Holland gives triple the fun for children on a family holiday

We review Duinrell in the Netherlands to find out if a theme park, water park and beach makes for a perfect family holiday

Forget double Dutch. We have discovered a triple treat in Holland – a holiday heaven for children which combines a theme park, water park and beach.

I’m sure we never would have stumbled across this gem without a recommendation from a friend whose family return year after year.

Duinrell holiday and amusement park is in the upmarket town of Wassenaar, 25 miles from Amsterdam, on the south-west coast – where the Dutch royal family spend some of their time.

The tranquil setting of the accommodation, between woodland and sand dunes, is in contrast with the high octane excitement of its theme and water parks.

Duingalows

There are a choice of chalets, called Duingalows, as well as various camping options.

Two children stand in front of their Duingalow at Duinrell in Holland.

A Duingalow at Duinrell in Holland.

Our newly-built lodge was modern and fully equipped. It had three bedrooms, a kitchen with dishwasher, open-plan lounge/dining area and a secluded terrace, from which to enjoy the leafy surroundings.

If you aren’t cooking then there are several restaurants and takeaway options on site and in the nearby town.

Our two were thrilled to use their scooters to explore but a lot of families were on bikes, which can be hired along with electric bikes and go-karts.

Theme park

First we headed to the amazing theme park.

One of the rides at Duinrell theme park in Holland.

The theme park at Duinrell in Holland

Adrenaline lovers and children aged eight to 18 would get the most out of all the roller coasters and other rides.

Our two are younger but found plenty to do too and as we stayed during the week at half-term, there were lots of English people but no long queues. It was noticeably busier on the Friday when we left.

Water park

Secondly, if you’re after more thrills and spills, the park has a fantastic indoor water park called Tikibad with enough slides and waves to keep everyone happy.

Some of the water slides at Tikibad water park at Duinrell in Holland.

With our accommodation, we had free entry to both the water park and the theme park.

Beach

And finally, the big, sandy Wassenaar beach is just two miles away.

Two children on Wassenaar beach near Duinrell in Holland/The Netherlands

Wassenaar beach.

There are fabulous cycle lanes everywhere so we hired bikes to enjoy the safe route through vast sand dunes to enjoy time together by the sea.

Ferry

Cycling may be the way to get around in the Netherlands but the cheapest way we found for us to get to Duinrell was by car and ferry.

We used the DFDS ferry from Dover to Dunkirk. It was a bank holiday and long delays at Dover passport control meant we boarded with just three minutes to spare.

The children loved exploring the spacious ship and restaurants and the one hour 50 minute crossing passed quickly.

From Dunkirk, it was three more hours in the car, on increasingly flat terrain dotted with wind turbines.

Surrounding area

With its woodland walks and sand dune scrambles around Duinrell, as well as the popular Luciano ice cream parlour in Wassenaar, you don’t need to leave the area.

But we took a trip to the university city of Leiden. It had charming canals, cobbled streets and waterside markets where we sampled Dutch pancakes called poffertjes.

In conclusion

Holland might not be the first place that springs to mind for a summer holiday but you needn’t think twice about trying a trip to Duinrell with its trio of family attractions.

Accommodation: We stayed as guests at Duinrell holiday and amusement park in Wassenaar, Holland for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.

Travel: We travelled by car and via ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, courtesy of DFDS.

RELATED CONTENT: Five reasons to take a family holiday to South Holland

The full guide to child car seats and transport options on a family holiday abroad

The full guide to child car seats and transport options on a family holiday abroad

How do you keep your children safe while travelling abroad – we give you all the options

It can be a major dilemma, you’re heading abroad but what do you about car seats for your children?

You could rent them, take your own or rely on taxis and public transport. We assess all the options.

Renting car seats along with your hire car

Pros

*The benefit of this is ease and simplicity, you pick the car up at the airport, pop the seats in (once you figure out how they work) and off you go.

*It can work really well as it did when we used Auto Reisen in the Canary Islands recently, the seat was brand new and it was included in the price. If you can get that abroad, it is probably the simplest option.

Cons

*The standard of child car seats varies hugely, we have seen some truly horrible seats on offer and you don’t know what you’re going to get until you arrive.

And even then, you don’t know if the seat has hidden damage rendering it unsafe, how it has been stored, if that model has been recalled, if it has parts missing. And you don’t know how to properly fit it unless you have the manual.

*The cost is also a complete lottery. We’ve been quoted an expensive £90 per seat for a week, because the car rental companies think you don’t have a choice.

Conclusion

We would carefully consider the total cost of renting a car including the car hire price and seats instead of just going with the cheapest headline rate. And make sure you read company reviews to see if the seats they rent are generally of a good standard.

If you are not happy with the seat you are given when you get there, ask if you can change it for another one.

Car rental holiday car keys

Bring your own

We have tried this and it works pretty well.

Pros

*In the long-term, it will probably be the cheapest option. We have even bought new seats to use for just for this purpose – we didn’t want to risk our day-to-day seats getting knocked about and potentially damaged and made unsafe.

*Most airlines will now let you take a car seat in the hold for free –  it doesn’t come out of your luggage allowance or cost extra. Both British Airways and Ryanair allowed us to do this recently.

*Some airlines let you take the car seat with you to the gate, it can be bulky to carry around but reduces the risk of damage.

*You may also be able to take the car seat on the plane for your baby or child to sit in, if it is FAA-approved. Check ahead with your airline and know the measurements.

*You have peace of mind that the seats are safe and clean.

Cons

*The seats may take a battering travelling through the airport and on to the plane. Some people send them on the plane as they are, but they risk getting damaged.

We used to take our children’s car seats in their original boxes or a padded box to try to give them some protection but it is a hassle to pack and unpack the seats and collapse the boxes for car journeys either side.

Now, we use special bags which have made life much easier – the Venture Car Seat Travel Bag has long carry straps and now our two are much easier to carry around. The bags also prevent our seats from getting scuffed or ripped.

A dad uses the Venture car seat travel bags at the airport

Using the Venture car seat travel bags

*For more information about taking car seats on a plane, see this article.

Hire at your location

Increasingly, popular tourist destinations have outlets where you can hire seats from the airport. We tried one at Malaga Airport with Tots Store.

Pros

*With a specialist supplier the seats are more certain to be good quality and cheaper.

This is the entire business for a company like Tots Stores and they wouldn’t last long offering substandard seats at inflated prices like car hire companies can get away with.

*We found the service excellent, the seats were really good quality and they explained the fitting well. The staff were efficient meeting us and it was quick and easy to take the seats back at the end of the holiday.

*You don’t have to risk damaging your own seats.

Cons

*On arrival you have to head for a different part of the airport to collect the seats, which does add a little bit of time to your airport experience.

On drop-off, you can head for the departures area but it is impossible to carry all your luggage and two car seats in one trip so this could be tricky if there is only one adult.

*The cost is likely to be less than hiring from the car hire company but more expensive than bringing your own.

Taxis and public transport

Pros

*Using public transport or taxis means less to worry about. Instead of panicking about scratches on the hire car, navigation, parking in tight spots, driving on the wrong side of the road and all the rest that goes into driving abroad – you can relax a bit more.

*The key to this approach is where you are going. Driving around some busy cities is best avoided in favour of trains, buses or taxis. In other areas, you need your own car to get around.

*Public transport will be cheapest and can be the best option in big cities. On our visit to London it was great to get around via the tube, train or bus. It made for an adventure.

taxis in New York

Taxis with car seats can be hard to find

Cons

*We have never found a taxi abroad which has a proper child’s car seat. The best you can hope for is probably a booster seat but it is very hit and miss. You can try to pre-book a taxi with seats but we have never been successful and the whole point of taking cabs is that it is quick and easy and relatively spontaneous.

*The standard of driving is so variable too, we had one particularly hair-raising trip around Florence in a taxi.

*The cost of taking regular taxis will likely be more than a hire car – unless you are paying a huge parking fee each day.

Taxi laws

In the UK, if the driver doesn’t provide the correct child car seat, children can travel without one on and will not be fined. They must be on a rear seat. If they are three or over they need to wear a seatbelt but no seatbelt for under-threes (see gov.uk for more information). The law in other countries and areas varies.

However experts advise that it is always safer to use a child car seat. Using a travel booster seat or seatbelt adjustor may be safer than nothing.

In conclusion

There are a lot of options to weigh up, consider the location and what will work best for you and let us know your thoughts, tips and ideas in the comments.

*For a full guide to flying with a baby or infant under two click here. For our 10 top tips to flying with toddlers and young children click here.

 

 

Is peaceful Ullswater a hit for a family holiday – we visit this beautiful Lake District spot to find out.

Is peaceful Ullswater a hit for a family holiday – we visit this beautiful Lake District spot to find out.

We review The Quiet Site at Ullswater in Cumbria.

I have a real soft spot for the Lake District. We lived here for two blissful years and it was on the shores of one of its more remote and beautiful lakes where my husband proposed.

It is the quieter spots which fill me most with joy. Like Ullswater, which despite being the area’s second biggest lake, attracts nowhere near the hordes which flock to its largest, Windermere.

As well as being more peaceful, it’s arguably more breathtaking – framed by peaks which include Helvellyn.

A view through the trees of the lake, Ullswater

Ullswater

And at only 10 minutes from the M6, it couldn’t be easier to reach.

The Quiet Site

Our accommodation in this part of Cumbria reflects our tranquil surroundings – The Quiet Site is a campsite half way up the western side of Ullswater.

Various levels of luxury are catered for from bring-your-own tent to a luxury cottage.

Their latest option are intriguing hobbit holes – underground spaces four times bigger than their insulated wooden camping pods – built into the side of a hill.

The entrance to a hobbit hole at The Quiet Site

A hobbit hole

Camping pods at The Quiet Site

Camping pods at The Quiet Site

But we are firmly above ground – our home for three nights is a spacious three-bedroom cottage.

This former smithy is full of character, with high ceilings, exposed beams and equipped with everything we could need. Plus extras like a playhouse, toys, books and shelves groaning with children’s DVDs.

And I don’t know who was happiest about the giant trampoline in the garden – but it started the holiday on a high for us all.

Two children play on the trampoline in the garden of the cottage at The Quiet Site at Ullswater

Enjoying the trampoline in the garden of our cottage

The site also has a playground and an indoor soft play area, conveniently adjoined to the bar in a cosy barn.

I can see why The Quiet Site was recently the top-rated holiday and glamping park on Tripadviser out of 190 listed in the Lake District.

We crammed lots into this summer break – around the lake and on it.

Surrounding area

Ullswater Steamers, which sail between Glenridding in the south and Pooley Bridge in the north, are the popular mode of transport in these parts.

We caught one to Howtown, in the middle, where we climbed part of Hallin Fell and enjoyed a memorable picnic with the lake glistening in the sunshine below.

A steamer on the lake at Ullswater

Ullswater Steamers are a familiar site on the lake

You don’t need to be an expert map reader to find a rewarding spot by the lake but tackling the directions on the nature trail at Askham Hall Gardens, east of Pooley Bridge, tested and thrilled our son and daughter.

Askham Hall and part of the garden

Askham Hall

The trail winds through gorgeous gardens, with farm animals at the end. Completion brings you to a play area, plus a cafe with a pizza oven and delicious cakes. All the ingredients for a perfect few hours for us.

Other family-friendly trips include the wonderful waterfall Aira Force.

I kept a firm hold of our children by some steep drops on the woodland walk up but they were both suitably impressed by the spectacular sights and sounds.

We were lucky with the weather but if you need undercover fun, head to Rheged. Sadly, the fabulous Lego exhibition we enjoyed was only temporary but there is plenty of permanent entertainment here for little ones. Choose from pottery painting, soft play and an outdoor playground.

In conclusion

Throughout our stay at Ullswater, we found plenty of quiet coves with flat water ready to be disturbed by children’s stones. They were also the perfect settings for picnics, making up adventures and taking in the glorious views.

William Wordsworth was inspired to write the poem Daffodils after seeing the flowers growing on the shores of Ullswater.

“It is the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur, which any of the lakes affords,” he said.

And I may just agree.

For a more detailed review on The Quiet Site, see here.

*For more ideas, see Cumbria’s official tourist board website.

Accommodation: We stayed as guests of The Quiet Site, Ullswater, for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.

We take a family holiday to Tuscany in high summer. Can Italy be child-friendly in the August heat?

We take a family holiday to Tuscany in high summer. Can Italy be child-friendly in the August heat?

We take our children to Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano and Volterra in August and try out Airbnb for the first time, read our review of our Italian adventure here.

Famous landmarks around the world are a remarkably hot topic of conversation between our children.

This is thanks as much to the Cbeebies programme Go Jetters as educational efforts on our part.

So when the Leaning Tower of Pisa comes into view, even the sweltering August Italian heat doesn’t cool their excitement.

Children under eight aren’t allowed up the tower and the streets are heaving so we stop just long enough to take it all in.

A toddler girl in sunglasses smiles in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

Posing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Alongside thousands doing the same, we get the all-important pictures next to the extraordinarily slanting building, before we grab some pizza and hot-foot it back to our hire car.

We’ve already managed a day in Florence, taking our two on a whistle-stop tour of the city before their legs got tired.

The Duomo cathedral, Ponte Vecchio bridge and glorious Boboli Gardens were ticked off in a morning, before another rewarding pizza and gelato.

Two children stand in front of the Duomo cathedral in Florence

The Duomo cathedral in Florence

We’d bagged a cheap deal in an airport hotel for our first two nights to tackle the cities but now it was time to leave these bustling hotspots in search of the tranquillity of the countryside and the Dolce Vita.

Off to the country and the Dolce Vita

Our home for the next five nights is atop a hill, very much off the beaten track. Literally. A 10-minute dusty, bumpy, beaten track.

We wondered where our first foray into the world of Airbnb had taken us.

This global phenomenon lets people rent out their properties or spare rooms to guests, from small rooms, to shared houses, villas and even entire castles, across more than 65,000 cities. Don’t miss out full guide to Airbnb here.

There were hundreds of appealing options at decent prices, even at peak season and we narrowed down our search using the list of criteria, map view, photos and reviews.

La Farneta with Airbnb

We finally chose an intriguing property on a large private estate in the hidden hamlet of La Farneta in central Tuscany.

Here there are a dozen or so apartments in a classic Tuscan setting, surrounded by olive trees, scorched fields and forests as far as the eye could see.

A family explore the grounds of their Airbnb accommodation in La Farneta, Tuscany, Italy.

Exploring the grounds of our accommodation in La Farneta.

The only sound – apart from our children in the shared swimming pool – was that of crickets in the towering trees of this 230 hectare estate.

The pool was the big draw here. The weather can get so hot in summer I would say you have to have one if you have children in tow.

The outdoor swimming pool at the apartments on the private estate in La Farneta

The outdoor swimming pool at the apartments on the private estate in La Farneta

The owner Gianfausto gave us the authentic experience Airbnb has built its success on – welcoming us to his home, giving us a guided tour and even playing his piano to provide some pleasant poolside accompaniment.

The accommodation wasn’t luxurious but it was authentic and I can’t remember staying anywhere as peaceful.

It may have been 15 minutes from the nearest shop or restaurant but two Tuscan treasures aren’t far away.

Surrounding area

The walled towns of San Gimignano and Volterra provided entertaining excursions. Our children loved the narrow alleys and the nooks and crannies of these picturesque places while the adults could enjoy the sights and sounds of Tuscany.

An aerial view of San Gimignano, an Italian hill town in Tuscany, south-west of Florence

We visited San Gimignano, an Italian hill town in Tuscany, south-west of Florence

Pizza and pasta time!

With every second shop seemingly selling pasta, olive oil or wild boar, food is a big part of any Tuscan trip.

We found several places for a plate of pasta including Osteria Del Borgo in the pretty village of Mensano.

Staying in a remote location meant it was easier to have lunch out and dinner on our terrace with views over the rolling hills as the sun dipped below the trees.

The perfect evening temperature was ideal for a family walk around the estate, roaming the land and spotting the occasional wall lizard or deer.

In conclusion

We knew Tuscany in August was a gamble.

But we discovered it is possible to beat the heat and the crowds and enjoy complete tranquility.

And we ticked a landmark off that rather demanding wishlist.

For more details of how Airbnb works, read our guide here.

Accommodation: Via Airbnb. We received a discount from Airbnb for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.

Travel: Flew with British Airways to Florence Airport.

Flying with children – 10 tips for keeping toddlers and young children happy on a plane

Flying with children – 10 tips for keeping toddlers and young children happy on a plane

Our best airport and aeroplane hacks to make flying with children an enjoyable experience

Lots of parents worry about taking toddlers and young children on a flight. You hope they will be comfortable and happy but fear they will be noisy, cry or have a tantrum and annoy people around them.

We’ve put together our top tips to make it as easy as possible for you. To read our comprehensive guide on flying with a baby or infant under two, click here.

1. The airport – make it fun

The airport is a big, noisy place for children, with long queues, long waits and people asking questions.

Try to ease the process by explaining ahead what will happen and make each part a game or a challenge. Maybe split up and take two different security lines to see who wins, sit by a window at the airport and do some plane spotting and let the children pull lighter suitcases if they are big enough.

Some airports have a play area for children, which can help pass the time. Also, keep them walking around, they’ll be sitting for long enough on the plane.

And buy them a magazine or book at the shops to take on board – which kills time in the airport and in the air.

2. Buggy/pushchair/stroller/car seat

Airlines normally let you have a pushchair and child car seat in the hold for free, check ahead to avoid extra costs.

Most airlines will let you keep your pushchair with you until you board if you prefer, then crew will put it in the hold for the flight. Buy a buggy bag, it offers some protection for the buggy, which is likely to get a bit battered. Plus, we have managed to fit extra bits like milk and nappies collected from Boots or even coats inside, to save carrying them on to the plane when you are juggling everything and trying to get the children on safely.

We also have protective bags for our car seats – for a full guide to hiring or taking car seats abroad see our article here.

3. Split your boarding

Children and families are often allowed to board first, this can be useful but also means more time on the plane for little ones so we prefer to wait until the end to get on.

Or consider this trick of ours. If there is more than one adult, one boards first with all the hand luggage, sorts the books, tablets/iPads, snacks and drinks out, then pops the bags in the overhead lockers.

The other parent stays with the children to burn off some energy at the departure gate and boards at the end of the process.

4. Where to sit on the plane

Airlines must aim to seat children close to parents or guardians, according to guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Where they can’t, they should be no more than one row apart but there are no guarantees.

The safest way to be sure you are sitting together is to pay to book your seats online in advance. Otherwise, check in early, as soon as free online check-in opens (usually between four days and 24 hours before departure depending on the airline).

When deciding where to sit, look at the aircraft layout plans online and decide the best solution for your family. Many short haul flights are a 3-3 seating arrangement. As a family of four, we prefer to sit in two pairs rather than three together and one across the aisle, allowing us to concentrate on one child each. And we put each child in a window seat.

We never sit our children in aisle seats in case a passing trolley bumps them or catches their fingers or a hot drink is spilled. But also young children will be tempted to keep getting up and running off if they have easy access to the aisle!

If you are sitting one row behind another, consider putting a younger one who may be tempted to kick the seat in front, behind, so they aren’t annoying a stranger!

5. How to get extra seats for free

Ask when checking in and boarding whether the flight is full. If there is space, ask the crew if you could have a row of seats to spread out.

Another trick when booking seats if there are three across, is to book an aisle and a window seat, leaving a seat in the middle. These middle seats are usually last to be sold so if the plane isn’t full it may remain empty. If someone has booked it, they will usually gladly swap to be by the aisle or window.

6. Bulkhead seats

A bulkhead is a divider between sections of the plane such as a wall, curtain or screen.

Some people love bulkhead seats and some hate them, there are pros and cons.

Pros: Bulkhead seats can give more leg room and there is nobody to lie back in front of you. You are also among the first to be served food and drinks. You may be nearer to the toilet.

Cons: The arm rests don’t move, tray tables are often stored in them. There isn’t room under the seats for bags. So if the airline doesn’t allow hand luggage in front of you – always true during take-off and landing – you have to jump up and down a lot to fetch changing bags, activities, food and drink.

7. Entertainment options

Spend time preparing what to take on board to keep children entertained – else you may pay the price in the air when it is too late.

You can buy packs already made up such as the Keep em Quiet bags. But you know your children best and what holds their attention, such as colouring books, plain paper, activity books, pens, crayons and little games (not any with lots of little pieces you will be scrabbling under the chairs to find). I sometimes print out free word searches and colouring pages from the internet to make a little personal pack up for them.

Children do activities on a plane

We split the flight into sections. We don’t give our children anything when we first board, else they get engrossed and miss out on the fun bit! We encourage them to look out of the window and take in the excitement of lifting off the ground and being in the air. We just give them drinks to stop their ears from hurting.

When they start to get bored, we begin to bring out the entertainment. Ours love children’s magazines so we start with a new one and try some reading, colouring and puzzles while they’re still fresh.

Later on in the flight, when they start to get restless, we wheel out the iPads. When taking tablets, remember to check batteries are fully charged and their favourite programmes are downloaded and not just available via Wi-Fi.

And take proper children’s headphones which are designed for small heads so don’t slip off and are also much quieter to protect their ears.

Break up the screen time with a sandwich and snacks and use toilet breaks as an excuse to explore the plane and stretch legs.

8. What else to pack in hand luggage

Don’t forget drinks, snacks, sandwiches, nappies/pull ups for children still in them and comforters.

Remember wipes and proper anti-bacterial hand wipes (we get Lacura travel wipes from Aldi and stock up whenever they are selling them) or hand gel to keep hands germ free on board.

Put children in comfortable, loose-fitting clothes or pyjamas and take spare clothes, extra layers and extra socks in case they are cold.

Consider taking a blanket and an extra blanket or use the onboard one to make a canopy to shield children from the lights if they want to sleep. Just slot it into the headrest (this won’t work in a bulkhead seat).

And don’t forget a Kindle, book or tablet for you, you never know, you might get a few minutes to relax!

You can pre-order holiday essentials including nappies, baby milk, dummies etc to collect at a Boots airport store as you are allowed to take one shopping bag on board. Go to the Boots website, add items to your basket and choose the Collect in Store delivery option. Type the name of the airport in the ‘Find your nearest store’ box. Make sure you choose the ‘after security’ option and the correct terminal if there are more than one. Choose the day of the flight as the collection day. The order needs to be made at least three days before you fly.

9. How to stop those ears popping

There are various tricks to deal with the air pressure during take-off and particularly landing.

Boiled sweets used to be a favourite but they are a choking hazard for younger children.

We give ours drinks. It’s important they drink throughout the flight anyway – but we encourage ours to drink lots of water during take-off and landing, as the swallowing eases the pressure build-up in their ears.

Yawning when your child can see you so they reciprocate, also helps.

Younger children can also have milk or a dummy to help them.

10. And relax

Above all, try to relax and enjoy what you can about this shared experience, a big part of your holiday for them. If you are a nervous flyer, try your best not to show it else they will pick up on it and it will affect how they see it too now and in the future. Treat it as an adventure and a fun part of the holiday.

Fingers crossed and happy holidays!

MUST READ: Flying with a baby or infant under two – our comprehensive guide will help you from the airport to the plane

Is an overnight cross-Channel ferry with small children a good idea? We review Brittany Ferries

Is an overnight cross-Channel ferry with small children a good idea? We review Brittany Ferries

Read our report on a Brittany Ferries trip to France

A ferry can be a great way to travel with children – it breaks up a long journey, is (fairly) relaxing, you get to keep your own car on holiday plus you can pack loads into it.

The four of us have used ferries to cross the Channel for holidays to France and Denmark.

Here we review a crossing with Brittany Ferries, which operates between the UK and France, the UK and Spain and Ireland and France. We travelled between Portsmouth and St Malo.

Boarding

Boarding was smooth and quick at both ports. Yes there are a lot of cars on board – our ship, the Bretagne holds 2,000 passengers and 580 cars – but it didn’t take more than 20 minutes to disembark in a well drilled operation.

One word or warning, there can be a lot of steps to climb up from the car park to the higher decks if you have small children.

a cabin on a Brittany Ferry with four single beds

A four-berth cabin on board Brittany Ferries

The cabins

We booked a four-berth club cabin and our children loved it, it was a real adventure for them.

There were bunk beds on either side (the top one folds back when not in use to give more space), a small television on the wall and an en-suite with shower and toilet.

We found it cosy and very well soundproofed and both children slept well.

Cabins are not just for night times though, it is also worth booking a cabin for a day trip if you have small children. It is good to have a base and somewhere to relax (for parents as well if you have been chasing them around the ferry). Plus they are great if your child still naps.

The food

There was plenty of choice for all budgets. There is an à la carte restaurant, self-service restaurant, cafe, and a bar.

We ate at the self-service La Baule – breakfast on the outward leg and a dinner coming home to England.

The price is reasonable and drinks at the bar aren’t bad value either.

a pantomime on board a Brittany Ferries ship

The ferry has children’s entertainment

Children’s entertainment

Early evening shows for children kept ours entertained. There was a children’s entertainer with a good line in balloon animals, a mini disco and in high season they put on a panto.

There are also two cinema screens showing  family films. The screens aren’t full size but it’s a nice way to while away a couple of hours.

There is also a video games room and soft play area.

The feeling

We were fortunate to enjoy good weather in both directions and it was fantastic to go out on the sundeck and watch Portsmouth harbour disappearing into the distance.

Our children loved seeing the wake caused by the huge engines, spotting the Channel Islands as we motored past and walking around the outside of the ferry.

The whole trip felt like an adventure for them and a memorable part of the holiday.

RELATED CONTENT: Britain to Brittany with two children and lots of delicious treats

RELATED CONTENTRevie: Port du Crouesty holiday village in Brittany

We travelled as guests of Brittany Ferries for the purpose of this review. For more information and bookings visit their website.

We review British Airways CityFlyer service which now flies from regional airports

We review British Airways CityFlyer service which now flies from regional airports

How do we rate BA CityFlyer for a family flight with children?

British Airways may be based at the world’s busiest international airport, London Heathrow, but it now also flies small planes from regional airports.

BA CityFlyer, a subsidiary airline of British Airways, is the leading airline at London City Airport.

It also flies from Manchester, Edinburgh and London Stansted to destinations such as Alicante, Dublin, Florence, Ibiza, Malaga, Mykonos, Nice and Palma Majorca.

We travelled to Florence from Birmingham (routes from Birmingham and Bristol have since been suspended) using Avios air miles we had collected with a American Express card, read our guide here for how to collect air miles to get free family flights and read the full review of Florence here.

Here is how we found our BA CityFlyer flight.

Seats

The plane, an Embraer 190 with a two-two seating format throughout, was modern and quiet. The seats were comfortable and leg room was reasonable.

Food

Our hot meals were pretty average, one bit of beef was tougher than an old wellington, but the fish and chips on the return journey weren’t bad.

There was no dedicated children’s food or menu which is disappointing.

Small sandwiches were still on offer in economy class along with a complimentary drink. This has been phased out of most BA short-haul flights but this service does still offer it.

british airways embraer plane on the runway

Boarding is easy as the planes are smaller

Check-in

As British Airways was only operating a couple of flights per day at both airports when we flew, there were no staff at check-in until exactly two hours before. This meant a big queue built up which wasn’t ideal.

Boarding

The planes are small, ours only seated 76 passengers, which means you are on and off quite quickly, great when you are travelling with children. It feels straightforward to board as there aren’t so many people fighting to get on.

In conclusion

It is worth checking out British Airways if you had given up on them ever flying outside Heathrow. The small plane saves time at either end and you can try to use Avios air miles even if you live outside London.

RELATED CONTENT: In-flight Wi-Fi and child discounts – we discover why Norwegian Air is good for family flights

RELATED CONTENT: Is Ryanair now family-friendly? We review a budget flight with our children

Why Malaga on the Costa Del Sol makes a great city for a family beach holiday

Why Malaga on the Costa Del Sol makes a great city for a family beach holiday

Malaga is well worth a family break with its parks, port, beaches and castles

The parks

Malaga is a very green city and its main park, called the Parque de Malaga, is an oblong oasis of huge trees, curving paths and children’s playgrounds.

It is situated between the port and the city and on a hot day is an ideal place to grab a bit of shade.

a panoramic view of Malaga

A view of the port and park area of Malaga

The new port

This recently-developed area has wide, open walkways and plenty of shops and restaurants.

There is a huge underground car park and a small version of Paris’ Pompidou Centre for modern art.

We ate a meal here at one of the small outside stalls and it was a great spot to people watch.

The Alcazaba

Malaga’s most famous historical site is child-friendly.

the alcazaba in Malaga in sunlight

The Alcazaba is child-friendly but watch little ones on the raised wall areas

There aren’t too many steps but you have to be careful when walking along some of the walls. This Moorish palace has great views of the sea and the city.

The tapas

There is no shortage of restaurants on squares to indulge in tapas. Our children liked the variety of the options and the Spanish cheeses.

Plaza de la Merced is one of the best squares with plenty of places to choose from.

Top tip: When in Spain with children, it is better to eat your main meal out at lunchtime as the Spanish eat their evening meal very late. Try to eat early evening and the best restaurants will be closed or very quiet. 

The beaches

Malaga’s beaches aren’t pure white sand but they are plenty good enough for an afternoon’s entertainment.

children on a sunny beach in Malaga

One of the many beaches in and around Malaga

The man-made Playa de la Malagueta is nearest the city centre and has a playground.

We also liked Playa San Andres near our hotel and the quieter Playa de la Caleta.

We visited at the end of October and found the temperature of the sand and sea to be perfect.

In conclusion

Often overlooked as an industrial gateway to the Costa Del Sol, Malaga is actually very child-friendly. Well worth a couple of days.

How to do Tuscany with children – five top tips

How to do Tuscany with children – five top tips

Five hacks to help make a perfect family break to Florence, Pisa and Tuscany

 

Coping with the heat

It can be intensely hot in summer. The temperature is at its best before 11 and after 6. We found early morning excursions and late evening walks worked best for us.

The middle of the day is the time to make sure you’re either in air conditioned accommodation or by a shaded pool.

 

Beware the siesta

No fewer than four times in a week we were caught out waiting for the local supermarket to open (it was closed between 1.30 and 4) and as we were staying 10 minutes drive along a gravel track that wasn’t ideal.

If you need supplies for little ones plan ahead and get all the essentials in one go. Often in small towns the choice isn’t what you might be used to and shops close in the early afternoon.

 

Research your parking

At busy towns like San Gimignano and Volterra it can be tricky to get close by car. 

San Gimignano has a decent park and ride system but in August the car parks were almost full by 10.30am.

Volterra has even less parking near the historic centre, which means a long hot walk. The best idea to minimise a long walk is to visit early morning or late afternoon.

 

A view of Florence from the Duomo of the city in the sunshine

Keep walking to a minimum in Florence during the summer

 

Be picky

Florence has so much to see, but not all of it is interesting to little ones and the heat soon saps their energy.

Pick one or two main sights, rather than packing it all in, and choose two close together to cut down on walking under the blazing sun.

One good option is the Boboli Gardens and Ponte Vecchio, which work well and are quite close together. Similarly the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio are quite close.

 

leaning tower of Pisa in the sun

You can’t climb the leaning tower of Pisa until you are eight years old

 

The Leaning Tower

Yes, it’s a must with children but stick together, get the pictures done and retreat to a little market outside the walls of the site where there are toilets, snacks and stalls to browse.

You have to be eight to climb the tower so once you’ve snapped that shot there’s not much reason to hang around.

How to do London on a budget with children – our top tips for a cheaper break

How to do London on a budget with children – our top tips for a cheaper break

A family trip to London does not need to be as expensive as you think – read our tricks to save money

Find the free attractions

There are plenty of museums in London which don’t charge an entry fee. The dinosaurs and whales of the Natural History Museum and the next door rockets in the Science Museum are great for children.

There are also the historical artefacts in the British Museum and there’s the chance to walk the streets of Victorian London at the Museum of London.

If you want to take a step back into your own younger days, the V&A Museum of Childhood has toys, teddy bears and dolls through the decades as well as hands-on fun.

One area per day

Be sensible and tackle one part of London at a time where you can walk between attractions and save money on transport.

Try to do one section a day otherwise costs rise and children’s feet start to hurt.

This was our recent three-day itinerary:

Day 1 – Westminster, London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace.

Day 2 – Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Hyde Park.

Day 3 – Tower Bridge, Tower of London.

The Tower of London and boats on the river Thames

The area around the Tower of London is one to explore

Mix your transport

It is expensive to get around in London.

If you stay centrally, you can walk to lots of attractions, so pick a well-located hotel.

The Tube is the quickest option for longer trips but can be expensive, although an Oyster card makes it cheaper and children up to aged 10 are free with paying adults. You can also use contactless credit or debit cards now to pay as you go on London’s public transport, which makes life much easier, see the Transport for London website for more.

However, the London Underground can be difficult with a pram or buggy as most don’t have lifts. The wheelchair symbol on the Tube map shows stair-free stations.

If you have to go further, then the bus is the cheapest option and you can see the sights from the top deck, which can be great fun for children.

A taxi or Uber can work out relatively cheap too if you’re a large family but children’s car seats are not readily available.

Some taxi companies have children’s car seats, but they have to be booked in advance. It is legal for babies and children to travel in a taxi in London without a child safety restraint if one isn’t available. But a proper car seat is by far the safest option for your little ones.

Eat for less

It can be very expensive to eat out in London.

If you are on a budget and staying in a hotel, enjoy a big breakfast allowing you a smaller lunch.

Then think about making a picnic, we often buy a loaf of bread and cheese and make up our sandwiches to take out.

If you want to eat out, check for voucher codes and offers in advance. Read through the small print though because some chain restaurants exclude prime locations from voucher offers.

Don’t forget, London has amazing street food. We love the street food market at Camden for delicious lunches.

The Changing of the Guard

The Changing of the Guard is a great free show but can be a long and busy wait. One tip with toddlers is watch the band warm up at Wellington Barracks instead of battling the crowds outside Buckingham Palace.

Then you can go into St James’s Park when the soldiers are at the palace and watch them marching away afterwards.

Fewer crowds and less waiting around. Check the dates of the event here Changing the Guard.

Buckingham Palace on a sunny day

Buckingham Palace hosts Changing the Guard but we watch elsewhere

For a full list of free child friendly attractions see this link Visit London with kids.

RELATED CONTENT: Child-friendly London – how to keep little ones happy in England’s capital city with our guide to the best activities

RELATED CONTENT: We review a top secret family break in London and share our tips for seeing all the best attractions with children

Do you have any tips to share for doing London on a budget?

(Pictures in this article are courtesy of VisitLondon.com)