We take our children and dog to explore this once secret garden in Cornwall
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
What is it?
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are Europe’s largest garden restoration project.
This secret garden was lost for decades until a door to a walled garden was discovered in 1990.
After an award-winning restoration, there are now 200 acres of subtropical gardens, woodland and jungle to explore.
Where is it?
The gardens cover steep ground in Cornwall, near the town of Mevagissey, not far from St Austell. It is in quite a remote location with small lanes leading to the entrance.
What did we think?
This is a wonderful place for children with a huge playground, lots of space, a farm and a brilliant jungle area. It’s a lot of walking and some of it is steep so younger children may get tired.
A giant’s head
This is the best area, jungle plants in a valley with boardwalks to explore and a wobbly rope bridge to cross. This was the part which captured our children’s imaginations the most.
Crossing the rope bridge
*East Lawn playground
This large playground has a lot of modern equipment and plenty of space to run around. There are also great views and it is a good spot for children to let off some steam
A small farm with pigs, sheep, chickens and horses. Ideal for younger children to get up close with farm animals. It is also near toilets and food outlets.
A fun stroll through woodland you can do either at the start of end of your visit. There is a small play area called the Giant’s Adventure Trail and look out for the Mud Maid sculpture.
The Mud Maid
Our top tips
*Plan your route
There is a lot of walking involved so we suggest making your way to the furthest point of the site initially and working backwards towards the entrance. That way you will avoid the crowds and won’t be too tired when you are furthest away from the way out!
*It’s uphill on the way back
Take into account that all the routes back to the entrance are uphill. It is a very steep walk back, so plan your route accordingly.
*A manageable route
The simplest way for families to see the most child-friendly parts of the gardens is as follows: Go down the Woodland Walk and then head for The Jungle, go around that area and then visit the East Lawn playground, then you can use the toilets and facilities at the Steward’s House Cafe and enjoy the farm before making your way to the exit through the beautiful Flora’s Green.
*The rope bridge
The rope bridge in the jungle area is 100ft high and among the longest in Britain.
Crossing it is a wobbly, fantastic experience.
But dogs are not allowed across it and people with a fear of heights might not fancy it either.
Fear not, there are ways around it, then you may also be able to get a picture of family members crossing towards you.
There are only two areas with toilet and facilities – at the entrance and then near Home Farm. There are large parts of the gardens with no facilities.
Dogs are welcome on a lead and it is a great place for them to enjoy and explore. The Lost Valley is the quietest area and a good one for those coming with dogs who want a more strenuous walk.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan information
*Near the ticket office – Heligan Kitchen, Coffee Bar, Ice-cream Hut.
*In the Steward’s Garden near Home Farm – Steward’s House Cafe, BBQ Hut, Ice-cream Hut.
*Picnics are welcome and there are lots of benches to sit on.
Opening hours: Daily April to September 10am to 6pm, October to March 10am to 5pm.
Cost: Adults £17.50, children aged 5 to 15 £8.50, under 5s free. Family ticket £48. Book here.
Best for: Children aged 5-15, you do need some stamina to get around so younger ones may get tired.
Time needed: Minimum of 3 to 4 hours to explore the best parts of the site. You could easily spend a whole day here though.
Access and restrictions: Mostly accessible but some steep slopes to navigate. The Jungle and wider garden routes are not accessible and not open to wheelchairs. Accessible Maps available from the ticket office.
Address: The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St Austell, PL26 6EN.
The wildlife park is two miles south of Burford on the A361 on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, in Oxfordshire.
What did we think?
It is a cross between a traditional zoo and a visit to a National Trust-style stately home and gardens. There are lots of interesting animals for children to see, but adults can also enjoy strolling around the lovely gardens.
Watch our video below before reading our highlights, top tips and essential information!
*There are good views of the animals, even for little ones thanks to cleverly designed fences and slopes.
*You can get face-to-face with the giraffes as there is a high viewing point called the Giraffe Walkway.
*The adventure playground and skymaze is a fantastic play area for children, even those older and more daring.
The adventure playground
*The fabulous gardens – beautiful to walk through on the sunny day we were there.
*The range of animals include red pandas, giraffes, rhinos, penguins, lions, wolves, tropical birds, meercats, zebras, tapirs, camels, otters, lemurs, monkeys, snakes and crocodiles. In case you have an elephant-lover, note that there are no elephants at this zoo.
*There is a farmyard section where you can pet goats in an open field.
Our top tips
*We asked a member of staff for the best route to walk around the park and as we had arrived first thing she recommended we visit the walled garden first of all. See the penguin feeding at 11am and the lemurs feeding at 12pm in the Madagascar area, then head around the park either clockwise or anti-clockwise. That brings you into the grounds in time for a picnic.
A meerkat relaxes
*There is a little train which takes you around the park and which is worth doing to rest tired legs at only £1 per person (under 3s are free). It runs from April to October, weather permitting. There isn’t an organised queuing system though so make sure you don’t miss your turn to get on board. The train ride lasts around 10 minutes and departs from near the walled garden and playground. There is a place to leave pushchairs and wheelchairs next to the platform and there is room for two wheelchairs on the train.
*The lemur collection in the Madagascan Walkthrough, is only open for part of the day so check opening times if you are keen to do this.
*A guide book and map costs £2.50. If you just need a map there are boards around the site. Just snap one on your phone and take it round with you! Or click here for an online map.
*Dogs can be taken here as long as they are kept on a lead. There are some areas with free ranging animals that they aren’t allowed into including the Bat Belfry, Reptile House, Children’s Farmyard.
Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens information
Food: Picnics are allowed and there are plenty of nice spots and benches to eat them.
There is a restaurant – the Oak Tree Restaurant – behind the manor house. And seasonal (only open on busy days) kiosks selling hot drinks, ice creams and snacks.
Opening hours: Daily 10am to 6pm April to October, 10am to 5pm November to March. Last admission two hours before closing time.
Cost: Adults £16.00, children aged three to 16 £10.50, under 3s free. E-tickets booked online in advance are £14.00 and £9.50.
There are no disabled concessions but there is a discount for groups of six or more disabled people and their carers.
Best for: All ages but it is a large site so under 5s might get tired without a buggy.
Time needed: At least three hours, potentially all day if you take your time.
Access and restrictions: This is a flat site with good paths throughout so great for wheelchairs prams and buggies. There are disabled toilets in every toilet block as well as a Changing Places toilet near to the gift shop with a bed, ceiling hoist and shower (ask in the gift shop for the security code to get in).
There are wheelchairs available to hire for free. Mobility scooters can be hired for a charge and must be booked in advance.
Address: Cotswold Wildlife Park, Bradwell Grove, Burford, OX18 4JP
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.