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The best things to do with children in Leicester

The best things to do with children in Leicester

The top family attractions in Leicester

Leicester is a city in the East Midlands area of England with plenty for families to do, here is our guide to the best attractions to visit with children.

The National Space Station

The National Space Station is arguably the main family attraction in Leicester.

The National Space Centre, Leicester, exterior

The National Space Centre

It’s been open for around 20 years and although the outside looks a little dated now, inside is a fresh and modern museum with plenty of hands-on attractions.

There’s a large ground floor area which explains all about the galaxy, with plenty of interactive elements.

You can also see space suits worn by the likes of Buzz Aldrin and Tim Peake.

Space suits at the National Space Centre in Leicester

Space suits

There is a planetarium showing a film narrated by Ewan Macgregor which lasts around 20 minutes and explains the life of an astronaut.

You book a time slot and sit watching a domed-shaped projection screen above and around you – we made the mistake of sitting at the front so I would suggest sitting towards the back.

It feels as if you are moving around space which can be a bit disorientating plus it’s worth noting that it includes some medical details about the human body and sickness.

When getting to floors two, three and four you pass two rockets which are inside the centre.

The second floor showcases the UK’s contribution to the space race. There is a good video about some of the country’s pioneers and a nice interactive screen where children can design their own rocket  and then see it fire into space.

Floors three and four are all about the Space Race between the Soviet Union and USA.

The third floor talks about the Russians’ role and you can take control of a capsule similar to Yuri Gagarin’s – the first man in space.

The top floor explains the timeline of the moon landings, telling the story of Apollo 11 and subsequent flights.

A rocket at the National Space Centre

The timeline is clear and simple for children and they can feel a replica of the moon’s surface, as well as having a look at tiny piece of the moon too.

Suitable age: Best for children aged eight and above as some of the exhibits are quite detailed.

Food: There are cafes and snacks available on the ground floor. There was an ice cream van outside when we visited too plus picnic benches outside.

Parking: There are two large car parks with tickets costing £3 for the whole day.

Where is it: Two miles north of Leicester City Centre, off the A6 between Leicester’s inner and outer ring roads.

Address: National Space Centre, Exploration Drive, Leicester, LE4 5NS.

Website: National Space Centre

Abbey Pumping Station

If you are parked at the National Space Centre, you can also visit Abbey Pumping Station next door.

Abbey Pumping Station exterior

Abbey Pumping Station

A museum based on sewage doesn’t sound too exciting but this free museum has a good playground, old diggers and cranes, a narrow gauge railway which runs occasionally and a small garden.

Older visitors may like the museum’s collection of industrial, technological and scientific items relating to Leicester.

I wouldn’t go especially to visit but it is worth stopping by if you are already at the space centre.

Play area at Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester

Play area at Abbey Pumping Station

Parking: At the National Space Centre next door, cost £3.

Address: Abbey Pumping Station, Corporation Road, Leicester, LE4 5PX.

Website: Abbey Pumping Station

Richard III Centre

The discovery of Richard III’s remains under a Leicester car park in 2014, led to this excellent new museum.

Set over two floors, the first explains the story of Richard and the Wars of the Roses. It uses videos, timelines and interactive screens to set out how Richard became king between 1483 and 1485 and how he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth.

Screens at the Richard III Centre in Leicester

The second floor details how Richard’s remains were discovered.

A group of dedicated historians and enthusiasts thought he may be buried under a city car park. A huge dig proved them right and this exhibition shows how DNA testing and various techniques proved it was the king.

It is mostly aimed at adults but there is a good dressing up area where children can wear Tudor clothes.

Dressing up in Tudor clothes at the Richard III Centre in Leicester

Dressing up in Tudor clothes

The centre also gives children an activity sheet on entry with a quiz, colouring and a wordsearch to do around the museum.

The end of the museum is a simple room with an area of glass floor through which you can see where Richard’s remains were discovered.

The room has a friendly member of staff on hand to answer questions and children will enjoy walking over the glass to look closely at the site.

The glass floor through which you can see the spot where Richard III's remains were found

The glass floor through which you can see the spot where Richard III’s remains were found

Parking:  There is no parking and the area around is pedestrianised. Long-stay nearby car parks include St Nicholas Circle NCP (next to the Holiday Inn, postcode LE1 4LF) and at the Highcross Shopping Centre (accessible from Vaughan Way, postcode LE1 4QJ).

Where is it: In the heart of the city centre, next to Leicester Cathedral.

Address: King Richard III Visitor Centre, 4A St. Martin’s, Leicester, LE1 5DB.

Website: King Richard III Visitor Centre

Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

Leicester Museum is free to enter and has lots of sections including Ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, wild space, Leicester stories, the Victorian Art Gallery, arts and crafts, Picasso Ceramics along with the Attenborough Collection and Leicester’s German Expressionism collection.

A dinosaur skeleton at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

It also hosts lots of temporary exhibitions and has activities including talks and lunchtime concerts, plus there is a gift shop.

Food: There is a museum cafe.

Parking: The museum’s own car park is in Princess Road West, use the postcode LE1 6TR.
The nearest major car park is the NCP on East Street, use postcode LE1 6NB.

Where is it: In the south of Leicester city centre.

Address: Leicester Museum & Art Gallery, 53 New Walk, Leicester, LE1 7EA.

Website: Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

Ninja Warrior UK Leicester

This is an indoor adventure park inspired by the ITV hit programme Ninja Warrior UK.

Participants climb, swing, balance and jump their way around different obstacles.

Ninja Warrior UK in Leicester

Ninja Warrior UK in Leicester

It is not a set course, you can have a go at any section you like.

Children and adults can all take part and there’s a separate smaller area for under-fives.

Participants have coloured wristbands to show which hour-long time slot they are in – if doing two hours you get two.

Everyone waits in the café area for a quick safety briefing before you can start.

What to wear: Trainers have to be worn around the course except on the inflatable section where provided Ninja socks must be worn. Jeans can’t be worn – only appropriate attire for exercise.

Food: There is a good-size cafe area serving food and drinks.

Parking: There is free parking outside in the retail park.

Where is it: It is on St George’s Retails Park in Leicester.

Address: Ninja Warrior UK, Unit 8 St George’s Retails Park, Leicester, LE1 1SG.

Website: Ninja Warrior UK Leicester

Treetop Adventure Golf

There are two indoor 18-hole mini golf courses at Treetop Adventure Golf in Leicester.

Treetop Adventure Golf in Leicester

Treetop Adventure Golf in Leicester

One is called Tackle the Tropical Trail which has a rainforest theme.

The other, called Ancient Explorer, is in a temple setting.

There is also a bonus hole – the 19th hole – where everyone can try to get a hole in one for the chance to win a free round of golf.

Food: There is a pizza restaurant, cafe and even a cocktail bar. Picnics are not allowed.

Parking: Park at the Highcross Rooftop car park or the John Lewis car park.

Where is it: At the High cross shopping centre in Leicester.

Address: Treetop Adventure Golf, Highcross, 3 Shires Lane, Leicester, Leicestershire, LE1 4AN

Website: Treetops Adventure Golf Leicester

For more ideas go to the Visit Leicester website.

Have we missed your favourite attraction in Leicester? Let us know in the comments!

Where to stay

There are plenty of places to stay in Leicester, we stayed in a good central spot at the Gresham Aparthotel, read our review and guide.

York Castle Museum – read our review and top tips

York Castle Museum – read our review and top tips

We take our two children to this museum in the walled city of York

What is it?

York Castle Museum is dedicated to 400 years of York’s history with a recreated Victorian Street, the prison cells which held Dick Turpin and lots of exhibitions on everything from toys to fashion and music.

Where is it?

At the southern end of York city centre, next to the Clifford’s Tower landmark.

What did we think?

The museum is an eclectic mix of exhibits but there is plenty of interest for families and children aged over five. The Victorian street and prison are probably the most interesting. The displays are well done but it could benefit from more interactive, hands-on experiences for children.

Highlights

*Kirkgate: The Victorian Street – if your child has studied this period of history at school then this is the place to come. It is the oldest recreated Victorian street in Britain. With the sights and smells of a cobbled Victorian high street, it includes a toy shop, a school, a police station, horse and cart and more.

A Victorian Street at York Castle Museum

The Victorian street

Every shop on the street is based on a real York business which existed between 1870 and 1901. Visitors can explore the nooks and crannies and buy sweets from actors in the Victorian sweet shop.

A sweet shop seller in a Victorian street at York Castle Museum

A Victorian sweet shop

*York Castle Prison. Go inside the cell which held highwayman Dick Turpin on this walk around York prison, which has been on the site for 1,000 years. Each cell has a video projected on the wall telling the stories of people who were held and worked at the prison. Some of this would be scary for young children. Our four-year-old skipped the first bit.

*Toy Stories. A fun room dedicated to toys through the decades. Unfortunately, most of it is behind glass or barriers but our children enjoyed discovering about their parents’ and grandparents’ toys. There is a small castle-themed play area at one end.

Our top tips 

*The museum is quite large and winding. The major highlights are in the middle and end so don’t be afraid to speed through some of the first sections.

*A few parts are dark and may frighten young children, especially some corners of Kirkgate: The Victorian Street and the York Castle Prison section which has noisy videos and dark corridors. You can skip around the prison section easily by following the signs.

A kitchen from the 1940s

A kitchen from the 1940s

*The museum is split into two halves with the toy stories and Victorian street on one side and the Sixties exhibition and prison on the other. Most people head for the Victorian street side first so if it is busy visit the prison part at the beginning and come back to the other side later on.

*There is no storage facility on site so you must carry all bags around with you. Buggies can be left at the entrance though.

York Castle Museum information

York Castle Museum exterior

Food: Cafe 68 in the entrance hall serves lunch, cakes and drinks. There are meal options specifically for children.

Opening hours: Daily, 9.30am to 5pm

Cost: Adult £11, up to four children free (under 16) with one paying adult. Or buy a York Pass*.

Best for: ages five to 10

Time needed: two to three hours

Access and restrictions: The main entrance area is fully accessible and the Victorian Street, which takes up the other side of the ground floor, is accessible via a wheelchair ramp.

The York Castle Prison and The Sixties exhibition are also fully accessible.

A lift is available for some of the upper floors but only on one side of the building.

Only two wheelchair users are allowed in the museum at a time.

Address: York City Museum, Eye of York, York, YO1 9RY. Use the postcode YO1 9WD if you are using sat nav. The nearest car park is the Castle car park next to the museum.

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A York Pass is the city’s official sightseeing card. Once you buy one, you have access to over 40 attractions in York and beyond.
We were given York Passes for review purposes all views are our own.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – we review HMS Victory and more with our children at this huge site

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – we review HMS Victory and more with our children at this huge site

Museums, ships and a boat ride make this a must for sea lovers or young history fans. 

What is it?

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a huge tourist site where families and other visitors can explore the UK’s naval past.

It includes museums and some of the most famous ships in British history including the star attraction HMS Victory.

It is part of the Royal Naval Dockyard and is run by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Where is it?

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is on the waterfront in the centre of Portsmouth, Hampshire.

What did we think?

It is massive! To get around everything is more than a full day out and it has some of the most important living history in the country.

Highlights

*HMS Victory – stand in the spot where Nelson fell on the top deck of this famous warship during the successful Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The plaque on HMS Victory where Nelson fell

The plaque showing where Nelson fell

The ship he sailed is beautifully restored with a simple, clever route through the different decks. She has sat in a dry dock on the site since 1922. There is a free audio guide to carry around.

Hammocks on HMS Victory

We also enjoyed seeing how the 800 sailors on board lived.

A word of warning though, there are steep steps and low ceilings throughout so keep a close eye on children.

A gun deck on HMS Victory

*Harbour tour – a 45-minute ride on the Solent Cat boat – it takes you around Portsmouth’s waters with an on-board commentary, seeing existing navy warships and getting a sense of the scale of the dockyard. It is also a good chance to sit down after walking around the large site.

*Action Stations – an entire building with hands-on activities for children including rope courses, the tallest indoor climbing wall in the UK and a helicopter simulator. There is also a Laser Quest (for an extra charge).

*Other highlights include HMS Warrior, Mary Rose and the Royal Navy Museum.

Our top tips 

*Cut down on walking by doing the harbour tour last and jumping off at Gunwharf Quays for food, shopping or the Spinnaker Tower (read more about the tower here).

*Tackle HMS Victory either early or late in the day, especially with younger children, so it isn’t too crowded walking around the narrow decks.

*Consider paying for a Full Navy ticket giving repeat entry for up to a year as there is enough to occupy a few separate visits if you want to do more than see just the Victory.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard information

Food: There are four different options. Boathouse 7 offers full meals, Boathouse 4 sells sandwiches, snacks and a children’s menu, the Copper Kettle serves cake and coffee or there is a Costa Coffee as well. The site has three picnic areas too.

Opening hours: Daily 10am to 5.30pm in summer, 10am to 5pm in winter.

Cost: A ‘Full Navy’ ticket costs £31 per adult with children free in the summer holidays and allows a year’s access to all the naval attractions at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – except for the Mary Rose, Mini Ports and Laser Quest.

You can also buy single attraction tickets for £18 per adult for one attraction, £25 for two attractions and £32 for three. Again children go free in the holidays.

Best for: Ages 5-10

Time needed: All day to see everything. Allow at least one hour per attraction.

Access and restrictions: There is a Special Access Route around the site with ramps for wheelchairs and buggies. There is also wheelchair access to the lower decks of HMS Victory.

Address: Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, PO1 3LJ.

There is a nearby railway station, Portsmouth Harbour Station. Plus there is a large car park (£5 for four hours) 400 yards away.

Now read our full review of a break in Portsmouth here.

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?