1. Alnwick Castle
It might look picture-book perfect, but the real appeal for children is that Alnwick Castle has featured in two Harry Potter films. Kids will also love trying their hand at archery (age 9+ only), and broomstick training, medieval crafts and the series of challenges that make up the Dragon's Quest. Dare they enter the dragon’s lair, where ghosts and ghouls await?
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, NE66 1NQ (+44 (0)1665 510777). Adults £12.50, children (age 5–16) £5.50. Open daily, from 10am–6pm, until 29 October 2010.
2. Old Trafford
No footie fan — Man U supporter or not — could fail to be excited by a visit to Old Trafford, the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. The official stadium tour takes in the players’ changing room, the lounge, dugout and press briefing room, but for most children the highlight is the chance to have their own Wayne Rooney moment, and emerge from the tunnel to the roar of the crowd (even if it is made up of just Mum and Dad).
Sir Matt Busby Way, Manchester M16 0RA. Tickets: adults £18, children £12. For bookings and opening times, call +44 (0)161 868 8000.
3. Belfast Zoological Gardens
Set on a hillside overlooking Belfast Lough, Belfast Zoo has to be the most picturesque animal park in the UK. It’s big (55 acres), and with over 1,200 animals to see — from giraffes and meerkats to Sumatran tigers and Malayan sun bears — you’ll need to set aside almost a full day to do it justice. Some of the slopes are pretty steep, but there are picnic tables en route, and plenty of those all-important loos.
Antrim Road, Belfast BT36 7PN (+44 (0)2890 776277). Adults £8.50, children (age 4–17) £4.25, under-4s free. Open 10am–7pm April–Sept ; 10am–4pm October–March.
4. Jorvik Viking Centre
Built around the excavations of a Viking settlement discovered in York city centre, Jorvik Viking Centre brings history vividly — and sometimes scarily — to life. There’s a Viking skeleton to examine and the chance to make Norse coins, but the high point is the ride in a ‘time capsule’ through York as it was 1,000 years ago, complete with cooking smells and Viking inhabitants speaking Old Norse.
Jorvik Viking Centre, Coppergate, York YO1 9WT (+44 (0)1904 543400). Adults £9.95, children (age 5–15) £6.95. Open seven days a week from 10am–5pm in summer, 10am–4pm in winter.
5. National Space Centre
The East Midlands may not seem like the natural home for a tourist attraction devoted to space, but Leicester’s National Space Centre has become a huge success. No wonder – this is science at its most hands-on and interactive. Kids can build a foam rocket, try the air chair, which simulates the feeling of being in space, or enjoy a planetarium show in the space theatre.
Exploration Drive, Leicester, LE4 5NS. Opening times vary, call +44 (0)116 261 0261. Adults £13, children (age 5–16) £11, under 5s free.
6. King Arthur’s Labyrinth
Stories of dragons, ancient kings and epic battles come alive at King Arthur's Labyrinth, as you sail through a spectacular underground cavern in the company of a mysterious hooded guide. Younger children spooked by the dramatic sound and lighting effects might want to visit the playground, maze and café above ground instead, but older children, especially budding creative writers, will be entranced.
Corris Craft Centre, Corris, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 9RF (+44 (0)1654 761584). Adults £9.35, children (age 4–15) £6.25. Open daily from 10am–5.30pm until 2 November 2014.
7. Watergate Bay
A two-mile stretch of glorious golden sand on Cornwall’s north coast, Watergate Bay has it all: a friendly beach café, plenty of parking, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall restaurant, and the Extreme Academy, which offers surfing lessons for children of eight and up. If your kids would rather watch than get wet, check the website for regular events held on the beach throughout the summer, from polo matches to surfing competitions.
Watergate Bay Hotel & Extreme Academy, On The Beach, Watergate Bay, Cornwall TR8 4AA. For watersports tuition prices, call +44 (0)1637 860543.
‘Deep in the woods is a land of Boggles, Twiggles and Thorny Crocklebogs…’ Few children could resist an invitation to BeWILDerwood, a woodland adventure park northeast of Norwich. The giant slides, zipwires, treehouses, mazes and wobbly bridges have all been designed to fire the imagination as much as exercise the body. Take a picnic, or eat at the Snack Shack, the Cosy Cabin or the Munch Bar.
Horning Road, Hoveton, Norfolk NR12 8JW (+44 (0)1603 783900). Open until 31 October; check the website for times and prices.
9. Legoland Windsor
Children too young for Alton Towers will find their own corner of play park heaven at Legoland. From rollercoasters and log flumes to mini diggers and fire engines, the rides have been designed with the 3-12 age group in mind. Queues for the most popular rides can be notoriously long, but for an additional £15 you can rent a handheld Q-Bot device (also available as an app), which allows you to book times in advance.
Winkfield Road, Windsor, Berkshire SL4 4AY (+44 (0)871 2222 001). Prices and opening times vary.
10. Isle of Mull
Sail from the picturesque fishing village of Tobermoray on a wildlife-spotting adventure from Sea Life Surveys. Your expert guide will help you locate sea eagles, dolphins, basking sharks and seals, and you can even listen to prawns (apparently, they ‘chat’) on the seabed with a special microphone. Sailing times are arranged around the car ferries from the mainland, so you’ll be back in plenty of time to catch a ride home for tea.
Sea Life Surveys, Taigh Solais, Ledaig, Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Argyll, PA75 6NR (+44 (0)1688 302916). Adults from £30, children from £20 for a two-hour cruise.