This article was first posted in May 2010 and was updated 11 April 2016
Want more ideas? Read Even more places to take your kids in the UK
1. Alnwick Castle
It might look picture-book perfect, but the real appeal for children is that Alnwick Castle featured in the first 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 Quest. Dare they enter the dragon’s lair, where ghosts and ghouls await?
Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1NQ (+44 (0)1665 511100). Adults £13.45, children (age 5–16) £6.97. Open daily, from 10am–5.30pm, until 30 October 2016.
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).
Old Trafford, Sir Matt Busby Way, Manchester M16 0RA. Tickets: adults £18, children £12. For bookings and opening times, call +44 (0)161 826 1326.
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 spider monkeys to Asian elephants 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.
Belfast Zoological Gardens, Antrim Road, Belfast BT36 7PN (+44 (0)28 9077 6277). Adults £12, children (age 4–16) £6, under-4s free. Open 10am–7pm daily April–Sept; 10am–4pm daily October–March.
4. Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum
Four miles apart on Hadrian's Wall, the garrison fort of Vindolanda and its associated museum bring our Roman conquerors back to life. The kids can rampage around ruins and replica fortifications, compete with the best Syrian archers, learn some Latin, watch 3D films – and even scrutinise the ongoing excavations at what is one of Britain's most significant archaeological sites.
Vindolanda Trust, Chesterholm Museum, Bardon Hill, Hexham, Northumberland NE47 7JN (+44 (0)1434 344277; Roman Army Museum, Carvoran House, Brampton, Greenhead, Cumbria CA8 7JB (+44 (0)1697 747485). Joint saver ticket for both museums: adults £10.50, children (age 5–18) £6, under-5s free. Open daily 10am–6pm until September 2016.
5. 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.
King Arthur's Labyrinth, Corris Craft Centre, Corris, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 9RF (+44 (0)1654 761584). Adults £9.95, children (age 4–15) £6.65. Open daily from 10am–5pm until 31 October 2016.
6. 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 Watergate Bay Hotel & 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.
BeWILDerwood, Horning Road, Hoveton, Norfolk NR12 8JW (+44 (0)1692 633033). Prices: over 105cm tall £15.50, 92-105cm tall £13.50, under 92cm free. Open daily 10am-5.30pm until 30 September 2016. Horning Road, Hoveton, Norfolk NR12 8JW (+44 (0)1603 783900). Open until 31 October; check the website for times and prices.
8. 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 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. A new addition to the collections takes you up into space with Britain's most famous astronaut, Tim Peake, in the ISS Launch Experience.
National Space Centre, Exploration Drive, Leicester LE4 5NS (+44 (0)116 261 0261). Adults £14, children (age 5–16) £11, under 5s free. Open Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-5pm.
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 £20 you can rent a handheld Q-Bot device (also available as an app), which allows you to book times in advance.
Legoland Windsor, 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 Tobermory 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 £30, children £20 for the two-hour cruise; longer cruises are also available.