The best UK holiday destinations for families

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While many holidays abroad may have been put on hold for the time being, it doesn’t mean families can’t have fun exploring a new city or corner of the countryside this summer. Yes, the UK is brimming with destinations that will entertain both adults and children on a weekend away.

Whether you fancy a historic city, the characterful coast or a bucolic patch of countryside, simply have a read of our favourite holiday spots for families and choose your own adventure.

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The Independent’s hotel recommendations are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and book, but we never allow this to affect our coverage.

During the current pandemic, some of th activities are operating on a phased opening, which means they may just be reopening, only open on certain days or require you to book ahead of time to restrict numbers so do check before you travel.

Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Combine traditional seaside fun with monster appreciation on the fossil-lined Jurassic Coast. Lyme Regis makes for a splendid base and is flanked by two beaches – one sandy and the other (Monmouth) made up of grey pebbles, with a fascinating section of ammonite pavement at one end.

Lyme Regis makes for an excellent base (Getty/iStock)

The pretty town’s Dinosaurland Fossil Museum has more than 12,000 specimens on show, including a collection of Ichthyosaurs.

The South West coastal path offers blustery clifftop walks, with Branscombe to Beer a picturesque section – try a mackerel fishing trip from the shore at Beer. The Undercliffs National Nature Reserve also deserves exploration, with vegetation so thick and luxuriant kids will be transported to another world.

Stay

The genteel Alexandra Hotel (hotelalexandra.co.uk) has sea views, a large lawn, a range of bedrooms and two self-contained apartments ideal for families. Doubles from ?180, B&B.

Snowdonia, Wales

Thrill-seeking older children will have an unforgettable time at Wales’ newest adventure centre.

Deep below the Snowdonia National Park, The Llechwedd Slate Caverns hide a strange underworld of fluorescent trampoline nets and zip lines where children can bounce, climb and glide across the dark chambers of a disused mine. Above ground, there are 4×4 quarry drives or, for greener views, families can fly through the forest canopy or grip onto a gravity-driven alpine coaster at Zip World Fforest, a 20-minute drive away.

The Fforest ride is the UK’s only alpine coaster (Ivan Purcell)

More sedate pleasures can be found by taking the train up Snowdon.

Stay

Cosy up in a lodge with a wood-burner under some of Britain’s starriest skies at Slate Mountain Glamping (llechwedd.co.uk). Lodges from ?120.

Lake Windermere, Cumbria

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The natural beauty of The Lakes appeals to all ages, while Windermere is ideal for families with younger children.

The tourist town of Bowness has all the facilities little ones might require as well as access to the still, blue lake for gentle walks along its gravelly shores. For something more lively, Brockhole is a country house overlooking the lake that offers boat and kayak hire, treetop swings, archery and an adventure playground. Popular too are the fluffy characters that bring Mr McGregor’s garden to life at the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction; then in the evenings, try Zeffirellis in Ambleside, a cute independent cinema and pizzeria that has been running for nearly 40 years.

Stay

Linthwaite House Hotel (leeucollection.com) has an elevated position above the lake, standalone suites for families, bikes to borrow and its own tarn with a rowing boat.

Doubles from ?192.

London

England’s capital is awash with family-friendly entertainment. Whether you are keen to broaden young minds (stroll past Parliament and the guards at Buckingham Palace, marvel at the Natural History Museum, the British Museum and the Science Museum) or to stretch their legs (try Kew Gardens or any of London’s parks – such as Hyde Park with its boating on the Serpentine, or Crystal Palace with its stylised dinosaur statues), you will never be short of stimulating activities in the city.

Go pedallo-ing on the Serpentine in Hyde Park (Christo and Jeanne-Claude Photo: Wolfgang Volz)

Stay

The Resident (residenthotels.com) in Kensington is close to the big museums and Earls Court underground station. Deluxe rooms can sleep four and each room has a mini-kitchenette with a fridge and microwave.

Doubles from ?164.

South Cornwall

If your children love waves and bodyboarding, the north coast of Cornwall is where you want to be. Otherwise, the region around Fowey and along the Roseland Peninsula offers a string of treats for families. The most famous – the Eden Project – hosts the largest rainforest in captivity in its biomes, plus sculptures, outdoor gardens and a canopy walkway.

Just west of here, the Lost Gardens of Heligan had been overgrown since WWI before being rediscovered and restored to its former captivating beauty. Elsewhere, there is plenty of fun to be had jumping waves down at hidden coves or imagining life as a smuggler in villages like Polperro that seem to tumble down to the harbourside.

Let their imaginations run wild at the Lost Gardens of Heligan (Lost Gardens of Heligan)

Stay

Fowey Hall Hotel (foweyhallhotel.co.uk) is part of the Luxury Family Hotels group, meaning parents can rely on family-friendly facilities and services during their stay, such as indoor and outdoor play areas, organised activities, child-friendly menus and a pool. Doubles from ?139.

York

Older children and teens will revel in the vivid history underpinning this city.

To get a measure of it, walk a section of the 13th-century city walls, of which nearly two miles have survived. Further back in time, the Jorvik Viking Centre remembers the Jorvik Vikings, offering a multi-sensory ride in “time capsules” that take you through 10th-century streets, along with live interpretations and galleries. Jorvik DIG, meanwhile, gives children the chance to get their hands dirty in four excavation pits littered with finds that resemble actual archaeological digs in York.

Finally, head to The York Dungeon for live re-enactions of York’s more gruesome historic periods and the National Railway Museum if you or your children are into vintage trains.

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Playa de Ses Illetes, Formentera, Spain, voted the fourth best beach in Europe

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Luskentyre beach, Scotland, voted the second best beach in the UK

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3/10

Eagle Beach, Aruba, voted the third best beach in the world

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4/10

Woolacombe Beach, Woolacombe, Devon, voted the fourth best beach in the UK

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5/10

Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa, Sicily, Italy, voted the second best beach in Europe

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Falesia Beach, Olhos de Agua, Portugal, voted the third best beach in Europe

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7/10

St. Brelade’s Bay Beach, St Brelade, Jersey, voted the second best beach in the UK

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8/10

Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, voted the best beach in the world

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9/10

Bournemouth Beach, Dorset, voted the best beach in the UK

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10/10

Varadero Beach, Cuba, voted the second best beach in the world

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1/10

Playa de Ses Illetes, Formentera, Spain, voted the fourth best beach in Europe

Getty Images/iStockphoto

2/10

Luskentyre beach, Scotland, voted the second best beach in the UK

Getty Images/iStockphoto

3/10

Eagle Beach, Aruba, voted the third best beach in the world

Getty Images/iStockphoto

4/10

Woolacombe Beach, Woolacombe, Devon, voted the fourth best beach in the UK

Getty Images/iStockphoto

5/10

Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa, Sicily, Italy, voted the second best beach in Europe

Getty Images/iStockphoto

6/10

Falesia Beach, Olhos de Agua, Portugal, voted the third best beach in Europe

Getty Images/iStockphoto

7/10

St.

Brelade’s Bay Beach, St Brelade, Jersey, voted the second best beach in the UK

Getty Images/iStockphoto

8/10

Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, voted the best beach in the world

Getty Images/iStockphoto

9/10

Bournemouth Beach, Dorset, voted the best beach in the UK

Getty Images/iStockphoto

10/10

Varadero Beach, Cuba, voted the second best beach in the world

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Stay

Bar Convent (bar-convent.org.uk) is a respected guesthouse in a former convent with an enviable city centre location and family rooms. Doubles from ?75.

Windsor, Berkshire

Either as a side trip to a visit to London or as a destination in its own right, Windsor has two main attractions: its castle and Legoland. The 11th-century castle, which is the Queen’s weekend residence, is easy to spot: just step out of the train station and it’s right there.

Its grandeur is best appreciated, however, from the three-mile long avenue of trees that cuts a line through the vast Windsor Great Park. The following day can be spent at Legoland, a theme park certain to inspire creativity in kids. As well as the tiny, brick-built replicas of famous destinations, expect to find rollercoasters and fairytale boat trips too.

Awesome, as a plastic cylindrical-headed man might say.

Legoland makes for an action-packed day out 

Stay

The Old Farmhouse (theoldfarmhousewindsor.com) is a B&B with wooden beams, a quiet, out-of-town location and a family suite. Doubles from ?100, B&B.

Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

Perhaps Northern Ireland’s most iconic landscape, and a natural World Heritage Site, the hexagonal basalt columns that form stepping stones here are great fun to hop over and photograph. They are owned by the National Trust, which offers visitors guided audio tours.

Children can learn about the legend of giant Finn McCool, ancient geology and coastal erosion. There are fairytale rock formations to spot plus the wider coastline along the Causeway Coastal Route offers other activities such as sea safaris, medieval Dunluce Castle and the hair-raising Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge that wobbles nearly 30m above the raging Atlantic.

Stepping stones: the Giant’s Causeway in Co Antrim

Stay

The Lodge (thelodgehotel.com) in Coleraine on the Causeway Coast has smart family rooms with bunk beds. Doubles from ?69, B&B.

Yorkshire Dales

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The Dales is a region of velvety fells and pikes that will appeal to families who enjoy fresh air and gentle walking.

In the south, the numerous footpaths around the romantic riverside ruins of Bolton Abbey and Fountains Abbey are good for an amble. There are waterfalls to discover too: one at Malham Cove, a large limestone crescent, and others found along the four-mile Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, past spectacular Thornton Force. White Scar Cave (England’s longest show cave) is nearby, featuring underground cascades and an ice-age cavern filled with stalactites.

Family mountain biking is possible in many places too.

Stay

The Lister Arms (listerarms.co.uk) is a friendly boutique inn with tasteful, homely rooms – some of them family-sized – near Malham Cove. Doubles from ?105.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh impresses with its fascinating castle looming over the city, and daily cannon firings. Children can explore the dungeons, see the crown jewels and hear exciting tales from the fortress’s past.

There is a lot to take in so leave plenty of time for a visit.

Down on the Royal Mile, teens might enjoy a humorous ghost tour, or check out The Real Mary King’s Close, a tour that retells frightening stories in passageways below ground. At the Camera Obscura, holograms, illusions and light shows play tricks on the mind while also teaching kids a bit more about the city. Burn off any remaining energy by climbing Arthur’s Seat or wandering around Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

Climb Arthut’s Seat for incredible views (Getty/iStockphoto)

Stay

The Scotsman Hotel (scotsmanhotel.co.uk) has a central location in a heritage building, a pool, children’s menus, fridges in rooms and babysitting.

Doubles from ?140.

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