Eureka! National Children’s Museum, Halifax
This fun-packed museum has six zones – covering topics such as the human body, nature and technology – with 400 interactive exhibits. The current temporary exhibition is devoted to digital art, and children can create their own animated creature. Over half-term, kids can enrol in Ghoul School, where terrifying teachers include Dr Frankenstein, a witch and a werewolf. Lessons cover potion-making and survival skills, and dressing up gets bonus marks. For adults, Halifax’s recently renovated, 18th-century Piece Hall is next door to the museum.
• £12.95 (with re-entry for a year), closed Mondays except during holidays, eureka.org.uk
Butterfly Farm, Stratford-upon-Avon
Turn up the heat with a family visit to a tropical paradise at the Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm. The glasshouse is filled with 1,500 free-flying butterflies from 20 countries, plus colourful birds, exotic plants and a couple of iguanas. Kids can search for well-camouflaged caterpillars and watch butterflies hatching in the discovery zone, and discover an enormous range of insects and arachnids in the minibeast metropolis. During school holidays, there are “meet the minibeasts” handling sessions for children brave enough to hold a goliath bird-eating tarantula or a giant prickly stick insect.
• Adult £7.25, child £6.25, under-3s free, butterflyfarm.co.uk
River and Rowing Museum, Oxfordshire
This striking museum on the bank of the river in Henley-on-Thames has galleries dedicated to rowing, rivers and the artist John Piper. One of the 20,000 objects in the collection is a fascinating time capsule from 1731. This year, the museum is celebrating 80 years of the televised Boat Race. There is also a permanent Wind in the Willows exhibition, which brings Kenneth Grahame’s novel to life with 3D models, lighting and music. Craft workshops over half-term include a Wind in the Willows-themed lantern-making session (ages four to seven). Older children (seven to eleven) can join a Stormy Weather art class, creating pictures of thundery skies.
• Adult £12.50, child £9.95 (with re-entry for a year), under-4s free, rrm.co.uk
Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
England’s biggest gorge – 120 metres deep and three miles long through the limestone Mendip Hills – has two main caves to explore, Gough’s and Cox’s. Cox’s is the setting for Dreamhunters, a 30-minute multimedia show projected on to the walls of the cave, telling the story of early humans. Gough’s is the larger of the caves, with soaring chambers, secret caverns, towering spires, and stalagmites and stalactites galore. At half-term (27 October to 4 November), there is a Halloween mystery to be solved in the cave, with Dracula, Dorian Gray and Frankenstein’s Monster hiding there (not suitable for very young children). Elsewhere over the holiday period, stone age demonstrators will be showcasing prehistoric skills.
• Adult from £16.95, child £12.70, under-5s free, cheddargorge.co.uk
Horniman Museum, London
The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, south-east London, is free and family-friendly, with lots of objects that kids can pick up, try on and play with, especially at handling sessions on Saturday mornings and some Sundays. It also has an aquarium, butterfly house, natural history collection and 16 acres of gardens with views over the capital. There are regular art classes for children on Saturdays, and play sessions for under-5s on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. This half-term, crafty kids can make wildlife puppets or bat headdresses, carve and decorate pumpkins, and watch animated films inspired by autumn colours.
• Free entry, some paid-for exhibitions and activities, horniman.ac.uk
Chill Factore, Manchester
Chill Factore is a snow centre with the UK’s longest indoor ski slope (180 metres) and a nursery slope, plus lots of other wintry fun for all ages. Under-fours can play in the Mini Moose Land snow playground, while older children can tackle the Snow Park, with sledging, luging and Downhill Donuts (riding over bumps in a rubber ring). There are ski and snowboard taster sessions for infants (aged four to six) and juniors (six to ten), and two-day snow camps in the holidays, or competent skiers can just buy a lift pass and hit the slopes. This half-term, kids will be able to meet Migo and Meechee from the new film Smallfoot.
• From £7, chillfactore.com
Jodrell Bank, Cheshire
At the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, children can explore the wonders of the universe and learn about the giant Lovell telescope – there are free telescope tours over half-term. The centre hosts live science shows, too; this month’s covers the new European Mars Rover mission and the James Webb space telescope (suitable for age seven-plus). Under-sevens can go on a Journey Through the Solar System instead, while all ages will have the opportunity to get involved in AutumnFest by making a seasonal crown or weaving a cosmic web. Book ahead for stargazing evenings – the half-term event has already sold out.
• Adult £7.25, child £5.40, under-4s free, jodrellbank.net
National Space Centre, Leicester
The Space Centre has the UK’s biggest planetarium, a 42-metre rocket tower and six interactive galleries, full of satellites, meteorites and spacesuits (including the one worn by Helen Sharman when she became the first Briton in space). Over half-term, the centre is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo space mission. Children will find out how the astronauts trained, what they ate – and how they went to the toilet in space. In the craft zone, kids can build, launch and land their own Soyuz or Saturn V rocket, and make a mission patch.
• Adult £15, child £12, under-5s free, spacecentre.co.uk
Glasgow Science Centre
There are more than 300 exhibits over the three floors of the Glasgow Science Centre, including spots where children can move objects with the power of their mind, run on a sprint track and feel the force in a hurricane booth. There are lots of extra activities going on over the holidays, including a live science show about gases with spectacular demonstrations using liquid nitrogen and dry ice; a session on animal camouflage; an hour of code for budding software engineers; and workshops on forensic science and DNA.
• Adult From £10.45, child £8.60, under-3s free, glasgowsciencecentre.org
Living Rainforest, Berkshire
Run away to the rainforest – in Hampstead Norreys, near Newbury. The Living Rainforest’s three glasshouses are home to more than 650 plants and animals, including Cinnamon the two-toed sloth, Zach the pygmy marmoset (and family), and Edwin the channel-billed toucan. There are free guided rainforest tours twice a day at weekends and at half-term (20-28 October), when experts tell visitors about the resident insect-eating plants, tree-dwelling snakes and other flora and fauna. Children can also adopt an animal or go on a keeper experience, learning to feed and take care of a Goeldi’s monkey, say, or a blue poison dart frog.
• Adult £11.50, child £9.25 (with re-entry for a year), under-2s free, livingrainforest.org
Historic Dockyard, Kent
Ships, including HMS Victory, were built at the royal dockyard in Chatham for 400 years. Now it is an imposing museum over 80 acres displaying three historic warships (a Victorian ship, a second world war destroyer and a cold war submarine), a lifeboat collection, a Victorian ropery and more maritime marvels. This autumn’s temporary exhibition is Untold Stories: A Celebration of Black People in Kent, from suffragettes to sporting heroes. Children can pick up a copy of Mission Explore on arrival, which has challenges to complete, fun facts and a special map. During the half-term holiday (20-28 October), fairies will be telling stories, children can make wands and dreamcatchers and there is a demonstration of the dockyard’s steam trains.
• Adult £22, child £13, under-3s free, thedockyard.co.uk
National Trust Museum of Childhood, Derbyshire
The Museum of Childhood is housed in the servants’ wing of Sudbury Hall, a 17th-century mansion now owned by the National Trust. Children can try their hand as a chimney sweep, take a lesson in a strict Victorian classroom and play with toys through the ages, including a collection of doll’s houses. There is an interesting temporary exhibition running until 4 November, in partnership with the National Caribbean Heritage Museum. Black Dolls: The Power of Representation explores black dolls from the golliwogs of the past to the BAME Barbies of today.
• Adult £9.20, child £4.60 for museum or hall only, £16.90/£8.45 for whole property, museum open daily, hall closed until 20 October, nationaltrust.org.uk
National Wool Museum, Carmarthenshire
Wool was once big business in the Teifi valley, west Wales, and these restored mill buildings near Newcastle Emlyn weave together the threads of the story. Families can learn about the process from fleece to fabric on the Woolly Trail, watch demonstrations on the historic looms, then try their hand at carding, spinning and sewing. Young children can play in the knitted sea grotto, where creatures of the deep have been recreated in yarn form (until 31 December). On 30 October, there is a sea-themed storytelling session in the grotto, in Welsh and English. There are plenty of activities for adults, too, including speed-crafting: free taster sessions of three different textile crafts.
• Free entry, closed Sun-Mon from October to March, open every day April to September, museum.wales
Marble Arch Caves, County Fermanagh
You don’t need to go outside to explore rivers and waterfalls: they are part of the underground world at the Marble Arch Caves near Florencecourt. A tour through the seven-mile limestone cave complex – the longest in Northern Ireland – takes 75 minutes, including a 10-minute boat ride. For those who do want some fresh air, the caves are part of a wider geopark with a unique landscape of bogs, lakes and forests, perfect for walking, cycling, canoeing and fishing. On 27 October, there is a Halloween Spooctacular down in the caves: a ghoulish guided tour with ghostly goings-on … Booking (and fancy dress) essential.
• Adult £9.80, child £6.70. Closed 5 November to February 2019, otherwise open daily, marblearch cavesgeopark.com
National Motor Museum, Hampshire
This motoring mecca in Beaulieu has 285 vintage vehicles in its collection, from an 1875 steam carriage to land-speed record-breakers and modern electric bikes. There are exhibitions on Formula One and motorbikes, and a recreated 1930s garage to tinker about in. From 20 October to 3 November, the museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with props, costumes and artwork from the film, and the reconstructed car touring the grounds. The ticket includes entrance to other attractions at Beaulieu, including the Palace House & Gardens, which has craft sessions, ghost stories and face-painting over half-term (20-27 October).
• Adult from £19.50, child £9.50, under-5s free, beaulieu.co.uk
Lakes Aquarium, Cumbria
This aquarium showcases creatures from lakes around the world – starting with Windermere, right outside the door. Children can walk through an underwater tunnel, spotting native fish including arctic char. The best time to visit is 4pm, feeding time for the ducks, to watch them diving into the depths for food. Other exhibits include sharks and rays from Morecambe Bay, axolotls – a creature related to salamanders – and a pair of Asian small-clawed otters. Half-term (22-26 October) is Witches and Wizards week, when children can learn about bats, guess the animal from its skeleton and identify smells (warning: one is otter poo).
• Adult from £5.95, child £3.95, under-3s free, lakesaquarium.co.uk
Seven Stories, Newcastle
Seven Stories is Britain’s National Centre for Children’s Books, with a fantastic bookshop and a huge archive by Enid Blyton, Michael Morpurgo, Philip Pullman and other children’s writers. There are changing story-based exhibitions – a current one is Time to Get Up, an exploration of reading and routines for under-fives – and interactive tours at weekends and in school holidays. This half-term, the theme is how books can help children face their fears. Activities include fluorescent painting, a dance party with scary music and storytime in the dark. Adults can attend the Death Cafe, a place to discuss death and dying in a supportive environment.
• Adult £7.70, child £6.60, closed Mondays except during holidays, sevenstories.org.uk
Roald Dahl Museum, Buckinghamshire
The fantabulous phizz-whizzing Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden has been closed since damage caused by flash floods in May, but it reopens on 20 October, just in time for half-term. It has three hands-on galleries: Boy looks at the writer’s school days; Solo houses his original writing hut; and the Story Centre runs workshops and events. There are free drop-in craft sessions every day and free storytelling at weekends and in school holidays. Over half-term, there are some extra sessions (£3) themed around Twits’ Tricks and Matilda Magic. Over-fives can make clay critters and witch masks, create optical illusions or pick up drawing skills with the illustrator Matt Buckingham. Splendiferous!
• Adult £7, child £4.70 (with re-entry for a year), under-5s free, closed most Mondays (but open 22 Oct), roalddahl.com
Woodhorn Museum, Northumberland
In what was once the largest pit village in the world, Woodhorn, near Ashington, is now a mining museum and gallery near. Visitors can explore the site where 2,000 people mined 600,000 tonnes of coal a year, including pit buildings such as the engine house and the winding house, and learn about coal-mining life. A real highlight is the collection of artwork by the Pitman Painters. These miners started an art class in 1934, and painted scenes from above and below ground for the next 50 years. In school holidays, a daily 3pm kids’ tour tells their story. “Make and do” sessions take place at weekends and in holidays; the current one involves making a fossil out of clay.
• Adult £7, children free, closed Monday and Tuesday, museumsnorthumberland.org.uk
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
At Scotland’s national museum, children will love running in the giant hamster wheel to generate energy, taking a selfie with Dolly the sheep and saying hello to a life-sized tyrannosaurus rex (the cast of a skeleton found in Montana, USA, in 1990). They can also drive a Formula One car, race a cheetah and release a hot-air balloon. The current temporary exhibition is Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop, which covers the evolution of music from the 1950s until the present day, while during the half-term holiday (14-19 October), the focus is on Our Green Future. Activities centre around wildlife conservation, renewable energy and recycling – educational and inspiring but fun, too.
• Free entry, nms.ac.uk
These are adapted extracts from Maps of the United Kingdom, written by Rachel Dixon and illustrated by Livi Gosling (Wide Eyed Editions, £17.99), which contains more than 1,000 family-friendly highlights around the UK. To order a copy for £14.99, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846
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