Steam trains, shipwrecks and Peter Pan’s garden: 10 great UK family days out for half-term and autumn

Exploring ice tunnels, apple pressing and dolphin spotting are just a few of our ideas to keep kids happy

Ride the Flying Scotsman, Dorset

The famous engine will be 100 years old next February, and to kick off celebrations marking its centenary, the locomotive will be steaming up and down the heritage Swanage Railway during half-term.

The public will be able to book tickets to ride behind the Flying Scotsman in a rare Pullman observation car, which operated with the Flying Scotsman in the US during the late 1960s and early 70s, with breakfast, afternoon tea or champagne options. Young train nerds may prefer a chance to stand on the footplate while the locomotive is on static display in Swanage station, on 20 and 21 October (and 27 Oct-6 Nov).
Viewing from £10, return journey from £39, free for under-5s not occupying a seat, swanagerailway.co.uk

Play in Peter Pan’s garden, Dumfries

Moat Brae, Dumfries, Scotland

During his school years, author J M Barrie often played in the garden at Moat Brae, an elegant Dumfries townhouse. Those visits, he later claimed, founded “the genesis of that nefarious work” Peter Pan. Saved from demolition in 2009, the building was bought and restored by the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust, opening as a visitor attraction and the National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling in 2019. Information is playfully revealed and younger visitors can chase illuminated fairy dust around an attic bedroom, or perform their own plays with costumes, before running amok in a pirate-themed adventure playground.
Adult £8, child £6, family (2 + 3) £20, moatbrae.org

Celebrate the ‘real’ Halloween, Hampshire

Pagan woman at Butser Farm

Halloween is a highlight of the autumn for most children, but few know it has its roots in Samhain. Celebrated over the same dates, this fire-focused Celtic festival marked the start of the darker half of the year and feasts were arranged to welcome spirits, fairies and deadly souls. Over half-term, Hampshire’s living history museum, Butser Ancient Farm, is running a Samhain-themed children’s trail around its ancient buildings, and free craft activities. On certain dates there’s also the chance to meet a band of Vikings or join a Roman legion.
Adult £10.50, child £6.50, family (2 + 2) £27.50, butserancientfarm.co.uk

Wildlife spotting near Cardigan

Teifi Marshes

This dappled green corner of Wales looks even more spectacular in autumn, when the woodland and waterside trails around it turn bronze, yellow and gold. A mile or so from Cardigan, linked by a riverside footpath, the centre overlooks the Teifi Marshes nature reserve. Rutting red deer, kingfishers and otters are among the autumn wildlife highlights but the centre is also home to an adventure playground and a brilliant little cafe that serves homemade cakes and bowls of warming chickpea and spinach curry.

This half-term, children can also sign up for clay modelling workshops, mini-beast hunts, family nature walks or a Halloween quiz trail around the reserve.
Entrance free, events £3-£4 per child, welshwildlife.org

Visit ‘the grandparent of skyscrapers’, Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings

Erected in 1797 but reopened just last month following a major restoration, the Grade I-listed main building at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings was the world’s first multistorey, cast-iron-framed building. It is often dubbed the grandparent of the skyscraper, and its place in industrial history is imaginatively told via an interactive, family-friendly exhibition. There is a programme of free half-term children’s activities and a vegan-friendly cafe on site.

Make a day of it by heading afterwards to Harlescott, 10 minutes’ drive north, for a children’s session (from £15 a head) on the indoor walls at the excellent Climbing Hut.
Adult £7.50, child £5 but free during half-term, family (2 + 3) £23, shrewsburyflaxmillmaltings.org.uk

‘The world’s first children’s country house’, Derbyshire

Kitchen at Sudbury Hall Children’s Country House

Opening on Saturday, just in time for half-term, this pioneering project sees the National Trust’s Sudbury Hall and Museum of Childhood transformed into the world’s first children’s country house.

The entire visitor experience at this south Derbyshire stately home has been designed with, and for, children. Young visitors will find themselves encouraged to dance in the saloon and lie down in the Long Gallery to spot grasshoppers, unicorns, boars and dragons in the plasterwork ceiling, while half-term craft activities include leaf lantern-making.
Free entry for members, or from £22 adult, £11 child, £55 family (2 + 3), booking essential, nationaltrust.org.uk

Tales of shipwrecks and treasure, Cornwall

Shipwreck Centre in Cornwall

From the only intact barrel of coins ever recovered from a shipwreck to the necklace worn by Kate Winslet in the film Titanic, there’s a huge amount to dive into at this new museum on Cornwall’s south coast.

Displays cover a timber-shivering mix of science, history and adventure. A particular highlight is the Shackleton Experience, which takes visitors into icy tunnels below the museum to get an immersive sense of life as an early polar explorer.

From 22 to 30 October, visitors can explore the exhibits by lantern light along a special Halloween trail.
Adult £12.50, over-5s £8, shipwreckcharlestown.co.uk

Discover ancient Egypt, Norwich

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at University of East Anglia

Egyptomania is set to be a hot topic this autumn, with the imminent – and much delayed – opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, on the edge of Cairo.

Closer to home, the Sainsbury Centre’s new Visions of Ancient Egypt exhibition explores how legendary figures such as Tutankhamun and Cleopatra have influenced the cultural imagination over the past few centuries.

Children can borrow art materials to create their own takes on the displays or sign up for themed creative workshops throughout the autumn (donations requested). To burn off steam afterwards, pick up a pocket map of the sculpture park (free entry) and head outside.
Free for members, otherwise £14 adult, £7 child, sainsburycentre.ac.uk

Food for thought, Suffolk

Museum of Food, Stowmarket

There was some surprise in April, when the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket was rebranded as the Food Museum. But when you browse the 40,000 objects in its collection the shift makes sense: from wartime recipe cards to corn dollies that were traditionally ploughed into soil in the hope of a good harvest, most exhibits are related to food in some way.

Set on a working farm with sheep, pigs, horses and chickens, the museum also hosts workshops and exhibitions. Highlights over half-term include the chance to try pressing apples into juice and an orchard-themed stop-motion animation workshop.
Adult £12, child £8, family £35 (2 + 3) £35, valid for 12 months; extra for workshops and events, foodmuseum.org.uk

Dolphin watching, Aberdeen

Greyhope Bay Centre, Aberdeen

Torry Battery, overlooking Aberdeen harbour, is one of the best places in Europe to spot bottlenose dolphins, with a resident population that can be sighted all year. Helping visitors find and interpret local wildlife, the new, off-grid Greyhope Bay Centre is a community facility that hosts beach cleans, rock-pooling sessions and zero-waste crafting workshops.

Head out for a walk around the remains of the 19th-century battery itself (built in 1860 as a training ground and barracks), then stop at the centre’s cafe to spot dolphins through floor-to-ceiling glass windows over a mascarpone, pear and honey cruffin or some blackberry and banana-topped porridge.
General admission free, pre-bookable workshops around £5 adults and £3 children, greyhopebay.com

Contributor

Rhiannon Batten

The GuardianTramp

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