10 hidden gems: Family fun in Yorkshire
Although we live right at the bottom of England in Brighton, we visit Yorkshire, some five hours away by car, several times every year. We love short walks on the Moors when the weather is fine and exploring the historic city of York, but we always make a point of trying a new activity every time we visit.
Below you’ll find some of what I think are the hidden gems of Yorkshire. Several of them we’ve visited, and the rest are on our list!
The Forbidden Corner won a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2015, and if you want the kids to get some fresh air when you’re in Yorkshire, this place takes some beating. A four-acre garden in Tupgill Park in the Yorkshire Dales, it’s a labyrinth of tunnels, hidden chambers, follies and extraordinary monuments are perfect for running around and exploring. The entrance is through a mouth set in a tower and so you have to climb through the teeth, giving you an idea of their brilliant sense of humour at work.
Let’s be honest, when you go to the zoo, what’s always the most popular attraction? It’s not the lions or the elephants or even the creepy-crawlies. It’s always the meerkats. With the VIP experience at the Tropical Butterfly Museum in Sheffield, kids aged 8 and over can go inside the meerkat enclosure, feed treats to the cuddly little critters, and may even get climbed on if they’re very lucky.
Although the actual historical connection with Robin Hood is sketchy at best, this bay in Whitby is fantastic for families. You can go goblin hunting in Boggle Hole, and at low tide it’s perfect for rock pooling and searching for fossils. There are plenty of places to eat and naturally, lots of kid-friendly walks in the area.
If your family is anything like ours, then taking the kids to either a traditional museum or an art gallery rarely goes well. Our five year-old has the attention span of a goldfish when it comes to galleries, and usually makes a break for the gift shop at the first opportunity. That’s why the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a refreshing alternative. Some 60 works of art are set amid 500 acres of green parkland, where parents can admire sculptures while the kids run around freely. Plus, these are artworks that they’re actually encouraged to touch and interact with, such as the musical sculpture. There’s also picnic areas and baby-changing facilities.
A great way to relax, dip into Yorkshire history and entertain the kids is to have lunch on the Pullman Dining Train drawn by a vintage steam locomotive with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Sink back into luxurious carriages, enjoy a delicious meal served by the on-board staff, and watch the scenery drift by. I suggest bringing a couple of activity books though in case the kids get a little bored of looking out the window!
A theme park built around diggers? We’re there! My son loves diggers - all kids do, don’t they? - and he adored the day we spent at Yorkshire Diggerland. There’s stacks of fun activities here, from learning how to operate mini diggers to watching the big ones in action, go-karting, mini Land Rovers and not forgetting Spindizzy, which is among the most exhilarating kids’ rides I’ve ever been on - don’t do it right after lunch! Pokemon Go fans take note: There’s supposed to be a Mewtwo somewhere.
Zoos in York are a must for animal-lovers but one of our favourites has to be Yorkshire Wildlife Park. We visited this park outside Doncaster last year, just on the spur of the moment as we drove back from York, and we’d love to go back. It’s a very spacious and scenic walk-through park, and the animals range from tigers to camels to the ubiquitous meerkats and even a polar bear. Yorkshire Wildlife Park has a great conservation programme, the enclosures were large, and the animals looked healthy and happy. It’s a good learning experience of course, and a place that I think is well worth supporting.
Along with diggers, Transformers and rollercoasters, my son loves dinosaurs. In fact, he can identify far more than I can, whether they be Brachiosaurus or Spinosaurus. The next time we’re Yorkshire-bound we intend to visit Dinostar in Hull, which is the county’s only dinosaur exhibit, and what a great one it is! They have a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull, and Triceratops bones that kids can actually touch, as well as a fossil shop so you can take a bit of dino home with you too.
The Deep is also based in Hull, so you could quite easily visit here and then Dinostar if you’re so inclined. This is a truly epic aquarium in a stunning building. It’s part of the regeneration of Hull and has a strong conservation focus, winning multiple awards. Here you’ll find penguins, rays and of course sharks, and many other marine creatures. If your child is really passionate about this kind of thing, they can take part in Junior Deep Experiences where they get to help clean a tank, take part in a slime workshop, handle cockroaches (yuk!) and go behind the scenes of the turtle exhibit.
There are two reasons I love Magna, in Rotherham. Firstly, the best way to get kids interested in the fascinating world of science is through fun and engaging experiments, of which there are many at Magna, from making cables glow red hot to creating patterns with air and learning how sound is made. Secondly, this gigantic science centre has regenerated the old Templeborough steelworks, breathing new life into an incredible facility. There are four pavilions focusing on Air, Water, Fire and Earth, the elements needed to make steel, and I guarantee there is something here that will captivate your child’s imagination.