Rainy days out: What to do with kids in the great British weather
If there’s one thing you can guarantee in the UK, it’s that you can’t guarantee the weather. For every glorious sunny autumn day, there’s another drizzly stretch, even in the middle of summer.
But whether you’re trying to wile away a wet Wednesday or frantically looking for alternatives to that planned day at the beach, the UK does family-friendly attractions for rainy days very well too. Luckily.
A museum is the obvious choice for bad weather, and more interactive exhibits and activities mean they’re often a lot of fun. But it’s hard to beat Eureka: The National Children’s Museum for younger kids.
Focused on ages 0 to 11, it’s totally hands-on, with six areas appealing to different age groups, from playing pretend at real life or discovering more about the human body. If your kids love pressing buttons and experimenting, it’s almost impossible to go wrong here.
The fascinating underwater world will make you glad for every drop of water – and the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth is not only the largest aquarium (its deepest tank holds 2.5 million litres of water), it’s one of the best aquariums in the UK. Voyage from Plymouth Sound through the Atlantic to the Great Barrier Reef, without getting so much as a toe wet as you spot jellyfish, sand tiger sharks and Europe’s only whitespotted eagle rays in Europe. There are sessions aimed at toddlers and children with autism.
3. Oxygen Freejumping
If you’ve been relying on burning off some energy outside, bad weather needn’t equal restlessness. Oxygen Freejumping has sessions for under-fives as well as Family Bounce for any age, while older children will love freejumping: an hour discovering an obstacle course, foam pit, dodge ball, runway and airbag across 150 connected trampolines. All of the six different locations around the country have viewing galleries with a café and superfast wifi, if you’d rather stick to caffeine and waving.
4. GameCity & The National Video Game Arcade, Nottingham
If you’re sick of asking your kids to put down their devices, this is the perfect compromise. A cross between a museum and a huge arcade, it’s a collection of video games set over three floors. Along with an area dedicated to Minecraft, you can tailor the characters and soundtrack of your own game, trace the development of video games, discover how good you still are at Tetris and Donkey Kong and play games before they’ve been released.
You can still discover the great outdoors when it’s pouring – tucked cosily inside the biomes at the Eden Project in Cornwall. The two main biomes focus on the rainforest and Mediterranean climates, so after the short walk from the entrance, you’ll be shedding layers and dreaming of the Amazon or Greek islands almost instantly. The Mediterranean biome has storytelling for younger kids, a children’s discovery trail and regular school holiday exhibits and events along with the exotic plants.
Who cares about rain when you’ve got snow? Chill Factore is home to the UK’s longest indoor ski slope, with lessons for children aged three and above. If you’d prefer snowy fun to snowplough practice, the arctic adventure playground is designed for under-fours, while the Snow Park has snow luge and sledging. Older adventure seekers will love Snowscoot, which mixes snowboarding and BMX Biking, or Airboarding, a.k.a. body-boarding on snow. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, there’s also pizza, sandwiches and Nandos on site.
Deep in the caves at Cheddar, the site where Britain’s oldest skeleton was unearthed, you’ll forget the outside world entirely. Younger kids will love the children’s audio guides as you spot stalactites or try cave painting in the museum of prehistory. Older ones can get more adrenaline-fuelled thrills with adventure caving. And everyone’s jaw will drop at the Dreamhunters at Cox’s Cave multimedia experience for a taste of what life with mammoths was really like. There’s also a Costa Coffee for some entirely 21st century cake.
Built to transport coal to the riverside, the Victoria Tunnel lies deep beneath Newcastle’s city streets. But this journey also takes you from Roman Britain as you walk under Hadrian’s Wall to its air raid status during the Second World War. Experience life in a Victorian wagonway before sheltering from a bombing raid on replica wooden beds as you listen out for planes. The regular two-hour tours are for ages 7 and up, with one-hour tours for younger kids during school holidays.
9. Escape room, nationwide
Escape or puzzle rooms have become hugely popular over the last few years, and some are just as good with kids as you pit your wits against the clock. Puzzles range from Egyptian and spy themes to pirates, Sherlock Holmes and Batman. Escape Rooms Scotland is recommended for kids aged 10, while Escape Rooms Cardiff and The Escape Room group are both open to under-12s but recommended for teens and up. Guaranteed to make you forget the weather.
10. The 3D Planetarium, Bristol
Not even the heaviest clouds can obscure the night skies at the UK’s only 3D Planetarium, part of the At-Bristol Science centre. Miniature astronomers can look inside a nebula, fly through Saturn’s rings and see Earth as an astronaut would, all in the highest of high definition. Or how about hunting for aliens, exploring Mars along with some more practical star-spotting tips. The 3D experience isn’t recommended for under-6s, but the planetarium has a separate 2D show for them on training to be a Space Explorer.