A family holiday in England can be almost anything you want it to be – even beautifully warm and sunny, if you’re lucky.
Coast after coast of beaches cover every angle of seaside entertainment, from wild surfing to traditional paddling-and-sandcastles fun.
Some of the most spectacular countryside in Europe is contained in English national parks.
There are cities packed with museums and galleries; towns where history is part of everyday life; cute villages with sinister tales to tell.
And the length and breadth of the country is criss-crossed by road, rail, river and sea networks, so nothing’s more than a few hours’ travel, lots of the best stuff is free and almost everywhere deserves more than a quick visit.
The country has just over 300,000km of roads, running around even the wildest spaces.
Five of England’s top 10 attractions are public museums, and they’re all free.
Of the hundreds of beaches ringing the coastline, dozens have Blue Flags, and many are trimmed with the country’s prettiest towns.
From camping to glamping, treehouses to venerable London hotels, heritage guesthouses, stately homes and country cottages, England has one of the widest choices of family-holiday accommodation in Europe.
England has Britain’s three largest cities: London, Birmingham and Manchester.
There are more than 100 islands scattered around England, not counting the Scilly Isles and the mysterious Lake District islets.
Seventeen of the UK’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in England, including Stonehenge, the City of Bath and Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.
Where to go
A rich hub of history and culture, London is perfect for a family day out, a long weekend or even a holiday.
• London’s museums, including the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are among best museums in the world and mostly free to enter.
• From hot roasted almonds on street stalls to five-star Michelin tasting menus, London has gastronomic offerings to suit every taste and budget.
• Accommodation ranges from quirky and affordable Airbnbs to luxury penthouse suites.
• When you’d like a break from the buzz of the city, there are plentiful train and bus connections to the green countryside and quaint English villages.
This is the part of the country to visit for huge dramatic landscapes, wild moors, mighty fells, historic villages and grand – but down-to-earth – cities like Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and Liverpool.
Visit the Yorkshire Coast for tales of Dracula in Whitby, Robin Hood Bay’s spectacular cliffs and cheerful Scarborough.
The north of England is home to five national parks: the Lake District, the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District and Northumberland.
Catch a ferry in Liverpool and sail to the Isle of Man in less than two hours for tail-less cats, ancient castles and coasteering.
Manchester is one of England’s great 19th-century industrial cities, restored to 21st-century brilliance, and the place you’ll find more canals than Venice – they’re easier to play on, too.
The outdoorsy north of England is good for self-catering in seaside towns and the countryside, aparthotels in cities and hundreds of national park places to stay.
Birmingham and central England
The heart of England is where you’ll find big, bright Birmingham and Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s also the land of ancient Cambridge and magical sailing holidays on the Norfolk Broads and the enchanting Suffolk Coast.
Birmingham Museum has an under-fives’ gallery, while older kids will like Drayton Manor for ridiculous rides, Cadbury World and the extraordinary British Motor Museum.
Great Yarmouth is brilliant for enormous sands, funfairs and award-winning fish’n’chips.
The Royal Shakespeare Company introduces kids as young as five to the theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Find family apartments in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, B&Bs on the beach and heritage hotels in Shakespeare country.
The south of England
From resort towns and bustling coastal cities to fabulous forests, white-knuckle theme parks and world-class zoos, the south of England has lots going on above and beyond London.
Southampton and Portsmouth are seafaring England at its most ancient and enthralling.
Find huge stretches of sand at sunny Bournemouth, royal seaside traditions in Brighton and pretty harbour towns like Poole.
Enjoy woodland adventuring in the New Forest, tour back in time round the Cotswolds and set the kids free on the South Downs.
Beachy hotels, B&Bs and cosy seafront guesthouses are great options on the south coast. And forest chalets or eco-lodges are fun for family stays in the country.
Bristol and south-west England
Bustling Bristol is loved for kids’ festivals, spectacular sights like the Clifton Suspension Bridge and masses of green space that’s free to enjoy. Further south, the Dorset Coast is fossil-central, and Cornwall and Devon are strong contenders for England’s list of best family holidays ever.
North Somerset is home to colourful and exciting Weston-super-Mare.
Bath is good for Roman history, stately homes, and caving in nearby Cheddar Gorge.
Cornwall is where England keeps its wildest and loveliest seaside.
Devon’s well-marked family walks and cycle routes are fantastic for outdoorsy families.
One of the best areas for high-quality campsites, mobile homes and caravan parks.
In the south-east, Kent is known as the Garden of England for good reason, and the captivating coast features marvels such as the White Cliffs of Dover.
Dreamland funpark and the award-winning Turner Contemporary art gallery are by the sea in Margate.
The Kent Downs are one of England’s outstanding areas of natural beauty, and stretch from Maidstone to Dover’s chalky headland.
The Isle of Sheppey is sometimes called Kent’s Treasure Island, and its marshes, beaches and nature reserves are spellbinding.
Value family hotels and guesthouses, excellent coastal camping and interesting heritage self-catering are just a few south-east accommodation options.
What to do
The world’s most famous prehistoric stone circle is astonishing, and the excellent visitor centre makes up for the ‘look but don’t touch’ policy.
Lake District National Park, Cumbria
England’s biggest national park also contains the country’s highest peak, Scafell Pike, and its largest natural lake, Windermere.
Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
Live in a log cabin and cycle, walk, hike and run in the footsteps of Robin Hood.
Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
Kids can go caving into the depths of this natural wonder and get a certificate for their efforts.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Lancashire
England’s original seaside resort still has one of the most thrilling pleasure beaches.
New Forest Water Park, Fordingbridge
The UK’s biggest outdoor waterpark boasts breathtaking rides and outstanding camping facilities.
National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth
The largest aquarium in the UK (and the one where kids can sleep with sharks!).
Museum of Liverpool
The history of the city in one astounding new museum – free kids’ events all summer.
Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, Macclesfield
The space observatory, with its array of gigantic telescopes, has one of the best kids’ science centres in England.
Thorpe Park, Kent
White-knuckle theme park and all-round remarkable family resort – all on an island in Surrey.
Educational value for kids
Discover the Ancient Roman Empire in England, from Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland to the Roman Baths in – where else? – Bath.
You can do anything from sailing to rock-climbing in the Lake District year-round the help of local experts.
Holiday homes for budding astronomers surround Kielder Observatory, just 40 minutes’ drive from Newcastle.
From Heage Windmill in Derbyshire (the only working six-sailed windmill in the UK) to Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, Portsmouth Docks and the Severn Steam Railway, England’s busy past is fun to find out about all over the country.
The National Trust has hundreds of English properties, with innovative kids’ events and activities year-round.
The UK has over 3 million hectares of forest and the Woodland Trust is keen to teach families how to love every one of them.
From Beatrix Potter in the Lake District to Jane Austen in Winchester and Roald Dahl in Buckinghamshire, England is an outstanding place to hear storyteller’s tales.
Getting around with kids in England
England’s extensive road network makes driving almost anywhere possible. Motorways are easy to avoid if you want a more leisurely pace, or you can hand the driving over to someone else altogether and take the train. Public transport in towns and cities is the best way to get around day and night.