Family Vacations to the United Kingdom

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United Kingdom – Family Vacation Guide

From world-class cities to sandy coves, and lush countryside to meandering canals, the United Kingdom makes for beautiful family vacations. Often, American families looking to travel abroad will start with a visit to England, where history and language unite us, making it easier on families nervous to travel aboard with kids. London, in fact, is one of the most visited cities in the world, and rightfully so with its historical sites, museums, attractions, bustling theater district, sporting events, and shopping.

London’s subway, the Underground, also makes it very easy for families to get outside of the city to visit other wonderful destinations, such as Oxford, where the esteemed university and quaint town make for a relaxing day trip, and just a boat ride up the river Thames awaits Greenwich, home of the International Date Line and the Royal Naval College, with museum and fun photo ops. An easy drive to the south awaits the iconic Stonehenge, and just beyond are the seaside towns of Brighton, with its pebbled beaches, and Portsmouth, where Admiral Nelson and Henry the VIII’s ships are available for tour. Of course, the English and Welsh countrysides are famed from literature; drive through the Lake District and discover its calming allure.

Scotland also provides a scenic backdrop for road trips, although the capital city of Edinburgh is enough to please families who don’t want to drive but want to immerse themselves in Scottish history and charm. Many families from America visit the country on kinsmen trips, aiming to learn more about their own Scottish heritage, as they also do in Northern Ireland, with its vastly green countryside and thriving city of Belfast. (Note: Ireland, where Dublin, Cork, Galway, Ring of Kerry and other popular destinations is not a part of the United Kingdom and its own country.)

The United Kingdom is also easy to get to from the states, with direct flights offered between most major cities, and from New York City short a trans-Atlantic flight. Read on to discover more great reasons to visit the U.K.

Why Go

  • Exciting Days Out

    The United Kingdom has more than 50 theme parks, countless museums and castles, a thriving theater and arts scene, and a host of activities for all ages.

  • Cultural Attractions

    The United Kingdom’s public museums and art galleries are free and often have inventive kids’ programs, giveaway goodie bags and excellent guides.

  • National Parks

    There are 15 National Parks across the United Kingdom, including Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, the Lake District and Snowdonia in Wales.

  • Family Festivals

    From Latitude in Suffolk to the New Forest’s Curious Arts, there are dozens of family-friendly summer festivals all over the country to add to your visit. Explore the cities, and then head out to the festivals and meet the locals.

  • Beaches

    Although not the warm beaches of Florida or the Caribbean, the United Kingdom offers more than 60 coastal areas, from the remote Outer Hebrides to the tip of Cornwall, with thousands of incredible, unspoiled beaches.

  • The National Trust

    You can visit more than 400 National Trust properties throughout the United Kingdom, and many parks, gardens and forests are free to explore.

Where to Go


Many of England’s most famous attractions are in London, but the capital is far from the only place to discover. The south coast is trimmed with pretty seaside towns, dramatic ports and enormous stretches of sand to run wild on. In the countryside, mythical forests like Dean and Sherwood are made real for kids. From the Yorkshire Dales to the Lake District, moors, mountains and sky collide in vast landscapes just waiting to be explored. The country’s chocolate-box villages and Victorian pleasure piers are just as much fun, in their own way, as dozens of theme parks, waterparks and world-class zoos the country offers.

Families can camp, glamp and eco-lodge in National Parks, choose five-star luxury or good-value self-catering in cities, and enjoy everything from cozy cottages to stately homes, guesthouses, gorgeous hotels and cute B&Bs on the coast and in the country.

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Sightings of the Aurora Borealis can be as spectacular on tiny Fair Isle as in the remote north of Sweden. That’s Scotland for you. The land of unsung marvels also has some of the world’s oldest, most bloodthirsty and romantic castles. Cities with personality are a national speciality – much as they like to compete, you can’t compare Edinburgh and Glasgow, so you have to do both. And then, of course, there are all the accessible wildernesses, enormous glens and mountains, lochs that cross regions and islands so remote, the next stop is Newfoundland.

Whether you want Edinburgh’s Waldorf Astoria or an energy-efficient chalet on Skye, Scotland offers as many family accommodation choices as experiences.

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Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway alone is enough to put Northern Ireland on the family-holiday wishlist. Add in friendly, exuberant and exciting Belfast, beautiful walled Derry and the enchanting Mountains of Mourne and you could fill several lifetimes with enchantment and still leave plenty unseen. So, if you haven’t discovered Northern Ireland’s all-drama coastline, gorgeous green wilds and entertainment-packed towns and cities yet, you should.

The country does exquisite hotels to family-friendly hostels and everything in between. Each area is different, but a warm Irish welcome is standard.

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Wales never fails to surprise. The country has some of the UK’s prettiest seaside resorts and astonishing beaches. It’s also home to the dark skies over the Brecon Beacons – stargazing holidays with kids are unforgettable. Snowdonia National Park is like a small, action-packed nation in its own right. And from Cardiff to Swansea, Welsh cities are just the right size to be fascinating and comfortable for kids at the same time.

Manageable Wales is great for touring, and staying anywhere from hill farms in the wilds to holiday homes on the coast and five-star city-centre hotels is possible here.

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Educational Value

  • The UK has 30 UNESCO World Heritage sites, which puts it in Europe’s top five countries.
  • There are kids’ activities year-round at National Trust properties.
  • Most British museums and galleries have kids’ event programs.



  • The Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust have hundreds of visitor education centers.
  • Britain’s railways travel cities, countryside and coast and almost any journey is fun and some are just astonishing: Glenfinnan in Scotland.
  • Rent bikes and explore amazing places like Forest of Dean and the New Forest.
  • Find sea legs and skills on boats everywhere from the Norfolk Broads to the Isle of Wight.

What to Do

The United Kingdom is teeming with enchanting, educational and fun places for families to explore.

  • Chester Zoo, Chester
    Voted the UK’s best zoo time and time again, this is a trip round the world of wildlife for kids.
  • British Museum, London
    The most popular attraction in the country is free, and the collection of more than eight million objects, spanning the history of the world’s cultures, from stone-age tools to 20th-century prints, is mesmerizing for young visitors.
  • Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
    A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most visited National Trust properties, this is as much about mystery and legend as extraordinary geology.
  • Jurassic Coast, Dorset
    The fossil-strewn coastline, almost as famous for movie appearances as ammonites, is one to walk along, linger over and love with your kids.
  • Caernarfon Castle, Snowdonia
    Wales is one of Europe’s smallest countries but not shy when it comes to mighty castles, towering Caernarfon beats them all.
  • Royal Greenwich, London
    The spot where time is measured, the National Maritime Museum is found, and the Cutty Sark is moored. Sail down the Thames from central London to arrive like ancient kings and queens.
  • Brecon Beacons, South Wales
    One of the UK’s most thrilling national parks for kids, this wildly magical place is a holiday in itself.
  • Edinburgh Castle
    The towering icon that defines Edinburgh’s breathtaking Old Town is just one unmissable sight in Scotland’s capital.
  • Eden Project
    Apart from the marvelous beaches and cuter-than-cute towns, this biosphere is one of the best reasons to visit Cornwall.
  • National Museum of Scotland
    If you can tear your kids away from the ghostly closes and haunting tales on the Royal Mile, this museum is worth the effort.

Getting Around

The perfect size for travelling around, the United Kingdom has an excellent road network and car ferries connect the mainland to the most isolated islands.

Trains cover most of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

And buses, underground trams, boats and taxis get you everywhere you want to go in most British cities.

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