Wildlife, adventure and heritage: things to do with the kids around Bristol and the surrounding area
Set in the rolling countryside of Wiltshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire, here’s our pick of family attractions and places to go in school holidays and for weekend day trips
This cross between a safari park and a zoo farm is a conservation project set up by Bristol Zoological Society, which also runs Bristol Zoo. Visitors can get hands-on with animals and insects during a daily programme of activities, and learn about the impact of humans on important habitats.
Highlights include walking through the lemur enclosure, getting dirt between your toes on the barefoot walk, and wandering through the Wolf Wood. You can also stay overnight in a lodge at Camp Baboon and have breakfast with the giraffes.
This new museum showcases more than 100 years of flight history – from the early days, through two world wars and on to the height of luxury passenger travel. There are dozens of exhibits and interactive exhibitions, giving families an insight into the engineering and people behind some of the remarkable aircraft on display.
The highlight of any visit to Aerospace Bristol has to be stepping onboard the supersonic passenger jet Concorde Alpha Foxtrot – the last to fly before the aircraft was decommissioned.
This treasure trove of history is a free attraction with plenty to fill a family day out. It has an activity trail, a dressing-up room and an extensive toy collection with pieces that parents and grandparents will recognise from their childhoods.
Other exhibits worth a look include the Victorian classroom, the costume collection and the Bristol at Home galleries where there’s a collection of household objects used in people’s homes during the past 300 years. Pack a picnic or visit the on-site café, and finish up your visit with a walk through the surrounding parkland, where you can also see Blaise Castle.
Forestry Commission Westonbirt Arboretum
Kids can turn detective at Westonbirt and test their sleuth skills by completing a free ‘I Spy’ activity sheet. Along the way they’ll discover different natural play zones hidden among 2,500 different species that make up the 15,000 labelled trees at the National Arboretum.
There’s also a trail for younger children featuring some much-loved characters from The Gruffalo. For older kids there are orienteering courses. Visit during the school holidays for even more family activities and crafts.
For an adventurous day out, try a spot of climbing and caving at Cheddar Gorge. From instructor-led rock climbing for beginners, to free falling into the Black Cat Chamber (minimum age 8), there’s plenty of scope to keep thrill seekers entertained.
If a cave tour is more your style then Cheddar Gorge’s 500,000-year-old Gough's Cave can be explored with an audio guide telling the story of its creation, the people who lived there and how it was rediscovered in the late 19th Century. Kids’ audio guides are also available.
Young farm enthusiasts will enjoy meeting the animals at Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park. Throughout the day there are opportunities to handle, groom and learn about the traditional farmyard friends and more exotic wildlife like wallabies, reindeer and pygmy goats.
Alongside the animals there are outdoor adventure playgrounds, a riverside trail, a model railway and tractor rides. Even on a wet day there’s lots to keep young kids going, with an indoor giant soft play area and toddler village.
Grab your bikes or walking boots and set off on an outdoor adventure along the Strawberry Line. This traffic-free path through Somerset follows the former Cheddar Valley Railway and was designed to create a safe route for cyclists, walkers and runners to explore the Mendips and Somerset Levels.
Many sections of the 30-mile path are still under construction, with the main part open between Cheddar and Yatton. This 10-mile stretch passes through wetlands with abundant wildlife, apple orchards and rolling hills, giving you a taste of the Somerset countryside.
A day of myth and mystery awaits those brave enough to go in search of the Witch of Wookey Hole. The caves in the Mendip Hills have a history going back more than 50,000 years and were used over the millennia by animals, prehistoric man and even, according to folklore, a witch.
Discover the secrets of the illuminated grottos, catch a show in the 4D cinema, learn about the cave’s history in the museum, and let the kids loose in the Wizard’s Play Castle. Meet the witch herself in school holidays. You can also stroll through the Valley of the Dinosaurs, featuring 20 of the life-size lizards.
From its 17th-century mansion to its 270-acre parklands, there’s a full day of activities for families at Dyrham Park. Feeling energetic? Take a tour of the ancient deer park, which is home to almost 200 fallow deer. Visit in October to see the annual deer rut, when male bucks strut their stuff to impress the ladies.
Explore the gardens and tick off some of the National Trust’s ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ or let the kids tackle the natural play area in the woods. There are also wooden sculptures concealed around the park. How many will you spot?
This former 18th-century windmill offers unrivalled views of Clifton Suspension Bridge and the surrounding countryside. This can all be seen through the camera obscura – a clever 19th-century device that projects the outside vista on to a large domed surface inside the observatory. To soak up the scene with your own eyes, stop for a bite to eat in the new café on the terrace.
Families with kids over the age of four can also explore the Giant’s Cave. In the 1830s a tunnel was built from the Observatory to the cliffs to create easy access to the cave. There are 136 steps taking you down to a viewing platform in the cliffside of Avon Gorge, offering another great vantage point from which to see the bridge and city beyond.
Halfway between Bristol and Bath on the Bristol and Bath Railway Path is the Avon Valley Railway at Bitton Station. Running heritage steam and diesel trains, it covers three miles between Oldland and Avon Riverside near Saltford, and a family ticket costs £23.50 for unlimited steam train trips during one day.
Special events are also held throughout the year, including Santa Specials, dining trains, a beer festival, and a Lego weekend in June.
You may recognise Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean from Dr Who, Merlin and Tree Fu Tom. As well as exploring the forest’s magical twisting paths, you can try two mazes, visit animals including goats, donkeys and cows, and enjoy the outside playground.
It’s open from 10am to 4pm on weekends and Wednesdays only, from mid February to Christmas Eve. The journey from central Bristol takes around 45 minutes and a family entrance ticket costs £25. It’s not suitable for pushchairs.
Set in over 60 acres of parkland towards Thornbury, Old Down Country Park is around 20 minutes from Bristol city centre. The petting zoo includes miniature pigs, rabbits and ducklings, and you can visit the larger animals – alpacas, goats, donkeys and more – in the animal park, as well as the free-roaming peacock.
There’s also a great playground, with a giant jumping pillow, zip wires, and climbing frames, plus the house gardens and woods to explore, and a cafe in the Shepherds Hut. A family ticket costs £25.
The National Trust owns the Tyntesfield Victorian house and its gardens, with plenty to explore. In the old farmyard there’s a small farm play area, then you can walk through the grounds to the house, or further on to the Pavilion cafe with a wooden playground.
It’s under 20 minutes from the city centre, and a family day ticket costs £26.50 for the gardens – or £43 if you want go inside the house too – including a Gift Aid donation.
The journey from central Bristol takes nearly an hour but if you’re prepared for a drive to the Somerset coast, Brean Leisure Park is great for summertime family fun. The theme park has rides for all ages from gentle roundabouts to big roller coasters and log flumes, plus there’s a crazy golf course and live Sooty puppet shows.
Entrance is free and each ride costs £1-3, or you can buy an all-access wristband for £25 for teens and adults and £15 for younger kids.
Main image: National Trust Images, Arnhel de Serra
These day out suggestions are from Claire Hall, who blogs about her family's travels and adventures at Tin Box Traveller.