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Top Ten Family-Friendly Historic Houses

by Abigail Flanagan (February 2013)

Take the kids to a historic house? Are we insane? Far from it, for while there may well be stuffy stately homes where children are as welcome as the plague, a new breed of enlightened custodians are doing everything they can to entice families to visit. The best serve up a magical recipe of hands-on historical entertainment, along with a good dollop of chances for kids to run wild - albeit usually outside, away from the antiques. (Progressive these owners may be - daft they are not.) So, for a family day out guaranteed to both educate and entertain, just read on. By Abigail Flanagan


Showing below are all 9 records in "Top Ten Family-Friendly Historic Houses"

Hampton Court Palace

East Molesey

Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, London

An oldie but a goldie: even truculent teens will be won over by Hampton’s magnificence and the horrible history (OMG!) surrounding its most notorious resident, Henry VIII. Bringing the Palace to life - and death - are vast Tudor kitchens (with smell-o-vision); daily costumed live interpretations; and family audio guides and trails, including a children’s ghost trail. Plus, there’s THAT maze to explore. Special events include Live Tudor cookery weekends, where food archaeologists work up a sweat recreating a feast fit for a king.

Longleat House

Warminster

Longleat House, Warminster, Wiltshire

Brilliant, bonkers Longleat - what child could be bored here? Kick off with the sumptuous Elizabethan house, where ornate painted ceilings, ghostly tales and Charles I’s blood-stained “execution” vest will get kids gawping. Then, when attention starts flagging, hit Longleat’s numerous other offerings, including the superb Safari Park; Hedge Maze and Adventure Castle. 2013 sees the arrival of BBC Earth’s ‘Deadly Adventure at Longleat’ (think nature at its nastiest), and, come summer, a spectacular penguin and stingray attraction.

Knebworth House, Gardens & Park, Knebworth, Hertfordshire

With a guestbook ranging from Queen Elizabeth Ist and Churchill, to The Rolling Stones and Oasis; Knebworth - for all its gothic turrets and gargoyles – is anything but traditional. 500 years of history ensures there’s plenty here to explore on the educational front; however, there’s no denying that the Fort Knebworth Adventure Playground and interactive Dinosaur Trail (there’s 72 life-size pre-historic creatures to track down) will resonate loudest with kids. This year’s special events include an Easter Trail; Dino Day; Ghost and Bat tours; family Sports Day, and an open-air production of Wind in the Willows.

Sudbury Hall & the National Trust Museum of Childhood, Sudbury, Ashbourne, Derbyshire

One of Derbyshire’s finest Restoration mansions, Sudbury ticks the living-history box big time. Meet the Butler tours and a children’s trail help uncover life at the Hall, but the unique draw here is the chance to experience the past 200-years of childhood. Eight themed, interactive galleries cover everything from outdoor adventure to imagination. It’s all hugely hands-on, but nor are the challenges of previous years overlooked: kids can pretend to be pupils in the strict Victorian schoolroom, or even chimney sweeps (there’s a chimney to climb if they dare!) One for all the family, grandparents included, who’ll no doubt love the chance to reminisce.

Harewood House

Harewood, Leeds

Harewood House, Harewood, Leeds, West Yorkshire

This grand Georgian mansion gets families working together. More than a dozen activity trails for children can be downloaded free from Harewood’s website to make the most of your time here. Up at the house make sure to go Below Stairs, where kids can dress as servants, and workshops and culinary displays will reveal what life was once like for staff here. Outside you’ll find glorious gardens, a superb adventure playground and Harewood’s renowned Bird Garden. Events for 2013 include a Festival of Play – with have-a-go fun ranging from obstacle courses to den building; a Kite Festival and Teddy Bear’s Picnic; and the North’s most spectacular, stock-tastic Medieval Faire.

Holkham Walled Garden

Holkham, Wells-next-the-Sea

Holkham Walled Garden, Holkham, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk

Home to the Viscount and Viscountess Coke and their four children; despite its Palladian grandeur, Holkham exudes a wonderfully warm, family vibe. (Although the austere Old Kitchen and fascinating Bygones Museum attests that it wasn’t always so.) This year sees a new woodland adventure play area opening; while down at the lake you can take a cruise; hire a rowing boat, canoe or kayak - even try zorbing! Suggested walks, a cycle route and nature trail can all be downloaded from the website… oh, and bring the kids’ bathers, because there’s a stunning nature reserve of a beach, too. Special events for 2013 include an Easter ‘Eggstravaganza’; Cycling Festival and Country Fair.

Wimpole Estate

Arrington, Royston

Wimpole Estate, Arrington, Royston, Cambridgeshire

Cambridgeshire’s largest country house; a family trail will help you uncover Wimpole’s secrets, along with its fine Georgian interiors (get the kids playing “spot the lion heads” in the Yellow Drawing Room) and servants’ quarters. Outside there’s 2,500-acres to discover, including an adventure playground… and five hidden geochaches for treasure hunters to find (hire a GPS unit at reception or use your own). Last but not least, there’s the working farm where hands-on fun is positively encouraged. Home to many rare breeds, you can take Shire horse wagon rides, collect eggs and even groom the donkeys.

Tatton Park

Knutsford

Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire

A deer park since 1290, Tatton has stacks for families. The Mansion’s state rooms and servants’ quarters provide starkly contrasting views of 18th century life; while up at the Old Hall, costumed guided tours take you way back to Tudor times. Best of all for children, though, is the hands-on fun at the 1930s working rare breeds farm. A free, downloadable booklet will inspire young’uns to explore the 1,000 acres – and you can bring bikes or hire them onsite. Plus, from March 23rd to September 1st, 2013, Tatton celebrates the brilliance of Beatrix Potter, with rare watercolours on display and a huge range of family events.

Blenheim Palace

Woodstock, Oxford

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxford, Oxfordshire

Older kids will love Blenheim’s themed tours and interactive exhibitions; especially 2013’s new “Lights, Cameras, Action” attraction, which shines the spotlight on the numerous TV shows and movies (including “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Gulliver’s Travels”) that have filmed here. Grab a free, family quiz to keep younger kids happily I-Spying as you explore, then hop aboard the miniature train to The Pleasure Gardens: home to the adventure play area, butterfly house and giant maze. Special events include rip-roaring jousting tournaments and the annual Easter Egg Challenge.


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