25 brilliant things to do with the kids this summer
School's out! Hurrah! Only, er, it's been out since late March. Never mind, now the holidays are officially here and doors are opening here's 25 sure-fire hits for little, and not-so-little, ones this summer.
FARM AND ANIMAL PARKS
Fisher’s Farm Park, Wisborough Green
Nine years of parenting and Muddy has yet to find anywhere that keeps the kids as happy for as long as Fishers. It’s open again for a Summer of Fun to make up for the somewhat underwhelming start to (and middle of) 2020. Almost all the outdoor activities are running, including tractor rides, animal encounters and the really rather terrifying SkyFall – Muddy can confirm this is not for the faint of heart or pelvic floor. But the kids love it, so leave them to it! The splash park is also open for lots of water-based fun. Food-wise, the Farmers Grill is open serving hot and cold food, or bring your own picnic. The indoor areas and restaurant are still closed for now but keep an eye on the website, and check out the FAQs for all up-to-date information. Book your visit online in advance.
Drusilla’s Park, Alfriston
Take a walk on the wild side at Drusilla’s, which is touted as the best small zoo in the country. Stacked with exotic animals, it’s just welcomed a litter of baby meerkats (named after the cast of Friends!) for the awwww factor. Kids can also get up close – not too close obvs – with anteaters, camels, penguins, owls, lemurs, flamingos, porcupines and much more. There’s also heaps of play areas and adventures, including a splash park and a Hello Kitty Secret Garden. Book online to guarantee entry.
Knockhatch Adventure Park, Hailsham
Another sure-fire winner, with heaps to keep the kids going all day including plenty of farm and zoo animals and loads of outdoor space for adventures and play. The park is partially open, with lots of splashy and bouncy attractions and rides for all ages. The Children’s Farm, zoo animal area and Owl Sanctuary are also open. Food and drink can be bought on site, or bring your own picnic. Check online for the small print and to book your visit.
Phileas Fogg’s World of Adventures, Brighton (from July 25)
This immersive indoor theatrical experience, described as Crystal Maze meets I’m A Celeb, opens again on July 25. Groups are challenged to help the great adventurer Phileas Fogg travel the world, solving challenges and puzzles along the way. Experience amazing locations like an Egyptian tomb and Tulsan diamond mine – from Brighton! Groups will be kept separate for now, all FAQs on the website and book online.
Knepp Wildland, Dial Post and Shipley, nr Horsham
If you follow Muddy on Insta (and if you don’t, amend that right now!) you’ll know we basically live at Knepp now. This unique rewilding project is well served with footpaths and bridleways for exploring a habitat rich with native UK wildlife and free-roaming grazing animals. This year, the first wild white stork chicks to hatch in the UK in more than 600 years hatched at Knepp and visitors, Muddy included, have watched their progress closely. The chicks have now fledged and can be seen with their parents around the estate – along with deer, longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies and Tamworth pigs. If you want the full guided tour, safaris are back running, and there’s a small on-site drinks stand near the walkers car park and main entrance.
Arundel Wetland Centre, Arundel
This 65-acre reserve is once again open, but do check the website for updates. At present you can enjoy getting back to nature and spotting rare and beautiful birds including glimmering kingfishers and adorable ducklings, along with heaps of other wetland species and wildlife. Some bird hides are closed, as are the play areas and there’s no pond dipping or activities this summer. Book your visit online.
Rye Harbour, East Sussex
An amazingly rich coastal reserve with a huge range of species – it’s home to a whopping 297 different species of bird and 25 species of fish including rays. Enjoy the coastline, or wander over to Henry VIII’s Camber Castle or nearby Winchelsea Beach. The information cabin and toilets are currently closed.
Kingley Vale, Chichester
One of the biggest and best yew forests in Europe is also home to a grove of trees that are thought to be among the oldest living things in the entire UK. The ancient grove was said to be the meeting place of witches and Druids. It’ll certainly give the kids plenty to spark the imagination.
Bodiam Castle, Bodiam
Although the magnificent 14th century castle itself is closed, you can still visit the grounds which have plenty of space for little ones to run themselves ragged – and plenty to look at too as the castle sits surrounded by its own moat. The car park and toilets are open, as is the Castle cafe for takeaway food and drink. Book your visit online.
The gardens and estate of Rudyard Kipling’s Jacobean house are open to visitors and takeaway food and drink is available from the Mulberry Cafe. The house itself is still closed. Make sure you book ahead online – members still go free but you do need to book.
Nymans, near Haywards Heath
Another one for garden open, buildings closed! The lovely intimate gardens and woodlands around this romantic house and ruins are open daily, and as with all NT sites, you’ll need to book ahead online first.
Petworth House and Park, Petworth
Petworth House and Pleasure Garden is open – book in advance, you know the drill here. The magnificent Petworth Park with its famed deer is also open and if you’re parking in the North Car Park for the park only, you don’t have to book. There’s acres of space in the park and a range of habitats from woodland to heath to explore, not to mention the herds of deer, so youngsters will be well entertained.
GARDENS AND CASTLES
Denmans Garden, Fontwell
This hidden gem just off the A27 is bursting with heritage and history, and a treasure trove of secrets and stories. If we sound like we’re gushing it’s only because we are. Muddy loves this tranquil slice of horticultural heaven, which is small but perfectly-formed and ideal for a lazy, sunny afternoon with the fam. Take a picnic and kick back on one of the distinctive blue benches that are the hallmark of legendary garden designer John Brookes MBE, who lived and taught at Denmans until his death in 2018. Book your visit by calling 01243 278950 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, the garden, gift shop and plant centre are open Thursday to Sunday every week.
Leonardslee Gardens and Lake, near Horsham
Leonardslee is open once again and with gorgeous grounds including peaceful gardens and tranquil lakes, not to mention wildlife including the famous wallabies, it’s another sure-fire winner for a day out with the kids. On selected dates you can also see amazing radio-controlled yachts and boats on the lakes. Takeaway snacks and drinks available onsite. See online for details and to book.
Borde Hill Garden, near Haywards Heath
There’s a summer of fun activities on offer at Borde Hill including a Family Trail which leads you around the garden discovering fantasy creatures including elves, unicorns and mermaids. There’s prizes on offer too. From August there’ll also be a summer art exhibition featuring nature-inspired work from local artists. Book your visit online.
Wakehurst Place, Ardingly
With more than 500 acres of garden, woodland and nature reserve to explore, social distancing shouldn’t be a problem at Wakehurst! Natural play areas like tree trunk treks, labyrinths and willow structures are scattered around too, so there’s plenty to keep everybody entertained. Book your time slot online.
Herstmonceux Castle, Herstmonceux
Another magical moated castle, 15th century this time, surrounded by 300 acres of woodland and themed formal gardens. At the moment the castle tours aren’t running, but you can still admire the red brick building from the outside. Book online.
West Dean Gardens, near Chichester
Proudly billed as one of the greatest restored gardens open to the public today, this is a beaut of a spot full of heritage, so it’s educational, OK? In fact the gardens have existed on this site in some form since 1622. Their official transformation began after the hurricane of 1987. Explore Victorian glasshouses, quirky features including a sunken garden, and the odd surreal fibreglass tree. Kids under 16 go free – bonus. Book online.
MUSEUMS, CULTURE AND HERITAGE
Weald & Downland Living Museum, Singleton
This fantastic outdoor museum is an enjoyable and captivating day out in the great outdoors – lending itself very well to social distancing. This August there’ll be family fun and activities every day, celebrating the theme of the natural world with demos and displays on a different topic each week. These include colours in nature, showcasing how fleeces is made into wool and how natural dyes are used, trees and seeds, and wildlife. Activities on offer will include crafting leaf crowns, charcoal art, writing with quills, taking part in a bird survey and much more. Book online.
Bignor Roman Villa, Bignor
Open once again at weekends only, this is another fairly social-distancing friendly attraction. View the gorgeous remains of a genuine Roman home, complete with world-class mosaics. A new addition this year is the amazing 12-acre Maize Maze, packed full of fun twists and turns, which will be open from 4 August. There’s no timed ticketing system but do read the information on the website before visiting. The tearoom is also open for cakes and hot and cold drinks.
Bluebell Railway, Sheffield Park
This wonderfully-preserved steam passenger railway will re-open on August 7 for rides through 11 miles of gorgeous Sussex countryside. Trains run between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead, stopping at Horsted Keynes and Kingscote. The railway is run faithfully in keeping with traditional practices, including staff in period clothing, and all four stations are preserved in different periods of history. A Day Rover ticket lets you hop on and off as much as you like. Book online.
Amberley Museum, Amberley
Explore the South’s working past in this former quarry and limeworks. Exhibits include a narrow-gauge railway, historic busses, a working print shop, and an on-site pottery and other rural crafts. With 36 acres of space there’s enough to tire out the most enthusiastic little legs. The museum re-opens on July 29, and the cafe will be open for takeaway food and drink.
Smugglers Adventure, Hastings
A great adventure through underground caves, passages and tunnels, with interactive displays and more than 70 life-sized smuggler characters to meet and learn about. There’s also the ghostly Chapel, the most haunted part of the caves – this might be a bit too scary for very little ones, but older kids will love the spine-tingling adventure.
Battle Abbey, Battle
Stand on the very spot where the armies of William the Conqueror and King Harold clashed in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings. You can walk the battlefield trail, with carved wooden soldiers depicting the Norman and Saxon soldiers. The Abbey itself was built by William shortly after his victory and the ruins can be explored along with the grounds. A Summer Adventure Quest for families will run over the holidays and the cafe and shop are open, but the visitor centre and playground remain closed.
Brighton Open Air Theatre, Dyke Road, Brighton
B.O.A.T in Dyke Road Park is a great place to relax on a summer’s afternoon. It’s a wood and astro turf ampitheatre, there’s a small bar alongside and picnicking while you watch is positively encouraged. Family-friendly productions this year include Mr Dilly’s Treasure Island Show, Alice in Lockdown and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It all kicks off on July 25 with a special celebration of local artists to reopen B.O.A.T. after lockdown.