Walking the Bath skyline with children, Somerset

Bath’s Georgian architecture, honey coloured stone buildings and famous Roman remains are a magnet for tourists. But hordes of summer visitors are not my cup of tea. Fortunately the National Trust have created an escape route, the Bath Skyline Walk.

Bath Skyline Walk

This six mile circular route skirts around the city, following trails through woods and across commons. We picked up a printed map from the tourist office; it’s also available on the National Trust website. The directions were straightforward and easy to follow once we eventually managed to find the start at Bathwick Fields.

Bath skyline trail
Bath Skyline trail

As we crossed the meadow of Bathwick Fields the city views opened up to our right. We stopped to try and work out the various buildings but as I’m not particularly familiar with the city we didn’t get far. As our walk continued I realised this was probably the best view of the Bath skyline so do savour it whilst you can.

Smallcombe Nuttery and Bathwick Fields, Bath
Smallcombe Nuttery and Bathwick Fields, Bath

We continued downhill, passing Smallcombe Nuttery. I cannot imagine there are many other cities with community nutteries! Visitors are welcome to wander around and view the cobnuts, walnuts, almond and sweet chestnut trees.

Bathwick Fields
Bathwick Fields

A steep uphill stretch followed. We were grateful for some tree cover as we sheltered from a short sharp shower. That hadn’t featured in the weather forecast. Not that I minded taking a quick rest on the way up.

If you’ve got time there are a couple of additional places to visit en route. We saw signs pointing to the NT Prior Park Landscape Gardens and I was very tempted by the cafe. But not by the steep walk back uphill to rejoin the route afterwards. Later on there’s also the option to detour to the American Museum.

Claverton Down

Whilst the Bath skyline walk is perfect for older children, those with younger kids may find some parts too hilly. However the National Trust have produced a separate Family Discovery Trail leaflet for a flat two mile stretch of the walk around Claverton Down. There are mini fairy doors in the trees of Long Wood, geocaches to find and an excellent woodland play area. I even joined the kids on a couple of the apparatus. It’s the perfect place to stop for a picnic. If I’d remembered to bring one.

Woodland Play area, Family Discovery Trail, Long Wood
Woodland Play area, Family Discovery Trail, Long Wood

Bath Cats and Dogs Home

The sound of barking signalled our approach to Bath Cats and Dogs Home. I knew from Trip Advisor that it had a small pet store which also sold drinks and snacks so we stopped for a short break.

After drinks my cat-mad son asked if we could pop in and see the cattery. The receptionist advised they do not usually allow casual visits but kindly allowed us in. Of course my son wanted to adopt every cat he saw. We emerged, thankfully cat-less, and continued our walk across Bushey Norwood to Bathampton.

Bathampton Wood

Bathampton Wood was a highlight for me. Despite the lack of recent rain parts were quite slippy and muddy making me wish I’d worn trainers. However the luxuriant greens of ferns and mosses and an entire tree trunk covered in small mushrooms made up for the slippiness underfoot.

Bathampton Wood, near Bath
Bathampton Wood, near Bath

As we walked through Bathampton Wood we crossed several small tracks heading off in various directions. Although the instructions stated we should maintain our height the path seemed to get narrower and less distinct. I worried that we’d gone the wrong way so it was a relief to pop out of the wood in the correct place. Rather ironically some lost walkers immediately approached me and asked for help.

Bath skyline trail
Bath skyline trail

We circled around Bath Golf Club, heading towards two radio transmitters, before a steep route downhill through more woodland. We emerged near a bench which was perfectly positioned to once again take in the Bath skyline view.

Sham castle

From the bench it’s well worth the five minute detour to visit Sham castle. This folly was commissioned by Ralph Allen in 1762 to improve the view from his townhouse. I don’t know where he lived but there’s a great view of Bath from the castle itself. Although there is nothing else to the castle apart from what you can see in the photo below!

Sham Castle, Bath
Sham Castle, Bath

From Sham Castle we walked downhill back into Bath. We found ourselves on a road of mansions so passed the time oohing and aahing at the houses, wondering how much they cost. Rightmove quickly provided the answer, and some impressive interior photos; what did we do before the Internet?!

Bath
Bath

Back in the centre of Bath we ate a very belated lunch and reminisced over the walk. If you’re visiting the city I highly recommend it, but do it for its countryside appeal rather than city views!

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How to spend 48 hours in Belfast

As a child of the 1970s my early knowledge of Belfast came from watching news reports of the Troubles. But the Good Friday agreement in 1998 changed the political landscape and today my children have little concept of how different things are. That’s not to say that the city has forgotten its past, or even eschewed all violence. Yet it has moved on and our brief visit was well overdue.

Easter parade

Our trip coincided with the centenary of the Easter Rising. Stepping out of the hotel on our first morning we heard pipers from an Easter Parade and decided to tag along to watch. It was a small parade, with several children taking part, but nethertheless accompanied by riot vehicles and a police helicopter. An interesting introduction to the city.

Easter parade, Belfast
Easter parade, Belfast

Titanic Belfast

Onto the sightseeing. Top of my list was a visit to the Titanic Belfast. This is Belfast’s flagship museum, charting the building of the Titanic at the Harland and Wolff shipyard through to its demise. It’s in an impressive building, built in the old shipyard, about a 20 minute walk from the city centre.

Before we visited, our hotel receptionist mentioned there were no actual artefacts from the Titanic wreck site in the museum. Whilst initially disappointed the museum states this is for ethical reasons. Instead much of the focus is on the shipyard itself and the industries that went hand-in-hand with the building of the Titanic.

Titanic Belfast
Titanic Belfast

The museum consists of 9 interactive galleries, covering the life cycle of the Titanic from build, to launch, fit-out, maiden voyage and eventual sinking. It’s a modern museum, with some stand-out exhibits including a scaled down replica of the Arrol Gantry and the Shipyard ride. This is like a theme park ride in slow motion although the warning signs might make you worried you’re about to experience zero gravity. Instead it’s a gentle tour through the heat and noise of the shipyard, suitable for almost everyone.

View from Titanic Belfast out to shipyards
View from Titanic Belfast out to shipyards

One of my favourite exhibits illustrated facts and figures about the Titanic’s launch. When it sailed from Southampton it was provisioned with 40,000 eggs, 75,000lb of fresh meat, 8000 cigars and 6 Steinway pianos. It also included 18,000 bed sheets as there were no laundry facilities on board!

We really enjoyed the Titanic Belfast. It’s not cheap but along with the visit to SS Nomadic we spent much of the day there and felt we got value for money.

SS Nomadic

A visit to the SS Nomadic is included in the price of the Titanic Belfast ticket so it would be amiss not to visit. SS Nomadic is the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world and was built alongside the RMS Titanic back in 1911. It was initially used to transfer passengers from Cherbourg out to the Titanic before seeing action in both World Wars.

SS Nomadic, Belfast
SS Nomadic, Belfast

Once inside you can visit both the luxurious bar area and the distinctly less luxurious crew’s quarters. Our kids enjoyed dressing up as first class passengers; there’s even clothes for the adults too. We should have spent longer on board, but we were all very hungry and a late lunch was calling.

Falls Road

The plan on our second day was to walk from our hotel to the Crumlin Road Gaol, via the predominately republican Falls and loyalist Shankill Road areas. These roads are now part of the tourist circuit, primarily for the political murals that decorate many of the buildings in both areas. Both are easily accessed from the centre of Belfast but there are also numerous black cab and bus tours.

Murals in Falls Road area, Belfast
Murals in Falls Road area, Belfast

Walking towards Falls Road it’s hard to ignore the high-rise Divis Tower, the sole remaining building of the notorious Divis Flat complex. In the 1970s the British Army installed an observation post on the roof and took over the top two floors; these were only reinstated as residential accommodation in 2009.

We spotted murals as soon as we reached the Falls Road. Most depict the political and religious differences between the communities, although some focus on other conflicts around the world. One of the most famous is of Bobby Sands. Bobby died whilst on hunger strike in protest against the British government’s treatment of IRA fighters.

Peace Wall

We visited a stretch of the wall between the Falls and Shankill Roads. I was surprised to learn there are actually 109 walls in cities and towns across Northern Ireland, built to separate the loyalist and unionist areas. Originally erected as a temporary measure in the 1960s, they’re still in place almost 50 years later. Despite plans to remove them many residents believe the walls (and gates, which close nightly) keep them safe.

Peace Wall, Belfast
Peace Wall, Belfast

The walls are covered in murals and grafitti, including lots from tourists who sign the wall and proclaim peace. It’s hard not to compare it to the Berlin Wall although given all the wire on top I doubt you’ll find David Hasselhoff up there.

It was only after we passed through one of the large gates that I realised how incredibly close the two communities are to each other yet with such strongly held opposing viewpoints. The divide is still visible today; just check the colour of the flags and painted kerbstones and you’ll soon know which area you are in.

Shankill Road

Shankill Road seemed to have even more murals than the Falls Road. The road itself was quieter with few shops open and some parts looked pretty run down. Once again we found ourselves walking through recent history; ten people died in the Shankill Road bombing in 1993.

Murals around Shankill Road area, Belfast
Murals around Shankill Road area, Belfast

From Shankill Road we made our way through a housing estate to Crumlin Road, passing even more murals. I do not understand all of the different factions involved in the Troubles but from reading the poignant dedications on some murals it’s clear that people are missed whatever their political or religious viewpoint.

Crumlin Road Gaol

Crumlin Road Gaol was another of my Belfast highlights. Although the gaol dates back to 1845 it only closed its doors in 1996 and many of its recent inmates, including Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, will be familiar names.

Crumlin Road gaol, Belfast
Crumlin Road gaol, Belfast

Our guided tour covered the prisoner holding cells, underground tunnel, the Governor’s office and C-Wing before heading outside to see the burial grounds and exercise yard. Along the C-Wing we were able to look into several cells, including a recreation of the padded cell and the condemned man’s cell. The tour also takes you through the execution room but this can be avoided if you wish.

Crumlin Road gaol, Belfast
Crumlin Road gaol, Belfast

The tunnel links to Crumlin Road courthouse which is on the opposite side of the road. Prisoners were taken between the courthouse and gaol through the 84 metre long tunnel to ensure they were kept away from the public gaze. The tunnel was built in 1849, but has been reinforced under the road section due to the amount of traffic overhead. This obviously wasn’t an issue when it was constructed!

Crumlin Jail courthouse tunnel
Crumlin Road gaol courthouse tunnel

Sadly the courthouse cannot be visited. Originally purchased by an investor for £1 back in 2003 it’s a crying shame that the magnificent building now sits decaying, partly destroyed by fire.

Crumlin Road courthouse, Belfast
Crumlin Road courthouse, Belfast

The gaol appears to do a good sideline in paranormal events and tribute acts, from an Elvis ‘Jailhouse Rock’ gig to a Johnny Cash concert. It’s worth keepng an eye out if you’re visiting as I’d imagine they’d are pretty unique events.

W5

Despite excellent reviews I hadn’t planned to visit W5, an interactive science centre. I thought the kids were a little old, plus we’ve been to several similar places before. However we were meeting my other half’s sister and two children so this was an obvious place to head to.

W5 was very busy and generally aimed at primary school children. However the cousins loved their surprise meet up and it was the perfect place for them to explore on their own. There are several science shows throughout the day and three floors of exhibits so plenty to keep children occupied.

As always with such a short visit we missed things out. Another day in Belfast would have allowed us to visit the Botanic Gardens, Ulster Museum and perhaps Stormont. But it was time for our roadtrip along the Antrim coast!

More info

  • Titanic Belfast is open daily apart from over Christmas. A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children aged 5-16) costs £43 and allows entrance to both the Titanic museum and SS Nomadic.
  • Crumlin Road Gaol is open 7 days per werk. Entry is by guided tour; these run between 10am-4.30pm and last 1 hour 15 minutes. A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs £25.
  • W5 is open 7 days per week; hours vary according to the day. A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs £25.50.
  • We stayed at the Belfast City Centre Premier Inn. It’s a typical Premier Inn, good location, cheap rooms and friendly staff; we’d happily use it again.

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What to do on a weekend break in Lille, France

Last autumn my daughter and I found ourselves with a spare weekend whilst the other half of the family were off watching rugby. But what to do? After much checking of Trip Advisor and prices I eventually decided on a weekend break to Lille, via the Eurostar.

Lille: what did we see?

We unknowingly co-ordinated our visit with Journées du Patrimoine (similar to heritage open days in the UK) so the majority of tourist attractions were open and free. This meant we visited more attractions than I would normally recommend squeezing into a couple of days.

Vieux-ville (old town)

We spent most of our time exploring the cobbled streets of the old town. It’s home to the Musee de l’Hospice Comtesse, the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle and the best patisserie in Lille.

Vieux-Lille
Vieux-Lille

It’s a great place to wander and browse, soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the architecture. There are plenty of (pricey) independent shops to discover and cafes to stop for a coffee in.

Église Saint- Maurice de Lille
Église Saint- Maurice de Lille

Most shops are closed on Sunday so it’s best to visit the old town on a weekday. This includes the large Carrefour near the railway station!

Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse

This is a former hospice in the old town, originally founded in 1237 to care for the poor. The gound floor is a reconstructed Flemish house. Upstairs we found art, wooden sculptures and a couple of large globes. My favourite room was the kitchen as it was decorated in individually hand-painted blue and white tiles.

Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse
Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse

Outside we admired the buildings from the courtyard and wandered around the medicinal herb garden. There’s a chapel on site too but this looked closed. I hadn’t originally planned to visit the hospice so we only popped in for a quick look; if you have time to spare there is an English audio guide.

La Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle

This house is the birthplace of former president Charles de Gaulle. The house belonged to his grandparents and has plenty of his childhood mementoes.

Le Musee de la Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle
Le Musee de la Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle

We joined a 40 minute tour in French. Fortunately my daughter was given an English leaflet as I only understood about one word in five.

Place du Général de Gaulle (Grand Place)

The Grand Place is Lille’s main square and is full of Flemish style buildings, including the old Stock Exchange.

Place du General De Gaulle, Lille
Place du General De Gaulle, Lille

It’s a good place to sit and people watch as there are plenty of pavement cafes and restaurants. We bought pizza slices for lunch and ate them sitting beside the fountain.

Sound and light show, Lille
Sound and light show, Lille

We came back later that evening for a special sound and light show, one of the free events that formed part of the Journées du Patrimoine weekend. The light show was projected onto the theatre and was made up of a series of short films with impressive lighting effects. It reminded me of the illuminations on Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert (although Madness didn’t appear!).

Vieille Bourse (Old Stock Exchange)

Old Stock Exchange, Lille
Old Stock Exchange, Lille

The Vieille Bourse is a Flemish style building in the Grand Place. It consists of 24 identical houses built around a courtyard. Nowadays this houses stalls selling old books, posters and records. On Sunday evenings it hosts the Lille tango club; that would be great to see!

Ronde des géants (giants’ parade)

Parade of giants, Place du Theatre, Lille
Parade of giants, Place du Theatre, Lille

This was the unexpected highlight of our visit to Lille. There’s nothing better than arriving somewhere and realising you’ve actually managed to coincide your visit with a local event.

La Ronde des géants, Lille
La Ronde des géants, Lille

The giants appear in carnivals and processions in many towns throughout this part of northern France. Dating back more than 600 years each town keeps up the tradition, maintaining and displaying their own giants. The structures are built on huge wickerwork frames and rolled and danced through the streets, accompanied by bands.

Parade of the giants, Lille
Parade of the giants, Lille

Wazemmes market

Locals head to the market at Wazemmes on Sunday. I’d heard it was very crowded so we left our hotel early. After a quick trip on the Metro we discovered we were way too early as most of the stallholders were still setting up.

Wazemmes market, Lille
Wazemmes market, Lille

Undeterred we wandered around the cafes that surround the square and chose one populated by stallholders. Despite mistakenly ordering café crème rather than café au lait it was the best coffee and pain au chocolat ever!

The market itself wasn’t so good. Although the fruit and vegetable stalls looked good there didn’t seem to be much local produce. Most of the market consisted of the typical stalls you find everywhere; clothes, household goods and cheap toys. However my teenage daughter really enjoyed it and bought food presents for most of the family.

Parc zoologique (Lille Zoo)

My daughter was keen to visit Lille Zoo and although I had my reservations I was pleasantly surprised. The collection is quite small but the enclosures are large and well maintained.

Lille Zoo
Lille Zoo

We loved watching the red panda and the entertaining meerkats. There’s also a tropical house with snakes, marmosets and tortoise and a couple of larger areas housing zebras, rhino and tapir.

The zoo is located in a large park, about 20 minutes walk from the old town. The park is also home to the Citadel but this is usually out of bounds to casual visitors as it houses some of NATO’s Rapid Reaction Corps!

Beffroi de Lille (Lille belfry)

I enjoy panoramic view of cities and always seek out a tower to climb. In Lille this is the town hall belfry.

Lille belfry
Lille belfry

As we visited on a free entrance day there were a lot of people waiting to go up. After queuing outside we climbed 109 stairs to a small shop and registration desk where we had to queue again for the lift. We eventually reached the top but our visit was rather rushed and we didn’t fully appreciate it.

Patisserie

Not a tourist attraction but definitely a Lille highlight was sampling the local patisserie. Our weekend treat was a trip to sample the sweet concoctions at Meert restaurant. It wasn’t cheap, and it was incredibly hard to make a decision, but we eventually chose and shared an amazing chocolate tart.

Aux Merveilleux
Aux Merveilleux

However, Aux Merveilleux de Fred was almost as good and much cheaper.  We watched the merveilleux being made (meringues sandwiched together with whipped cream and rolled in chocolate) and then joined the queue of people stretching out of the bakery. A few minutes later we sampled the merveilleux; they literally melt in your mouth so cannot possibly contain any calories!

Lille: our accommodation – Hotel de la Paix

We stayed at Hotel de la Paix, a small Art Nouveau hotel. We chose it for its excellent location, about 10 minutes walk from the railway station and less than 5 minutes to the main squares and old town.

Hotel de laPaix
Hotel de la Paix

Our room was on the third floor and was quiet and clean, with colourful decoration. It won’t appeal to all tastes but I enjoy places with character. The wifi was hit and miss in the room but worked well in the communal areas. There is a small breakfast area where we ate the first morning but it was much cheaper in local cafes.

Lille: getting there and getting around

I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was to reach Lille via the Eurostar. It took less than 1.5 hours from London St Pancras; quicker than visiting many cities in the UK. The only slight stress was arriving in a new city late at night and having to walk past groups of people who tend to congregate near railway stations the world over.

The main attractions of Lille are easily walkable but you’ll probably want to use the Metro if you visit Wazemme. The Metro is straightforward to use and if travelling 3 stops or less you can buy a zip ticket which is cheaper. Remember to validate your ticket in the machines before you board.

Lille: the verdict

Although there were no amazing ‘must see’ sights we easily filled our weekend. We started out early on both days but still missed out several museums so there’s more than enough to see on a short break.

There were a couple of negatives. Dog owners don’t appear to worry about picking up after their pets. We also noticed groups of beggars, generally children, working the outdoor cafes around Grand Place asking diners for money. But overall we loved Lille and highly recommend it for a city break.

More info

  • The Lille tourism website has full details of opening hours and costs for all attractions.
  • You can pick up a schedule of giant appearances from tourist offices in northern France, further details available from the La Ronde des Géants website (in French, but Google can translate it).
  • We booked our hotel via a well known hotel booking website as it offered better deals than going direct. The Hotel de la Paix website currently shows a rate of €98 per night for a double room.
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25 things to do with your family in Oxford

Oxford, my local city, attracts around 9 million tourists every year. Whilst many are language students or couples there’s a fair smattering of families amongst them. The usual Oxford tourist itinerary focuses on the historic University buildings but my children would be first in line to declare how BORING these are.

Christ Church College, Oxford
Christ Church College, Oxford

With this in mind I’ve chosen 25 (hopefully less boring) suggestions for things to do with your family in Oxford. Whilst this list contains some obvious tourist attractions it also includes those which are likely to be more interesting to families. Read on for my locals’ guide to places to visit in Oxford with kids.

1. Pitt Rivers Museum

My favourite museum in Oxford, the Pitt Rivers, shares a building with the Natural History museum and is full of ethnographic objects from around the world. There are so many items squeezed into the darkened display cases that it’s worth focussing on just a few areas. Most kids will want to see the shrunken heads but there’s so much more, ranging from masks to carvings and a witch in a bottle! Free entry.

2. The Covered Market

The Covered Market is a great place to wander and check out some food stalls. Head along to The Cake Shop to watch the staff decorating cakes through the windows and then join the queue at Ben’s Cookies. I can recommend whatever has just come out of the oven.

The Covered Market, Oxford
The Covered Market, Oxford

Visit at Christmas to see deer and pheasant hanging outside the butchers and to pick up some Oxford Blue from the cheese shop

3. Eat out along the Cowley Road

You’ll find the main chain restaurants along Park End Street and dotted around the city centre but there’s more interesting dining along the Cowley Road. Atomic Burger, Pizzeria Trattoria Mario and the Tick Tock Cafe are good family options but there are loads to choose from covering all tastes.

4. The Story Museum

This is a relatively new addition to Oxford and offers a variety of exhibitions plus book related events for all ages. The Story Museum is work in progress and is gradually developing into a centre which will celebrate all forms of storytelling.

The Story Museum, Oxford
The Story Museum, Oxford

The museum also has a cafe and children’s cookery classes run by chef Sophie Grigson and her team. Admission charge applies.

5. Headington shark

Once hugely controversial but nowadays just part of the landscape it’s worth a quick trip out to Headington to see a huge shark sticking out the roof of 2 New High Street. The house is sometimes up for rent so if you don’t mind a steady stream of tourists and can afford £2000+ per month you can live beneath the shark sculpture!

6. Oxford Castle Unlocked

The area around Oxford Castle has been revamped in recent years with part of the old prison converted into a luxury Malmaison hotel. At Oxford Castle Unlocked you can take a guided tour and discover the story of the prison and castle area. Visitors can experience a Norman crypt, see prison cells, climb 101 steps to the top of a Saxon tower for views across the city (5+ only) and scale the mound of the 11th century motte and bailey castle. Admission charge applies.

7. Walk along the Thames to Iffley Lock

A popular Sunday stroll for both visitors and locals.  From the Head of the River pub it’s a 30 minute riverside walk to Iffley village. At busy times you’ll be forever moving out of the way of cyclists and runners but if you manage to combine your walk with the opening of the Isis Farmhouse pub you’ll be rewarded with a huge slice of cake. It’s generally open Friday to Sunday but check opening hours before you visit as they’re variable.

Watching the rowers on the River Thames, Oxford
Watching the rowers on the River Thames, Oxford

8. Ashmolean museum

The Ashmolean is the world’s first university museum. They have some great events for children but the museum is probably best visited in short bursts.

Ashmoleum museum, Oxford
Ashmoleum museum, Oxford

Some of the collections will have limited appeal to children but the Ancient Egyptian galleries are always popular with kids. There’s also a top 10 trail and dog detective spotter sheet to keep the children entertained. Free entry.

9. Spot the Antony Gormley statue

I have a soft spot for Antony Gormley sculptures. A 7ft iron man (similar to those we saw on Crosby Beach) sits atop Exeter College watching over Broad Street. Can you find him?

Antony Gormley sculpture, Oxford
Antony Gormley sculpture, Oxford

10. Bill Spectre’s Oxford ghost tour

Rated as one of the top 10 ghost tours in the world our children loved Bill Spectre’s Oxford ghost tour. Theatrically dressed, he regaled us with spooky tales, burning books and magic on our walk around the city. It’s suitable for all ages; highly recommended!

11. Explore the city with a Treasure Trail

We’ve found Treasure Trails are a great way for locals and visitors to discover new areas, even if you think you know the place well. There are several trails available in Oxford; read our reviews of the Spy Trail around University Parks and the Oxford Canal and Jericho treasure trail.

Oxford canal
Exploring Oxford canal on a treasure trail

12. Blackwell’s bookshop

The front of Blackwell’s bookshop gives no clue to the huge numbers of books the shop stocks. I always make a beeline for the travel section, leaving the kids to browse in the varied children’s department. It’s not exactly a tourist destination but you can easily while away a couple of hours browsing the bookshelves.

13. Botanic Garden

Oxford’s traffic can sometimes detract from its beauty so it’s great to be able to step away from the manic High Street into the peaceful calm of the Botanic Garden.

In the glasshouse at Oxford Botanic Garden
In the glasshouse at Oxford Botanic Garden

The oldest botanic garden in Great Britain is relatively small but perfectly formed. I particularly enjoy warming up in the heated glasshouses on a cold winter day. Featuring plants from tropical jungles, desserts and alpine environments, you can read more about one of our visits here.

It’s also famous as a literary hangout. J.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll were frequent visitors, whilst Phillip Pullman features the bench at the back of the garden in His Dark Materials books. Admission charge applies.

14. Look out over the dreaming spires

View from the Sheldonian cupola
View from the Sheldonian cupola

I have two favourite views. Firstly from the tower of St Mary the Virgin church on High Street which provides a fantastic panorama over the Radcliffe Camera. Secondly from the cupola of the Sheldonian Theatre, the magnificent Christopher Wren designed building which is open when not in use by the University. Admission charges apply to both but it’s money well spent.

15. MINI plant tour

The MINI plant is located just outside of the city and is Oxfordshire’s largest private sector employer. My children aren’t old enough to visit yet but if yours are 14+ they can tour the MINI plant. The tours last 2.5 hours and visit the assembly area where you can watch MINIs being made. Admission charge applies.

16. Oxford University Museum of Natural History

In my view the best museum in Oxford for young children. The family friendly Museum of Natural History contains dinosaur skeletons, rocks and minerals, a bee hive, fossils and so much more. There are plenty of hands on exhibits and lots of family activities and events at the weekends and during school holidays. Free entry.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Oxford University Museum of Natural History

17. Go for a walk in Port Meadow

The largest area of common land in Oxford. Running alongside the River Thames it is easy to access from the city centre and is a popular area for walking. See if you can spot the ponies and cattle that freely graze the meadow.

View over to Port Meadow, Oxford
View over to Port Meadow, Oxford

It’s best visited on a summer day. If you visit in winter you may well find it flooded!

18. Go punting

An Oxford tradition. I know it’s touristy and expensive but it is fun too. Choose a warm summer day, glide along in your flat bottomed boat and enjoy the sights and sounds of the river. If you have small children you might want to hire a chauffeur to do the hard work (about £25 for 30 minutes) whilst you keep an eye on your brood.

Alternatively just watch the tourists from Magdalen Bridge as they tentatively leave the safety of the boathouse. Always fun watching to see if anyone falls in!

19. Cutteslowe Park

As you would expect there are lots of parks in Oxford. The one with the most varied family attractions is Cutteslowe, located in north of the city. As well as the usual play equipment and sports facilities there’s a miniature railway, paddling pool, mini golf, orienteering course and kiosk. Some of these are summer only attractions so check before you travel.

20. Check out a college

Whilst you won’t want to drag your kids around every college it would be a shame to miss out on visiting at least one. Even if it’s just so you can tell them that if they study hard this may be where they can end up!

Tom Tower, Christ Church
Tom Tower, Christ Church

There are 38 colleges to choose from. Christchurch is one of the most popular and has links to Harry Potter but it’s expensive too (up to £22 for a family). Magdalen College is probably my favourite, primarily for its deer park and gardens. New College and Merton College are good options too but always check opening hours  before you visit. Admission charges apply.

21. Museum of Modern Art

This attraction can be a little bit or miss, depending on the exhibition but it’s free so certainly worth popping in to see what’s on. We’ve been to a couple of good ones and some strange ones. The most notable one was an exhibit made entirely from oranges. Visitors were encouraged to take away an orange to eat.

22. Celeb spotting at the Randolph Hotel

Admittedly this is more for the adults than the children. The city centre Randolph Hotel (which strictly speaking, is now the Macdonald Randolph Hotel but no local ever calls it this) has hosted many famous visitors over the years. I once saw Bill Clinton, returning from a jog around the streets of Oxford surrounded by his entourage. If you’re a fan of Inspector Morse or Lewis the hotel will look familiar as it has starred in several of the programmes. (You might also like to pop down to the police station in St Aldates where a sign in one of the windows proclaims it is Inspector Morse’s office).

23. Run around the Radcliffe Camera

This is my favourite building in Oxford. Sadly I’ve never been inside as it’s the main reading room for the Bodleian Library and is accessible to registered students only. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset when the stone turns a lovely orange colour; best views are from the church mentioned above. Alternatively tire the kids out by getting them to run around the perimeter (but watch out for bicycles and tourists).

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford
Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

24. Visit a board games cafe

Playing board games at Thirsty Meeples cafe, near Gloucester Green bus station, is a great way to while away a wet afternoon. Pay a cover charge and play as many games as you wish for 3 hours. There are hundreds available for all ages; the staff will recommend games and explain rules if necessary. Book a table in advance if visiting at the weekend.

25. CS Lewis Nature Reserve

This small reserve consists of a wooded area and large pond and is located in Risinghurst, a couple of miles from the city centre. The land was once owned by CS Lewis and provided the inspiration for the Chronicles of Narnia.

CS Lewis Nature Reserve, Oxford
CS Lewis Nature Reserve, Oxford

The pond is a flooded Victorian clay pit, alive with dragonflies, toads and birds. Towards the back, up a steep woodland bank, is a tree swing which is a popular attraction for children. The former home of CS Lewis backs onto the reserve and is sometimes open for booked tours but I’m pretty sure the kids will enjoy the reserve more!

I hope you’ve found this list useful. Please do leave a comment if I’ve missed out your favourite place to visit with children in Oxford.

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