Summer fun! Local things to do with kids of all ages
Beat the holiday boredom! Read on for the best of theatre, animal encounters, festivals and free fun in Hampshire and Isle of Wight this July and August.
SCIENCE & DISCOVERY
To infinity and beyond! Head to the Winchester Science Centre this summer (Thurs 21 July to Sat 4 September) and help hero Buzz Lightyear on his newest intergalactic adventure. The out-of-this-world Space Ranger Challenge Trail explains the science that inspired the Buzz Lightyear movie through Explorer:Space. And if that doesn’t do it for them, the explosive spaceship launch demo in Science Live! surely will.
On the Isle of Wight, the Island’s favourite zany daredevil scientists are all set to return with a brand-new Brainiac REMIXED show (Tues – Thursdays, 26 July to 25 Aug) at Robin Hill Country Park. Expect explosions, live daredevil stunts and all the experiments they’re not allowed to do at home.
STEP BACK IN TIME
Knights and jousting abound at Carisbrook Castle on the Isle of Wight this summer. On Tues 2 – Thurs 4 August, rival knights will compete in the Carisbrooke Castle Knights’ Tournament. And on Tue 9 – Thurs 11 August, there’s the Grand Medieval Joust. They won’t be expected to mount any horses, but kids can meet people from the Middle Ages, see hand crafts, weapon repairs, cooking and life at camp.
Love a bit of drama? Boom! Take them to meet legendary Tudor king, Henry VIII, at the Mary Rose Museum on Monarchy Mondays this summer (Mon 25 July – Mon 22 Aug). Spot the larger-than-life character sauntering through the historic dockyard, inside the museum, checking up on his beloved ship, the Mary Rose, or joining in with the other summer activities here.
Fast-forward from Tudor monarchs to our more recent modern ancestors at the Milestones Museum, Basingstoke, where a great new History Saves the World exhibition looks to the past for sustainability ideas, specifically what the Victorians did to make things last longer and the Dig for Victory campaigns of World War II.
And keeping the heritage steam tradition alive, there’s a welcome reopening for Britain’s largest collection of working steam with traditional fairground, steam railways and woodland gardens, open every Sunday from now until early Autumn at Hollycombe Steam in the Country in Liphook, East Hants.
Big or small, there’s nothing like seeing favourite animals up close. Head to Marwell Zoo near Winchester to see waddling Humboldt penguins, graceful giraffes, sleepy two-toed sloths and many more. Also this summer, catch the brilliant Brickosaurs! Evolution dino sculptures until Sun 4 September.
Fancy going on Safari? Watch African birds of prey in soaring displays at the Muddy 2022 Award-winning Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover. Vultures, African Fish-Eagles and soaring kites are a few of the star turns in their special African Sunset Safari on Fri 29 July, all enhanced with scene-setting theatre, music and special effects.
Tapnell Farm near Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight always has plenty of animal fun to enjoy (and great onsite accommodation too). This summer, small groups of up to four can book a Meerkat and Wallaby encounter, meeting the mischievous meerkats and feeding the wallabies and their joeys (Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturdays from Tues 26 July to Wed 31 August, 6+). Or if scaly and scuttling is more their thing, venture out on a Bugs and Beasties encounter.
Bonkers for Bambi? The Sky Park Farm near Petersfield has three new Explorer Trails for the summer holidays.
The Minibeast, Bird and Deer trails will each run for two weeks from Mon 25 July to Sun 4 September. There’ll also be the chance to Meet The Ranger to get really close to the deer and quiz the Rangers on deer facts before going for a good old clamber in the adventure playground. And on Wednesdays (27 July – 31 August) order fresh sourdough pizzas from the Visitor Centre Terrace. Yum!
TAKE A TRAIL
The National Trust can always be relied on to put on some fab trails around our local places – and this summer’s no different.
At Hinton Ampner, near Alresford, you can follow the friendly scarecrow around acres of gorgeous garden to discover secrets and favourite outdoor places, on the Hidden Hinton garden trail (Sat 16 July – Sun 4 September).
And at Mottistone Gardens, on the Isle of Wight, follow in the hooves of Warrior, a real-life War Horse who once lived here (Sat 23 July – Tues 26 August). Borrow a hobby horses to canter around the Garden Gallop course. Or make your own hobby horse to race along the Hobby Horse Race Course (Tuesdays 2, 9, 16 & 23 August).
MEET THEIR HEROES
Thomas the Tank Engine and loads of his friends are back at The Watercress Line this Summer, giving littlies a chance to steam along the track and have a meet and greet with the likes of Sir Topham Hatt, Rusty & Dusty (Sat 6 – Sun 14 Aug, Ropley/Alton).
Over in the New Forest, snap a pic with everyone’s favourite piggie family – including Mummy and Daddy Pig – at Peppa Pig World. And speaking of Paulton’s Park, get onboard the new Farmyard Flyer rollercoaster as it whooshes around the Wild-West-style Tornado Springs. It’s a great new add for thrill-seeking smaller kids (over 0.9m) when Peppa Pig World is too thronged.
On Thurs 11 July, bring a picnic and watch a gorgeous outdoor theatre production of Beatrix Potter’s classic Tale of Peter Rabbit at Hinton Ampner (11 August, 7-8.40pm).
Brand new at the National Trust’s Mottisfont, this colourful interactive exhibition from the best-selling Little People, BIG DREAMS picture book biography series invites kids into the worlds of inspiring and trailblazing people (Sat 23 July – Sun 4 Sept).
Recommended for ages 3-7+ , meet Malala Yousafzai and Martin Luther King Jr, step into Frida Kahlo’s studio, and discover the natural world with David Attenborough, with a themed outdoor activity trail to take on after.
The Allen Gallery in Alton has a great (free!) Monsters, Myths and Magic Exhibition (Sat 16 July – Sun 25 September) with objects from the local Alton Anglo-Saxon cemetery on display plus hands-on activities, dressing up, colouring, quizzes and games.
And at The Base, Greenham Common, on the Berks Border, there’s a super-cute new walkthrough World of Peter Rabbit Storytime Trail experience (Sat 30 July – Sun 25 Sept), where little bunnies will be able to crawl under the garden gate, hide in a watering can and see their reflection in a mirror pool, just like Peter Rabbit. Awww.
Free parking, free kid’s club events, a cinema and loads of waterside restaurants – Portsmouth’s Port Solent (above) is always a good bet for a day out with the kids. Every Tuesday and Thursday through the school holidays (Tues 26 July – Tues 30 Aug) there’s all-day entertainment and activities for children aged from three to 12 including Captain Crossbones the Pirate (arrr!), samba drumming, street dance and a back-to-school disco.
At Basingstoke’s Festival Place there’s crafty and nature-based Summer Fun in the Summer Garden on Saturdays from 23 July – 27 Aug. Think bees and pollinators, flower crowns, worms, building bug hotels and more. Buzzing!
WORKSHOPS & COURSES
What kid doesn’t love messing around with bubbles? Winchester’s The Arc has a brilliant workshop for those aged 9-11. They’ll Create a Giant Eco Bubble Wand and test out the festival-grade giant bubbles on the Arc terrace (various dates, Mon 25 July – Tues 23 Aug). Pop!
There’s true freedom of artistic expression at The Forest Arts Centre in New Milton, where kids can really let go in a teaching-free Playing with Paint session for kids aged 6+ (Fridays, 22 July – 26 Aug).
A brilliant skill that will help them in school and beyond, specialist-run touch-typing summer holiday courses from 2022 Muddy Awards Finalists QWERTYkids are anything but boring. Ideal for kids aged 7 – 17, there’s colour coded keyboard and expert tuition from two friendly, qualified instructors. Book a one week intensive course (mornings from Mon 8 – Fri 12 August) or a Summer Flexi Course from Mon 18 July – Fri 5 August or Mon 1 – Fri 19 August.
Kids climbing the walls? Send them up trees instead! High rope courses and tree top challenges are a fab option for all ages. There are Go Ape courses at Itchen Valley Country Park in Southampton, which has two great outdoor play areas, and at Alice Holt Forest in the South Downs near Borden, where the Gruffalo sculptures and Superworm Trail will also keep the minis amused.
New Forest Activities in Beaulieu are another great pick for water-based fun, like kayaking and family canoeing along the beautiful Beaulieu River. Families with teens aged 12+ can also try the Beaulieu Canoe Explorer, an extended trip through the Beaulieu River Nature Reserve.
More fun on the water at the Lymington Seawater Baths, which opens throughout the school holidays for 90-minute sessions on the 200m of inflatable obstacle courses, paddleboards and swims. Hire wetsuits if you need them – and always book ahead.
Head for heights? Thrill-seekers age 14+ can swerve the lift and abseil 100m down the iconic Spinnaker Tower (until September).
And how’s this for action? Reopening from Sat 23 July at Action Stations, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s Commando Experience puts them at heart of the Royal Navy’s elite amphibious force, with a series of Royal Marines Commando-style physical challenges for all age groups.
Two Hampshire mega-festivals fall on the same weekend this year, with both offering loads of family fun (Fri 26 – Sun 28 Aug).
In Southsea, The Victorious Festival’s Kids Arena is all set up as mini-festival in itself, with face painting, circus skills, character meet-and-greets and onstage entertainment, plus mini-discos and a Ready to Rock School.
Little or big, if your kids love motors, Chris Evans’ CarFest South at Laverstoke Farm near Basingstoke has loads of impressive cars to ogle, plus a dedicated ‘Megaland‘ area, filled with tractors and other massive vehicles. On stage, there’s cheesy, family-friendly pop from Steps – and Bushcraft and Forest School family workshops for outdoorsy types.
Also on around Portsmouth, soaring high above downtown err, Southsea Common, you could spot superheroes, dragons, flying pigs and loads more brilliant 3D kites in all shapes and sizes at this year’s 30th Portsmouth International Kite Festival (Sat 30 – Sun 31 July). Expect craft stalls, refreshments and a free children’s kite making workshop. And if you’re inspired to have a go, there’s dedicated kite traders to buy one from (good luck getting Batman in the car!).