Show me a kid that doesn’t like animals and I’ll eat my hat. Enter: The Ultimate Animal Challenge at Whipsnade Zoo over the border in Beds, running 24 July – 4 Sept. Included in entry ticket, this introduces a list of animal-inspired challenges to tackle whilst going round the zoo, such as an elephant memory test and a meerkat foraging test. A fun way to mix things up!
Or, from 26 July – 23 Aug, Cogges Farm near Witney has its Woodland Club on offer. With activities such as mud kitchens, den building, bug hunting and marshmallow toasting for 3-11 year olds, you’ll have a rewild-ed child in no time.
You can also get the kids up close with the natural world at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, which has a series of family friendly events on over the summer. Think Family Friendly Sundays, Activities at Cutteslowe Park, Insect Investigators Summer School, and more.
There’s also plenty on courtesy of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. From Wild Zoologists Camp to Nature Tots to Wildfest, the events schedule is positively packed with ways to get your kids engaged with wildlife this summer, all across the counties.
Fancy something even wilder? Cotswold Wildlife Park, near Burford, is a guaranteed hit with kids who love all things furry, creepy and crawly. It has the little fellas – penguins, lemurs and reptiles – as well as the big guns, including lions, zebras, rhinos and giraffes (try out the Giraffe Walkway where you can stroll up to eye-level with the animals).
There’s also Woburn Safari Park in Milton Keynes, a proper drive-through experience where you can see lions, bears, tigers, and other carnivorous friends close up, plus more to see on foot afterwards. (Psst: on 10 July you can also meet the Gruffalo here).
TAKE A TRAIL
What better way to tire out the littl’uns than an engaging trail, eh? First on our list is the Towering Trees Trail at Greys Court (pictured), a walk through the property’s beautiful woodland with info on the important role trees play. It’s only on until 17 July, so pencil in a visit now.
Hop to it! Blenheim Palace is putting on a Peter Rabbit Garden Adventure this summer, from 6 July – 3 Sept. Using a mix of storytelling, live performance, and puppetry, this immersive adventure has the audience helping a young Beatrix Potter to rescue Peter Rabbit from being baked into Mr McGregor’s pie — a fate we’d all, surely, like to avoid.
Then there are the Fairy Tale Trails at Waterperry Gardens, running 9 July – 4 Sept. These lead you on an interactive hunt, exploring the ornamental gardens and admiring sculptures made by a local artist that are inspired by the natural world.
Ooh, every Tuesday throughout the summer holidays, The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden is putting on Wondrous Walks around the village and surrounding countryside, all about the inspiration behind beloved books.
From 14 July, that great summer staple the Millets Maize Maze at Millets Farm, near Abingdon reopens. The theme this year is transport, so kids can work their way through a great games pack of quizzes and puzzles to solve, all about the history of transport. As well as the maze, there will be trampolines, tractor rides, pedal go-karts (for adults, too!), crazy golf, and more. Sounds like a dead cert day-out to us.
The River & Rowing Museum in Henley also has a Wind in the Willows Riverside Trail to go with their 3D gallery. Very cute!
Plenty on at the Chiltern Open Air Museum this summer. Buckle in for a Viking Raid (16-17 July); get transported back to the Napoleonic War with the appearance of Wellington’s Army (30-31 July); learn about WWI with The Great War event (13-14 Aug); and enjoy the thunder of hooves with Medieval Jousting (20-21 Aug). Doctor Who, eat your heart out.
On 23 July, the Discover Bucks Museum has a Festival Of Archaeology, featuring a Roman sculpture head from the recent excavation at Stoke Mandeville church. Entirely free, the day includes an array of family-friendly talks and activities, including wonderful Roman and Iron Age tales.
Kids will love Oxford Castle & Prison‘s Knight School, running 23 July – 29 Aug. An hour-long session, the little blighters will learn all the essentials for defeating King Arthur’s enemies, plus get a certificate and sword to take home.
Over at the Banbury Museum, until 6 Nov there’s an exhibition on Heroes of the Viking World. This is a neat, engaging idea for a display: all about the real-life ‘celebrities’ of the Viking world, including the charmingly-named Eric Bloodaxe. There is also apparently the chance to immerse yourself in the “smells of the Viking Age” thanks to a replica Viking tent. Hope they’re not trying to sell that as a perfume…
On 30-31 July, it’s the Marlborough 300 Pageant at Blenheim Palace, celebrating 300 years since the death of the first Duke of Marlborough. Expect plenty of costume, pomp, cavalry horses, and Living History Encampments about life in the late 17th Century — much to entertain mini people.
Of course, if history’s your thing, Bletchley Park is always a dead-cert, and this summer there are some special family activities on offer. Family guided tours, special codebreaker puzzle sessions, an updated “top secret mission” activity pack, and more throughout August. If you head over on 29 July, there’s also a special demonstration of an original working Enigma machine for kids aged 7-14. Very cool!
Then Bekonscot, Beaconsfield’s charming model village, is always a winner with the littlies. Likewise, the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre in Aylesbury is every kid’s train-driving dream. Book yourself onto a Day with Thomas (23-25 July) or opt to join Paw Patrol on 14 Aug.
Trying to beat them over the head with the bard? There’s more Shakespeare than you can shake a spear at across Bucks and Oxon this summer, from Oxford Castle & Prison‘s Oxford Shakespeare Festival (pictured) to The Arches (near Olney)‘s The Tempest and Waddesdon Manor‘s Hamlet. See our full list of outdoor theatre throughout this summer here.
If Shakespeare doesn’t cut the mustard with them, this year’s Giffords Circus spectacular is ¡Carpa!, a bright and brilliant ode to rural Mexico. See the show at Stonor Park on 14-18 July or Barrington, near Burford on 21 July – 1 Aug. There are also several dates across the border into Glos and Wilts, if you’re nearby.
Kids will also love Waddesdon Manor‘s family-focused performance of The Tales of Peter Rabbit with Quantum Theatre on 22 July. There’s just something about that rabbit, eh?
Waterperry Gardens gets in on the outdoor family theatre fun with a dance-focused, family-focused version of The Secret Garden on 23 July, followed by a ‘delightfully daft’ retelling of Rapunzel on 30 July.
Or how about David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre from 28-31 July? Coming from the producers of Horrible Histories, it’s no wonder this story is ultra-popular.
The Theatre at Chipping Norton has a whole lot of fun planned for kids this summer including indoor and outdoor events. Catch The Importance of Being Earnest (recommended for 8+) at Kingham Hill School on 5-6 August; Awful Auntie (7+) at Cornbury Park on 10 Aug; then again at Heath Farm on 11 Aug. There’s also a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Newbarn Farm, Ditchley, on 27-28 Aug.
Then, the peaceful Cogges Manor lawn in Witney becomes a verdant stage for The Pirates of Penzance on 23 Aug, courtesy of award-winning outdoor theatre company Illyria. Standard and vegan picnic boxes are available to purchase for £10, and there’s also a bar with snacks and ice cream.
WORKSHOPS & SESSIONS
Suitable for ages 5-11, the Bodleian Libraries are running Tutankhamun Family Fun days at Weston Library in Oxford on Tuesdays and some Thursdays 4 Aug – 1 Sept. Exploring the library’s Tutankhamun exhibition, this is great for any kids that like the Ancient Egyptians, and appealingly (whisper it!) educational.
Or, are you sick of reading the same books aloud to ’em? Outsource to The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, which is putting on Summer Storytelling every day except Mondays 23 July – 2 Sept.
Then the Discover Bucks Museum has a Summer Science Festival running 25 July – 3 Sept. Packed full of things to explore and discover, this should keep the little tykes engaged: interactive exhibits, activities, and lessons all around the museum and garden.
Nearby, the cute Wycombe Museum has a tonne of family-friendly events on throughout the summer: Discover & Make sessions, Toddler Storytimes, and more.
There’s also always plenty on at The Story Museum in Oxford. Lego Master Builders Club, Family Jukebox Singalongs, Comic Club, Storytelling, and more. Plus, the amazing permanent galleries — this museum’s pretty much a dead cert.
Cholsey & Wallingford Railway
The Cholsey & Wallingford Railway is always a great time, check the website for updated running days. Expect choo-choos, rolling countryside and good honest fun.
Then there are castles and stately homes aplenty in our neck of the woods. Broughton Castle, near Banbury, is one of my favourite local spots, not too touristy with smaller crowds, and large gardens for the kids to bomb about in. A 15-minute drive down the road there’s Upton House or over near Chipping Norton there’s Chastleton House which has plenty of space to run around in. Or there’s Buscot Park, near Faringdon — the formal gardens really are stunning with loads of different areas to explore (the Walled Garden and Peto Water Garden are top of my list).
Other heritage buildings worth a meander are Claydon House near Buckingham (amazing 18th century interiors — the kids can lie on Florence Nightingale’s bed!), William Morris’s Cotswolds retreat Kelmscott Manor. And finally, over in Berks, Highclere Castle (of Downton Abbey fame) is a great day out.
Kids climbing the walls? Send them up trees instead! High rope courses are a fab option for all ages. There are Go Ape courses at Wendover Woods and Black Park and the Treetop Extreme course at Willen Lake in Milton Keynes. The Wendover option is great for groups of mixed ages because it has woodland bike, walking and running trails and the new Wendover Woods Café. The Gruffalo Activity Trail will also keep the minis amused.
The outdoor climbing tower and bouldering area at Far Peak, just off the A40 on the way to Cheltenham, also has indoor areas, pizza oven and a camping area. Triple win!
Meanwhile, Rush Trampoline Park, in High Wycombe has 100 wall-to-wall trampolines, so it’s the perfect spot for wearing out energetic children. And yes, there’s a mezzanine café for you to sit sedately while the madness unfolds.
Milton Keynes has got to be one of the nation’s best spots for entertaining families – you can’t throw a stone for hitting an attraction. Marlborough Gate alone has a real-snow indoor ski slope (Snozone), an indoor skydiving centre (iFly), a Gravity Entertainment Centre (bouncing, climbing, etc), and an escape room (Escape Hunt). Just opposite is Mr Mulligans crazy golf and another escape room, Locked In A Room. Drive the kids here and take your pick!
ON THE WATER
Willen Lake in Milton Keynes is a dead cert and has a flash new watersports centre with posh changing rooms and cafes. Go for canoeing, wakebording, windsurfing, swimming and other watery shindigs.
There’s kayaking and canoeing galore in Oxon and Bucks thanks to the many lakes and rivers. One is Thrupp Canoe and Kayak, just outside Kidlington, from where you can explore the Oxford canal and River Cherwell. Annie’s tea room is open for a warming cuppa afterwards.
Hobbs of Henley
If that all sound like too much hard work (teen alert!) you could hire an electric boat. Wallingford’s Pure Boating is taking bookings for boats for up to 11 people that you can drive down to Benson Lock or towards Moulsford (pub alert!). Hobbs of Henley also has a self-drive fleet, and there’s Benson’s AV Boats for kayak, paddleboard and electric boat hire.
JUST FOR TEENS
Arty teens should get a kick out of The Ashmolean‘s (free!) exhibition Young & Wild, about 1980s exuberant German art. It’s a very cool look at a movement that rebelled against minimalism, and found inspiration in urban sub-cultures like the Punk and gay scenes. All music to a rebellious teen’s ears…
Or, a music festival should do well to satisfy the sulky grumps, and there are several to pick from this summer. PennFest (near Beaconsfield) has pulled in an impressive line-up of rabble-rousers for 22-23 July. Hello, Clean Bandit, Jake Bugg, and Rudimental! There’s also plenty to entertain little kids, so younger siblings won’t be going round the bend. Truck Festival in Steventon, running 22-24 July, also has some resale tickets still available, and again there’s stuff designed for families. Headlining this year are Sam Fender, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Kooks, and Kasabian among others. Same for Wilderness in Cornbury Park, which has Years & Years, Jungle, and Underworld headlining, 4-7 Aug.
For budding thespian teens, book them into a YouthLab workshop on Performing Monologues at the North Wall, Oxford, designed for ages 12-17 and taking place 22-24 Aug.
Teens interested in nature? Over the border into Berks, the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust is holding several Teen Rangers Wildlife Club (for 12-16 year olds) sessions this summer: in Windsor Great Park on 23 July and in Thatcham on 2 July, 6 Aug, and 3 Sept. Expect cool activities, bush craft skills, and getting stuck in with vital conservation efforts. Also in Thatcham is the Daring Detectives Teen Session on 16 Aug, which involves tracking animals and learning to identify them by their bones — actually quite cool.
Or, how about taking them along to a musical. Teens will love the smash hit SIX, showing at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre from 12-16 July. This tells the story of Henry VIII’s wives in an explosion of 21st century girl-power pop — certainly livelier than a GCSE classroom. There’s also Chicago at the New Theatre Oxford from 18-23 July. It’s enticingly dubbed ‘the sexiest musical ever’, but is actually suitable for ages 13+. Then, Mamma Mia! comes to the Milton Keynes Theatre from 2-6 Aug — always a crowd-pleaser!
New this year at Cotswold Wildlife Park, near Burford, is the Zookeeper Academy, for teens aged 15-18, 1-5 Aug. This consists of daily practical tasks, classroom training, and hands-on zoo husbandry training. You can book a place or get more information by email.
THE BIG SMOKE
Fancy taking them into the city this summer? There’s certainly plenty to entice. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has a new musical adaptation of 101 Dalmations boasting Warhorse-style puppets (12 July – 28 Aug), which just screams perfect family summer outing.
Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, Opera Holland Park has a production of Little Women that could be the perfect thing for introducing kids to opera — get you and your high-brow offspring! Performance dates are 22, 28, 30 July; 3 & 5 Aug.
In the West End, the production of To Kill a Mockingbird with Rafe Spall (Trying, Hot Fuzz) as Atticus Finch is getting rave reviews at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. A great adaptation of a classic English class read? Pat yourself on the back, that’s parenting done right. Spall is Atticus until 13 August, at which point he’ll be replaced by Richard Coyle.
For a simply comforting classic, you could take the kids to see My Fair Lady at the London Coliseum. Returning to the UK after a 21-year break, this Broadway production is multi-award-winning and full of fun costumes. It runs until 27 Aug.
A great and criminally underrated musical to catch is Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre. Boasting wild Newfoundland accents, this tells the true story of when 7,000 people unexpectedly had to land at a tiny Canadian town (which only itself had a population of 9,000) due to the closure of the American air space immediately following 9/11. It’s a charming, heart-warming look at human kindness that succeeds in not feeling cheesy.
Fancy an exhibition? The British Museum‘s fascinating exhibition The World of Stonehenge continues until 17 July, revealing the secrets of this most famous British monument. Kew Gardens has a major exhibition called Food Forever, that explores how we can combat climate change and biodiversity loss to protect our food from extinction in clever, interactive ways, on until 18 Sept. Over in Kensington, The V&A‘s charming exhibition Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature (very kid-pleasing!) continues until early next year, and the Science Museum has an exhibit on Our Future Planet, all about ways science is developing to fight climate change. Perfect for those sufferers of climate anxiety.
Want more inspo? Try our guide to the best outdoor art in Bucks and Oxon, family things to do in the Chilterns, or gorgeous summer gardens to visit.
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