Half-term comes around so quickly after the holidays, whether it is spring our autumn. You don’t have to travel far for fun however. Here are some of our favourite UK half-term breaks by train.
You’ve just about got into the swing of things after the holidays break and suddenly the children are off to school again. In February the skiers are all organised and booked months ago, same goes for those who remembered to grab a week in the sun in October way back in April. The majority of us, however, are usually panicking at the last minute, with hardly any holiday time to play with and budgets still squeezed after the last holiday.
Our advice to UK train lovers is to enjoy some time exploring a part of the country you have been meaning to visit for years. Get a Family and Friends Railcard that gives 60% off children’s fares and a third off adult fares and go exploring, if even just for a day trip. Here are some of our the best places to go in the UK for October and February half term breaks, accessible by train:
Our go-to UK cycling trails website is always Sustrans, a charity that makes cycling as easy as, well, riding a bike. Pick a new cycling trail to explore with your family during the half term holidays, either for a day trip, or split it up into a few days to spread the love. Family off-road cycling favourites include Barnstaple in Devon for the Tarka Trail, Canterbury in Kent for the Crab and Winkle Way and Bodmin for the Camel Trail in Cornwall. With the Camel Trail, for example, you need to cycle there and back if accessing by train, but at only 29km long, you can easily do that in a couple of days. There is also a beautiful cafe with hostel style accommodation on the Tarka Trail.
Another disused railway path which is, thankfully, still accessible by train is the Consett and Sunderland Trail, which you can access via Chester-le-Street and Sunderland. There is also an Art Trail on this one, with possible stops at the new Stadium of Light and a final stop at Roker beach. So, suss out Sustrans - they are a font of family cycling knowledge.
Cairngorms National Park
Aviemore and Kingussie are the two gateway towns to Scotland’s colossal Cairngorms National Park. Aviemore is the skiing hub during the winter months and a town with outdoor adventure at its heart. If you haven’t introduced your family to the largest national park in the UK, the half term holidays are a wonderful time to do so. Always take a mountain guide in winter as conditions can change rapidly, but if you can get a chance to take on one of the park’s 52 summits when the skies are blue and the peaks are crispy white, you will have a half-term treat. Check out British Mountain Guides for more details, or Visit Aviemore for details of winter sports companies. This is just one of the UK’s fifteen national parks, of course, many of which are accessible by train.
UK youth hostels
Youth hostels have had a 21st century makeover, just in case you are old enough to have memories of grimy rooms, having to vacate at the crack of dawn and scary supervisors who yelled at you if you came back late. You don’t even need to bring a sleeping bag with you nowadays, with clean duvets all provided. They are like family communities during school holidays really, with everyone out and about hiking, biking or visiting local attractions. Another popular option is to rent out the whole hostel for your family and friends, or if your children are 16 and over, they can always go hostelling on their own at half-term of course.
Your best port of call is the YHA website but also Hostelling Scotland and Independent Hostels. Top UK hostels accessible by train include Loch Ossian in Corrour, the UK’s most remote hostel; a converted water mill in Scarborough for dramatic coastal scenery and fascinating heritage; Lee Valley in Cheshunt, Greater London for some white water adventures at the former Olympic Park , or Southease in Sussex to walk straight out onto the South Downs. Read our blog on Youth hostels by train for more details.
Museums aren’t always boring
The UK’s museums are hard to beat, with London probably the most celebrated for its family-friendly museums, events and exhibitions. From art events at the Tate or National Gallery Sunday’s’ ‘Magic Carpet’ to giant sleepovers at the Science or Natural History Museums, February and October half-term breaks go a little museum mad in London. Seek out a few other London alternatives, however, such as the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill and the insightful and thought-provoking Imperial War Museum (IWM) in Kennington where the permanent Holocaust Exhibition is a must for over 14s. This is just one of five IWMs in the UK.
However, there is a plethora of other expertly curated and family-friendly museums around the UK, perfect for a visit during the half term holidays. These include the People’s History Museum, Manchester which is superb if the young people in your life are discovering politics and protest history. Manchester is also home to the impressive Imperial War Museum North. Or the Hartlepool Maritime Experience on board HMS Trincomalee, the oldest surviving British 18th-century warship.
For science, Cardiff’s Techniquest Science Discovery Centre is a must, as is Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, home to the world-famous Lovell Telescope and home to all things astronomy. Take a train to the village of Goostry, and from here you can take a lovely family walk or cycle of 4km or just order a taxi from the station. The Jodrell Bank website gives taxi details as well as cycling ones, as it is a popular spot on National Cycling Network routes 55,70, 71 and 573. Told you they weren’t always boring. A really useful resource for exploring all the UK’s museums is museums.co.uk
Photo credits top to bottom: Camel Trail, Cornwall iStock ©Davidmartyn, cycling with tag-along iStock ©Lisa5201, teenager fell running iStock ©fotoVoyager, Youth hostel sign iStock ©LanceB, Jodrell Bank and Lovell Telescope iStock ©nailzchap, Beach, Mountains and Boy iStock ©abkirkpatrick.
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