Recently we visited London to see Tower Bridge which David had been asking to see for ages and fitted in a visit to nearby HMS Belfast whilst we were there.
We used the underground to get to the Tower Hill tube station, which brings you out just to the back of the Tower of London. On your way to the bridge you also pass part of a Roman wall and a statue of Julius Caesar.
We used some Tesco's "Days Out" vouchers to visit the bridge but there are also deals available online and if you've travelled to London by train you can get a 2 for 1 offer.
We went on whats called, "The Tower Bridge Experience" which takes you up through one of the towers in which there is a small exhibition about the construction of the bridge and about its designer.
This then brings you out onto one of the viewing walkways, high up above the road. Here you will find information about different styles of bridges and pictures of famous bridges from around the world. There are loads of information boards with details of what you can see, wildlife that lives in the Thames , facts about the bridge etc etc.
In the centre of the walkway there is a glass section over which you can walk (if you really don't want to it is possible to get round it.) It gives you a birds eye view of vehicles passing over the bridge under your feet. If the bridge is not lifting on the day you visit then there is an app that you can use to make it look as if the bridge is lifting up towards you, which a member of staff kindly showed the boys.
Both of the walkways had the same features and you then exited down the tower via some images of other famous London landmarks. Following a blue stripe painted on the walkway of the bridge you are led to the engine rooms which explain more about how the bridge works and was powered by steam. There is a short video showing the bridge lifting and a small souvenir shop.
If you are planning a visit to the Bridge I would highly recommend checking its website which gives you more information plus the dates and times that the Bridge will be lifting if you'd like to see it in action. www.towerbridge.org.uk
From here we walked down towards HMS Belfast which gave us a really good view of the Shard and we passed the Mayor of London's offices and a sculpture the boys called "The Bean". HMS Belfast is no more than a 3 or 4 min walk from the bridge.
Again we used Tesco's "Days Out" vouchers to enter HMS Belfast and I believe they also offer a 2 for 1 for English Heritage members and those with a rail ticket. HMS Belfast played a pivotal role in the D-Day landings and in other conflicts. You can visit all areas of the ship from the kitchens, sleeping quarters, chapel, dentists, to the control deck and the weapons deck.
It also offers some great views of Tower Bridge.There are interactive displays about the ships various roles and the staff were very good with the kids. It also has its own small shop and cafe area. Due to it being a war ship its not that accessible and there are a lot of ladders and narrow walkways so I would not recommend taking a pram etc.
Overall, a good value and fun day out.
One of our favourite local places to visit is Wrest Park in Silsoe, which is between Luton and Bedford on the A6.
It is an English Heritage property which comprises a mansion, large gardens, a play area, cafe and shop.
Everything is included with your entry price and I'd recommend you allow at least 2 hours for a visit to fully explore the grounds.
The Mansion has rooms on the ground floor open to view and a few interactive things for children to look at but the main attraction for our boys is the gardens!
There are formal gardens close to the house and a tropical greenhouse to the side of it. Then as you go further away from the house there are various statues, and buildings dotted throughout the landscape, most noticeably the Pavilion at the end of the lake.
There are always fish in the lake, ducks and at least one pair of swans. There are so many different areas of the gardens to explore and they are really varied, from ruined follies and orangeries to a Chinese bridge !
The staff at Wrest Park are very welcoming to children, and if you visit on a weekend or school holiday they often have children's trails and activities on.
We've done archeology workshops, been to a St Georges day festival complete with George battling a dragon and "Wrest At War" with vehicles and re-enactments and all of them have been great. For more information on their various events I'd recommend checking English Heritages website.
There is a wooden children's play area as you enter the grounds, which has a climbing frame in the shape of the Pavilion, a zip wire, swings and various other things for older children and an area for younger visitors too.
Last month we visited the National Space Centre in Leicester. This was actually the third time we've been and hopefully the following will explain why.
The Space Centre is really well signed off of the M1 and from Luton took us about 1 hour. Its easy to find and has its own car park. The car park is a pay and display and costs I think about £3 or £4 for the day.
We used Tesco Clubcard Days Out vouchers to pay for our entrance, but failing that booking online is slightly cheaper than the entrance price. For your entrance fee you get access to the whole of the Space Centre and a timed ticket for a planetarium show. Your ticket is then automatically upgraded to an annual pass, which allows you free entry as many times as you like for a year from the day you bought it.
I cannot recommend this place more highly. It is the most hands on, child friendly, educational place we have ever taken the boys. Everything is interactive and there is such a variety of different things to do and it is suitable for all different ages. I would guess the youngest age for getting the most out of it would be about 3 and no upper age as Les and I enjoyed it a lot too.
The Planetarium show is really good. We've seen a couple now as they vary them each day. Its a large comfortable theatre, and the screen is humongous which almost gives it a 3D feel. They explain a really difficult concept in such a child friendly way, that both boys at ages 6 and 8 were able to explain to us, all about which molecules various materials are made from and how evolution works etc. Pretty full on concepts for such young minds !
Every angle of space exploration is covered and when we went there was lots of information about Tim Peake, who is a big supporter of the centre. You can experience space sickness, control a replica of the Mars Rover and much more. For children over a certain height there is a free simulator ride. Sadly, on both occasions James has not been quite tall enough to go on it but Les and David have done it twice now and it comes highly recommended.
There are models of and lots of information about all of the planets and you can even morph your face into an Alien or present the weather if you wish ! The Rocket tower is very good and explains about the moon landings and has lots of hands on activities.
The Centre is quite big and to see everything I would guess you would need a minimum of 2 hours. Every time we've been its taken us most of the day !