Looking for half-term inspiration? From Halloween chills to safari thrills, we round up the best family-friendly activities.
The fifth Dark Skies festival is taking place on Exmoor with lots of family-friendly events, including wildlife safaris, owl experiences, space workshops and, of course, stargazing (22 Oct-7 Nov, some free events) The fringe festival is being held in the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales, with self-guided planet trails, nocturnal animal treasure hunts, adventure walks and more (22-31 Oct). The North Pennines Stargazing festival is being held around the same time, and includes family astronomy sessions at Grassholme Observatory (22-31 Oct, £13 adults, £10 children). The Museum of the Moon, a touring artwork by Luke Jerram, goes on display Chichester Cathedral at half-term. There will be storytelling, craft sessions and space workshops around the seven-metre spherical sculpture, which features Nasa imagery of the moon’s surface (25 Oct-14 Nov, free).
The Norwich Science festival has a different theme each day (nature, climate change, the human body and so on) and lots of child-friendly workshops – including one called The Science of Poo. The festival is based at the Forum but has events across the city and online (23-30 Oct, some free events). At Gilbert White’s House in Selborne, Hampshire, children can make eight-legged friends on a spider safari (£5, 28 Oct).
Fire on the Water is a new night-time show at Great Yarmouth’s Venetian Waterways, involving spectacular fire, light and water installations, plus dance and acrobatics (£6 for up to six people, 21 Oct-6 Nov). Ignite at Polesden Lacey, a National Trust property in Surrey, is another a new fire-and-light show. Visitors have lanterns to light the way between fire-breathing dragons, a river of flames and fire balls, before entering a 50-metre tunnel of light (£15 adults, £10 children, 22 Oct-7 Nov). GlasGLOW, which returns to the city’s botanic gardens, combines illuminated trail with detective story – this year, visitors must save the city from toxic gloop (£20 adults, £12 children, 27 Oct-14 Nov). Fairytale Farm, an Oxfordshire attraction where disabled children come first (but all are welcome), is holding Illuminated Evenings every weekend until the end of November (from £6.75pp including supper, until 28 Nov).
With Halloween falling on the final day, half-term has a spooky feel this year. One of the biggest celebrations takes place in the walled city of Derry, Northern Ireland, where there are three days of live shows, street performers, storytelling, art installations – and a giant spider roaming the streets (29-31 Oct). At Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, there is a scary but child-friendly Halloween tour, plus a more frightening tour for over-12s and a truly terrifying one for ages 15 and above (from £9 adults, £12.50 children, 21-31 Oct).
Eighteen English Heritage properties have new Halloween adventure trails based on the Wizards of Once books by Cressida Cowell, from Belsay Hall in Northumberland to Pendennis Castle in Cornwall (included in the standard admission price, 23-31 Oct). Numerous farms are opening PYO pumpkin patches, including Bluebells Dairy Farm in Derbyshire, which also has Halloween activities and shows, and seasonal “ice-scream” flavours such as Deathly Mallows (£10.95 adults, £12.95 children, 23-31 Oct). Heritage railways are hosting themed journeys, such as Wizard Week and Fright Nights on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, featuring witches, magicians, owls and a journey through haunted woodland (£14.50 adults, £7.25 children, 25-31 Oct). Or look for a Halloween film screening near you – St Donat’s Castle in the Vale of Glamorgan is showing Scoob!, Hocus Pocus and The Lost Boys (£12 adults, £7.50 children, 30 & 31 Oct).
More unusual Halloween activities include a muddy pumpkin obstacle course during Shriek Week at Wild Forest in Brentford, Essex (£18, 25-29 Oct); ghostly canoe tours and candy hunts on the Beaulieu River in Hampshire (£34 adults, £25 children, 23-31 Oct); and a trick-or-treat chocolate bar workshop at the York Cocoa House (£20, 23-31 Oct).