The August bank holiday is always met with mixed feelings. For many adults, it’s a priceless extra day off – the only freebie between May and Christmas – but for kids, it signifies the beginning of the end of the summer holidays. Still, it’s a great opportunity for a big family day out or a long weekend away. If you’re looking for inspiration for how to spend yours, we have plenty of suggestions.
Up, up, and away
Few things symbolise the south west of England better than the sight of hot-air balloons floating in the skies above Bristol, Bath and the surrounding countryside. You’ll get to see a number of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineering marvels, including the architecturally breathtaking Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Victorian grandeur of Bristol Temple Meads railway station, and the majestic SS Great Britain (once the largest passenger ship in the world). Balloon flights are usually available from the beginning of March until the end of October, weather permitting, with the highlight of the season being the annual Bristol Balloon Fiesta held in mid-August.
Bristol Balloons offers a family flight package for £680 for two adults and two children aged 9 –16 (9 is also the minimum age, and the minimum height restriction is 137cm), which includes champagne and orange juice, an in-flight photograph and personalised flight certificates. If you want a couple more people in the balloon with you, Bailey Balloons can accommodate as many as six people in one flight for £200 per person – and its minimum age is 7 years old (a 140cm minimum height restriction also applies).
To infinity and beyond
We might be a few light years away from mainstream commercial space travel, but if the idea of hot-air ballooning whets your appetite for all things sky-related, think bigger with a trip to the National Space Centre (NSC) in Leicester or Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre in Cheshire. The latter has a range of events lined up to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Lovell Telescope, the largest steerable dish radio telescope in the world upon its completion in 1957.
Beyond its observatory, Jodrell Bank is also home to some beautifully landscaped gardens, making it an ideal spot for a picnic. Equally enlightening, the NSC is filled with interactive and educational exhibits, including the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium and its landmark 42-metre semi-transparent Rocket Tower, which houses its largest artefacts, the Blue Streak and Thor Able rockets.
Jodrell Bank has a range of ticket options available, with family tickets starting at £24 for two adults and two children, and you can also save 10% by booking online. Tickets for the NSC start at £11 per person (under-5s go free).
Explore the railways…
Granted, if you have to commute by rail, this might seem like a pretty twisted idea, but travelling the country’s railways can be a relaxing and eye-opening experience, whether you’re voyaging up the West Coast Mainline through the Lake District or seeing the glorious landscapes of rural Scotland. Of course, the caveat is that there’s a high chance engineering works are taking place over any bank holiday weekend, so check before you make any plans.
Conversely, long weekends tend to be a time when historic railways come alive, as steam trains trundle up and down reopened routes. From the Launceston Steam Railway in Cornwall (£29.75 for two adults and up to four children) to the Gloucester Warwickshire Railway (prices start at £5 per adult; £3 for children) and the East Lancashire Railway (up to £38 for a family of five, including free entry to Bury Transport Museum), there are numerous trips offering kids and adults alike the chance to enjoy billowing steam and delight at the tooting of the obligatory air whistle.
Many of these experiences now include vintage backdrops, with staff dressing the part and visitors encouraged to do the same, turning a train journey into an all-round historical adventure. Others are based on more recent line closures – such as the Epping-Ongar railway (£34 for an all-day ticket for a family of five), which was part of the London tube network until 1994 and now plays host to traditional steam trains.
… and the waterways
If travelling the country via rail isn’t your thing, how about messing about on the waterways? Top of your list should be Llangollen Canal, arguably the most picturesque in the UK. Its route takes in the exceptional Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the first of Thomas Telford’s great engineering feats, completed in 1805. Dubbed the ‘stream in the sky’, it crosses the River Dee, and the challenge is whether you dare look down you as you navigate the longest (at 307 metres) and highest (at 38 metres) aqueduct in the UK. The entire 18km route of the Llangollen, which also includes the Chirk Aqueduct, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.
Llangollen Wharf offers a two-hour horse-drawn boat trip for £36 for a family of four, although you can also hire a boat for the day and explore at your leisure for £180. And if you’re scared of heights, there are plenty of other beautiful canal trips including the Avon Ring, the South Pennine Ring and Lough Erne in Northern Ireland.
Building castles in the sand
A day out at the beach is always fun; it’s just the inevitable bank holiday traffic jams that put people off – and that’s a guaranteed sight if there’s even a hint of sunshine!
Many people will swear by their favourite seaside spot but if you’re open to suggestions, head to Mablethorpe on the East Lincolnshire coast. You can spend the day digging holes and building sandcastles with your loved ones – but just watch out for the Sand Train, which runs up and down the beach (£2 per person round trip).
There’s also mini golf, an aqua park (from £12 per person; advance booking is essential), fairground and seal sanctuary, so there’s certainly no shortage of things to do.