Take a walk on the wild side at Longleat, celebrating 50 years in 2016 (www.longleat.co.uk)
Whether it’s Star Wars at Legoland Windsor or giraffes at the 50-year-old Longleat Safari Park, there is a theme park for you. If you're planning a family holiday to London, take a look at our recommendations and some insider tips.
Chessington World of Adventures
Chessington World of Adventures is a theme park, zoo and sea life center all rolled into one, so you’ll want to get there early to fit it all in. With a huge choice of rides and attractions, you can meet Po, the star of "Kung Fu Panda 3", and see animatronic pandas in an interactive live show, Pandamonium. The zoo also has more than 1,000 animals, including penguins, sealions, condors (bred on-site) and Mojo, the blue and gold macaw. Opened in 2016 is a male Asiatic lion and a revamped Trail of the Kings, which has new treasures to discover, both in the zoo.
Extend the fun and stay overnight. Why not experience glamping, or glamorous camping, in one of the park’s new tents? Daredevils can challenge themselves to loop around the treetops on the Vampire rollercoaster or hop on Kobra for a spin at 43mph—if you dare. If that sounds too much for your heart to cope with, then jump aboard Zufari for an expedition among rare white rhino, zebra and giraffe.
Meanwhile, over in the aquarium, you can get close to coral that glows in the dark, upside-down jellyfish and electric blue Regal Tang fish.
£47 adult; £43 child. Train: various London stations to Chessington South (35 mins).
Alton Towers Resort
If being flung upside down while your feet are left dangling at 50mph sounds like your idea of fun, then queue up for Nemesis. Better still, hop on to Oblivion to feel the full impact of its 180-foot vertical drop—face down. Too tame? Then strap into Rita and zoom to 62 mph in just 2.5 seconds.
Spread over 500 acres, Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire is great whether or not you like rollercoasters. It has a treetop obstacle course, aquarium and waterpark, a 4D cinema and a crazy golf course themed around the park’s rides. In May, the park opens a rollercoaster restaurant, where your meal is served on a 400-meter steel track.
Even if all you want to do is relax, you can do that too by strolling the park’s flower gardens, visiting the spa or catching a show.
From £37.80. Train: London Euston to Stoke-on-Trent (90 mins), then a bus (30 mins).
Legoland Windsor Resort
Everything is awesome at Legoland Windsor, which is home to 55 million pieces of Lego. Aimed at children younger than 12, the park has 55 rides, live shows and attractions. Opened in 2016 you can see "The Lego Movie 4D—A New Adventure" and experience being sprayed with water and being shaken in your seat as you watch the action.
Another highlight is Miniland, a unique feature with familiar landmarks from Europe and the USA made from 40 million blocks. Look out for Tower Bridge, London Eye and Big Ben. You can also see your favourite "Star Wars" scenes made from 1.5 million bricks, and get lost in a maze.
Our tip? Arrive early to beat the queues and visit rides furthest from the entrance first.
From £37. Train: London Waterloo or Paddington to Windsor & Eton Central or Windsor & Eton Riverside (30 mins), then a shuttle bus.
Longleat Safari & Adventure Park
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016, Longleat was the first safari park outside Africa, which changed the way the world thought about how animals should be kept in zoos. On a drive-through safari tour, you’ll be able to watch cheetahs running at speeds of up to 70mph, observe the park’s two prides of lions and enjoy the antics of the cheeky monkeys.
There’s interactive fun, too, including giraffe feeding in the African Village and a whole host of family attractions at the Adventure Park. Get lost in the huge hedge maze, drift past the new gorilla colony on a Jungle Cruise and have a go on the Rockin’ Rhino ride. Also on site is Longleat House, a stately home from the 16th century. The house is set in a 900-acre garden created by ‘Capability’ Brown, who also marks an anniversary this year: 300 years!
From £28.85. Train: London Paddington to Westbury (2 hours).
This Yorkshire theme park caters for the whole family with nearly 40 rides and a well-stocked zoo, from giraffes and lemurs to sealions, penguins and tigers. And of course there are the flamingoes—six species of the beautiful water bird here. It's not surprising that their name derives from the Latin word for 'flame'.
As well as being home to more than 140 species, Flamingo Land’s zoo offers unique face-to-face encounters with a wide range of its residents; simply choose your favourite and start to get acquainted (extra ticket required).
Buy Q Buster tickets in advance to skip the lines at seven of the park’s eight thrill rides, including Hero, a new corkscrew roller coaster that offers every rider an unobstructed front-seat view of its terrifying twists and turns. Younger visitors can get a taste of theme park magic at junior versions of classic thrill rides, such as Frog Hopper, a scaled-down version of the park’s Cliff Hanger vertical drop.
From £31. Train: London St Pancras or Euston to Malton (3 hours).
Thorpe Park Resort
Thorpe Park Resort has 30 rides, including the thrilling Tidal Wave, which has a 26-meter drop; the UK’s first winged roller coaster, The Swarm; and the world’s largest speed swing, Rush.
It has partnered with Derren Brown, the hypnotist and illusionist known for his mind-blowing TV stunts and interactive stage shows, to create the world’s first psychological theme park experience. A disused warehouse on an island is spooky enough, but throw in a human brain, Victorian dolls and a master of mind control hot on your heels and your fear will warp into terror. The 13-minute immersive encounter, which opens this month, manipulates the human mind.
Derren says: "The process of creating this new experience has been the most challenging of my career – so much so that it has taken us three years to get the project on track. It takes everything I love from Victoriana to mystery and illusion and wraps it up into a mind-blowing journey. Guests will be unable to distinguish between what is real or imagined and can look forward to a heady mix of magic, suggestion, psychology and misdirection."
From £27.99. Train: London Waterloo to Staines (30 mins), then shuttle bus.