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15 top family attractions in Hertfordshire

There's no need to go far to have fun this summer - our county has tonnes to offer, from historic houses and outdoor adventure to intriguing museums and art hubs. Here's our definitive guide for this summer and beyond. Print a copy and get planning!

1. Hatfield House, Hatfield

The impressive Hatfield Estate

This grand Jacobean estate was where Elizabeth I grew up. Built by Robert Cecil it’s rich with history – 400 years of it in fact – with parts dating back to the 17th Century. The house and grounds are open to the public to have a good snoop around, from Thursday to Sunday between May and August (and until Sept for the gardens). You can also explore the woodlands and deer park. Plus there’s the Stable Yard with it’s small but perfectly formed collection of independent shops, which are open year round, including a jeweller, wine merchant and posh pet store, as well as the Coach House Kitchen for all-day dining.

Fiona Rae jewellers – one of the local businesses in the Stable Yard

Hatfield puts on a rather glittering schedule of events throughout the year, too, from initmate outdoor theatre to major gigs with big-name headliners – Michael Bublé, Tears for Fears, Simply Red and Paloma Faith are all Hatfield bound this summer! And (forgive me…) come December, the Stable Yard transforms into a magical Christmassy grotto, with carol concerts, and there’ll be a brand new illuminated trail through the gardens, too.

2. Paradise Wildlife Park, Broxbourne

It might not be called a zoo, but it’s as good as. There’s a new CBBC series about it for kids (One, Zoo, Three), if you fancy a sneak peek on iPlayer, and even Boris paid it a visit recently! (Ok, erm… let’s move on shall we?!) You’ll find everything from magestic Big Cats (don’t miss the chance to feed one by hand – yes, really!), to cheeky meerkats, perky penguins and more, with tonnes of hands-on experiences to try – how about tickling a tapir or getting a red panda selfie?

And there’s not only the live animals to see but a prehistoric world of dinosaurs featuring some pretty impressive animatronic giants, as well as a dino dig and Rex Express train ride. Plus there’s a soft play, splash park, safari adventure golf and it’s even home to the National Speedway Museum (if Mr Muddy wanders off, it’d be a safe bet to find him there!)

This month sees the return of the super popular Summer Evenings in Paradise (every Friday and Saturday evening until 23 July), where the park opens its gates to the public after hours. See the animals settle down for the night while enjoying some live music and entertainment – think wildlife stilt walkers, walking hedges (ok then!), African drummers. Plus there’s a Pimms cart and food truck.

3. St Albans Cathedral, St Albans

Photo: Dave Wood

Far more than just a place of worship, St Albans’ Cathedral has become a cultural hub for the city, putting on a plethora of accessible events, talks, exhibitions, performances and children’s activities. You don’t have to be religious to marvel at the incredible architecture (the nave – Britain’s longest – is a particular highlight, as are the Medieval wall paintings and the shrine of St Alban) and the fascinating history of the building and the city’s namesake, which goes back 1700 years. Plus, the 11th Century crossing tower, built with Roman bricks (the walls are seven feet thick!) still stands today.

Photo: Luke Watson

Join one of the many guided tours, which are on daily, pop in to the Abbot’s Kitchen and Cathedral shop for some refreshment and retail therapy and do check out the extensive events list as there really is something for everyone. From spotting the Peregrine Falcons which are currently nesting there, with the RSPB, to the Sounds around the Abbey concerts. Plus there’s a spotlight on the Tudors this summer with Tudor storytelling and seals workshops for kids as well as a chance to explore the Cathedral after dark and discover more about its Tudor history.

4. The Natural History Museum, Tring

Photo: © Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

The baby sister museum of the major London attraction, this local quirk is a big pull for visitors to the market town of Tring. The stunning building (once part of the infamous Rothchild family’s estate) houses Walter Rothschild’s extensive private collection of taxidermy. A keen anthropologist, he was a real life Dr Dolittle who had Cassowary birds and giant tortoises roaming in his garden and once rode down Tring High Street on a zebra-drawn carriage – fact! – (hence the intriguing zebra references around town).

Photo: Copyright the Natural History Museum

There are nearly 5000 specimens on display, from polar bears and emperor penguins to zebras (of course), giraffes, fish, birds, reptiles and a replica skeleton of a giant land sloth. And don’t miss the kooky Mexican dressed fleas (you’ve gotta see them to believe it!).

Photo: © Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

There’s always a packed calendar of events going on from talks to tours and toddler time as well as Explore and Draw sessions, trails and craft workshops. Plus, being part of the NHM group, there’s also the chance to catch the highlights of the incredible annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition. Unfortunately you’ve just missed this year’s but it’s usually on from November to June, so head’s up for the next one!

Insider tip: The museum carpark is also the gateway to Tring Park – 260 acres of wood and grassland, with waymarked walks affording beautiful views over Tring and beyond, including Walter’s Wander where you’ll follow in the footsteps of the man himself.

5. Henry Moore Studios and Gardens, Much Hadham

Not your standard gallery, this rambling space is the former home and creative studios of world renowned sculptor and artist, Henry Moore. Today the estate includes an impressive sculpture garden set in over 70 acres of landscaped lawns and rolling fields. Every year the gardens are open from April until the end of October, showcasing over 20 of Moore’s iconic monumental sculptures against the beautiful Hertfordshire landscape.

The studios are dotted around and have been preserved like a work in progress. There’s also the 16th century aisled barn, which Moore rescued from a local farm and relocated to Perry Green (can you imagine?!) – now a gorgeous exhibition and events space housing a set of tapestries and other works. Plus, you can take a tour of the artist’s family home, where his own personal collection of artworks as well as artefacts which inspired his work can be found.

Take a leisurely amble around the grounds, enjoy a light lunch in the visitor centre café which has panoramic views over the gardens and check out the upcoming exhibitions and workshops – if you’ve got older kids studying art it’s the perfect chance to get those creative juices flowing. Don’t forget to pack the sketch pads!

6. Hitchin Lavender, Hitchin

This one’s just won a Muddy Award for best Family Attraction in Herts & Beds, and who are we to argue! There are 30 acres of lavender, sunflowers and wildflowers for you to frolick about i, as well as a lavender display field showcasing 60 varieties of the stuff! Fill your boots (well, a paper bag!) with enough lavender to give your granny’s perfume a run for its money, then pick up some lovely lavender goodies, from beauty products to the farm’s very own lavender flavoured gin and potted plants from the shop.

You’ll leave with some stunning pics for the family album, (unsurprisingly, it’s recently been named the UK’s most Instagrammed floral location, too!) – let the kids run wild amongst the swathes of purple – just watch out for the bees though, and don’t forget your secateurs.

Plus there’s the lavender museum, kids’ play fort next to the Old Barn, which serves homemade cakes, as well as a street food stall and wagon in the field for more refreshments. There are also PYO wildflower and cut-flower meadows, which is open from May to Oct and planted up with Dahlias, Cornflowers, Strawflowers, Nigellas, Cosmos, Zinnias and Astrantia. And, come mid-August, the sunflower field will be open to PYO too.

7. Rickmansworth Aquadrome, Rickmansworth

This 41-hectare public park and nature reserve is a hive of watery activity and part of the Three Rivers District. So named because Rickmansworth is where the rivers Chess, Gade and Colne converge, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of water-based things to do here, from waterside walking trails around the three lakes, which are perfect for biking or scooting around with the kids, (and spotting some wildlife while you’re at it!), to waterskiing and boating for the more adventurous.

The Rickmansworth Waterski Club is based there and runs a series of beginners’ days throughout the summer. And there’s a fab play area for younger kids, plus the café is top notch with healthy and delicious brunch and lunch options (no soggy sarnies in sight!).

8. Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour, Watford

Yes, this London-level tourist attraction can be found right here in Herts, sitting right next to the former filming home of the Harry Potter movie franchise in Leavesden. Now it’s a permanent museum-cum-theme-park, (without the rides, unless you count a virtual broomstick ride over London!), dedicated to all things Potter, and is jam-packed with sets, props and costumes from the films.

You’ll find animatronic creatures, discover the special effects secrets and step into the sets, from the Great Hall to Diagon Alley and, brand new for 2022, Professor Sprout’s Greenhouse (above). There are special exhibits on throughout the year too – Mandrakes and Magical Creatures is on until 12 Sept.

9. Standalone Farm, Letchworth

If you’re after a wholesome, hands-on farm trip, this one ticks all the boxes. A small working farm (just 125 acres) on the outskirts of Letchworth, Standalone is home to pigs, alpacas, shire horses, Shetland ponies and donkeys, which you can meet and feed during a visit. There’s also an adventure playground, agility trail, woodland trail, sandpit, model railway, electric cars and an indoor play barn for rainy days.

Plus it’s on the Garden City Greenway – a circular walking and cycling route around Letchworth that’s just short of 14 miles, so even if you’re not stopping, you can wave at the animals as you go past or even pause for a picnic on the farm land. There’s lots going on for the summer hols, too including Dr Fossil’s Dino Babies Show, a Birds of Prey Demo and Forest School.

10. Ashridge Estate, Near Berkhamsted

With 5,000 acres of ancient woodlands, chalk downlands and open meadows to explore, this National Trust managed Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty pulls families, walkers and cyclists from all over Herts and beyond. There are 80 miles of footpaths and bridleways with some nice easy waymarked routes leading back to the Iconic Bridgewater Monument. Got a head for heights? Climb its 172 steps for a 360 panorama of the estate (that’s one way to wear the kids out then!).

It’s lovely all year round – the woods provide some well-needed shade in the summer and shelter come winter, plus Dockey Woods is an absolute must in the Spring for bluebell spotting. Keep your eyes peeled year round for resident fallow deer, too. There’s also a café (as well as a regular coffee van and ice cream truck), plus a shop selling gifts and plants. Keep an eye on the site for what’s on as there’s nearly always something going on for kids, from themed trails to hands-on workshops, plus adult courses from forest bathing to photography.

11. Knebworth House, Knebworth

Ok, so you might know it best as the venue that hosted Oasis’ record breaking gig in the mid 90s… in fact Liam Gallagher returned to the stage there earlier this year, but there’s far more to Knebworth than being a Britpop backdrop. This grand stately pile and former home of novelist, playwright and politician Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, opens to visitors from June to Sept. Book a house tour to explore the ornate rooms and wander around the 28 acres of formal gardens with its maze and colourful borders (there are free tours every Weds in July), or roll out the picnic blanket in the 250 acre deer park.

And for the kids? Well, how about 72 larger than life dinosaurs to discover amongst the shrubbery, as well a sculpture trail and an impressive adventure play fort? Events-wise there’s tonnes going on from outdoor theatre to food festivals and car shows. Plus, this summer The Gruffalo is making an appearance (31 July) and a brand new immersive show will transport tots and teens to the world of their favourite Nickelodeon characters (14-27 Aug).

12. Aldenham Country Park, Elstree

An independently run not-for-profit enterprise, this place gets major brownie points for its ecological work that not only supports the local wildlife but educates visitors and children about caring for the environment, too. There are 100 acres to explore including a farm trail, where you can meet the resident cows, sheep, pigs, ducks, rabbits, chickens and more, as well as coo at their cute babies.

Visit the home of Pooh and friends at the 100 Aker Wood (download a map online and pack a picnic), which is free to visitors year round or try one of the self-guided nature trails with views of the nearby reservoir. Plus there’s an awesome adventure playgound, complete with sandpit and zip wire, which has been adapted for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. There’s also a SEND pavillion with bookable sensory sessions, and area for free play and creative activities.

Want to stay for longer? There’s glamping there too – book a bell tent or cabin or just pitch your own tent and get back to nature.

13. Celtic Harmony, Hertford

Make like the Flintstones and experience what life was like in the Stone Age at this prehistory experience centre. Wander into the Celtic Harmony camp and you’ll truly feel like you’ve stepped back in time with it’s wattle and daub roundhouses and costumed historians set within a 13 acre rural site in Bourne Wood. A family day out here involves talks on prehistoric tools, hands-on flint firelighting, storytelling and other themed workshops and activities like face painting, den building, warrior training and torch making. There’s also a café, which has a wood-fired pizza oven, where you can pre-book a lunch slot. Note: Leave the picnics at home – it’s a conservation area and bringing your own food is not permitted.

It’s only open for specific events, not year round, but this summer you can take part in the Celtic Games from 23 July – 7 Aug, where you can test your skills, take on the Boudicca Warrior Quest and join a fire procession, along with the other activities mentioned above. What’s more, you can stay overnight in one of the roundhouses, which includes a BBQ dinner, marshmallow toasting, a bat walk and stories round the campfire.

14. Lee Valley Regional Park, Ware, Broxbourne and Cheshunt

This positively huuuuge 10,000 acre park stretches 26 miles along the leafy banks of the River Lee, from Ware, via Essex, all the way to the East India Dock Basin on the Thames. It’s a one-stop shop for all things outdoorsy with everything from wildlife spotting – there are no fewer than 12 nature reserves here (so pack those binoculars!) where you can see all manner of bird life, water mammals and over half the UK’s species of dragonfly. There are masses of guided walks to explore too, as well as houses, gardens and heritage sites, including Myddleton House and Broxbourne Old Mill on our patch.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got a taste for adventure, make a beeline for the Lee Valley White Water Centre, where you can try white water rafting, tubing or hydrospeeding on the rapids. There’s also canoeing, paddleboarding, open-water swimming, and a giant inflatable park and beach for the kids.

White Water rafting Lee Valley

With so much to do, why not make a weekend of it and pitch up a tent (or caravan) at one of the four fab camp sites including Dobbs Weir in Herts – you can also pick a luxury lodge, wigwam or safari tent – and the Almost Wild Campsite where you can get really back to nature with none of the mod cons but all of the adventure!

15. South Mill Arts, Bishop’s Stortford

This all-singing all-dancing cultural hub has got it all – a theatre, cinema, museum, art space, gallery and dance studios as well as the retro themed Maltings bar, (plus meeting and conference rooms for hire, should you need somewhere to host a do!).

On stage you can catch some top-notch performances such as major touring theatre productions, live music, classic and contemporary dance, seasonal pantos, big-name comedians and popular children’s shows from Sarah and Duck to Dinosaur Adventure Live (both coming up for Aug). If you prefer the big screen, there’s a mix of timeless classics and family favourites, and do pop into the museum – it’s free entry and they also run trails and holiday activities there too. Next month’s theme is We’re Living Like Romans.

They also put on a whole host of classes for adults and kids, from theatre and dance workshops to art sessions, Zumba and Pilates as well as exhibitions by local artists.

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