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Wiltshire family holidays and breaks

StonehengeStonehenge© VisitBritain
LongleatLongleat© VisitBritain
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White horse, WiltshireWhite horse, Wiltshire© VisitBritain
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Today

Overview

A beautiful county of peacefully rolling, unspoiled countryside, much of it an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and shrouded in mystery and alive with legend, having been home to various civilisations for many thousands of years, Wiltshire can be a great choice for family holidays and breaks. Alongside quintessentially English villages such as Lacock and Castle Combe, there's the inspiring and world-famous Stonehenge, Avebury and Old Sarum, plus stately homes and glorious gardens galore. 

Things to do with kids in Wiltshire

Since Wiltshire is landlocked it's a less obvious choice for family holidays and breaks, yet there is still plenty to keep the kids occupied.

Head for the north-east of Wiltshire, where you’ll find plenty to entertain the children in the countryside around Swindon. At Sevenhampton, Roves Farm is a working farm where children can spend a morning bottle-feeding lambs, watching craft demonstrations, and playing in the adventure playground, soft-play area and sandpit. There are also seven nature trails to follow, the largest willow maze in the world and a tearoom.

A good place to spend the rest of the day is the Swindon & Cricklade Railway at nearby Blunsdon, offering rides on a fully working steam train plus special events such as Thomas the Tank Engine days, Easter Bunny Rides and Santa Specials.

Another day out not far from Swindon is Butterfly World in Wroughton, where it’s always tropical, rain or shine, summer or winter. Small children love getting up close with the beautiful butterflies flying freely against a backdrop of tropical plants and skimming over fish-filled ponds.

While you’re in this area, you may be surprised to see a number of white horses cut into the hillsides, many dating from the last 200 years. To see more, visit Small Grain Picnic Site, which is on the edge of the North Wessex Downs and is the gateway to a variety of scenic walks.

The Downs themselves are a great place to bring young kids, with lots of non-taxing walks; older children may be fascinated to learn this peaceful spot was the scene of a fierce battle between Roundheads and Cavaliers during the Civil War. Nearby there’s a short nature trail around the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust reserve at Morgan's Hill, an area famed for its butterfly-, bird- and plant-spotting.

Travel west a little to Calne and to Bowood House and Gardens, the magnificent family estate of the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne, with a brilliant adventure playground with a life-size pirate ship, plus soft-play for younger kids. 

Find quintessential step-back-in-time Englishness at Lacock, just south of Chippenham, which has been used as a location for ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and (in the case of the abbey) the first Harry Potter film. It’s lovely spending a morning just wandering round the village, visiting the quaint bakery, pubs, tea shops and shops.

Head west again to join the Kennet and Avon Canal at Bradford Upon Avon – its smooth, flat towpath is ideal for family walks or bike rides, or you can hop aboard a boat trip taking you through the Avon Valley and across the dramatic Avoncliff aqueduct.

Heading south, don’t visit Wiltshire without spending a day at Longleat, which was the world’s first drive-through safari park outside of Africa, with lions, tigers and giraffes, to name but a few, plus safari boats and a railway.

See animals of a different kind south at Bush Farm Bison Centre at West Knoyle, where a farm trail (buggy accessible) takes you for 1.5km or so around herds of bison, elk and red deer and through woodland clearings and gardens (a serene spot for a picnic).

For yet more animals, head back to the north-east of Salisbury, to Cholderton Charlie’s Farm with its pig races ( be warned – it can get competitive). It also has 42 acres of countryside and play areas to explore, including nature trails, and several undercover activities.

Eat

Wiltshire’s comfortable climate and rich farmlands have made it a favourite among foodies, particularly for its meats and cheeses, and there are eateries to suit every taste as well as taste trails you can follow – a north route and a south route. Families who are self-catering will delight in all the farmers’ markets held in the area and in Planks Farm Shop on the A432 to Devizes, whose homemade range, which includes ready meals, soups, and baked goods, uses locally and ethically sourced produce.
 
For those with a love for wine or ale, pubs in the area are proud to stock local ales and wines grown in Wiltshire vineyards.  If you have any time left over take a free tour to see how the amber nectar is produced at the Wadsworth Brewery.

Start your day with a hearty Wiltshire breakfast, which you'll enjoy at places that display the Wiltshire Breakfast logo.

When to go to Wiltshire

Summer is the best time to visit Wiltshire, but year-round you’ll find enough to do to keep your family entertained over a short break or holiday.

How to get to Wiltshire

This ‘gateway to the west’– bordering Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire – is easily accessible by road, rail and air, making it ideal for weekend or an Easter break with children.

The north of Wiltshire is conveniently accessible from central London or Heathrow Airport via the M4, while the M3 connects London to the A30 and A303 roads, which serve south Wiltshire. From the Midlands and the north, the best route is by the M5 to the Almondsbury interchange near Bristol and then into Wiltshire by the M4, A4 or A36. Driving times to Swindon from London and Birmingham are about 1hr 30mins and 1hr 40mins respectively.

There are regular inter-city train services to Bath (about 1hr 30mins) and Bristol (1hr 45mins) from London Paddington, while from Waterloo there are meandering, more scenic routes!

Cost

Lacking beaches and hence very untouristy, Wiltshire can make for a good budget-break location, depending on your choice of accommodation.

By Rhonda Carrier

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