From Alton Towers to Legoland, our experts pick their favourite British theme parks, highlighting the best roller coasters, character-led attractions, and animal safaris.
Best for young children
1. Drayton Manor
The Staffordshire theme park includes rides for all ages but stands out for having hit on a winning formula for young families with its expanding Thomas Land section. This part of the park, dedicated to the beloved tank engine, gained a new ride in 2017 with James and the Red Balloon. Besides the train rides on offer here, Sodor classic car rides and appearances from the Fat Controller himself (among many other attractions) super-fans can now stay in Thomas and Friends-themed family hotel rooms too. Elsewhere, the family-owned park retains a more traditional day-out feel with a clutch of thrill rides joined by a more sedate zoo, including a group of photogenic meerkats. The 286-acre site is set in woodlands but the main village feels compact enough for little legs to explore, making it well suited to pre- and primary school children.
2. Paultons Family Theme Park
On the edge of New Forest National Park, in Hampshire, Paultons Family Theme Park sits in 140 acres of attractive parkland. It is home to Peppa Pig World, as well as 60 rides and attractions, and is best for families with young children.
Best for primary school aged children
3. Chessington World of Adventures
Chessington is overshadowed by Thorpe Park and Alton Towers in terms of big rides, but this attractions park in Surrey has injected novelty this year with the launch of its exclusive Gruffalo River Ride Adventure, cementing its status as a family-friendly destination. Bringing to life the popular Julia Donaldson tale, this immersive recreation of the mouse’s journey through the deep dark wood adds some storybook magic to the more standard theme park offerings found here. The park’s zoo and Sea Life centre provide added family value, with animal-based attractions including monkey walk-throughs and the Zufari safari experience. Thrill-seekers who are more interested in big-hitter rides than the activities and themes on offer in between them may be disappointed.
4. Legoland Windsor
If you’re looking for stomach-in-the-mouth rollercoasters, Legoland is not for you. This is the entry-level theme park for families with kids below the age of 12, with bucket-loads to keep toddlers happy. Now in its third decade, the theme park (on the former site of Windsor Safari Park) is owned by Merlin Entertainments – as so many are in Britain. But, set in lovely grounds, it still has some of the charm of the original Danish parent park, with plenty of giraffes, crocodiles and pirates made out of Lego bricks scattered among the rides.
5. Alton Towers
Surrounded by 800 acres of grounds, Alton Towers was once the Staffordshire seat of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Today, the ruined neo-Gothic mansion is at the centre of the Alton Towers Resort, with four hotels and a water park as well as the famous rollercoasters. Ample rides make this a thrill-seekers dream. A new CBeebies themed hotel coming this summer will broaden the site’s appeal to an even younger audience.
6. Pleasurewood Hills Theme Park
Pleasurewood Hills theme park, set in 50 acres of coastal parkland near Great Yarmouth, offers eight “thrill” rides (including the stomach-churning Wipeout rollercoaster), daily sea lion and parrot shows and a good selection of “family” and “kiddie” rides. It has attractions to suit younger and older visitors – and it is cheaper than some other theme parks, even if you do not buy tickets online in advance.
7. Crealy Adventure Park, Devon
Devon’s Crealy bills itself as the “south west’s number one family day out”, and with more than 60 rides and attractions set amongst picture-perfect English countryside, it’s a strong contender. The park has water rides, traditional fairground style attractions such as a carousel and swing rides, an animal barn and numerous play areas (indoor and outdoor). There’s something to keep most children entertained, but there’s probably most for the under 12s.
Best for big kids
8. Thorpe Park
Situated near Chertsey, 20 miles from London, Thorpe Park is not for the faint‑hearted. It has some of the biggest roller coasters in Europe and the rides here are built to scare. It is perfect for adrenalin junkies and thrill seekers, but there are limited alternatives for small children. Read more about Thorpe Park.
9. Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Blackpool Pleasure Beach resembles Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound: roller coasters shooting off, screams, music and the fizzing of drinks – but it all coalesces into an intoxicating mix of unashamed joy. The park has been on Blackpool’s south shore since the 1890s and now has 125 rides and attractions, a dozen coasters (six of them wooden, topping anywhere else in Britain).