Historical sites are a perfect day out for the whole family, with something to interest everyone. From dressing-up to treasure hunts and child-specific audio guides, these sites will help get children thinking about history in a fun and interactive way.
With so many excellent sites across the country from a range of time periods, we’ve chosen 10 of our favourite places to visit from across England that will spark excitement and curiosity – perfect for a day out for the whole family.
1. Black Country Living Museum
The Black Country Living Museum is an award-winning open air museum that tells the story of one of the very first industrialised landscapes in Britain.
From the early 20th century onwards, the Black Country region (a collection of 20 or so towns falling within the four Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton) became one of the most industrialised parts of the UK with coal mines, iron foundries, glass factories, brick works and more dominating the landscape.
Set across 26 acres, visitors can explore over 40 carefully reconstructed shops, houses and industrial areas that represent the Black Country’s story. Visitors can also meet the Museum’s costumed characters along the way who will explain what it was like to live and work in one of the world’s most heavily industrialised landscapes.
2. Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre is a historical visitor attraction in York displaying a reconstructed Viking city as it would have looked in approximately 975 AD. It features a selection of 40,000 well-preserved Viking items found by archaeologists between 1979 and 1981, and the remains of their city, once known as Jorvik.
From market scenes to domestic interiors, Jorvik recreates Viking life as it would have been during some of York’s earliest history, as a moving carriage transports you from place to place. Old Norse can be heard, alongside other sounds and smells of the 10th century, while the following museum exhibits are also manned by ‘real life’ Vikings.
3. SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain was a passenger steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel: she was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic. Today, she is a museum ship residing on the harbourside in Bristol, England.
The ship in particular is fantastic to wander around: from the first class dining saloons to the engine rooms, you get a real feel for what the ship would have felt like, and how impressive it would have been to contemporaries (as well as how cramped it would have felt with 700 passengers).
4. Lyme Park
The Lyme Park estate served as the seat of the Legh family for 600 years, with their striking family home its focal point. Its stunning architecture and vast historical collections draw visitors from far and wide, while its immense grounds epitomise the beauty of the Peak District.
Today, Lyme Hall is owned by the National Trust and showcases the varied and often notable lives of the Legh family through the 600 years in which they occupied the estate.
Visitors can explore the mansion’s lavish decorations, including Mortlake tapestries, woodcarvings and an exhibit examining English clocks. There is a beautiful Dutch garden and ‘reflection’ lake, while visitors can also walk through vast stretches of moorland that include a deer park, the Cage, and the Lantern, an old belvedere constructed to take in the surrounding views.
Fans of the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice will recognise Lyme Park as the location of Mr Darcy’s Pemberley estate, and the lake as the setting for his famous dip.
5. The Workhouse, Southwell
The Workhouse in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, is a museum operated by the National Trust. Built in 1824, it was the prototype of the 19th-century workhouse, and cited by the Royal Commission on the poor law as the best example among the existing workhouses, before the resulting New Poor Law of 1834 led to the construction of workhouses across the country.
Reverend Becher and George Nicholls implemented a system here whose ideas shaped the way in which the poor were treated during the 19th century. Becher’s idea was for local parishes to combine funds and build a workhouse to house the destitute rather than each parish supporting individuals with food, fuel and clothing.
Bring the family and experience a full programme of living history events, interactive tours and exhibitions to learn more – told from the perspective of those who lived and worked here by volunteer costumed interpreters. Younger visitors can enjoy children’s trails, games and dressing up with activities and crafts. A recreated Victorian vegetable garden can also be explored.
6. Quarry Bank Mill
Quarry Bank Mill is one of the best surviving bastions of the Industrial Revolution, situated near Manchester in Styal, England. Quarry Bank Mill was established by the wealthy and experienced Samuel Greg, soon becoming a site notable for its innovations in machinery and attitude towards labour relations.
Today, the Quarry Bank Mill houses the most powerful working waterwheel in Europe. Visitors to the mill will see the full circle journey from water power to steam back to water power.
Step inside the mill to see working machinery from the Victorian period, guided by the technical team. Then visit the Apprentice House which shows where the child workers lived, ate and slept.
7. Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle in Suffolk was built in the 12th century as a medieval fortress, and today provides an atmospheric walk around the spot where Mary I was first proclaimed Queen of England.
Today, Framlingham Castle is under the remit of English Heritage and is open to the public. A number of hands-on activities are also available at the exhibit, including the Hats Through the Ages dress-up section that allows visitors to don a range of historical headwear from a Norman helmet to a Tudor gentleman’s cap.
8. Tyntesfield House
Tyntesfield is a Victorian Gothic revival style house, just outside Bristol, England. It was bought by the National Trust in 2002, and the house and gardens have been open to visitors ever since.
The interiors of Tyntesfield have been used in several films and TV shows: you might recognise the main entrance and staircase.
The way out of the house takes you through the rooms the last owner lived in: they remain in a state of disrepair and decay out of active choice, and the contrast between them and the rest of the house is extremely marked. It stands as a good reminder as to how much work goes into the restoration and upkeep of historic houses.
Stonehenge in Wiltshire is a world renowned, magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site consisting of standing (and lying) stones, some transported from South Wales.
The construction of Stonehenge took place between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC and is considered to be one of the most impressive structures of its time, especially considering each stone weighs around four tonnes and that its founders had little by way of technological advances to assist them in moving the stones over the hundreds of miles that they travelled.
10. Blickling Hall
Blickling Hall is a stately home of historic importance in Norfolk, England.
The original banqueting hall on the Blickling Estate was built in the 15th century, when the estate was in the possession of Sir John Fastolf. Blickling’s most famous resident was Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and Queen of England between 1533 and 1536. The Boleyn family owned Blickling, and resided here for the first few years of the 16th century.