Kent and Sussex both have some great places to visit with the family. If you have kids in tow they are in for a real treat. Both counties are full of castles, theme parks, beaches, activity centres and train rides to enjoy, and for those on a budget, some are even free of charge. We have compiled a guide to some of the best things to do, places to go and attractions for all the family, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
ZOOS AND ANIMAL PARKS
Drusillas Park is a small but excellent zoo, rated the best in Europe, with kids’ rides too. It is one of the county’s top tourist attractions. The adventure playgrounds, such as Hello Kitty’s Secret Garden, and themed rides, including the Flying Cheetahs and the Hippopotobus, are very popular with kids from toddlers and upwards. The super active meerkats are a spectacle but the animal fun goes way beyond; see flamingos, anteaters, llamas and more. You can even get up close at one of the walk-through exhibits, including Lemurland and the Bat Cave.
Howletts is a 90-acre wildlife park, home to more than 400 animals, where it’s possible to see endangered and exotic creatures. See tigers, monkeys, elephants and much more in a lovely big environment – they are especially famous for their 15 black rhinos. This animal park is real treat for animal fans, while the kids will also love running about in the play area and taking on the treetop challenge. There are many themed events too that happen at the park so be sure to check their website before a visit.
Port Lympne is home to the UK’s original safari park experience, transporting you to the plains of Africa and Asia to some of the best-loved animals roaming freely about the grounds. Among the 700 animals you can meet are the only giraffes in Kent, lions, leopards, bears and primates. After exploring the safari zoo, discover life-sized prehistoric creatures in the Dinosaur Forest, wander over 600 acres of parkland and run wild in the play parks.
WILDWOOD, HERNE BAY, KENT
Come nose to nose with an array of British wildlife at Wildwood – there are more than 200 native animals here including deer, foxes, wolves, wild boar, beavers, badgers and lynx. Toddlers can learn all about some of the smaller animals in the Cute Corner, while the Amazing Adventure Playground caters for young children all the way up to teenagers, split into two different zones and home to Kent’s tallest drop slide.
This former hop farm is now a lively farm park with tons of cuddly animals and fun attractions to have a great time on. With animal talks taking place throughout the day, you can see all your farm favourites as well as llamas and meerkats and even watch some ferret racing! The park also boasts jumping pillows, bumper boats, soft play, a 4D cinema, magic shows and more.
Meet a whole host of friendly farm animals at Knockhatch before having a go at holding a snake or a spider and watching owls swoop through the air in the amazing owl show. After the kids have seen their favourite animals, there are four indoor play areas for them to burn off steam in, each designed for a different age group, while the crazy golf course and the boating lake are great outdoor fun for all the family.
Kent Life has a real working farm, home to sheep, cattle, pigs, donkeys, ducks and more, and an opportunity to find out about rural life over across the decades in the county. There’s an old village with oast houses and farm buildings, and children will love Cuddle Corner where they can encounter young animals. You can also take your kids to the ‘paint a pot’ studio or take a tractor ride around the 28-acre site. There’s a varied programme of events on at the farm so be sure to check their website. In between activities you can enjoy some refreshments at Dotty’s Tea Room.
This hundred-acre farm is a great place to visit and offers some animal species you’ll struggle to see elsewhere. Discover birds of prey and creepy crawlies before cheering on your favourite in the pig race and meeting goats, rabbits, ducks and cows in the children’s barn. Swings, hill forts, zipwires and more can all be found in the two play areas and the fun assault course found on site.
CASTLES AND HISTORIC HOUSES
Leeds Castle is a spectacular setting for a family day out, transporting you back in time through the Norman, medieval and Tudor periods. Discover amazing artefacts and lavish interiors, learning about how noblemen once lived in centuries past. Aspiring knights can have run of the Squires’ Court and Knights’ Realm playgrounds, before navigating their way through the tricky maze.
A historic National Trust house found in the medieval town of Sevenoaks, Knole House has many great things to do to enjoy, many of them being free of charge, including the deer park and Visitor Centre, packed with interactive displays. There’s a series of themed trails to follow around the house itself, covering topics such as animals and music, while for younger children there are discovery cubes to play with throughout.
With a special audio tour for children available, it’s easy for kids to learn all about this fascinating 13th century castle. There’s just as much to discover outdoors as there is inside, with the hundred-year-old hedge maze, wooden adventure playground, miniature model village and water maze. For a small extra charge, families can have a go at boating on the lake, shield painting and archery.
A truly splendid 14th century fortress, the family is sure to have a fun-packed day out at Bodiam Castle. Meet a host of costumed characters as you explore turrets, battlements and spiral staircases, and use the adventure map and interactive audio adventure to discover even more fun facts about this National Trust-owned castle.
AMUSEMENTS AND ADVENTURE PARKS
With its gigantic replica pirate galleon ship, Hastings Adventure Golf is the place to head to if you love this fun and twisted remix version of the gentleman’s sport; it is also one of the UK’s largest crazy golf courses. The three 18-hole golf courses on Hastings seafront are even the venue for the world championships! The courses are well-kept and it’s a great way to pass some time with the family when in the area, with a Florida-themed course, a traditional seaside course and a miniature golf course.
Image: Andrew H
Great for all kinds of family fun, Dreamland is home to all the classic seaside amusements, from merry-go-rounds to helter-skelters, and so much more. After you’ve indulged in a bit of nostalgia, get your skates on for the roller disco, or head to the Dreamland Ark to meet rabbits, reptiles and more. Over in the Octopus Garden, there’s a giant indoor play zone, as well as a circus tent and an arts and crafts shed to capture your children’s imagination.
Not to be confused with Dreamland, kids and grown-ups can ride and drive real diggers and JCBs of all shapes and sizes. There’s more than 20 great rides for all the family here, from the Spindizzy to the stomach-churning Groundshuttle and the high-up views of the Skyshuttle. Down on the ground, there are the dodgems, go-karts and soft play to let loose on. Diggerland is great for kids both big and small!
Image: Paul Gillett
Treasure Island, found on Eastbourne’s promenade, is perfect for both sunny and rainy-day fun with its indoor Buccaneers’ Adventure and its Long John Silver’s Outdoor Adventure, home to a shipwreck complete with bridges, slides, walkways and a zip line. The attraction is also home to its own 8-hole crazy golf course if you’re looking for a more relaxed family activity.
Image: Cory Doctorow
Older children and parents will really appreciate the Smugglers Adventure, one of Hastings’ top tourist attractions. Take a journey through an ancient cave system and learn the history of smuggling on the South Coast and beyond, guided by notorious smuggler Hairy Jack. More than 70 characters and an array of interactive displays and special effects help to bring the world of the smugglers to life.
Image: Linda Spashett
This underground museum is built around the remains of a Roman town house, complete with intricate mosaics, and offers a glimpse into life in the South East after the Roman invasion. Stroll through the Roman marketplace, have a go at making your own mosaics and try on togas, among other activities, at this family-friendly insight into Roman Britain.
This toy museum is a kid’s dream come true, and a nice dose of nostalgia for parents too. Hidden underneath Brighton railway station, this West Sussex museum is a treasure trove of toys, with more than 10,000 to marvel at, including soft toys, model trains, construction toys and puppets. A great rainy-day activity sure to entertain adults and children alike.
Both of these attractions are within yards of each other, just opposite the East Cliff funicular railway, and entry is free of charge. The Shipwreck Museum contains artefacts recovered from shipwrecks off Hastings and from around the world. One local wreck that you can find traces of along the shore is the Amsterdam (1749) at Bultherhythe in West Hastings. The Fishermen’s Museum is also packed with interesting displays dedicated to the trade of the hardworking fisherman and how the industry has changed and where it has remained the same. An aquarium can also be found down the road for even more marine-based fun.
HERITAGE RAILWAYS AND STEAM TRAINS
Run by a team of dedicated volunteers, the Bluebell Railway operates between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead. This is a paradise for the railway enthusiast as there is a stunning collection of vintage carriages in the main station museum. There’s also a host of interactive screens and games to entertain the kids. The Bluebell Railway will prove to be an unforgettable day out for kids and grown-ups alike.
Enjoy a leisurely trip on board a heritage train through the lovely Kentish countryside with the East Kent railway. At the Shepherdswell station there is also a wonderful woodland walk as well as miniature and model railways to discover. Many fantastic special events are hosted here throughout the year, from the Teddy Bear’s Picnic to the Santa Specials, which are well worth paying a visit for.
Image: Everyman Films
This railway is a small gauge railway that runs 13.5 miles across Romney Marsh between the remote and bewitching Dungeness and the small town of Hythe. It’s a fantastic way to explore the area, and take in the expansive beaches that border the wetlands of Romney Marsh. You can also hop on and off between four stations along the way.
Image: Justin Foulger
The Kent and East Sussex Railway wends its way from Tenterden (the Jewel of the Weald) for 10 miles to Bodiam in East Sussex, where you can hop off and enjoy a trip to the stunning ruins of Bodiam Castle. Explore the area at your leisure, as the railway provide Travelcards which allow you to hop on and off the train all day. A fantastic range of events for kids takes place throughout the year, including Days Out with Thomas, featuring Thomas the Tank Engine, and Fright Night trains for Halloween.
MAP OF ATTRACTIONS
Find all of the fantastic places to visit listed above featured in our handy map below and discover where you can go near you!
If our long (and incomplete) list of family-friendly days out and activities have given you enough reasons to have your next break with the little ones in Kent or Sussex, take a look at our collection of family cottages perfect for a staycation to remember.
For even more fantastic ideas of things to do across Kent and Sussex, check out our guide to gardens in Kent and Sussex, with plenty of day out ideas for those spring and summer months.