Stay and activities were gifted to allow me to produce a blog post.
School summer holidays are an great time to explore the UK. If the unpredictable British weather puts you off, a city break is the ideal solution. Winchester is a city in Hampshire that’s easy to get to whilst avoiding London traffic. Despite being only an hour on the train from London, a city break in Winchester doesn’t involve the M25 when you’re travelling from the Midlands. Better still, there’s loads for children to do, even in the torrential rain that joined us on our visit.
Kids stay and eat free at Holiday Inn Winchester
We spent a night at the Holiday Inn Winchester during our city break. This was the natural choice since there’s no extra charge for children to stay, and they eat free in the restaurant too. We arrived at the hotel very early, at around lunchtime. Fortunately, our room was ready so they let us check in early. There were some sweet gifts in the room for us, the girls were particularly impressed with their Pepper Pig colouring books.
The room was an accessible family room with a shower and wet room. It had two double beds in a large room that also had a desk and chairs. Tea and coffee facilities were provided, along with towels and miniature bottles of shampoo and body wash. We were delighted to see in the news yesterday that Holiday Inn have decided to stop using small bottles for environmental reasons. Whilst Holiday Inn is family friendly, they also have an adult-only spa if you want a break. Unfortunately I was unable to make the most of this due to our schedule but it’s great to have the option.
When we sat down for dinner, I checked what was included with the kids eat free deal and anything they chose was free. Whilst there was no vegetarian option on the children’s menu, we were offered a macaroni cheese and both girls went for that. They were very impressed. My sister Emma and I both had a delicious pizza. Our starter was rather fabulous too, a baked Camembert. Luckily the children didn’t realise how good that was and didn’t ask to try it. Unfortunately, we lost most of our olives to the girls. I don’t blame them really, they were delicious.
Winchester Science Centre
We’ve been to quite a few science centres and museums with the girls. However, the Winchester Science Centre was probably the most engaged I’ve ever seen them. It was busy but not overcrowded, soaking up the crowds well. As all exhibits were equally exciting, people weren’t queueing to do a particular thing. Add to that the regular science shows and rather spectacular planetarium and it all makes for a brilliant day out.
As we approached the Science Centre, we could see that the Planetarium was impressive. Photos inside the dome aren’t allowed, because it would interfere with the show. However, it’s safe to say that this is an incredible way to learn about the solar system. Different shows are available throughout the day, aimed at various age groups. We chose the Ice Worlds show, which is pitched at primary school children. Feeling like we were whizzing through space, we lay back on our reclining seats and took in the view. We learned about ice planets, how they formed and why they’re relevant to the ice regions on Earth. They children were utterly captivated and would have loved to have seen another show if we’d had time.
The exhibits themselves were very impressive too. Whatever your personal interests, there’s something to engage you. Health, sport, space, energy, conservation, the list goes on. The girls were particularly into the sport and space exhibits. Since watching a wheelchair basketball match, they’ve always wanted to give the sport a go. They were shocked by how difficult it really is. Running races, rowing and trying on a space suit were other highlights. The Winchester Science Centre is a day out I’d recommend to anyone. Libby insisted that I should mention the fact that the small soft play area is only for children under six. She was outraged at being too old and would love to see a soft play area for older children.
No city break in Winchester would be complete without a visit to its famous cathedral. One of the largest Cathedrals in Europe, the building itself is architecturally fascinating. Inside, there are exhibits and interactive elements that make the cathedral a much more interesting place to explore with children.
Don’t expect to be able to spend more than an hour or two here with little ones. It is ultimately a place that people expect to look around undisturbed by too much noise. However, they do provide a guide book specifically for little ones although they weren’t available when we went. Despite this, the girls were interested to hear a little about Jane Austen who is buried here, along with St Swithun. They enjoyed exploring the building itself and were fascinated by the ancient, first edition Winchester bible.
The highlight for us though was within the Kings and Scribes exhibition, where the girls designed their own stained glass window. They chose designs, fragments and colours on a screen and when their masterpiece was complete, they pressed a button to make it part of the display window. Photographs are not allowed within the exhibit, but I would highly recommend checking it out if you visit Winchester Cathedral with children of any age.
Winchester City Museum
The Winchester City Museum is small, but perfectly formed. I was surprised how long we spent in there. At the centre is a model of the city, complete with its cathedral. Beside the model are several screens with photographs on. Children can choose a photo and rub the screen to see how that city landmark would have looked in the past.
Information is available about famous people associated with the city, including Jane Austen. A Penny Farthing is proudly displayed alongside information about the city’s cycling legend from the 1900’s, Dickie Frost. A tiny corner is dedicated to pretend food for children to play with, alongside Edwardian costumes to try on. Libby learned about the Titanic last term at school, so she was delighted to hear a little more about the Edwardian era. Both girls loved dressing up in the costumes and it’s funny how education can suddenly seem so much fun when it comes with a hat.
Three Joes is a gorgeous little pizzeria conveniently located right opposite the museum and cathedral. They make their pizzas fresh to order, straight from a wood fired oven. The founders pride themselves on being friendly, affordable and delicious. They use fresh, local ingredients where possible, alongside sourdough pizza bases. Their children’s menu is simple but tasty and they were happy to add some olives to the margarita when the girls decided to be awkward.
Within a few minutes of arriving, we’d placed our drinks order and the children’s starters soon turned up as well. Carrot and cucumber sticks with a hummous dip that the girls enjoyed while making the most of the noughts and crosses board on the children’s menu.
Having had a cheese overload the night before, I opted for a vegan pizza at Three Joes. The Vegan Barbecue consisted of meat-free chicken in barbecue sauce with spring onions, red peppers, coriander and vegan cheese. A truly delicious vegan option. I also ordered a side of the Super Salad. Thankfully, the children were too engrossed in their own meals to realise that my salad included edamame beans or they would have pinched them. It was one of the best side salads I’ve had.
The girls and I all managed to squeeze in a pudding. They had ice cream from the children’s menu, which came in three flavours with a choice of sauces and sprinkles. I went for a vegan raspberry sorbet. This was rather sweeter than anticipated and didn’t have the raspberry tang I hoped for. That didn’t stop me from polishing it off rapidly though, it was very tasty.
Why Winchester for a city break with kids?
As a whole, Winchester is a very child-friendly place. The city centre is quirky and interesting with lots of places to explore. I’d love to spend a few more days there on a city break. If we’d had longer, I would have happily taken the girls shopping in Winchester. That’s really not my usual style. I am not a shopper, especially with the children. However, the abundance of interesting places dotted around would break up any shopping trip.
I hadn’t realised that Winchester is only two hours drive from where we live in Worcestershire. Being only an hour on the train from Waterloo, it is a convenient place for me to meet my sister who lives in London. In fact, we’ll undoubtedly meet there again in future so please do let me know if you have any other recommendations for the things we didn’t manage to do on our short trip.
Stay and activities were gifted to allow me to produce a blog post.