Valentines Day is coming and of course you’re going off together for that five star champagne spa break in the most romantic city on the planet. ”Yeh, right!” I hear you cry, “Who’s going to have the kids?” Well, why not take them with you? Family and romance are not incompatible. In fact going somewhere new together can really help inject something fun, different and memorable into your relationship and family life. A romantic family break? Are we mad? Probably. But I’m sure it’s better than a tired bunch of flowers, bottle of Mateus Rose or a box of Dairy Milk. So, Stuart, here are some ideas for romantic UK family city breaks this February.
5 Romantic UK family city breaks!
I know. I know! Real life is not like the movies. In the Hollywood Valentine’s script you are carelessly skipping hand in hand through the cobbled streets of a sundrenched city, with lunch stretching out forever and the champagne on ice back at the hotel. In real life you are at home picking porridge off the wall and breaking up fights while making up packed lunches, simultaneously sweeping glitter from the table after last night’s art fest, while emptying the pockets of a snippy teenager who doesn’t want his trousers washed EVER, before his iPod gets caught up in the laundry, falls apart in the washing machine and you turn out to be an even worse parent than you thought.
Mind the gap between that life and yours!
Yes, there’s a gap between the celluloid version of life and actual life. But can’t there be some middle ground? Can’t there? Have you ever booked a romantic break and taken them with you? We have, and it turned out fine. Here’s a few ideas for weekend breaks in the UK on Valentine’s Day or weekend.
Ok, there’s nothing romantic about Liverpool One. But the kids will love it. It has everything from Apple to Lego. And when you’re tired of shopping, head up to Bold Street to find a little café to chill out in. There’s everything from Moroccan food at the atmospheric Kasbah Cafe to english tea at Leaf. Liverpool is great for museums too; little ones will like the round the globe adventure of the World Museum, while teenagers might surprise themselves by enjoying a Magical Mystery Tour of Beatles territory. A different kind of bus is the amphibian Duck Tour bus; great fun for everyone. And you can all walk on hallowed ground with a tour of Anfield.
For accommodation Mal Maison is about as dusky pink as you can get, while the newer Hotel Indigo offers a smart boutique experience. If you fancy the glamour of a ‘yachting’ holiday, then there’s a quirky take on that in the Albert Dock; local limo owner Alfie Bowes has three apartment boats including Titanic, Yellow Submarine and The Joker Boat. We stayed in the latter. You can put the kids in front of the 3D TV and make a romantic dinner. You can also book one of his disco cars if you’re having a family night out and need a lift.
Really little ones will love life at Underwater Street where they can explore and create to their hearts content, while you enjoy a latte or lunch in the cafe. (But get there early at weekends as the queue can go around the corner.) While you are there, you could take a quick ferry across the Mersey. For culture, try Fact, which has a light and sound show with electric sparks, Tesla coils, the mysteries of the Wilberforce pendulum. And if you can delay your trip by ten days, Justiin Bieber is playing at the Echo Arena. Your daughter may love you forever.
Fancy teaching your children better manners and society graces? Then Bath has the attraction for your family; the Jane Austen Centre with films and costumes and all the paraphenalia of Bath’s famous resident. Talking of famous legacies, in the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, you can see where and how Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. And in its Star Vault a film, narrated by the late Sir Patrick Moore, takes you on a voyage of discovery through the universe and the history of the house.
If your children are all waterbabies, the city specialises in ancient Roman baths as well as more modern spa treats. If your kids are over 12 you can have a family open-air thermal bath in the Cross Bath at Therme Bath Spa. (It is possible to hire it out and have it to yourselves.) One of Bath’s most popular attractions is the original Roman Baths that still flows with natural hot water. You can walk where Romans walked on the ancient stone pavements around the steaming pool, meet Roman costumed characters and hear the stories of those who lived and worked here 2,000 years ago. Audio guides in eight languages, with a special one for children in English are included in the price.
Or you could visit Edinburgh. Romance is in this city’s bones. And it has old bones. And an extinct volcano. Climbing to Arthur’s Seat, the tallest of Edinburgh’s seven hills, is a must. If you’ve older kids you could do it while reading them relevant extracts from David Nicolls’ romantic comedy novel One Day. Then consolidate their knowledge of the landmark with a visit to Our Dynamic Earth. Or visit the city’s first visitor attraction, the Camera Obscura and the World of Illusion. It wowed the Victorians and keeps improving with five floors of wierdness, a vortex tunnel and cool rooftop telescopes. It could beguile them all.
An open top bus tour is a fun way to see the city, especially with toddlers, but really, this city was made for walking. If your idea of valentines romance is on the dark side, take a walking ghost tour with the undead. If you like your break a little more floral then try the Royal Botanic Gardens. The nearby seaside town of North Berwick is great for fresh air when you’ve all had enough of city life.
Your kids don’t do Shakespeare? Well a play might not be their thing; especially three hours of Hamlet style soul searching. But there is loads to do at the RSC this February. Food artists Bompas & Parr have come up with ‘The Waft That Woos,’ a mirror labyrinth navigable by nose. You can explore the mysterious mirror maze, following the scent of a specially-concocted love potion. Now what could be more romantic than that? Meanwhile A World Elsewhere exhibition featuring the work of over 30 international artistsgives audiences a window into the lives of people, places, cultures and communities from around the world. Curated by the RSC from the Foto8 Gallery Summer show 2012, the exhibition includes photo reportage of recent global events including the toppling of Gaddafi in Libya, the spread of the Occupy movement and the build-up to the Summer Olympics. Staying with the RSC, when writing this, there were still tickets left for a ‘behind the scenes’ family tour of the theatre. You can also look down on Stratford from the tower. And when my parents took me as a kid I used to love choosing an RSC production poster from the shop; with all their weird and wonderful designs.
But there are loads of other things to do in Stratford that aren’t bard based including a Butterfly Farm house that’ll take your breath away. And having a drink by the river is a must. After touring it by boat – it’s not called Stratford-Upon-Avon for nothing.
Is there anything more romantic than a cupid with a bow? Or a man in tights? Nottingham has both in Robin Hood or Robyn Hode as he used to be known. And it has a Paul Smith store. It has a Centerparcs in a forest! If you’ve older children doing exams, Nottingham also has some weighty literary figures to lounge around with, including DH Lawrence and Byron, and excellent places to visit connected with their past. Or if you want less high brow, you could take them to the rated Warhammer World Gaming Centre or spin around on skates at the National Ice Centre. If you fancy sweet nothings whispered into your ears, the Festival of Words is on during the week of Valentine’s Day. Now’s the time to negotiate some ‘me time’ into the plan if you’d prefer to sneak away for an hour or two. Just send the rest of ‘em off for a pizza and tell them absence makes the heart grow fonder.
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