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‘The perfect way to see the capital’: a family’s magical stay in London – and four more weekend trips kids will love

<span>Photograph: svetikd/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: svetikd/Getty Images

Winter can be a tricky time if you’ve got kids of any age: darker, shorter days and inclement weather mean they inevitably end up stuck inside, with everyone getting bored, cross and arguing about screen time. Why not banish those winter blues with a change of scene and whisk them away on an impromptu weekend trip? After all, spontaneity is now a major travel trend – recent research from Hilton* found that only 22% of UK travellers consider themselves meticulous planners.

You don’t have to go far or be especially extravagant – there are some fantastic indoor and outdoor attractions in the UK that lend themselves perfectly to entertaining the kids over the winter season. What’s more, if you plan a November or December break, you can get them (and you) in the festive spirit with a Christmas-themed visit packed with fairy lights and perhaps a glimpse of Saint Nick himself. And, when you come back exhausted in the evening, Hilton Hotels will ensure that everyone has the perfect base to relax and enjoy themselves, thanks to family-friendly amenities such as connecting rooms, casual eating options and children’s lounges. Having recently experienced a Hilton stay myself, I can vouch for them …

It’s never easy taking three young children away for the night but, when we arrive at the Hilton London Metropole, I know this will be more of a treat than a trial. We arrive there late – and a little grumpy – on a Friday evening after a long day of school and trains. With my youngest heading for a meltdown, I ask reception if we can bring our dinner reservation forward and it’s done, no questions asked. We make our way up to our room, through gleaming gold and marble corridors and up a state-of-the-art glass lift, which enthral my children. A major plus of the Metropole is its connecting rooms which mean you can keep your children close while having a bit of privacy once they go to bed. My son is obsessed with London landmarks and quickly spots Big Ben out of one of our fourth-floor windows.

Eating in public can be stressful with little ones but Carmelita, our waitress at the Tyburn Kitchen, gives the kids colouring sheets to keep them occupied, allowing us the chance to relax with our scallop and squid starters. The kids gladly gobble down their tomato soup, followed by fish strips and steak mains – a big hit all-round. While my husband nearly faints at the sight of the hotel’s enormous signature burger, I enjoy a delicious grilled dover sole, which Carmelita expertly debones while the kids watch on in amazement.

By dessert, we’re all a bit shattered, so we ask if we could have them as room service. Carmelita and team oblige, and soon enough our gigantic chocolate sundaes are being gobbled down with PJs on in front of the TV, before the kids fall asleep in, according to them, “the biggest bed we’ve ever seen”.

With the children down for the night, it’s our turn to indulge. I relax in the room’s roll-top bath, treating myself to the complementary AromaWorks bath bombs, while my husband watches the rugby with a hot chocolate. Bliss.

After a refreshing night we head down to a breakfast of cereal, pastries and toast. My husband and kids go for a full English, while I have a made-to-order omelette that is cooked right in front of me.

The Hilton London Metropole was named the best UK family hotel at this year’s International Travel awards and it’s easy to see why – we all felt spoiled, and left feeling more refreshed than when we arrived. What’s more, it’s also within children’s walking distance of Oxford Street’s shops, Hamleys on Regent Street and Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, making it the perfect way to show kids the capital’s festive sights.

You don’t need to stay at the Hilton London Metropole to experience such treatment. Hilton has 176 hotels across the UK and Ireland, where reliable service and a comfortable night come as standard – perfect for a family winter weekender …

Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour
While a trip to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour is always going to be magical, visiting with the kids at Christmas makes it just that bit more special: the Great Hall is adorned with giant Christmas trees that would dwarf even Hagrid; the Gryffindor common room is dressed as it was for the film’s festive scenes; while Diagon Alley, the Forbidden Forest and Hogwarts Castle are all covered in snow. As well as seeing the festive sets used in the film, there’s also the chance to learn Neville Longbottom’s dance routine for the Yule Ball, spot Christmas cards made by the crew during filming and find out how the set decorators created “never-melting” snow. Plus, you can ride a broomstick, take a trip on the Hogwarts Express and see many of the costumes, models and sets from the films.

Where to stay: Hilton London Watford
This hotel is the perfect base if you’re visiting the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour as a family – it’s a 10-minute drive away and has child-friendly facilities, such as connecting rooms.

Festive lights at Kew Gardens
Whether you’ve got toddlers or teens, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at the Kew Gardens festive light show. Along the Christmas trail, you’ll see dozens of magical displays combining music, illuminations and lasers with the natural scenery of the gardens. Wander through tunnels of glittering fairy lights, see lasers dance off the Palm House, take in the flickering flames of the fire garden and watch lights twinkle in time to your favourite Christmas carols. Whatever your age, you’ll see these incredible botanical gardens in a whole new “light”. Kew is the perfect spontaneous activity – it’s packed full of wonders for all ages, and there’s no need to book ahead of time.

Where to stay: Hilton London Syon Park
After an evening enjoying the Kew Christmas lights, make the short drive home to the Hilton London Syon Park. Located on the edge of the 80-hectare (200-acre) Syon House Estate, this hotel offers all the luxury you’d expect from a country manor hotel, yet is within easy reach of Kew and central London. Kids will love the games room and four restaurants, which serve everything from sushi and modern British cuisine to classic afternoon teas, while adults can take advantage of the Kallima Club Spa with its treatment rooms, indoor pool and hot tub.

Legoland
Legoland doesn’t do things by halves when it comes to Christmas. Little ones will get the chance to see the big man himself as Father Christmas roams around the park in his sleigh, while Miniland, with its world landmarks in miniature, gets a festive makeover. Sights such as Big Ben, New York’s skyscrapers and the canals of Amsterdam are covered in pristine white snow, providing the perfect opportunity for a Christmas-card-worthy family photo. Elsewhere, there’s a Duplo puppet pantomime and festive activities for enthusiastic little builders in the Brick. And that’s before you even start on the amazing Lego-themed rides, such as Hydra’s Challenge, Haunted House Monster Party and Laser Raiders.

Where to stay: DoubleTree by Hilton St Anne’s Manor
Set in 10 hectares (25 acres) of landscaped gardens, DoubleTree by Hilton St Anne’s Manor in Wokingham affords you a well-earned rest after a busy day of roller coasters and rides at Legoland. If they have any energy left, kids can burn it off in the 14-metre indoor pool or with a game of tennis, while you relax with a spa treatment or some downtime in the sauna and steam room (if you still have energy to spare, there’s a 24-hour gym, too). For family mealtimes, you can’t beat the food at the Omnia Restaurant, where the award-winning chef cooks up classic British dishes such as trio of lamb or fillet of seabass.

Bear Grylls Adventure
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean that your kids can’t get out there, get active and get off their screens. At the Bear Grylls Adventure in the NEC, younger kids can have a go at archery, rock climbing and iFly (that’s indoor skydiving in case you didn’t know), while older adrenaline junkies might prefer swimming with sharks, axe throwing, air rifle shooting or the escape room. A great way for kids to challenge themselves physically and mentally in a safe, secure and all-weather environment. If you want an adventure without having to book weeks in advance, try one of the many downloadable treasure hunts available in Birmingham – typically all you need is a smartphone and some comfortable shoes, and they’re a fantastic way to get to know the city at your own pace.

Where to stay: Hilton Birmingham Metropole
Just a five-minute walk from the NEC is the Hilton Birmingham Metropole, a great family hotel. As well as a babysitting service, connecting rooms and an indoor pool, whirlpool bath, sauna and steam room, the hotel also offers a Family and Children’s Lounge in peak holiday periods. Here you can chill out as a family with games such as a giant Connect 4, Jenga, Uno and colouring books, or have a family-friendly meal in a relaxed, casual setting.

*Opinium research survey, July 2023 (surveying 2,000 UK adults)

Be spontaneous with the kids this winter and book into a child-friendly Hilton hotel