The Varsity, Cambridge
Best for... teenagers
Cambridge is a brilliant city to visit with teenagers, plenty of walking, shopping and eating with glorious architecture as a default setting. The Varsity hotel is about as city-centre and in-the-action as you can get. Right on the river by Magdalene bridge (and a punting pick up point), Cambridge life is happening all around you. Turn left out of the hotel and you can walk up to Jesus Green and then follow the river round before cutting back through the town centre. Turn right and you’ll find yourself opposite St John’s and on the street into town. This hotel is bit like a tardis, the reception makes the most of a small space, you then go upwards to what makes the Varsity particularly special, the 360 view over the city from the Six Brasserie and the bar on the roof.
Book two rooms beside each other at the hotel (there’s a very convenient dog-leg corridor on each floor that affords a bit of privacy with only two rooms on it) and you can all enjoy a bit of bedroom and bathroom luxury without being cramped. Breakfast is served in the brasserie so you can plan your day with an excellent eggs benedict or full-English while gazing over the roof-tops, Cambridge has a surprising amount of different chimney designs. Six is open all day so you can return to it like an oasis, either for afternoon tea, dinner or a well-deserved post-walk ice cream sundae (try the tropical version with mango sorbet and coconut ice cream). The roof terrace affords an equally good view and is open 12pm to sunset, depending on the weather, if there’s a queue then you get priority access. On a sunny day there’s nothing but blue sky above you, do bring sunscreen. If you’re in Cambridge for a special occasion, the River Bar Steak house sits on the river side of the hotel in an 18th century bonded warehouse. Steaks are dry aged for 28 days, there are pies made with London Pride or push the boat out with a lobster mac and cheese, this venue really is American-style, portions are enormous.
To combat the eating spend a day walking to Granchester and back, the route along the backs and then onwards along the river Cam is a glorious 3 miles of greenery. Take a picnic if you like or stop for an ice cream or a drink when you get there, you can retrace your steps for extra exercise or get a bus back.
How to do it
Book rooms from £155 per night, a continental breakfast is included. The Varsity has complimentary bikes that you can use, ask at reception and there’s an Elemis spa for hotel guests with a sauna, steam room and jacuzzi, you’ll be given a pass when you check in.
Review by Lulu Grimes
Storrs Hall, Lake District
Best for... school-aged children
Storrs Hall feels like a hidden treasure within the Lakes, follow their winding driveway and you’ll discover a grand and imposing Hall directly overlooking lake Windermere with stunning views and perfect wild swimming spots just off the hotels extensive gardens, in fact there are 17 acres of private land and plenty of local wildlife to be spotted. On the ground floor there are roaring fires, sinking sofas and old chests full of games to keep the kids’ entertained. Breakfast and more formal dinners are served at the back of the house with uninterrupted views of the lake, but there’s also a cosy bar where you’ll find excellent cocktails and a locally sourced menu that suits the whole family. Wherever you choose to eat the staff are great with kids’ and incredibly knowledgeable on the locally sourced ingredients and the extensive wine lists.
There’s a variety of rooms to choose from that suit families and you can request extra beds for additional children, the rooms feel traditional yet luxurious and there’s some impressive artwork and sculptures to admire throughout the hotel. You’re just a five-minute drive from the bustling tourist hotspot of Bowness-on-Windermere where you can rent a boat for a water-based tour of the mountains or browse the many shops and cafes. It’s worth taking a scenic drive to The Yan in Grasmere to try their seasonal menu, think marinated tiger prawns in crispy tacos and slow cooked Cumbrian crispy pork belly, they have a thoughtful children’s menu too. Staff at the hotel can also point you in the direction of paddle boarding, excellent local family walks and outdoor adventure play parks.
How to do it
Rooms from £200 per night at Storrs Hall, including breakfast. Rollaway beds can be added on request.
Hilton Bankside, London
Set just a stone’s throw away from London’s bustling Southbank, this charming branch of the Hilton chain provides the perfect base for exploring the city. The hotel welcomes a mixture of out of town tourists, as well as business travellers, but there’s a real focus on family fun. At check in, children are met with sweetie bags and treasure maps. The hotel mascot, a furry fox, is hidden on every floor and the children will have great fun using their maps to spot him. A family room (adjoining twin and double) provides plenty of space for a family of four, with cots available on request. Children’s shampoo, activity packs and miniature fluffy bath robes and slippers are also provided and make the kids feel extra special.
The buffet breakfast and Oxbo restaurant on site offer easy dining and plenty of child-friendly options. Outside of the hotel, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out. Take a 5 minute stroll and find yourself in the heart of London’s famous borough market, where you can sample everything from Taiwanese bao buns at Bao Borough to custard stuffed doughnuts at Bread Ahead. Head for the Southbank and you’ll find plenty of restaurants and activates to keep the kids happy, with the London Aquarium, London Eye, Globe theatre, parks, shops and street performers all at your feet. Family friendly restaurants such as Honest burger and Wahaca line the Southbank and street food carts offer a diverse range of cuisines too.
How to do it
Book adjoining twin and double rooms at the Hilton Bankside (starting from £272 and £287 respectively) with internal access to open into a family suite. The price includes breakfast.
Review by Cassie Best
New Park Manor, Brockenhurst, New Forest
Best for... toddlers and school-aged children
New Park Manor is beautifully situated in the heart of the New Forest National Park and just a footstep away from free-roaming donkeys, ponies and wild pigs. On arrival you’ll discover a sprawling manor house overlooking extensive lawns and a glistening outdoor swimming pool complete with sunbeds and parasols. Relaxation is definitely the name of the game. Despite the numerous children and toddlers making the most of the facilities, there’s a very tranquil and luxurious feeling about the place.
You can order a listening-in service so it’s easy to dine downstairs in the Stag Restaurant and have some adult time once your children are tucked up in bed, or you can dine together in the relaxed family room for high tea which is served from 5pm. The menu is British with a modern twist and makes the most of locally sourced ingredients from within the New Forest (including wild mushrooms from the nearby woods) and seafood from the Dorset coast, I’d recommend the seriously moreish Poole Bay moules marinière with fries. The kids’ menu is a treat too, with retro classics such as jelly and ice cream, as well as a vast selection of wholesome meals that kids will love such as macaroni cheese and homemade fishcakes.
The hotel also offers a weekend breakfast service for children so they can whisk your little one away for breakfast and games while you catch up on lost sleep or simply read the papers. You’ll also have an hour-and-a-half of free childcare included in your stay, which is perfect for making the most of the hot tub with views of grazing deer, or to enjoy the excellent treatments on offer at the spa. The staff are wonderfully efficient and also charming with the little ones – and you can even bring your dog.
How to do it
Standard double rooms from £119 per night at New Park Manor, including breakfast. High tea available from 5pm daily for younger guests. Babysitting available on request.
Review by Lily Barclay
Woolley Grange, Wiltshire
Best for... babes, tots & young children
Woolley Grange is a sprawling Jacobean manor house set on 14 acres of grounds, it’s a family focused hotel and everything has been set up to make time away with children feel both relaxing and luxurious. Adults and kids will love exploring the hotel with its imposing fireplaces, cosy nooks and multiple living rooms where you can hunker down with coffee and the papers whilst the children play nearby.
There are a wealth of activities for children to get involved in, little ones will love visiting the runner ducks, collecting eggs and pond skimming whereas older children can make use of the exclusive and well stocked games room, rope swing, air hockey and trampoline, the whole family will love the indoor and outdoor swimming pool and you’re only a short distance away from the charming town of Bradford-on-Avon. Each room is unique but they all focus on comfort and style with beautiful views and duck feather bedding (although they call in advance to check what you’d prefer) as well as powerful showers and well stocked Nespresso machines.
If it’s some time alone or together as a couple that you’re craving then you can make use of the excellent Ofsted registered children’s club, where professional and friendly staff will engage your children in imaginative play and activities. The spa and treatments are a great way to make use of some time off, with a dreamy range of massages and facials on offer.
It’s easy to dine with or without your children at Woolley Grange; there’s a high tea for kids’ served in the orangery or you can book a table for adults only or the whole family in the grander dining room (there’s a cleverly timed cinema night with popcorn if you’re looking for some time alone). The chef uses locally sourced ingredients - many of which come from the hotel’s own extensive gardens. If you’re looking for a gastronomic treat then the gourmet two-night break offers a pre-dinner artisan gin tasting session followed by a 5 course tasting menu, including truffled duck eggs from the walled garden, Brixham crab with cucumber sorbet and aged lamb loin with mint and date chutney and fermented carrots, you certainly won’t leave hungry.
How to do it
Standard double rooms from £189 per night at Woolley Grange, including breakfast. High tea available from 5pm daily for younger guests. Babysitting available on request.
Lympstone Manor, Devon
Best for… tweens
From the chauffeured arrival to the hot towels waiting at the grand entrance of this Grade-II listed Georgian manor, it’s clear that this is a deliciously grown-up getaway. The hotel was recently revamped at the inimitable hand of chef Michael Caines, fresh from his 21-year tenure at Gidleigh Park in Devon.
In the guest rooms, gleaming trays of Williams gin, tonics, lemonade and cookies, and free-standing copper baths (complete with L’Occitane bath bombs) provide exemplary pre-dinner R&R. For bolder bathers, the little picket-fenced terraces of Lympstone Manor’s 12 garden suites come with showpiece outdoor tubs. Beyond, 28 acres of manicured gardens slope to the Exe Estuary (watch this space for a vineyard). Its colours – muted greys, sage greens, silty blues – inform guest-room decor, each of which is named after a wetland bird. In the main house, those birds perch prettily up along the central stairwell on hand-painted wallpaper, and in the lobby beyond, swinging birdcage chairs are supremely selfie-worthy.
In the estuary-view bar, a made-to-order virgin peach lychini, classic champagne cocktails and truly artful amuse-bouche entertain all ages while menus are poured over. The eight-course Signature Tasting Menu (£140) can be adapted to include dishes from à la carte, estuary (fish/veggie) and kid’s menus; bespoke treatment encouraging adventurous young diners. Accessible standouts that wowed all were velvety roast Brixham scallop, luxuriant Cornish salt cod with chorizo, and an ingenious white chocolate candle – edible, all but the wick.
The classic breakfast – kippers, full English – is executed with restraint, so you’re not too full for a trip along the Exe Estuary Trail on the hotel’s fleet of elegant-if-bone-shaking Pashley bikes. Just a 15-minute ride to Exmouth offers kite-surfing – or at least the reliably breathtaking sight of locals who are at it – then lunch at Mitch Tonks' Rockfish. Or, head north to the village of Lympstone and beyond for a string of great pubs and nature reserves.
How to do it
Book doubles at Lympstone Manor from £305 per night including breakfast; £60 extra for a child’s bed. High tea available from 5-6.30pm for younger guests. Babysitting available on request.
Review by Sarah Barrell
Moonfleet Manor, Chesil Beach
Best for... school-aged children and pre-teens
Moonfleet Manor is an imposing Georgian house with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Chesil Beach. It boasts all of the stylish interiors you’d expect from a grand hotel and there are many framed fossils to appreciate, plus nods to the eponymous novel, Moonfleet, showcased around the hotel. What really sets the place apart is its warm, family-friendly atmosphere and facilities for children, which clearly put the kids in first place. It’s evident the hotel is designed by someone who really understands what makes a magical break for children, from free cookies and milk at bedtime to freshly-made popcorn to accompany evening films in the cinema room, there are plenty of special touches they’ll love (and that’ll give the parents some serious downtime, too). With an hour-and-a-half of free childcare per day, you can book yourself in for a dreamy treatment at the spa or a leisurely daytime cocktail on the sun terrace.
The rooms have been designed in a similarly sensitive manner and feel as grand as the rest of the hotel, with family suites that’ll give everyone some privacy, and luxuriously comfortable beds. There are 37 rooms to choose from with options for couples, parents with babies, or larger families.
If your children are arcade-obsessed, then the huge indoor play zone should fulfil all their seaside wishes with a plethora of retro arcade games, a slack-line, table tennis, football court, trampolines and much more – they definitely won’t get bored on a rainy day. Aside from all that, there’s an indoor swimming pool. During school holidays there’s a range of morning and afternoon activities, too, from flower-crown-making to mocktail shaking.
Moonfleet has an excellent locally-sourced menu and I’d particularly recommend trying the seafood; particularly, the pan-fried squid with chill, ginger, spring onion and lemon, or Brixham scallops and the perfect open crab sandwich. The bountiful kitchen garden plays a major part in the menu, and you can enjoy freshly laid eggs and locally sourced meat. The extensive children’s menu features steak and salmon, as well as whole range of other children’s classics.
The outdoor dining space is a delightful suntrap where you can watch the children roam the lawns playing with outdoor toys, including croquet and giant jenga. It’s just a two-minute wander to the majestic Fleet Lagoon, though you can’t swim there – it’s a protected beauty spot for taking in crystal clear waters and colourfully painted rustic rowboats, as well as a plethora of fossils. Hotel staff will show you what to look for and you’re guaranteed to leave with a stash of new treasures.
Standard double rooms from £109 per night at Moonfleet Manor, including breakfast. High tea available from 5pm daily for younger guests. Babysitting available on request.
Review by Lily Barclay
The Four Seasons, Hampshire
Best for… tots & school-agers
Acres of frosted fields surround this red-bricked Georgian mansion house hotel where ponies roam and children are greeted on arrival with a treasure chest of toys. If you’re lucky, the estate’s Labrador, Oliver Beckington, will make an appearance, and if this isn’t a sweet enough welcome, personalised cookies await in your room. Spacious with beautiful garden views, rooms have vast beds, cots at no extra charge, Nespresso coffee machines and biscuits, a basket with baby bubbles, creams, nappies and miniature bath robes.
Venture outside to discover a pink-painted cottage devoted to kids' games (air hockey, PlayStations); the HQ for the complimentary Children’s Programme, where children aged 3-10 can try everything from treasure hunts to kite-flying, crafts and movies. This leaves parents plenty of time to enjoy the spa’s adult-only pool area, or a quiet drink in the library where you can order soothing cocktails. Try the Garden – Silent Pool gin, crème de violette, lemon and homegrown lavender. With children in tow, the main swimming pool is warm enough for the youngest of babies with plenty of armbands and toys to hand.
Food here is equally well thought out. Babies up to 18-months have their own complimentary menu, which offers a variety of meals from tiny pasta cooked in chicken broth to vegetable and fruit purées. The breakfast buffet has a dedicated children’s section while Sunday’s 'From the Market' lunch sees under-fives eat free and older children enjoying a generous buffet of favourites for £15. Adults can indulge in a glass of champagne, beautifully-cooked local meats carved to order, plus endless sides, starters and desserts for £70 per person.
How to do it
Book double rooms at The Four Seasons from £300 per night; complimentary rollaway beds or cribs can be added; suites (sleeping four-five) £600, both include breakfast. Paid activities include horseriding lessons, treetop adventure trail and zip line.
Review by Lily Barclay
Cowley Manor, Cotswolds
Best for… new parents
This 19th-century Cotswolds country house has been tastefully modernised, notably with a luxury two-pool spa that has an extensive menu of pre- and postnatal treatments, plus dedicated swimming hours for children. Kids will also love exploring the grounds (complimentary Hunter wellies available) and for rainy days there are cosy rooms in which to play DVDs and board games. For grown-up relaxation time, the hotel can contact friendly local babysitters.
Hungry children are made to feel at home, right down to fresh milk in the mini-bar. Little ones can eat from their own menu of favourites in the comfortable bar (with room to run around) but are also made welcome in the flagship Malt Restaurant, where locally sourced produce (lamb shank, the highlight) makes for a comforting English menu. A hearty breakfast table is included for all guests, and baby needs and allergies are catered for.
For a traditional pub lunch by a roaring fire, the Green Dragon Inn is a country walk away while the Wheatsheaf Inn is well worth the 20-minute drive for its renowned puddings and spectacular wine list.
How to do it
Book a family room (sleeps two adults and two children) at Cowley Manor from £305 per night, plus £40 for each child aged 3-13. Under twos stay free. Kids’ breakfast and dinner included.
Review by Chris Mooney
St Pancras Renaissance, London
Best for… Harry Potter fans
The unthinkable nearly happened when the glorious Victorian-built, neo-gothic St Pancras station and hotel was slated for demolition. Luckily, disaster was averted and the station was renovated and the hotel, revamped. It’s a fabulous place to stay in central London and there’s access on foot to one of the most interesting, but not necessarily obvious, swathes of London. Bring older children with you and you’ll find plenty to do, not least a visit to King's Cross station across the road from Harry Potter’s platform 9¾ and gift shop. Younger kids will love the bouncing fountains in nearby Granary Square and the LED light-wall tunnel that leads there from the tube.
The Booking Office restaurant and bar and Mi + Me café are on the Upper Terrace with the Eurostar platforms, a godsend if you have a trainspotting child in tow. There’s a cocoon of a spa that has children’s swimming hours and, if you book one of the deluxe Chambers rooms at a higher rate, you’ll have access to a complimentary breakfast as well as snacks, afternoon tea and canapés. Nearby is The British Library where the free ‘treasures’ exhibition is excellent and the Wellcome Collection has medical-related exhibits (more fun than that sounds). There are plenty of places to eat nearby from Plum + Spilt Milk and Vinoteca to modern Indian Dishoom.
How to do it
Book the Barlow wing superior king room at St Pancras Renaissance from £249 a night. Extra bed at £50 per night. Chambers wing junior suite from £349. Extra bed £50 per night.
Review by Lulu Grimes
Best for… teenagers
A suitable venue for a G8 summit and top golf tournament, the Ryder Cup, Gleneagles should be the stuffy preserve of grown-ups. Yet, this Scottish country-house hotel has always moved with the times and is surprisingly family-friendly.
The golf that first drew visitors is now just one of many pursuits available alongside riding, cycling, off-road driving, shooting, falconry and gun-dog training. It’s an adventurous itinerary that promises to engage the most reluctant teenager.
The variety of eating options from breakfast to dinner will satisfy young, picky eaters too. Of the five restaurants, the most relaxed are The Birnam Brasserie, with a French-American menu, The Dormy Restaurant, which has a tandoor oven, and the all-ages bar, Auchterarder 70, which serves sharing dishes.
If your teen will tolerate a more formal atmosphere, beware; you may want to spare your wallet and delay introducing them to lobster smoked over whisky-barrel chips at Andrew Fairlie – Scotland’s only two Michelin-star restaurant – until your final evening.
How to do it
Book rooms at Gleneagles from £325 per night, based on two adults sharing. An extra two beds can be added for chidren aged six-14 (£50 per bed); children under six stay free in a cot bed.
Review by Kate Simon
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All recommendations have been reviewed and approved as of December 2017 and will be checked and updated annually. If you think there is any incorrect or out-of-date information in this guide please email us at email@example.com.
Travellers are advised to read the FCO travel advice for the country they are travelling to.
Assistance for this feature was provided by: lympstonemanor.co.uk, lenclume.co.uk, cowleymanor.com, fourseasons.com/hampshire, gleneagles.com, stpancraslondon.com