UPDATED: 4 AUG 2016
Short breaks at theme parks have become a highly popular getaway for UK families. They’re cheap, easy to reach and most of all great fun.
In this ultimate guide to cheap attraction break deals we’ll show you how to find the best offers. You’ll learn what to expect from each theme park (including age suitability, ride details and park highlights). And we’ve worked out the cheapest way to book tickets + hotel packages.
TOP RESOURCES YOU’LL NEED
MOST POPULAR ATTRACTIONS
The Big Five: Warner Bros Harry Potter, Legoland, Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Chessington
We’ve researched all the options for a cheap attraction break at one of the UK’s favourite theme parks.
Should you book your accommodation independently, use a package deals website or go via the theme park’s official hotel finder?
The answer depends – read our findings below to find out the best theme park option for you as.
Since opening four years ago, The Making of Harry Potter has become one of the UK’s favourite attractions. Such is the power of the Potter phenomenon. But what does it offer?
The attraction is a three-hour wander around the actual sets featured in the Harry Potter film series – including a stroll down the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley and a peek through the windows of number four Privet Drive.
“Magical” is how many describe it, with 96% of reviews on TripAdvisor rating it either ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good’.
- See where the films were made
- View all the props and costumes
- Visit the Great Hall, Hagrid’s Hut, Dumbledore’s Office, Gryffindor Common Room and the Wand Room
- Check out the Hogwarts Express
- Learn how a host of special effects were made, such as the invisibility cloak
- Buy a butterbeer!
- Examine the make-up techniques used and creature effects
- See a scale model of Hogwarts and other arts and graphics
- Buy unique merchandise from the studio shop
Where is it?
Contrary to the name, the studio is not actually in London. It’s just outside Watford, about 20 miles north of the capital, conveniently positioned near both the M25 and M1. If you’re going by train (see our Cheap Train Tickets guide) there’s a shuttle bus from Watford Junction that takes 12 minutes and costs £2.50 per person.
Best age for kids?
The Making of Harry Potter is good for children of all ages, but we’d suggest 7 year-olds and upwards will get the most out of it. Under 5s go free.
The green-screen broomstick ride is a must. You may not get another chance to taste butterbeer. But it’s the magnificent Great Hall and the scale model Hogwarts that blow most visitors away.
They recently opened a recreation of Platform 9 ¾, featuring the original Hogwarts Express.
Need to know!
You have to book in advance. Visitor numbers are restricted and weekend tours sell out weeks in advance. Plan ahead.
A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children OR 1 adult, 3 children) costs £107.
Single adult tickets are £35 and child tickets are £27.00.
There is no accommodation on site. If you’re interested in staying in a nearby hotel, check out SuperBreak’s packages – we found a family ticket with a one night Holiday Inn stay for £164. Or book something independently – we usually find Booking.com to be cheapest (read our Cheap Hotels Guide for more).
Tina from Norfolk says:
It’s a fantastic family experience that won’t disappoint you. Expect to spend about three hours there – it’s not a full day out. Book an early tour if you can, as it gets more crowded as the day goes on. It’s definitely not just for Potter fans – it’s a great insight into movie-making as well!
“Awesome awaits” is the slogan of Legoland, and that proves true for most of the 2 million visitors that pass through its gates each year.
Widely regarded as an attraction for families with younger children (under 10s) the theme park invites you to: “Fly through the treetops to escape fearsome dragons, ride the thrilling rapids with a Viking Fleet, join LEGO® divers on a magical underwater adventure on Atlantis Submarine Voyage or enjoy the UK’s only LEGO® Star Wars™ Miniland Model Display.”
If you’ve got young kids, Legoland is definitely somewhere you’ll want to visit before they grow up. But plan ahead to avoid the big queues and heaving crowds that have spoilt the fun for some families.
- 55 interactive rides and attractions
- The Beginning – a hill train down to the rest of the park
- Land Of The Vikings – water rapids ride
- Knights Kingdom – dragon rollercoaster for big and little kids
- Pirate Shores – Jolly Roger pirate boat ride and enchanted forest
- Heartlake City – new LEGO® friends area which includes a stage show
- LEGO® City – drive a model car and get your license
- DUPLO Valley – water play, train ride and other amusements for toddlers
- Imagination Centre – interactive creative area which includes 4D cinema experience
- Miniland – sprawling miniature village where everything is made of LEGO®
Where is it?
It’s just outside Windsor on the site of the old Windsor Safari Park, close to the M4 and M25. There’s a £5 charge to park your car at the resort, which has a giant car park at its front gates. If you’re going by rail there’s a regular 30 minute bus shuttle from Windsor train station. There’s also a coach out of London Victoria.
Best age for kids?
Although Legoland advertises as suitable for 2-12s, most visitors say the park is best for under 10s. Its few thrill rides would be considered tame by older kids.
As well as all the rides, make sure you spend some time admiring the details of Miniland which is maintained daily by a model-making team and uses over 40 million LEGO bricks.
The recently opened Heartlake City, which celebrates the LEGO Friends range, has proved popular.
Need to know!
People that don’t enjoy Legoland usually have two complaints: that it’s busy and that it’s expensive. But it’s not busy all the time. Avoid school holidays and weekends and you can have a stress-free day at the resort. If you can’t avoid the busy spells then make sure you buy a Q-bot to reserve your ride times. And the ticket prices are comparable to other theme parks. Where some lose out is by spending lots on pricey food, drink and merchandise once inside – avoid if you can!
A ticket bought online 7 days in advance costs £37 (adults or children). Many of the accommodation packages offer 2 day tickets.
- Legoland has its own hotel at the Windsor site. With unique themed suites such as the Kingdom Room and Friends Room, all with their own graphics and furnishings, it’s pretty special. There’s a swimming pool, children’s entertainment and other LEGO amusements. It’s not cheap compared to other options: a one night stay for a family of four, which includes breakfast and theme park tickets, cost from £366 to £420 when we searched.
- Alternatively look into the numerous deals offered at nearby hotels via Legoland Holidays, the official hotel partner site, or Play And Stay which is owned by the same firm. You’ll be quoted a combined ticket + accommodation + breakfast price, but make sure you check distance from Legoland as some hotels offered are as far as 25 miles away. We found a weekday deal at The Grange Hotel, Bracknell (8 miles away) for £175 for a family of four. Given the admission price, that represents very good value with a room and breakfast for four costing under £30. Plus it includes a bonus day at Legoland.
- Also check the likes of SuperBreak who put together their own packages. Staying 4 miles away at Travelodge Slough on the same weekday as above would cost £148 for a family of four, with tickets, but without breakfast or a bonus day. That’s the same price as entry to Legoland!
- Cheaper still: we used Budget Family Breaks and found the same type of stay slightly further away at the St Giles Heathrow (17 miles) for £132. AND it included breakfast for all four.
Your other option is to book your tickets and accommodation independently. While this won’t get you the cheapest price (as we found above, it’s possible to get accommodation that is effectively free if you use a deal site) it may be a good idea if you’d rather hand pick your hotel. Or you may have tickets via Tesco Clubcard points or some other deal and only need a room. If so, use Booking.com or one of the other sites in our Cheap Hotels guide to find the best accommodation for you.
Daisy from Hampshire says:
Legoland is somewhere all kids should experience once, but for parents it can be tiring day. Get there early, take your own picnic, don’t forget swimming costumes and plan your route before you arrive to include the busiest rides first. Only buy a Q-bot if you know it will be busy – on quieter days they are pointless. Take waterproofs if you’re thinking of going on the rapids.
With many of the UK’s big park attractions found in the south of England, Alton Towers is more-easily accessible to the rest of the island’s thrill-seekers. Perhaps that’s why it’s the UK’s most visited theme park.
It has a fair reputation for white-knuckle rides with some of the world’s best rollercoasters including Air, Nemesis and Oblivion. However, there is loads to do for kids of all ages, and with recent additions like CBeebies Land younger children will not miss out.
The huge resort has grown its accommodation options recently with the opening of the Enchanted Village with its lodges and treehouses.
- Thrill rides including Rita, Nemesis, TH13TEEN, Oblivion
- Runaway Mine Train
- Ice Age 4D Experience
- Twirling Toadstool
- Mr. Bloom’s Allotment
- In The Night Garden Magical Boat Ride
- Postman Pat Parcel Post
- Tree Fu Tom Training Camp
- Octonauts Rollercoaster Adventure
- CBeebies Land
- Enchanted Forest Tree Top Quest
- Extraordinary Golf
- Alton Towers Spa
Where is it?
Alton Towers Resort is between the M1 and the M6, about 15 miles east of Stoke-on-Trent. It costs an additional £6 to park – or £16 if you choose ‘express parking’ outside the park gates. There is no train station nearby, so visitors arriving by public transport come by bus either from Stoke or Uttoxeter, though services are limited.
Best age for kids?
Of 40 different rides available at Alton Towers, seven require the rider to be at least 1.4 metres high and a further six require them to be over 1 metre. The park attracts a lot of families with over 8s but there is still plenty that under 8s will enjoy – though perhaps not as much as at Legoland.
Top ride The Smiler reopens in June 2016 after a crash that has now been confirmed was due to human error. In the meantime, Air is the standout attraction – it’s described as the closest thing to flying, with riders gliding through the skies in a ‘Superman’ position.
CBeebies Land is barely a year old and it’s latest addition is a junior Octonauts rollercoaster. Visit after 13 May and you’ll be able to check out its newly-launched theme restaurant where food is delivered by mini rollercoaster.
Need to know!
Alton Towers often runs special events during school or seasonal holidays like Halloween and Christmas. Check their events page to see what’s coming up. Note that the theme park is closed from November to mid-March each year.
A one-day park entry ticket bought at least seven days in advance costs £32.85 per person, if for a family of four or more. Tickets for the water park – which is a separate entity – can be bought for £12 each online.
- Alton Towers has several on-site accommodation options. We checked prices for a one night midweek stay in March for a family of four.At the top end are its exclusive new Enchanted Village treehouses. These quirky self-catering luxury apartments come with free WiFi, a private hot tub and a 30″ plasma TV in every bedroom. One night with theme park tickets included cost a whopping £1078.00.Less pricey are the Enchanted Village woodland lodges which come with full English breakfast at the Crooked Spoon restaurant and cost £293.75 with park tickets included.A third option is the longer-established resort hotel and its Explorer rooms. They all have a 26″ flat screen LCD TV, tea and coffee making facilities and an en-suite bathroom with bath and shower. When we checked prices started at £290.51. There is also Caribbean themed Splash Landings hotel on site which has rooms from £270.51.
- Off site, using Alton Towers’ own short breaks booking site, we found a night at Holiday Inn Stoke on Trent (15 miles from the park) for £216 for a family of four. There were some slightly cheaper options in further-away locations like Nottingham. Check out Play And Stay for similar deals but with bonus days at the park offered.
- You could save a few pounds using Superbreak’s search engine to find a package. We found a double room at Holiday Inn East Midlands Airport (26 miles away) for £173.66 with park tickets.
- Also compare prices if you book your accommodation independently. Use Booking.com or one of the other sites in our Cheap Hotels guide.
Ellie from the West Midlands says:
The park is quite spread out so wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking. That said, we also used the SkyRide cable car to travel between different areas and save our legs! Ask for a wristband that you can attach to your kids with your name and mobile number on, just in case they wander off in the crowds. It’s also wise to buy your car park ticket as soon as you arrive rather than waiting till the end of the day, because the queues then are often huge.
Alton Towers’ southern sister (they are both owned by the same company, Merlin Entertainments) Thorpe Park is a bustling and relatively compact theme park with some hair-raising rides for adrenaline junkies.
This is definitely one for the big kids, with its emphasis on white knuckle thrills and the horror-themed SAW.
- I’m a Celebrity jungle maze
- Stealth – 0-80 mph in 2 secs
- THE SWARM
- SAW – Horror ride
- Colossus rollercoaster
- Nemesis Inferno
- Tidal Wave water ride
- Angry Birds 4D cinema
- King Pig’s dodgems
Where is it?
Just off the M25, close to the intersection with the M3 and 8 miles from Heathrow. Car parking costs £5. By rail you need to get to Staines station and then take the 950 bus which runs every 20 minutes. It’s £3.70 adult return or £2.70 for under 11s. Check bus times.
Best age for kids?
We would say at least 10. If you have an under 10 in your family as well as older kids, don’t be put off – there are things for them, like the teacup ride, water flumes and junior rollercoaster. But the park is mainly geared towards teens and tweens.
Stealth, the 50s America-themed car rollercoaster, fires you to 200 feet in a few seconds. It’s truly exhilarating.
Thorpe Park is revealing a new Derren Brown-inspired mystery attraction this year, so look out for that. Also the family-friendly I’m A Celebrity maze is new and offers a vibrating bridge, water jets and crawling insects simulation.
Need to know!
Oddly, you can’t access Thorpe Park from its nearest motorway junction (J12 on the M25). If you’re not content with fast food, consider taking your own lunch and refreshments.
An advance ticket bought online costs a set £27.99. That’s £111.96 for a family of four. Fastrack extras are available to avoid queues.
- On-site accommodation comes in the form of family-oriented Shark Hotel. It’s right inside the park, sat beside a lake, and guests enter through the shark’s open mouth. The sea theme continues through the hotel. The rooms are very small but the staff are friendly and the location is great – most TripAdvisor reviewers enjoyed their stay. For a one night stay at the weekend for a family of four, we were quoted £182.30 with tickets and breakfast, plus an extra day at the park free.
- ThorpeBreaks is the official hotel provider and offers numerous other nearby hotel + ticket deals that start around the same price as the Shark Hotel. So if you want a bit more space or extra facilities like a swimming pool or spa, check them out.
- It’s worth comparing the deals on SuperBreak, which offers kids discounts and two day tickets, as well as Play And Stay which we used to find our cheapest offer (£178 family room at the St Giles Heathrow, with tickets).
- Don’t need Thorpe Park tickets and only want accommodation? Then use Booking.com or one of the other sites in our Cheap Hotels guide to find the hotel you want. Chertsey is the nearest town to the park.
Marie from Lancashire says:
You can use the electronic notice boards around the park to find out the ride queues – that’s really handy. Take a raincoat if you’re going on the water rides as you’ll get soaked. If it’s a hot day take sun hats and sunscreen as you’ll be stood outside a lot, obviously!
Chessington is a great all-rounder theme park for families, with a zoo to keep everyone happy and a balanced mix of rides. Also, it’s usually a little less crowded than Legoland and Alton Towers.
Staged over 10 themed ‘lands’, Chessington has 40+ rides and attractions and includes a Sea Life Centre. There are animal shows throughout the day where keepers reveal interesting facts and answer visitor questions.
- Zoo with over 1000 animals
- Sea Life Centre
- Vampire rollercoaster
- Zufari ‘on safari’ trip
- Rameses Revenge – thrilling splash ride
- 40 rides and attractions overall
Where is it?
Chessington is on the A243, two miles from the A3 and M25 (junction 9 or 10). It’s just inside the M25 with lots of nearby towns, including Epsom, Weybridge and Leatherhead. Car parking is £3. There’s a train station 10 minutes’ walk from the park (Chessington South), making it one of the easiest to get to by rail. Buses run from Epsom and Kingston nearby.
Best age for kids?
Ideal for a mixed age group, Chessington appeals to most as an animal-centric attraction. Under 3s go free and its two top rollercoasters only have a 1.10 metre minimum. Check the ride list in advance so you know what other height restrictions there are.
The Penguins of Madagascar live show is full of animatronic wizardry and will delight any fan of the films. Visitors can strike a pose beside their favourite character.
New rollercoaster Scorpion Express opened last year. Suitable for anyone above 1.10 metres.
Need to know!
If it rains for more than one hour continuously on the day you visit, Chessington will give you a free ticket back to come back on another day.
An advance ticket bought online costs £27.00 (adult or child over 3)
- Chessington has a few different on-site options, with two themed hotels and a new ‘glamping’ alternative. We were quoted £207.00 for a family of four to stay one night at the Azteca at the weekend, and £187.35 at the Safari. Both quotes included breakfast and park tickets. The glamping tents, which are available from late May, started at £277.25 when we looked.
- Using SuperBreak we were offered 2 day tickets and room only at the Heathrow Travelodge (9 miles away) for £223.94. On this occasion PlayAndStay beat that with £176.60 at Holiday Inn Sutton (8 miles away) – and their offer included breakfast.
- Using Booking.com we checked for nearby hotels we could book independently. Well-rated hotels close-by started at £120 for a weekend family room. Add on tickets and total prices start £228, showing that package deals are good value.
Stephie from Wales says:
We got a deal to stay at the Safari hotel and I highly recommend it. It’s best to book your preferred meal time when you check in as well as your swimming time. Our room faced the monkey enclosure which the kids loved. There are so many fun touches added for the kids, with a treasure hunt and activities as well as a disco! It’s all very well done.
CHEAP BREAKS AT OTHER FAMILY-FRIENDLY THEME PARKS
OTHER WAYS TO FIND A CHEAP ATTRACTION BREAK
Use Wowcher, Groupon or TravelBird
If you’re flexible about travel dates, the deal sites can throw up some amazing prices. But you’re less likely to find a good offer for a school holiday trip.
It’s worth signing up for Wowcher, which often has cut-price attraction breaks. For example, we saw a Chessington family ticket and one night stay for £99. These deals move fast so sign up for their emails to keep in touch.
Groupon always has some fun attraction deals advertised. If you can’t find the attraction you want using their search box, check out the family page to see what else is offered. Deals change daily but we saw offers for the London Bridge Experience and the James Bond exhibition at the London Film Museum.
But your best chance of finding a daily deals short break package at some of the places covered in this guide is with TravelBird. When we looked they had ticket + hotel offers at Cadbury World, Sea Life Birmingham and The Making of Harry Potter.
Going solo: booking your tickets and accommodation separately
While our research has found packages are normally the cheapest option, you should also check the price of you bundle if you booked it independently or created your own package.
See how much tickets are at your favoured attraction. Look out for 2-4-1 offers and other giveaways in newspapers or on cereal boxes. And make you see what special offers are being promoted on the theme parks’ own pages (Legoland, Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Chessington often have promotions).
When it comes to booking hotels, we like Booking.com which finds some gems. Make sure you read reviews though because the site will offer you a whole range of good, bad and ugly options. Other hotel finder sites to try are Expedia, ebookers and Hotels.com.
Openminded? Just see what packages are out there
The likes of SuperBreak always have eye-catching offers at some of the UK’s top theme parks. They also provide inspiration for new places you might like to try: Madame Tussauds, the Houses of Parliament and London’s Shard building were a few ideas we saw.
PlayAndStay – owned by HolidayExtras which runs the hotel sites for Legoland, Alton Towers and Thorpe Park – is also a must-check website. Go to their breaks page and choose from theme parks, zoos, museums and more.
Short attraction breaks with a large family
One frustration for families booking hotels and also package holidays is that, usually, you pay ‘per person’. That’s bad luck if you’ve got a big family as your bill gets higher for every child you have. But also it often means you’re booking separate rooms to accommodate everyone – which spoils the experience of spending time together.
If you’ve broken down the hotel costs of a theme park trip with a large family or group and it’s looking too pricey, consider a holiday rental. There are plenty of apartments, cottages and lodges available within easy reach of most theme parks.
Villas and holiday homes are great for large families as you only pay for the property. They’re also perfect for extended families or those going on shared holidays with other families.
With young ones happy to share rooms, you can scale down your needs, split the rental costs and grab yourself a very cheap holiday.
Why do we like SuperBreak so much?
We’ve highlighted SuperBreak a lot in this guide. In our research they often turned up the best offers. But there are some other reasons they are a reliable place to find a good package:
- Excellent customer feedback (97% on Feefo)
- Their prices include taxes
- No sneaky credit card fees
- No extra booking charges
- Established for 30 years
- Last year’s ‘Best UK Tour Operator’ (Globe Travel)
Snuffles’ top tips
The key to grabbing a bargain is to start looking early. Attractions and their hotel partners are like everyone else in the travel industry: they want to start fill their capacity as soon as possible so they can guarantee a good year.
But with every deal make sure you weigh up the benefits. Sometimes a package may cost slightly more but offer a free second day at the theme park or ‘kids go free’.
And in case you’re wondering whether a hotel stay is worth it, be aware that with most of the deals you’ll find on our top sites above, the accommodation barely costs more than the standard gate price to get into the theme park!