Step away from those plastic pumpkin-carving tools (which always snap), cobweb sprays (why make your house look dustier?) and artfully shredded sheets (those were the new ones!): our friends over at KidRated.com – the site that specialises in reviews by kids, for kids – have rounded up the 10 best half-term Halloween activities in London and the South-west, as chosen by children, plus after-dark hotel haunts for the grown-ups, too…
1 WHAT A CARVE UP!
It’s all happening for Halloween at Marwell Zoo. You can design, carve and take home your own pumpkin. The animals are being given pumpkins too, though sadly not to carve – but you can watch them tucking into their autumn treats. Plus: meet the resident witch, telling scary stories – and watch out for Count Dracula who is rumoured to be wandering around the park… The Halloween Festival at Marwell Zoo, Hampshire, runs from 24–31 October; book ahead (and check the website for cool downloadable pumpkin patterns and more).
Best Smith & Family haunt? Spoil yourselves at Lime Wood in the New Forest, just a half-hour drive from Marwell.
2 BRICK OR TREAT…
The fantastic plastic park just outside London (aka Legoland Windsor) promises a whole host of spooktacular Halloween activities based at the Enchanted Forest (plus their usual 55 rides, live shows and attractions). There are Monster Mosaics to build, cobwebs to colour in, puppet shows to watch, and more. Brick or Treat at Legoland Windsor, Berkshire, is on now until 2 November.
Best Smith & Family haunt? Coworth Park makes for a great overnight adventure.
3 BEWITCHED BY THE LONDON EYE
Budding Mildred Hubble or aspiring Harry Potter? Ok, so they’ll be flying in a capsule and not on a broomstick, but we rather like the sound of the London Eye’s Witch Academy experience for wannabe witches and wizards aged 4–9. At the dizzying height of 135m, you’ll learn spells and all sorts of spooky facts about London. Storytelling for younger kids and a free goodie bag (including a witch’s hat) are also on the cards… The Witch Academy at the London Eye runs from 24–31 October: booking essential.
Best Smith & Family haunt? Just across the Thames, The Corinthia Hotel London is a smart spot to flop post-flight. For bonus points, play ‘spot our hotel room’ while you’re aboard the Eye, and then treat the family to the Corinthia’s Halloween-themed afternoon tea, complete with apple-filled pumpkins and gruesome crystallised grue.
4 DEAD GOOD FUN
Be led round the city of York by a guide (in cloak and tricorn) and learn about the Headless Earl and the Gray Lady. You’ll be taken through York’s honeycomb maze of ancient buildings, cobbled streets and ‘snickleways’. Audience participation is a must, and older kids will love this mix of history, pantomime and storytelling. Book early. York Ghost Walk experiences are available every Saturday night, and nightly during Halloween week (25–31 October).
5 PRACTICE DARK ARTS AT MALFOY MANOR
At some point in their lives every Potterhead must make the pilgrimage to the Warner Bros Studios just outside Watford, where the Harry Potter films were made – it is, as this KidRated review attests, quite magical. And what better time to go than Halloween? Over the last two weeks in October, you can duel a Death Eater, visit a carriage on the Hogwarts Express, and see the Great Hall’s tables laden with red apples, pumpkins and cauldrons of lollipops. Great for older kids who have seen the films. Dark Arts at Warner Bros Studio Tour (The Making of Harry Potter) is on from now until 1 November. Booking essential.
Best Smith & Family haunt? The Grove hotel in Hertfordshire is less than 10 minutes’ drive away – and it’s where most of the cast stayed during filming (the keen-eyed among you might also recognise it as host of the X-Factor bootcamp rounds).
6 HOIST THE SKULL AND CROSSBONES
Pull on your scariest togs, climb aboard the Ghost Ship and join the museum’s skeleton crew. You’ll meet storytelling sea-witches and pirates, and get a watery keepsake – and if your costume creates waves, you might win a prize for being best-dressed. Other activities include building a haunted wreck in the Learning Space. Board the Halloween Ghost Ship at the National Maritime Museum on 31 October, 10am–4pm. Adults, £10; children, £6; under-2s free (with ticket).
Best Smith & Family haunts? Any family hotel in London’s a winner, but for self-catering independence, try No 5 Maddox Street, a hop from the scary-story-soaked streets of Soho. Pack one of Jonny Duddle’s endearing Jolley-Rogers tales for spooky pirate bedtime reading…
7 GET LOST!
They certainly know how to do Halloween at Blenheim Palace. You can board a ghost train and be taken through a creepy tunnel to the Pleasure Gardens, where a cackle of witchy goings-on are afoot. There is also a labyrinth to lose yourself or lurk in, a Pumpkin Trail, storytelling in the Stables courtyard, spooky tours throughout the week, pumpkin carving and much, much more. Halloween events at Blenheim Palace run from 24 October to 1 November; book ahead, as places are limited – you’ll need a Park & Gardens ticket, too.
Best Smith & Family haunt? Make a weekend of it and check into Calcot Manor, a little over an hour away by car.
8 CREALY SPOOKY ADVENTURES
Trek into the spooky Wilderness and come face to face with the mischievous trick-or-treating Treehouse Trolls; or dare to peek inside the Witch’s Cavern… Kids are given a free pumpkin and get help making their own jack-o’-lanterns in the Animal Kingdom; there are spooky magic shows; Scooby-Doo will be meeting and greeting guests on Friday the 30th, and finally, on Sunday, it all ends with a fantastic Firework Spectacular – the park will stay open until 8pm. Halloween events at Crealy Park in Devon run from 24 October to 1 November; check event times and book tickets in advance.
Best Smith & Family haunt? Overnight on moody, misty Dartmoor at revamped baronial pile Bovey Castle – extra magic provided by the resident owls who fly each morning during the falconry display.
9 ENJOY A SPELL IN A CASTLE
Nobody could accuse Leeds Castle of not entering into the Halloween spirit. They’ll be a daily fancy-dress competition; bewitching storytelling sessions; and a children’s trail throughout the grounds with a chocolate prize at the end. The Wizards and Witches Academy at Leeds Castle, Kent, is on from 24–31 October.
10 ALL ABOARD THE GHOST TRAIN
Join any of GWR’s ‘Spooky Special’ steam trains at either Cheltenham Racecourse or Toddington Station, and take part in a the Halloween quiz as the train rattles through ghostly tunnels. At your final destination, you’ll meet the ‘Wicked Witch of Winchcombe’ (if you can avoid the Dalek patrolling the station); sit in a Haunted Waiting Room; take part in a ghost hunt and visit the ‘Imaginarium’. There’ll be prizes for the scariest costume and there’s free parking at both Cheltenham Racecourse and Toddington stations. Steam & Scream with the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway on Saturday 31 October; normal timetables and fares apply.