The Hertfordshire stately home of Knebworth reopened its grounds in May, having put in place measures to reduce the risk of infection. For just £10 per person (park and gardens only), families can safely wander the extensive grounds, picnic on the estate and -- best of all -- go on a dinosaur hunt.
Knebworth is most famous for its concerts. Almost every star name you can think of -- The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, The Beach Boys, Oasis... -- has filled its fields with fans. It was also home to Victorian author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, little read these days, but famous for penning the cliched opening line: "It was a dark and stormy night...".
For kids, though, it's all about the dinosaurs. And, blimey, does Knebworth deliver. The dinosaur trail packs in a whopping 72 models, from the familiar T-Rex and velociraptor to less-celebrated saurians (Corythosaurus, anyone?). You'll encounter a few hairier prehistoric creatures, too, like mammoths, sabre-tooths and a tiny proto-horse. We're brought up to date (relatively speaking) by a family of Neanderthals lurking near the exit.
The dinosaur trail works well under social distancing measures. There's plenty of space to move around without knocking elbows, and hand sanitiser is provided at several locations. A warden in high-vis keeps the numbers under control by restricting access, although the queue never seemed to get too long.
As everyone makes a beeline for the dinosaurs, it makes sense to explore the gardens first, then go prehistoric once the queue has vanished -- though good luck persuading the dino-hungry little ones of this logic.
The wider gardens are a delight. Some of the mature trees are simply colossal. Among the towering pines, the soaring redwoods and the gargantuan beech trees of the wilderness garden, you can persuade the kids that you're in the land of the giants -- a game that's given further kindling by the oversized garden chair, newly erected in the dinosaur trail.
The formal gardens are also fun to explore. Look out for hidden animal sculptures, glorious rose beds and playful fountains. The first part of the gardens contains a bandstand and a series of bushes that look persuasively like the home of the Tombliboos -- so young children can pretend they're in the Night Garden.
Fort Knebworth -- the awesome adventure playground at Knebworth House park -- has also now opened. This is one of the best adventure playgrounds around, and worth the ticket price alone.
The house is also now open and requires a more expensive ticket. I may be going out on a limb here, but I doubt it'll be a higher priority for your children than the dinosaurs and play equipment.
Where is it? Knebworth House and Dinosaur Trail is a short drive north of London on the A1 motorway near Stevenage. Use junction 7.
How much to get in? £10 per person (under 3s go free), excluding the house. Or buy a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) for £36. This gives access to the gardens, adventure playground and dinosaur trail.
Are Knebworth gardens dog friendly? Well-behaved dogs on leads are welcome in the wider Knebworth Park but are not permitted in the House, Gardens, Dinosaur Trail or inside Fort Knebworth.
Is Knebworth House Park buggy friendly? Yes. The wilderness garden is a little more 'off-road', but most buggies should be fine.
Other facilities: At the time of writing, the cafe was closed with a limited outdoor concession serving snacks and teas. Toilet facilities are provided, although one-in-one-out queueing is in operation. The gift shop is open.
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