The fifth Dark Skies festival is taking place on Exmoor with lots of family-friendly events, including wildlife safaris, owl experiences, space workshops and, of course, stargazing (22 Oct-7 Nov, some free events) The fringe festival is being held in the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales, with self-guided planet trails, nocturnal animal treasure hunts, adventure walks and more (22-31 Oct). The North Pennines Stargazing festival is being held around the same time, and includes family astronomy sessions at Grassholme Observatory (22-31 Oct, £13 adults, £10 children). The Museum of the Moon, a touring artwork by Luke Jerram, goes on display Chichester Cathedral at half-term. There will be storytelling, craft sessions and space workshops around the seven-metre spherical sculpture, which features Nasa imagery of the moon’s surface (25 Oct-14 Nov, free).
The Norwich Science festival has a different theme each day (nature, climate change, the human body and so on) and lots of child-friendly workshops – including one called The Science of Poo. The festival is based at the Forum but has events across the city and online (23-30 Oct, some free events). At Gilbert White’s House in Selborne, Hampshire, children can make eight-legged friends on a spider safari (£5, 28 Oct).
Fire on the Water is a new night-time show at Great Yarmouth’s Venetian Waterways, involving spectacular fire, light and water installations, plus dance and acrobatics (£6 for up to six people, 21 Oct-6 Nov). Ignite at Polesden Lacey, a National Trust property in Surrey, is another a new fire-and-light show. Visitors have lanterns to light the way between fire-breathing dragons, a river of flames and fire balls, before entering a 50-metre tunnel of light (£15 adults, £10 children, 22 Oct-7 Nov). GlasGLOW, which returns to the city’s botanic gardens, combines illuminated trail with detective story – this year, visitors must save the city from toxic gloop (£20 adults, £12 children, 27 Oct-14 Nov). Fairytale Farm, an Oxfordshire attraction where disabled children come first (but all are welcome), is holding Illuminated Evenings every weekend until the end of November (from £6.75pp including supper, until 28 Nov).
With Halloween falling on the final day, half-term has a spooky feel this year. One of the biggest celebrations takes place in the walled city of Derry, Northern Ireland, where there are three days of live shows, street performers, storytelling, art installations – and a giant spider roaming the streets (29-31 Oct). At Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, there is a scary but child-friendly Halloween tour, plus a more frightening tour for over-12s and a truly terrifying one for ages 15 and above (from £9 adults, £12.50 children, 21-31 Oct).
Eighteen English Heritage properties have new Halloween adventure trails based on the Wizards of Once books by Cressida Cowell, from Belsay Hall in Northumberland to Pendennis Castle in Cornwall (included in the standard admission price, 23-31 Oct). Numerous farms are opening PYO pumpkin patches, including Bluebells Dairy Farm in Derbyshire, which also has Halloween activities and shows, and seasonal “ice-scream” flavours such as Deathly Mallows (£10.95 adults, £12.95 children, 23-31 Oct). Heritage railways are hosting themed journeys, such as Wizard Week and Fright Nights on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, featuring witches, magicians, owls and a journey through haunted woodland (£14.50 adults, £7.25 children, 25-31 Oct). Or look for a Halloween film screening near you – St Donat’s Castle in the Vale of Glamorgan is showing Scoob!, Hocus Pocus and The Lost Boys (£12 adults, £7.50 children, 30 & 31 Oct).
More unusual Halloween activities include a muddy pumpkin obstacle course during Shriek Week at Wild Forest in Brentford, Essex (£18, 25-29 Oct); ghostly canoe tours and candy hunts on the Beaulieu River in Hampshire (£34 adults, £25 children, 23-31 Oct); and a trick-or-treat chocolate bar workshop at the York Cocoa House (£20, 23-31 Oct).
Winter Droving, usually a one-day festival in Penrith, Cumbria, is expanding to three days this year. As well as lots of live music (including the UK’s only all-female mariachi band), the programme includes circus performers, a vintage funfair, an arts and crafts market, a children’s trail, and food and drink in the market square (£2, 28-30 Oct). Leicester’s digital culture festival, Frequency, is celebrating its 10th anniversary, with outdoor installations, performances and exhibitions. Highlights include Luma, a giant inflatable robot snail; the Invisible Man, a puppet-cum-audiovisual projection; and Monolith, “an audio adventure into eternity” (free, 28-31 Oct). Little Amal, a 3.5m-tall puppet child refugee, has walked 8,000km across Europe, meeting real child refugees along the way. She has landed in the UK for the final part of her journey and over half-term will attend outdoor events in London, Oxford, Coventry, Birmingham, Sheffield and Barnsley, before arriving in Manchester on 3 November (free).
Chester, Designed by Nature is a new six-month community arts project. The first part, open in time for half-term, is the Nest: an enchanted forest hosting performances, art workshops such as shadow puppetry and activities including mindfulness for children (some free events, 23 Oct to late Nov). The Box in Portsmouth is hosting the biggest exhibition of Indigenous Australian art outside Australia. Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters showcases the work of more than 100 artists, across paintings, photographs, objects, song, dance and multimedia (£10, until the end of February). Margate’s new Crab Museum is opening for a period of public testing, inviting visitors to give their feedback on Europe’s only museum devoted to the decapod. Exhibits cover everything from history and philosophy to the climate crisis, the forgotten story of the giant Margate crab and jokes about woodlice (free, booking required, 23-31 Oct).
The Woodmill Outdoor Activities Centre in Southampton runs 90-minute discovery sessions to introduce people to new sports. Over half-term, families can try archery or climbing, or children can take part in a full multi-activity day (90 minutes £22 adults, £12 children, £37 full day). Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience is a magical new woodland trail at Arley Hall & Gardens in Northwich, Cheshire. Visitors will come face to face with creatures from the Harry Potter books and Fantastic Beasts film – hippogriffs, centaurs, unicorns, nifflers and more – and can cast spells with their wands, including conjuring a patronus charm (from £19, tickets selling fast, until early 2022). Lord of the Rings fans may prefer Ring Quest at West Stow Anglo-Saxon village and country park, a treasure hunt to find rings and runes and save Middle Earth. Children can visit a Hobbit Hole, face dragons and giant spiders, meet Halbarad, the Ranger of the North, and have a go at archery (£6 adults, £4 children, plus £2 for each Ring Quest pack, 23-31 Oct).