When you’re planning a family weekend away, what activities are on your list?
We like to have a nice mix of things to see and do. Sightseeing, fun family leisure, an outdoor venue to let off steam, easy dining and plenty of entertainment entertainment are always on out list.
We recently spent a weekend in Yorkshire, exploring all that Doncaster and it’s surrounding area has to offer families. We hadn’t really spent any time in this part of the country before, so I was intrigued to see if it would tick all the boxes for a fun family trip.
A comfortable stay at Holiday Inn Express Doncaster
We travelled up on Friday evening and our base for the weekend was the Holiday Inn Express Doncaster. This bright, welcoming hotel is situated just off the M18 at First Point Business Park, Doncaster DN4 8SJ.
We stayed in a family room, which had a double bed and a double sofa bed, which converted into two further beds on two levels for the kids. It was clean, comfortable, and had everything we needed for our stay, including free wi-fi, TV and power shower.
We took it easy on our first night, and ate in the hotel restaurant. The menu was great for families, with pizza and yummy cheesecake getting the thumbs-up from the kids.
I really liked having somewhere to relax in the main hotel area. When Mark took J up to our room after dinner to get her settled, JD and I were able to chill out in the lobby/restaurant area and use the free wifi. JD even discovered a new Minecraft block - big news!
After a comfortable, quiet night in our family room, we were ready to fuel up for the day ahead. Mark went for the cooked breakfast option, while the kids and I chose the continental option of cereal, toast and pastries.
With more than enough food, plenty of juice and tea, and a relaxed atmosphere, it was a great start to our day.
Swimming at Doncaster Dome
After leaving the hotel, our first stop was Doncaster Dome. Located close to the city centre, but also just minutes from the M18 and A1(M), it’s a leisure centre on a pretty impressive scale. As well as the usual fitness classes and sports courts, there’s a swimming pool complex, ice skating, an indoor play zone, and food and drink outlets. There are over 600 free parking spaces, which keeps things nice and easy when you arrive.
We used the Lagoons swimming pool during our visit. It’s a multi-pool layout with a tropical backdrop, and there’s something to suit all ages: slides, fountains, water jets, geysers and airbeds, as well as actual pools!
Prices vary depending on the time of visit and to access all pools and features it costs £5.30 per adult, £4.30 per junior, £1.20 per under-5, or £18 for a family ticket.
Despite it being the weekend, we didn’t struggle to find a changing room. We swam together for over an hour, and the kids could easily have spent longer there. The slides were a particularly big hit.
The ice rink looked pretty impressive too. There are two interconnecting ice pads suited to all ages and abilities. I vaguely remember going as a kid but that was many years ago!
Prices vary depending on the session you choose, but start at £2.60 for an adult or junior, and under 5’s cost £1.20 for all sessions. Skate hire is £2 per person, and you can also hire cool penguin skating aids for young kids at an additional £3 per half hour.
If you want to swim and skate, the cheapest way to do this is to buy a combined day ticket. You can book these online and they cost £7.70 per adult, £6.20 per junior, £2.40 per under-5, or £25 for a family ticket which covers 2 adults and 2 juniors, or 1 adult and 3 juniors. Skate hire is included too.
Doncaster Dome is open 6am-10:30pm on weekdays, 7am-10:30pm on Saturdays, and 7am-7pm on Sundays. Check out the website for full details on prices and activity timetables.
Exploring Yorkshire Wildlife Park
After our swimming session, we headed back to the car and drove to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park.
Located a few minutes from the M18 in Branton, the park offers a walkthrough wildlife experience. Most of the animals at the park are either endangered or threatened, and the aim is to inspire visitors to support welfare and conservation by giving them up-close, often interactive access to over 70 different animal species.
We started off with a lovely lunch at the Safari Café, enjoying sandwiches, cake and cookies. There are plenty of food outlets throughout the park, including coffee shops, cafés, ice cream stands, a donut den and a South American-style diner. There are also lots of picnic areas, including an undercover one should the weather be less than glorious.
After lunch it was time to explore - and there was so much to see.
The kids made a (non-exhaustive) list of the animals we saw: tigers, polar bears, viva, armadillos, anteaters, meerkats, marmosets, giraffes, antelope, crows, ostriches, and emus. It was just brilliant to see these amazing animals from around the world, all being really well looked-after in as close to their natural habitat as possible.
If you feel like finding out a bit more about the animals, there are ranger talks going on throughout the day. You can even get really hands-on with feeding time.
Outdoor play is well thought-out at the park, with a range of play areas on offer. We loved the Forest Adventure play area with it’s obstacle courses and fort, and the Oasis Adventure play area with it’s brilliant zip wire. There’s also Big Bugs play area, which is near the undercover picnic spot, and the Monkey Playhouse is an indoor option with a Super Slide Barn next door.
Yorkshire Wildlife Park is open every day from 10am, with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets cost £16.50 per adult and £13.50 per child; under 2’s are free, and if you book online you’ll save £1 per ticket.
Catching The BFG at Vue
After a very active day, we all needed a bit of downtime, so we headed to Vue cinema at Doncaster Leisure Park to watch The BFG. Ronald Dahl is a big favourite in our house, so we all thoroughly enjoyed the film - in fact, it's our favourite film of the year!
Mark Rylance is beyond superb as the Big Friendly Giant and the scary scenes are managed just right so as to be exciting but not overly frightening for younger viewers. I can't recommend this movie highly enough.
After the cinema, it was time to head back to the hotel. We ordered pizzas and ate them in our room while we chatted about the amazing day we’d had and enjoyed a family game show on the TV.
Given just how much we squeezed into our first day, it’s no surprise we all had a lie-on on Sunday morning. We enjoyed another delicious breakfast before checking out and heading off for our second day of adventure.
A spot of shopping and play at Lakeside Village
First stop was Lakeside Village shopping outlet, which was a very short drive from the hotel on White Rose Way, Doncaster DN4 5PJ.
As well as over 50 stores, there are plenty of cafes and fast food outlets at the village, plus a Beefeater restaurant. There’s a children’s play area too, which is where we started off before heading to the shops to pick up a few treats.
Lakeside Village is open 10am - 6pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays and Friday, 10am - 8pm Thursday, 9:30am - 6pm Saturday, and 10am - 4:30pm Sunday. There’s ample free parking, and Doncaster train station is about a mile away.
Bowling at Doncaster Tenpin
After our shopping trip, we jumped back in the car and took a short drive around Lakeside Boulevard to Doncaster Tenpin bowling.
Tenpin is located on the Leisure Park at Bawtry Road, Doncaster DN4 7PD, which is really close to the Doncaster Dome we visited the day before. A game costs £5.99 per adult and £5.49 per junior.
The bowling alley was nice and quiet, and we had a real giggle playing two games.
JD turned out to be a bit of a pro, scoring strikes and racking up over 200 points across both games.
Lunch at Frankie & Bennys
By this point we’d all worked up an appetite, so we wandered along Bawtry Road to Frankie & Bennys for lunch.
Frankie & Bennys is a popular choice for many when it comes to family dining, and while I haven't always been that impressed with their range in the past, this visit really impressed me. The Italian American menu has loads of choice, from classic pizza, pasta and burgers to sharing platters, salads and wraps. I like the fact that, as well as a kids menu, there’s a juniors option for bigger appetites.
We had a really tasty lunch, with the cheesy garlic bread being a particular favourite.
And of course the desserts got a big thumbs-up. JD went for the ice cream candy shop, which is a real showstopper when it arrives at the table.
A history lesson at Conisbrough Castle
After we’d filled our tummies, we moved on to the last destination of the weekend, Conisbrough Castle.
Situated on Castle Hill, Doncaster DN12 3BU, Conisbrough Castle is over 850 years old and is an English Heritage site. It overlooks the historic town of Conisbrough, and there are amazing views from the top of the huge cylindrical keep.
As you climb each floor, there are cartoon projections explaining the history of the castle, and artefacts from the surrounding area. We had fun imagining what it must have been like living there hundreds of years ago.
The courtyard was a great place to explore too, and the grounds surrounding the castle are perfect for picnics and letting off steam. The kids ran around and made friends with another family. which was lovely. And we borrow an activity kit from the git shop, which included a huge snakes and ladders game to play on the grass.
Conisbrough Castle is open 10am - 6pm every day until 30th September, then 10am - 5pm every day until 31st October, and 10am - 4pm at weekends only from 1st November until 31st March 2017. Tickets cost £5.10 per adult and £3.00 per child aged 5-15; a family ticket costs £13.20 and admits 2 adults and 3 children.
We'll be visiting again!
We had a great weekend exploring Doncaster. When it comes to family-friendly attractions, there’s so much variety; nature parks, fun leisure facilities, historical sites, shopping, entertainment, and family dining.
Everything is so conveniently located and it’s all quite close together too, within easy reach of motorway and plenty of parking.
We packed so much into two days, and we certainly didn’t exhaust the attractions on offer. A friend local to the area recommended the following:
- Take a visit to the well-reputed Doncaster Market in the town centre
- Visit Scicluna Delicatessen & Miele Coffee Bar near the market for a bite to eat and a to pick up a great selection of world foods
- For sports fans, check out Doncaster's historic race course
- Visit the beautiful St George's Minster and have lunch on the grounds
Will you be paying Doncaster a visit soon?
Holiday Inn Express Doncaster organised and funded our stay and activities for the purposes of this post.