Indoor adventures for rainy days

It’s one of the many challenges of parenthood: how do you keep a flock of hyperactive children amused on a rainy day? Because, let’s face it, even the best laid plans can be ruined by a sudden downpour. Never fear, we’ve got a few ideas up our sleeves. We’re not talking about ‘no running’ stuffy old houses or ‘don’t touch’ museums. We’re talking about storytelling, tractor-driving, tunnel-scrambling adventures. With a generous dollop of bear-hunting, spaghetti-throwing, time-travelling wonderfulness. Now what family doesn’t need a bit of that?

Volunteer costumed interpreter in the kitchen in the basement at Ickworth, Suffolk
Costumed interpreter in the kitchen at Ickworth National Trust Images / Dennis Gilbert

Play servants at Ickworth 

Visit the basement of the Rotunda at Ickworth and you’ll see how servants lived here. Children can touch everything and play 1930s games in the servants’ hall. If you visit on one of our ‘living history’ days, you and the kids will hear the servants’ stories from volunteer performers, who dress up and act out scenes from the past. Join a family tour to find out about our magical stumpery, use the secret back stairs and learn why the Earl Bishop threw spaghetti out of his window. You can also entertain children with a story seeker trail pack or an ‘I spy’ sheet, both available at Porter's Lodge.

Children playing with toy horses at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
Explore Calke Abbey's treasures National Trust Images / John Millar

Find hidden treasure at Calke Abbey 

Squirt’s Stable is divided into themed bays that tell the story of Calke Abbey through the ages. One bay recreates a Victorian natural history collector’s camp, where children can investigate the specimen cabinets and equipment for gathering butterflies and fossils. There's also a dressing up bay and a reading bay. Inside the house are fascinating and often strange possessions, from crocodile skulls and stuffed birds, to carriages. Ask in the Entrance Hall of the house for an ‘I spy’ sheet or try one of our ‘Calke alive’ events, where volunteers transform into a character from Calke’s past.

The indoor play area The Ride at Belton House
It's playtime come rain or shine National Trust / Leonora Harbord

Run wild at Belton House 

‘Belton House’s indoor adventure play area is all about bringing the outside in,’ says play manager Leonora Harbord. The play equipment ranges from a mini Belmont tower to tunnels to scramble through. Kids can run off some energy whilst parents enjoy cupcakes and coffee at the café, which is open from 10.30am every day. We also hold our popular toddler group, Belton Button Bucks, on the first and third Thursday of the month. Please call 01476 566116 to find out what is on at the Discovery Centre on the day you visit.

Costumed education assistant with children building a wooden house at Erddig
Learn about life below stairs National Trust Images / Paul Harris

Travel back in time at Erddig 

Erddig in Clwyd is widely acclaimed as one of Britain’s finest historic houses. It’s a great place to take cover from the rain and for the children to learn about upstairs-downstairs life. If your youngsters want a go at playing the piano, they can take centre stage in the drawing room. They just have to ask the room guide, and they are welcome to fill the house with music. Have-a-go history days take place throughout the year.

Kinver Edge and the Rock Houses, Staffordshire
Explore the Rock Houses National Trust Images / Chris Lacey

Explore the caverns of the Rock Houses 

The Rock Houses are not built in natural caves, but were first carved out by people in the 18th-century. You can still see the chip marks on the walls. With real fires and tunnels connecting rooms, this is a snug place to escape to on wet and windy days. It’s a real departure from traditional stately homes. Children can try on 1930s costumes and enjoy running about in the empty caverns. Room guides will pass you objects to handle and share facts about what life was like for children in these unusual homes.

Family visiting the farmyard at Castle Ward, Northern Ireland with a girl stroking a chicken
Family visiting the farmyard at Castle Ward National Trust Images / John Millar

Farmyard fun at Castle Ward 

Children can drive a tractor at Castle Ward. Yes, you heard us right – children in charge of tractors. Not the full-sized, diesel-chugging type; but junior pedal tractors, trailers and frontloaders are all available at our barn. There’s room to pedal around both indoors and outdoors so they can be enjoyed whatever the weather. Also at the barn kids can dress up as farmyard animals and play farm board-games. There is a toy farm and lots of animal pictures to colour in. The barn is open Saturday and Sunday from 11am-4pm, and daily during school holidays from 10am-5pm

The Boudoir, attached to Lady Robartes's bedroom at Lanhydrock, Cornwall
There's lots to explore in the house if it's raining National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Victorian adventures at Landhydrock 

Lanhydrock in Cornwall is a sprawling Victorian family home, with plenty to keep young visitors interested on a rainy day. Get hands on at our touch and discover tables, where you can learn to fold napkins, brush hats, identify creepy crawlies and dial the old telephones. Kids also enjoy playing with the Victorian toys in the family school room and practising their handwriting on slates.

View of the Saloon at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire
Fancy playing a rainy day game of I-spy here? National Trust Images / Andreas von Einsiedel

Play I Spy at Nostell Priory 

Formerly the site of a monastery, Nostell Priory is an 18th-century treasure house, making it the perfect location for a game of I Spy. Play your own game or try one of our house trails. These include a Chippendale-themed trail, a 'find the furniture' trail and a 'spot the portraits' trail. Slightly older children can try our cryptic animal spotter trail and see if they can uncover the toads in the bathroom and the mice in the doll’s house.

ondensor mule made by Taylor Lang of Stalybridge (1926)
Be amazed by some of the machinery at Quarry Bank Mill National Trust Images / Ian Shaw

See machines at work at Quarry Bank Mill 

Children love the clattering, hissing and clanging of the machinery at Quarry Bank Mill, which runs every day the Mill is open. Expert demonstrators are on hand to help you and the kids imagine the working conditions in the late 18th century. The water wheel, the largest working in Europe, is a particular favourite with our young visitors. Once you’ve taken in the sights and sounds of the Mill you can see what it was like to be an apprentice, by touring the Apprentice House, built to house the pauper children who worked here.

A child making a collage with pine cones
There's lots to do on rainy days National Trust Images/Jennie Woodcock

Get creative at Nymans 

Come rain or shine, children can get creative at Nymans in West Sussex, with our free family ARTventures. They take place on the first weekend of every month, and are a great way to spend a rainy day. The Messel family bought Nymans in the late 1800s and created a garden with plants from all around the world. They were a very clever and creative bunch. We continue their tradition with the help of all sorts of materials and messy colourful stuff.