This ‘Guide to Cheltenham: Things to do with kids’ will be helpful whether you are planning a family holiday or just a family day out in Cheltenham. It features the BEST things to do in Cheltenham with kids, including the most kid friendly Cheltenham restaurants, rainy day ideas and budget friendly Cheltenham days out. The aim of this guide is to ensure you and your family have a memorable time when visiting the regency spa town.
We’ve lived in various spots in Gloucestershire for over 8 years and consider ourselves very fortunate to have Cheltenham, (recently voted as the number one place in Britain to raise a child by the Telegraph) close by. There are always events taking place in the festival town and plenty of attractions both in the town and nearby to keep kids of all ages entertained.
Famous as the home of the Gold Cup, Cheltenham Ladies College and stunning Regency architecture, and known as ‘The Western Gateway to the Cotswolds’. What you may be surprised to learn is that Cheltenham also has some of the best parks in the UK, an annual paint festival which attracts graffiti artists from far and wide plus one of the oldest annual literature festivals in the world!
Ultimate guide to Cheltenham: Things to do with kids
Ditch your car and go on foot!
Where to park in Cheltenham? Many of the family attractions in Cheltenham are located in and near the town centre. The best way to see the town is on foot. (Or bike, I will come onto this later!). Most of the free parking in Cheltenham has now been replaced with parking meters however, a great place to head to for free parking is Pittville Park, which is conveniently an awesome spot for a family day out.
You can park for free behind Pittville Pump Rooms at the top end of the park (East Approach Dr, Cheltenham GL52 3JE) and behind the tennis courts (Albemarle Gate, Cheltenham). Four hours of free parking is also available on Pittville Lawn (closer to town) which runs parallel with Pittville Park.
Play, feed the ducks or stroll/ride/scoot around Pittville Park
Cheltenham is officially home to some of the best green spaces in the UK. Pittville Park is just one of five parks in Cheltenham that has a Green Flag Award and Pittville also has a prestigious Green Heritage Award, mainly due to the grade 1 listed Pump Room where you can still taste the spa waters which made the town famous.
Of course, like my kids, your kids aren’t going to give two hoots about any of the awards the park has! I can guarantee however that they’ll love the new HUGE all singing, all dancing playground which opened two years ago. The fenced in (dog free area) has a water and sand pit play area (take a change of clothes!). A big wooden pirate ship, multiple climbing frames, zip line, tyre swings and a separate animal zone with chickens, rabbits, chipmunks and an aviary. There is plenty of space to spread out with a picnic blanket or on a picnic bench plus there’s a kiosk in the playground which sells hot drinks, snacks and ice creams. (More substantial food available from Central Cross Cafe).
The main playground on the eastern side of Pittville Park can get VERY busy and it can be difficult to keep your eyes on more than one child. Fortunately the western side of Pittville has a much quieter playground and woodland play area. Here you can also walk around the larger ‘lower lake’, play tennis, pitch and putt on a golf course, go fishing, hire a rowing boat and even try out the skate boarding ramps. The Boathouse Cafe is a great place to stop for refreshments. They often have small events on for children too such as seasonal trails.
Other Cheltenham parks worth checking out
The lesser known Sandford Park is located at the end of the High Street, conveniently not too far from the brand new John Lewis store. This park is certainly worth keeping in mind as a good bribe if you intend to try and do some shopping in town with young kids. (Good luck!)
Imperial Gardens next to Cheltenham Town Hall and Montpellier Gardens (which has a couple of playgrounds) are both home to many of the Cheltenham’s big family friendly events. Even if there are no events taking place they are a great spot to enjoy a drink whilst your kids run around.
Swimming in Cheltenham
There are two main options for public swimming in Cheltenham. Leisure at Cheltenham which has a shallow pool, main pool and diving pool. They run inflatable sessions (for older kids), family float sessions and new for this year, a kids splash area (for younger kids) which both of my boy’s love. (Leisure At Cheltenham, Tommy Taylors Lane, Cheltenham GL50 4RN).
We are also really lucky to have one of the best outdoor swimming pools in Britain – The Lido. This is the perfect spot to spend a summer’s day. (It can get very busy in the school holidays). The children’s zone has a heated pool with slides and a paddling pool and the main 50-metre pool has two lanes generally reserved for more serious swimmers. (Address – Sandford Parks Lido Pool, Keynsham Rd, Cheltenham GL53 7PU).
Discover Cheltenham on bike
I recently had the chance to experience Cheltenham from a completely different angle, by bike with the Bicycle Hub and Visit Cheltenham. For just £20 pp they offer an absolutely brilliant package – Bike hire (inc. mobile phone mount, helmet and basic repair kit), printed instructions for the Regency Cheltenham Cycle Trail plus access to a really handy mobile app with cool route facts and GPS Map. I could only stay with the group for a short time, as I had a Cheltenham literature event to go to, however I was amazed at how good the towns cycle network is. It also gave me a renewed appreciation for how pretty and unique Cheltenham is.
The flat six-mile cycle trail is mainly in pedestrianised zones and takes you to many of the places mentioned above. It starts from the Bicycle Hub’s HQ next to the train station, goes along the Honeybourne Line, past street art left as a legacy from the recent paint festival and through Pittville Park. It then goes past some of the towns most stylish streets with stunning Regency houses, to the Lido Pool, the Promenade and finally Imperial and Montpellier Gardens. (If I was doing this with my young kids I would turn back at Sandford Park and avoid the roads in town). The great thing about the app is that I still have access to it now and plan to take my family on a bike ride along the route very soon.
Things to do when it’s raining in Cheltenham?
So I’ve covered many of the outdoor attractions in Cheltenham but where should you go if it’s wet and miserable? I would park in the NCP car park. (It’s not cheap but it is across the road from the Brewery Quarter). The Brewery Quarter is home to Cineworld, the Screening Rooms (posh cinema), bowling alley and amusements (Hollywood Bowl), a new mini golf place (Mr Mulligan’s) and the Play Farm (featuring new laser tag parties). I’ve got to be honest, I’m not a soft play fan but they are handy for entertaining kids on rainy days. My boys love the Play Farm so I’ll put up with it for a couple of hours!
Best family friendly Cheltenham restaurants?
We are very lucky, there are so many kid friendly places to eat in Cheltenham. Continuing on with the Brewery Quarter which is also home to many multi chain family budget friendly restaurants such as Nando’s, Harvester, Prezzo and Five Guys. In the centre of town there is a Wagamamas, Pizza Express, Boston Tea Party and The Stables (the best pizza I have EVER tasted!).
As a family we love to try and eat at local independent places and we are spoilt for choice in Cheltenham. Our favourite Cheltenham restaurants are Bar and Wok (similar food to Wagamamas), Bottle of Sauce (quirky pub which is very kid friendly and serves the BEST burgers!), The Tavern and our new favourite cafe, Black Gold Coffee. (The cakes and milkshakes here are to die for! Nice comfy seats and plenty of space for pushchairs too).
My boys favourite Cheltenham restaurant serves just desserts (no surprises there then!) – Kaspas, which is a the multi chain dessert bar, conveniently located near the cinema for a post movie yummy treat. We haven’t yet tried out the new Cream’s dessert bar which has just opened up in the Brewery but I’ll let you know when we do!
What to do in Cheltenham – Best annual family events
I’ve never known a town that has as many family friendly events as Cheltenham. Literally all year round there is something going on. It’s worth planning your visit around one of these popular family Cheltenham events when the town buzzes and comes even more to life…
The charity, Cheltenham Festivals, run four brilliant festivals throughout the year. Each festival has events catering especially for children. All feature some free events in Montpellier and/or Imperial Gardens and all feature some ticketed events which you need to book in advance. Our favourites are the Cheltenham Literature Festival (Oct) and Cheltenham Science Festival (June). Although the summer music events, Cheltenham Jazz Festival (May) and the Cheltenham Music Festival (July) are also great fun. (Take along a blanket and picnic to enjoy the free music in the gardens).
The Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival (June) is good fun too with live music, tasty nibbles and street theatre. The big race meetings at Cheltenham racecourse are best to be avoided in my opinion with young kids as they are just too busy. The smaller racing events however are great for kids to attend, particularly the Family Day at the November event. (This year Peppa Pig is the VIP attending).
Do also check out the Cheltenham theatres to see if they have any family friendly events/performances during your stay in Cheltenham. The three theatres/halls are – Everyman Theatre, Bacon Theatre (a smaller, cosy theatre which runs lovely family performances for kids of all ages) and Cheltenham Town Hall.
Wychwood Festival which takes place annually in the ground of Cheltenham Racecourse is voted year after year as Britain’s favourite family festival. We’ve attended twice and all loved it. You can read our reviews here – Wychwood Festival review and Five reasons to take your kids to Wychwood.
Things to do on a budget in Cheltenham?
I’ve already mentioned many of the budget friendly and free things to do in Cheltenham above. I.e. visit one of the many parks or gardens, go swimming, head to soft play, hire a bike via the Bicycle Hub. Other ideas include Movies for Juniors at Cineworld (discounted cinema ticket deal at weekends), Cheltenham’s art gallery and museum, The Wilson regularly has events on for children as does the Cheltenham Science Group.
Easter, Halloween & Christmas events in Cheltenham
The local attractions in Cheltenham and throughout Gloucestershire go ALL OUT for Easter, Halloween and Christmas! The themed events seem to get bigger year on year. Check out my Gloucestershire events round ups for Cheltenham day out inspiration –
Attractions near Cheltenham – Things to do in Gloucestershire
You can easily spend a full weekend in Cheltenham with kids however, if you wish to explore further afield there are lots of great family attractions near by. Our favourites are listed below, many of the links are my reviews or tips for visiting the attractions. (Driving times taken from Google Maps. Starting point Pittville Pump Rooms).
Best for kids who love animal – Cotswold Farm Park (Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power, Cheltenham GL54 5FL – 30 minutes drive), Cotswold Wildlife Park (Bradwell Grove, Burford OX18 4JP – 40 minutes drive), Cattle Country Adventure Farm Park (Berkeley Heath Farm, Berkeley GL13 9EW – 40 minutes drive).
Best for bird lovers, also has a lovely outdoor water play area – WWT Slimbridge (Newgrounds Lane, Gloucester GL2 7BT – 40 minutes drive).
Best for dinosaur fans – All Things Wild (Station Rd, Honeybourne, Evesham WR11 7QZ – 34 minutes drive). The dino trail and barn are great fun. Also lots of animals at this attraction.
Best for historians – Berkeley Castle (Berkeley GL13 9PJ – 42 minutes), Sudeley Castle (Winchcombe, GL54 5JD – 18 minutes). Both castles run fun family events in the summer with live entertainment, etc.
Sudeley Castle hosts a magical event in December, you can read our review here – Spectacle of Light, is it truly spectacular?
Best all weather attractions – Cattle Country and All Things Wild (both listed above) have large indoor soft play areas and a range of other indoor attractions, huge sand pits so perfect for rainy days.
Experience incredible views over the whole of Cheltenham
Last but certainly not least. This guide to Cheltenham is a lot lengthier than I had imagined it would be!
You cannot in my opinion visit Cheltenham and miss out on the chance to experience a bird’s eye view of the town. Cheltenham lies beneath Cleeve Hill on Cheltenham’s NE edge. At 1,083 feet it is the highest point in the Cotswolds and also the highest peak of the Cotswold Hills.
The views from the Cotswolds Hills are absolutely stunning. It’s also a brilliant way to wear your kids out! (Not pushchair friendly, I would recommend using a baby carrier). If you fancy a meal or drink whilst appreciating these views head up to the Rising Sun (Cleeve Hill, GL52 3PX). Here you can park your car and head up the hill located directly behind. If you don’t wish to stop for refreshments carry on driving past the Rising Sun until you reach the nearby lay by. The walk is worth it, I promise you!
Phew this is one lengthy guide to Cheltenham with kids! I hope I have inspired you. If I’ve missed any of your favourite Cheltenham things to do or you have any tips/recommendations to add please do so in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you:)
Disclaimer – My family and I have received complimentary tickets to visit a few of the Gloucestershire attractions mentioned above in return for coverage on this blog. ALL of my opinions regarding best attractions, restaurants etc are, as always, my own. I genuinely hope it helps you plan how to spend your time in Cheltenham.
Further inspiration – Check out Mama Travels Earth guide to 24 hours in Cheltenham with children.
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