Take the kids to … the National Space Centre, Leicester

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In a nutshell

An interactive museum of super-size space experiences: from a giant planet Earth you can touch to the UK’s biggest domed planetarium and a 42-metre rocket tower. You can’t miss the latter as you drive into Leicester – the structure looks like it’s wrapped in giant inflatable pillows. Inside, it houses Blue Streak and Thor Able rockets. Take in the full scale of them by riding a glass-sided lift up to the viewing platform. Elsewhere, there are six galleries with plenty of buttons to press, screens to touch and switches to flick. It’s all under cover so, hours later, you’ll exit squinting into the daylight – it’s a good one to tire them out on a rainy day!


Rockets in the centre’s rocket tower; National Space Centre, Leicester, UK.

Need a boost? Rockets in the centre’s rocket tower

Fun fact

This year, 20 July marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, as part of Nasa’s Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong famously set foot on the lunar surface first – as an estimated 530 million people watched on TV.

Best thing about it

The planetarium show – providing you can stomach it. My five-year-old went from being unimpressed at having to queue for 10 minutes to declaring – wide-eyed – that it was the best thing he’d seen in his life. My three-year-old told me she felt travel sick within the first minute, so it may be best for older kids. From the comfort of an ultra-reclined seat, you get the 360-degree, immersive experience. One show – We Are Stars – was included in our ticket price, and there was the option to pay for a tour of the night sky.


One of the writer’s children looking at a display on Mars at the National Space Centre, Leicester, UK.

Rock star … One of the writer’s children looking at a display on Mars. Photograph: Katie Gregory

What about lunch?

The Boosters Cafe serves reasonably priced hot and cold snacks and drinks (hotdog from £4.95, plus jacket potatoes, nachos, soups, sandwiches and salads) at the foot of the centre’s two rockets. The cafe offers gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options, too. There’s more seating in its Soyuz Lounge. Look out for the table with the big red button that says Do not press, and make sure you press it. We took sandwiches and ate them while we queued for the planetarium show.

Exit through the gift shop?

The gift shop is the first thing you pass on entry and, as this place is one big loop, it’s also the last thing you see as you leave. It’s stocked with space-themed souvenirs including books, games and telescopes. Some are quite pricey but my son left clutching a slimy alien egg that only set us back £2.50.


Family look at a Soyuz rocket display at the National Space Centre, Leicester, UK.

Photograph: Nick Osborne

Getting there

There is a regular bus service (number 54) with a stop two minutes’ walk from the centre, as well as a park and ride service from Birstall. East Midlands Trains and Cross Country Trains operate services to Leicester station, from which the centre is a 25-minute bus ride. If driving, it’s just off the A6, north of the city centre. Parking is £3 for the day.

Value for money?

It’s not cheap – adult £15, 5-16s £12 – but once you’ve paid you can revisit as many times as you want in a year, and under-fives are free.

Opening hours

10am-4pm Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm weekends and school holidays.

Verdict

9/10.
Busy and noisy, but my kids rate this one of the best places they’ve ever been.

spacecentre.co.uk