Forget the junk food and trashy films of childhood pyjama parties — sleepovers have been getting cultural. An increasing number of UK attractions are hosting family overnighters that mix fun with education. One of our favourites is Nature Night Camping at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, in Bedfordshire. As the name suggests, this nocturnal experience allows you to pitch your tent at the zoo (safely away from the animals, of course) before finding out what its inhabitants get up to at night on a torchlit expedition. Bring your own evening meal or picnic and wake up to the sound of lions and other residents; there’s also time for a quick tour before the public are let in. If camping’s not your bag, you can book one of the zoo’s Lookout Lodges, overlooking the Chiltern Downs and enjoy exclusive after-hours tours of the zoo, with breakfast and dinner included. For a city-based experience, head to London Zoo, and nod off to the sound of roaring lions in its Gir Lion Lodge.
For pint-sized pilots: Royal Air Force Museum Cosford
Pillows & Pilots lets children aged 7–15 bed down for the night surrounded by aircraft, in the ‘RAF Stories: The First 100 years’ exhibition. Activities include early access to the Test Flight hangar, with its interactive gallery.
For small sailors: HMS Belfast, London
The iconic vessel’s Kip in a Ship gives school groups and youth organisations aged 7-18 the chance to experience life below deck. Where else can you sleep in sailors’ bunks aboard an historic warship moored on the Thames?
For wannabe astronauts: Science Museum, London
This mammoth venue’s overnight extravaganza, Astronights, will dazzle your little rocketeers with workshops, shows and activities, along with the chance to spend the night in one of its iconic galleries. Wake up for breakfast and an IMAX 3D film screening.
For little adventurers: Corris Mine Explorers, Mid Wales
Ages 8 and over can join in on Underground Sleepovers, bespoke expeditions in abandoned slate mines. Scramble around, listen to historic mining stories and play candlelit card games, followed by midnight snacks.
For budding historians: British Museum, London
As part of Lost Kingdoms, kids join quests to find out about lost civilisations through craft workshops, activities and storytelling, before a night in the Egyptian and Assyrian galleries.
Published in the March 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)