Winchester Science Centre review: day out in Hampshire
Where else can you climb inside a giant guitar, watch Uptown Funk being played by flames, pit yourself against gravity, discover the first man to wee on the moon… let’s start my Winchester Science Centre review by saying there’s nowhere quite like this day out in Hampshire.
Ad/paid collaboration with Visit Hampshire*
The Science Centre, always a favourite day out in Winchester with kids, has had a major revamp in 2020, and we headed along for the reopening to see what the changes were like.
And after three hours, including a live science show (but without time to visit the Planetarium, check out the craft tables or the outdoor area), I practically had to drag my eight-year-old out as they closed the doors, grumpily protesting that she wasn’t done yet.
She was still asking to go back again the next day – and with so many interactive exhibits, displays, experiments, information and options to get kids thinking, it really is worth setting aside a full day for this Hampshire family attraction. Especially if you’re visiting Winchester in the rain.
The main focus for most of the new displays is on sound: the first thing you’ll see as you wander in is a giant guitar to climb inside. Minnie was in and strumming the strings before she’d even taken her coat off.
Along the way, you can also learn about how water and space affect sound, the speed it travels at, even about sonar and Morse code, as well as climbing inside a model ear and feeling the vibrations of music.
Plus there’s a chance to check just how loud you can be. My daughter tipped the sensor at 120 decibels, far far louder than I could manage.
So loud, in fact, that it can start to damage your ears after one minute. I plan to use this piece of information again when she’s being particularly noisy!
There are live science shows throughout the day as well, including Sounds like Science – one of my own highlights of the day was seeing fire used to visually depict sound.
If you’ve never seen Uptown Funk and Baby Shark displayed in small flames above a specially designed tube with a speaker on the end, you are missing out.
But that’s only the start. There were also exhibits on human biology, including a test against the clock in an arcade style game to get rid of cancer cells, as well as on climate change, to discover whether your behaviour could lead to Southampton being completely submerged.
There’s a quiz themed around the journey of Humphrey the humpback whale, which saw us peeking into a periscope and translating my daughter’s name into Morse code (winning a little medal as a prize).
And so many more interactive displays – testing the force of compressed air, as we shot a tennis ball high up to the roof, before checking the strength of an arched bridge and the chance to get building with foam bricks.
Downstairs, the gallery is still devoted to space (along with a soft play area), where you can see how well you’d do as an astronaut, stroke a meteorite, play with gravity wells and compare how heavy a tin of beans might feel on different planets.
Plus learning who was the first man to wee on the moon (Buzz Aldrin, in case you’re curious).
With more time, we could also have taken in a Planetarium show: there are chatterbox sessions (ideal for littler ones), relaxed sessions for those with sensory sensitivities, shows with presenters and quiet ones where you can soak in the experience of flying through the Solar System and being sucked into a black hole.
All in all, there are over 100 different chances to get hands on at Winchester Science Centre with kids, with plenty to appeal to different ages.
While it’s perfect for primary school-aged kids, there were plenty of younger ones entertained by pressing buttons, trying a pinball-style marble run and listening to whale sounds.
Dotted around everywhere are tales of real-life scientists as well, and I was impressed by how inclusive these all were, including minorities and plenty of female scientists highlighted as part of the displays – really inspirational for girls visiting.
With the centre set on the edge of the South Downs National Park, the new Bio: Space zone also encourages visitors to explore outside as well as in; activities are designed around birds, bugs, bees and local plantlife – including craft options if you are visiting Winchester on a rainy day!
One added touch that I really liked was spotting the ‘Recombobulation room’ downstairs, a quiet space for kids who might get overwhelmed by the noise, lights and energy of the displays.
Reassuringly, given how hands on everything is, there were also staff walking around regularly cleaning the different displays, hand sanitiser at almost every turn and signs reminding people to distance from each other.
Visitors aged 11+ have to wear masks unless exempt, plus there’s a one-way system on the stairs.
Numbers are already limited (with prebooked tickets) which meant you didn’t have the queues and crowds you often get at similar science museums – ideal with younger kids who don’t fancy hanging around waiting for their turn.
It’s one of the first times this year that my daughter has got her hands on quite so many interactive displays – unsurprisingly – and it was evident how much she had missed it, as she scampered gleefully from one place to another.
Winchester Science Centre would be huge fun with kids in any year, but after lockdown and homeschooling, it’s sheer joy. And as it’s less than 90 minutes from our home in west London (and not much more if you’re coming from most of the South East), it’s a perfect UK adventure for 2020 as I explore closer to home.
She doesn’t know it yet, but there’s a very good chance I’ll be giving in to my daughter’s demands to go back for longer.
Where to stay near Winchester Science Centre with kids
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Winchester during our visit to Winchester – and unless the Science Centre decides to put beds into the planetarium, you certainly can’t find anywhere closer.
A couple of minutes stroll away, it makes a great base for visiting Winchester with kids, with plenty of lovely little touches that you don’t always find in budget hotels.
We’d arrived early for our visit, so whiled away the time on one of the colourful sofas in the lobby: I spotted a book about the solar system on a shelf, while staff gave my daughter a sheet of puzzles to entertain her (there’s also Peppa Pig colouring for younger kids) and I eyed up the fantastic lamps rather enviously.
Our room had photos of Winchester cathedral to decorate it – and two double beds. Along with loads of space for a family, I found helpful additions like a toddler step stool in the bathroom (so useful yet so few hotels ever do it).
As well as a bottle of hand sanitiser in the room, there are other changes to keep guests safe, from enhanced cleaning to paperless checkout. Breakfast is prebooked to limit numbers and there’s an assisted buffet – the usual menu but with table service and apart from the hot food, everything is brought wrapped or in sealed bowls.
There’s a restaurant and pizzeria at Holiday Inn Winchester too, and up to four kids aged 12 and under sharing their parents’ room eat free. Kids aged 17 and under also stay free, when sharing their parents’ room.
Where to eat in Winchester with kids
While the Holiday Inn and Winchester Science Centre are based slightly outside the city, you can’t visit without heading in to Winchester itself – one of my favourite places in Hampshire.
As well as some great museums in Winchester for kids, make time for pizza at Three Joes Winchester, a stone’s throw from the wonderful cathedral.
The amazing sourdough pizza has some fantastic unusual toppings – I had the mushroom and caramelised onion, which I highly recommend, my husband had a teriyaki beef option, plus there’s a kids’ menu with pasta and pizza.
I was too full for pudding afterwards, although don’t miss one of the massive milkshakes: I managed to snaffle a sip of a chocolate milkshake before my husband and daughter demolished it.
Winchester Science Centre review: Need to know
Tickets must be prebooked, including for Annual Pass holders, and are now on sale for weekends and school holidays from December 5 until January 4. The Science Centre is open from 9.20am to 5pm (last entry 3pm)
Entry costs from £10.80 for adults, if booked more than a week in advance, for adults and children. Under threes are free, and an annual pass costs £40.
The free live science shows and planetarium shows also need to be prebooked, with limited numbers allowed. Planetarium shows cost £3.50 if you’re also visiting Winchester Science Centre or £6.60 for the show alone.
There’s timed entry and you’re asked to arrive within 20 minutes of your slot. If you’re late entry is at staff’s discretion.
The Science Centre has been awarded Visit Britain’s Good to Go mark – check here for more details of Winchester Science Centre’s safety measures.
There’s a café and car park on site – parking costs £2. If you’re staying at the Holiday Inn Winchester, parking is free during your stay. You’re welcome to bring a picnic; the café currently has a reduced food menu.
PIN FOR LATER: WINCHESTER SCIENCE CENTRE REVIEW
Disclosure: My visit was in collaboration with Visit Hampshire. All opinions, including my love of hotel lighting and appreciation of music played with fire are my own
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