Down House Gardens

Five accessible spots for rainy days

When the heavens open, take shelter for the day in one of these accessible attractions. Rough Guides writer Emma Field has found five accessible activities to keep you entertained and dry on those inevitable rainy days, whether you love nature or culture, history or sport – or you just want to eat chocolate!

Visit Charles Darwin’s study in Kent

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As the rain pelts down outside, see the room where scientist Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species. The scientist’s study can be visited on a tour of Down House, the family home of Charles Darwin in Kent. As if one eminent natural historian wasn’t enough, you can be guided around the home by Sir David Attenborough on the hand-held interactive multi-media tour (written transcript, audio-installation transcripts and Braille guides available).

If the weather lets up, follow Darwin’s “thinking path” through the gardens – but don’t leave before you’ve seen the manuscript pages from On the Origin of Species in the first-floor exhibition (lift access available). Down House has wheelchair access and is fitted with disabled toilets and handrails; there are also several rest seats throughout the house and garden.

Eat all the chocolate in Birmingham

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Swap the drip-drip-drip of rain for a warming dollop of liquid chocolate at Cadbury World, Birmingham. Visitors to the self-guided exhibition tour can learn about everyone’s favourite confectionary, practice their chocolate piping skills in the Have A Go zone, learn all about the brand’s sweet history and go on a 4D Chocolate Adventure. And most of the attraction is under cover, including Bull Street, a recreation of a Victorian street with shops displaying some of the first Cadbury products.

Cadbury World is wheelchair accessible with Changing Places and accessible toilets, and there are relaxed SEN sessions. People on the autism spectrum can check out Cadbury World’s social story before visiting. Entry is free to essential carers (with the necessary documentation). Wristbands for guests who may need additional assistance are available (upon presentation of necessary documentation). All tickets must be pre-booked by phone or online (tickets booked online save 5% on standard admission).

Escape to the theatre in Belfast

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A rainy day is the perfect time to visit one of Belfast’s oldest venues, where you can take refuge from the pitter-patter of rain in the opulent Victorian auditorium of the Grand Opera House. The stage has been trodden by the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Pavarotti, Vera Lynn and Kenneth Branagh – as well as a few ghosts, apparently! Take a daytime touch tour or see one of the relaxed, audio-described, signed or captioned performances that are available for most productions.

The opera house was awarded the Disability Equality Charter Award in 2013 – especially remarkable for a building that’s 120 years old! All levels of the theatre are wheelchair accessible and have accessible toilets with grab-rails and low-level mirrors, apart from The Gods level. The acoustics are excellent – but not too intrusive for assistance dogs. Before you visit, it’s worth considering the theatre’s Access for All scheme.

Go on safari in the Scottish Highlands

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Stay dry in your Motability Scheme vehicle as you drive through the Highland Wildlife Park, a 200-acre safari park and zoo in Inverness-shire. See polar bears, bison and Mongolian wild horses roaming in the beautiful hills of the Cairngorms National Park as you roll slowly through the Main Reserve. The drive takes about half an hour but you can go around as many times as you like. If the weather clears, follow one of the accessible trails from the car park to see wolves, Amur tigers and native Scottish wildlife such as wildcats and red squirrels. Fully trained guide dogs are allowed.

Disabled toilets are available by the car park and in the visitor centre. Before you go, it might help to download the free audio guide to the park and the mobility leaflet. There’s free admission for carers who present the necessary documentation at the entrance kiosk, and concessions for visitors who are registered disabled. Tickets are cheaper when you book online, but non-refundable.

Tour an iconic stadium in Cardiff

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The 74,000-seat home of the Welsh Rugby Union has a fully retractable roof, although we can’t guarantee it will be closed to the drizzle for your rainy-day visit! Rugby fans can take the behind-the-scenes tour of Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, from the depths of the terraces to the dizzying heights of the exclusive President’s Box, via the emotionally charged changing rooms. The highlight has got to be going through the players’ tunnel and out into the (imaginary) roar of 74,000 rugby fans! There’s even a chance to raise a trophy to the skies for a dramatic photo opp.

Access to the tour is via ramps and lifts, and assistance dogs are welcome by prior arrangement. The tours can go at a bit of a pace and some sections aren’t wheelchair accessible, but this shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the tour. Book the on-site disabled parking spaces in advance.

Image Credits 

Rough Guides would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs (in order of appearance on the web page):

Header image: © English Heritage Trust

Downs House: © English Heritage Trust

Cadbury World: © Cadbury World

Grand Opera House: © Shutterstock

Highlands Wildlife Park: © The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Principality Stadium: © Huw Evans Picture Agency/Principality Stadium Tours

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