We review the top 10 best Center Parcs in the UK and Europe. Our top choices in the UK include Longford Forest in Ireland, Whinfell, Sherwood, Longleat, Elveden, and Woburn.
Center Parcs resorts enable families to stay in a lodge with easy access to loads of activities; walking, biking, swimming, playgrounds, soft plays, and other family-friendly activities. When thinking of a family holiday, the brand name that springs into most parents’ minds is, of course, “Center Parcs”! But which Center Parcs to choose, which one will suit your children best, which lodge should you choose, and what are the tips to get the best deal?
Wherever you want to stay, book family breaks with our luxury travel concierge. We offer discounts on family breaks at holiday villages like Center Parcs as well as free upgrades, free breakfasts, free hotel credit, and VIP gifts at luxury hotels like Four Seasons, Aman, Belmond, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental and more… for the same price as the hotel’s own websites. You can also pick up a holiday bargain in our luxury travel auctions.
Center Parcs originated in The Netherlands in 1967, with the first UK park opening in 1987. Center Parcs UK is now a separate entity, and the prices reflect this. Getaways on the continent, in the Netherlands and Germany in particular (as well as France and Belgium), can be cheaper than a UK park. Perhaps this is a result of the exceptional demand in the UK, or perhaps it is because each park offers different facilities and the UK parks tend to be better catered for in terms of activities.
That said, some European parks have facilities like an indoor ski dome and extra freebies and vouchers that you don’t get in the UK. Regardless of these vouchers, the UK Center Parcs are massively popular, with over 2.2 million visitors visiting these parks each year.
Now please remember, while the brochures portray a back-to-nature break in the depths of an emerald green English forest, the reality is slightly different. Yes, there are forested moments, particularly if you get out on your bike and cycle off into the distance, but the cabins themselves are near to each other, and these identical lodges are set on a plot of land surrounded by trees but are not remote and located in a sunny thicket in the middle of a forest. You will not be staying in Goldilocks’s fairytale cottage. You will be housed in a plot of land surrounded by a lot of other lodges, all containing families looking for that fairytale idyll.
That said, as long as you aren’t expecting a rural beak, Center Parcs really does offer a fantastic break for children and families with everything truly on your doorstep, along with no cars and no need to leave the resort at all during your entire stay. Center Parcs offers the outdoor lifestyle and some independence for your children as long as you don’t mind planning and the booking of slots far in advance (probably before you even arrive!) and of course spending plenty of £££’s.
Which Center Parcs?
There are 6 Center Parcs locations throughout the UK. Each one is entirely unique, the latest village being in Ireland, which has just opened! All the villages offer the same great features you’d expect of a Center Parcs break, surrounded by forested and rural landscapes, with mini beaches and water sport lakes.
Each village features up to 200 outdoor and indoor activities, an award-winning Aqua Sana Spa, great restaurants, and the amazing Subtropical Swimming Paradise (heated to a balmy 29.5C all year round), along with a huge array of accommodation in varying sizes and styles.
They all have similar offerings with lake-based activities, tree-top jaunts, cycling, laser combat, aerial adventures, electric boats and pedalos, adventure golf, raft building, and even teddy bear picnics for the young kids.
If it rains, there are loads of activities to do indoors, whichever park you choose. Activities that are not weather dependent include exercise classes, squash, badminton, table tennis, pottery and painting, cupcake decorating, willow workshops, forest crafts, indoor climbing, ten pin bowling, arcade games, and an activity den for little ones. Activities are not the best way to differentiate between the parks, although we have outlined the minor differences below.
Accommodations are also similar across the parks, although it is worth noting that the newer parks have better, fresher, and more modern decor. All the accommodation options are well maintained but functional. Furnished in woods, plastics, and hard-wearing fabrics. They are practical but not beautiful. Many feature outdoor patios, but these are small and generally overlooking a patch of grass and a few trees, not tranquil lakes and deep forests.
Location is a big factor when choosing the best Center Parc for your family. Most people select a Center Parcs based on the shortest driving distance. However, each village is a little different, so you might want to drive a little further to get exactly what you want. Here’s our pick of the best Center Parc village and why we like it.
1. Woburn Forest Bedfordshire
Woburn Forest Bedfordshire is aimed at Londoners and is set just one hour from the city. This is the newest village in England, although it is probably the smallest and it is not as new as the brand new Irish Center Parc.
Woburn has some of the newest and best facilities, probably making it come out a touch above the rest, though their pool-based activities are all available too early morning, which isn’t ideal. That said, its size is a bonus as, particularly for small children, Woburn is small enough that you can walk or take a scooter for your kids to scoot between venues.
There isn’t much to pick between resorts in terms of dining. All resorts offer a huge range of drinking and dining options (at least 10 in each resort!), as well as the ParcMarket to pick up groceries, DVDs, wines, beers, and bits and bobs you might have forgotten.
If you like Latin American or Mexican dishes, choose Woburn or Longleat, which features Las Iguanas. All resorts feature the Rajinda Pradesh restaurants offering contemporary Eastern-inspired dishes.
If you like Italian food, I’d also pick Woburn with its newish Strada restaurant, though all properties feature either Strada or Bella Italia. And if you like hearty traditional English grub or American diner-style dining, then there’s a pub and a Huck’s American Bar & Grill in each resort.
But, let’s not forget you’re in a resort, so inflated resort prices apply. You might find yourself paying 40% more for the same meal as you might get in your home town, if not more…
One of the most wonderful things for parents about a stay at Center Parcs is the fact the there are numerous indoor and outdoor play areas throughout each resort which are all set adjacent to restaurants and bars, so mum’s and dad’s, granny’s and grandpa’s, can relax with a hot coffee, chilled glass of wine, a pint or a light bite while your children play safely alongside you, a massive plus for all adults!
All the resorts have numerous play areas, but some are smaller than you’d expect. I was a little disappointed by the size of the play areas at Woburn, the soft play area set inside The Plaza is tiny and not nearly big enough to accommodate more than 3 / 4 families of children at one time. The area outside is a little bigger but not great. However, if you head over to the outdoor play area by the Village Square, there’s climbing frames and wooden activities galore. Unfortunately, there’s not enough adult seating.
If you want to make use of the larger soft play in Huck’s American Bar & Grill set inside the Village Square whilst dining, then make sure to book well in advance (even before you arrive!) as reservations get snapped up quickly. Walk-ins sometimes have to wait until 9:00 pm for a table.
Woburn Forest Bedfordshire features the largest Subtropical Swimming Paradise with excellent pools for toddlers and a pirate ship to explore for younger children. This is an absolute highlight and one of the many reasons that Woburn is the best choice and in our number one spot. However, it does tend to cost £100 GBP or so more to stay at this resort compared to the rest.
This huge Subtropical Swimming Paradise also offers a large baby/toddler pool with slides; awesome kids pool with a pirate ship and slides, and the main wave pool, which is nice and shallow at the entrance for little ones and deeper further in for those seeking more fun, and the whole place is easily viewable for parents.
It’s important to note that kids have to be over 1.2m to go on all the bigger rides, which could be a little restrictive for smaller children or those families with children of varying ages.
All villages offer their own Subtropical Swimming Paradise. None are bad, but at the newer resorts, you can use electronic wristbands (which unlock your lodge) to lock your pool locker, and these can be charged with money too, so you don’t have to carry a wallet to buy a drink at the poolside cafe.
All Center Parcs feature award-winning Aqua Sana Spas, which offer a wide range of treatments for both men and women, delivered by expert therapists. Choose between deeply relaxing massages to beautifying manicures and pedicures, skin-perfecting facials, and renewing hot stones therapies, plus enjoy all the facilities, including pools, relaxation areas, and saunas. In terms of which resort has the best spa, I would say it’s a tie between Woburn and Sherwood Forest. The Woburn Spa is the newest and biggest with the best facilities.
If you are booking a woodland or executive lodge, I would recommend Woburn and Longleat as having the best lodges as their properties seemed to be the newest and the cleaning service was fantastic (even changing their cleaning slots to fit in with our little one’s naps!).
2. Longford Forest, Ireland
The 395-acre site in Newcastle Wood, County Longford in Ireland, opened in 2019, and this Center Parc is home to 460 self-catering lodges, plus all the usual Center Parcs offerings.
The opening of Longford Forest means Center Parcs now offers 4,813 units of accommodation, including apartments and self-catering lodges, across the UK. The facilities at Center Parc’s sixth UK resort include more than 460 self-catering lodges, a Subtropical Swimming Paradise, a spa, shops, restaurants, and leisure activities.
Of course, this is the most modern of all the Center Parcs in the UK. The swimming pool is excellent and has all the associated water slides, which comprises the core of every Center Parcs. There’s a “village square’ of bars, restaurants, and shops. A sports hall includes a climbing wall, a bowling alley, and badminton courts, and guests are accommodated mostly in self-contained lodges. This Irish Center Parc also includes 40 apartments.
Because all Center Parcs villages have around 95% occupancy all year round, you can’t expect perfect decor, and at the older properties, the furnishings are a little worn in places. If you’re looking for brand new furnishings and immaculate apartments, you will want to pick this new Irish resort.
3. Longleat Forest Wiltshire
Longleat Forest Wiltshire is the most southern village and home to rare 100-year-old Giant Redwood trees. It’s ideal for slightly older children due to the size of the property and distances between activities. Visitors can amble around the village on foot, whizz around by bicycle, or catch the special Land Train, but note that it is quite hilly for walking!
For cycling, we think the best park is Longleat, although Sherwood, Elveden, and Whinfell are also great, and at all four, bicycles are virtually essential. Sherwood and Whinfell have more options for cyclists, and all resorts offer bikes, helmets, bike seats, bike trolleys, and so on to hire. It’s not cheap, so if you can bring your bikes with you, I’d recommend that. Bike hire costs: £30 GBP for an adult bike and £22 GBP for a child’s bicycle, so you’re adding more than £100 GBP to your bill for a family of four before you’ve even arrived.
4. Sherwood Forest Nottinghamshire
Set in the heart of Nottinghamshire, this resort has lots of lakes and waterside views, more than most of the other resorts. The spa here is excellent, and there’s a great Treetop Sauna.
Sherwood has the best play areas, in my opinion. This Centre Parc features 2 larger outdoor playgrounds as well as Huck’s American Bar & Grill and Forester’s play areas.
In terms of which resort has the best spa, as outlined above, it’s a tie between Woburn and Sherwood Forest. The Woburn Spa is the newest and biggest with the best facilities. However, the Sherwood Forest spa is incredibly friendly, and there’s a great Treetop Sauna. It’s important to note that all the spas are open to the public, so if you want to book experiences and treatments, I highly recommend adding them to your stay before you arrive to avoid disappointment. Tip: afternoons are usually quieter in the spa, so I’d opt for those.
In terms of lodge choice, we had a few issues with facilities working in Whinfell and Sherwood, but out of those two, I would opt for Sherwood again as the lodges felt a little bit newer. The Center Parcs further up our list tend to have newer and better lodges.
If money is no object, or you have plenty of friends or family to go on holiday with, then pick an enchanting Treehouse with your own private outdoor hot tub, dedicated treehouse host, games den, and four stylish en-suite bedrooms. These can be found at Sherwood, Longleat, Elveden, Woburn. The older Whinfell resort currently doesn’t have treehouses.
Finally, if you fancy a go on the Tropical Cyclone ride, which is now open at the Sherwood Forest Subtropical Swimming Paradise, you can enjoy a 125-meter ride filled with twists, turns, and drops, with audio-visual effects in the main bowl of the ride. This ride is exclusive to Sherwood.
5. Elveden Forest Suffolk
Elveden Forest Suffolk features one of the largest watersports lakes of any Center Parc, where you can try the Cable Water Ski or The Drop, a tower with varying heights of up to 10 meters to free-fall from!
The facilities here are conveniently close, and this Center Parc is designed on a flat plot which makes getting around easy. Plus, when we went, there was a fun inflatable waterslide!
Here you can pick a unique Waterside Lodge. These are only available at Elveden Forest and feature a hot tub, three ensuite bedrooms (two with a balcony), unique nautical décor, and breath-taking views of the lake.
6. Whinfell Forest Cumbria
Whinfell Forest Cumbria is the most northern village set on the edge of the Lake District in a 400-acre forest. It probably has the prettiest setting and the nicest lake to stroll all the way around.
Whinfell’s facilities are probably the most tired because it’s one of the older resorts, but I would say the staff more than make up for this.
No matter what the weather, there’s something to do for all ages and preferences in bad weather at each property. However, if you’re going over a wintery or wet spell and want to know the best Center Parc to choose, we think Whinfell is the best, as it’s pretty much all under a dome, and it doesn’t ever seem too crowded anywhere because it’s all undercover.
The activities staff at all resorts are where Center Parcs truly sets itself apart. These intelligent, keen-to-please youngsters, or should I say ‘entertainers’, work tirelessly to beautifully entertain and enchant children (especially the younger ones aged around 4-7), whichever park you choose. As in all situations, there are a few black sheep that fail to meet this high standard, but I’m pleased to say that’s the exception, not the rule.
Whichever resort you choose, arrive early and leave late. Make the most of your time at the village by arriving early: you can usually enjoy your chosen resort’s facilities from 10:00 am on the day of arrival (excluding the Sub Tropical Swim Paradises’ which tend to be available from 2:00 pm), though you won’t be able to get into your lodge till 3:00 – 3:30 pm. On your day of departure, you need to be out of your lodge by 10:00 am, but you can still use the facilities till as late as midnight (!), so make sure to make the very most of your stay! Because of this, I don’t think it’s worth paying more for early check-in as you can simply use the facilities for free anyway. It’s just the lodge you have to wait for.
It seems obvious to pick Longford Forest in Ireland or Woburn as the winners as they’re the newest resorts, and thus the facilities are bigger and better.
UK breaks start from £299 GBP for a 2 bedroom Woodland Lodge (Monday to Friday), provided you can go during term time. During peak season, stays start from £499 GBP for a 2 bedroom lodge for a weekend stay (Friday to Monday), but during summer holidays, most stays are in excess of £1,000 GBP.
7. Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire
In position 7, we pick what we think is the best family hotel in the whole of England. It isn’t a Center Parc, but as there are only 6 Center Parks in the UK, and this is a top 10 listing, I am listing some hidden gems that are not Center Parks at all but that you should consider for your next trip away.
The stunning Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire has a kids club, kid-friendly activities including zip-lining, horse riding, bicycling, gaming, a spa with kids treatments, and the highlight, which is a Shark Pool with spouts, fountains, shallow waters, and a big slide. Four Seasons resorts love kids and yet cater so well for adults too. The rooms here are immaculate and large and can fit up to 2 adults and 2 children. Little touches are put out for your children’s arrival, such as free cookies or welcome chocolates with your child’s name inscribed on the welcome food and the mirror.
The hotel itself is housed in an elegant Georgian mansion; as you approach down the long winding drive, the rolling hills and lake welcome you first, and then you catch a glimpse of the beautiful building, and you are seduced.
Enjoy the main building where the funky-yet-traditional bar with its warming fireplace and gorgeous terrace (of course with sweeping countryside views to die for) is the place to relax with a chilled beverage. And if you’re peckish, there’s a fine dining restaurant or the prettiest lounge you can imagine where afternoon tea is served. After that, you can Spa your afternoon away at one of the best Spas in Hampshire. The rooms themselves are luxurious, spacious, and wonderfully English; make sure you opt for one with a view, so rural Hampshire stays with you even when you’re in your room, giving you the perfect countryside escape vibe.
This hotel has everything you could possibly wish for. Stay for a night, stay for a week, you won’t be disappointed.
Best of all, book your stay via our luxury travel concierge, and you get free breakfasts and free perks at hotels including the Four Seasons, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental and more.
Typically, our free benefits at luxury hotels include:
- Room upgrade to next category
- Complimentary breakfast for two per bedroom
- Complimentary Welcome Gift
- $100 USD equivalent Hotel experiential credit per room per stay
- Early check-in / late check-out (subject to availability)
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
8. Burnbake Campsite & Forest Lodges, Dorset
An all-year-round destination, Burnbake Campsite & Forest Lodges is a magical woodland haven set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Purbeck countryside. Surrounded by acres of nature and wildlife and far enough away from it all to enjoy no phone reception (though there’s always Wi-Fi in the lodges if you need it), Burnbake offers great beaching in the summertime and wonderful, crisp winter walks and nearby pub lunches in the winter. Perfect for a romantic couples’ escape or a family break to de-connect and re-connect, Burnbake truly has it all.
This multi-award-winning woodland oasis lies surrounded by dramatic coastlines, blue flag beaches, coves, ridges, castles, and valleys, all at the gateway to the World Heritage Jurassic coastline. It’s also a rural wildlife haven with rabbits hopping about while you enjoy your morning cuppa, as well as deer, birds, pheasants, and squirrels all on your doorstep.
An escape here doesn’t have to involve pitching a tent. Instead, you can enjoy a touch of luxury with a stay in one of their chic, architect-designed 2 and 3 bedroom wooden lodges, or select an executive lodge if you want a few more luxury comforts. Each lodge lies in its own woodland clearing, offering a spacious, open plan living with stylish oak furniture, cozy sofas, flat-screen television, bubbling hot tub, and a roaring wood-burning stove to keep you and the whole lodge toasty in the winter months. The lodges are incredibly well designed and insulated and never seem to get cold, nor can you hear the stormy wintery chaos going on outside when you’re safely tucked up indoors. And the bubbling hot tub is magical, especially under the stars at night time.
The lodges feature flatscreen TVs, Wi-Fi, a fully equipped kitchen with dishwasher, a master bedroom with a sumptuous king-size bed, bathrobes, slippers, and an ensuite shower or bathroom; a family bathroom and the additional bedrooms can be made up as twins or doubles on request. Executive lodges also boast a coffee machine, a Bose sound system, and a washing machine.
In terms of dining at Burnbake, there’s a small eatery that’s open during the summer and at weekends in the low season that serves delicious breakfasts and a selection of meals in the evenings, including hot dogs, burgers, and specialties like paella to eat in or take-away. You can always buy the basics: logs for the fire and sweet treats from the Burnbake shop, which is currently getting a facelift and will be open for the summer season attached to reception alongside a new coffee shop.
If it’s outdoor action or adventure you’re after, there’s plenty to keep you entertained from archery, shooting, climbing, abseiling, bushcraft, coasteering, cycling, golf, and horse riding, not forgetting the nostalgic steam-train on the Purbeck line, which lies just three miles away. Plus, if you want a little relaxation, you can also arrange a luxury spa treatment or a private chef to cook for you in the comfort of your own lodge!
Burnbake is a true favorite of mine and my children, and I truly can’t recommend it highly enough.
9. Luxury Lodges Glasshouse at Burn Coastal Retreat, Cornwall
If you’re looking for a little designer luxury and you’re happy to compromise on woodland and wildlife on your doorstep, then a stay at the Glasshouse at Burn Coastal Retreat in Cornwall will offer you a little five-star hotel-style luxury combined with all the comforts of home.
Set in 45 acres of the delightful Cornish countryside, just outside the beautiful seaside town of Bude, Burn is the ideal place to explore the magnificent northern coastlines of both Cornwall and Devon.
Burn Coastal Retreat offers 32 luxury holiday cottages and apartments, all individually designed with their own unique style. Whether you want a relaxing break or an action-packed trip, Burn Coastal Retreat boasts a laid-back atmosphere with a long list of fabulous facilities for you to enjoy, including an indoor heated pool, sauna, gym, treatment rooms, outdoor children’s play area, and the Coastal Cafe Bar.
The Glasshouse itself boasts stylish, modern furnishings and features floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the interior with natural light and offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside come rain or shine. There’s a spacious open plan living and dining area, a fully equipped kitchen, and an outdoor private terrace complete with a hot tub and dining area.
Sleeping up to six people across two floors, the Glasshouse has two twin bedrooms and a luxurious master bedroom. The master bedroom features a balcony as well as a beautifully appointed ensuite, complete with a fabulous freestanding bathtub.
10. European Center Parcs
There are 25 Center Parcs in mainland Europe, including holiday parks in France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany. They offer an appealing alternative to the UK Center Parcs and can be much cheaper.
The best European Center Parcs are usually thought to be Center Parcs Le Bois Aux Daims in France, Center Parcs Het Meerdal in the Netherlands, and Center Parcs De Vossemeren in Belgium. All are fairly easy to drive to from the UK and offer an alternative to the UK parks that are sometimes cheaper and are just as good.
Note: Benefits offered correct at the time of writing but may be amended at discretion of the vendor. Any auction prices listed correct at time of publication, but will be subject to change. Posts may be sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own & are in no way influenced.