ESCAPE LONDON ON ONE OF THESE 40 FAMILY FRIENDLY DAY TRIPS
By Fiona Tapp
London is a wonderful place to raise a family.
That being said, sometimes you want (need!) to escape the city so we’ve put together our guide to the best days trips from London when you have kids.
Once in a while you need to escape from the capital with your brood, just for the day and head to the countryside or just to a smaller city.
There are an amazing number of enjoyable day trips to be found just a few hours from London.
Accessible by train, coach or car you could be on the beach, touring a castle, or checking out historic sights before you know it.
These are the best day trips from London, especially for families.
Great Western Railway gets you from London Paddington to Oxford in just one hour.
Once there you can visit the world-famous university which began as a seat of learning way back in the 11th century.
Little ones will love The Story Museum, in the city centre, where kids can hear stories, participate in dress-up sessions and grab a snack at the cafe.
Potter fans will happily tour the city to check out some of the locations where the movies were filmed and see some of the historic interiors that stood in for Hogwarts.
England's other top university city makes a great day trip from London by train.
In just one hour ten minutes you can travel from London Liverpool Street to Cambridge with Greater Anglia and check out the botanical gardens at the university.
You can also picnic at the Midsummer Commons and watch the houseboats on the river.
Visit the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences to see dinosaur skeletons, fossils and a large collection of minerals and rocks.
Before heading home stop for something to eat at the Full Moon restaurant which has a children's play area complete with a train table, pretend kitchen and chalkboard to keep little ones entertained while the adults eat.
Southend-on-Sea features beaches, a water play area, Adventure Island-amusement park, arcades and all the charm of the great British seaside, making it one of the best day trips from London.
Take the train the length of the pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world, and visit the Lifeboat museum or pop into the cafe.
You’ll also find shops and stands along the promenade selling buckets and spades, hot freshly made donuts, and even retro naughty postcards.
You can get to Southend in just over an hour on the train from London Liverpool Street, or in just under an hour by car down the A13 and A127.
Children and adults alike will enjoy descending into Bath’s historic Roman baths and learning all about Aquae Sulis.
Ride the hop on hop off sightseeing bus which takes you around the city showing you Royal Crescent and the circus of Georgian homes, The Jane Austen centre, The Abbey and more.
Pop into Sally Lunn’s home and taste the traditional buns made here since 1680, spread with homemade lemon curd or cinnamon butter they make the perfect sweet treat to end your day trip.
A jaunt to Bath is one of the best day trips from London by train, taking just 90 minutes.
To feel a million miles away from smoggy old London head to the south coast and enjoy a day out in Brighton.
You could easily spend the entire day at the beach and enjoying fish and chips or an ice cream.
Make sure you also check out the pier which has a variety of rides and arcade games to explore.
But if you fancy seeing what else the city has to offer you could happily wander around the lanes, looking in quaint shops and stopping for a drink at any of the restaurants or pubs.
Visit the iconic Royal Pavilion where guided tours especially for kids are available.
You can get to Brighton from London Victoria on the train in just 52 minutes.
You can reach London's oldest recorded town in less than an hour from London Liverpool Street, once here be sure to visit the city’s famous zoo, home to orangutans, Komodo dragons and more.
There is also a castle in Colchester, beaches, hobby farms and wildlife trails.
Download the clues and see if your family can solve the Colchester Mystery Treasure Trail.
You’ll be led all over town including the chance to see a Norman castle on the way, this affordable self-guided walking tour makes Colchester one of the most accessible cheap day trips from London.
Ride the UK’s oldest operating roller coaster at this seaside holiday hotspot featuring a really lovely sandy beach and all the excitement of the Dreamland amusement park.
On cold days or just for the novelty take the kids underground to see The Shell Grotto, where they’ll find winding passageways decorated with 4.6 million shells, the origins of which remain a mystery.
This attraction especially is a super choice for day trips from London when it’s raining.
Trains run from Kings Cross to Margate making the journey in under two hours.
You can be in Canterbury and touring the famous cathedral from London St Pancras in less than an hour.
Older kids and teens may also be interested in discovering more about the literary history of the city whilst learning about Chaucer at The Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction.
If you take the car from London you’ll travel on the M2 or M20 and it will take you under an hour and a half.
If you do drive consider continuing on about 20 minutes to Reculver Country Park.
Here you’ll find cliff and shoreline home to a variety of wildlife and the remains of a Roman fort, take a picnic and spend the afternoon exploring, you’ll surely agree that Canterbury makes for one of the most exciting day trips from London by car.
99% of kids are familiar with Roald Dahl (and we feel sorry for the 1% who aren’t) and his namesake museum is a wonderful attraction in the heart of Roald Dahl country.
The museum is in the village of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, where Roald Dahl lived for 36 years until his death in 1990.
With three galleries, packed with activities perfect for 6 to 12 year olds and their families, kids will learn about Roald Dahl's school pranks, peek into the author's original Writing Hut, and discover how Roald Dahl's real-life adventures inspired his stories.
The journey takes 45 minutes from London Marylebone with two trains per hour.
Best suited to kids up to age 10, everything Lego-themed and more is here. If you can go during school time (an inset day would be perfect) the queues will be much shorter.
Download the map before you go so you know what you want to ride/see. There’s a Lego hotel close by if you want to make it an overnight trip.
Travel through the Kent countryside on a heritage railway line from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge or Groombridge. Get off at Groombridge and visit the Enchanted Forest with playgrounds and a treetop walk.
Peppa Pig sometimes makes an appearance on the train during the summer school holidays.
Kids will enjoy the Butterfly House, home to a range of butterfly species from countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.
There’s also muddy play and discovery in the woods of Blenheim Palace where kids can discover a secret world of minibeast safaris, tree climbing, forest craft, den building, and pond dipping.
It may be a challenge to fit everything in St Albans in if you’re only there for a day but some of our favourites include:
The free family activity trail at St Albans Museum + Gallery
Tring Natural History Museum
Stockwood Discovery Centre
The duck pond and splash park at Verulamium Park
If it rains, take shelter at DJ's Play Jungle and let the kids burn off some energy while you have a coffee in the on-site café.
The oldest original model village in the world with gardens, children's play area and ride-on railway.
A family run adventure farm park set in the beautiful West Sussex countryside with its own horse and tractor rides, animal enclosures, adventure playground and cafes.
Over the summer holidays there are ‘Wiggly Weekends’ with entertainment and hands-on encounters with reptiles, bugs and amphibians from around the world.
Kew Gardens is the most biodiverse place on Earth, their wild botanic garden has 500 acres of woodland and is home to the world's largest seed conservation project.
Every Sunday (from 1 pm – 3 pm) the team at Kew explore big questions about biodiversity and the delicately balanced relationship between people and plants.
Inspired by some of the rarest and most threatened plants in the world, these stories will bring to life some of the amazing collections and newly discovered science.
The new Children’s Garden is especially designed for children from 2 to 12 years old. Based in a natural setting the size of 40 tennis courts, children can explore all the things plants need to grow; earth, air, sun and water.
On the last Monday of every month, there are Little Explorers 90-minute learning sessions aimed at children aged 2-5. Take part in a fun-packed adventure in the Gardens with games, stories, crafts and dressing up.
Kids will find out what makes plants grow, where your food comes from and some of the ways that we use plants in our everyday lives. Investigate animal habitats, insects, bees and pollination and the changing seasons.
If you’re a hardcore day tripper, why not consider a day trip to Paris? Check out our suggestions of things to do with kids in Paris..
Less than an hour from London Waterloo, Hampton Court Palace was the official home of King Henry 8. The on-site Magic Garden at Hampton Court provides a new and unique way to explore the palace’s past. Meet mysterious beasts, storm the battlements and discover the secret grotto.
Looking for something a little different on a family day out? How about a day spent underground?
Days Out Underground is a new book packed full of ideas for fun days out with a quirky twist - from caves to nuclear bunkers, abandoned mines to secret railways, labyrinthine tunnels to ancient crypts – each place is ideal for exploring regardless of the weather (and who doesn’t love a weatherproof day out?).
There are 50 places to visit and the section on the South East has loads of suggestions for exploring the secret world beneath our feet, each suited to young kids and teenagers, and all within a stone’s throw of London. Try
Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker
Buy a copy of Days Out Underground here to find the other 46 places you can visit underground.
If you’ve a history buff at home, all of these castles are near London and can be done, round trip, in a (rather long) day:
Most famous for all things Downton Abbey, it’s important to check before going as the castle is still a residence so isn’t open every day.
Pushchairs are not allowed in the castle so if your babe is still in arms, bring a sling.
Windsor Castle (under an hour by train)
The oldest and largest occupied castle in the entire world, the official residence of the Queen and where Harry and Megan got married, young visitors can take part in workshops or listen to child friendly stories.
Kids will also enjoy the pomp of watching the changing of the guard.
Just 40 minutes by car on the M4, this is a quick trip to take when time is tight.
Hever Castle (one hour by train)
Kids will love the three mazes plus on site archery lessons, shield painting and jousting.
Leeds Castle (2 hours by train)
A brilliant maze with a grotto at the end. Plus, an episode of Dr Who was filmed here.
Warwick Castle (1.5 hours by train)
There’s an official Horrible Histories maze, live-action daily shows and a dungeon.
As the site is run by Merlin, it’s perfect for children and teens. Plus, you can sleep over!
Arundel Castle (2 hours by train)
Their Family History Days give you the opportunity to meet a variety of historical characters - a Knight, Pirate and Medieval Surgeon - and have fun with a range of have-a-go activities, including archery (over 8s only), falconry, face painting and storytelling.
Dover Castle (2.5 hours by train)
Run by English Heritage, kids can step inside the Great Tower, sit on the royal throne and learn about life in a medieval castle through interactive exhibits and games.
They’ll enjoy exploring the secret wartime tunnels of the Second World War, deep underground in Dover's white cliffs.
Bristol is only two hours away by train and perfectly marries city with countryside – you can search for Banksy on the walls, or sharks under the water at Bristol Aquarium.
Climb the rigging on Brunel's SS Great Britain, travel through space in the Planetarium at We The Curious or pilot Concorde at Aerospace Bristol.
There’s also Bristol Zoo Gardens, the Wild Place Project and dinosaurs at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
If you want to spend time in the great outdoors, try nearby Longleat, Cheddar Gorge, Tyntesfield NT, Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, Puxton Park and Wookey Hole.
The Best Beaches Near London
Frensham Beach, Surrey
Less than 2 hours away from London by train, this sandy beach faces onto Frensham Pond. The water quality is excellent and swimming is allowed.
You can sunbathe on the sand and swim in calm waters while the kids splash around on shallow edges, play with beach balls, build sandcastles and eat ice cream.
Once you’ve dried off, make a pitstop at The Sculpture Park.
Broadstairs Beach, Kent
There are lots of beaches in Kent but our favourites are Whitstable (great seafood but pebbly so best for a walk) and Broadstairs.
Broadstairs has Blue Flag sandy beaches; traditional amusement arcades; contemporary art galleries; and a whole host of restaurants, cafes, bars and bistros.
While you’re in Broadstairs, visit Dickens House Museum, Crampton House Museum and Lilyputt Mini Golf.
Find out more about some of Kent’s beaches here.
Another sandy beach only 90 minutes away from London (by train), Walton-on-the-Naze is also home to the second longest pier in Great Britain.
Apparently the sand here is the perfect consistency for building sandcastles!
The gently shelving sand provides safe bathing and there is a seasonal lifeguard service. Enjoy the classic seaside amusements and beachside cafés.
If you’ve a four-legged-friend, dogs are banned from areas the beach from 1 May to 30 September.
A 2 hour train ride is more than worth it when you get to Bournemouth Beach.
The beach is a sprawling eleven miles long so it’s easier to find a secluded space.
West Wittering Beach, West Sussex
90 minutes from London, this charmingly named beach has amazing views of Chichester Harbour, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty packed with wildlife.
Botany Bay, Kent
Quite possibly the most instagrammed beach on our list, Botany Bay (no relation to its Australian namesake) has stunning white cliffs.
Take the kids to explore the rock pools.
Mersea Island, Essex
Another stunning beach, careful planning is required as Mersea Island gets cut off from the mainland at high tide.
Try the sunny South Beach for a beach seaside day out only one hour away from London.
Minnis Bay, Kent
Perfect for water sports, windsurfing and sailing, the beach disappears at high tide.
Where’s your favourite place to go on a day trip from London?