THE BEST DAY TRIPS FOR KIDS FROM LONDON
By Fiona Tapp
London is a wonderful place to raise a family. It’s a bustling, exciting and diverse metropolis with some of the world’s best attractions almost guaranteeing family fun.
However, once in a while you may still want 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, building sandcastles 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.
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. If the kids need some sea air, head to Weston-super-Mare or Clevedon for beaches, piers and seaside fun.
Where’s your favourite place to go on a day trip from London?