Ditch your daily commute and have a day off with the kids. Here you’ll find lots of fun ideas for family day trips from London: there's something for animal lovers, daring adventurers and little ones who just love to run about in the great outdoors. All of these destinations are easy to get to by train, too, so you can forget traffic jams and simply enjoy your day together.
Or enjoy a day out with mates or a date and check out our 20 brilliant excuses to get out of London this spring
IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire
The Imperial War Museum’s outpost in Cambridgeshire is set on one of the key RAF bases in World War II. Exhibits include the newly refurbished American Air Museum, a naval Air and Sea display and a Battle of Britain gallery, and you can see the Operations Room, set up as it was in 1940, and get close to some of the world’s most famous flying machines. Special exhibitions for spring include The Lancaster Experience (March 25-April 10) and throughout the school break there are Family Backpacks with lots of activities.
Imperial War Museum Duxford, Duxford Airfield, Cambs CB22 4QR
Getting there: Royston or Cambridge rail (Myalls 132 bus service on Sundays from Cambridge station)
Warner Bros Studio Tour London
Just north of Watford, the studios where the Harry Potter films were shot have been turned into a fabulous exhibition space, where you can walk into the sets and discover the secrets of the special effects department. Now on permanent display is the magnificent steam train which played the part of the Hogwarts Express so elegantly, complete with a mock-up of Platform 9¾. There are always seasonal exhibitions too, and for spring there’s a focus on the creation of the loveable half-giant Rubeus Hagrid (March 25-April 17).
Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, Herts WD25 7LR
Getting there: Watford Junction rail then shuttle bus, free parking for ticketholders
Spa Valley Railway, Kent
Choo-choo-choose a steam day out through the High Weald countryside. Each stop along the route (from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge or Groombridge) has plenty of fun things to do when you want to hop off, and through the year there are special days themed around Thomas the Tank Engine, Paddington Bear and Peppa Pig.
Spa Valley Railway, West Station, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 5QY
Getting there: Eridge or Tunbridge Wells rail
Go Ape Crawley, West Sussex
There is now a Go Ape tree activity location at Battersea Park, but outside London there’s the space to really let yourself go – while, of course, hanging on as as you stride and swing through the forest on ropes, rope bridges and zipwires. There’s a range of activities for all ages and skill levels, including a challenging course (age 10+, height 1.4m+) and a Tree Top Junior course for mini-Tarzans aged six to 12. Set in Tilgate Park, it’s a great outdoor day out, complete with lovely lakes and woodland.
Go Ape Crawley, Tilgate Park, Crawley, W Sussex RH10 5PQ
Getting there: Crawley or Three Bridges rail
Arundel Castle, West Sussex
You might have to wear sensible shoes and leave the buggy at home but the 131-step climb to the top of the keep at this 1,000-year-old castle is well worth it. This elegant pile is a wonder to explore and has visitor attractions including costumed storytelling, falconry and archery demonstrations and special events recreating key episodes from the castle’s past.
Arundel Castle, Arundel, W Sussex BN18 9AB
Getting there: Arundel rail
Verulamium Park, St Albans
In the days when men wore skirts and roads were straight, Verulamium was the third largest city in Roman Britain. This 100-acre park in modern St Albans features the Verulamium Museum, with excavation finds that tell a fascinating story of Roman life. The nearby ruins of the Roman Theatre are worth the trip, too.
St Albans Museums, St Michael's, St Albans, Herts AL3 4SW
Roman Theatre, Gorhambury Drive, St Albans, Herts AL3 6AE
Getting there: St Albans Abbey rail
Drusillas Zoo Park, East Sussex
You’ll find a vibrant variety of wild and domestic animals at this East Sussex landmark, from camels and meerkats to rainbow lorikeets, and you can see macaques, lemurs, otters and penguins being fed throughout the day. For fans of fictional wildlife, there’s also a meet ’n’ greet with the Gruffalo on March 30. The park has lots of other activities too, including a Thomas the Tank Engine area and a Hello Kitty secret garden.
Alfriston, E Sussex BN26 5QS
Getting there: Polegate rail
Newhaven Fort, East Sussex
For kids who have a fascination for wartime adventure (or you’re hoping to sneak a little history homework into a fun day out) this amazing coastal fortification is worth a visit. Its attractions include a recreation of a street shelter during the Blitz, costumed events, displays of World War I and II memorabilia and posing for pictures on the huge 6-inch guns. When you’re hungry, there’s even a 1940s tea room. Events for the Easter break include Newhaven’s First World War (March 26).
Newhaven Fort, Fort Rd, Newhaven, E Sussex BN9 9DS
Getting there: Newhaven Town rail then bus
Celebrate the great outdoors after winter spent indoors! Okay, so we’re not likely to get bikini weather in spring, but there’s so much to do along the promenade and beach in Brighton that you have the perfect excuse to be beside the seaside as early as possible. The Punch and Judy show has already begun for the season, you can hire cycles, skim pebbles and hit the sand at Yellowave Beach Sports Centre (open all year) and play beach volleyball, soccer, footvolley and rugby. For traditional fairground and arcade attractions, head to the famous pier.
Brighton Pier, Madeira Drive, Brighton, E Sussex, BN2 1TW
Getting there: Brighton rail
Bekonscot Model Village, Buckinghamshire
Opened in 1929, there is definitely an old-world charm to this model village, a miniature time capsule of 1930s Britain, with more modern scenes added through the years. The mix of old and new is charming and children absolutely love looking at every carefully created detail in a world that, for once, is smaller than they are. What sets Bekonscot apart is its location among landscaped gardens and its extensive model railway network. A unique and wonderfully laidback experience that’s a complete contrast to theme park fever. There’s a playground and picnic area, too.
Bekonscot Model Village, Warwick Rd, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP9 2PL
Getting there: Beaconsfield rail
Fishers Adventure Farm Park, West Sussex
Spring has sprung! Along with indoor and outdoor play areas and rides for all ages, this park is home to rare-breed, rescued and hand-reared farm animals. During the Easter season, young visitors can meet fluffy chicks and bottle-feed the baby lambs, enjoy fascinating animal encounter shows and take on the egg hunt challenge.
Newpound Lane, Wisborough Green, W Sussex, RH14 0EG
Getting there: Billingshurst rail
The Lodge RSPB nature reserve, Bedfordshire
This beautiful, expansive stretch of Bedfordshire wood, heath and grassland is a haven for birds and bugs. RSPB Wildlife Explorer backpacks (free to use, including binoculars, a magnifying glass and wildlife spotting charts) help young twitchers explore the trails, and there are hunts and drop-in nature activities for Easter weekend. A great free day out.
The Lodge RSPB Nature Reserve, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL
Getting there: Sandy rail then 188 bus
The Nickey Line
This former railway line that once linked Harpenden and Hemel Hempstead is now a wonderful seven-mile cycle and footpath. In London it’s rare to find such tranquil space to let the kids enjoy a good ride, but the Nickey Line is pretty in any season, with lots of wildlife to see along the way.
Park Hill, Harpenden, Herts
Getting there: Harpenden or Hemel Hempstead rail
Royston Cave, Hertfordshire
Unlike natural caves you have to travel to the West Country to explore, beneath the streets of Royston lies a baffling manmade cave, complete with wall carvings of the Crucifixion and various saints. Some studies compare the drawings with those linked to Knights Templar sites, and they certainly add to the mystery of the place. A subterranean adventure for children and adults who can negotiate the slippery surfaces confidently.
Katherine’s Yard, Melbourn St, Royston, Herts SG8 7BZ
Getting there: Royston rail
Legoland Windsor Resort
For 2016 the big new arrivals at Legoland are the 4D movie ‘A New Adventure’ (4D means the visuals leap out at you in 3D but you also experience live effects like sprays of water) and the fabulous 500,000-brick Lego Death Star, recreated in a new section of the Miniland model village. If you haven’t been before, go to their website before you visit – tickets are cheaper in advance and you can also see what rides suit what ages. Children from three to 12 are especially well catered for, with gentle rides for tinies and rollercoaster thrills for older kids.
Legoland, Windsor Resort, Winkfield Rd, Windsor, Berks SL4 4AY
Getting there: Eton & Windsor Central rail
Sea Life Brighton
On the seafront, next to Brighton Pier, this aquarium is easy to find. Features include a glass-bottomed boat video show, live demonstrations introducing you to the underwater stars of your visit and an interactive rockpool where you can touch starfish and crabs. New for 2016 are the Secrets of the Reef tropical coral garden and Jurassic Seas, exploring prehistoric sealife in the age of the dinosaurs.
Sea Life Brighton, Marine Parade, Brighton, E Sussex BN2 1TB
Getting there: Brighton rail
Magic Garden at Hampton Court Palace
Opening on March 25, this brand new kids area goes far beyond your average playground, with architecturally designed towers and high walkways, slides that burrow under ground and a 25ft-long red dragon to climb on. (His eyes light up and he snorts ‘smoke’!) The garden is a unique experience that will keep the kids amused for hours. It’s mainly aimed at ages two to 13 and there are water features, so pack a small towel… Entry is included with your palace admission or you can buy a separate ticket for the maze and Magic Garden.
Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey KT8 9AU
Getting there: Hampton Court rail
Hever Castle & Gardens, Kent
Anne Boleyn’s childhood home is a classy day out, but if you fear sticky little hands might damage the antiques indoors, check out the brilliant water maze, the old yew maze and the adventure playground. There’s a collection of miniature houses for curious crafters to check out, and a boating lake, too.
Hever Castle, Hever Rd, Hever, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7NG
Getting there: Hever rail then 1-mile walk, or Edenbridge Town rail then taxi
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
With brilliant shops and a city full of students, Cambridge might seem a more ‘grown-up’ day out, but there are plenty of curious places of learning with amazing things to see and do. The Fitzwilliam Museum has a wonderful collection of historic finds and an excellent exhibition about ancient Egypt. The museum also hosts guided tours of the exhibits and bookable hands-on craft sessions, plus free drop-in activities on the first Saturday of each month.
Fitzwilliam Museum Trumpington St, Cambridge, CB2 1RB
Getting there: Cambridge rail
Paradise Park, East Sussex
Along with vast Heritage Gardens and a trail to frolic in, there are fabulous indoor and outdoor play areas including soft play for under-fives, a miniature railway, crazy golf and a Triassic Treetops Adventure Play course. For budding paleontologists there’s Planet Earth, showing you how the spot you’re standing on would have looked 60 million years ago and in the time of our Neanderthal ancestors, based on archeological finds in the area.
Paradise Park, Avis Rd, Newhaven,
E Sussex BN9 0DH
Getting there: Newhaven rail
Thameslink operates train services to and from the heart of London, between Bedford and Brighton via Luton and Gatwick Airport, and St Albans and Wimbledon.
Great Northern connects King’s Lynn, Cambridge and Peterborough, via Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City with London King’s Cross. Metro services run to and from Moorgate weekdays, late evening and at weekends.
Kids travel for just £2 when accompanied by an adult on our great value Off-Peak tickets, plus get 2FOR1 offers to heaps of attractions when you travel by train.
Time Run is a bit more involved than your average escape game. You’re not just locked into a room with mates so that you can engage in frantic puzzle solving against the clock. It’s also an immersive experience.An immersive experience that’s a bit like a Victorian ‘Back To The Future’. From the moment you step in, you’ll be greeted by an actor who explains that you’re about to go time travelling to find mystical artefacts that are intrinsic to the world’s stability. You’re shuttled through a series of astonishingly impressive sets designed to recreate different historical periods. And, as you puzzle solve, projections deliver you messages from your supposed mentor, Luna Fox: a sort of hybrid of Phileas Fogg and Doc Emmett Brown. There are two games: the Lance of Longinus and recent opening The Celestial Chain. The first of which is utterly fantastic: the varied puzzles are thoroughly fun, and the sheer size and attention to detail in the sets is staggering. Less good is The Celestial Chain, however, which – unlike basically every other escape game in existence – doesn’t let you solve puzzles to unlock the next part of your challenge. Instead, it sends you into a series of rooms, imposing a 15-minute time limit for each one. If you don’t solve your puzzle in that limit, too bad: you’re booted into the next one. And, frankly, it’s frequently frustrating - just as you’re getting to grips with something, you’re forced to abandon it. Nonetheless, in terms of escape games, ‘Ti
Venue says: “Experience the complete magic of Time Run and book both games - Lance of Longinus and Celestial Chain - for £59 per person (saving 30%)!”