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12 best family day trips from London

Take a break from the city with these brilliant family days out, all within easy reach of London

By Katie Gregory |
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Ruislip Lido
Photograph: aaabbbccc/Shutterstock.com

London’s parks and museums are perfect playgrounds for little ones. But if you want to escape the city for a day out with the kids, we’ve got you covered, whether you’ve got the weekend, half-term or the school holidays to fill. 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. From ancient castles and retro theme parks to enchanted trains and real-life steam engines, these family-friendly day trips are all within easy reach of London. 

RECOMMENDED: The best day trips from London

 

Family day trips from London

Hever Castle

Anne Boleyn’s childhood home is well worth a visit, and a tour will give you an insight into the workings of this elegant thirteenth-century castle. But it’s actually the surrounding gardens that steal the show, particularly where kids are concerned. Start walking and you’ll find several mazes – including a water maze – a playground, a boating lake and a collection of tiny model houses all tucked away in 125 acres of perfectly manicured greenery. Kids can book in for activities like archery lessons, too, and there’s an open-air theatre in summer.

Get there: 42 minutes by train from London Bridge to Hever; around one hour 30 minutes by car.

Roald Dahl Museum
Matt _Clayton

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

Roald Dahl lived in the village of Great Missenden for 36 years, and is buried in the parish church. The small museum dedicated to his work is packed to the rafters with info on his life and the inspo behind his famous characters, with plenty of dressing up, interactive exhibitions – including a chocolate-scented Wonka wall – and lots of live storytelling. When you’re done, stop by the café then follow one of the walking trails around Great Missenden via the author’s grave and the surrounding woods. A splendiferous day out indeed.

Get there: 46 minutes by train from London Marylebone to Great Missenden; around one hour 30 minutes by car.

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Legoland Windsor

Set aside a whole day to explore Legoland Windsor, and as the vast majority of it is outdoors, try and pick a dry one. Highlights include teeny-tiny Lego landmarks in Miniland, live pirate-themed shows at Heartlake City, and family rides like Fairy Tale Brook and Atlantis, which cater to all ages. The rest are divvied up by height – 1m is the minimum for the bulk of the best rides – and Duplo Valley is good for smaller guests. Bring swimsuits for the Drench Towers splash zone if you’re visiting in summer and use the Q-Bot booking system if you’re here in school holidays.

Get there: Around one hour by train from Paddington to Slough then bus; around one hour by car.

Dreamland Margate

For a dose of nostalgia-on-sea, take them to Margate’s traditional funfair. Regenerated, rebranded and reopened in 2015, it’s got all the charm of the original 1920s park – including the Grade II-listed Scenic Railway rollercoaster – and a hefty dose of kitsch, courtesy of a retro roller disco. If you’ve got the energy, Margate’s got a brilliantly bonkers underground Shell Grotto, too, and the Turner Contemporary gallery is good for kids. See if they recognise Tracey Emin’s neon pink ‘I never stopped loving you’ slogan on next-door Droit House, having seen the ‘I want my time with you’ one they saw back at St Pancras.
 
Get there: One hour 25 minutes from St Pancras International to Margate; around two hours by car.

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Ruislip Lido

This 60-acre lake on the edge of a vast nature reserve hides a sandy beach that’s all geared up for families. There are two kids’ playgrounds on the sand, a splash park, café, walking trails in the surrounding woods and even a little train that loops around it. Although you can’t swim in the water these days, it’s a nice place to take children fishing, and there’s also a decent pub that overlooks the lake. The best bit is that you can reach this place by tube and bus. Great news, because parking is a hassle when it’s busy.

Get there: Just under an hour via the Piccadilly or Metropolitan line to Ruislip then bus; one hour 10 minutes by car.

Brighton Beach and Sea Life Brighton

On a sunny day, few things beat hopping off the train at Brighton, walking down the hill and finding yourself a spot on the sun-warmed pebbles of Brighton Beach. Skim stones, paddle and sunbathe all morning, have a chippy lunch, then head over to Brighton Palace Pier for old-school rides including dodgems and waltzers. Get wristbands for unlimited rides if you’re going to be here a while. And if the weather’s not playing ball, duck into Sea Life Brighton. The world’s oldest operating aquarium is teeming with technicolour tropical fish.

Get there: Around one hour from Victoria or London Bridge to Brighton; two hours by car.

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Spa Valley Railway, Kent

Trundle through the Kent countryside on this heritage railway line from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge or Groombridge. You can stop off at High Rocks, where ancient sandstone boulders cover every inch of the landscape, visit Eridge Rocks nature reserve, or hop off at Groombridge for the Groombridge Place Estate – home to a fantastic Enchanted Forest with playgrounds and a treetop walk. Treat the kids to a cream tea en route or stop off for a pub lunch before the return leg. Just check the steam trains are running on the day you visit – the line is run by volunteers, so services can change at short notice.

Get there: 50 minutes from London Bridge to Tunbridge Wells; around one hour 20 minutes by car.

Verulamium Park, St Albans

This 100-acre blanket of parkland lies across the Roman city of Verulamium, which is of course where the name comes from. You can still see bits of the original city walls, along with hundreds of excavated finds now rehomed in the Verulamium Museum. The park itself is so big you can find peaceful pockets of grass even on a busy bank holiday weekend, and wander around the giant lake marvelling at how serene it is. But if that all sounds a little too quiet, there’s also a brilliant children’s playground and a free Splash Park open from May to September. Serene it most definitely isn’t.

Get there: Around 45 minutes by train from St Pancras International to St Albans City then bus; around one hour by car.

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Bekonscot Model Village

Opened in 1929, this is the oldest original model village in the world, and it feels like nothing much has changed in the past 90 years. Pint-sized visitors will feel like giants striding around the hundreds of dinky buildings, dotted with mini people and set up like seven tiny towns. A miniature railway chugs its way around everything, and there’s a ride-on railway and children’s play area, too. Plus, the whole thing is wrapped in glorious green gardens, which makes for both a seriously sedate and gloriously old-school day out.
 
Get there: Around 30 minutes from London Marylebone to Beaconsfield by train; one hour by car.

Rob Gilmore

The Lodge RSPB nature reserve

Bedfordshire’s biggest stretch of heathland is teeming with wildlife – from resident woodpeckers and falcons to all manner of creepy crawlies. Kids can see it all via five miles of winding walking trails, and borrow a rucksack with binoculars, bug-viewers, wildlife guides and activities to take on their trek. It’s all free – apart from parking – and it’s walkable from Sandy train station. Plus, you can pop over to nearby Bedford on your way home. Follow the town’s picturesque embankment for a clutch of riverside cafés, a decent park and a cracking indie children’s bookstore, Rogan’s Books.

Get there: 48 minutes from St Pancras International to Sandy; around one hour 30 minutes by car.

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Warner Bros Studio Tour London

If they’ve read the books and seen the films, it’s probably time to tick off the Harry Potter studio tour. It’s a behind-the-scenes walking tour of the Watford studio where the movies were shot, which means original sets, costumes and props galore. Fans of the films can step into Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Platform 9¾ and Diagon Alley, and older kids will get a kick out of seeing the SFX, VFX and art departments. Tours are pre-booked in slots with limited numbers, and a sugary pint of butterbeer at The Backlot Café helps to soften the blow of the ticket price.

Get there: Around 45 minutes from London Euston to Watford Junction by train then a shuttle bus; around one hour by car with free parking for ticketholders.

Fishers Adventure Farm Park

You get the measure of Fishers from its name. Part adventure playground, part family-run farm, part gigantic play park, it ticks all the boxes for a full-on family day out – and then a couple more for good measure. Kids can spend the day petting the animals, riding the go-karts and bouncing on the trampolines. The tractor and trailer ride is always popular too. Most rides are included in the ticket price, although a few are an extra £1. There are indoor play and picnic areas, and you can buy indoor-only tickets on rainy days. Either way, they’re pretty much guaranteed to conk out in the car on the way home.

Get there: Around one hour 30 minutes by train from London Victoria to Billingshurst Station then bus; one hour 30 minutes driving.

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