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When can I go on a day trip in the UK?

As the UK eases restrictions, here’s when we might be able to travel out of our local area again

James Manning

Since early January, England has been under a strict national lockdown, with leaving the house pretty much banned.

Although you can go out for exercise (as well as buying essentials), it’s illegal to travel for non-essential reasons, with the official rules stating ‘outdoor exercise should be done locally wherever possible’, which means ‘avoiding travelling outside of your village, town or the part of a city where you live’.

Needless to say, this has put a stymie on day trips. But with the government now presenting a ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, we’re starting to learn a bit about when we might be able to head out on escapes and excursions once again.

Although wider travel and overnight stays are likely to remain forbidden for months yet, the UK’s blanket ‘stay at home’ order will be lifted from March 29 as part of ‘Step 1’, along with the ‘stay local’ guidance. Non-essential travel will still be discouraged, but different households will be allowed to meet outdoors – and vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi strongly implied on Monday morning that travel across England would also be allowed at this point. Asked if people will be able to travel to meet up with their families, he replied, ‘Quite right, if everything goes well.’ However, the official guidance published today says ‘no holidays’. So day trips might not be actively illegal from March 29, but they’ll still be discouraged.

However under ‘Step 2’, from April 12 at the earliest, a new wave of businesses will be allowed to open, including holiday lets by individuals or households, pubs and restaurants serving outdoors only, zoos, theme parks and drive-in cinemas. From this point, day trips will certainly be allowed within England. But bear in mind that this date is subject to change if things don’t go as planned.

It’s also worth noting that the rules will almost certainly be different in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with most cross-border travel within the UK likely banned. The government may continue to urge people not to use public transport unless absolutely necessary, so travelling out of the city by train would not be permitted either. And hospitality businesses such as indoor pubs and restaurants as well as many attractions would remain closed at first, leaving your day trip options a tad limited even when you’re technically allowed to leave your local area.

For a glimpse of what might be allowed under either Step 1 or Step 2, we took a look back at the rules introduced in May 2020 after the initial UK lockdown. Government guidance at the time stated that, as well as people now being able to exercise an unlimited amount or simply to enjoy being outside in nature without exercising, ‘day trips to outdoor open space, in a private vehicle, are permitted’.

The government stated: ‘You can drive as far as you want to, for example, to go and walk in a particular area that you are fond of, as long as you maintain social distancing.’ This was okay ‘because this does not involve contact with people outside your household’. 

The public in England was allowed to drive anywhere as long as they don’t enter Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, where lockdown rules are currently different. That included driving to take a walk in the countryside, or to visit a park or a beach.

Chiltern Hills
Photograph: Paul Maguire/Shutterstock

However, it is worth noting that even when the government removed restrictions on day trips, many residents and local councils remained keen to deter people from visiting their area. Beach towns near London such as Margate, Herne Bay and Camber Sands urged day trippers to stay at home, with North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale saying, ‘Please don’t come to the seaside – we’re still shut.’

Meanwhile, Cumbria Police urged people not to ‘rush to the Lake District’, the Peak District asked people to continue using their local parks instead of making the journey to the National Park, the mayors of Yorkshire seaside towns Scarborough, Whitby and Filey said ‘now is not the right time’ to visit and Visit Cornwall also asked visitors to stay away. 

And overnight stays (whether in holiday homes, friends’ homes, second homes or even tents) remained very much not allowed, meaning no weekend breaks.

That was the outlook at the start of last summer – and the exact rules for the latest lifting of lockdown are likely to differ when they’re announced, with a more cautious approach on the cards.

Still, after two months of dreary winter lockdown, we’re jazzed about the prospect of getting back out there as spring starts to arrive. Time to dust off that Zipcar membership!

More news on the UK’s reopening:

When will shops reopen?

When will pubs and bars reopen?

When will restaurants reopen?

When will gyms reopen?

When will hairdressers reopen?

When can I go on holiday?

When will cinemas reopen?

When will hotels reopen?

When will campsites reopen?

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