Easily reached from London via a 90-minute train journey, Whitstable makes a great day out. Children can play on the shingle beach and look for wildlife in the rockpools, while adults enjoy the town’s famous oysters and local drinks. During a day trip, visit the historic Whitstable Castle and explore the cool shops in and around the harbour. Treat the grandchildren to lunch at Samphire, one of the best restaurants in town which has a great kids’ menu, or buy them a special ice-cream from Sundae Sundae. For a picnic on the beach, order a special box from Wheeler’s Oyster Bar, filled with seafood treats and homemade finger food.
Hampton Court Palace
The famous Grade-I listed home of Henry VIII and his wives will keep kids entertained for hours. Less than an hour outside London, visitors can take a tour around the vast estate, including the beautiful gardens and historic maze, and learn about life at court in the 16th century. This summer, the palace is also hosting the Hampton Court Palace Food Festival over the bank holiday weekend from Saturday 28th to Monday 30th August, where families can try street food, pick up tasty treats from artisan producers and enjoy music from a live bandstand. There are also plenty of activities to keep children entertained, from face painting and Shire Horse rides to arts and crafts workshops. Be sure to visit The Magic Garden, too, an adventure playground filled with mythical beasts.
New Forest National Park, Hampshire
The New Forest has countless summer activities the whole family will love. A 90-minute drive will get you there from London, where you can explore over 200 miles of woodland. There are over 40 walking routes to choose from and the area is largely flat – a great option for leisurely bike rides and other outdoor activities. Littles ones can head on a tractor ride or visit a petting zoo at Longdown Activity Farm, and spot native reptiles at the New Forest Reptile Centre. The park is also home to Peppa Pig World with amusement rides and attractions, as well as Burley Villa School of Riding where children from the age of four can enjoy pony rides. If you have older grandchildren, book paddle boarding lessons or head on a kayaking trip to explore the stunning New Forest coastline.
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Step back into medieval England with a trip to Bodiam Castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex. Easily reached in a couple of hours by car or train, families can learn about the grand 14th-century castle and take part in a variety of medieval games and activities over the summer holidays. Until Wednesday 1st September, kids can enjoy everything from mini jousting to hobby horses, a ‘Siege the Castle’ game to armour demonstrations. There’s also a castle character trail to follow, as well as tours, talks and storytelling. Be sure to look out for the 50-year-old carp in the moat, walk across the battlement field and take a tour of the castle to learn about medieval life. Bring a picnic to eat on the lawns or buy lunchboxes from the café.
Epping Forest, Essex
Once home to a royal hunting ground in Tudor times, Epping Forest straddles the border between London and Essex, with more than 6,000 acres of vast woodland bursting with wildlife. There are several walking routes to take, but one of the most scenic has to be the Oak Trail which starts at Theydon Bois underground station. From there, the signposted route is easy to follow and passes through beautiful surroundings, including fields, babblings brooks and a deer sanctuary. Stop off for sandwiches and ice-cream at the Lakeside Café in Wanstead Park, also part of the forest, and feed the ducks at the lake. You can also take horse riding lessons at High Beech Ridings School – a must for both adults and children.
Woburn Safari Park, Bedfordshire
With over 80 species of wild and exotic animals, Woburn Safari Park is set in over 300 acres of beautiful Bedfordshire parkland. Children will be able to spot some of the world's most endangered animals on a drive-through tour, including rhinos, tigers, lions and giraffes, before continuing the journey in the walk-through Foot Safari to discover more animal enclosures. There are also talks from keepers and animal demonstrations, as well as a spacious leisure area where families can head on a ‘swan boat’ trip or a miniature train ride. Be sure to look out for the newest North American black bear cub who was born at the park just a few months ago, then stop for a bite to eat at the Safari Restaurant.
Hever Castle, Kent
Just 90 minutes from London by car, Hever Castle is steeped in history. The famous estate of the Boleyn Family dates back to the 13th century and has 125 acres of beautiful grounds to explore. This summer, there are a range of family activities for children of all ages, including jousting events, falconry displays and wildlife tours. As part of their ‘Spellbound Summer’, the castle is also hosting a series of events for children until the end of August, from dressing up workshops and mythical creature quests, to shield hunts where kids will follow a knight’s trail around the grounds. Walk through the maze, hire a boat on the lake and visit the beautiful Japanese tea house.
For a fun family day out, Windsor has it all. You can reach the town in under 90 minutes by car from London, making it an ideal choice if you’ve got little ones in tow. Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest in the world, has a regular programme of activities in the summer including talks, themed trails, workshops and arts and crafts – family days take place every Saturday during school holidays. Older children will love Windsor’s immersive Escape Rooms, where families have to work against the clock to solve puzzles and riddles, as well as Dr Choc’s Chocolate Factory – great fun for adults and children alike. A whole day can also be spent at LEGOLAND® Windsor, set within 150 acres of parkland with over 55 interactive rides, live shows and attractions. Knight's Kingdom has some of the best rides, while Miniland is home to a miniature LEGO® town made of 40 million bricks.
Reached from London in two hours via train or car, Warwick Castle has a roster of family events taking place this summer. Visitors can take part in the ‘Falconer’s Quest’, the UK’s biggest bird of prey show, and watch ‘Wars of the Roses Live!’ to see a re-enactment of the 15th-century battle – expect jousting, sword fighting and impressive stunts with special effects. Little ones can also head on an adventure with Zog the dragon. Based on the best-selling book by Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom), kids will love the interactive 3D trail. They’ll learn the skills they need to become a fully-fledged dragon and find out what it takes to become a knight at Sir Gadabout’s school in a series of games set around the castle. Older children can also try their hand at archery and explore the Horrible Histories maze to learn about the World Wars.
Take the 30-minute train from London Euston to Milton Keynes or drive to the quaint town of Buckingham to explore Stowe. This National Trust property looks particularly beautiful during the summer months, where families can have picnics on the estate, feed the ducks in the pond and explore the vast woodland area. Until Wednesday 1st September, you can make the most of the great outdoors by following the play trail around the estate. Little ones will have to mark off the challenges along the route, which go through grassy paths, a cool Labyrinth and Stowe House.
Margate has a mix of traditional seaside hallmarks and an upbeat, cultural vibe. A 90-minute train will get you to the centre of town where the sandy beach and its surroundings offer everything you could want from a family day out on the prom. Think arcades, candy floss stalls, and vintage funfair rides at Dreamland. Children can spend the day making sandcastles on the beach and splashing in the sea, while adults will appreciate the seafood and takeaway drinks from the local pubs. Treat the family to fish and chips or bring a picnic. For a culture fix, head to the Turner Contemporary gallery which has a rotating programme of exhibitions and events for the whole family, most of which are free. This year marks the gallery’s 10th anniversary, a great excuse to introduce little ones to art – The Great British Fish & Chip exhibition (running until the end of September) is a good place to start.