42 of the best things to do within 2 hours of home
Are you ready to (gasp) leave your local area? From safari parks to Europe’s tallest high ropes, here are 42 of the best day trips, all within two hours of Herts & Beds.
Leaving the county has never seemed so glamorous! We love our local area but – sweet lord, are we itching to get away from it. Enter the Covid-safe daytrip: an outdoor excursion within two hours of home, essential for saving those last scraps of sanity. (Quite honestly, at this point, we’d be delighted just to sit in a field with a thermos flask if the view was just slightly different.) Here’s a list of all the best things to do within two hours of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. We’ve started with some classics at home too, just in case you need to ease yourself in.
Woburn Safari Park
It’s seems rather unlikely that one would stumble upon an all-singing all-dancing safari park just outside historic, elegant Woburn, but here it is. This Bedfordshire wonder, reopening on 12 April, offers both the Road and Foot Safaris (we know which one we’d prefer) and is a brilliant day out with the nippers in tow.
Canoe Trail, Bedford
Ever done a canoe trip with the kids? Take it from someone who has – it’s wet, tiring and one of the best days out ever! This family-fun business offers canoe, kayak, and SUP hire on the calm (thankfully) River Great Ouse. Take your pick from a relaxed and fairly dry canoe trip to soaking-wet fun on a paddle board.
Hatfield might not be the No. 1 destination on every tourist’s wish list, but did you know that the grand Hatfield House is one of the top film set locations for period productions in the UK? Most recently, Olivia Coleman’s Oscar-winning turn in The Favourite was captured in this wonderful Jacobean Manor, not to mention all those that came before, including Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shakespeare in Love and even Batman. Who knew? Oh, and the actual Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her youth at Hatfield Palace (an older house on the grounds), and you can still (literally) walk in the footsteps of this epic monarch today. The park and woodland walks will open from 29 March with the gardens following shorty after on 3 April.
Visit Verulamium (St Albans)
St Albans was once one of the largest Roman cities in Britain – Verulamium. Grab a coffee and wander into the Roman Verulamium Park. On the far side is the Hypocaust (a Roman mosaic). From here head to the Cathedral – an amazing mix of architectural styles, with much of it built in the 11th century from Roman materials.
You have to hand it to Legoland for continuing to come up with ways to sell the Lego dream to under-10s in ever-inventive new ways. This year’s newest attraction is Mythica – a brand new world in a parallel universe, including three new rides, where LEGO creatures come to life. It doesn’t open until 29 May, so you’ll have to make do with Ninjago World, DUPLO Dino Coaster , Haunted House Monster Pasty, Lego Miniland, which took three years to complete and all the other favourites. Opens 12 April.
Thames Lido, Reading
Many reasons to head to Reading right now, Banksy’s latest artwork on the wall of Reading Prison, bit of shopping and stroll around the Abbey Ruins, before heading off to the super-cool Thames Lido. If you fancy pootle up and down the outdoor pool, it opens to members from 29 Mar and non-members from 12 Apr with outdoor dining. The whole restaurant will reopen from 17 May.
Swinley Forest, Bracknell
Fresh air, forest bathing and fun all neatly packaged up at Swinley Forest in Bracknell. Enjoy a sedate walk through the stunning woods, or crank up the adventure with an adrenaline-fuelled Segway tour, hire bikes and run the mountain bike trails or tackle the Go Ape course – a fun-filled hour exploring the canopy, trailblazing and tackling obstacles, finishing on the zip wire. Opens 29 March.
Highclere Castle, Newbury
The biggest star of Downton Abbey? No, Carson it’s not you or the Earl of Grantham’s labradors (they come a close second though) – Highclere Castle takes the crown. The house remain closed, but you can mooch around the Capability Brown gardens before settling down on your picnic blanket for a champagne afternoon tea on 12 and 19 April. You’ll have to wait until summer to enjoy the full Highclere experience. From £84 for two.
Cliveden National Trust
There’s a mahoosive 376 acres to explore – and there’s always something to see here whatever the season. Stroll through the formal gardens, stomp through the woodland and, if you’re super-keen, hike down to the river. Just brace yourself for the uphill climb. During the Easter holidays, the annual egg hunt will be back and we highly recommend getting on the water and booking a boat trip (open from 12 Apr). Advance booking is essential.
Stanlake Park Estate
This is a Berkshire hidden gem. Stanlake Park Estate has a long and colourful history dating back to the Tudor period but in recent times, it has made a name for itself as a superb vineyard producing quality English wines. The tours will allow you to waft among the vines, taste the goods (samples are generous… taxiiiiiii), plus there’s a well-stocked cellar shop, wine bar and garden where all the wines are available by the glass with no restaurant mark up. Tours resume in May.
If your kids are sick of walks, one that involves a picnic and play with an alpaca might just entice them off the sofa. How can you say no to that face?! The Walk & Picnic costs £38 (two people per booking), Picnic & Play with the alpacas – £65 (up to six people). Various times and dates are available at Mortimer Alpacas. You can also book private sessions for groups and/or birthdays. Bookings are being taken from 12 April.
Paddle tours, Newbury
Test your sense of adventure and your balance on a SUP tour of the Kennet & Avon Canal. Wild Paddle Berkshire is sightseeing with a difference. The difference being you’re on a paddle board and there’s a risk of getting wet… Run by Lara and her expert team, the tours set off from both Newbury and Kintbury locks and are perfect for beginners to the more skilled. It’s a unique and tranquil way to see this beautiful part of Berks. Bookings from 3 April.
Chiltern Open Air Museum
Museums and galleries have their hands tied at the moment but by virtue of being outside, the fabulous Chiltern Open Air Museum is opening its grounds and gardens on 26 March to stroll around with five friends or another household (although the shop will not be trading until 12 April).
Campbell Park, Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes can also claim to be home to some excellent municipal green areas. Campbell Park – laid out as a cultural centre point for the city – has water features, public art, cycling trails and the Grand Union Canal running through it – plus the famous Light Pyramid (pictured).
Willen Lake, Milton Keynes
Hardy souls might consider the spring sunshine an invitation to don a wetsuit (or not, if you’re totally bonkers) and hit the water… it’s all yours, ladies. Open water swimming, the runaway sporty success story of the pandemic, is on at Willen Lake (a lesser-known hotspot) with sessions running on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury
Ah, the National Trust, where children under-5 go free and frazzled parents weep quietly in gratitude. Buckinghamshire’s jewel in the crown, the stunning Rothschild Waddesdon Manor, is welcoming visitors into the garden and grounds and from Easter Weekends will officially be opening for the year. For the little people there’s an amazing outdoor playpark, open 10am to 5pm (entry is included with tickets).
High rope courses are open again from 29 March and are a fab option for a reunion to remember whether you’re aged 6 or 66. The are Go Ape courses at Wendover Woods is open from 29 March and is great for groups of mixed ages because it has woodland bike, walking and running trails and the new Wendover Woods Café with a warming takeaway menu. Those who’d rather keep their feet on the floor could try a Nordic Walking session with Ridgeway Nordic Walking – definitely the easier option for a good old chinwag. The Gruffalo Activity Trail will also keep the minis amused.
Let’s go punting, Cambridge
Whether you know the pretty city of Cambridge or not, exploring it by punt is a must. You can take a guided tour, either for just your family or in a shared punt (made Covid-safe with screens) or you can brave steering your own. We recommend a tour guide, as they do all the hard work navigating you up the river, as well as regaling you with the area’s history, while you can sit back and enjoy the ride, perhaps with a glass of fizz! The views are simply stunning – perfectly manicured lawns and the amazing architecture of the majestic Kings College Chapel, and Trinity, St John’s, and Clare colleges plus the beautiful bridges. You can also take a punt towards Grantchester – the safer bet if you are self-guiding. Once past the busy city area, you can enjoy a picnic on the river bank, where many also swim (watch out for Newnham Riverbank Club who like to do it naked!) or maybe you will make it as far as the Orchard Tea Rooms, where Rupert Brooke and friends hung out, to enjoy a scone the size of your head to power you back to Cambridge. Book in advance with Scudamores or Rutherfords Punting.
The Botanic Gardens, Cambridge
Cambridge University Botanic Gardens has been in the news of late, with the blooming of the magnificent Moonflower. Now the garden is bursting with colour, incredible blossom trees, and these gorgeous rare tulips. Plus, there are over 80 species on display in the Alpine House, a collection that has its origins in the 1920s. The garden is open seven days a week, 10-6pm, April-September, and tickets must be booked online in advance. Take a picnic or grab a takeaway lunch from the Botanic’s fab café.
The Raptor Foundation, Huntingdon
Are you cuckoo about birds? Or maybe your kids are. Either way, a visit to this amazing conservation centre near Huntingdon could be just what you need when your wings have been clipped for the last few months. Open from 12 April, you can see a variety of eagles, hawks, falcons and owls that have been rehabilitated at the centre, plus there are regular – and very impressive – flying displays. You can also sign up for a variety of courses and activities including a Hawk Walk, where you quite literally take a hawk for a walk and experience the thrill of the birds flying back to your (gloved) hand. So egg-citing! (Sorry – bird puns are so hawk-ward!). After your bird-watching why not head to the nearby village of St Ives, where you could take a picnic lunch by the lovely River Ouse.
Wicken Fen, Near Ely
Wicken Fen is the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve and a great destination if you want to blow away the cobwebs and enthuse any budding David Attenborough’s in your midst. One of Europe’s most important wetlands, Wicken Fen has recorded more than 9,000 species including rare butterflies, dragonflies, birds, and plants. You view the marshlands via raised boardwalks and if you are fed up with your usual walks and landscape (who isn’t?), this is the perfect antidote and has an almost Scandi feel to it (think sweeping Wallander-esque marshlands). Take a picnic and binoculars. But, you’re also not far from the city of Ely, with its amazing cathedral (the ship of the fens) that can be seen for miles around – so leave time to pop into this picturesque market town and you might be lucky enough to catch one of its fab food markets.
The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead
Small (in terms of public gardens), but oh-so perfectly formed, the world-famous Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead, north Essex, have been attracting green-fingered visitors from across the country since 1960 – when the award-winning gardener Beth Chatto first begun to turn this once wild, overgrown seven acres of wasteland into a series of five inspiring outdoor spaces. Take your time wandering from the Water Garden and Woodland to Screen Garden and Reservoir – there’s beauty to behold at every turn.
Trekking the Thames Estuary Path
A 29-mile stretch along the Essex strait, The Thames Estuary Path wiggles its way through some of the county’s most dramatic landscapes, from a tapestry of mud flats in the south and Tilbury town’s industrial docks, to the sheaf of cockle-shed bays that bid the Thames goodbye in Old Leigh. Positively brimming with biodiversity, a criss-cross of bubbling creeks and clay-like marshes dominate this low-lying riverscape, but the walking trail is clearly marked out and (don’t worry!) you can easily break it up, too: stations along the London Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness line serve to slice the route into manageable weekend romps.
Hever Castle, Hever
Hever Castle is set in rural countryside 30 miles from central London and three miles southeast of Edenbridge on the Kent/Surrey/Sussex border. Once – most famously – Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, it’s one of our favourite historic destinations. It’s not too big and sprawling, so easy to negotiate, and stands in a beautiful area that’s steeped in all that marvellous Tudor history. With stunning gardens and lots of year-round event, there’s plenty to do here. We especially love the play areas, which include Acorn Dell, a natural playground for toddlers and children up to seven years old, or for older children (7-14 years old) there’s Tudor Towers adventure playground consisting of a wooden, nine-metre tall castle to really fire their imagination.
Bewl Water, Lamberhurst
Bewl is a big, beautiful reservoir – the largest stretch of open water in the South East in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It offers a fantastic range of water sports – from canoeing, sailing and stand up paddleboarding – to name a few. It’s also extremely popular for cycling (around the perimeter) and offers everything from camping to outdoor cinema, oh, and a decent restaurant too! The Bewl Water Aqua Park re-opens on Mon 12 April for the summer season and is basically 3000sq meters of floating inflatable fun – consisting of two trampolines, monkey bars, flippers, slides, hurdles, springboards, overhang climbing frame, giant iceberg… you get the idea. It’s a great holiday activity for groups, families and children from 6 years old (there are some sessions times/restrictions for younger children).
Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle of Sheppey
Who needs to leave the country for a safari holiday when you have Elmley Nature Reserve in Kent waiting for you? OK, we are not talking lions, tigers and bears but since 1991, Elmley has been deemed a National Nature Reserve and is an internationally recognised site for the the conservation of rare birds, plants, animals and insects. With lots of wonderful options for luxury overnight stays – either for a romantic getaway or with 3,200 acres, Elmley provides a fab family retreat for a night – there is also a family-run farm with approximately 700 cattle grazing the pasture each year plus chickens, ducks and tractors to admire. Their Wildlife Tours are resuming from Mon 29 March, and the Reserve will be open every day over the Easter hols.
Top travel guide the Lonely Planet has released its first ever list of the nation’s most ‘memorable, beautiful, surprising and compelling sights’ – and Kent’s very own Bedgebury Forest sits right there in the list of UK-based experiences not to be missed. If you live in Kent, you’ve probably come across this local gem, technically called Bedgebury National Pinetum, *sniff* if we’re being proper about it. With walks, bike trails, Go Ape and more, if this place doesn’t tire them out, nothing will.
Wildwood, Herne Bay
One of our fave family days-out, Wildwood is due to re-open on 12 April. Positioned just outside Herne Bay, you can get to know over 200 native animals set in 40 acres of beautiful ancient woodland. Expect to see bears (although they are relocating to Devon any day), wolves, Arctic foxes, bison, owls, wild boar, lynx, wild horses, badgers and beavers – that’s just 10 of those 200! Stroll through the woodland, admire any new arrivals (how cute are these cubs, above?), check out the play areas – including Kent’s TALLEST drop slide, tree-top towers, wild fort towers, climbing frame and helpfully an under-5’s play area too. Plus there’s a tree trail for the kids as they’ve planted hundreds of new trees during lockdown so a good way to educate little minds.
We might not be leaving the country this year but, under the red and gold lanterns of Chinatown and surrounded by an unfamiliar alphabet, you might be able to pretend. It’s a bit of a walk from Marylebone and Paddington stations, but we’ve all become excellent walkers anyway, and there’s so much to nose at on the way you’ll hardly mind. Once there, tuck into a well-deserved mountain of dumplings: Dumplings’ Legend is rumoured to be the best, but you’re unlikely to get a dud anywhere. Then don’t miss the opportunity to peer into the bakeries, full of ornate mooncakes. If you seek out Chinatown Bakery you’ll be rewarded with the strangely mesmerising machine in the window, which makes waffles in the shape of fish, then fills them with custard. Definitely one for the ‘gram.
Within 15 minutes’ walk from Paddington Station is Little Venice, a pretty stretch of canal full of bobbing coloured houseboats that’s surrounded by posh Victorian houses and lots of greenery. Meander along, convincing yourself that life on a houseboat would be utterly charming (until you eat a dodgy curry, that is), and admiring the scenery. It’s also a pleasing place to cycle, free of cars, if you feel like renting ‘Boris’ bikes. For lunch, grab an excellent salad and baked goods to go from Raoul’s Deli on Clifton Road.
Just a hop, a skip, and a jump away from Marylebone station (or a 20-minute walk from Paddington) is Regent’s Park, currently full of blossom and manicured spring flower beds, and surrounded by Nash’s picture-book Regency terraces. But keep going, across the road and into Primrose Hill, and you can see a tremendous view of the London skyline. A great opportunity to impress (ie, bore) any kids with how many iconic buildings you can point out. Grab something for lunch from one of the many restaurants, delis, and cafes on Regent’s Park road, eyes peeled for any passing celebs. There’s good portable stuff from Greenberry Cafe (bacon baps, cheese toasties, a changing selection of salads, cakes) or, come 12 April, tuck into excellent Greek food from Lemonia in their heated and covered outdoor seating area.
Kings Cross to Camden Town
Walking in a rural paradise? So over it. Instead, start off by grabbing something to eat at Coal Drops Yard next to King’s Cross station (the sandwiches at Sons + Daughters are famous for a reason, FYI). Maybe linger a bit, to grab a drink from one of the many bars — just a little pick-me-up, you know how it is. Then, head down to the water’s edge and wander along the canal, past the lock, noting the fabulously expensive luxury flats made out of old gas holders along the way. Within 25 minutes (or more, depending on how much you ate) you’ll have reached Camden Town, where you can climb up to street level and go nosy around Camden Market, with all its strangely enticing tat.
Hampstead Heath and Village
From Kings Cross station, and via the 46 bus, it’s 20 minutes to Hampstead Heath (get off at the Royal Free Hospital). Walk up Parliament Hill to see the full glory of the skyline; it’s one of the highest natural points in the city. From there, it’s a highly pleasant 20 minute walk across the lush Heath up to Hampstead Village, where you might peep a celeb local like Ricky Gervais. You can count the blue plaques of past famous residents as you go: Constable, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Orwell, John Keats. Get yourself tea and cake to go from Burgh House, or a fine French lunch from La Cage Imaginaire.
Stonor Park, Henley
Exhausted and happy kids, you say? I spy an easy bedtime coming right up. There’s a new adventure playground at Stonor Park and not only is it as magical as Hogwarts but it comes with very necessary coffee for the spectators (in the form of the cafe at the visitor’s centre). Wholesome fun for the kids and lunch sorted – it’s a win-win. Tumblestone Hollow is on the edge of Stonor’s woodland and is inspired by the stone circle found in the estate grounds. The wooden playground, designed for 4 to 12-year-olds, has high level walkways, climbing nets, look-out decks and bridges, all connected to a gnarled central tower.
Hide and seek was made for dilapidated churches and hours of play can be squeezed out of a sunny day and some tumbled-down walls, I kid you not. Wallingford Castle is opening on 1 April while the Abbey Buildings (and next door gardens) at Abingdon are open all year round. Head into the historic town afterwards for a takeaway cinnamon bun or party from award-winning The Orange Bakery.
Oxford Botanic Gardens
Are you overly familiar with every blade of grass in your local park? Of course you are. So here’s where to head for a change of scene. Oxford Botanic Gardens has been open to locals all lockdown and provides a very verdant afternoon out for those utterly bored of their own backyard.
If travelling under your own steam sounds like too much distraction from the important business of catching up, you could hire an electric boat. Wallingford’s Pure Boating is taking bookings from 3 April with boats for up to 11 people that you can drive down to Benson Lock or towards Moulsford. What better way to arrive at the Beetle and Wedge, two hours downstream, than on the water (though you’ll have to wait until they reopen their pods and terrace from 12 April if you’re hoping for riverside dining and a drink). Boats cost from £55 for an hour.
Warwick Castle is raising its portcullis and welcoming guests back outdoors from April 12 with the launch of the much-anticipated Zog and the Quest for the Golden Star interactive trail. There’s plenty more to keep kids entertained, from the Horrible Histories® Maze to roaming castle characters and birds of prey. You’ll also be able to explore the 64 acres of beautiful grounds, including the Peacock Garden and enjoy some spectacular countryside views by climbing The Conqueror’s Fortress, the highest point on the estate. And if Boris says it’s OK a single family can also book a ‘knight away’ (sorry!) in a medieval-themed Lodge within the castle grounds.
Charlecote Park, National Trust
Spring has sprung! Charlecote Park may be renowned for its beautiful herd of fallow deer but it’s also proud to have one of the largest flocks of rare-breed pedigree Jacob sheep in the country today – and one of the few in-house lambing teams within the National Trust. You’ll see the lambs from this rare breed pedigree herd with their characteristic chocolate-blotch fleeces in the parkland of this Victorian home from early April. It was here that the very first managed flock were introduced into England 200 years ago by George Lucy from his European travels. You can download an easy 40-minute to 1 hr spring parkland walk here. Timed visits need to be booked in advance. Book here
Hatton Adventure World, shopping village, and drive-in cinema & diner, near Warwick
From 12 April, lots of small indies at this rural shopping village and family-friendly farm park attraction will re-open, joining Alfresco Garden Boutique & Farm Shop, Warwickshire Cycles, Granite Transformations and Alfie’s Café which have remained open. Hatton Adventure World will have its own Spring Arrivals Marquee, outdoor funfair rides, shows and spring nature walks. Plus you can book blockbusters at the drive-in cinema from 13 April including The Greatest Showman and Harry Potter. The site is linked to Hatton Locks and Hatton Arms by a delightful 1.5mile circular country walk across the private Hatton Estate and along the Grand Union Canal.
Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park
Explore some Art in the Park, a woodlands playground and peaceful green spaces in the stunning grounds of this 120 acre historic ‘Capability’ Brown landscape and lake, while the award-winning art gallery remains closed.
The Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham NEC
One for thrill seekers with a head for heights! Europe’s tallest high ropes will be reopening from 14 April at this outdoor adventure centre located in between Coventry and Birmingham, close to Birmingham Airport. The 60-minute High Ropes adventure is 65ft above ground with 36 obstacles to roam. It’s suitable for ages 8+ accompanied by an adult. The rest of their activities – including the Assault Course – are reopening from 20 May.
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