Family-Friendly Things To Do Within An Hour Of London

M@
By M@
Family-Friendly Things To Do Within An Hour Of London
A map of London and the home counties with blue dots showing family attractions
Background map by Nilfanion and Dr Greg under creative commons licence. Pins by Londonist.

Kids getting bored of the usual museums and parks? Time to expand your horizons. Pack the family off on a day trip to one the following attractions, all just a short journey from the capital.

"Within an hour" is, of course, a vague term. It depends where in London you live, and how you're travelling. But all of the following should be within easy reach of most Londoners. In each case, we've given brief instructions on how to get there by public transport, and any notes for drivers. Have fun!

See also: Wonders of the M25: fun days out near every junction.

Bekonscot Model Village

A shot of a model village showing lots of buildings
Image by the author

Beaconsfield, Bucks. 25 mins by train from Marylebone. Parking available in off-site locations.

Did you know that the world's oldest model village is a short train ride from London? Bekonscot Model Village first opened in 1929, and is packed with miniature architecture from the early to mid-20th century. It even has its own tube station, called Hanton Road. A play area and a small train ride (well, large compared to the models) make this a compact but fun day out.

Bletchley Park

A slate statue of Alan Turing, looking over his code-breaking machine
A slate Alan Turing. Image by the author.

Next to Bletchley station. 34 minutes by train from Euston. Ample parking.

Bletchley Park, the centre of code-cracking operations during the second world war, remained an official secret until the mid-70s. Now, the park and its wartime presiding genius Alan Turing are household names. Visitors can step inside the original huts and buildings used by Turing and his team. It's perhaps one for families with older children, but the playground and 'top secret mission packs' offer excitement for youngsters too.

Bocketts Farm Park

Four children descend on a green slide in sacks
Image via Bocketts.

5 minute taxi ride or 25 minute walk from Leatherhead station, 42 minutes by train from Waterloo. Ample parking.

Activity farms are not exactly uncommon in the home counties. Bocketts offers something a little more than your basic pigpens and tractor rides, though. They've got a large indoor softplay barn for starters, with enough padded playthings and astroslides to keep anyone happy. Throw in an adventure playground, go-karts, jumping pillow, splash fun and, of course, the farm animals, and you've got a rurally good day out.

British Wildlife Centre

A cute-as-you-like red squirrel, clutching its chest
Image via British Wildlife Centre

51 minutes from London Victoria station to Lingfield station (followed by taxi ride). Ample parking.

What's the closest place to London you can see a red squirrel? We reckon it's probably the British Wildlife Centre, near East Grinstead. Besides old nutkin, you can see over 40 different species of native wildlife, from tiny harvest mice to magnificent red deer. This is an excellent and educational day trip for families — although, given its isolated location, one perhaps best suited to those with cars.

Chiltern Open Air Museum

A green block of toilets with gas lamp post
Old toilet block rescued from Caversham. Image by the author.

Short taxi ride (or decent walk) from Chorleywood underground station. Ample parking.

Vintage lavatories, salvaged Nissen huts, a rescued Amersham prefab and an unwanted chapel — the Chiltern Open Air Museum is the final resting place of many characterful buildings that, for one reason or another, could no longer stay in their original location. Kids will love exploring the many different buildings, which often contain costumed characters, or craft activities. Who cares if the iron age dwelling is overshadowed by a pylon — it's all part of the idiosyncratic charm.

Diggerland

A digger. Digging. It is yellow and orange and sat in a mound of heaped mud
Image via Diggerland

Trains from St Pancras to Strood (33 min), then a short walk or 151 & 170 bus routes. Parking available.

Drive and operate diggers in a family friendly setting! Diggerland is an improbable excavation-themed attraction in Kent with real diggers to drive as well as rides based on JCBs and Komatsus. Dodgems, go-karts and softplay add to the fun. Buckets of fun!

Epping-Ongar Railway

Chase and Marshall from PAW Patrol stand next to a steam train
Ticket to Ryder? Image via Epping-Ongar railway.

Easily reached from Epping underground station via heritage bus (part of the ticket). Limited parking available at stations along route.

The closest heritage railway to London was actually part of the tube network until 1994. It's now a very pleasant way to spend a family afternoon, chugging through the Essex countryside. The Epping-Ongar railway often puts on family fun days, with visits from the likes of Peppa Pig, PAW Patrol and the Gruffalo.

Godstone Farm

A long-necked blue dinosaur is admired by two small children below.
Image via Godstone Farm

400 or 409 bus from Caterham (41 mins from London Bridge), or easy access from junction 6 of M25.

Godstone Farm is a family favourite in Surrey, with large playbarn, adventure playground, dinosaur trail, plus all the usual farm animals (and bonus meerkats).

Groombridge Place

We view a stone stag from behind. He looks out on a green valley below, with woodland cover to the sides.

You can drive from London in under an hour, but the best way to reach Groombridge is via the Spa Valley Railway (see below) out of Tunbridge Wells (53 mins from Charing Cross).

They've got a bit of everything at Groombridge: woodland walks, adventure playground, birds of prey, treetop walkway, formal gardens, and even a little museum to Arthur Conan Doyle who was a regular visitor. All of it is very understated, making for a day out that's somehow both relaxing and packed with stuff to do.

Hever Castle

A mother, crouching down, and two-year-old daughter look out onto a large lake from a formal landing
Image by the author

Take a train from London Bridge to Hever (42 mins) from where it's a mile's walk. Alternatively, get off one stop earlier at Edenbridge for better access to taxis (3 miles). Hever is easily reached by car, from junctions 5 or 6 of the M25.

Talk about a full day out. The grounds of Anne Boleyn's childhood home are absolutely stuffed with family-friendly diversions. This is a place of such riches that they have two mazes, one of which squirts water at you. Throw in all the usual diversions of a posh house (and the posh house itself) and you'll be struggling to see everything in one day. See our dedicated article about the joys of Hever for more info.

Hollycombe Steam

A traditional steam merry-go-round with horses on poles and a blue and white canopy
Image via Hollycombe

Train from Waterloo to Liphook (1 hour 1 minute) then a mile walk or taxi ride. It's drive-able from south London in under an hour.

If you grew up anywhere near the countryside, steam fairs were probably a memorable part of your childhood. Hollycombe Steam in the Country is like a big, permanent version of one of those. It's got a fairground full of steam-powered rides — including the world's oldest mechanically driven merry-go-round (from the 1870s!). Throw in a miniature steam railway and steam rollers, and you've got a good old-fashioned day out.

Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker

A black and white graphic saying Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker

Liverpool Street to Brentwood (37 mins) followed by taxi. Ample parking.

The (intentional) butt of many jokes, this 'secret' bunker is now a popular attraction and not secret at all. Back in the Cold War though, Kelvedon Hatch was on standby to house up to 600 personnel in the event of a nuclear attack. You can now explore its subterranean chambers (better for older children, given the subject matter, dark conditions and stairs), then explore the neighbouring woods and book onto the high-ropes course.

Knebworth House and Gardens

Two small children peer over a low wooden fence at some kind of spiny dinosaur model
Image by author

King's Cross to Stevenage (21 min) then a 2-mile taxi ride. If driving, it's an easy trip up the A1(M), just next to junction 7.

Come for the dinosaurs, stay for the adventure playground. Knebworth's a kid's dream. The dinosaur trail is a winner, for sure, with a menagerie of prehistoric fauna to explore. The playground is an attraction in its own right, centred on a play fort with humongous slides and a see-saw that doubles as a water pump (you will get wet). Even the formal gardens are kid friendly — seemingly built to facilitate games of hide-and-seek. The stately home is more for grown-ups, but kids will be amused that the cliche "It was a dark and stormy night" was penned within these walls by former owner Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Lakeside Nickelodeon Adventure

A fun zone with families riding in small cars along purple lanes
Image via Lakeside Nickelodeon

Trains from Fenchurch Street to Chafford Hundred (33 mins). Free parking.

Why are we recommending a massive shopping centre for a family day out? Well, they've put a lot of work into making this a leisure destination for families, in the shape of a Nickelodeon Adventure zone. Here you'll find rides and play areas themed around favourite Nick shows, such as PAW Patrol and Spongebob. Plus, there's a 4D cinema. Separately, Lakeside also has other recreational stuff, such as a bowling alley, trampolines and summer funfair.

Leeds Castle

A beautiful castle in a lake, with swans under the kind of blue skies that photographers dream of
Image via Leeds Castle

Victoria to Bearsted (1 hr 9mins) from where a shuttle bus is available in season. Driveable from much of south London in under an hour, with ample free parking.

Not in Leeds, but does contain leads. This impossibly magnificent castle is fun to explore in its own right, but be sure to also check out the adjoining and unlikely Dog Collar Museum. The grounds contain plenty to keep the kids occupied, with several exceptional playgrounds, a maze, mini-golf and falconry displays.

Legoland Windsor

A family wander through an enchanted woodland with a large duplo unicorn getting in their way
Image via Legoland

Trains from Waterloo to Windsor (53 mins) then shuttle bus or taxi. Ample parking available on site but be prepared to pay £7.

This immensely popular theme park to the west of London needs little introduction. If you've never visited Legoland Windsor, the park has numerous rides and attractions to suit all ages (including a Duplo Valley for the littlest). And when you're done with queueing, there's a bounty of Lego wonders to explore, including many familiar London landmarks. The park comes with its own accommodation, for those with deep pockets.

Mountfitchet Castle and Toy Museum

An old section of castle wall surrounded by a modern wooden play fort

The castle is right next to Stansted Mountfitchet station, 35 mins from Liverpool Street. Pay-and-display parking nearby.

Mountfitchet Castle is about as family friendly as it gets. The castle grounds are packed to the battlements with children's activities — have a go at firing a siege engine, lock yourself in a dungeon or simply feed the goats. A very different highlight can be found in the House on the Hill Toy Museum (also on-site). It reckons to display 70,000 individual toys from many different eras, and they've been arranged with plenty of wit. Look out for Hordak driving the A-Team van!

Natural History Museum, Tring

A polar bear stuffed in a cabinet with lots of other specimens
Image via NHM Tring

Trains from London Euston to Tring (43 min), but then it's about a mile to the museum (walk or taxi). A small car park is available for drivers, but it fills up quickly. A large pay-and-display can be found nearby.

You know how you discover another room every time you visit the Natural History Museum? Well did you know that there's a whole additional annexe waiting to be explored out in the Chilterns? The Tring outpost is quite small, and often busy, but they pack a lot in. Who knew it was possible to find a polar bear in the Chilterns? Of course, the downside to going to Tring is that your kids will be saying "Tring! Tring!" for the rest of the day.

Old Macdonald's Farm

A goat stands looking at the camera on a diagonal plank
Image by the author

Trains to Brentwood or Harold Wood on Elizabeth Line (TfL Rail), then taxi. Drivers have free parking.

What's billed as Old Macdonald's Farm is actually more of a pint-sized theme park, with rides a-plenty aimed at younger children. Of course, there are animals too, plus an excellent soft-play area. You've got to love the goats, who have their own billy-goats-gruff bridge over one of the walkways.

Paradise Wildlife Park

A massive gorilla head, in the background is a sign for Paradise Wildlife Park
Image by the author

Trains from Liverpool Street to Broxbourne (26 min) then a 5 min taxi ride. Parking is free.

As a zoo, Paradise is pretty impressive, with tigers and even snow leopards to see, along with many smaller animals. But there's much more here, besides, including a dino trail, pirate cove and train ride. Bizarrely, the National Speedway Museum is also in the grounds, for reasons we'll let them explain.

Reigate Caves

Two adults stand inside a cave holding lanterns
Image via Reigate Caves

Trains to Reigate from Victoria (45 min). Drivers should use local pay-and-display options.

Reigate, just south of the M25, is undermined by a complex network of tunnels and caves, mostly part of an old sand mine. Three areas of the caves are open to visitors (though only on five days a year, so plan ahead). Note that some sections are unsuitable for smaller children or anyone with mobility issues. London has its own cave system, of course, in the shape of Chislehurst Caves.

River Lee Country Park

A young girl in a pink top sits on a sculpture lily pad fondling a dragon fly (also sculpted)
Image by the author

Easily reached by Overground or mainline to Cheshunt or Waltham Cross. Drivers can park at numerous sites across the park.

Most Londoners will be familiar with the River Lee — it's the north-south watercourse that runs through the Olympic Park. Its northern stretches beyond the M25 offer a variety of family activities. The Royal Gunpowder Mills near Waltham Abbey reveal the area's munitions history. It's better for older children, though kids of all ages will appreciate the miniature train ride. Nearby, the Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park offers the usual mix of farm animals and softplay (not in the same area... that would be messy). Meanwhile, those seeking something more adventurous could visit the white-water centre, which also has a nice cafe if you just want to admire the rafting from afar.

Alternatively, say 'dash it all' to paid venues, and go for a wander in the lovely country park. It spreads over a large area and includes plenty of sculptures and play logs to amuse the kids. Oh... and your kids might just have heard of the area's most famous burial... a certain King Harold.

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

A white building with central coaching entrance
Image via the Roald Dahl Museum

Get the train from Marylebone to Great Missenden, a short walk from the museum. Drivers can park in a nearby pay-and-display or at the station.

One of the world's most famous children's authors, Dahl gave the world Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the BFG... and even the screenplay to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. An old coaching inn in Great Missenden (Dahl's home for 36 years) has been converted into a museum celebrating his life and work. Further Roald Dahl fun can be had at a dedicated gallery in nearby Aylesbury.

Southend Pier

A blue sign saying Congratulations you've reached the end of Southend Pier.
Image by the author

Trains from Fenchurch Street (59 min). Drivers will find plenty of local pay-and-displays.

Southend just sneaks under the "1 hour" stipulation. It's a town packed with stuff for kids to do, from the vast fun fair to the shingle beaches and the funicular railway. The most memorable experience for kids and adults alike, though, is a trip out to the end of the pier. It's about a mile and a third to hike — making it the longest pleasure pier in the world. Fortunately for parents with small children, you can also take a train along the pier (a very unusual experience).

Spa Valley Railway

Two older men stand around a steam engine cabin
Image by the author

Train from Charing Cross to Tunbridge Wells (54 mins) or Eridge (56 mins). Local parking available.

It's little more than five miles long, but the Spa Valley Railway is an unforgettable ride between Kent and East Sussex. Vintage carriages are pulled along by either steam or diesel locomotive, between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge. It's a magical way to get to Groombridge Place (see above). If you have stopover time in Tunbridge Wells, be sure to check out the Bijou Cinema — said to be Britain's smallest — inside the station.

Tilbury Fort

An aerial view of a five-sided fort surrounded by moats
Image via English Heritage

Trains from Fenchurch Street to Tilbury (39 minutes) — then a mile's walk or get the 99 bus. Free parking on site or at the nearby (family friendly) World's End pub.

This Thames-side English Heritage site offers plenty of Horrible-Histories-style edutainment. Tilbury Fort was founded in the Tudor era, and it was here that Queen Liz gave her famous Armada speech. It remained in active service through to the second world war. Today, its mix of moats, fortifications and underground stores are a compelling day out for young explorers and history buffs.

Tilgate Park

A capybara sniffs some grass
Image via Tilgate Nature Centre

Victoria to Crawley (43 min), then a mile's walk or number 2 bus. Parking available with fee.

The lucky denizens of Crawley have one of the south-east's best parks on their doorsteps, in the shape of Tilgate Park. It has all the usual park attractions — woodland walks, boating lake, playgrounds — but also contains a decent-sized nature centre with animals from across the world, a Go Ape climbing centre, and the opportunity to do Segway tours.  

Wellington Country Park

Two children crouching down looking at woodland animals
Image via Wellington Country Park

A tricky one to reach by public transport — a taxi from Reading might be your best bet. Drivers will find free parking.

This impressive country park near Reading is perfect for families with younger children (up to age 8 recommended on the website). You'll find the full bingo card of dinosaur trail, animals, softplay, miniature railway, playgrounds, splash play, and much more. There's even a campsite so you can stay overnight, relax and take your time exploring all the areas.

Whipsnade Zoo

Exotic birds flying close to camera
Image by the author

Public transport's not great for this one. You could get a train from St Pancras to Luton, then ride along the special bus way to Dunstable (51 min), where a 40 or 40A bus will take you to the zoo, or just get a taxi from Luton. Drivers will find free parking outside the zoo, and you can even drive around the zoo for a fee.

London Zoo is only the beginning. Its much, much bigger sister attraction of Whipsnade in Bedfordshire has plenty more to offer, including animals such as elephants that you won't see in central London. Look out, too, for the miniature railway and indoor play area. And be sure to bring a picnic because the zoo stands on a hilltop with incredible views to the north.

Willows Activity Farm

A squirrel person and performer stand on a stage entertaining a small crowd of children
Image by the author

Take the 84 bus from High Barnet to London Colney — it's then a short walk along Lowbell Lane. Drivers will find copious free parking.

This Peter Rabbit-themed activity farm is a bit larger than others of its ilk. You can easily fill a whole day here, with tractor rides, stage shows, pig races, various playgrounds and sand pits, an animal barn, huge softplay area, splash park and much more besides. Explore Mrs Tiggy-Winkle's kitchen, raid Mr McGregor's radish patch and enter Mr Todd's lair (if you dare).

Last Updated 03 May 2022

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