There’s a chill in the air but don’t let that stop you from heading on an outdoors day trip from London.
There are plenty of places to explore as a family, come rain, shine – or even snow. Take in the Christmas lights at the former home of Anne Boleyn, search for harvest mice in the East Surry countryside, or head for an innovative countryside hotel for a day of foraging followed by family dining. And, at this time of year, you you might even come across Father Christmas.
VISIT Hever Castle
The former home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, this historic castle in Kent is a treasure trove of fun for children in the winter months. It’s a fantastic place to visit all year round, but Christmas at Hever is incredibly popular with families when the stunning grounds become home to fairground rides, stalls and boat rides on the lake (from 17 November until 1 January). Explore the walking trails, visit the huge outdoor playground or check out the ancient Yew Maze. Don’t miss the magical Christmas Lights experience that starts at 4PM every day and is a chance to marvel at the castle, gardens and lake festooned with fabulous colours and twinkling lights. You can also book a slot at the charming grotto to meet Father Christmas. Easily accessible by car, Hever is a perfect pre-Christmas jaunt.
EXPLORE Polesden Lacey
Twenty-five miles outside of London you’ll find Polsden Lacey, a beautiful Edwardian estate within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Designed by the architects behind the Ritz, the house is a historical gem, but it’s the gardens that are the real draw for families. Kids can run free and explore the 1,600 acres of rolling downland, ancient woodlands and wildlife habitats that are home to rare birds and butterflies. You’ll find plenty of free worksheets to encourage little ones to explore, or pick up a copy of the National Trust’s inspiring book 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ which is packed with ideas for simple outdoor fun that can be had on their properties. Of course there is a great café (the National Trust are famous for these) and at Christmas the estate adopts a ‘fairytale’ theme with decorations, fairground rides and Father Christmas in residence.
JOIN Birch Community
Birch Community has two stylish hotels less than an hour from London; one in Cheshunt and one in Selsdon. But you don’t have to stay overnight to enjoy these super-cool properties. An ideal location to spend a family day out, activities include: the Rewilding Ranger classes to inspire and educate children about nature with hands-on activities such as animal tracking; family Foraging and Wild Food Walks on the beautiful grounds with a professional forager; or the Young Adventurers Club where kids aged nine and above have the opportunity to help build a fire, as well as to take part in woodland management skills. These clever workshops take place on weekends and are open to kids as young as six (check out the website for exact age suitability), plus there are excellent child-friendly restaurants at both, making it a great day out for all.
LEARN The British Wildlife Centre
Little conservationists will adore spending the day at the British Wildlife Centre. Located in Lingfield, in the heart of the East Surrey countryside, this special nature reserve is home to the most extensive collection of native wildlife in Britain. Explore the 26 acres of wood and marshland with over 40 different native species – from tiny harvest mice to magnificent red deer – before meeting some of the animals up close at one of the informative keeper talks that take place every half an hour. For a really special day out, book a private visit in which you’ll not only have a personalised, two-hour guided tour, but you’ll have the centre to yourselves, too. A great way to introduce little ones to the amazing wildlife right on their doorstep.
If you love Kew Gardens then you’ll really enjoy a trip to Wakehurst in Sussex – the country outpost of the famous Royal Botanic Gardens in London. Home to the Millennium Seed Bank, an underground collection of over 2.4 billion seeds from around the world that are being conserved for the future, this 500-acre site has several different gardens to explore. Elsewhere, kids will love the Tree Trunk Trek, an adventurous log trail where they crawl, climb, jump and balance their way across the course. Hire one of their kid’s Explorer Rucksacks for £4.50 – it comes packed with goodies such as binoculars, measuring tape and worksheets full of fun tasks for your children – and set them off on an intrepid journey through Wakehurst. There is also a Grade I listed Elizabethan Mansion on site, as well as some great restaurants and cafés, easy parking and a lovely gift shop.
DISCOVER Whipsnade Zoo
Whipsnade Zoo, the largest in the UK, is set in 600 acres of beautiful parkland on the Chiltern Hills, north of London. The zoo is home to more than 10,000 animals, many of which are endangered, and is a great place to show kids some of the most exciting and rarest species in the world. See everything from lions and penguins to zebras and chimps, and even burrowing owls. There’s also a superb outdoor play area that spans 7,800 square metres and includes bridges, swings, climbing frames, sit-on crocodiles, tunnels, boats and mini safari jeeps. A ZSL conservation zoo, this is a place to learn about animals and their natural habitats, with daily talks from experts and keepers who explain the lives and importance of everything from elephants to red pandas. A wonderful and educational day out for all the family.
This adventure park is the stuff of dreams for children. From the giant play castle with slides, tunnels and towers, to the high ropes, jumping pillows, and farm full of animals, there is plenty of family fun to be enjoyed here. Located in Epsom (though there is also one in Hounslow, London), Hobbledown is open seven days a week and is great for all ages. As well as the opportunities to burn off some energy, you’ll find outdoor, interactive storytelling sessions with a host of woodland characters such as Fern the Fairy and Professor Topperpot. Christmas arrives later this month with fun festive activities that include breakfast with Santa and his elves or a visit to his Grotto. With parking and a café, this place ticks the boxes for both kids and grown-ups.
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