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Best alfresco outings within 2 hours of home

Walking is so Lockdown 3.0. As of March 29, we’re ready for some new outdoors activities with friends or family - here are 36 new ideas all within 2 hours of home.

Hever CastleHever, Kent

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.

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Bewl Water, Lamberhurst, Kent

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).

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Elmley Nature ReserveIsle of Sheppey, Kent

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.

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Bedgebury, Goudhurst, Kent

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.

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Wildwood, Herne Bay, Kent

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.

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Tornado Springs at Paultons Park, New Forest, Hants

Tornado Springs Paultons Park

Paulton’s Park has a brand new ‘world’ – and after a long-lockdown, families will be so ready for it. Opening on 12 April, Tornado Springs is a rootin’ tootin’ adventure ‘world’ set in the American heyday of the 1950s. Big and little kids will love catching up while trying out new rides and experiences like the spinning coaster, gyro swing ride and (a bit more our speed), a classic locomotive. 

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The Vyne, near Basingstoke, Hants

The Vyne National Trust

Plenty of places to enjoy a picnic and natter at this gorgeous, National Trust mansion in North West Hampshire. A favourite retreat for Henry VIII and his Tudor entourage, walk in Royal footsteps through ancient woodland, wetlands and gardens. Don’t miss spring blossom on heritage fruit trees in the orchard and beautiful spring daffodils in the walled and summerhouse gardens. Blooming lovely.

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Lepe Country Park, Southampton, Hants

Lepe Country Park

On the Southern fringes of the New Forest, Lepe coastal country park is the perfect spot to enjoy a clifftop walk beach-fix and fresh, sea air. Visit on a sunny day and find a spot on the mile-long beach. Then soak up some Vitamin D as you catch up over a coffee from the pine-fringed, architect-designed Lookout café.

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Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Petersfield, Hants

Queen Elizabeth Country Park Petersfield

Meet at Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield for fresh air, family trails, woodland play equipment and brilliant cycle and walking routes. If you fancy a challenge, the 271m Butser Hill is the highest point in the beautiful South Downs National Park. Hungry? Pick up a coffee and homemade cake to-go from the Beechwood Kitchen café. Delish.

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The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead, Essex

The Beth Chatto Gardens Essex

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.

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Go Boat, Kingston

Fancy a boating adventure? Head to the River Thames at Kingston where you can be the captain of your own GoBoat. No boating experience is needed as they’ll teach you everything you need to know before you set sail. It’s a great way to see London and Surrey from a whole different viewpoint whether you head downriver towards Teddington Lock or along the Thames River to Hampton Court Palace. Each boat takes up to eight beings, including children and dogs! Prices for one boat are £79 for the first hour; £119 for 2 hours; £159 for 3 hours.

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Godstone Farm, Godstone, Surrey

Godstone Farm has the most a-mah-zing outdoor play area – think zipwires, giant sandpits, slides and tunnels – and it’s worth paying the entry fee for this alone. The farm reopens on Mon 29 March for morning and afternoon outdoor play sessions, which must be pre-booked online. Pack a picnic and let the kids go wild – and if you’re lucky you’ll spot a lamb frolicking in one of the nearby fields. The Topshop is also open for hot and cold drinks, pizza, ice cream and snacks. The farm trail and gift shop reopen on 12 April. Tickets are £6 per person and include an ice-cream for the kiddos and a tea or coffee for adults.

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Painshill, Cobham, Surrey

This beautiful landscape garden, created by Charles Hamilton in the 1700s, has magical follies, a serpentine lake, a man-made crystal grotto and a gothic tower – although latter two remain closed at the moment. Most of the paths are paved, so it’s very accessible and there are plenty of spots for a picnic. During the Easter Holidays (from 2-18 April) there is a giant colourful Easter egg trail. Tickets must be booked in advance online. Adults £9, children £5 under-fives are free. The Easter Trail is included free with general admission.

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Llama trekking, Merry Harriers, Hambledon, Surrey

Fancy a day out trekking with llamas? The Merry Harriers pub in Hambledon, near Godalming, has a herd of 12 lovely llamas and they offer trekking days out into the pretty Surrey Hills. There are a routes to suit all levels of fitness, with most treks averaging around three miles. They’ll cater to almost any occasion – options include The English Picnic, Winter Morning and Summer Evening Treks with the llamas carrying the picnic hampers and guiding you along the stunning local trails of The Greensand Way. The pub also has rooms, as well as luxury shepherds huts, so you could make a weekend of it. Treks start at £55.20 for an adult and £27.60 for a child (8-15 years) for trek only.

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Champers and Classics day out, Surrey

Could there be a better combination? Iconic car, luxury picnic with champagne in the boot and the beautiful Surrey Hills to explore. We think not! RNG Classics and Lord Roberts on the Green have joined forces to launch Champers and Classics, cool self-drive days out. Collect your choice of classic car – a quintessentially British Mini Cooper, Rolls Royce or iconic Jaguar E-Type, or perhaps a Ferrari 308 – from Lord Roberts in Purley, then after a 20-minute car familiarisation session, head off on the open road. It’s brilliant for a special occasion … or just because we need a treat after months of lockdown! A day in a classic car starts at £99. 

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The South Downs, Sussex

Glorious views, wide open spaces, the coast just below you and what feels like the world at your feet. The South Downs are the perfect place for a picnic, to blow the cobwebs away, for a hike or bike ride, or just to escape the stresses of everyday life and get up there where the air is clear. Bring a flask and a picnic – there are no shops or cafes up here although you’ll find plenty of ice cream vans in the warmer months at some of the busier car parks. Head up from any one of the innumerate footpaths or bridleways, if you’re going by car: Devil’s Dyke or Ditchling Beacon in Brighton, Cissbury Ring in Worthing, Chanctonbury Ring near Steyning and Whiteways at the top of Bury Hill near Arundel all have parking.

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Brighton beach, Sussex

The hub that is Brighton beach is a big lure and one of the many reasons Brighton was recently voted the best place to live in Sussex by Muddy readers. Walk, cycle, skate, scoot or run for miles along the famous front or head to Undercliff Walk (closed between the marina and Saltdean due to erosion). Expect the bustle of stalls, activities, vendors, foodie haunts, cool bars and entertainment to reopen as we remerge from lockdown. From 26 April, you’ll also be able to check out the city’s first permanent food hall on the seafront.

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Legoland Windsor, Berkshire

Lego robot Legoland Windsor

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.

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Thames Lido, Reading, Berkshire

Thames Lido Edwardian swimming bath Reading with modern glass fronted restaurant infinity pool and hot tub

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. 

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Swinley Forest, Bracknell, Berkshire

8 segway riders forest adventure trail Go Ape Berkshire

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.

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Highclere Castle, Newbury, Berkshire

highclere-castle-spring

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.

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Cliveden National Trust, Berkshire

Cliveden River Walk

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.

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Stanlake Park Estate, Berkshire

Stanlake Park Vineyard

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.

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Mortimer Alpacas, Berkshire

Mortimer Alpacas

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.

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Paddle tours, Newbury, Berkshire

Wild Paddleboard 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.

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Chiltern Open Air Museum, Buckinghamshire 

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).

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Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

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). 

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Wendover Woods, Buckinghamshire

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.

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Stonor Park, Henley, Oxfordshire

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. 

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Wallingford Castle, Oxfordshire

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. 

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Pure Boating, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

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. 

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Chinatown, London

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.

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Little Venice, London

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. 

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Primrose Hill, London

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. 

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Kings Cross to Camden Town, London

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. 

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Hampstead Heath and Village, London

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.

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