50 best things to do within 2 hours of home
Are you ready to (gasp) leave your local area? From safari parks and city skylines to Europe's tallest high ropes, here are the 50 best outdoors things to do within 2 hours of Bucks and Oxon.
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, but we’re pretty sure we can do better.) Instead, here’s a list of all the best things to do within two hours of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. We’ve started with some classics at home too, just in case you need to ease yourself in.
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.
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.
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.
Delapré Abbey, Northampton
This stately, honey-hued landmark at the heart of Northampton is a treasure trove of art, history, intrigue and scandal and comes with 500 acres of parkland and gardens to explore. The grounds are free for anyone to visit and within walking distance of the town centre (worth noting that it’s free to park here too). With a lazy lunch or an al fresco afternoon tea at the Orangery Cafe thrown in for good measure, Delapré is a great place to meet up and mooch.
Evenely Wood Garden, near Brackley
The bucolic Evenley Wood Garden appears to be a magical wilderness but it’s really a very carefully curated woodland garden stocked to the brim with rare and unusual plants and suitably huggable trees. There’s an open sided wooden chalet cafe, Uncle Geordie’s Shed, with chunky oak tables and vintage china, where they serve homemade, organic dishes, local produce and gorgeous cakes, making this picturesque wonderland a fantastic place for a socially distanced gathering.
Boughton House, near Kettering
Known as the English Versailles, the gardens and park at the magnificent Boughton House are among the grandest in England. Make like Marie-Antoinette and let the kids eat cake in the beautifully landscaped grounds, which include a rather spectacular inverted pyramid. Recent and extensive garden projects have seen the reinstatement of hundreds of avenue trees and the restoration of beautiful waterways, reflective pools and the incredible Grand Etang with its 75ft. high water fountain, alongside the vast walled gardens, rose garden, sensory garden and lily pond. No shortage of glorious outside space to immerse yourself in here then and, of course, there’s the stable block tea rooms to nab the aforementioned cake.
Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve, Rushden Lakes
It might be Northamptonshire’s largest retail park, but if you look past the high street giants you’ll notice that Rushden Lakes is also home to the Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre, where you’ll find a whopping 270 hectares of outside space to explore including meadows, reed beds, woodlands and sculpture trails. It’s a great place for wildlife spotting and you can also hire a canoe or kayak to enjoy a paddle along the River Nene, or give your legs a workout on one of the pedalos on the lake and work up and appetite for some outside dining on the boardwalk.
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.
Cotswold Country Park and Beach, Cirencester
Head to the largest inland paddling beach in the UK for some ‘Costa del Cotswolds’ fun. This brilliant, action-packed Country Park has a large, sandy lagoon for swimming and paddling, or hire one of the giant swan pedalos, row or electric boats for some laughter on the lake. There’s an inflatable aqua adventure park you can book ahead for, mini golf and – new for 2021 – are the VIP BBQs. From £30 you can book a private area and BBQ overlooking the lake and beach for the whole day – with a free bottle of Prosecco on arrival!
Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power near Cheltenham
There are all levels of farmyard cuteness going on at Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park and it’s a fabulously entertaining day out. Reopening on 12 April, head for the Animal Barn where you can sit and watch lambs being born, plus see piglets, donkey foals, calves, and herds of rare breeds. Kids can interact with the animals too, including the gorgeous native Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, then take them (your kids, not the pigs) to burn off all their energy at the Adventure Playground, Farm Safari, Tractor School or Giant Jumping Pillows.
Uncover the story of Stonehenge in the extraordinary atmosphere of this World Heritage Site. It’s the best known prehistoric monument in Europe, no less! A fabulous day out for all. For something really special, book a VIP treat and go inside the stones with Stone Circle Experience: an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime gig.
Bowood House, Calne
Discovery waits around every corner at the gorgeous Bowood estate, with 100 acres of beautifully landscaped ‘Capability’ Brown Parkland and, especially for Mudlets, an adrenaline-fuelled Adventure Playground featuring a life size pirate ship plus a soft play area for the younger children. Day Visitors are now able to visit Bowood House & Gardens by purchasing a ticket online in advance. Access will be controlled using a timed, wristband system – wristbands will be allocated at admissions on arrival, giving each family the chance to access the Adventure Playground for two hours during the course of their visit.
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.
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.
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.
Godstone Farm, Godstone
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.
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.
Llama trekking, Merry Harriers, Hambledon
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.
Champers and Classics day out
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.
West Midlands Safari & Leisure Park, Bewdley
This fantastic day out is a family favourite, with more than 165 species of animal to see, a drive-through safari and a mini theme park to explore. Reopening fully from 12 April, entrance to the park buys you so much fun, from Boj’s Giggle Park, the Sea Lion Show, Penguin Cove, the Aquarium, Meerkat Mayhem, Hippo Lake and much more. Watch daily feeds and animal encounters with the residents, then wear the kiddos out on the 20 adrenaline rides.
E-Bike Adventure, Broadway Tower, Broadway
Take the family e-biking around one of the most iconic landmarks in Worcs. Head to Broadway Tower where you’ll get breathtaking views for miles around as you pedal en famille around lovely Cotswolds trails. Due to reopen on 12 April (make sure to check ahead), the electric bikes can be hired from Tower Barn from 10am to 4pm daily, so no having to tussle with a bike rack before you set off! Book your slot online and when you’re all pedalled out, explore the Tower itself, the Nuclear Bunker, gift shop and grab some picnic snacks from the pop-up Shepherd’s Hut or Morris & Brown café.
Tornado Springs at Paultons Park, New Forest
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.
The Vyne, near Basingstoke
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.
Lepe Country Park, Southampton
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.
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.