Top bank holiday days out with the family

Looking for family fun without the scrum? Our team shares their top bank holiday days out for letting the little ones roam free

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Published 20 Apr 2018, 09:00 BST, Updated 14 Jul 2021, 12:31 BST
Top Bank Holidays
Photograph by Getty Images

Top bank holiday days out with the family  

A crawl along the motorway, only to scour a crammed car park for space before spending the rest of the day stuck in a queue — sound familiar? We've all had a bank holiday from hell, but there's no need to put up with chaos and crowds this May bank holiday. Just on our doorstep, a whole host of stress-free, memorable days out for the family are waiting to be had. If you're looking for family fun without the scrum, then read on — our team of travel writers, editors and parents-at-large share their top bank holiday days out for letting the little ones roam free.

Where: Knebworth House, Hertfordshire
Why: A day out that's well worth the entrance fee, there's masses to do at this stately home-estate. There's a lovely church, good food outlets, an elaborate children's park, plus an impressive wooden fort and giant drop slides, a very decent dinosaur trail, a maze…. so much on offer, in fact, that after numerous visits we've never made it into the palace-like house itself. It never fails to entertain my kids, who are quite far apart in age, while the grandparents are always angling for an invitation. It's one of the few places where, on planning a trip, I don't get that sinking feeling that I'm undertaking something just to please the children. Glen Mutel

Where: Crosby and Formby Beaches, Merseyside
Why: Merseyside may not spring to mind as the first choice for a seaside break, but we often head here for on a bank holiday weekend. Formby Beach always feels like an adventure because you can only reach it via wooden boardwalks through the dunes. Even more excitingly, this is a nature reserve where you might spot one of Britain's rare red squirrels, along with protected natterjack toads and sand lizards. Crosby Beach feels like a different world — one that references Liverpool's links with emigration through Antony Gormley's Another Place, a permanent installation of 100 cast-iron figures sunk to different heights in the sand and sometimes partly submerged by the tide. History aside, my boys love playing around them. Rhonda Carrier 

Where: The New Forest, Hampshire
Why: The ancient New Forest is a breath of fresh air in one of the most densely populated parts of Southern England. A mix of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest, the 219 sq mile park is famed for its ponies and its little chocolate-box villages, including Beaulieu, Brockenhurst (with a lovely village green) and Burley. Though they might swell during holiday season, within a few minutes' walk in most directions you'll find miles of greenway for hiking, biking, and horse riding, while the Beaulieu River offers gentle canoeing and kayaking. The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, meanwhile, is where you'll find a remarkable collection of vintage cars, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Harry Potter's Ford Anglia — perfect for a rainy day. Sarah Barrell

Where: Cudmore Grove Country Park, East Mersea, Essex
Why: The Essex coast has a pretty good choice of beaches to escape to when the sun comes out, but this is my favourite. In some ways it's better on a not-so-nice day as the causeway to the island and the car park can get quite busy. Amid the 102 acres of grasslands and sandy beaches, there's a Second World War pillbox to explore, cycle and horse riding routes and fossil-rich sea cliffs — elephants and hippos once wandered round here. There's still plenty of wildlife today: watch out for adders in the long grass. My young daughter particularly likes the new coastal-themed large play area and there's a little kiosk for ice creams in high season. Jo Fletcher-Cross

Why: We stumbled across Carbis Bay Beach, one of Cornwall's eight Blue Flag beaches, heading out of St Ives, around a mile eastwards. Somewhat hidden by subtropical plants, it's around a mile long with beautiful, windswept golden beaches and rarely any surf, making it ideal for families. If you don't mind the crowds, twin a visit to the beach with a trip to the bustling honeypot of St Ives, to see the picturesque harbour, Tate St Ives, or the outdoor Barbara Hepworth MuseumMaria Pieri 

Where: Bracknell Forest, Berkshire
Why: Within Bracknell Forest's reaches, Swinley Forest has almost 2,500 acres of woodland, threaded with three mountain bike trails aimed at all levels of rider. It's our favourite thing to do, before stopping for a picnic and heading to the treetops at Go Ape adventure park (for ages 10+). If the weather's not playing ball, there's The Look Out Discovery Centre with interactive science exhibits aimed at junior school kids, and an indoor swimming pool and waterslides at Coral Reef Waterworld. It's the perfect family day out with no queues, lots of fresh air, adrenalin and exercise. Natalie Jackson 

Where: County Cavan, Ireland 
Why: When the sun comes up, particularly after this torturously long winter, everyone strikes for the coast. For the zoos, the beaches, the city parks. I'm thinking of a trip to Cavan. Where? You won't be the only one wondering. This northern, midlands Irish county is a complete sleeper — with undulating farmland, a lake for almost every day of the year, and oodles of small walks and micro-adventures. Plan A is a walk through the surprisingly moving replica WW2 trench experience at Cavan County Museum. Then, we may swing by a teddy-bear making workshop at Bear Essentials, to the west of the county near Bawnboy… a picnic, half a plan, and spotty phone reception. What more could you want? Pól Ó Conghaile

Want more inspiration for great getaways on home soil? Check out our 35 wild weekends in Britain and Ireland


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