25 things to do within two hours of home
Are you ready to (gasp) leave your local area? From farm parks and city skylines to watersports and high ropes, here are the 25 best outdoors things to do within 2 hours of Sussex.
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 Sussex. We’ve started with some classics at home too, just in case you need to ease yourself in.
The South Downs
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.
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.
Fishers Farm Park, Wisborough Green, from April 12
Outside rides and attractions open from April 12 klaxon! Muddy’s favourite destination with the kids is a superb day out, filled with heaps of activities and rides to wear the little ones out, farm animals to admire and pet, and incredibly helpful and friendly staff to make sure you have the best day ever. The safe and enclosed site is perfect for basing yourself on a convenient picnic bench and letting the kids go wild on all the bouncing pillows, trampolines, rides, games, adventure playgrounds, castles and loads more. Plenty of places to get your takeaway food and drinks from too. Pony rides, climbing wall, indoor soft play and animal handling will reopen once restrictions allow.
Knepp Estate, Dial Post
Brilliantly served with footpaths and bridleways, Knepp kept many a Sussex wanderer sane over lockdown. Kids will adore the space and there’s wildlife galore including rare and wonderful sights like wild white storks and herds of free-roaming pigs, cows, deer and ponies. Get closer to the action with a safari, and from May you can book a stay at the campsite or glamping site.
SUP and kayaking at Ardingly Reservoir, from April 2
Get out on the water at Ardingly! From April 2 you can resume SUP and kayak hire, or launch your own if you have one. Book in advance. This gorgeous and tranquil venue is well worth a visit even if watersports aren’t your thing – a stroll around the 4km Kingfisher Trail and a picnic is the ideal outdoor meet.
Canoe and kayak hire from Fluid Adventures, River Arun or Chichester Harbour, from April 2
Paddle up the River Arun from Pulborough or head out onto Chichester Harbour from Itchenor in a hire canoe or kayak from Fluid Adventures. Buoyancy aids for you and the little ones included. If yours are too young to paddle, be warned, this is one heck of a workout for the arms. I speak from experience.
Hever Castle, Hever
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.
Bewl Water, Lamberhurst
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).
Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle of Sheppey
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.
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.
Wildwood, Herne Bay
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.
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.
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.
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.