Rain or shine, you’ll want to get out with the family at some point this half term. Outdoor spaces are particularly alluring right now, with autumn in full swing, and the various restrictions on mixing indoors. But where should you go?
This guide focuses on outdoor places in London and the South-East. For other regions, take a look through the Kidadl archive.
Woods And Forests
Autumn is the best time of year (well, along with bluebell season) for visiting woodland. So many simple pleasures can be found among the trees. Finding conkers, collecting acorns, choosing the best pine cones for the Christmas tree, or simply kicking up the fallen leaves will all entertain the little ones. Squirrels are busy caching nuts, and birds are easier to spot in the denuded canopy. Woods are also an outdoor space you can enjoy in the rain -- you’ll probably still get wet, but the canopy should make walking a bit more pleasant than across open fields.
The south-east of England is blessed with countless fine woodlands, many of them ancient. Surrey and Berkshire are the most wooded counties in England, while Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire and Ashridge Estate (pictured by the author above) in Hertfordshire are hugely popular destinations. And let’s not forget Ashdown Forest in East Sussex which, despite being mostly open heathland, contained enough trees to inspire the Hundred Acre Wood in the Winnie the Pooh stories.
Even London has significant woodlands. Something like 22% of the capital is covered in trees. Ancient patches can be found in Highgate, Ruislip, Epping and Dulwich, among other areas.
The Thames Foreshore
Often overlooked as an outdoor space, the Thames foreshore in London can be a fascinating place for children to explore. At low tide, the river retreats a surprising amount, revealing sandy beaches and pebble-strewn shoreline. You can get down to the foreshore at many points on either bank. Perhaps the best is immediately in front of Tate Modern, where a set of concrete steps leads down to the river. Here, you can do a spot of ‘mudlarking’, looking for interesting stones or other items revealed by the low tide. Clay pipes discarded in the Georgian and Victorian era are a common find. Gabriel’s Wharf, a 10-minute stroll upriver, is another top site. Here the beach is sandier, and you can usually find someone making a sand sculpture.
If taking children down to the foreshore, it’s important to keep a close supervision. The beaches contain old fragments of metal and other hazards. And be aware of the rising tide. Never stray too far from a set of steps. Finally, if you’re doing a spot of mudlarking, please don’t dig into the beach (you need a mudlarker’s licence to do this) or disturb any of the structure (e.g. old jetty remains) on the foreshore. It’s best to look but not touch.
Sculpture And Adventure Trails
Sculpture trails are a pleasure that everyone in the family will enjoy. They’re a cracking way to see art work, often by famous artists, without having to go into a gallery. If you’re in central London, the film-themed sculpture trail around Leicester Square is a delight for kids, with the likes of Paddington and Mr Bean rubbing shoulders with Wonder Woman and Mary Poppins. The City of London’s annual Sculpture in the City collection is also there to be visited, with the greatest cluster of works around the Gherkin area. Look out for the architectural benches dotted around the Square Mile, too.
The Home Counties have dedicated sculpture parks. Perhaps the most famous is the Sculpture Park, Farnham, Surrey, where a staggering 600 works of art are spread over 10 acres. You could also visit Henry Moore Studios and Gardens in Hertfordshire, the master’s former home. Hertfordshire is also home to the River Lee Country Park, whose many attractions include an abundance of sculptures -- check out the giant chair! Nearby, you can also combine a woodland adventure with a sculpture trail in Broxbourne Woods.
If your kids are more into clambering and climbing than stroking their chins at art, then you have to go to the Box Hill Natural Play Trail. This exceptional two-mile trail contains regular climbing obstacles for kids to get stuck into, all within one of the most beautiful parts of Surrey.
Parks With Perks
It would be impossible, and pointless, to list out all the best parks in the south-east. You’ve no doubt discovered many of them already. In central London, Kensington Gardens and Regent’s Park are both highly recommended for their playgrounds, as well as their much-celebrated beauty. Greenwich Park, too, is a humdinger, with superb views and a recently revamped playground. You might also want to browse our guides to parks in west London, south-east London, north London and east London.
City parks have many charms, but if you can get out to a country park, you’re likely to see a larger variety of wildlife. Country parks also often feature family-friendly activities, like sculpture trails, marked woodland walks and play trails. We’ve pulled together guides to country parks in Essex, Herts/Beds/Bucks, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk, among others.
Many National Trust and English Heritage sites come with extensive grounds to explore. You may have to pay an entrance or parking fee, but you’ll get acres of space, and plenty of features of interest. Many properties put on Half-Term trails and other activities for children.
You might also consider supporting one of the south-east’s many zoos, children’s farms, pick-your-own-fruit farms (including pumpkins) or adventure golf courses. And if you want to brave them in October, you might also try a trip to one of Britain’s best beaches. Wherever you end up, enjoy the great outdoors!
At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things, that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents.
We try our very best, but cannot guarantee perfection. We will always aim to give you accurate information at the date of publication - however, information does change, so it's important you do your own research, double-check and make the decision that is right for your family.
Kidadl provides inspiration for everything from family days out to online classes, arts, crafts and science experiments. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.
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