If you enjoy UK travel as a family then you’ll understand the trials and tribulations of long journeys with kids in tow. There’s not much more dire than traipsing in and out of service stations for everyone to go to the toilet. Then someone gets hungry so you stop again. All the while, the children are becoming increasingly bored and fidgety. Recently, we’ve stumbled across a solution to this travelling dilemma. Instead of stopping at service stations, we’ll have a longer break somewhere that we can all stretch our legs and get some fresh air. Here’s our guide to finding the best places to break up your journey around the UK.
Plan – if you need to
Wherever you are in the UK, you can turn to an expert website to find family days out. If there’s a passenger able to do some research on their phone, you can find a local destination within minutes during your journey. This is often the best way because you’ll have a good idea of when children start to get restless, hungry or need the toilet. If you can manage to do the journey in two chunks, it’s a good idea to stop just past half way. It’s always good to start on the second leg of your journey knowing you’re over half way there.
If you’re travelling alone with children, where to stop may take a little more planning. Know roughly where you’ll want to stop and have a few places in mind to divert to.
Rely on the National Trust
National Trust days out are always a good failsafe when travelling around the UK. If you’re a member, entry is free and if you remember a picnic, your stop needn’t cost you a penny. There’s usually a playground or natural play area for the children. Most places have a cafe and there are usually toilets as well. Do check before you stop though because some of the smaller places don’t have so many facilities.
Going walking is always a good idea when you’re half way through the journey. It might even tire little ones out enough for the illusive car nap. Most National Trust properties are set in gorgeous grounds, perfect for a leg stretch and runaround. The gardens are usually dog friendly too.
Don’t forget English Heritage
As long term National Trust members, we often forget to look at English Heritage properties. Like National Trust, you can get a membership that allows you to pay a one-off fee for a year’s worth of visits. They also have many family and dog friendly places with great facilities.
The advantage of English Heritage properties is that they are very focussed on history. They often have events taking place, particularly during school holidays. So, you get a fun stop on your journey with the added bonus of a bit of sneaky education thrown in. They won’t even realise they’re learning!
I’ve always been aware that Merlin have a multitude of days out around the UK. Previously though, I’ve never really considered them as short stopovers. Something like Warwick Castle or Alton Towers really is a full day out. However, not all of their attractions are like that.
If you’re passing by a large city on your journey, consider the Sea Life Centres. It’s possible to spend anything from a couple of hours to a whole morning there, as long as you know how long you want to spend and what you want to see. Some of them have a small soft play area at the end as well, ideal for letting off some steam before you get back in the car.
Another idea is the Legoland Discovery Centres. These are aimed at children aged up to ten years old. They combine the fun of Lego with more active elements and small rides. Both Legoland Discovery and Sea Life centres are great ideas for rainy days. Little ones can do something active without getting soaked for the rest of the journey.
Merlin also offer an annual pass, so if you regularly travel as a family, this is worth looking into. Whilst it’s a lot more expensive than something like National Trust, it would work out cheaper than individual entry fees if you visit on numerous occasions throughout the year.
Don’t overlook the little local gems
When you start looking at all the national days out available like National Trust and Merlin, it’s easy to forget all the hidden gems in different parts of the country. Take Wicksteed Park for example, where you could fill two days with both indoor and outdoor activities. Or, you could make the most of the free entry to stop off for a picnic. Pay individually for a couple of rides for little ones and they’ll feel like they’ve been to a theme park.
Another great example is the Lost Gardens of Heligan down in Cornwall. Once again, you could wander into the gardens and not be seen for days. Or, you could plan out your route at the start and spend just a couple of hours exploring. If you do this though, you’ll definitely have it earmarked for a return visit.
Hit the beach
If you’re off on holiday, the chances are you’ll have swimming kit and towels with you anyway. Should your journey allow it, it’s worth a coast road diversion to hit the beach for a few hours. Fresh air, plenty of space to run around and a dip in the sea to cool down.
I don’t know about you, but I always find that an hour or two on the beach with children is enough. Much as we all love it, if we stay much longer than that they start to get stroppy. Sand in their eyes, noses and sandwiches. Cold from staying in the sea too long when you told them not to stay in the sea too long. Bitey things biting and a sudden gust of wind blowing everything away. So in many ways, a beach visit to break up a journey is the ideal way to visit the beach. You leave whilst you’re still enjoying it, rather than staying to the bitter end when everyone gets a bit grumpy.
Pack a picnic
If you’re not sure where you’ll be stopping or it’s likely to be somewhere without a café, it’s always worth packing a picnic. That little hamper gives you the freedom to park up anywhere that has public toilets and open space or a playground. Children can run around and play and everyone gets something you know they’ll enjoy to eat.
Don’t forget to leave sun cream and bug repellant somewhere accessible though. We’ve taken to stocking up on Boots online before going on holiday. We buy extra bottles that we can leave with a day bag. This was a hard lesson from past mistakes when we’ve left suncream in inaccessible packed bags and had to abandon an outdoor stop off to avoid sunburn.