You can always discover something new in and around London but escaping the city center is just as much fun with some of these top day trips:
1. Leeds Castle: Pack a picnic hamper and set out for a great day in the Kent countryside. The castle and its sprawling 500 acres of pristine parkland are about an hour by car from London and a short train ride as well. In fact, through March 2017, travelers by train get a two-for-one admission. You’ll never forget your first glimpse of this fairy tale castle just beyond the car park and green park walk. Peacocks in blue and the purest white greet you and the castle peeks from moat beyond the trees. It’s a lovely day to visit 900 years of British history for a royal escape. Did you know, Leeds Castle is where Henry VIII ran to escape the plague ravaging London? Fortunately, today, all that’s left is a delightful park with a maze for the kids, an odd dog collar museum and you can even go punting in the warmer months. If you forgot the picnic hamper, don’t fret. The restaurant at the castle serves a tasty lunch. (£24.50/adults & £16.50/kids 4-15)
2. Windsor: This is one of the best days outside of London where you can see the daily Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle without the crowds of central London. It’s a short 30-minute train ride from Paddington to Windsor Central. You step out of your train and right into the path of the Changing of the Guard. Time it just right and you can watch them march down the street and up into the castle courtyard. You must visit the castle and then head down toward the river for lunch. Take a cruise or cross the bridge into Eton. Many of the London high streets shops are here, as well, for a day of shopping before heading back to the city. (Castle: £20/adults & £11.70/kids 5-17)
3. New Forest: How about a day with the wild ponies of the forest? In just under 90 minutes from Waterloo, you can explore the hidden wonders of New Forest. About 3,000 wild ponies inhabit the woodlands and if you’re lucky, they just might cross your path.
(Admission is free, although donations are welcome)
4. Brighton: If heading to the beach is your thing, then Brighton is a colorful day out with something for everyone, from kids to those flying solo. The must-see is of course the Royal Pavilion, the 200-year-old seaside palace of King George IV. It’s quirky and full of history and the iconic symbol of Brighton-by-the-Sea. Brighton, itself, offers a day full of exploring lanes full of art galleries and antique shops. Hop and off a day bus tour and get in and around the city at your leisure (Royal Pavilion: £12.30/adults & £6.90/kids 5-15)
5. Hever Castle: This is where Anne Boleyn lost her heart (before losing her head) to her future husband, King Henry VIII. It was the stately home of the Boleyn family and is less than an hour by train from London Bridge Station. There’s a lake and a medieval maze on the grounds and lovely formal gardens. The castle itself is picturesque and quite dark. You can also imagine just how gloomy it was to live in Tudor times since the great wood interior of the magnificent rooms makes everything inside rather heavy and overbearing. (£16.50/adults & £9.30/kids 5-15 for the castle & gardens and travelers by train get two-for-one admission through November 2016)