Bletchley Park is the historic site of the British code breaking activity during the Second World War (remember the film with Kate Winslet?). There are a number of different attractions to see, including the Enigma Collection of cipher machines, the Churchill Collection, and a Toys and Memorabilia Collection dating back to the 1930's. There are trail and quiz sheets for children, a play area (re-opening in the summer) and lots to explore in the 29 acre site. family Fun Wednesdays are designed especially for kids from the age of 4 upwards, featuring a range of activities, from spy workshops and lessons in how to send Morse code, to interactive displays about the role of pigeons during World War.
Bletchley Park is open year round except 24-26 December and 1 January (but check website for opening times for individual exhibitions). Tickets are £12 a head, and free for children under 12. There are also family ticket offers for children 12-16.
One of the loveliest places we have visited lately is Knebworth House. Over Easter they had an Alice in Wonderland theme with additional rides and craft stalls. But even without an event, Knebworth is fantastic fun. The gardens are extensive and well - kept- with lots of opportunities for kids to let off steam. North London girls loved the maze (I was told off- must remember I am NOT Dora!). And then there is the dinosaur trail- who needs the Natural History Museum when a large selection of dinosaurs are hiding out in the grounds of Knebworth- surreal maybe but wonderful fun. It is also interesting to visit inside the house- which is well maintained and has lots of information, stories and heirlooms. There is a pleasant restaurant serving kids selections (sandwiches cakes etc) and also a selection of adult sandwiches and hot meals.
And if you are not exhausted by all of that, then there is Knebworth Park to wander with a large dedicated play area, and miniature railway, for the kids. Who could ask for more?
And really, Knebworth is fantastic value- £10.50 a head, including house entrance, and kids under 4 go free. Check opening times though- only open for visitors weekends and school holidays, March- September.
If you want a really civilised day trip, head to the wonderful Hatfield House - an easy drive from North London or trains to Hatfield. The first thing that struck me when we visited recently is that it has a really decent restaurant (The Coach House)- proper hot food, delicious salads, sandwiches and cakes. We are planning to go back just for the food. Plus designer (clean) toilets. The restaurant is set in Stable Yard which also has a range of exclusive shops offering beautifully designed gifts jewellery, plants, toys, antiques and wonderful treats. There is no admission charge to this area of Hatfield House.
There is also a really lovely farm where you can see ducks, lambs, chickens and sheep up close. Kids can ride on small tractors around the farm too and there are sandpits with little diggers in them which were much loved by ours. There are also frequent tractor rides around the farm. The large children's play area is also really good and there are lots of picnic spots if you don't want to eat in the restaurant.
Hatfield House costs £15.50 (£10 for house only) an adult and £8.50 for children (3+). Additional £4.50 for the farm. Open 7 April to 30 September. Closed Mondays.
Mountfitchet Castle and Norman Village is near Stansted and is a fun day out as it also has a toy museum. It is a Norman Motte and Bailey Castle and Village, re-constructed on its original historic ancient site, complete with many different buildings, siege weapons and animals roaming freely throughout the 10 acre site, providing a unique insight into community life in Domesday England. Come and explore the Castle and roam through the Norman village hidden behind the castle walls, wander in and out of the many houses and listen out for the ancient Church bell tolling serenely across the grounds. Mountfitchet Castle is unique as being the only wooden Motte and Bailey castle and village to be reconstructed on it’s original historic site anywhere in the world.
You can travel back in time to 1066 Norman England. Explore the Castle and roam through the Norman Village hidden behind the castle walls, wander in and out of the many houses and view the scenes, smell the log fires burning and experience the ambience of an ancient bygone lifestyle. A living history, hands-on and interactive experience.
We've not been but we'll be going soon as it sounds excellent!
Blenheim Palace is quite a way from London but is a really great day out for a special occasion as there is loads to do for children and the house is really beautiful. Home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and a World Heritage Site. Situated in Woodstock, just 8 miles from Oxford, Blenheim Palace is surrounded by over 2,000 acres of 'Capability' Brown landscaped parkland, the great lake, and beautiful formal gardens. Within the Palace, you can see the State Rooms filled with examples of superb craftsmanship and treasures collected over the last 300 years.
There is a really great adventure playground and a mini train around the grounds that we rode on many times. The Pleasure Gardens welcome young visitors and families and has special activities throughout the season, from jousting to a triathlon to Jubilee celebrations.
There is a large range of dining options from formal Sunday lunches at the Orangery to the New Water Terrace Cafe, offering meals and snacks. There's even a champagne bar!
The palace is open between 11 February and 14 December, check website for details. Entry is not cheap, with full price at £20 per adult (include palace, park and gardens). Under 5s enter free.
Wrest Park, Luton
Do you know of any other great stately homes or castles a day trip away from North London that are good for visiting with the family? Do let us know.
This is part of a series on day trips that we are running and next week we will feature museums and attractions worth making a day trip for so do share any good ones by leaving a comment below or on Facebook or Twitter - @northlondonmums.