40 Best Things to do Within 2 Hours of Cambs/Suffolk
Are you ready to (gasp) leave your local area? From safari parks and city skylines to high ropes, here are the best outdoors things to do within 2 hours of Cambs and Suffolk.
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 day trip: 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 over 40 of the best things to do within two hours of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. We’ve started with some classics at home too, just in case you need to ease yourself in.
Let’s go Punting – Cambridge
Whether you know the pretty city of Cambridge or not, exploring it by punt is a must. You can take a guided tour, either for just your family or in a shared punt (made Covid-safe with screens) or you can brave steering your own. We recommend a tour guide, as they do all the hard work navigating you up the river, as well as tell you the history of everything you see, whilst you can sit back and enjoy the ride (Glass of fizz? Don’t mind if I do). The views are simply stunning –perfectly manicured lawns and the amazing architecture of the majestic Kings College Chapel, Trinity, St John’s, and Clare colleges plus the beautiful bridges. You can also take a punt towards Grantchester – the safer bet if you are self-driving. Once past the busy city area, you can enjoy a picnic on the river bank, where many also swim (watch out for the naked swimming club!) or maybe you will make it as far as the Orchard Tea Rooms, where Rupert Brooke and friends hung out, to enjoy a scone the size of your head to power you back to Cambridge. Book in advance with Scudamores or Rutherfords Punting.
The Botanic Gardens – Cambridge
Cambridge Univesity Botanic Gardens has been in the news of late, with the blooming of the magnificent Moonflower. Now the garden is bursting with colour, incredible blossom trees, and these gorgeous rare tulips. There are over 80 species on display in the Alpine house, a collection that has its origins in the 1920s. The garden is open 7 days a week, 10-6 pm, April-September, tickets must be booked online in advance. Take a picnic or grab a takeaway lunch from the Botanic’s fab café.
The Raptor Foundation, Huntingdon
Are you cuckoo about birds? Or maybe your kids are. Either way, a visit to this amazing conservation centre near Huntingdon could be just what you need when your wings have been clipped for the last few months. Open from 12 April, you can see a variety of eagles, hawks, falcons and owls that have been rehabilitated at the centre, plus there are regular flying displays that will take your breath away. You can also sign up for a variety of courses and activities including a hawk walk, where you, er, quite literally take a hawk for a walk, experiencing the thrill of the birds flying back to your gloved hand. After your bird-watching head to the nearby village of St Ives, and take a picnic lunch by the lovely River Ouse.
Wicken Fen, Nr Ely
Wicken Fen is the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve and a great destination if you want to blow away the cobwebs and enthuse any budding David Attenborough’s in your midst. One of Europe’s most important wetlands, Wicken Fen has recorded more than 9,000 species including, rare butterflies, dragonflies, birds, and plants. You view the marshlands via raised boardwalks and if you are fed up with your usual walks and landscape – this is the perfect antidote and has an almost Scandi feel to it (remember those marshlands in Wallender?). Pack a lunch and binoculars. You’re not far from the city of Ely either, with the amazing cathedral (the ship of the fens) that can be seen for miles around – so leave time to pop into this picturesque market town, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to catch one of their fab food markets.
If you haven’t yet been to the picturesque coastal town of Southwold you’re in for a treat. Pastel coloured beach huts line the seafront, and the town itself is bustling with lovely cafes/restaurants and shops. The Two Magpies bakery does incredible coffee and sweet treats, the smell of Adnams brewery wafts through the streets, you can take a tour of the brewery itself or head to the shop for some great wine and foodie shopping. If you’re in shopping mode gather some coastal chic from brilliant boutique Collen and Clare. Lunch could be pasties or fab fish n chips from the Little Fish and Chip Shop or when things are open the rather lovely Swan Hotel. The pier is a must-see, a quirky and cool place with old school fun (wall of mirrors!) and cheeky water fountains – and the brilliantly eccentric under the pier show (when everything is open again) will have you doing such madcap antics as experiencing the life of a fly in VR or exercising on a bed! Make sure to check out the harbour area, too, lovely fisherman’s huts and great views of Walberswick.
Go Ape – Thetford Forest
We’ve been cooped up for far too long so how about doing something different and daring? Go Ape in the centre of Thetford forest is just the adventure we all need in our lives after lockdown. There are exhilarating bike trails, a Gruffalo orienteering trail, archery, bushcraft survival courses, or zoom about on a forest Segway tour. But do you dare dangle amongst the treetops? The treetop adventure will have you and all the family (suitable for all ages as long as 1m tall or over) doing Tarzan swings through the trees, gingerly navigating ‘stepping stones’, zooming across zip wires, plus plenty more devilish challenges. Get harnessed up for the ultimate family bonding experience.
Find Felixstowe between rivers of Orwell and Deben on the East coast- an Edwardian seaside town that is also Britain’s busiest port. History buffs will be in their element exploring the Languard Peninsula and the 18th century fort, plus there are numerous Martello towers. Stroll along the promenade and take in the seafront gardens, watch the ships coming in, play in the arcades or try crazy golf, eat fish and chips, enjoy the nature reserve, and visit the radar museum (once open). You can also hop on the ‘foot ferry’ from the quaint sailing hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry (yes, the name of the village) to Bawdsey and buy fresh fish to take home for your dinner. We also love the look of the recently launched Beach Street – a collection of shipping containers housing some super cool street food, cafés, indie shops, a yoga studio and kids climbing wall. Perhaps catch one of the Ibiza social brunches and you will feel like you’re properly on your hols.
Woburn Safari Park
It’s seems rather unlikely that one would stumble upon an all-singing all-dancing safari park just outside historic, elegant Woburn, but here it is. This Bedfordshire wonder, reopening on 12 April, offers both the Road and Foot Safaris (we know which one we’d prefer) and is a brilliant day out with the nippers in tow.
Canoe Trail, Bedford
Ever done a canoe trip with the kids? Take it from someone who has – it’s wet, tiring and one of the best days out ever! This family-fun business offers canoe, kayak, and SUP hire on the calm (thankfully) River Great Ouse. Take your pick from a relaxed and fairly dry canoe trip to soaking-wet fun on a paddle board.
Hatfield might not be the No. 1 destination on every tourist’s wish list, but did you know that the grand Hatfield House is one of the top film set locations for period productions in the UK? Most recently, Olivia Coleman’s Oscar-winning turn in The Favourite was captured in this wonderful Jacobean Manor, not to mention all those that came before, including Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shakespeare in Love and even Batman. Who knew? Oh, and the actual Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her youth at Hatfield Palace (an older house on the grounds), and you can still (literally) walk in the footsteps of this epic monarch today. The park and woodland walks will open from 29 March with the gardens following shorty after on 3 April.
Visit Verulamium (St Albans)
St Albans was once one of the largest Roman cities in Britain – Verulamium. Grab a coffee and wander into the Roman Verulamium Park. On the far side is the Hypocaust (a Roman mosaic). From here head to the Cathedral – an amazing mix of architectural styles, with much of it built in the 11th century from Roman materials.
Delapré Abbey, Northampton
This stately, honey-hued landmark at the heart of Northampton is a treasure trove of art, history, intrigue and scandal and comes with 500 acres of parkland and gardens to explore. The grounds are free for anyone to visit and within walking distance of the town centre (worth noting that it’s free to park here too). With a lazy lunch or an al fresco afternoon tea at the Orangery Cafe thrown in for good measure, Delapré is a great place to meet up and mooch.
Evenely Wood Garden, near Brackley
The bucolic Evenley Wood Garden appears to be a magical wilderness but it’s really a very carefully curated woodland garden stocked to the brim with rare and unusual plants and suitably huggable trees. There’s an open sided wooden chalet cafe, Uncle Geordie’s Shed, with chunky oak tables and vintage china, where they serve homemade, organic dishes, local produce and gorgeous cakes, making this picturesque wonderland a fantastic place for a socially distanced gathering.
Boughton House, near Kettering
Known as the English Versailles, the gardens and park at the magnificent Boughton House are among the grandest in England. Make like Marie-Antoinette and let the kids eat cake in the beautifully landscaped grounds, which include a rather spectacular inverted pyramid. Recent and extensive garden projects have seen the reinstatement of hundreds of avenue trees and the restoration of beautiful waterways, reflective pools and the incredible Grand Etang with its 75ft. high water fountain, alongside the vast walled gardens, rose garden, sensory garden and lily pond. No shortage of glorious outside space to immerse yourself in here then and, of course, there’s the stable block tea rooms to nab the aforementioned cake.
Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve, Rushden Lakes
It might be Northamptonshire’s largest retail park, but if you look past the high street giants you’ll notice that Rushden Lakes is also home to the Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre, where you’ll find a whopping 270 hectares of outside space to explore including meadows, reed beds, woodlands and sculpture trails. It’s a great place for wildlife spotting and you can also hire a canoe or kayak to enjoy a paddle along the River Nene, or give your legs a workout on one of the pedalos on the lake and work up and appetite for some outside dining on the boardwalk.
The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead
Small (in terms of public gardens), but oh-so perfectly formed, the world-famous Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead, north Essex, have been attracting green-fingered visitors from across the country since 1960 – when the award-winning gardener Beth Chatto first begun to turn this once wild, overgrown seven acres of wasteland into a series of five inspiring outdoor spaces. Take your time wandering from the Water Garden and Woodland to Screen Garden and Reservoir – there’s beauty to behold at every turn.
Trekking the Thames Estuary Path
A 29-mile stretch along the Essex strait, The Thames Estuary Path wiggles its way through some of the county’s most dramatic landscapes, from a tapestry of mudflats in the south and Tilbury town’s industrial docks, to the sheaf of cockle-shed bays that bid the Thames goodbye in Old Leigh. Positively brimming with biodiversity, a criss-cross of bubbling creeks and clay-like marshes dominate this low-lying riverscape, but the walking trail is clearly marked out and (don’t worry!) you can easily break it up, too: stations along the London Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness line serve to slice the route into manageable weekend romps.
A Day by the Sea in Cromer
Head to Cromer (an hour north of Norwich) for a blast of salty air and mooch round town before it all goes bonkers in summer. Last year the spring weather was fab-u-lous but who even cares? We’re just thrilled to be out. Pack a picnic, fly a kite and go trad with sandcastles, sunset fish and chips and towering ice creams from No.1 Cromer. Or catch the town’s new wave with some lip-smacking Nash Falafel vegan dirty sweet potato fries – extra sriracha obvs – and a lush cocktail from The Gangway, re-opening for take aways on the 12 April with a pop up weekend beer garden at North Lodge Park.
Feeling chilly? Make friends with the weather and grab hot caffeine with a shot (rum please) from North Sea Coffee, where everything is sourced from local indie businesses. And when the sun shines, I’m going to sit on the strand with a long lost mate, glass of cool white wine (model’s own) and a dressed crab. Ooh, it’s so deliciously civilised I might even get dressed myself.
A 2020 YouGov poll found two thirds of us tuned into the dawn chorus to soothe pandemic anxiety. Sleep? What’s that? So if you’re a newly fledged twitcher, Norfolk is paradise. There are fantastic Norfolk Wildlife Trust sites at Cley Marshes, Foxley Wood and Hickling Broad and world renowned RSPB big hitters like Titchwell Marsh and Snettisham Nature Reserve. As well as barn owls gliding low over saltmarshes and jewelled kingfishers glinting on the Broads, there’s a wealth of special species like marsh harriers and bitterns – boom! The lovely Snettisham Rose & Crown should be opening for outdoor food and drink from 12 April and children are very welcome. So mini Chris Packhams can perch on a bench and discuss citizen science, while you stare into the distance with a massive gin and wonder wtf just happened.
Normal in Norwich
Time to reclaim what Virginia Woolf called the “champagne brightness of the air and the sociability of the streets”. Let’s go to town. No matter if shops are still closed, I haven’t stepped on a pavement for months (rural life) so I’m going to slide into my DMs (pink, actually) and walk the Fine City’s springtime streets. Tombland, Elm Hill, along the river, all around the Lanes and into the market for a Bun Box bao bun (how I’ve missed those pillowy joys). Savour a proper filter coffee from the Little Red Roaster (Stall 53, Row B – follow the gorgeous aroma), then head up Timber Hill to Re.source for some vegan Kimcheese (haven’t tried it yet, just love the name). And onto the Book Hive for something sensational to read in the bath. It’s click and collect only right now. Ring Henry with your literary list and he usually gets what you want to the book shop for the next day. So much friendlier than ordering from that other place, isn’t it?
Let’s Get Lost, Leicester
Flow and weave your way along the River Soar while exploring your natural surroundings on a kayak. Embrace the great outdoors, disconnect from social media and reconnect with friends and family on a Paddle to the Pub tour or a popular Twilight Paddle and watch the sun slip beyond the horizon.
A national dive and open swimming centre, Stoney Cove covers 13 acres and offers a 1,000 metre perimeter course in Leicestershire’s cleanest waters. It’s great for everyone including under-confident swimmers as it’s always fully manned with qualified first aiders. If you’re diving here, an underwater adventure awaits you where you can discover The Gresham Ship; an armed Elizabethan merchantman that sank over 400 years ago and a submerged aircraft cockpit wreck. Go on, take the plunge!
The Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre
An outdoor adventure playground spread across 15 acres in the heart of the city. Activities and experiences are designed to stimulate, educate and motivate. Choose from kayaking, climbing, canoeing, paddle board yoga and more.
Hick’s Lodge, Ashby de la Zouch
If you want to explore the area with a fresh two-wheeled perspective, rent out some bikes at Hicks Lodge in Ashby. They cater for everyone from budding to confident cyclists. Set in beautiful young woodland in the heart of the National Forest, it’s been designed with the whole family in mind.
Ashby de la Zouch Castle, Ashby
Owned once by Lord Hastings, Ashby Castle was actually built as a manor house back in the 12th century. Learn more about its colourful history and climb the Hastings Tower to enjoy the views from the top. Don’t miss the underground passage between the tower and the kitchen which kids will love before enjoying a picnic in the castle grounds.
Tropical Birdland, Desford
Enjoy close encounters of the feathered kind over at this outdoor bird sanctuary. Spread across 6.5 acres, you can walk through aviaries and a woodland trail before visiting The Parrot Path where you can really get up close and personal with the birds and even feed them. If you’ve got kids in tow with energy to still burn off, there’s also a huge play area.
Looking for some serious fun in the water? Slip, slide and splash around in a giant water obstacle course on Rutland Water. Take on the UK’s tallest obstacle, plummet from the giant slides or show off your flips and tricks as you fall from the Tornado Tower.
Rutland Water Sports
Love a water adventure? As well as being a haven for wildlife, Rutland Water is also a great place to try out a new water-based sport. Sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing or stand up paddle boarding. From beginner to expert, Rutland Watersports has it all.
Ever wanted to try axe throwing? Well you can sling, throw, toss your axe and so much more at this outdoor adventure centre where the fun isn’t limited to just the kids. All activities are done on a half and full-day basis and sessions are carefully planned and entirely bespoke.
Enjoy the local scenery on wheels and explore what lies within England’s smallest county. There’s two shops on Rutland Water so whether you’re starting on the South or North Shore, you’ll be in good hands and they have heaps of bikes for all riders from mountain to electric as well as hybrids and cruisers.
This should be at the top of your list if you’re a garden lover. With thirty eight individual ‘themed’ gardens across eight acres, there’s plenty to see and do here. Created by Geoff Hamilton for BBC Gardeners’ World, Barnsdale Gardens is Britain’s largest collection of individually designed gardens including a rose, Japanese, rock, knot, herb garden, orchard, woodland walk and heaps more. There’s also a variety of courses, plants for sale and weekend activities too.
We might not be leaving the country this year but, under the red and gold lanterns of Chinatown and surrounded by an unfamiliar alphabet, you might be able to pretend. 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.
Warwick Castle is raising its portcullis and welcoming guests back outdoors from April 12 with the launch of the much-anticipated Zog and the Quest for the Golden Star interactive trail. There’s plenty more to keep kids entertained, from the Horrible Histories® Maze to roaming castle characters and birds of prey. You’ll also be able to explore the 64 acres of beautiful grounds, including the Peacock Garden and enjoy some spectacular countryside views by climbing The Conqueror’s Fortress, the highest point on the estate. And if Boris says it’s OK a single family can also book a ‘knight away’ (sorry!) in a medieval-themed Lodge within the castle grounds.
Charlecote Park, National Trust
Spring has sprung! Charlecote Park may be renowned for its beautiful herd of fallow deer but it’s also proud to have one of the largest flocks of rare-breed pedigree Jacob sheep in the country today – and one of the few in-house lambing teams within the National Trust. You’ll see the lambs from this rare breed pedigree herd with their characteristic chocolate-blotch fleeces in the parkland of this Victorian home from early April. It was here that the very first managed flock were introduced into England 200 years ago by George Lucy from his European travels. You can download an easy 40-minute to 1 hr spring parkland walk here. Timed visits need to be booked in advance. Book here
Hatton Adventure World, shopping village, and drive-in cinema & diner, near Warwick
From 12 April, lots of small indies at this rural shopping village and family-friendly farm park attraction will re-open, joining Alfresco Garden Boutique & Farm Shop, Warwickshire Cycles, Granite Transformations and Alfie’s Café which have remained open. Hatton Adventure World will have its own Spring Arrivals Marquee, outdoor funfair rides, shows and spring nature walks. Plus you can book blockbusters at the drive-in cinema from 13 April including The Greatest Showman and Harry Potter. The site is linked to Hatton Locks and Hatton Arms by a delightful 1.5mile circular country walk across the private Hatton Estate and along the Grand Union Canal.
Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park
Explore some Art in the Park, a woodlands playground and peaceful green spaces in the stunning grounds of this 120 acre historic ‘Capability’ Brown landscape and lake, while the award-winning art gallery remains closed.
The Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham NEC
One for thrill-seekers with a head for heights! Europe’s tallest high ropes will be reopening from 14 April at this outdoor adventure centre located in between Coventry and Birmingham, close to Birmingham Airport. The 60-minute High Ropes adventure is 65ft above ground with 36 obstacles to roam. It’s suitable for ages 8+ accompanied by an adult. The rest of their activities – including the Assault Course – are reopening from 20 May.