Best Family Trips from London

Brightly coloured beach huts in a row on Brighton seafront, England Neillang/Dreamstime.com
It's never too early to start planning easy days out during school breaks and weekends. Whether you live in or around London, or you're here on vacation, here are some of the best family day trips that you can reach by train, bus, or car. 

Get more trip ideas from Frommer's London Day by Day.
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Brighton's pebble beach at dusk Palace Pier in the background and mussel bank in the foreground Anne Ackermann
What's more fun for kids than a day at the seaside? Brighton can be as laid-back as you want it to be, a place where you can stroll along the beach, swim (if you dare) in the chilly English Channel, and visit the carnival attractions of the seafront.

You'll need to dodge the rollerbladers on your way to the main attraction, Brighton's Victorian pier. Built in the 19th century, it's a highlight for families that's packed with dessert stands, arcade games, and rollercoasters. The pier is open daily November through March 11am-5pm, and April through October 10am-10pm. It's closed only on Christmas Day and admission is free.

Also not to be missed is the Royal Pavilion (tel. 03000/290-900), a fanciful mélange of ivory domes, swirls, and columns that was designed for the Prince Regent George IV. The small, leafy garden surrounding the pavilion makes for an excellent picnic spot.

How to Get There: Brighton is a 52-minute train ride from London Victoria station. You can easily nip down for a day to hang out on the beach or wander around The Lanes and its unique shops. See www.visitbrighton.com for more information.

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The West Front entrance at Hampton Court Palace Hollenbeck Productions
A sprawling red brick palace on the banks of the Thames, just to the west of London, Hampton Court is one of many residences that once belonged to King Henry VIII. Children will get a kick out of the costumed guides who lead free tours of the staterooms and tell stories of beheaded queens believed to still walk the galleries.

However grand the house, it will always be the gardens that are the highlight for any visitor, especially in the warmer months. The palace's famous Maze is formed of 1,000 yews planted in 1702, covers a third of an acre (around a sixth of a hectare), and has paths that wind for nearly half a mile. The kids can have fun getting lost in here, while the parents admire the garden's Great Vine. Planted by the famous gardener 'Capability' Brown in 1768, it is thought to be the largest productive vine in the world.

Hampton Court (tel. 020/3166-6000) is open April through October daily 10am to 6pm (check for shorter hours from November to March). Admission to the palace is £19 for adults, £15.50 for seniors and students, and £9.50 for children 5 to 15. You can get a discount by buying your tickets online in advance and prices are slightly lower November through February.

How to Get There: Catch a train from Waterloo station for a 35-minute ride.
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Dover Castle. Jake Keup
This fortress has just about anything a connoisseur of castles can dream of — a ring of walkable walls, a huge keep (complete with multimedia shows), dank dungeons, miles of secret tunnels, even a Roman lighthouse to climb.

The castle has stood high atop the cliff, hundreds of feet above the port town of Dover, for more than 2,000 years. Between 1180 and 1189, Henry II transformed Dover Castle into one of the mightiest fortifications in Europe, expanding and enhancing its defenses. At the heart of the king's project was the construction of the keep.

Below ground, the secret wartime tunnels were first used by British soldiers housed here to ward off a French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1940, it became the command center for Operation Dynamo, which involved the evacuation of 338,000 British troops from Dunkirk, across the Channel in France, after it became clear they couldn't fend off the German army. By the time the war ended, the tunnels housed an underground city of barracks, military headquarters, a communications center, and a hospital. The hour-long self-guided tours of the tunnels include dramatic sound-and-light effects.

Dover Castle (tel. 01304/211-067) is open November through March 10am-4pm; check for longer hours from April through October. Admission is £18.30 for adults, £16.50 for students and seniors, and £11 for children 5 to 15.

How to Get There: Southeastern trains run about every 30 minutes directly from London Victoria to Dover Priory station. The journey takes around two hours.

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Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent, England. Paul Harris
Leeds Castle is a vision of turrets, towers, and light gray stone that seems to float in the middle of a swan-filled lake. Mazes enliven the gardens, balloons take off from the grounds, fireworks frequently burst overhead, and strains of orchestras float through the woods during summer concerts. All in all, Leeds is probably the showiest castle in the land.

After a tour of the castle's grand rooms, wandering around the grounds will lead you to the unusual Dog Collar Museum, a state of the art aviary, and a lush maze made of 2,400 yew trees. Make your way through the simple maze to the grotto, filled with mythical beasts crafted from shells.

The Knight's Realm, a free playground resembling a castle, will appeal to younger visitors, while teens may prefer to take to the trees at Go Ape.

Leeds Castle (tel. 01622/765-400) is in the county of Kent, about 40 miles (64km) southeast of London. It's open April through September daily 10:30am to 5pm, closing at 4pm at all other times. Admission costs £24.50 for adults, £21.50 for seniors and students, and £16.50 for children 4 to 15. Your ticket is good for repeat visits throughout the year.

How to Get There: The closest train station is Bearsted, about 7 miles (11km) away from the castle. Trains leave London Victoria every 30 minutes and the journey takes just over an hour. From April to September, a shuttle bus service takes visitors from Bearsted station to the castle (£5 round-trip).

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The National Railway Museum in York. Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidcjones/4337730714/" target="_blank">David Jones/Flickr.com</a> David Jones
Surrounded by ancient city walls and dominated by an enormous Gothic cathedral, York is one of the most historic cities in England and one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. You can soak up its history while exploring the maze of ancient streets and winding hidden walkways, known as "snickelways."

The Jorvik Viking Centre (tel. 01904/615-505) is a must-see experience for families. Hop into a "time car" and be transported back to the sights and smells of 948 A.D., when Eric Bloodaxe was king and York was Jorvik, a thriving Viking port and trading town. The scenes you pass of village life, market stalls, crowded houses, and the wharf, are re-creations based on archaeological finds in this area.

Another hit with children is the National Railway Museum (tel. 08448/153-139) that's filled with working historic trains. Climb aboard vintage locomotives and peek into the windows of private royal trains, including Queen Victoria's plush 1869 coach.

How to Get There: Trains depart King's Cross station every 30 minutes for the two-hour trip to York.
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