With so many excellent family attractions, iconic landmarks and glorious countryside within easy reach of the city, Bristol makes a brilliant base for exploring the West Country. There are tons of options for family days out nearby so I’ve rounded up my favourite day trips from Bristol, all of which are within an hour’s drive of the city.
North: Day trips from Bristol
This Wildlife conservation park just outside Bristol, recently returned four ‘extinct’ British species – European brown bears, lynx, wolves and wolverine – to UK woodland for the first time in hundreds of years. A raised walkway through the trees and 180-degree glass viewing areas let you watch the animals in the forest, in what feels like an open, natural enclosure.
The rest of the park is made up of animal habitat-themed zones, for example, giraffes, red river hogs, cheetahs and zebras roam in recreated wilds of Cameroon, Africa and you can get within an arm’s length of the lemurs in a ‘Madagascan village’. The Barefoot Trail is where my kids would probably spend the entire visit if they could, scampering over different natural textures that have been laid out (worth bringing a towel if it’s muddy!)
There are also a number of play areas, including an indoor Fun Fort, a vast green meadow containing a clock tower made by the same dude (Dent) that created Big Ben (!) and an outdoor climbing adventure, ‘Leap of Faith’, with a giant 25ft swing.
Set in beautiful countryside near Bristol, Old Down is home to farm animals, wandering peacocks, an excellent adventure playground, trampolines, an assault course, fairy garden, yurt (we saw Elsa in there once!) and a really nice restaurant.
Westonbirt Arboretum in the Cotswolds is just half an hour away from Bristol by car. If you’re craving countryside with a little something extra to keep the kids entertained, this will work nicely. As well as acres of spaces to stroll around in, there are Gruffalo sculptures to hunt, natural wood playgrounds ( the smooth carved tree slide is a fave), nature-based activities for kids and a treetop walkway that lets you wander through the tree canopy.
The arboretum’s thousands of trees and shrubs mean it’s incredibly beautiful, particularly in spring with the bluebells and blossom, and autumn, when the fiery red Japanese maples come out. Come December, the woods are transformed into a magical illuminated trail for their Enchanted Christmas event – my favourite of the 6 festive light festivals near Bristol.
Slimbridge is most famous for its birds, but aside from feathered friends, there are also otters, field mice, water voles and other local wildlife to spot. Keep your peepers peeled as you wander round the vast parkland, or rent a canoe (for an extra £7) and head off on a water safari in search of more creatures.
Reception will offer you the chance to buy a bag of bird feed (£1.50) and I highly recommend doing so – it’s a great way to motivate little legs to walk round on their own and get up close to the birds, some of which are in enclosures, others waddle freely.
Make sure you take a swimming costume for little ones, Slimbridge’s Welly Boot Land is one of the best splash parks I’ve been to, with a winding stream, obstacle course, slide, roundabout and picnic tables.
About 25-minutes north of Bristol, Cattle Country is a farm-themed family park with all kinds of animals and play areas. Visitors can get up close to calves, pigs, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs, and animal activities like calf/lamb feeding and small animal handling take place throughout the year.
There are also assault courses, jumping pillows, indoor play barns, trampolines, boating lake with canoes for hire, a water play area, a splash pool and a playground named after it’s close neighbour, Berkeley Castle.
Princess-enthusiasts and knight-lovers will be in their element visiting this enchanting 12th century castle. Surrounded by picturesque Gloucestershire countryside, a pretty walled garden and spectacular lily pond, it’s hard to believe the grizzly history this immaculate (and still lived-in) fortress has witnessed. A quick glance into the dismal dungeon, where King Edward was imprisoned and murdered however, lends something to the imagination and is guaranteed to send chills down your spine!
The castle hosts regular medieval-themed days such as falconry, archery and meet-and-greets with famous Tudors. There’s also dressing-up onsite, a delightful Yurt Tea Room and Butterfly House to explore.
Before visiting Cheltenham, all I knew about this spa town was that it hosts an upmarket horse-racing event and has a lot of Regency buildings (the town is the most complete Regency town in the UK – it has more than Bath!) And don’t get me wrong, that’s reason enough to visit, but I was surprised to learn of its street art, festivals and family-friendly vibes. From a boating lake to playgrounds and kid-friendly cycle trail, make the most of your day trip with my 24-hour family itinerary for Cheltenham.
Sudeley Castle (1 hr 6 mins)
Once upon a time, four Queens of England (Anne Boleyn, Katherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I) wandered the gardens of Sudeley Castle, admiring the roses as they did so.
Nowadays, one of them – Katharine Parr (the last of Henry VIII’s six wives) – lies entombed here, making Sudeley the only private castle in England to have a queen buried within its grounds. The gardens are still quite delightful, and include an exquisite knot garden, ancient ruins and beautiful views over the Cotswolds.
For kids, there’s a ginormous childrens’ playground and really lovely events during the school holidays – check out my review of their fairy-tale inspired Enchanted Halloween and festive Spectacle of Light.
South: Day trips from Bristol
The UK’s no.1 safari park is 30 miles from Bristol (so bang on an hour via the A36!), and well worth the trip if you’ve got animal lovers in your brood. There is tons of wildlife to see and plenty of exotic creature experiences to be had – our favourites were giving the lorikeets a drink and feeding sea lions from a boat in a hippo-filled lake!
There are also fairground rides, a giant maze, a gigantic playground (with splash park), farm animals, a butterfly house (where we ALL had a butterfly land on our head) and the only koalas you can see in England.
You can’t visit without doing the world-famous safari drive-through (if you don’t want to self-drive you can take the bus for £5 each, although this gets VERY hot in summer). Don’t be put off by tales of monkey-car-destruction, you have the option to by-pass this while en route and still see the other animals.
You’ve seen the Avon Gorge (pretty good isn’t it?), but did you know England’s longest gorge (Cheddar) is just a 45-minute drive from Bristol? The Cheddar Gorge and Caves are located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so it goes without saying there are breathtaking views above ground to be had, as well as spectacular rock formations, ancient caverns and mysterious chambers below.
Adrenaline junkies can book ahead for the opportunity to go caving or rock climbing, or for something a bit less physical, the Museum of Prehistory tells the tale of how our ancestors survived the Ice Age.
In the heart of Mendip countryside, this family-run ‘zoo’ (as they call themselves) is a joy to visit with young animal lovers, especially in spring when little lambies and tiny piglets have just been born.
You can cuddle everything from hedgehogs, bunnies and guineas, to hairless rats, chicks, mice, lambs and tortoises! It’s also great for kiddos who are a bit nervous around furry creatures as it can massively build their confidence around animals (as witnessed with our animal-fearful 6 yr old).
There’s also an outdoor play area, lots of other animals to see and beautiful views over Chew Valley lake.
I was amazed how much my kids (aged four and two when we visited) enjoyed the guided tour of Wookey Hole’s underground caverns. Or perhaps they were on their best behaviour – 100% convinced of the Witch of Wookey’s existence…
A 45-minute drive from Bristol, Wookey Hole Caves are a series of limestone caverns, on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills. You’re free to explore above ground, where you’ll find animatronic dinosaurs, 4D dinosaurs, circus shows, a soft play, Victorian-style arcade and a fairy garden. While the caves are spectacular, some of the other stuff seems a tad dated, but it’s a fun and fascinating day trip for kids either way.
West: Day trips from Bristol
For a good dollop of rolling countryside, activities for the kiddos and an adventure playground all within easy reach of Bristol, Tyntesfield ticks all the boxes.
As well as acres of space to explore, there’s a handsome Victorian mansion, regular storytelling sessions for tots, a couple of cafes and seasonally-themed events all year-round. My favourite times of year to visit are spring for the colourful blooms, Autumn for the pumpkin display and Christmas to see the house festooned in all its charming Victorian Christmas glory. So pretty much any time of the year then.
Portishead is a coastal town on the Severn Estuary, about 25 minutes from Bristol. The Open Air Pool there has become one of my favourite day trips from Bristol with the kids in the summer, thanks to its scenic perch overlooking the Bristol Channel. The large swimming pool is heated by green energy and there’s a shallow toddler pool for young kids. Amphitheatre-style steps are perfect for post-paddle bathing and there’s a cafe and tuck shop too.
If you’re keen for a bit of a runaround, you can walk out of the swimming pool and turn right towards Portishead Point and lighthouse. From here you can see for miles in all directions along the murky-brown estuary.
The way Clevedon marine lake has been built, makes it look from certain angles like a giant infinity pool merging with the Bristol Channel. The 15,000m² lake is a picturesque spot for water sports – swimming, paddleboarding, canoeing or boating.
The marine lake lures locals for a toe-curlingly cold dip on New Year’s Day, but if you’d rather not freeze your nadgers off completely, I suggest going at warmer times of the year! Afterwards, soak up Victorian seaside vibes with a stroll along the seafront to the Grade 1* listed pier.
The North Somerset coastal town of Weston sometimes gets a bad wrap (it always makes me think of that Bottom sketch with Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson), but if you’re looking for an expansive beach to run around on, with a few classic English seaside-y shenanigans thrown in, it’s a great day trip from Bristol.
Although you can’t swim here, there’s some great sandcastling to be done on the patch of beach just along from the Grand Pier (just watch for the sinking mud signs). You’ll also find a range of outdoor beach activities to keep the kiddos amused, if they ever tire of digging (is that possible?) – bouncy castles, swing boats, ice cream, donkey rides and SeaQuarium await!
In bad weather, the Grand Pier, although a little on the tacky side, is quite fun for mini roller coasters, kiddy rides and arcade games.
Although only an hour away from Bristol, this woodland walk in the Forest of Dean feels like journeying far away to a magical fairytale world.
It’s said J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth was inspired by these woods and it’s easy to imagine goblins and mythical creatures in these parts, which is exactly what our girls did for the entire duration of the walk. Many a fantasy film production has had the same idea and everyone from Star Wars to Tree Fu Tom have filmed here.
For extra excitement on your walk round, download the free Puzzlewood app (iPhone or Android) to take part in an interactive gold coin hunt! There’s also an outdoor playground, farm animals and Perrygrove miniature steam railway across the road.
If it’s enchanting woodland walks you’re into, the Forest of Dean has plenty. A mere 8-minutes drive from Puzzlewood is a 4.5 mile-long Sculpture Trail, which starts and ends at the Forestry England Beechenhurst picnic site. Amazing what a few sculptures dotted about the woods and a spot of chestnut foraging (in autumn) can do for the walking capabilities of a normally reluctant 3 year old. Our favourite was a glorious stained glass window hanging mystically in the trees, like the centrepiece of some invisible church.
The trail can also be explored in a series of shorter distances, if little legs can’t manage the whole route – follow the purple ringed posts and direction arrows.
Clearwell Caves underneath the Forest of Dean, is a natural cave system which has been extensively mined for iron ore for more than 4500 years. There are nine atmospheric caverns for visitors to explore, descending 100ft underground. As well as exploring the mysterious subterranean world, visitors can go delve further into the caverns with group adventure caving sessions (book in advance). Atmospheric events are also held in the caves, including film screenings, theatre, parties and their sought-after Christmas Fantasy spectacular.
Westbury Court Garden is one of the only surviving 17th-century Dutch water gardens in the UK. Originally designed to be productive as well as pretty, the gardens were planted with beautiful flowers alongside veggies and fruit trees back in the da. A canal was stocked with fish and a warren provided rabbit meat – which still exists today.
Glorious countryside surrounds the immaculate restored gardens, which are great for kids to have a run around in. If you time your visit right you can wander down to the river and watch the Severn Bore pass through.
A snip of a drive at only 25-minutes from Bristol, Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire is a magnificent ruined fortress, located on the cliffs of the River Wye. One of the earliest stone castles in Britain (with the oldest castle doors in Europe), for centuries it was home to some of the most powerful men of medieval and Tudor times.
A fascinating, historic site, it’s an incredible place to explore with kids, imagining people here in days of yore. After exploring the ramparts and gift shop, there’s a lovely pub next door.
If you’re a local, you might wonder why one would bypass Bristol’s We The Curious and head to Cardiff to experience their Science Discovery Centre instead. Well, on the occasion we visited, it was Bristol half term (but not Wales’ – so the attraction was much quieter) and we fancied trying somewhere new!
We opted to travel via train to Cardiff from Bristol Parkway, although this was a bit more convoluted than I’d hoped, as you have to change at Cardiff Central and take the smaller train out to Cardiff Bay.
Techniquest overlooks Cardiff Bay and has two floors of hands-on interactive exhibits – our favourites were the giant piano and augmented reality screen, placing dinosaurs and the like, supposedly right next to you. There’s also a science theatre, planetarium and lab, and it’s great for a change of scene, but we are spoiled with our own brilliant We The Curious in Bristol and it doesn’t beat it.
Set within 40 acres of rolling Somerset countryside, this family-run adventure park is jam-packed with fun stuff for kids. Outside there are tractor rides, a bouncing pillow, trampolines, a miniature train, crazy golf, playgrounds, bumper boats, a pedal kart track, diggers, a boating lake and water activities, dodgems-style cars, a high ropes course and all kinds of animals to meet.
If the weather turns, there’s an indoor soft play, animals to pet in the discovery barn, a couple of restaurants and a farm shop. Your biggest problem is trying to fit it all into one day!
East: Day trips from Bristol
Nestled in idyllic countryside is Park Farm – the home of The Bath Soft Cheese Company. If you’ve ever tasted their award-winning artisan cheese, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s jolly delicious! The farm’s bucolic location, well-looked after Holstein Friesian cows and entirely organic methods have a lot to do with that.
But a cheese farm is a strange place to recommend for a day trip from Bristol isn’t it? Well, firstly there’s more to this place than a just a milk and cheese factory – although it’s fascinating to watch the process in action through the windows of the cafe. You can sample some of that scrumptious cheese, washed down with a cider, say, in the onsite restaurant, which has an upstairs indoor play area and outdoor playground for kids.
Make sure you take an empty bottle to fill with their super creamy milk (or purchase one in the cafe) and check out some of the fantastic country walks to do in the area – I recommend the short circular, riverside walk with young kids, before refuelling back at the cafe.
Another National Trust-owned estate that is an east day trip from Bristol. And lucky us, because not only is it phenomenally beautiful – with its 17th century mansion nestled deep in the valley, a backdrop of Cotswold hills and elegant gardens – but it’s also brilliantly equipped for families.
I recommend heading to the Old Lodge natural play area with young children first. Here you’ll find ancient tractors, a bug hotel, old farm buildings and ride-on diggers to play on. Then head downhill, spotting roaming fallow deer as you go, to the gardens behind the house.
If you’re peckish and picnic-less, the Courtyard Tea Room offers kid’s meals, cream teas, babyccinos, and a baby station complete with microwave. It’s a steep walk back to the car park, or you can hop on the free shuttle bus (always a fave with little ones) which ferries people from the house to the car park every 15 minutes.
30-minutes drive from Bristol, this family park is mostly about the animals, a lot about the rides (tractor, train, jeeps, boats) and a good chunk about the boinging (think jumpy pillows, bouncy castly) and a good smidge about the playgrounds and indoor soft play.
During school holidays, they put on enchanted trails (we’ve stroked an actual unicorn before…well…a pony with a dyed rainbow mane, but still!), lambing events, meet and greets with characters and a Christmas extravaganza plus lots more.
This exciting locomotive adventure choo-choos you along three miles of track through beautiful South Gloucestershire countryside. Open mainly at weekends and during school holidays, there are themed events throughout the year such as Teddy Bear’s Picnics Wizard Adventure Weekends, Chocolate Sundays and the super popular Santa Specials.
I definitely don’t visit Bristol’s neighbouring city often enough considering it’s only 13 minutes by train! It’s not that much further by car, and you can even cycle all the way there on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path (although this might be a bit much for little legs).
There’s a lot to fit in once you’re there, so you might have to plan multiple day trips from Bristol to see the sights. There’s the world-famous Roman Baths, the super child-friendly Egg Theatre, the Fashion Museum, Prior Park Gardens, No.1 Royal Crescent and Bath Skyline walk, to name a few of the fab family things to do.
Bowood Estate is about an hour east of Bristol and is known amongst the kid-looking-after community for its mega adventure playground. The gardens, designed by ‘Capability’ Brown, are great for family walks, and feature a lake, arboretum, pinetum and cascade. Finally, there’s Bowood House to explore, which hides unique trinkets like Queen Victoria’s wedding chair, Napoleon’s death mask as well as an extensive art collection.
A beautiful historic estate on the western edge of Swindon, Lydiard Park makes quite a handy half-way meeting point for seeing London-dwelling friends. With 260 acres of parkland to run around in, there’s masses of open green space, criss-crossed by flat cycle paths that would be perfect for a family bike-riding escapade. There’s also a large playground, lake, walled garden, Palladian House and an snack kiosk (although not all of these were open due to pandemic restrictions when we visited, so check ahead to avoid disappointment).
While Stonehenge is only an hour and 20 minutes from Bristol, this blog is dedicated to day trips within an hour of the city. But if you’re after a henge of stone, I can offer you World Heritage Site, Avebury. Not only is it one of the wonders of primeval Britain, but it is the largest megalithic stone circle in the world and, built some 4500 years ago, it is actually older than Stonehenge.
The American Museum, based at Claverton Manor near Bath, is a 40-minute jaunt from Bristol and a several-hundred-year journey back through the history of America, from its early settlers to the twentieth century. Discover a manor-full of incredible artefacts used by cowboys, gold miners and pioneers, paintings and hand-made quilts, and find out the stories of the Founding Fathers, Native Americans, and the Civil War.
Outside, you can walk in a replica of George Washington’s garden at Mount Vernon and marvel at far-reaching views across the Limpley Stoke Valley.
Cycling enthusiasts and walkers should seek out the The Strawberry Line which runs between Yatton and Cheddar. The 11-mile bike route winds and wends its way through dramatically-changing landscape, from the pancake-flat Somerset levels to the soaring cliffs of the Cheddar Gorge. Look out for the Thatchers orchard and treat your pedalling legs to an authentic Somerset cider sampling…
One of the peachiest plus points about living in Bristol is that the coast is within easy reach of the city and you can escape to the seaside often in under 90 minutes! You’ll find 12 more beaches that are an easy day trip near Bristol in this blog post.