This year’s summer bank holiday is going to be a bit different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. After all, it’s the last day off before children in England head back to school. With schools shuttered since March, and most parents working from home, a family day out is the perfect last hoorah.
Even with social distancing measures in place, there are lots of great things to do in and around the capital. So grab your mask, stock up on hand sanitiser and get ready to discover the best things to do in Greater London this bank holiday weekend.
When is the Summer Bank Holiday?
England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s Summer Bank Holiday 2020 falls on 31 August. In Scotland, it already took place on 3 August.
What activities can you do on the Summer Bank Holiday?
Some go-to bank holiday activities, like Notting Hill Carnival, are off the cards this yea. But there’s still plenty going on, while avoiding big crowds and trying to stay outside as much as possible. This means visiting English Heritage castles, heading to forests and lakes for family picnics, going for a ramble in the woods or taking part in one of the special socially distanced events taking place across Greater London.
Top castles near London
Visiting these historic castles and palaces near London will let little Horrible Histories fans’ imaginations run wild this bank holiday. After all, who doesn’t enjoy pretending to be a medieval knight getting ready to slay a dragon?
With its moat and two crenellated towers, this is the quintessential medieval castle. It’s exactly what you’d build with a bucket and spade on a day at the beach. The inside is closed for now, but a lot of the castle’s charm is on the outside anyway.
How do I get there? It takes just over an hour by car, driving south on the A21. On public transport, take the train to Tenterden, and from there hop on the steam train to Bodiam. It usually only runs Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday but there’s a special bank holiday service. Book your ticket online at least 24 hours in advance.
What should I bring? Bring a ticket: you’ll need to book in advance on the National Trust website. Although the castle itself is closed, its car park, toilets and café are open for takeaway.
Eltham Palace may not be a castle but it’s certainly got plenty of history. It began as a medieval palace, then became a residence to the Tudor royal family, and in the 1930s it was given a quirky, Art Deco upgrade. Its sprawling gardens have lots of spots for relaxing, including a sunken rose garden and a rock garden with tiny waterfalls trickling down to the moat. Don’t forget to take a wander across London’s oldest working bridge.
How do I get there? You can take TfL buses 124, 126, 160 or 161 or get the train to Mottingham station, just 10 minutes’ walk away. There’s also a car park – put SE9 5NP into your map app for precise directions.
What should I bring? Visitor numbers are limited, so book your time slot online. English Heritage has put together a free Summer Explorer Quest, so print off the PDF and bring that along to keep the kids entertained.
Best parks and lakes near London
Pack a picnic and head out of the city for a day in the great outdoors. With plenty of fresh air and lots of room for a kickabout, these parks and lakes near London are an ideal choice if the sun puts his hat on.
The wide open spaces of Richmond Park make it perfect for a distanced day out. As well as the famous deer herds you can also spot rare birds, beetles and wildflowers. Wander to the top of King Henry’s Mound for views across to the city, and the iconic domes of St Paul’s Cathedral. The Isabella Plantation, with its beautiful flowers and perfectly kept lawns, is a lovely spot for a sit down. Petersham Playground has reopened, as have the park toilets, so you can stay all day.
How do I get there? Take the District Line tube or National Rail train to Richmond Station, then catch the 371 or 65 bus to the Petersham entrance.
What should I bring? Bring your bikes and tackle the Tamsin Trial, a 7.5 mile circular path which is free from cars.
Windsor Great Park
Once Windsor Castle’s private hunting ground, today this 4,800 acre park is great for a family day out. Deer herds graze in the meadows, swans swim around Virginia Water lake and massive ancient oak trees serve as a reminder that it used to be a forest. The park even has its own ghost, Herne the Hunter. He’s haunted the area for a thousand years, and can be seen riding a phantom black stallion to warn people in times of trouble.
How do I get there? Take the train to Windsor Central station and enter the park the Cambridge Gate, taking the Long Walk into the park. Alternatively, drive along the A332 which runs through the park and leave your vehicle in one of the many car parks.
Lovely hiking and walking trails near London
Get some fresh air and exercise with a ramble along these hiking, walking and nature trails. Spot rare birds and insects, gather stones and wildflowers, or just enjoy the peacefulness of the woods.
This Hackney nature reserve was closed to the public for 180 years before reopening in 2016. It’s a haven for birds and wildlife, like tufted ducks, dragonflies and colourful kingfishers. There are 11 hectares of ponds and dykes, all fringed with reeds, but it only takes 30 minutes to one hour to wander around both reservoirs.
Start your walk at the Castle Climbing Centre and follow the New River Path along the West Reservoir and then into Woodberry Wetlands and around the East Reservoir. Jogging and running have been banned in the park due to Coronavirus, so families can amble without worrying about getting in the way of serious exercisers.
How do I get there? Take the tube to Manor House underground station and walk five minutes to The Castle Climbing Centre.
What should I bring? Binoculars to spot wildlife, and some snacks to keep you going as the cute Lizzy’s Coal House Café is closed at the moment.
Horniman Nature Trail
The oldest nature trail in London follows the path of the original Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway, which closed in 1954. As the area was unmanaged until 1972 it became a haven for plants, birds and insects. Today it looks like a wild fairy wood, right in the heart of London. You might spot endangered stag beetles in the log pile and dragonflies flitting around the pond. Combine it with a trip to the Horniman Museum and Gardens – it’s free to enter, but you do need to pre-book your ticket online at the moment.
How do I get there? Head to the Horniman Museum and Gardens: it’s a short walk from Forest Hill station, and it’s signposted on the platform one exit. You can access the nature trail from the cycle path on London Road.
What should I bring? A book of British bugs, birds and wildflowers will help you to identify some of the natural attractions along the trail.
Cool Summer Bank Holiday events near London
Event organisers across Britain have been putting their heads together since lockdown began and have come up with some fun events to bring back a bit of normality. Safe and social distanced, these quirky events in Greater London will make this a bank holiday to remember.
Medieval Weekend Celebration at Herstmonceux Castle
Taking place over the bank holiday weekend (28-31 August, 10am-6pm), this socially distanced event is a smaller version of the castle’s famous medieval festival. Cross the bridge over the moat and get involved in have-a-go activities, watch living history demonstrations and enjoy fun performances. There will be some medieval market traders and food stalls, all with the 15th-century red brick castle in the background.
How do I get there? Take a train to Polegate and then hop on the number 98 bus. Alternatively, it’s a one hour 45 minute drive south on the A21, turning off just before the town of Battle.
What should I bring? Contactless payment is available on the day, but to avoid disappointment you should book in advance as numbers will be strictly limited.
Catch a flick at The Luna Cinema
Although The Luna Cinema doesn’t have a dedicated kids schedule this year, the open-air cinema is screening a few family-friendly films over the bank holiday weekend. The socially distanced event is taking place in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and you can book a pitch for up to four people. Picks for families with slightly older kids include the original Jurassic Park on 30 August at 8:15pm, Elton John biopic Rocketman on the 28th and sing-a-long favourite Grease on the 29th.
How do I get there? Bus 170 from Victoria Station stops right outside Royal Hospital Chelsea. You can also take bus 11 or 211, which stop a short walk away. The nearest tube station is Sloane Square, served by the Circle and District lines.
What should I bring? Bring some blankets. Even on warm summer nights it can get a bit chilly after dark. Remember to print off your ticket at home and bring it along.
Stay safe this summer bank holiday
This summer bank holiday, keep the usual coronavirus safety precautions in mind.
- Wash your hands regularly, for 20 seconds at a time
- Bring along some hand sanitiser so that you can keep clean even when there’s no sink around
- Don’t touch your face
- Try to limit social contact as much as possible: avoid crowded places, use contactless payments and book tickets on your phone when you can
- Check the website and official social channels of anywhere you’re planning to visit in case their situation changes – for example, if they’ve had to close due to local infection rates rising
- Wear a mask if you’re using public transport, going inside a gift shop or if it’s impossible to stay two metres away from strangers.
Obviously it’s all down to common sense. Have fun, be hygienic and enjoy the last day of summer sensibly.
Find out where else you can go
Making plans to go overseas this bank holiday? Find out whose borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.