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Toddler days out in Kent - 8 great activities for families with small children

Planning days out with a toddler can often feel like you’re having breakfast with Goldilocks & The Three Bears. They’re too big for many baby classes, but still too small for many family friendly activities; too active and busy to sit still for long, but easily worn out or distracted…

With mountains of energy but short attention spans, it can be a challenge thinking of new ways to keep your little one entertained throughout the day. Luckily, we have plenty of great places to explore and visit here in Kent to keep your mini mes – and the rest of the family – happy!

From historic castles to fruit picking; woodland trails to imaginative role play, here are some of my own tried-and-tested ideas and activities in West Kent for families with small children.

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Katy
April 26, 2022

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Explore a woodland trail

If your child is anything like mine, there’ll be nothing they enjoy more than a muddy puddle or pile of crunchy leaves! Whether still in the pram or confidently walking, there are some great woodland trails perfect for little legs in the area:

Bedgebury Pinetum – One of our favourites is Bedgebury Pinetum in Goudhurst, which is currently hosting a Superworm trail through the forest. The paths are wide and even, making them ideal for buggies and wheelchairs, whilst the trail itself is clearly marked with activities at each point. If you look closely, you may also be able to spot the Gruffalo! There’s also a lovely cafe and picnic area, as well as a brilliant natural play area. Entry is free, but parking charges do apply. It is quite pricey during peak times (£14 for the day), but it is just £3.50 if you arrive and leave before 11am or £10 for the day during term time weekdays.

Birchden Wood – Similarly, the beautiful Birchden Wood just outside Groombridge has an easy access nature trail with wooden sculptures for little ones to discover along the way. A slight detour from the trail also leads to views of the magnificent Harrison’s Rocks – though wellies are a must in the Winter months, as it gets very muddy! Parking is £1 per hour (via RingGo) and there are toilets and a picnic area too.

Wilderness Wood – With play structures, art work and seasonal flora and fauna to investigate, Wilderness Wood’s A-Z trail is a truly magical place for small children to explore. Set in 62 acres of woodlands, coppices and grassy paddocks, this family-owned forest is a real hidden gem and a quiet spot to visit as a family. Admission is £3 for non-members and there’s a car park, cafe and some incredible views!

Ashdown Forest – Located just over the border in West Sussex, the famous home of Winnie-the-Pooh is an ideal place to explore with young children. The best area for little legs is the walk to Pooh Bridge from the Pooh Car Park, where you’ll find a charming horsebox cafe to warm up with a hot drink before playing Pooh Sticks on the bridge and visiting Owl’s House along the walk.

Pick your own fruit

Fruit picking is such a fun way to spend a sunny, Summer’s afternoon out! Not only will your toddler love running into the fields to pick some tasty treats, but it’s a great way of teaching them about the environment. Here are some PYO farms in Kent and Sussex bursting with juicy berries:

Lower Ladysden Farm – Set in the heart of the Kent countryside, Lower Ladysden Farm is bursting with character and boasts some amazing views. With strawberry and raspberry picking in the Summer months, and blackberries and pumpkins later in the year, there’s plenty of seasonal treats to enjoy and tons of space for running around. There’s also a great farm shop and cafe, serving hot drinks and delicious food, as well as local produce.

Tibbs Farm – I haven’t visited here myself yet, but it looks fantastic! As well as opportunities to pick your own fruit (including 7 different types of gooseberry), there is a cafe, farm trails and hedge maze, making it perfect for a family day out. Located in the Tillingham Valley, just outside Rye, Tibbs Farm has one of the largest range of PYO fruit collections in the South East.

Stonepitts – Nestled at the foot of the North Downs in Sevenoaks, Stonepitts offers a wide range of strawberries and raspberries for your little one to sample, paid for by the pound. They also host educational visits for primary schools.

Downingbury – Similarly, Downingbury just outside of Tunbridge Wells has a great season of PYO fruits, ranging from strawberries and raspberries to plums and apples. They also have a small play area, cafe and farm shop to explore.

Visit a castle

I do love a day out at a castle – and we are spoilt for choice when it comes to historic spots here in Kent. With gardens to run around, picturesque views to take in and years of history to explore, go back in time at one of these brilliant local spots:

Scotney Castle – With a turret, moat and stone staircases, Scotney is the ultimate fairytale castle and little ones will love imagining that they’re King or Queen! The paths are really accessible, so it’s easy to get around (even with a pram or wheelchair), and there’s a natural play area for climbing and exploring. As it’s part of National Trust, there are also regular trails throughout the year which are perfect for slightly older children.

Leeds Castle – Dubbed the ‘loveliest castle in the world’, Leeds Castle is deceptive in its name, and actually located just outside of Maidstone! As well as the castle itself (which is very pretty!), Leeds Castle boasts falconry, a maze and an amazing play area for a range of ages. Tickets are expensive at £28 for adults, but under-4s go free and your ticket is then valid for 12 months, so if you’re local, it’s definitely worth the money!

Hever Castle – The childhood home of Anne Boleyn is another brilliant, family-friendly castle to explore. There are acres of gardens and a huge lake to walk around, as well as a water maze, playground and miniature model houses which are fascinating. They host fantastic events throughout the year – from nature trails during the Spring and Halloween walks during the Autumn, right through to themed light trails at Christmas time.

Bodiam Castle – If you’re looking for more of a ruin to take your mini Knights to, try Bodiam Castle just over the border in East Sussex. Dating back to the 14th century, with a moat and four impressive turrets, it’s a sight to behold. Though it doesn’t have the play areas and activities like some of the other castles mentioned, it is surrounded by beautiful countryside for your child to dash around in – whilst you enjoy a coffee and slice of cake from the charming riverside National Trust cafe!

Fuel their imagination

As toddlers get older, imaginative play becomes a huge part of their development and understanding of the world, so why not try out one of the brilliant role play centres we have in the area. I visited one for the first time with my two-year-old recently and she absolutely loved it!

Little Street – With centres in Sevenoaks and Maidstone (as well as others in Sussex and Surrey), the Little Street play areas are exactly what they say on the tin – a realistic yet mini town for little ones to explore. Children can play in a range of themed rooms – from nursing poorly pets back to health at the vets, to doing the weekly shop in the supermarket or fighting crime at the police station. They offer 4 x 85 minute sessions per day, priced at £5.95 per person and adults get a free hot drink with every booking.

Little Seaside Town – Located in Ramsgate, it’s only right that Little Seaside Town celebrates a day out by the coast! With 12 sets, as well as props and costumes to play with, little ones can try working at the fish and chip shop or serve ice creams from a VW campervan. They run 3 x 2 hour sessions a day, priced at £7 per session.

Role Play Rascals – Similarly, Role Play Rascals in Faversham caters for a huge amount of imaginative and immersive play, with a unicorn meadow, space centre and dino land, as well as the more traditional supermarket and train station. There is also a baby sensory area for younger visitors.They run 3 x 2 hour sessions per day, priced at £6 each.

Enjoy an afternoon tea

Forget lunch with the ladies – take your toddler for a tea date! Spending some time together eating some delicious food is such a lovely way of bonding and makes them more comfortable dining out, reinforcing how enjoyable having a meal together can be. Plus, you get to indulge in a treat lunch which you 100% deserve! Some of my personal favourites are:

The Tulip Tea Room – This tea room in Chiddingstone became one of my firm favourites when my daughter was young, especially on the days when I’d run out of ideas and just wanted a little treat for myself. The decor is so pretty, and they have an extensive list of wonderful cakes, sandwiches and pastries, as well as a lovely shop next door filled with gorgeous cards, toys and trinkets. It’s also right next to Chiddingstone Castle, which is a great spot for pram walks, crawling practice or running about.

Basil – Another of my early parenthood staples was Basil. We often go to the one on St John’s Road in Tunbridge Wells for breakfast, lunch or a sweet afternoon pick-me-up, but there are also branches in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks. The staff are enormously friendly, always going above and beyond to ensure you have a good experience, and it’s a very family-friendly environment.

Langton Pavilion Cafe – Not only does this lovely cafe in Langton Green do mouth-watering cakes, sandwiches and jacket potatoes, but there is a play area and toys for little ones to play with too. There’s also a children’s menu and beautiful outdoor spaces – perfect for summer picnics!

Get up close and personal with the animals

Who doesn’t love a visit to the farm? Your toddler will love seeing the animals, with many places also offering ‘cuddle corners’, tractor rides and opportunities to feed the animals. It’s a great way of introducing your little one to wildlife and makes for a brilliant day out:

Kent Life – Located just outside of Maidstone, Kent Life is perfect for a family day out, even if you also have older children as it caters for a range of ages. As a working farm, they boast an array of animals including pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and alpaca, and have an action-packed schedule of activities each day including owl displays, lamb feeding and pony grooming. They also have an indoor soft play area, paint-a-pot studio and tractor rides! Entry is £12 for adults and children over 2.

Rare Breeds Centre – Similarly, the Rare Breed Centre in Woodchurch offers everything from falconry displays to a butterfly tunnel; outdoor play areas to pig racing! Spanning 100 acres, this working farm gives little ones the chance to meet some cuddly critters in the Children’s Barn, as well as enjoy tractor rides and a lovely lunch in the Granary Restaurant. Entry is £14.05 for adults and children over 3.

Howletts – For more of a walk on the wild side, try a visit to Howletts Wild Animal Park in Littlebourne. Run in conjunction with the Aspinall Foundation and set in 90 acres of historic parkland, Howletts is home to over 390 animals, including monkeys, leopards, rhino and African elephants. For something a little extra special, you can also book a 30 minute animal encounter with one of the incredible rare or endangered animals. Entry is £24.50 for adults and £20 for children aged 3-15.

Make the most of the free play areas

We are so lucky to have a huge amount of open spaces and free play areas in West Kent. In Tunbridge Wells alone, I can think of at least three great spots for little ones to run free and play, which make for a fun and easy outing:

Dunorlan Park – This is my personal favourite in Tunbridge Wells, and we’ve been going there since my little girl was just a few days old. With a beautiful boating lake at its heart, lots of wide green areas and a cafe, it’s an idyllic spot for a run, picnic or walk. Featuring its very own dragon, music area and what we call the ‘snake swing’, the natural wooden play area is brilliant for toddlers and younger children. There are two car parks (one off Pembury Road and another on Hall’s Hole Road), both of which are free. Be warned that there is a steep hill to combat if you opt for the Pembury Road one though!

Calverley Adventure Grounds – Similarly, Calverley Gardens in Tunbridge Wells boasts a fantastic natural playground featuring playhouses, a swaying boat, wobble walks and slides. The on-site cafe, The Inside, also offers delicious cakes, coffees, lunches and craft sets for children. If driving, I recommend parking in the Crescent Road car park which can be paid for via RingGo.

Mote Park – Boasting 30 acres of beautiful parkland centred around a magnificent lake, Mote Park is a great spot for an afternoon stroll. They also have two children’s play areas, complete with slides, climbing frames and a sandpit.

Hop aboard a steam train

Choo choo! We have not one, but two amazing steam train lines in the area, both of which offer great days out and fabulous events (for young and old!) throughout the year:

Spa Valley Railway – Travelling between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge, this amazing train journey includes stops to enjoy some of the magnificent walks and attractions that the area has to offer. Make the most of High Rocks, Groombridge Place and Harrison’s Rocks before settling in for lunch or an afternoon drink at one of the pubs en route. Spa Valley Railway also hosts a number of child-friendly events throughout the year, including chances to meet characters from Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, Bing and The Gruffalo this Spring and Summer.

Kent & East Sussex Railway – Spanning 10.5 miles through the beautiful Kent and Sussex countryside, K&ESR’s line travels between Tenterden and Bodiam. Your little one can become a nature detective, spotting a range of birds, animals and foliage from the comfort of their train carriage, whilst stopping off at Bodiam Castle is sure to capture their imagination! Over the festive period, they also run their ‘Santa Specials’ which are absolutely magical!

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Katy
April 26, 2022
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