Maidenhead itself is quite a small town, but it is surrounded by so many great options when it comes to days out with the kids. From day trips to Windsor, Marlow and Henley and even further afield to London and Surrey we have plenty to choose from. Yet one of the most frequent questions I see posted in local community groups on social media is ‘what can I do with the kids today?!’
A summer staycation in Maidenhead
By way of introduction to this post I thought it would help to tell you a bit about us and our recent experiences.
This year in the summer holidays we chose to have a ‘staycation’ at home in Maidenhead. We managed to miss most of the heatwave, but we did have seven enjoyable days doing local activities with the kids.
My daughter is fascinated by history and enjoys exploring the outdoors: National Trust properties and historic buildings hold her interest, and she has a particular current interest in Henry VIII. My son is still in what we describe affectionately as the ‘boynado’ or ‘boynami’ stage of life! He is a whirlwind of noise and activity, and some of the things that are perfect for his calmer and history-obsessed big sister are not quite a perfect match for him yet. But this is typical for many families, and few places cater to all tastes and interests equally. We tried to mix it up with places they could both let off steam and some quieter places to explore and learn. Luckily we have a great range to choose from.
The ultimate guide to family friendly days out in and around Maidenhead
Days out and things to do in Maidenhead
We have some fantastic parks right here in Maidenhead, and these would probably be the first place I would think of:
Oaken Grove Park
This park has a large playground with sections for younger and older children. Walk through the gate, and you’ll see a ‘fruit maze’ which has tiles places in the ground which all have images of fruit on them. You can play games with the kids by shouting out the names of the fruits and seeing if they can find them. My children then like running down the hill to the exercise equipment and trying their best to figure out how it all works. The Nicholas Winton Memorial Garden is also pleasant to stroll around, and there are some huge felled trees which provided a fun climbing experience for my daughter. When the park is busy, there is a fantastic family run cafe which serves a variety of snacks and treats at extremely fair prices.
Ockwells Park is always a simple ‘win’ for us. My kids like to scoot around the exercise trail and play on the equipment, looping back to the large playground. Take a bucket and spade and let the kids play in the sandpit too. There is a cafe with a small soft-play which is open at selected times. There are even woodland trails with some fantastic wildflowers including bluebells in spring. The large car park at Ockwells makes it easy to park which is great if you haver a few friends joining you.
This park has a great play area, a big sandpit, a hammock and is also right next to a crazy golf course and Jenners Cafe if you fancy a cuppa, a fry up or have been convinced into buying the ice creams. At the back of the park, there is a big green space which has some fantastic horse chestnut trees: my kids were delighted to collect over 100 conkers in their buckets! This open space was where the free public screening of the Royal Wedding took place in Maidenhead. There are quite a few picnic benches but at peak times make sure you bring a picnic blanket.
The Sounding Arch and Guards Club Park
One of Maidenhead’s most famous ‘landmarks’ is Brunel’s fabulous railway bridge which spans the River Thames. It’s huge arches retain the title of the worlds largest single span arches, and it is a Grade 1 listed structure that still carries trains today. If you take a walk under the arch (known as the ‘Sounding Arch’ you’ll notice the amazing echo. Have some fun shouting out phrases or for a real ‘wow’ moment take some balloons and pop them! I was amazed when we did this for the first time: that echo just keeps on going!
If you have willing walkers with you, then head back up to the main road and take a left over the road bridge to get you onto the other side of the river. Take the road behind the Thames Riviera hotel and head down towards Guards Club Park. Here you’ll get another great view of the bridge, and you’ll see the trains regularly thundering past. We take some duck food and my kids like feeding the ducks, geese and swans. There is an ornamental footbridge that takes you over to a small island in the middle of the river which is also fun to cross although hold on tight to your little ones as the gaps in the railings are pretty big! There is parking in Guards Club Park, so this might be a good place for a picnic, although there are no toilets in the park, so it’s not great for an extended stay.
Christmas in Maidenhead
If you’re reading this in November, then make sure to put some time aside around the 7th/8th December. The Christmas Tree festival at St Luke’s church is a beautiful local event to take the children too. You’ll get all the ‘Christmas feels’, and you’ll help raise money for good causes too. You can read more about the Maidenhead Christmas Tree festival here.
Ray Mill Island
Tucked away behind Boulter’s Lock, Ray Mill island is a fun place to explore and is completely free. You can feed the ducks, marvel at the colossal weir, play on a wooden bridge and have an ice-cream. Right in the centre, there is an aviary and a small animal enclosure with guinea pigs. There is a little playhouse next to the ice cream cafe too. You could do some ‘gongoozling’ (watch the canal boats and pleasure boats) go through the lock too. In November 2018 the new footbridge over to the Taplow side was opened, and this provides some extra places to explore.
There are quite a few indoor activity centres near Maidenhead which I have written about in my ‘ultimate guide to softplay near Maidenhead.’ blog post.
I’ve written about things to keep younger children busy in previous blog posts so you might like to check out the following posts too:
Days out in Windsor
Windsor Duck Tours
If you fancy a quirky way to see the sights of Windsor from a different viewpoint while hearing about some local history, then the Ducktours are a fun thing to do. You’ll ride an ‘amphibious vehicle’ which takes you through the streets of Windsor and then splashes you right along the river too. The guides have a fantastic humour and banter going on with their commentary.
We went when my son was two and he was ever so squirmy! While my daughter and I had a lovely time seeing the sights, her younger brother wasn’t so keen on staying in his seat. I’d say this is better suited to children around three or older, or ‘babes in arms’ unless there is a spare pair of hands to keep your toddler in check!
Windsor Castle pulls in millions of tourists from all over the world, and yet many of us forget to visit even though it is right on our doorstep. Having visited Buckingham Palace in the summer and seeing how much my daughter enjoyed it, we were keen to visit Windsor Castle too. Unfortunately, we tried to visit on a Bank Holiday in May when lots of other people had the same idea, and we were stuck in a very long queue! One of the perks of being an RBWM resident is that we get free entry with our Advantage card, so it’s easy to visit at other times of the year too.
I hear that the best time to go is in the winter as it’s much quieter and they also have a fantastic Christmas tree and decorations. Definitely on our wishlist and something I’d like to add to our Christmas family traditions. (if you like the sound of that you might also like to check out the Christmas Tree Festival at St Lukes church in Maidenhead)
Explore Windsor for Free
If you don’t fancy going into the castle, then there is plenty to keep kids busy in Windsor and lots of it is free. You could watch the Changing of the Guard (arrive early for a good position!), take a walk in Riverside gardens, check out the splash fountains in Bachelors Acre near the library in Windsor, or have a picnic on the long walk. There are lots of locations and places that people will remember from footage of the Royal Wedding, so this is an excellent day out if you have people visiting from another country too.
The Jelly Lounge Windsor
Before becoming a parent, I didn’t know what soft play centres were. In fact, I didn’t think Maidenhead had any! How wrong I was: there are lots of soft play centres around Maidenhead which are great for a rainy day activity. As a word of warning, these tend to be bright, noisy and a bit hectic but the Jelly Lounge in Windsor has rethought a lot of the ‘bugbears’ about soft-play and has invented somewhere that grown-ups are happy to hang out in too. They even have a bar and serve decent food.I’ve still not been but have heard so many good things from friends that have visited! It’s definitely on our list to visit, and I’ll add in a few more details here when we have been.
Perhaps one of the most famous places for a day out locally is Legoland, and as RBWM residents we qualify for discounts with our Advantage card when you buy tickets at the gate. In the summer the park is very popular with the splash park providing extra fun alongside the rides and attractions. Out of season it still has plenty to offer with themed events for Halloween and Christmas. We had an annual pass when my daughter was younger, but we haven’t been back as a family for a while. I’ll update with more details when I have been.
Days out near Maidenhead
You get one train ride included in your admission ticket, and it’s a great way to get a tour of the park and see what there is to explore. My three year old loved the train and wanted to go on a second time although we soon distracted him with plenty of other things to see.
I had a hunch that once they had seen the Little Tikes playground, we wouldn’t be able to get them away from it, so we made sure to explore the park a bit first. We took a walk around the Japanese Gardens which were beautiful in summer and I imagine it would be pretty spectacular in autumn too. We stumbled across a building containing a vast collection of model boats. My daughter was thrilled to find a replica of the Cutty Sark and HMS Victory – both ships that she had visited with us on previous family days out.
Seeing as both my kids seem to be starving by 11 am, we had taken a packed lunch, and there were lots of benches where you could stop and eat. If the weather isn’t in your favour, then there is a big cafe near the Little Tikes playground which even had a range of gluten and dairy free snacks.
We took a look around the animal enclosures and the retro toy museum which has a few blasts from the past. It seems to stop at the 1980s, so there weren’t too many things familiar to me, but if you went with grandparents I’m sure they would take great delight in talking about some of the old toys on display here.
We finished our visit with a splash about in the paddling pool. The water was freezing, but on a hot day would be just the tonic.
My verdict: This felt like a lovely day for my kids being 6 and 3 and would suit younger children too. You will want to spend a full day here to get the best value from your ticket. You can also upgrade your day ticket to an annual membership.
Beale Park is around a 40 minute drive away. Head towards Reading and then through Pangbourne.
I’ve heard lots of people mention Dinton Pastures over the years, but I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that we’d never actually been until this summer. Even when friends have shared a few photos it hadn’t quite inspired me to take a look. Since visiting, I now realise that this is because Dinton Pastures is so vast, with so many great things to do that it’s hard to capture it in on a quick phone snap!
We weren’t quite sure what to expect and rather optimistically took scooters thinking we could scoot along the paths and explore. The paths weren’t quite smooth enough for optimal scooting, so our buggy soon became a luggage donkey with everything precariously balanced on the top. Meanwhile, the kids were thrilled to take a detour into the woods and play with sticks and leaves! With two iPad obsessed children, I am always thrilled to bits when nature takes centre stage. Although I did wish I had planned ahead and got them to wear their wellies instead of their new white trainers!
After the woods, we took a look at the lake (had forgotten duck food, #mumfail!) but it was a beautiful scene watching the boats. I’m reliably informed that you can hire boats and canoes for children of all ages as long as an adult accompanies them.Having prolonged the call of the playground for a good hour, I eventually relented and agreed that we should go and explore that. Wow, what a playground!There are slides, things to climb up, under and onto and all crafted from wood and other tactile materials. Plenty to inspire and entertain and quite possibly the best playground we have ever been to.
The husband even managed to find a dairy-free ice cream from the shop on site too!Dinton Pastures was free to get into, but parking was £1.50 an hour up to a maximum of £6.50 for the whole day.
Great value for an afternoon or day out with lots to keep different ages amused. We will definitely be going back for a lovely autumn walk.
Hampton Court Palace
I’ve been to Hampton Court as an adult and had a fantastic time exploring the buildings at my leisure listening to the audio guide as I went. This is not quite the experience to expect with a six and three year old, but with a history-obsessed daughter we were keen to see what it had to offer for kids.
We arrived just after ten o’clock and were able to nab a parking space right by the entrance. It felt like a privilege arriving early as we were able to see the gardens before anyone else came and they are truly stunning! We took a stroll (or manic run in my three year old’s case) around the Rose garden and had fun spotting all of the different vegetables in the kitchen garden. We opted for a quick pitstop in the kitchen gardens cafe (lovely dairy and gluten-free lemon polenta cake!) before we explored the main buildings.
At the visitor centre, you can pick up free audio guides, maps and children’s activity sheets. My six year old was keen to get the audio guide, but we convinced the three-year old that it wasn’t the right thing for him. I went with my daughter and watched her delight as she stood in the kitchen watching the cooks do a real cookery demonstration with an enormous hank of meet over the fire. Meanwhile, my husband was on changing nappy duty with the boy, and general ‘let’s follow the three-year-old and make sure he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else’ duty which is about as much as you can aim for with him sometimes. My son liked exploring and running around the big spaces like the Clock Courtyard, but he was a little bit unsure when we went into the rooms.
After a picnic in the beautiful gardens, we took them to see the ‘Magic Garden’. We were there in the last week of the summer holidays which was peak time, so visitors were being admitted in time slots. We had to queue for about ten minutes, but it was well organised with a wristband system which felt very calm and fair to everyone. I knew that it was a fun playground, but I wasn’t quite expecting the effect it would have on the kids: IT BLEW THEIR TINY BRAINS!
There are beautiful towers to hide in, raised walkways to explore, giant helter-skelter slides, a mini splash fountain and a sandy area with water to channel, pump and wallow in. Both my kids seemed to gorge on all of the activities in front of them, zipping and running around gleefully from one activity to another. Thank goodness that the garden is a closed and gated area because it felt pretty stressful trying to keep up with where they were!
Luckily I had taken some spare clothes as both my kids took great delight in getting VERY wet. This shouldn’t be as much of an issue in autumn, but something to be aware of.
At the end of our visit, we opted to upgrade to an annual ticket which gives us unlimited visits for the next 12 months. They simply deducted the day ticket price off the annual cost, and they had a discount of two months too: as the lady in the visit office said ‘it’s a no-brainer’
My Verdict: A fascinating day out with so much to see and do that you can’t help but want to take another visit. The annual membership also includes unlimited entrance to six other royal palaces including the Tower of London.
River and Rowing Museum in Henley
Affectionately known as the ‘row-row museum’ by my son, this place is a pure delight for kids and parents alike. My only sadness is that I didn’t discover it earlier when my daughter was younger. Inside the museum, you’ll find a Wind in the Willows exhibition to explore with buttons to press and a mini caravan with a kitchen which the kids can climb into.On the ground floor, they have different exhibitions throughout the year: both the Peter Rabbit and Nick Hornby exhibitions have been great for the kids to learn and be inspired.
Upstairs you’ll find a fantastic play area with books, a wooden play shop and kitchen, dressing up and various other things to keep them busy on a rainy day. I wish I had known this when my kids were crawlers as there are lots of things for little babies to look at and a variety of baby and toddler classes in the week too.
My two enjoy looking at the boats and at the riverside and wildlife exhibits too. You can easily while away an hour or two inside, and then we take some duck food and a picnic as the museum is right on the waterfront. In the summer there was a bouncy castle and a few rides outside to keep them busy, but the playground is nearby and opens all year round too.
My verdict: Great family day out with lots to keep kids interested, even on a wet and rainy day.
The Look Out
A short 30 minute drive away on the outskirts of Bracknell you’ll find the Look Out in the heart of Bracknell forest. The Look Out is like a mini science and technology museum with the emphasis on kids learning by getting hands-on interacting with exhibits.
Children are encouraged to build, play with water, press buttons, swipe screens and jump around in light beams. Plenty to get them thinking, playing and having fun. My daughter loved the building site area, and when we go back I know my 3-year-old will enjoy the water play and getting a boat to sail in the indoor stream (must remember to pack spare clothes as the the temptation to get soaked will be overwhelming for him!)There is so much to inspire young minds here. Perfect for a rainy day activity alternative to soft play.
As an added bonus, the Look Out is surrounded by stunning woodland with a fantastic adventure play area which is plait across three age-appropriate areas. This is the stuff of dreams for adventurous and imaginative kids: they are encouraged to build dens and structures with huge logs and sticks. My son enjoyed dragging wooden poles four times the size of him to help make a den in the woods! If you’re visiting in the autumn or winter, wrap up warm, take your wellies and be prepared to get dirty and have some fun!
My verdict: This is a great day out as you can decide to do both the Look Out and the outdoor playgrounds, or just one of them. Both of them will keep your kids busy for hours.
I hope this post was useful. i will keep adding to it as we discover more places to visit and explore: please let me know if you have any suggestions to add to the list too!