It might be autumn but there’s still plenty of time for fun family adventures before we slip into winter. And what better way to enjoy a day out together than by train. Put the summer’s traffic queues and parking hassles behind you and relax back into your seat. With miles of track to take you anywhere you please, this is your opportunity to forget the road stress, and enjoy a family day out feeling refreshed and ready for adventure.
Train travel is perfect for families. With comfortable seats, plenty to see out of the windows, and a loo just down the corridor, a train journey really can ease you into your adventure. Spot autumn leaves, migrating birds and wonderful skyscapes as you speed towards your destination. Enjoy a coffee as you travel, and find time at last to chat to your family. From adrenaline-stoked activities to peaceful empty beach walks, UK train travel can take you to the adventure you really want for your family. The sky’s the limit here but we have five family train adventure ideas to get you thinking.
Three-word description: Adrenaline. Treetops. Challenge.
For a whole new view of the city, why not rope up and climb high at Go Ape Alexandra Palace. Test out your adventure skills and get the adrenaline pumping as you tackle intricate rope crossings, balance over precarious bridges and sail down speedy zip wires. If you’re feeling confident, you can pause to enjoy the autumn leaves or glance beyond the trees to view London from an entirely new perspective. You’ll need a head for heights for this one but this Go Ape has something for newbies as well as hardened adventurers.
Location: Alexandra Palace Park
Walking time from station: 14 minutes from Alexandra Palace Train Station
Toilets: By the Lakeside Café in Alexandra Palace Park
Cost: £22 - £34 per session
Family discount: Sometimes available so it’s worth checking
Parking fees you’ll be saving by train: £3 but nobody likes driving through the middle of London
Refreshments: Lakeside Café, Alexandra Palace Park
Accessibility information: Alexandra Palace accessibility map
Expect to enjoy: Daring deeds, speedy descents and city views
Three-word description: Harbourside. Water. Skills.
If you’ve always fancied seeing a city by boat, kayaking is an affordable way to do it. Registered charity All-Aboard Watersports have a mission to give as many people as possible the opportunity to learn water skills at the same time as improving health and life experiences. Have fun with the instructors, learn some paddling basics or brush up on your existing skills as you explore fascinating Bristol Harbour.
Location: Baltic Wharf, Bristol
Walking time from station: 31 minutes from Temple Meads Station
Toilets: Temple Meads Station and All-Aboard Watersports
Family discount: No but there is a discounted over 50’s session
Parking fees you’ll be saving by train: The nearest car park is free but Bristol traffic is heavy
Refreshments: Bristol is a foodie’s paradise so there are plenty of options
Accessibility information: Accessibility All-Aboard Watersports
Expect to enjoy: Unique water views, personal challenge, new skills
Three-word description: Trail. Wildlife. Free.
Autumn family entertainment doesn’t have to bust the budget. This free Wildlife Explorer Trail will take your young explorers through Cardiff’s Bute Park as they hunt for the plants and animals that inhabit this city greenspace. Some of this natural treasure can be tricky to spot so keep an eye out for the marker posts, and go prepared with some crayons to take rubbings of the designs as you explore. You might also want to collect a few coloured autumn leaves as you pass through the woodlands.
Location: Bute Park Cardiff
Walking time from station: 18 minutes from Cardiff Central Station
Toilets: Cardiff Central Station and Bute Park Visitor Centre
Family discount: n/a
Parking fees you’ll be saving by train: £5.10 for four hours
Refreshments: Several options around Bute Park
Accessibility information: Euan’s Guide - Bute Park and Arboretum
Expect to enjoy: Autumn colour, a sense of exploration, a breath of fresh air.
Three-word description: Spells. Spooky. Potions.
Halloween is one of our favourite autumn events, so why not celebrate it in style with a visit to wonderful Warwick Castle. Pick up some sorcery skills and improve your cackle at one of the Spooky Schools. Join a coven of uncanny witches, then take in a show on the Dead Centre Stage. Whichever activities you choose, this haunted castle has everything you need for a fun-filled Halloween adventure.
Location: Warwick town centre
Walking time from station: 12 minutes from Warwick Train Station
Toilets: Warwick Castle and Warwick train station
Cost: Advance tickets from £24 (August 2022)
Family discount: No
Parking fees you’ll be saving by train: £6 - £10 (most parking is some distance from the castle)
Refreshments: Plenty of choice inside Warwick Castle
Accessibility information: Warwick Castle accessibility
Expect to enjoy: Explorations, entertainment, and dragon training
Three-word description: Tranquil. Free. Discover.
If you’re looking for a family walk with a difference, how about exploring one of the UK’s many restored canal towpaths. Many of our train lines were built to replace canals, and often used the same routes. This means that you’ll almost always find a train station at the start and end of a canal walk. There are so many canals in the UK to choose from, we couldn’t list them all here but as an example we can recommend an autumn stroll along the Rochdale Canal between Todmorden and Hebden Bridge.
Location: Todmorden, West Yorkshire
Station to station walk time: 2 hours
Toilets: Hebden Bridge Station (during staffed hours) and Brook Street, Todmorden
Family discount: n/a
Parking fees you’ll be saving by train: Free parking is available but both towns are busy
Refreshments: Canal-side pubs in Hebden Bridge
Accessibility information: Canal and River Trust Accessibility Map
Expect to enjoy: Locks, canal boats and leafy banks.
Three-word description: Location. Friendly. Comfortable.
If you’ve never tried hostelling with the family, perhaps this autumn is your opportunity to do so. The YHA (Youth Hostelling Association) has moved on since the days of crowding into bunk rooms with strangers and sweeping the floor before you left. With fantastic family rooms, catering facilities and plenty of advice about local activities, a YHA stay could be just what you’re looking for to get the family away for a short break this autumn.
You will find YHA hostels in fascinating buildings, at stunning locations across the UK, and many of them are just a short walk from the local train station. Hostelling with the YHA really is a train adventure not to be missed. With so many to choose from, we’ve selected our favourite three. While you’re booking, don’t forget to check out this autumn’s YHA Festival of Walking. With money off some stays, free cups of tea and even some guided social walks, this one has been specially created to encourage even more people to discover the joy of walking.
YHA is offering 25% off stays at selected hostels in many amazing locations this Autumn. Click here for more info.
YHA Liverpool Albert Dock
Three-word description: Lively. Modern. Waterfront.
Just a 13-minute walk from Liverpool Central Station, YHA Liverpool Albert Dock is right next to the famous docks. Once you’ve settled into your room in this contemporary hostel, take a wander along the waterfront to see if you can spot the Beatles, the famous Liver Building and some very strange SuperLambBananas (you’ll recognise them when you see them). If you’re feeling hungry, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for dinner here too.
YHA South Downs
Three-word description: Peaceful. Countryside. Hillwalking.
You couldn’t get much closer to the train station than YHA South Downs. Just a three-minute stroll from Southease Station will take you to this refurbished farmhouse accommodation, right on the South Downs Way walking route. Spend your time exploring the Sussex countryside or hop back on the train for a lively afternoon exploring nearby Brighton. To up the adventure stakes, try out one of this hostel’s camping pods. All the fun of a tent but with a solid roof and even heating to ward off any autumn chill.
Three-word description: Castle. Explore. Adventure.
When it comes to adventure, you can’t really beat North Wales, and the medieval town of Conwy has plenty to offer. With an impressive castle, cobbled streets and history around every corner, this Welsh gem is definitely worth a visit. YHA Conwy is in a modern building, just an 11-minute walk from Conwy train station. Once you’re settled in, explore a complete circuit of the castle battlements, visit the smallest house in Great Britain then enjoy the views from Thomas Telford’s impressive suspension bridge.
Train travel can be an entertainment in its own right but if you’re planning a longer journey, why not have a few activities on hand to keep the younger members of the family occupied.
Prepare your bingo cards before you set off. For each person, fold a piece of A4 paper to create a grid. Add an item you are likely to see from a train to each grid square (for added interest leave a couple of squares blank for the players to fill in themselves before the game starts). Once you’re on board, give each player a bingo card and a pen then encourage them to spot their items as the train moves along. Be prepared to adjudicate and dish out prizes.
This game’s perfect for the ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ crew. All you need to do is write a list of the stations your train will pass through, then encourage your fellow travellers to tick off each station as you get to it. If you want to make the game more interesting, add a few red herrings. Everyone will have fun looking out for non-existent station names such as ‘Giant Dragon Stop’ and ‘Yellow Sea Halt’.
You’ll need a mapping app for this one. Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps shows train lines and stations, and allows you to track your progress in real time. Using the map legend, encourage the map reader to look for other features such as tunnels, waterways and solar farms as you go. Turn it into a game by appointing a caller and getting them to call out features to look out for. Don’t forget to plug your phone in while you play this one; GPS tracking can use a lot of battery.
If you have a big family, the cost of train tickets can sometimes be a bit daunting. It’s worth remembering though that your train trip can be part of your adventure in ways that a car journey can’t. Travelling by train is often as memorable as the destination itself. And even more importantly than that, it’s better for the environment.
If you’re planning to adventure with your family by train, it’s worth investigating family discounts. A National Rail Family & Friends Railcard currently costs £30 (August 2022), and can offer significant savings on both adult and child ticket prices. Another way you can save money on longer train trips is to buy separate tickets for each leg of your journey (you can still do this with your rail card discounts). You might think this sounds tedious but doing your ticket-splitting research has never been easier. All you need is the TrainSplit app. Simply enter your journey details then let the app find your cheaper tickets. If there are some available, TrainSplit will also let you know how much money you’ve saved.
What it won’t be able to tell you is what an amazing time you and your family are going to have on your autumn train adventure. Have fun making those memories!
Living in Devon, Fi is an outdoor writer, blogger and children’s author. She is also an Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion and a keen walker and outdoor swimmer. For 2022, Fi has been trying to enjoy as many of usual outdoor activities as possible by train instead of by car.