Since becoming a stay-at-home dad nearly two years ago, I’ve found that my days are pretty different to the pre-kid days. Hardly surprising, I know. But what this has meant is that I’ve needed to tap into a whole different world of baby and toddler related activities that I never knew about before. As a new dad in a new area, I didn’t really know where to start when trying to find things to do in Dacorum, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
Luckily, there’s no shortage of things to do with a toddler in the local area. In fact, I often find that there’s so much choice that I end up struggling to make a decision as to what we should do. So, to help any other indecisive toddler owners in the Hertfordshire area, I thought I’d share some of the stuff that occupy my daughter and I – when we’re not being lazy watching TV in the house, of course!
This is by no means comprehensive and I’m sure there’s places awaiting discovery. As such, I might update this as and when I find these new places. So, in no particular order, here goes:
Parks, Play Areas, Soft Play and Kid-Friendly Cafes
As toddlers have so much energy, finding activities to knacker them out can be tough. That’s where play areas, soft play and kid-friendly cafes come into their own. There’s a lot of different places to go to in the area, so let me fill you in on a few of our favourites.
Most villages / towns in the area having multiple play areas and open green spaces. Our usual haunts include Canal Fields in Berkhamsted, Northchurch Recreation Ground, Aston Clinton Park, Gadebridge Park in Hemel Hempstead and Verulamium Park in St Albans (which also has a Splash Park in summer). Here’s a decent list of playgrounds in the area.
If the weather isn’t great, then there’s also a number of – dun dun dunnn – soft play places. We’ve not been to all of them as I try to avoid soft play hell where I can, but I’ll shout out Hullabazoo Indoor Play at Whipsnade Zoo, Get Wild! at Hatfield Galleria and Kidzone Indoor Adventure Playground in Berkhamsted as that’s where we’ve been the most. Here’s a list of soft play areas.
In a similar vein, there are a few kid-friendly cafes which incorporate play areas as you grab a coffee. This includes the recently discovered Your Cafe In The Park at Aston Clinton, The Stay And Play in Chesham and Make Believe Cafe in Berkhamsted. Although it’s a bit further away, The Secret Garden in Hitchin is a great place to go to – a kind of garden-themed indoor play area with loads of toys.
If your toddler is like mine, then anything animal-related is likely to entertain her for a few hours. Here’s a few of our favourite places in Dacorum.
Starting with the dead animal variety, Tring Natural History Museum is epic. The building is home to thousands of different animals – ranging from bears to monkeys to zebras – which were collected during the lifetime of eccentric local Walter Rothschild. We usually go a few times a month and Toddler L loves exploring, drawing and running around. Even better, it’s totally free.
If you like your animals alive, then there’s no better place than Whipsnade Zoo. Set over 600 acres and with 3,000 animals, it’s one of the biggest wildlife parks in Europe. Obviously I’ve already mentioned the soft play, but it also has a large outdoor adventure park, a butterfly house, a children’s farm, a discover centre and daily shows. What’s more, if you’re lucky, you can see the zoo keepers take the elephants on their daily walk around the grounds.
If normal animals are more your thing, then Willows Activity Farm – which is also home to the Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground – in St Albans and Mead Open Farm near Leighton Buzzard, are probably your best bets.
Explore The Countryside
As Dacorum, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire is considered an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), it’s no surprise that there’s some great outdoorsy places on the doorstep for you and your toddler to explore.
If you’re wanting to get lost in the wilderness, then check out the 5,000 acres of Ashridge Estate which comprises woodlands, commons and chalk downlands, along with places like Ashridge House, Bridgewater Monument and Ivinghoe Beacon.
Then there’s also Dunstable Downs, where you’ll be blown about by the wind as you grab an ice cream and watch locals fly kites and gliders. There’s also Wendover Woods, where you’ll find walks, play areas, Go Ape and the Gruffalo trail. Just remember your wellies.
You don’t need to travel far to find nice outdoorsy places though. Tring Park, College Lake Nature Reserve, Berkhamsted Castle and the Grand Union Canal – which links Birmingham and London – are also pretty cool places to let your toddler explore.
It might be a bit of a crappy title as technically you can have days out at the other places I’ve already mentioned, but I mean those places where you’d get up early and spend an entire day there.
We use our National Trust membership a fair bit, so will often visit places like Stowe, Sharpenhoe, Waddesdon Manor, Hughenden and Cliveden. Generally speaking, these are all within an hour’s drive and incorporate a range of things to keep your toddler occupied.
There’s also Bekonscot near Beaconsfield which we went to for the first time last year. It’s actually the world’s oldest model village and includes gardens, a play area, a ride-on train, a model railway and a miniature village depicting life in the 1930’s.
Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes is also another nice day out. Home to the World War II codebreakers, it has a number of family-friendly attractions which take you back in time. You’re toddler probably isn’t going to learn much, but it’s a cool place to visit nonetheless!
Baby And Toddler Classes
There’s a plethora of baby and toddler classes in the area which cover pretty much everything you can think of. Over Toddler L’s short 2.5 years of life, she’s done baby massage, singing, dancing, music, messy play, sensory play, swimming and gymnastics, yet this is just the tip of the iceberg as to what’s available.
I’m not going to list everything available – check out the local Children’s Centres to find out more details – but the classes we’ve done include Baby Sensory (Great Gaddesden), Soundstastic (Berkhamsted) and Water Babies swimming lessons (Hemel Hempstead) when she was a baby. As she became a toddler, we’ve also done Little Kickers football classes (Amersham), Tumble Tots gymnastic sessions (Amersham) and Tappy Toes dance classes (Bushey).
It’s also worthwhile mentioning Toddler Tales and Baby Rhyme Time which are free sessions for kids. These take place weekly in most of the Dacorum and Herts libraries in the area – you can find a session near you here.
Best Of The Rest
Mainly because I didn’t know where else to put them, I thought I’d have a best of the rest section as a bit of a catch all for other places we like in Dacorum, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
This includes The Pottery Project in Berkhamsted where your toddler can paint their own pottery – this has been great for presents for the grandparents. There’s also Gravity Force trampoline park in St Albans which is good fun – they have a daily Gravity Tots session which is for kids under 5 years old which ensure your toddler isn’t overwhelmed by bigger kids.
Have you been to / done any of these things in the Dacorum, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire area? Is there anything not on the list that you regularly do with your toddler and would recommend? Let me know below!
If you’re in fact looking for alternative days out with your toddler, then you might want to have a gander at this post and this post, featuring classics such as pet shops, garden centres and DIY stores.