Just off the motorway: family-friendly places to stop

Just off the motorway: family-friendly places to stop

Just off the motorway: the best family-friendly places to stop

When you’re munching on dodgy fast food with lots of other glum parents at a motorway service station, do you ever wish you’d done a bit of research to find somewhere better to break your journey? And as you chase your toddler through the service station car park, do you wonder if there’s somewhere just off the motorway which is ever so slightly more child friendly? 

Well, these thoughts have come into my mind countless times, particularly on the M1 motorway when I drive from Hertfordshire to Derbyshire to visit friends each summer. We’ve ended up at the Watford Gap far too many times so I’ve finally done some research and put together some of the top family-friendly places to stop off near motorway junctions, brilliant alternatives to motorway services. Thanks to all the family travel bloggers, friends and family members for their input into this mammoth list!

children on bikes at the ford near St John’s Castle, Odiham, just off junction 5, M3 motorway

The ford near King John’s Castle, Odiham, just off junction 5, M3 motorway

There are lots of free and affordable places to break your motorway journey in the UK as well as some pricier places which are worth incorporating into a trip if you have time. This list includes a selection of both: country parks, picnic spots and farm cafes just off the motorway plus museums and castles near motorway junctions.  The National Trust and English Heritage have some top notch places to stop just off the motorway and if you have annual membership it’s an affordable way to have a coffee, use the loo and the playground, and be back on your journey with everyone feeling refreshed and exercised. I hope you’ll find some great motorway stop offs in this list.

As well as family-friendly stops just off motorway junctions, I’ve also included places to break the journey near major roads such as the A30 and the A1. Some of the attractions listed have seasonal opening times and some offer cheaper prices when you book online, please check online or call ahead before visiting. 

If you’re in need of packing inspiration, I’ve put together a checklist of what to pack for a road trip with kids.

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Just off the M1 motorway 

The M1 is a particularly boring motorway, especially when you have to drive the whole length of it. If, like me, you really don’t want to pay another visit to the Watford Gap, take a look at this list of ideas. There are so many great places to visit off the M1 from castles to farm cafes.  

M1 Junction 6 / M25 junction 21A: Leavesden Country Park, near Watford, Hertfordshire

If you just want a coffee and a bit of exercise for the kids just off junction 6 of the M1, Leavesden Country Park is perfect for a quick break from motorway tedium. Close to the M1 and M25, there’s a play area, plenty of open space and the Woodlands Cafe

M1 Junction 8: the Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

Susanna at A Modern Mother has reminded me that I really need to visit this place! There’s real snow and you can ski, snowboard or sledge. There’s even a snowy backdrop of the Alps to trick you into thinking you’re not actually next to Hemel Hempstead. Obviously, it’s not a quick stop off, or a cheap one, but if you need to really wear your kids out before a long motorway journey, a morning on the slopes is sure to succeed. You can book lessons or just buy a lift pass in you’ve skied before. There’s also a rubber ring ride called the Ringo Slide which looks rather fun if you’re short of time (30 minute slots). Booking is essential. There’s also a restaurant overlooking the slope to warm up in afterwards. 

M1 Junction 10: Dunstable Downs National Trust, near Luton, Bedfordshire

Picnic on Dunstable Downs with countryside views

Picnic on Dunstable Downs, copyright National Trust

If you want some fresh air after a long stretch in the car, Dunstable Downs is unlikely to disappoint. High up and exposed, you’re pretty much guaranteed kite-flying weather and if it’s too windy for a picnic, the Chiltern Gateway Centre has a cafe. I’ve heard the views are fantastic, unfortunately on the day we visited (in the middle of summer), it was completely shrouded in fog but my boys still loved dashing around in the big open space.

  • 5 miles from junction

M1 Junction 10: Stockwood Discovery Centre, near Luton, Bedfordshire

If you don’t want to deviate too far from your journey, Stockwood Discovery Centre near Luton is just 2 minutes from the motorway. There are galleries, a garden, a children’s play area and a cafe. And there’s no charge for parking.

M1 Junction 15: Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum, near Northampton, Northamptonshire

Stoke Bruerne, just off the M1 motorway, copyright Stoke Bruerne museum

Stoke Bruerne, just off the M1 motorway, copyright Stoke Bruerne museum

Midway between Milton Keynes and Northampton, Stoke Bruerne is a canal-side village perfect for a waterside wander and a picnic. On the banks of the Union Canal, the canal museum offers a history of the UK’s waterways and has a small cafe (selling ice cream in case that’s important…)

  • 4 mile from junction
  • Use postcode NN12 7SE
  • Museum costs £4.75 adults, £3.10 for children over 5, pay and display car park £2.50
  • Toilets and small cafe
  • Find out more about Stoke Bruerne

M1 Junction 18 (heading north) or (20 heading south) near the M6: Manor Farm Catthorpe, Leicestershire

Stoke Bruerne, just off the M1 motorway, copyright Stoke Bruerne museum

Manor Farm Catthorpe just off the M1 motorway, copyright Manor Farm

I’m determined not to stop at the Watford Gap (between junctions 16 and 17) on my next trip along the M1. Manor Farm Cattthorpe is actually on the doorstep of junction 19 where the M1 meets the M6 but it’s not accessible from there. Instead, if you’re heading north come off at junction 18 and for those heading south it’s junction 20. The farm is just off the A5. The cafe menu has everything I need from a motorway stop: breakfasts for lunch (and healthier fare should you prefer it) and cream teas for a bit of mid afternoon sustenance. 

M1 Junction 25: Attenborough Nature Reserve, near Beeston, Nottinghamshire 

Attenborough Nature Centre, credit Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

Attenborough Nature Centre, credit Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

This is another great option if you’re in need of a mid-way break on the M1. If you usually stop at Donnington services (junction 23a), stay on the M1 for 10 more miles and pay a visit to the Attenborough Nature Centre (part of the Wildlife Trust) which has nature trails and circular walks around the wetlands. Indoors, you’ll find a nature discovery area and that all important cafe.

M1 Junction 29A: Bolsover Castle, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire

I find the only thing to break up the monotony of the M1 is the odd glimpse now and again of a distant stately pile. One of these is Bolsover Castle, sat atop a ridge overlooking the Derbyshire countryside. Aside from exploring the lavish interior of this 17th century castle, there are walls to walk along and grounds to explore. There’s enough here to fill a day but if you have English Heritage membership and you’re after a playground and a cafe, you’d be hard pushed to find a better spot.

M1 Junction 31: Aston Springs Farm, near Sheffield, Yorkshire

This family run restaurant is set on a farm with walking trails and “animal experiences” – fancy a walk with a ferret? 

M1 Junction 33 from the south or junction 34 from the north: Clifton Park, Rotherham, Yorkshire

It’s easy to spot the gigantic Meadowhall shopping centre from the M1 but hidden across on the other side of the motorway is a destination which will be far more gentle on the wallet (if you avoid the Fun Park…). Clifton Park in Rotherham is a great example of a city centre park, offering something for everyone: museum, play area, splash park, mini golf and cafe plus plenty of space for picnics and walks.

  • 4 miles from junctions, also accessible from junction 1 or M18
  • Use postcode S65 2BH
  • Cost: pay and display car park from £1 per hour, the main play area is free but extra charges apply for the Fun Park, mini train, etc
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about Clifton Park

M1 Junction 38: Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, Yorkshire

Karen Beddow from Mini Travellers recommends the Yorkshire Sculpture Park which has acres of space to explore plus indoor galleries if the weather isn’t on your side. Dogs are welcome in the park and there’s a choice of cafes if you haven’t packed a picnic. My kids love the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens near us in Hertfordshire so I’m keen to take them to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park next time we’re in the area.

Looking for more outdoor art? Read my post about sculpture trails and sculpture parks across the UK.

M1 Junction 43 (where it joins the M621): Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, Yorkshire

This purpose-built museum in Leeds Dock houses the national collection of arms and armour. Set over 5 floors, much of the collection at the Royal Armouries was previously stored at the Tower of London so it’s great to see it all on display, and in the north of England.

Just off the M2 motorway 

The M2 motorway is only 26 miles long so you’d think there’d be no need to find somewhere to stop near the motorway. However, it can get busy during the school holidays and the mad dash to Dover.

M2 Junction 1, merging with the A2: Shorne Woods Country Park, near Gravesend, Kent

This is a great option on route to Dover. Shorne Woods is perfect for letting off a bit of steam; there are woodlands to wander through, a fab play area plus a cafe if it’s not picnic weather. 

Just off the M3 motorway 

The M3 is the main route west towards Devon and Cornwall so it can get pretty busy in the summertime. With a car full of over-exciting children, it’s important to find motorway stop offs where you can burn some energy so in this list you’ll find some great things to do near M3 junctions which all the family can enjoy.

M3 Junction 3: Lightwater Country Park, Surrey

Lightwater Country Park is perfect if you need a quick break from the M3 near London. There’s plenty of space for a walk with heathland, woodland, meadow and wetland. There’s a cafe and a children’s play area. 


M3 Junction 4: Farnborough Air Sciences Trust

This free museum charting the history of aviation has cockpits to clamber into and flight simulators to test your flying skills. It’s usually pretty quiet – not many people know about this museum – so it’s a brilliant place to pop into for a short visit if you have children with an interest in planes and helicopters. You can also tour the wind tunnels for a charge (pre-booking required).


M3 Junction 4A: Fleet Pond, Hampshire

Children standing on pontoon at Fleet Pond, just off the M3 motorway

Fleet Pond, just off the M3 motorway

When I tell people I come from Fleet, the response tends to be: “Ah yes, I know Fleet, we stop at the services there”. Not a great claim to fame for this little town. I’d much rather it was known for its lovely nature reserve, Fleet Pond. It’s a great place for a picnic and a walk with kids and / or your dog. It takes about 45 minutes to walk around the pond or you can just go and play in the woods for 20 minutes where you’ll find picnic benches and views over the water. There are no facilities if you park at the dedicated car park so if you’re in need of more facilities than a tree to wee behind, Fleet train station is a mile away or you can head to nearby family-friendly pub / restaurant Heron on the Lake for a coffee or lunch.

  • 1 mile from junction
  • Use postcode GU51 2RR (follow the brown duck sign)
  • Cost: free
  • Toilets can be found at Fleet train station or head to Heron on the Lake for refreshments
  • Find out more about Fleet Pond

M3 Junction 5: King John’s Castle, Waterwitch pub, Odiham and Newlyns farm shop and cafe, near Basingstoke, Hampshire

King Johns Castle Odiham Hampshire just near the motorway M3

King Johns Castle Odiham Hampshire just near the motorway M3

I love this little castle, hidden among the trees near the banks of the River Whitewater and the Basingstoke Canal. King John’s Castle, or Odiham Castle as it’s also known is a proper ruin, dating back to the 13th century, which we often have to ourselves when we visit. There’s also a ford for splashing in (I wouldn’t fancy trying to get my car across it). If it’s not picnicking weather, head into the nearby village of Odiham (lovely) which has a range of pubs and cafes including the Waterwitch.

The Waterwitch pub has a lovely garden overlooking the Basingstoke Canal and it has the most extensive kids’ menu I’ve ever come across. Alternatively, head to the excellent Newlyns Farm cafe. To reach the castle, abandon your car on Tunnel Lane in North Warnborough and follow the signs towards the ford. 

M3 Junction 6: Old Basing, the River Loddon and Bartons Mill Pub

Just off junction 6 of the M3 is the pretty village of Old Basing. If you fancy some Tudor history, there’s the ruins of Basing House to explore. Alternatively, take a walk along the pretty River Lodden which handily leads to the beautifully situated Bartons Mill Pub. There’s a play area in the field next to the pub so it’s perfect for families.

If you’re just looking for somewhere to picnic without parting with any cash, the village recreation ground has lots of space for a game of footie and there’s a play ground and toilets there too.

M3 Junctions 6 or 7: Milestones Museum, Basingstoke, Hampshire

Why can’t we have more museums like Milestones? One of my children loves history while the other one is currently indifferent to it but they both love exploring this indoor world of Victorian Basingstoke. This is our favourite destination on a rainy day when we’re visiting my family who live nearby. If you’re heading this way, read what we love about Milestones. This is one of the best places to visit near M3.

  • 5 miles from either junction
  • Use postcode RG22 6PG
  • Cost: £15 per adult, £10 for children over 5 (ticket valid for a year)
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about Milestones

M3 Junction 7: the villages of North Waltham and Dummer, Hampshire

Despite their proximity to the M3, these two affluent villages are a delightful place to break the journey near junction 7. Each has several pubs to choose from as well as recreation grounds with play areas where the kids can stretch their legs. The Fox pub in North Waltham has a play area.

There’s a farm cafe and shop at Dummer – Honesty at Dummer Down – which sounds great for a light lunch. There are plenty of places close by for a quick country walk.

  • 2 miles from junction 7
  • Use postcode RG25 2AR for Honesty at Dummer Down
  • Toilets and cafe at Honesty at Dummer Down




Just off the M4 motorway 

There are some great places to visit off the M4 motorway. It has a particularly good selection of National Trust Properties. But if you’re not a member of this hallowed charity, fear not, the M4 has plenty of alternatives to motorway services.

M4 Junction 2 (from London) or 3 (from the west): Osterley Park and House National Trust, near Isleworth, London

Family walking in the grounds of Osterley Park

Osterley Park National Trust, M4 motorway stop, London, copyright National Trust Arnhel de Serra

Located just inside the M25 on the edge of west London, this country estate (one of the last surviving in London) is at the top of my list of half way places for my extended family to meet at this year. The most appealing aspect of Osterley Park (for my family anyway) is that it offers very good value bike hire for children and grown ups so if you’re a bit lazy like me and can’t face strapping your bikes to your car, you can borrow bicycles for just £3 for two hours or £6 for the day. Balance bikes are free! There’s a lovely sounding cycle path through the estate which looks perfect for children and at weekends in certain months there are canoes for hire on the lake.

  • 5 miles from junction
  • Use postcode TW7 4RD
  • Cost: £7 car park (free to members), park and grounds are free to enter
  • Toilets and cafe 
  • Find out more about Osterley Park

M4 Junction 2 (from London) or 3 (from the west): Hare and Hounds pub in Osterley

We visited the Hare and Hounds after a fun day out at Osterley Park. The pub does good food including a kids’ menu and there’s an attractive outdoor seating area with a well equipped play area. If you’re looking for pubs off the M4, this is a good one.

M4 Junction 11: Wellington Farm Shop or Wellington Country Park, between Reading and Basingstoke

Child on quad bike at Wellington Country Park

Quad bike fun at Wellington Country Park

Wellington Farm Shop is a very family-friendly farm shop and cafe. And when I say family-friendly I mean you’ll feel out of place if you come here without kids as my husband and I once did after dropping our brood off with my parents at nearby Wellington Country Park. We were starving and dashed into the farm shop before setting off on a child-free weekend. The food was good but next time we’ll bring the kids. There’s indoor and outdoor seating plus a playground and the chance for children to meet some of the animals who, after a happy life, will one day end up in someone’s sandwich.

Wellington Country Park meanwhile, is a wonderful day out: multiple play areas, a little train, lots of space and a small farm. We’ve been there in (heavy) rain and shine and always have a great time. Note: it’s not cheap so plan to spend several hours there to justify the cost.

M4 Junction 16: Studley Grange Garden and Leisure Park, near Swindon

This is a brilliant place for families – aside from the garden centre (where you’ll find the cafe), there’s soft play for rainy days and a farm to explore for sunnier outings. There’s also a butterfly house and a craft “village”.

M4 Junction 16: Lydiard Park near Swindon

This huge park on the edge of Swindon is great for a quick stop to stretch your legs or for a longer break from the motorway. Amid the historic parkland there’s lakes, woods and pastures plus playing fields and a play area. The park is free to visit but there’s an additional charge to enter the Palladian mansion, walled garden and the museum.


M4 Junction 17: Castle Combe village, near Chippenham, Wiltshire

If you want to tick off one of England’s prettiest villages, Castle Combe in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Naturally Beauty is a great place to wander and stretch your legs. As you’d expect from a Cotswold village, there’s a good range of places to eat.

  • 8 miles from junction
  • Use postcode SN14 7HU for Dunns Lane car park (slightly out of the centre)
  • Free parking (according to Wiltshire council)
  • Apparently there are public toilets in the village, otherwise head to one of the pubs for refreshments.
  • Find out more about Castle Combe

M4 Junction 18: Dyrham Park National Trust, between Chippenham and Bath, Wiltshire

boy standing on rock overlooking Dyrham Park

Dyrham Park, copyright Deborah at Grand Adventure Story

Debbie from Grand Adventure Story has written an excellent review of Dyrham Park. The great thing about National Trust properties such as this one is that if you’re a member, you can pop in and use the play area, grab a coffee or have a picnic lunch and then hop back in your car to continue your journey. Dyrham sounds great for kids who need to burn some energy after a couple of hours in the car: there’s tons of space, hills to climb, fabulous views over the Bristol Channel and a farm-themed play area.

  • 2 miles from junction
  • Use postcode SN14 8HY
  • Cost: free to members or £15 for adults, £7.50 for children, parking £2 for 2 hours or £4 all day
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about Dyrham Park

M4 Junction 28 : Tredegar House National Trust, near Newport in Wales

Tredegar House credit National Trust

Tredegar House credit National Trust

Another recommendation from Nicky at Go Live Young, 17th century Tredegar House has extensive parklands, a play area (crucially, with ice cream kiosk in peak months) and a cafe. Although some National Trust properties have one entry charge for everything, Tredegar offers free access to the 90 acres park with just a charge for parking.

  • 2 miles from junction
  • Use postcode NP10 8YW
  • Cost: pay and display car parking (free to members), access to park is free
  • Toilets and cafe (check in advance if these are open out of season)
  • Find out more about Tredegar House

Just off the M5 motorway 

Home to one of the few good service stations (Gloucester Services, see below), there are plenty of great attractions along the M5, particularly around Bristol.

M5 between junctions 6 and 7: Worcester Woods Country Park

Country parks are brilliant: fresh air, lots of space and free toilets! And Worcester Woods is a great example: there’s bluebells in the spring, a good adventure playground for various age groups (older kids are covered here), the impressive looking Orchard Cafe and two nature reserves.

M5 between junctions 11a and 12: Gloucester Services

Along with its sister, Tebay Services (on the M6), this is a refreshing departure from the usual motorway  service station. Gloucester Services has a farmshop, cafe (with free WiFi), a butcher’s and a fishmonger (south bound only). There’s also an indoor and an outdoor play area.

M5 Junction 13: Eastington Farm Shop

This has been recommended by one of my readers. Good coffee, cake and amenities plus local produce for sale. There’s plenty of space for the kids to run around and say hello to some calves and chickens.


M5 Junctions 13 to 21: a whole host of fantastic places off the motorway near Bristol!

Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol copyright Angharad at This Bristol Brood

Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol copyright Angharad at This Bristol Brood

Angharad from This Bristol Brood has put together a great selection of stop offs close to Bristol. From wetland centres to the largest trampoline centre in the world and emergency soft play locations, there’s something for everyone on this list. I know already that my kids will want to head for the elephant playground at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm (junction 19), now there’s a playground designer in tune with what makes children tick…

Just off the M6 motorway 

Here’s my list of things to do near M6 including (amazingly) a very good service station: Tebay Services.

M6 Junction 10A southbound, 11 northbound: Moseley Old Hall National Trust near Wolverhampton

There’s an Elizabethan farmhouse to explore here and an interesting history involving King Charles II. As usual for the National Trust, there’s plenty of space for kids to run around and they will enjoy clambering around in the three storey tree hide.

M6 Junction 12: Boscobel House and the Royal Oak near Telford

Ever wondered why there are so many pubs called The Royal Oak? Well, here’s your answer. Charles II hid in one when he fled from Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers. THE oak hasn’t survived but you can apparently see one of its relatives. There’s a hunting lodge to explore at this English Heritage site plus farm animals to visit along with a play area.

M6 Junction 19: Tatton Park National Trust near Knutsford, Cheshire

Set amid hundreds of acres of grounds, there’s rather a lot to take in at Tatton Park, with its neo-classical mansion, formal gardens and Old Hall. But if you’re only after a quick break, you’ll find parklands to explore, a farm and a play area plus several eateries. 

  • 3 miles from junction
  • Use postcode WA16 6QN
  • Cost: £7 car parking (including for National Trust members)
  • Cafe and toilets
  • Find out more about Tatton Park

M6 Junction 22: Kenyon Hall Farm, near Warrington 

This is one of those perfect family-friendly motorway stops – there’s a café, farm shop, walks and a play area. You can also go fruit picking in the summer months plus there’s a pumpkin patch and a seasonal maize maze.

M6 Junction 31: Brockholes Nature Reserve, near Preston 

As well as the usual facilities you’d expect from a nature reserve – lovely walks, hides in which to spy creatures and peaceful views, a trip to Brockholes also includes the floating visitor centre and a children’s play area. It’s free to visit and there are places for a picnic. Dogs are not permitted.

  • 1 mile from junction 
  • Use postcode PR5 0AG
  • Cost: parking is £5
  • Café and toilets
  • Find out more about Brockholes Nature Reserve


M6 Southbound between junctions 36 and 37: Killington Lake services, near Kendal, Cumbria

Now, I’m afraid this is a traditional service station with the usual mass market chains. However, I’ve included it, on a friend’s recommendation, for its lovely setting overlooking Killington Lake reservoir where, in good weather you can picnic and enjoy a waterside walk.

M6 Between junctions 38 and 39: Tebay Services, Cumbria

Katy from Otis and Us recommends Tebay Services. “It’s a lovely service station with an outdoor area, small indoor play area for the kids, homemade food and a farm shop -it is definitely our favourite family friendly service station!”

M6 Junction 40 / A66: Rheged Centre, near Penrith, Cumbria

Rheged Centre, near Penrith, Cumbria

Rheged Centre, near Penrith, Cumbria

The grass-covered Rheged Centre is an arts and heritage site with shops, cafes, indoor and outdoor play areas. If the weather isn’t on your side and that 10 mile walk you planned isn’t happening, there’s a 3D cinema, exhibitions and children’s activity workshops in the school holidays. There’s also a petrol station.

  • 1 mile from junction
  • Use postcode CA11 0DQ
  • Cost: free to park, soft play is £3 per hour (or £5 unlimited if you can’t get them out)
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about the Rheged Centre

Just off the M9 motorway 

M9 junction 9: Battle of Bannockburn near Stirling, Scotland

Jenny from Monkey and Mouse recommends stopping at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn: “You can walk around the battle site free of charge and admire the statue of Robert The Bruce. If you have more time the Bannockburn visitor centre has a great 3D battle experience (7+ years), plus there’s a great little cafe in the visitor centre.”

Just off the M11 motorway 

I live quite near the M11 so I’ve found some particularly good alternatives to motorway services in this part of the world. So, if you’re looking for somewhere to stretch your legs or places to eat off M11, read on.

M11 Junction 8: National Trust Hatfield Forest, near Bishop’s Stortford, Essex

Hatfield Forest

Hatfield Forest National Trust

Yes, this is the junction for Stansted airport. But if you’re not a plane spotter, another place to visit is Hatfield Forest, a National Nature Reserve with woodlands and a lake. It’s a great place for a walk or den building, we always seem to visit in wintertime but still manage to sit outdoors and enjoy lunch and a hot drink.

  • 4 miles from junction
  • Use postcode CM22 6NE
  • Cost: £8 car parking (members free)
  • Toilets and cafe (they’re a bit of a walk from the car park)
  • Find out more about Hatfield Forest

M11 Junction 10 Duxford Imperial War Museum, Cambridgeshire

If you’re not in a hurry and your kids are keen on aviation or military history, I can highly recommend Duxford Imperial War Museum which is literally a stone’s throw from junction 10. After our first visit there, my older son convinced me to return 5 times in the space of a year (we live quite nearby). Well, we certainly got our money’s worth. If you buy an annual pass, the ticket includes entry to all of the other museums in the group including HMS Belfast in London.

  • Just off junction
  • Use postcode CB22 4QR
  • Cost: adults £18, children £9 (valid for a year)
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about Duxford

M11 Junction 11 or 12: Wimpole Estate National Trust, near Royston, Hertfordshire

This is a truly lovely place to have a walk, particularly in wintertime when the stroll across the fields to the 18th century folly really blows away the cobwebs. Wimpole has a great farm cafe where little ones can play on toy tractors, bring a spare set of clothes if it’s a muddy day, my kids came away filthy (but very happy).

  • 9 miles from junction 11 (heading north) or 7 miles from junction 12 (heading south)
  • Use postcode SG8 0BW
  • Cost: £2 parking if you’re just going for a walk without visiting the farm
  • Cafe and toilets
  • Find out more about Wimpole Estate

Just off the M20 motorway

If you’re heading to the tunnel at Folkestone and you fancy a quick stop off on the M20, here are a couple of great places to pause.

M20 Junction 6: Kent Life

Kent Life is a 28 acre working heritage farm, part of what was originally the huge Allington Castle estate. Now, it is a fun family day out featuring a vintage village with cottages, church and village hall; traditional Kent gardens and plenty of farm animals. 

M20 Junction 6: Kent Wildlife Trust Tyland Barn Visitor Centre

This nature reserve near Maidstone has good facilities for families as well as the usual bird watching and nature trails. There’s a cafe, toilets and even a play area. Picnics are welcome too.


Just off the M25 motorway 

Do you hate the M25? I have to use this motorway on a regular basis to visit my family so I’m always on the lookout for a good halfway point for us to meet up at. There are many brilliant stop offs and days out near the M25. I’ll be adding to this list as I discover more.

M25 Junction 1: Cotton Lake and Wharf pub, near Dartford, Kent

View across Cotton Lake to the wharf pub, credit Wharf pub

View across Cotton Lake to the Wharf pub, credit Wharf pub

Has anyone else had a newly potty trained toddler howling for the toilet whilst you’re queuing for the Dartford Tunnel? Don’t feel you need to resort to visiting Bluewater shopping centre, a great alternative is this little fishing lake which you can wander around or have a picnic at, after visiting the the Wharf pub for refreshments and a trip to the toilet!

M25 Junction 3 /M20 junction 1: villages of Farningham and Eynsford, Kent

One of my friends has recommended the pretty villages of Farningham and Eynsford near Swanley. In summer, you can picnic by the river and go for a paddle or if that toddler needs the loo, head to one of the village pubs: Farningham has The Lion and in Eynsford you could try the Plough.

M25 Junction 5 (anticlockwise) or 6 (clockwise) Chartwell National Trust near Sevenoaks, Kent

The bomb crater at Chartwell National Trust near M25

The bomb crater at Chartwell National Trust

Gretta from Mums do Travel recommends a visit to Chartwell, the family home of Winston Churchill and after visiting there ourselves recently I agree that it’s a fabulous place for kids to burn some energy. There are extensive woodland trails to explore, natural play areas, den building and even the childhood playhouse which Churchill had built for his daughter. My children were particularly taken by the large bomb crater which has ropes to climb down and balance beams to totter across.

  • 5 miles from junction
  • Use postcode TN16 1PS
  • Cost: car parking £4, plus £8 for adults and £4 for children if you just visit the gardens, play area and cafe (all free to National Trust members)
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about Chartwell

M25 Junction 5 / A21: Hever Castle, between Gatwick and Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Hever Castle, Kent, copyright Clare at Suitcases and Sandcastles

Hever Castle, Kent, copyright Clare at Suitcases and Sandcastles

Hever Castle is a bit further from a motorway than my other listings on this post but if you’ve had it with the M25 and want to escape, Clare from Suitcases and Sandcastles describes Hever Castle as “one of the prettiest castles in the UK. It’s only about 20 minutes from the M25 so it makes a fabulous detour for a couple of hours. There’s lots for kids to explore here, from getting lost in the mazes to running around the gorgeous grounds (the perfect spot for a picnic) and playing in the excellent adventure playgrounds. On hot summer days you can go rowing on the lake, watch jousting tournaments and cool off in the water maze.”  

  • 14 miles from junction
  • Use postcode TN8 7NG
  • Cost: various prices depending on which parts you visit, for the castle and gardens it’s £44.30 per family
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about Hever Castle

M25 Junction 13: Runnymede National Trust, near Windsor

Catherine from Cultural Wednesdays has recommended the National Trust’s Runnymede on the River Thames where the Magna Carta was sealed some 800 years ago. This is a great place for long walks and picnics but there’s also a cafe should the weather not be on your side.

  • 5 miles from junction
  • Use postcode TW20 0AE
  • Cost: parking £1.50 per hour (free to National Trust members)
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about Runnymede

M25 Junction 16 (or junction 1 of M40) Denham Country Park

Part of the Colne Valley Regional Park which stretches Rickmansworth to Staines, Denham Country Park has a visitor centre and riverside cafe. There are walks through the woods, next to the rivers and the canal plus cycle routes and a play area with a sand pit. There is also a shop selling river-dipping nets and buckets and spades. 

M25 Junction 17 Rickmansworth town

If you’re looking for somewhere to stop just off the M25 near the M40 turn off, Rickmansworth, just to the north, is a good bet. We’ve stopped there on the way home from visiting family after deciding the kids’ tummies wouldn’t make it all the way back to our home near Hertford. For its size, the town has a really good selection of restaurants including several family-friendly Italians.

  • 3 miles from junction
  • Usual car parking charges (or try one of the supermarkets)
  • Various cafes and restaurants in Rickmansworth
  • Use postcode WD3 1FX to get you to Waitrose which is in the centre of the town

M25 Junction 19 Cassiobury Park, Watford, Hertfordshire

If your budget (or time) doesn’t quite stretch to the nearby Warner Bros Studios, a more cost effective option is Watford’s lovely Cassiobury Park. If only more city parks could get everything this right: woodlands with bluebells, a splash park, playground and cafe. Note, the car park will be full on sunny weekend afternoons so you need to time your visit or find parking elsewhere (see below).

M25 Junction 23 (or A1 junction 4): Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Hatfield House grounds

Hatfield House grounds

When you join the A1 from the M25, don’t be tempted to break your journey at the Galleria shopping centre, (unless you’re after a cheap winter coat or walking boots, in which case go ahead, you’ll find some excellent bargains), instead drive a bit further to Hatfield House. Here you’ll find a brilliant playground, “the Bloody Hollow” and a little farm as well as extensive parklands to explore. If you get your entry tickets stamped, you’ll have free return entry for the rest of the year making it a good option if you’re passing through again.

  • 7 miles from M25 or 2 miles from A1
  • Use postcode AL9 5HX
  • Cost: £11 adults, £7 children, under 5s free (have your tickets stamped for annual free return entry)
  • Toilets and various eateries
  • ***Seasonal opening from April to September***
  • Find out more about Hatfield House

M25 Junction 25 (A10 junction): Cedars Park, Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire

Recommended by one of my neighbours as a great space for taking little kids on a bike ride (it’s not too far from us), you’ll find 19 acres of parkland at Cedars Park. There are woodland walks, a maze, play trail, a nature trail and a nature centre. Not only that, parking is free and there’s a cafe and toilets.

M25 Junction 25 (A10 junction): Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, near Enfield

Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, near Enfield

Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, near Enfield

If you find the volume of children at the London Transport Museum a little overwhelming (I always expect to loose my children in there), Whitewebbs Museum of Transport is a great, if rather old fashioned and modest, alternative. It’s usually empty when we visit but the limited opening hours could play a part in that. There are several floors of exhibits with everything from bicycles to London double decker buses. The cafe is rather basic but there’s a good picnic area next to an old railway carriage in which you’ll find a charming little model railway.

Just off the M40 motorway 

Linking London to Oxford and Birmingham, the M40 often gets really busy and we try to travel across country to avoid it whenever possible. However, it does contains one of my favourite childhood motorway stop offs. 

M40 Junction 2: Beaconsfield town and Bekonscot Model Village and Railway

The town of Beaconsfield is a pleasant place to stop just off the M40 at junction 2. If you have a bit of time, I can highly recommend Bekonscot Model Village. We’ve met up with family here on a few occasions and the kids love it. The model village is extensive, the best one I’ve seen (if you discount Legoland) and there’s also a great cafe and a good play area. 


M40 Junction 4: Little Marlow Lakes Country Park

There’s nothing like a bit of fresh air when you’ve been stuck on the motorway for a while. This country park near Marlow is perfect – there’s free parking, the River Thames, a nature reserve and lots of space to tear around. We saw a kingfisher and a heron during our walk (as well as plenty of other birds).

This is gastropub territory – in the tiny village of Little Marlow (great for a short walk if you’re short of time) there are three pubs to choose from. If you’re on a budget, park for free, have a picnic and then then use the toilets in the High Wycombe Waitrose or Asda before re-joining the motorway.

I don’t have an accurate car park location but What3Words should be able to help – or use the map on the link below, we reached it using this.

  • 3 miles from junction
  • Use postcode SL8 5PS (this is the postcode for the Spade Oak pub – the country park car park is near by)
  • Free parking, no toilets – try Waitrose or Asda at High Wycombe
  • Find out more about Little Marlow Country Park (including useful map showing car park)

M40 Junction 7 westbound or 8A eastbound: Thame town

If you’re looking for an alternative to the Oxford services and you don’t mind a ten minute drive from the M40, Thame is well worth the drive. This pretty market town has tons of places to eat from the trendy Black Goo café (a smashed avo type of place) to the more down to earth Treacles Tea Rooms (jacket potato territory). We had a good value meal at the latter.

If your kids need more than a wander along Thame high street to stretch their legs, there is a little play area at the recreation ground on Southern Road which you can walk to from the high street.

  • 6 miles from junctions
  • Use postcode OX9 2AA
  • Cost: prices for cafes vary 
  • Public toilets on North Street
  • Cafes galore and play area
  • Find out more about Thame


M40 Junction 8A and A40: Waterperry Gardens near Oxford

This is the perfect place to stop near Oxford for families. Although the gardens have an entrance charge, there’s no cost to play in the surrounding fields – which have a wooden climbing frame and slide. There’s a brilliant tea room serving those all important jacket potatoes as well as other tasty savoury meals plus some delicious looking cakes. There’s indoor and outdoor seating – plenty of covered seating and lots of space for picnics. During our visit in December 2021, the tea room was proving very popular with families. 

As well as the gardens to admire, there’s a small museum of rural artefacts and a garden centre. 

  • 4 miles from junction
  • Use postcode OX33 1LA (this takes you to Waterperry village – drive through it to reach the gardens)
  • Cost: there is a charge for the gardens but parking is free
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about Waterperry Gardens



M40 Junction 12: Burton Dassett, between Banbury and Warwick 

Burton Dassett in Warwickshire, credit Warwickshire County Council

Burton Dassett in Warwickshire, credit Warwickshire County Council

I feel slightly nostalgic writing about Burton Dassett. Located midway between Banbury and Leamington Spa, the park’s steep hills, beacon and quarry bring back childhood memories of picnics with my grandmother who lived near by. We always knew our journey along the M40 was nearly over when we caught sight of Burton Dassett’s beacon perched on the hilltop overlooking the motorway. My brother and I loved running up and down the hills and searching for fossils.

M40 Junction 12: British Motor Museum, near Warwick

If it’s not picnicking weather and you have time and cash to spend, the British Motor Museum is worth considering. The museum houses over 300 British classic cars and traces the history of the motor industry. It’s not a cheap stop off but the entry price, if you do gift aid, is valid for a whole year making it a good option if you pass through regularly. Some cars can be sat in, there’s an interactive zone for children plus themed events in the school holidays as well as an outdoor play area.

Just off the M54 motorway

Please check out stops on the M6 for ideas of where to break your journey on the M54.

Just off the M74 motorway 

M74 Junction 6 or 7: Chatelherault Country Park, near Hamilton, South Lanarkshire

Jenny at Monkey and Mouse says “Chatelherault Country Park has plenty of nature trails through beautiful ancient woodlands and along the River Avon. There’s also an adventure play park and a cafe, so the perfect stop for stretching legs!”

Just off the A1 motorway 

Another one of my local motorways so to speak, the A1 is a good alternative to the M1 as it’s much easier to get off the motorway and explore the surrounding areas on your journey. I’ve found lots of affordable places to stop on A1 including playgrounds, museums and picnic spots. Have a read through this list of the best things to do off the A1.

A1 Junctions 3 or 4: Mill Green Museum, near Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Mill Green Museum, Hatfield, credit Welwyn Hatfield council, just off the A1

Mill Green Museum, Hatfield, credit Welwyn Hatfield council, just off the A1

This is a great little museum about a working 18th century water mill. Mill Green is usually pretty quiet, I somehow managed to wander round it with a two and a four year old without damaging anything despite some steep steps to the top of the mill. There’s also a little garden outside for picnics.

  • 2 mile from junction
  • Use postcode AL9 5PD
  • Cost: adults £3.50, kids free ***closed Friday, Saturday, Monday***
  • Toilets and picnic area
  • Find out more about Mill Green

A1 Junction 6: Welwyn Roman Baths, near Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

Hidden beneath the A1, in a specially designed steel vault, you’ll find several Roman bath remains including cold, warm and hot rooms plus a well preserved heating system. There are various Roman artefacts on display and visitors can learn about how the vault was constructed too.

  • 1 mile from junction
  • Use postcode AL6 9FG
  • Cost: adults £3.50, kids free
  • ***open 2pm to 5pm Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays plus all week during Hertfordshire school holidays, check the website for full details***
  • Toilets (eco) and baby change facilities, picnic area
  • Find out more about Welwyn Roman Baths

A1 Junction 7: Stevenage Museum, Hertfordshire

No doubt every town near every motorway has a good value museum worth stopping at but I’ve included Stevenage Museum because it’s near to where we live and I think it’s a particularly good example of a local museum. My kids spent quite some time exploring all the exhibits and really enjoyed the visit: there’s a 1950s kitchen where you can recreate The Tiger Who Came to Tea plus highwaymen artefacts and a “man trap” for catching poachers.

  • 2 miles from junction
  • Use postcode SG1 1XX
  • Cost: free but you’ll need to pay for parking, just avoid the long stay car park which is considerably more expensive than all the others!
  • ***closed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday*** 
  • Toilets (various good value eateries across the road near the car parks)
  • Find out more about Stevenage Museum

A1 Junction 7: Knebworth House, near Stevenage, Hertfordshire

Don’t be fooled by the name, you’ll find Knebworth House when you exit the A1 at Stevenage. And it’s literally just off junction 7, accessed by its own private road past the Novotel. It’s not a cheap day out (see Stevenage Museum above if that’s what you’re after) and it does open rather late in the morning (11am) which can result in queues at the gate. However, once you’re inside it’s a child’s paradise: Knebworth Fort play area, giant slides which kids and grown ups alike will enjoy whizzing down and acres of space to run around. When you’ve had your fill of playing, hop back in your car and head up towards the house where you can explore the gardens and discover the dinosaurs. 

  • 1 mile from junction
  • Use postcode SG1 2AX
  • Cost: adults and children age 3 upwards £10pp
  • ***Seasonal opening hours: end of March to end of September***
  • Play area has ice cream kiosk and toilets, main house has cafe, shop and toilets. 
  • Find out more about Knebworth House

A1 Junction 9: Howard Park and Gardens Letchworth , Hertfordshire

Howard Park and Gardens is what every town centre park should look like: a large green tree-lined space, ideal for a picnic but with a small cafe and toilets too. There’s an excellent splash park for little children but my boys always prefer the playground which is really popular with local children in the summertime. I’ve also come to realise that the lack of fence around the park is a good thing: I actually have to keep a close eye on my kids and hang out with them rather than letting my mind wander to something pointless on my phone…

  • 2 mile from junction
  • Use postcode SG6 1NY
  • Cost: free (there is free street parking or you can pay to park in the dedicated car park)
  • Toilets and cafe
  • Find out more about Howard Park

A1 Junction with the A14: Hemingford Abbots village, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

This small Cambridgeshire village lies just off the A1, three miles from Huntingdon. If the dreary motorway has you hankering after a piece of twee English prettiness, then Hemingford Abbots has it in droves. Think thatched 16th century cottages, and a low-beamed country pub (the Axe and Compass) with a decent playground and a roaring fire. The River Ouse runs along the village outskirts, so you can stretch your legs before setting off back on your travels.

A1 Junction with A47, between Peterborough and Stamford: Sacrewell Heritage Farm and Country Centre

As well as the usual farm animal experience, Sacrewell Farm offers rather a lot more and at a pretty reasonable price too. Expect to learn about farming history from Roman settlers to the present day. There’s also a recently restored 18th century water mill and an indoor soft play area should the weather not be on your side. 

  • 1 mile from junction
  • Use postcode PE8 6LB 9 (but follow the signs as the postcode isn’t totally accurate)
  • Cost: prices vary depending on the season, from £17.99 for a family, under 2s free
  • Cafe and toilets
  • Find out more about Sacrewell Farm

A1 near Stamford: Burghley House, Lincolnshire

Burghley House is an impressive Elizabethan stately home just off the A1 near Stamford. You could easily spend a whole day here exploring the house and gardens but if you’re just after a quick pitstop the parkland is free to explore.

  • 2 miles from junction
  • Use postcode PE9 3JY
  • Cost: free entry to parkland and car park, various charges to visit the house and gardens
  • Restaurant with toilet facilities

A1 between Stamford and Grantham: Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire

I generally find it difficult to drag my children inside when we visit a National Trust property, such are the attractions outdoors. However, I may have more success at Woolsthorpe Manor thanks to the Science Centre set up in homage to Sir Isaac Newton, who lived at the manor. The 17th century scientist explored many of his theories here and children have the chance to learn about gravity and play with light at this hands-on centre. 

A1 near Grantham: Belton House National Trust, Lincolnshire

So, Belton House is billed as a perfect example of an English country house estate. More importantly for bored children who’ve been confined to a car for too long, it also boasts the National Trust’s largest adventure playground. There are a number of places to refuel at including the Muddy Hands food kiosk at the play area.

A1 near Worksop: Blyth village, Nottinghamshire

Skip the Blyth services and head into the village itself where friends tell me there’s a range of good places to eat.

  • 1 mile from junction
  • Various eateries

A1 near Doncaster: Cusworth Hall, Museum and Park, Yorkshire

This historic parkland just off the A1 near Doncaster is perfect for a quick motorway stop with kids. Cusworth Hall is an 18th century mansion with a museum should you wish to explore the history of the area. Outside you’ll find play areas for kids and plenty of space for dog walks or picnics. 

A1 Junction 42: Fairburn Ings RSPB nature reserve, between Leeds, York and Wakefield, Yorkshire

Surrounded by motorways on all sides: A1M, M1 and M62, this former coal mining area is an important habitat for a wide range of bird species. Families will find discovery trails, bird hides, play area and pond dipping (April to October). Walks will encompass open water, wetlands and woodland. There’s a visitor centre, picnic spots and cafe facilities. 

A1 Junction 45: Wetherby village, between Leeds and York, Yorkshire

The lovely market town of Wetherby gets a vote from a friend of mine who lives close by. She recommends the town for its range of independent cafes, huge playing fields, picnic areas beside the river and the free parking!

A1 Junction with A66 Scotch Corner: Mainsgill Farm Shop, North Yorkshire

Sam from Travels with my boys uses Mainsgill Farm Shop when they’re driving between Scotland and the port at Hull: “It is a great place to stop with a play area, farm animals to see (we saw new born lambs on one occasion!) and the food is delicious, especially the cakes.”

A1 Near Alnwick: Chillingham Castle, Northumberland

If you’ve got a bit more time to spare, Lucy from Kids of the Wild recommends heading to Chillingham Castle: ” With wild cattle and woodland walks, manicured gardens and a Minstrel’s gallery cafe, dungeons, a torture chamber, armour and weapons you can actually touch and hold, a chapel, real skeletons, a vast collection of historical memorabilia, ghosts, curses, prehistoric fossils, a gift shop, a museum, cannons, Kingly visits, Capability Brown and a brilliantly informative personal visitor’s guide written by the owner, Sir Humphrey Wakefield Bt, himself, it’s hard to beat this unique 12th century castle (built on pre-Christian cave foundations) for a hands-on foray into grim, grisly and engagingly real history at it’s most accessible.” 

  • 7 mile from junction
  • Use postcode NE66 5NJ
  • Cost: £10.50 adults, £6.50 children over 5, there’s no charge if you’re just visiting the cafe
  • Cafe and toilets 
  • Find out more about Chillingham Castle

A1 Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Alnwick Castle pixabay credit Similitude, near the A1

Alnwick Castle pixabay credit Similitude, near the A1

This is another of my not so quick stopover options but Alnwick Castle is so fantastic, and so close to the A1 it would be a shame to miss it if you’re driving through Northumberland. The castle was used for some of the Hogwarts scenes in the Harry Potter films so if you need a big bargaining stick in exchange for pinning your children into the car for several hours, you could promise them a broomstick training session at Alnwick. With a history dating back to Norman times, there are grand interiors to explore and expansive grounds to run off any pent-up energy.

  • 2 mile from junction
  • Use postcode NE66 1NQ
  • Cost: various prices but if you go for castle and grounds it’s £65.41 for a family of up to 2 adults and 4 children
  • Cafe and toilets 
  • Find out more about Alnwick Castle

A1 Near Belford: Sunnyhills Farm Shop and Cafe, Northumberland

Sunnyhills farm shop, just off the A1 near Alnwick, credit Sam at NE Family Fun

Sunnyhills farm shop, just off the A1 near Alnwick, credit Sam at NE Family Fun

Samantha from North East Family Fun recommends Sunnyhills Farm Shop and Cafe near Belford: “It’s perfect for those travelling North to Scotland. The farm shop has a lovely playground for children to burn off energy, an ice cream kiosk, gorgeous tearoom serving locally sourced food and a farm shop where you can pick up a few treats for your onward journey. It can get busy when the sun is shining though.” 

Just off the main road in East Anglia

A11 Junction with A14: La Hogue Farm Shop and Cafe near Newmarket, Suffolk

Catherine from Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays has recommended the same great farm shop and cafe which we ate at on our way to Norfolk recently. La Hogue Farm Shop and Cafe sells all day breakfasts, jacket potatoes and cream teas among other heartening dishes and there’s a kids’ menu too. 

A11 Near Thetford: Elveden Estate, Norfolk

Elveden is perhaps more well known for the Suffolk branch of Center Parcs but if you’re looking for a quick break from the A11, Elveden Estate has nature trails through the woods and various eateries to choose from along with a selection of shops including a farm shop.

A120 Between Braintree and Colchester: Coggeshall town, Essex

Coggeshall is a good half way point for us on route to Frinton-on-Sea, the closest patch of sand from our home in Hertfordshire. It’s also a good place to stop if you’re taking the A120 to the port at Harwich. Coggeshall is a charming town with lots of medieval timber-framed buildings, some of which are managed by the National Trust. The opening times of the historical spots have yet to fit with our schedule but we’ve made good use of the village play area and the local pubs! 

Just off the main road in South West England

A30 Honiton, Devon

On our recent trip to Cornwall, we set off from our home in Hertfordshire at 5am. We passed families queuing for the American diner cafes which are a strange feature of the A30 and continued driving until we reached Honiton. And I’m so glad we did as we discovered the excellent Boston Tea Party just a couple of minutes from the A30. There’s a great brunch menu and a lovely garden for the kids to run around in while they’re waiting for their pancakes to cook. My brother also stops in Honiton on his trips to Cornwall and highly recommends Toast Cafe which looks equally lovely and also has a garden. Both of these cafes are dog friendly.

  • 1 mile from junction
  • Use postcode EX14 1PW
  • Free parking on the main road
  • Selection of pubs and cafes

A38 Newton Abbot: Trago Mills, Devon

Devon expert Clare, from Devon with kids, has this to say about Trago Mills: “Legendary in the West Country is Trago Mills. There are three in Devon and Cornwall, but two are close to the A38. Trago Mills is a retail park come family attraction with a value for money food court. They are a great place to stop to eat and shop for anything you have forgotten to pack. And I mean ANYTHING! The Trago Mills in Devon also has a train ride, bumper boats and and adventure playground. You’ll find Trago Mills at Newton Abbot off the A38 in Devon and at Liskeard off the A38 in Cornwall.” 

A38 Avonwick: The Turtley Corn Mill

For a good country pub and restaurant, turn off the A38 at Avonwick/South Brent where you’ll find The Turtley Corn Mill. This is a beautifully converted mill serving home cooked food. The prices reflect the quality of the food but you can get a really good value meal if you choose two or three courses from their special board.

A38 Bodmin: Lanhydrock National Trust, Cornwall

Lanhydrock National Trust is an excellent National Trust property where you can break up a journey into Cornwall. There are cycle route and walks from the car park which also has a small cafe and adventure playground for kids. If you have longer you can walk to the stunning Victorian house in the middle of the parkland. It’s formal gardens are beautiful whatever the time of year and the house kitchens are among the best in the National Trust’s collection. Find out more about Lanhydrock from Clare at Tinbox Traveller.

A303 / A34 junction: Whitchurch Silk Museum

This 19th century silk mill is a lovely place to while away a couple of hours – silk is still made here today on the traditional looms. There’s a shop and cafe along with walking trails in the surrounding area. The museum carries a charge but visitors can just use the café if they prefer.



Other useful websites about places to stop just off the motorway

I could continue this post forever as there are endless places to stop close to motorway junctions. However, to save me a bit of work, here are some links to other websites which offer some great ideas.

The National Trust

Canal River Trust

English Heritage

Have you discovered any brilliant places to stop just off the motorway? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list.

If you’re looking for UK holiday inspiration, have a read of my blog post about family friendly short break ideas. I’ve also written about my favourite UK beach breaks in case you’re looking for seaside ideas.

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places to stop just off the motorway

places to stop just off the motorway



  1. 28th February 2019 / 2:55 pm

    What a list!!! I will definitely be saving this for future road trips around the country. Thank you so much for including me also!

    • 4th March 2019 / 10:02 pm

      Pleasure Angharad! I’ll definitely be trying out some of the Bristol places when I’m next in the area.

  2. 4th March 2019 / 10:34 am

    What a fantastic comprehensive post – some great ideas, and really useful when you’re trundling up and down motorways. Thanks for including my post too!

    • 4th March 2019 / 10:00 pm

      Thanks Cathy. Driving along the M1 inspired this post so I’m looking forward to stopping at some of these places now!

  3. Sam | North East Family Fun Travel Blog
    4th March 2019 / 10:37 am

    Wow what a fantastic comprehensive guide! Definitely going to come back to this time and time again x

    • 4th March 2019 / 9:57 pm

      Thanks Sam. I think the farm shops such as the one you recommended are really key places. Satisfying to eat there and gratifying knowing that you’re spending money locally.

  4. 4th March 2019 / 10:43 am

    Wow Annabel this is an impressive piece of research and writing, and brilliant for families looking to break long journeys away from motorway cafes. Thanks for including Kids of the Wild in there too!

    • 4th March 2019 / 9:56 pm

      Thanks Lucy. I hope you find it useful. And if you find any good fields to recommend on your travels up and down the country, let me know!

  5. 4th March 2019 / 11:14 am

    What a great idea for a post! Very helpful information here, and thank you for including my tip.

    • 4th March 2019 / 9:53 pm

      Thanks for your input, we all loved our recent trip to Chartwell, such stunning scenery.

  6. pigeonpairandme
    4th March 2019 / 2:07 pm

    This is possibly the most helpful travel guide I’ve seen!! Motorway journeys can be hellish with kids, and stopping at services is always a dreary prospect. So it’s great to have so many alternative options. Almost enough to plan a road trip just for the stops!

    • 4th March 2019 / 9:52 pm

      Thanks Nell. I thought it would never be finished! Actually, I think it will be a permanent work in progress as people keep telling me about more places. I’ve already made use of it!

  7. Clare Thomson
    6th March 2019 / 11:01 am

    This is such a useful post, Annabel. I hate getting stuck in traffic on motorways so this will be a godsend next time we’re travelling around the UK. Thanks too for including my post on Hever Castle.

    • 7th March 2019 / 8:40 am

      Thanks Clare. I’m looking forward to visiting a whole new selection of places I’d never heard of!

  8. 6th March 2019 / 9:50 pm

    Thank you so much for including my tip! What a fab guide!!!

    • 7th March 2019 / 8:42 am

      Thanks Katy. I wish there were more places like Tebay!

  9. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    7th March 2019 / 1:49 pm

    A cracking post filled with motorways I know and don’t necessarily love! You’ve reminded me of some great places I’ve visited and many more that are new to me. I really must pay another visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – that might be worth hitting the M1 again!

    • 7th March 2019 / 8:39 pm

      The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is top of my list too! There’s so many reasons to visit Yorkshire.

  10. 7th March 2019 / 6:32 pm

    This is such a great idea! We’re often on a road trip and I wish we could just fit in a little pit stop to stretch our legs, that would also include seeing something not too far off the highway! #FarawayFiles

  11. Beth
    8th March 2019 / 11:37 am

    Wow this is extensive! Well done, I will be sharing with my friends who travel with kids. I love that you found NT and EH sites that can be utilized as a rest stop, I hadn’t thought of using those properties in that way but def worthwhile especially if you have membership. You’ve certainly opened my eyes to what’s out there beyond “service areas” – thanks for sharing. #FarawayFiles

    • 10th March 2019 / 9:49 pm

      Yes, NT and EH are great for a coffee and playground stop when you have membership. We went to Chartwell recently and didn’t even step inside the house as it was such a beautiful day and we didn’t have time. Must go back on a rainy day!

  12. Clare Thomson
    8th March 2019 / 6:22 pm

    This is well worth reading again for #FarawayFiles. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  13. 9th March 2019 / 2:01 pm

    Wow, this must have taken ages to research and write! The place I’m most excited finding out about is Burton Dassett. Never heard of it even though I live in Oxfordshire. #farawayfiles

    • 10th March 2019 / 9:40 pm

      It did take rather a long time and I already have places to add to it, when I get a chance…! I used to absolutely love Burton Dassett and haven’t been for a long time. Need to find a reason to pass by again.

  14. 10th March 2019 / 9:08 pm

    Such an extensive guide! We use the M4 when we visit family in Wales, and there’s places new to me on the list. Will definitely be adding a stop in Castle Combe next time! #CulturedKids

  15. 10th March 2019 / 10:21 pm

    What a fabulous selection, I am a big fan of breaking the journey just off the motorway. Thank you for including our suggestion too! #CulturedKids

  16. 12th March 2019 / 10:57 am

    Holy wow – what a fab resource for your UK road trip. I’d probably get pulled by our crew to stop at motor museums although I’d prefer the more pastoral pauses. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles. Cheers from Copenhagen.

    • 12th March 2019 / 12:24 pm

      It sounds like your family has the same preferences to mine Erin!

  17. 12th March 2019 / 11:18 am

    What a brilliant list! I always dread long motorway journeys when the only break is at a service station. Am pinning this for future ref and it’ll be a must-read for any family with younger children that need to let off steam mid-drive.

    • 12th March 2019 / 12:23 pm

      Thanks. Yes, I always dread long boring motorway drives, avoiding them was definitely the inspiration for this post.

  18. Nicky@Go Live Young
    15th March 2019 / 7:35 pm

    What a useful post! We’re always looking for family friendly stops on any road trip #CulturedKids

  19. 25th March 2019 / 9:37 pm

    This is such a useful post – will definitely make use of it. Some amazing suggestions here.

  20. 28th March 2019 / 6:45 am

    What a brilliant list! Will pin this for next time we’re on the road! These will make a very pleasant change from an ordinary motorway stop! #mondayescaped

  21. 2nd April 2019 / 10:24 am

    Oh wow, what a fantastic resource!! Definitely bookmarking this for next time we take a long journey 😊 My kids will definitely vouch for Wellington Country Park being a great place to stop, they love it there!
    Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

    • 3rd April 2019 / 9:27 pm

      Yes, Wellington Country Park is very popular in our family too. I wish we had something like that nearer to us.

  22. 6th April 2019 / 8:59 pm

    What an absolutely awesome post!!! Thank you so much for including my tip of Tebay Services, we always HAVE to stop there! Thanks so much for linking up to Monday Escapes

  23. Alice Clarke
    2nd September 2019 / 7:41 pm

    Love this idea! Eastington farm shop, 2 miles from junction 13 on the m5 is also a great stop off. Good coffee, cake and amenities. Also space for children to have a run around and say hello to some calves and chickens! GL103AY

  24. 7th October 2019 / 2:02 pm

    Wow, this is a comprehensive list, and a very useful one, thank you! We actually live near to Tatton Park, and we discovered Tebay Services earlier this year on our family travels. I will make use of your recommendations in the future 🙂

    • 7th October 2019 / 7:57 pm

      Thanks. And if you find anywhere which should be added to the list, please do get in touch.

  25. Emma
    10th August 2021 / 9:25 am

    Excellent post, thank you! I can now add to the Southampton to Glasgow journey list on my phone!

    Our favourite is Kenyon Hall Farm, just 1 mile off the M6 at junction 22.

    Farm shop and great café, playground for the kids, ice cream and even a pick your own and a Maize Maze! It’s a great place! It does close at 5.30pm ish though.

    • 10th August 2021 / 9:41 am

      Thanks so much for the recommendation – it sounds great and I’ll definitely add it to the list.

  26. Patricia Jones
    9th October 2021 / 2:25 pm

    Excellent site, nice to get off the motorway for a break especially as all planned and postcodes already done. Thank you, any chance of doing the same for the A36?

    • 9th October 2021 / 2:37 pm

      I’d definitely like to expand the list – if you have any suggestions do let me know!

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