We can't guarantee it'll be sunny. but we can promise you some mega-cheap and even free summer family fun.
This guide's jam-packed with deals and tricks to keep kids of all ages entertained over the summer hols, including free days out, 2for1 attraction tickets, bargain train fares, ways to slash childcare costs and more. If you spot any more cracking deals or have any ideas, please let us know in the Free ways to keep kids entertained forum discussion thread.
In this guide
From medieval castles, to gold mines and hidden valleys, up to two children go free at selected National Trust properties per full-priced adult ticket.
The deal's running throughout August (excludes the bank holiday weekend though) and you'll need to register 'n' print a voucher from the National Trust website.
Calke Abbey, Derby (saving £5.50 per child).
Sissinghurst Castle, Kent (saving £5.50 per child).
Dinefwr Park and Castle, west Wales (saving £3.35 per child).
Coleridge Cottage, Somerset (saving £2.50 per child).
See National Trust Deals for more info, including a list of participating venues.
Kids, adults and grandparents can make a splash for less with the British Gas free swim sessions running till Thu 30 Aug. You don't have to be a British Gas customer to bag the free sessions, which include:
One, two or three general swims for up to one adult and two children.
Two Aqua Tots sessions for one adult and one child.
Two Aqua Aerobics sessions for one adult.
One taster lesson for one adult or child.
The offers vary by pool, but with more than 700 taking part, you're bound to get off to a (cheaper) swimming start. See the British Gas Deals page for full info.
Boys and girls aged 5-11 can take part in after school football coaching sessions running from September.
The programme, run by FA Tesco Skills aims to improve dribbling, passing and shooting skills for kids of all abilities.
Places are subject to availability and you must book in advance. Kids must be signed up by a parent or guardian. See Tesco Deals for more details.
If you or your little'uns fancy yourselves as the next Andy Murray, then search for your nearest tennis court to see whether it's offering:
Free coaching sessions
Free court usage throughout the year.
As part of the ongoing Tennis for Free initiative, you can play for free at more than 2,500 public courts, but the coaching sessions are a little more restricted, with only 12 venues offering this. See Tennis for Free Deals for all the info.
Teens in England aged 16-17 can apply for the Government Initiative (National Citizen Service) for a two week hol + one week day camp for free, or up to £80.
How: Enter details on the National Citizen Service page (parents, get your child to apply) and to find out about your nearest scheme. You must be in school year 11 and have turned 16 or 17 by 31 Aug 2012. There's no official end date but NCS recommends you book as soon as possible.
About half the partners don't charge for the NCS, otherwise the max is £80 and meals are included.
Bursaries are available as providers aren't allowed to turn away kids for financial reasons. This has been popular with MoneySavers before.
What do I get? There are 30,000 places in all areas of England for the NCS. The three-week scheme takes place from Jun-Sep 2012. Exact dates vary per provider.
Week one (residential): Outdoor activities focusing on personal and social development.
Week two (residential): Team tasks to help the local community. This week is also in a residential setting, but in participants' local areas.
Week three (at home): Design & deliver a social plan to make a positive change to local communities.
After those three weeks, kids are encouraged to do 30 hours of social work in their own time. They'll also get a certificate signed by the Prime Minister.
For all the details, see National Citizen Service Deals.
Whether you want to listen to jazz, indie or rock music, or be part of a carnival or parade, there are free UK festivals to suit all tastes and ages.
Some of the biggies include:
Notting Hill Carnival, London (Sun 26 - Mon 27 Aug 2012) showcasing an array of colourful costumes, music and hundreds of Caribbean food stalls.
South Tyneside Summer Festival (Aug 2012) with live music from brass bands, parades, parties and open-air concerts.
Cardiff Festival (till Sun 2 Sep 2012) features live music, street and open-air theatre, children's entertainment and funfairs in the city centre and around Cardiff Bay. Some events will charge for admission.
Monmouth Music Festival (Fri 17 - Sat 25 Aug 2012) has sounds from folk, and ska, through jazz and blues, to rock and thrash metal, and classical music..
See Free UK Festivals and Carnivals for a full list of what's going on in your area.
If you didn't manage to grab tickets for the Olympics, then don't worry; there is a silver lining (sorry).
Vue cinemas will be screening coverage of the London 2012 games on Sat 4, Sun 5, Thu 9 to Sun 12 Aug at participating venues.
Cineworld will also be screening free Olympics coverage at 28 venues, twice per day. You must book online at Cineworld.
If you'd rather be outside and can make your way to London, BT will be broadcasting coverage of medal events throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
It'll be available to watch on multiple screens in Hyde Park, Victoria Park and Trafalgar Square. Turn up on the day and it's free. Advanced booking isn't necessary, but events are subject to capacity so it could be worth getting advance tickets for guaranteed entry.
There's usually a £3.50 booking fee for these, but book online via this special BT London Live link from The Sun newspaper, and you can avoid this. There's a max of four per person - full info in The Sun Deals.
The BBC will be hosting free Olympic screenings in London, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Again, you'll need to book online at the BBC. Some screenings are already fully-booked.
Manchester National Cycling Centre. Watch all the cycling events over the Olympics for free at Manchester's The Hub.
While dining out can provide a treat away from home, it's often expensive if you've not prepped a money-off voucher before venturing out. And if you're a family, the bill soon adds up.
But, you can still enjoy a meal out for the adults and feed the kids for free. With some offers, you can simply walk in, others you need to register and print a voucher:
Beefeater Grill - up to two children can have a free breakfast when a full-priced adult breakfast is bought. See Beefeater Deals.
La Tasca - kids eat 'free' when an adult spends £10+ on food at the Spanish tapas restaurant. See La Tasca Deals.
ASK Italian - kids eat 'free' per adult main, every day, when you register 'n' print a voucher. See ASK Deals.
Sizzling Pub Co - kids eat 'free' per adult main, incl bank holiday Monday. See Sizzling Pub Co Deals.
Chiquito's - kids eat 'free' Sun-Fri when an adult buys a main till Sun Sep 30 2012. See Chiquito's Deals.
Plus, there are loads more restaurant deals and vouchers, see Cheap Restaurant Deals.
You may be nagging them to get off the sofa and away from the TV, so here's a compromise. Get free audience tickets for big shows such as:
Got to Dance
BBC's The Magicians (both ages eight & up)
You need to register your details with Applause Store. They tend to operate a reserve list system where you register your interest and if you're chosen, one of the site's researchers will be in touch with show dates.
For older kids, SRO Audiences offers free tickets to daytime shows:
Let's Do Lunch...with Gino and Mel (16+)
Some of the bigger shows have a waiting list, so you might have to wait for a cancellation to get a seat at a very popular show.
Always make sure you check out the lists for these free ticket shows, so you never end up paying money for them on eBay or other ticket sites.
Depending on availability, you should always be able to get them for free. See Applause Store Deals for a list of all the free audience tickets out there and how to grab them.
The big roller coasters are often just as scary as the entrance fees, with tickets costing up to £43 if you buy on the day. But, there are a few tricks you can use to get big discounts off entry, such as buying rail tickets on route or swapping Tesco points for rewards.
Don't let them take you for a ride - here's a list of the top theme parks and the best way to get a buzz for less.
Two 'free' Thorpe Park tickets worth £86 when you collect tokens from The Sun. Full how-to in Thorpe Park Deals.
Plus 2for1s with National Rail at:
How: Buy a National Rail ticket, register on Days Out Guide and print vouchers. You need to print a voucher AND have a valid rail ticket with the closest station to the theme park as the final destination, bought from National Rail on the same day. It's worth doing this even if you’re not travelling by train – a cheap single ticket is available for a few quid, far cheaper than the entry ticket price. So just stop by the nearest station on your way and pick one up, then present both to get one free entry.
2for1 at Camelot with an easy click 'n' print voucher - just take them on the day.
Up to 40% off advance online bookings. If there's an odd number of you going, then it may be best to book tickets online in advance. Try Merlin attractions such as:
You must book at least seven days in advance. Savings can be big - pay £27 (instead of £45) and £25.20 (instead of £42) respectively.
Up to 75% off theme parks with Tesco Clubcard, at:
How: Bag up to four times the value of in-store Tesco vouchers using Clubcard rewards. While worth 1p in store, Clubcard points' values can be quadrupled when converted to Tesco Clubcard rewards vouchers. These include days out, magazine subscriptions, holidays etc, including an Alton Towers ticket for £11.50 of points.
See the Cheap Theme Parks page for a list of all the attractions and deals.
Zoos, incl instant 2for1 tickets
If your kids are flapping around for something to do, why not take them to see some real little monkeys. As tickets can be costly, up to £23 (more if it's a combined zoo and theme park ticket, eg, Chessington), we've compiled 'roar-some' deals and discounts to make a family day out cheaper.
Instant 2for1 click 'n' print vouchers at:
2for1s with National Rail at:
How: Buy a National Rail ticket, register on Days Out Guide and print vouchers. You need to print a voucher AND have a valid rail ticket with the closest station to the zoo as the final destination, bought from National Rail on the same day. It's worth doing this even if you’re not travelling by train – a cheap single ticket is available for a few quid, far cheaper than the entry ticket price. So just stop by the nearest station on your way and pick one up, then present both to get one free entry.
2for1 with National Express coaches at:
Up to 75% off zoos with Tesco Clubcard, at:
How: Bag up to four times the value of in-store Tesco vouchers using Clubcard rewards. While worth 1p in store, Clubcard points' values can be quadrupled when converted to Tesco Clubcard rewards vouchers. These include days out, magazine subscriptions, holidays etc, including a Longleat Safari ticket for £8 of points.
See the Cheap Zoo Deals page for a list of all the safaris, animal parks and zoo deals.
The soft play and activity centre usually costs £3.50 - £3.75 for a child's session. But Wacky Warehouse is currently offering:
Five plays for £10, saving up to £9 (depending on location).
You need to visit one of 71 Wacky Warehouses and collect a Summer Club booklet for £10, which includes five coupons. It's one coupon per child till Fri 31 Aug 2012.
See Wacky Warehouse Deals for the full info.
Culture vultures can stroll through the history of art, find out about forensics or see the evolution of toys at more than 170 free museums and galleries.
Tate Modern in London. This large, striking, modern art gallery features international works from 1900 onwards. Set in a former power station.
The Writers' Museum in Edinburgh. Celebrate the lives of three of Scotland's finest writers - Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stephenson.
The National Wool Museum near Camarthen. Situated in the former Cambrian Mills, this museum looks at this important industry in Wales.
See the Free Museums & Galleries guide to find your nearest.
How: This is a £5 summer camp 'taster day' with a mixture of sports and activites for ages 5-14, at 32 venues in England and Wales. Run by King's Camps, a registered UK charity.
Book online at King's Summer Camp or book by phone on 0845 643 5270 – either way quote the code MSE12 (you need to find day sessions called Flexicare in the dropdown, usually priced at £37). Only one £5 day can be booked per child. If you took part in the £5 camp day offer last year, you can’t get it again this time.
You need to get this by Mon 20 Aug 2012, but it's best to book before. See King's Camps Deals for the full info.
If you're going to the premier capital on a weekend, then chances are you'll be seeing stars in your eyes with the cost of the cinema tickets. Plus, top it up with popcorn and a drink, and you'll be left reeling at the kiosk. But there are options to make going to the flicks more affordable.
Cineworld £1 tickets on Saturday mornings
Buy online for selected Saturday morning screenings and both adults and children pay £1 each with the Movies for Juniors offer. Recent films include Pirates! and Puss In Boots.
Vue school holiday £1.50 tickets
Children aged 2-12 can get £1.50 tickets to select morning movies at weekends and in school holidays with the Kids AM offer. What's more, accompanying adults get in for £1.50 as well.
Orange Wednesdays 2for1
Orange PAYG and contract customers can get 2for1 cinema tickets at Cineworld, Odeon and Vue venues as part of Orange Wednesdays. Just text FILM to 241 from your Orange phone and Orange'll send you a code which you show to the cinema staff.
Plus loads more - for a full list of offers, see Cheap Cinema Deals.
We've managed to strike it lucky by blagging an exclusive 2for1 bowling voucher at Bowlplex venues. Just click 'n' print for Mon - Fri bowling, valid for up to six people till Fri 7 Sep 2012.
See Bowlplex Deals for more info.
B&Q free DIY Classes
From hanging bird feeders, a hedgehog house or toy boat, kids aged 7-11 can take part in free DIY classes.
How: Go online to B&Q Kids Can Do It and enter your postcode to see participating stores. Choose a venue, click 'book', and see a list of dates and activities available. Register your details, select up to four classes, and you'll receive email confirmation of your booking. Alternatively, call B&Q on 0845 600 5428.
The classes are free at 59 B&Q stores throughout August, but from September onwards, they'll cost £5 per session.
See B&Q Deals for the full details.
You can save a packet with 2for1 vouchers to regional attractions such as:
Some are easy click 'n' print vouchers, others are through a nifty trick of buying rail tickets. See the full Cheap Days Out page for a list or regional attractions and how to get your vouchers.
With the capital's best theatre tickets topping the £70 mark, you could be excused for not wanting to sing along to the sound of music. But, as part of Kids Week (an initiative to get children into theatre) up to two kids can get in for free to West End shows when an adult buys a full-priced ticket. Shows include:
The Wizard of Oz
The Lion King
Shrek The Musical
There are around 35 shows included with performances throughout August and you could save £10-£65 per child ticket depending on the show you choose.
See Kids Week Deals for a full list.
You can streamline the cost of travelling by booking in advance, snapping up discounts or swapping Tesco points for rewards. Here are the best ways to get bottoms on seats for less:
Family & Friends Railcard £28 per year
Railcards can be bought from the Railcard website and typically cost £28 per year. They cut a third off off-peak travel, so spend over £84 a year (even in just one trip) and you save. An added bonus is that they're valid on all tickets bought in advance and all standard class tickets.
Until 2 Sep 2012, get 20% off a Family & Friends Railcard. See Train & Coach Deals.
Megabus from £1 each way, incl UK cities, Paris, Boulogne, Amsterdam, Brussels.
Coach fares can cost from £1 (plus 50p booking fee) when travelling on Megabus, but there are usually more available for advance bookings. So it's best to go quick, especially if you're looking to go across the Channel.
National Express £10 each way group coach tix
Get one-way seats for £10 each when four or more people travel together across England, Scotland and Wales on National Express coaches. This offer includes all routes and savings can add up to £80 each on longer journeys such as Edinburgh to Exeter.
You must book at least three days in advance. It's valid on any route (excluding airport travel), at any time, for both adults and children, but it's subject to availability.
Buy train tickets with Tesco Clubcard Rewards
We've got a list of the cheapest ways to get around in Cheap Train & Coach Deals.
If you've got a GPS device, try geocaching for a cheap way to put a smile on kids' faces. It's a great way to educate the whole family about your local area or beyond, and have fun at the same time searching for goodies.
This real world outdoor treasure hunt hides 'geocaches' at specific locations, essentially plastic tubs containing hidden toy stashes.
To get started, sign up for a free membership on the Geocaching website, then enter your postcode to find geocaches near you. Enter the co-ordinates of your chosen site on your GPS, and off you go!
After you've found one, put it back as you found it. The rules of the game state you can take an item from it if you wish. If you do, leave something of equal or greater value for the next person. Discuss your finds in the Geocaching tips forum discussion.
Get the kids flicking through the paperbacks with The Book People bundle sets costing under £10 (plus £1.95 del). There are popular titles such as:
Horrid Henry Early Reader collection - 10 books £9.99
Julia Donaldson collection - 10 books, incl The Gruffalo £9.99
Classic Doctor Who Collection £4
Chuggington Collection - 4 books £2
The book bundles are worth up to £50 each, so they're a pretty good deal for the prices listed above. See The Book People Deals for the details.
Amazon's selling thousands of DVD box sets under £10, with plenty of titles to choose from to keep your kids entertained for a few hours:
Scooby-Doo Live Action movie triple pack - £6.13
Peppa Pig Triple collection (Balloon Ride, Cold Winter's Day, Stars) - £6.89
Chip N Dale - Rescue Rangers - First Collection - 3 disc set - £5.57
Transformers – seasons three & four - £5.69
Arthur - Complete Series One - £5.49
Thomas & Friends - three movie pack - £5.29
For more information, see Amazon Deals.
As part of the Get Britain Racing offer, you can get a horse racing ticket for £10 which also gets one under-16 in free per adult. There are 17 courses taking part, including Doncaster, Chepstow, Windsor and more.
Tickets are for 'grandstand' or 'grandstand and paddock' areas and you need to get them by Thu 30 Aug 2012.
This isn't a bad deal as you could save up to £8 against door prices (where they cost £15-£18) plus kids get in for free too. There's limited availability per course and race, so go quick if you want them.
See Horse Racing Deals for the full line-up.
The cost of ensuring kids are safe and supervised while you work can be prohibitive. Luckily, a host of childcare schemes can help. People often think these only apply to babies, not strapping 15-year-olds. Actually, these provisions are generally for kids aged up to 16.
Free and subsidised holiday clubs
Some schools, community centres & youth groups offer clubs for children during the summer holidays, with activities as diverse as urban art and archery. Kids aren’t restricted to their own schools - ask local councils for details.
Sometimes they're free, sometimes not. Though if not, holiday clubs are often eligible for payment with childcare tax credits or childcare vouchers (see the Childcare Costs Help guide for more). Speaking of which...
Childcare tax credits
Even if you only pay for childcare in the school holidays, you may be eligible for childcare tax credits (cash paid into your bank account) for kids up to their 20th birthday as long as they're in full-time education. The name sounds complex, but it simply means you can get cash to cover the cost of childcare. It can be serious money, as it can cover up to 70% of your costs, subject to some conditions.
Single parents working 16 hours plus per week, or couples both working 16 hours plus per week, with an annual family income less than £72,000 (for larger families), should check if they're eligible via the Childcare Tax Credits guide.
This government scheme saves many parents £1,000+ a year. Your employer needs to offer them, and many companies take part.
The vouchers let you pay for childcare from your pre-tax and national insurance income. Mightn’t sound like much, but the benefit’s huge.
Most employers use a salary sacrifice scheme, where you give up £1,000 of salary, which is only worth £700 in a basic taxpayer’s pocket. In return, they get £1,000 of childcare vouchers, so are £300 per £1,000 better off. Check Childcare Vouchers and the Childcare Help guide for more.