There's a chill in the air and although it may feel as though the kids have only just gone back to school after Christmas, they'll need entertaining once again this February half-term. There’s no need to break the bank though, our guide is jam-packed with free and cheap activities to keep the little ones entertained, plus deals and tricks for cheap family days out.
Ideas include a free one-month Kids Pass, Ripley's £42 family ticket, plus 2for1 theme parks, attractions and zoos. There is also cheap train and bus travel during the holidays - plenty to keep your munchkins occupied until school starts again, whether they're toddlers or teens.
100+ tips for school holiday fun, including...
The great outdoors
Visit the park
Here's a handy page where you can search for award-winning parks near you - and they are free! See Green Flag awards to find your nearest park.
Become a nature detective
Complete totally free Woodland Trust activities from a choice of about 100 from its website for outdoor and indoor fun with nature. Activities include downloadable guides for outdoor fun making squirrel-proof bird feeders and more and for bad weather there are craft activities such as colouring sheets. See Woodland Trust for the full info.
Tablet Roald Dahl adventure game
If you can’t get the kids to put down their phones and tablets, why not try Persil’s free Roald Dahl adventure game? It involves doing certain tasks outdoors to progress through a story. See Persil for the full details.
English Heritage kids go free
If you’re already an English Heritage member, you can get free entry for up to six children (up to 18 years and within the family group) accompanied by an adult. See English Heritage for the full details.
National Trust half-term fun.If you're visiting National Trust properties and gardens, there's special events on for half-term, including crafts, story time and tracking with prices ranging from free with entry price to £3ish. See National Trust for the full details.
Eden Project, Cornwall.Get a 'free' one-year pass when you choose to donate your entry fee, as well as 10% off when you book at least one day in advance online. See Eden Project to plan your visit.
Kids Pass members get access to about 3,700 offers, including kids eat free and up to 40% off cinema tickets. We've blagged a free month trial (usually £7.50) that won't auto-enrol you afterwards - meaning you can try it for free, with no strings attached. You'll need to download an app but can use it right away - great for this half-term.
It's a closed group so we can’t share the specifics of most deals, but we've seen a preview and decent savings include: Free child meals at 1,300 restaurants, eg, Giraffe, Loch Fyne and Handmade Burger Co (with a paying adult); up to 40% off cinema tickets, including adult and child tickets at 420 cinemas; up to 50%ish off theme parks, including adult and child entry; and 2for1 bowling at 32 MFA bowling centres.For the full details and to to get your one-month free trial, see Kids Pass deals.
Until Mon 29 Feb, we've blagged discounted family tickets to Ripley's Believe It or Not! in London's Piccadilly Circus, including its 'Treasures of the Hard Rock Cafe' exhibition. This means a family (two adults, two children or one adult, three children) can visit for £42 (saving £18-£38ish).
Ripley's is an interactive museum with more than 700 exhibits, suitable for all ages. 'Treasures of the Hard Rock Cafe' exhibition includes costumes and memorabilia from Jimi Hendrix and Lady Gaga among others.
For the full details, see Ripley's Deals.
If you travel on the train with the kids, you could be on the right track to a decent saving with a Family & Friends Railcard. They normally cost £30, but until Sun 21 Feb you can get an annual railcard for £20. This a stonking buy for almost every family - even if you don’t use the train that often - as just one decent-length rail trip costing £60+ can save you more than the £20 cost, as adults will get 1/3 off most off-peak rail fares and children 60% off.
See Railcard deals for more info and to get yours.
Theme park entrance fees are often just as scary as the rides themselves. Buying tickets on the day could set you back £50, enough to make you scream for the wrong reason.
The main deals for cheap days out include a discounted annual Merlin pass, 2for1 with National Rail tickets and exchanging Tesco Clubcard vouchers for attraction tickets.
Whilst it may not be for everyone, if you find yourself visiting Merlin theme parks and attractions about six times a year, it may work out cheaper to get a Merlin pass. This gets unlimited access to 32 attraction for a year, including Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Legoland, Madame Tussauds, London Dungeon, London Eye and the Blackpool Tower. And until Mon 15 Feb, you can get a 1-year pass for the dicounted price of £119 per person, after this date it will rise to £169 per person.
See Merlin Pass for the full details.
2for1 with a valid on-the-day National Rail ticket
Buy a National Rail ticket, register with 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 price.
Exchange Tesco Clubcard vouchers for theme park and attraction tickets
If you shop at Tesco and collect the points using your Clubcard, then there's a way to get up to three or four times the value on your points by converting vouchers to Clubcard Boost*. See the Tesco Clubcard page for the full details on how to convert points to rewards.
Participating theme parks and attractions
Here's a list of the major theme parks and attractions included in the deals, we have noted where they don't apply to all. Some attractions may exclude special events, so always phone ahead to check first.
Alton Towers Main park closed until March.
Drayton Manor Clubcard only.
Cadbury World National Rail only.
Kew Gardens National Rail only.
Chessington World of Adventures Closed until Fri 18 March.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach Clubcard only. Closed until Sun 7 Feb.
Thorpe Park Closed until Sun 14 Feb.
If your kids are into crafts, Hobbycraft runs free workshops and demonstrations at weekends and throughout half-term in some of its stores, all supplies are provided. See Hobbycraft for the full details.
The National Gallery is offering free art workshops and drawing sessions on Sundays. See The National Gallery for more info.
Dobbies Garden Centre is offering free workshops for 4-10-year-olds at its centres, including planting seeds and learning about nature. See Dobbies for the full details.
Lego offers a free toy build on the first Thursday of every month for 4-14-year-olds in official stores. See all Lego deals.
Flora has a free tips and inspiration section packed full of ideas for family fun during the holidays, including recipes and activities. Ideas include:
Paper flower crafting
Everyone wants a sweet treat over half-term, and what's better than baking it yourself? Why not try your hand at baking one of the following:
Get creative in the garden
You don't need to splash the cash on the biggest and best scooters, swings or slides. There are loads of activities you can get involved with for free, such as:
Make your own tent or hidden den
Get those tatty and unused curtains, clothes and sheets over a clothes horse and secure them with pegs for an instant tent - who needs Glastonbury? Thanks to forumite Elsewhere who posted in the Free ways to keep the kids entertained discussion thread.
Treasure hunt with small treats
With a few packs of sweets, little toys or another clue, you can bury them round the garden, hang them off tree branches or stick 'em to the fence for your kids to find.
Mini crazy golf circuit
Find pipes, trays, wood and anything in the garden to make your own mini golf circuit - just make sure you have a set of clubs!
If your garden's safe and secure (and the weather isn't too cold), then why not wrap up warm, camp out in the garden and star gaze? Hopefully you'll be able to wish upon a star too.
Get their hands dirty with gardening
Kids will enjoy helping out in the garden or planting things of their own, if it's frosty or too chilly, try growing cress on the windowsills.
Try more ideas
See the great Free activities to do with kids forum thread for more inspiration and to add your own ideas.
If your kids are flapping around for something to do, why not take them to the zoo to see some real little monkeys? As tickets can be costly - up to £30 (more if it's a combined zoo and theme park ticket, such as Chessington) - we've compiled roar-some deals and discounts to make a family day out cheaper.
Edinburgh Zoo kids go free with ScotRail ticket.
2for1 with a valid National Rail ticket
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 for the following major zoos:
Up to 75% off zoos with Tesco Clubcard
If you shop at Tesco and collect the points using your Clubcard, then there's a way to get up to three or four times the value on your points by converting vouchers to Clubcard Boost*, which can be redeemed at these zoos:
Even more offers
2for1 regional attractions
You can save a packet with 2for1 vouchers to regional attractions such as these through Visit Heart of England:
Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, West Midlands.
You can also use the rail ticket trick to get 2for1s. See 2for1 attractions with National Rail for more info and how to get your vouchers. Here some examples:
If you or your little 'uns fancy yourselves as the next Andy Murray, then see if your nearest tennis club offers:
Free tennis coaching
Free court usage
Check out Tennis for Free's website to find out where there's free ongoing coaching sessions in your area.
Tennis for Free also works with councils to provide free 'walk on and play' court access throughout the year, so your serving won't suffer through the colder months.
Free audience tickets
Rather than sitting at home in front of the box, you can get behind the big screen yourself with free audience tickets for big shows such as:
The X Factor Judges Auditions (12+)
Britain's Got Talent Judges Auditions (16+)
The Big Friday Wind-up (8+)
Register your details with Applause Store. It tends 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.
Plus SRO Audiences offers free tickets for shows such as:
Sunday Night at The Palladium (12+)
The Voice Live Finals (14+).
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 a full list of free audience ticket websites out there and find out how to grab them.
Free car games
If you're heading to an attraction, an ice rink or to visit the family there is a way to avoid the kids asking "are we nearly there yet?". Speed up car journeys legally with simple games (or even try them at home or on the train). Ideas include:
Martin's favourite - Scrabble
Take turns picking letters then buzz when you have the longest word.
Great for country roads. When you see a post box, shout "rat-a-tat", for a church it's "ting-a-ling" and for a phone-box it's "ding-dong". Thanks to forumite justanna for the rat-a-tat suggestion.
Count upwards and when there's a number which divides by three, say "fizz" and when a number divides by five, say "buzz". If a number divides by three and five, you have to say "fizz buzz". Thanks to JayW for the suggestion.
Think of five or 10 things to find - for example, a horse, pub, or yellow car - and then try to find them. First person to cross everything off wins. Thanks to mummypops for the travel bingo idea.
Instead of playing with balls, play with cars. Just make sure you get the order right. Thanks to maidmarion44 for the car snooker tip.
See the Free car journey games forum thread for loads of other free and imaginative car games to keep them, and you, entertained while on the road.
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:
Buy train tickets with Tesco Clubcard Boost
Get 50% off First TransPennine with 16-25 Railcard
Anyone with a 16-25 Railcard can get half-price advance fare tickets when they book online. See TransPennine Express for details.
Plus £2 unlimited bus travel, 15% off InterRail tickets & moreWe've got a comprehensive list of the cheapest ways to get around in Cheap Train & Coach Deals.
Kids eat 'free'
Just as familiar as "are we nearly there yet?" is "I'm hungry!" Keeping the kids fed, especially in restaurants, can soon add up for families. Fear no more, you can still enjoy a meal out for the adults and feed the kids for a fraction of the price.
With some offers, you can walk in - with others you'll need to register and print a voucher off first:
Get a free kids' (8 and under) main meal when one adult spends £10 or more. See La Tasca Deals.
One child can have a free kids carvery when a full-price adult carvery is bought on Sundays. See Crown Carveries Deals.
A kid eats for £1 when an adult buys a main before 5pm Mon-Sat, saving £4ish. See Table Table Deals.
Slug and Lettuce
A kid eats for £1 (usually £5ish) on Sundays when an adult dines from the main menu. See Slug and Lettuce Deals.
The Real Greek
A kid eats for 'free' on Sundays when an adult spends £10. See The Real Greek Deals.
Kids eat for for £1 when an adult orders a main meal every Thursday from 3pm-7pm. See Flaming Grill Deals.
There are loads of other restaurant offers and vouchers on the Cheap Restaurant Deals page.
A night at the movies can have you seeing stars for the wrong reason. A ticket plus a snack and drink can leave you reeling from the cost. But, there are ways to make going to the flicks more affordable.
£1.60 adult/child tickets to Cineworld on Sat/Sun mornings
Buy online for selected Sat/Sun and school holiday morning screenings and both adults and children pay £1.58 (or £1.75 on-the-door) each with the Movies for Juniors offer. Recently released films you can watch include Minions and Inside Out.
Vue school holiday £1.99 tickets
Children aged 2-12 can get £1.99 tickets to select morning movies at weekends and in school holidays with the Kids AM offer. What's more, accompanying adults get in for £1.99 as well.
Odeon Kids' screenings for £2.50
On weekends and holiday mornings, for selected films, adult and kids tickets at Odeon cinemas are £2.50. You can either just turn up at the cinema on the day and trust there'll be seats available or book online.
2for1 cinema tickets
2for1 tickets valid Tue/Wed at most cinemas across the UK for Compare The Market customers. See Meerkat Movies.
For a full list of offers, see Cheap Cinema Deals.
Culture vultures can stroll through the history of art, find out about forensics or see the evolution of toys at more than 180 free museums and galleries. These include:
RAF Museum in Hendon, north London.
Walk through five buildings with aircraft, artefacts, aviation memorabilia and photos of the history of aviation.
This is a fantastic museum. It is very child-friendly with lots of interactive things for children to do. There are picnic areas both inside and outside the museum if you want to bring your own food and snacks. Great for families and all ages.
- J McEntee
House of Marbles between Exeter and Plymouth, Devon.
See marbles and glass being made, with handmade artisan glass marbles and trinkets on display. Enjoy interactive marble runs including the largest in the UK.
There's loads to see and do, including watching the artisans at work. There's a restaurant but also space outside to eat, and the gift shop is mesmerising for kids.
- Jamie M
Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.Explore the city's industrial and scientific history through its collections.
Be a part of Welsh history from early periods to the present day, including archaeology and geology.
It has loads of different things to see, including a brilliant geology and dinosaur section, as well as a hands-on room where you can handle exhibits. The art collection is superb too with lots of impressionist paintings and pieces by very famous artists.
- Rebecca M
Went with the family (10yr old & 3yr old) and can't fault it! Staff were friendly and well informed and the activities, exhibitions and demonstrations were fantastic.
- Irene Djan
See the Free Museums & Galleries guide to find your nearest.
Hours of fun with cereal boxes
Who knew there were so many different things to do and make with a cereal box? Well, MSE forumites were brimming with ideas in the forum thread What to do with an old cereal box, including:
Make a Dolls' house
Build a Pinata
Also, why not raid the household recycling bin for even more ideas to keep the kids entertained? They can re-use all the plastics, paper and cardboard to make animals, robots, planes plus much more.
I told my 3 children, aged 9, 8 and 6, they could raid our recycling bin (papers/cartons/empty bottles) and make a spaceship - or whatever they wanted. I couldn't believe how much fun they had.
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 and beyond, and have fun 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.
Free craft packs
Fancy a free £5 craft box for your kids? Toucan Box is a subscription service that delivers arts and crafts kits to children aged 3-8 years old, either fortnightly or monthly. We've got a code that allows new customers to get their first box for free, and then you've the option to cancel at no cost.
Boxes include activities and craft materials such as stencils, stickers, pens and paper.
For the full details see Toucan Box Deals.
£10 book bundles
Get the kids flicking through the paperbacks with The Book People* bundle sets costing £10 or less (plus £3.95 del). These bundles come as sets of nine or 10:
Check out libraries/local tourist info & council sites
Your local council's website or magazine may list lots of free or cheap activities for children to do over the school holidays.
Check your local libraries for activities. Yesterday we went to a reading of The Gruffalo, complete with toys, followed by singing. We're out somewhere else tomorrow, otherwise we would be at a different library making crafts from around the world.
The local council-run pool here has free swimming all through the holidays - we have taken great advantage of this.
So pop along to see what's on near you with this local library finder tool.
- Bad weather is to be expected in winter, however libraries usually set a reading challenge over the holidays, so why not try a good book for free. See the Reading Agency for the full info.
Get crafty indoors
We asked for free ways to keep the kids entertained on a rainy day, and you came up with some right corkers, such as:
Make your own play-dough
Collages or mosaics
Make a kite
Fancy dress costumes
Cut childcare costs
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 - but that's not the case.
Free and subsidised holiday clubs
Some schools, community centres and youth groups offer clubs for children during the school holidays, with activities as diverse as motor quads and archery. Kids aren’t restricted to their own schools - ask local councils for details.
Sometimes they're free, sometimes not. If they're not though, 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 15th birthday (or 16th if they're registered blind or disabled). The name sounds complex, but it simply means you can get cash to cover the cost of childcare.
Single parents working 16 hours plus per week, or couples both working 16 hours plus per week, with an annual family income less than £46,000 (or £73,000 for larger families or families with a disabled child), should check if they're eligible via the Childcare Tax Credits guide.
This Government scheme saves many parents £100s a year. You get them through your employer, and many companies take part.
The vouchers let you pay for childcare from your pre-tax and national insurance income. It mightn’t sound like much, but the benefit’s huge.
Most employers use a salary sacrifice scheme. Here, you give up £1,000 of salary, but if you're a basic taxpayer that's only worth around £700 in your pocket. In return, you're given £1,000 of childcare vouchers, so you're approximately £300 per £1,000 better off.
It's worth noting that the Childcare Vouchers scheme will end in 2017, and will be replaced by Tax-Free Childcare. Some will win under the new scheme, but some will be better off sticking with vouchers. Check Childcare Vouchers for a full rundown of how the current scheme works, and the full details of the new scheme.