We can't guarantee it'll be sunny - but we can promise you some free and cheap activities for the kids' summer holidays and great ideas for some family fun. This guide's jam-packed with deals and tricks for free and cheap family days out in the UK.
Ideas include two-week adventure holidays, 2for1 theme parks and zoos, inspiration for sunny and rainy days as well as cheap train and bus travel during the holidays, we're sure your munchkins will be occupied till term time, whether they're toddlers or teens.
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
The rollercoaster entrance fees are often just as scary as the rides themselves. Buying tickets on the day could set you back £46, enough to make you scream for the wrong reason.
But, there are a few tricks to bag discounts off entry during the peak summer months, such as munching your way through chocolate or cereal, buying rail tickets en route or swapping Tesco or Nectar 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.
50% off theme parks with £1 chocolate
Until the end of July, buy promotional packs of Kit-Kats from major supermarkets and get a voucher for 50% off up to four people at most Merlin theme parks and attractions until 31 Mar 2014, including:
This voucher's better than a 2for1 if you're visiting an attraction with a party of three or any other odd number - this way, you all get a discount (and a chocolate bar!). See the full list of theme parks in this offer.
2for1 (adults go 'free') to 43 attractions via £2ish cereal
Find an 'adult goes free' voucher on promotional packs of Kellogg's cereal (Rice Krispies, Coco Pops, Crunchy Nut, etc) by Wed 31 Jul, valid at 29 Merlin attractions and 14 independent attractions.
The London Eye (OK, not a theme park but the world's largest observation wheel!).
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 for the following:
Up to 75% off theme parks 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 Rewards* which can be redeemed at these theme parks:
See the Tesco Clubcard page for the full details on how to convert points to rewards.
£20 off entry via the Nectar double exchange
Usually, 1,000 Nectar points get you £5 off shopping at Sainsbury's, Argos, Homebase & a few more stores. But from Wed 24 Jul - Tue 13 Aug, you’ll get 4x value at participating theme parks. So 1,000 points becomes £20 to spend at these theme parks:
You just need to go to the customer service desk at Sainsbury's and ask to redeem your points for a Merlin voucher. See the Nectar Deals page for the full info.
See the Cheap Theme Parks page for a list of all the attractions and deals.
Boys and girls aged 5-11 can take part in football coaching sessions running throughout the kids' school holidays.
The programme, run by FA Tesco Skills aims to improve dribbling, passing and shooting skills for 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.
You don't need to splash the cash on the biggest and best swimming pool, swings or slides. There are loads of activities you and your kids can get involved in 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!
Camp out and star gaze
If your garden's safe and secure, then why not camp out in the garden and fall asleep star gazing? Hopefully you'll be able to wish upon a star too.
Turn your garden into a water park
As long as there's no hosepipe ban, let the kids splash around with the hose or a water sprinkler. It's even more fun if they have their friends over.
Get their hands dirty with gardening
See the great Free activities to do with kids forum thread for more inspiration and to add your own ideas.
Hoorah for Andy Murray for winning Wimbledon! If you or your little'uns fancy yourselves as the next tennis champion, then see if your nearest tennis court offers:
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 17 venues offering this. See Tennis for Free Deals for all the info.
Teens in England aged 16-17 can apply to the National Citizen Service for a two week residential course including activities such as canoeing, climbing and hiking followed by a team project in the community. It's either free or capped at £50 with all meals included.
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 have turned 16 or 17 by 31 Aug 2013. There's no official end date but NCS recommends you book as soon as possible.
It's a Government initiative and 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 hundreds of places in all areas of England for the NCS. The three-week scheme takes place throughout August. 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.
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:
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 or owt else. Forumite supermaw said:
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 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.
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 2013's biggies include:
Notting Hill Carnival, London
(Sun 25/ Mon 26 Aug) showcases an array of colourful costumes, music and hundreds of Caribbean food stalls.
South Tyneside Summer Festival
(Jul/Aug 2013) with live music from brass bands, parades, parties and open-air concerts.
(till Sat 31 Aug) 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.
Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
(Thu 8 - Sun 11 Aug) has more than 100 hot-air balloons, an entertainment village and craft marquee.
See Free UK Festivals and Carnivals for a full list of what's going on in your area.
We've a code to get an £8 one-day taster session for children aged 5-18 at Activate Sport summer camps (usually £35-£40).
There are 25 discounted places per camp every weekday till Fri 30 Aug at 80 locations nationwide (see the full list), including:
Andrew Flintoff Cricket Academy
Gold Medal Academy
Multi-sport & Activity Camp
Brendan Cole Dance Academy
Everything 4 Rugby
International Netball Roadshow
You need to book at least a week in advance by calling 0115 973 1676, quoting MSE 2013 for a place. It's on a first-come, first-served basis.
See the Activate Sport deals page for the full info.
If you're heading to the beach, a national forest or to visit the family then there is a way to avoid the kids asking 'are we nearly there yet?'. Speed up car journeys legally with simple games (or even at home or on the train) using the things you see on your travels, such as:
I-spy - easy-peasy
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.
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.
But, 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, others need you to register and print a voucher:
Up to two children can have a free breakfast when a full-price adult breakfast is bought. See Beefeater Deals.
Up to two children can have a free breakfast when a full-price adult breakfast is bought. See Brewers Fayre Deals.
Kids eat 'free' when an adult buys a main after 4pm weekdays, saving around £2.69. See Morrisons Deals.
Slug and Lettuce
Kids eat for £1 (usually £4) on Sundays when an adult dines from the main menu. See Slug and Lettuce Deals.
Plus there are loads of other 2for1 restaurant offers and vouchers on the Cheap Restaurant Deals page.
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 auditions (12+)
Got to Dance (8+)
Richard Hammond's Secret Service (16+)
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:
Your Face Sounds Familiar (16+)
The Jonathan Ross Show (18+)
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.
£60 four day EU HOLIDAY
Family summer holidays don't need to run into thousands of pounds. You can bag four-day European holiday park breaks from just £60 for four people, by collecting tokens with The Sun newspaper. See the Sun Holidays guide for full info.
There's a host of extra charges, but our guide sidesteps these to save up to £500 on a family getaway.
There are 275 parks across Europe (including England, Scotland and Wales) offering accommodation in caravans, chalets, apartments, tents, lodges, bungalows or cottages. No amendments or cancellations are allowed so make sure you really want to go before you send off the form.
Zoos, inclUDING 2for1 tickets
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.
2for1 with a valid on-the-day 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:
South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Cumbria
Noah's Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol
SeaLife Centres in Blackpool, London, Brighton and more
Up to 75% off theme parks 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 Rewards*, which can be redeemed at these zoos:
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 summer holiday.
Forumite kingfisherblue said:
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.
Forumite sweetme said:
The local council-run pool here has free swimming all through the holidays, we have taken great advantage of this.
So pop along or go to the website to see what's on near you.
Wacky Warehouse unlimited PLAY FOR £10
The soft play and activity centre for those aged 18 months to 11 years old usually costs £3.50 - £3.75. But Wacky Warehouse is currently offering a Boredom Buster Booklet for £10 which includes UNLIMITED play at 75 venues during July and August. The booklet also contains the following offers:
Kids go free to SeaLife Centres
2for1 Warwick Castle
One free child entry to Bluereef aquarium, Portsmouth
Kids go free at Wookey Hole caves, Somerset
One child free entry at Monkey Forest, Staffordshire
You need to visit one of 75 Wacky Warehouses to buy the £10 booklet, which includes all the coupons for the offers. If you have three children, you can buy the same unlimited pass for £20 for the trio.
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.
RAF Museum in Hendon, north London.
Walk through five buildings with aircraft, artefacts, aviation memorabilia and photos of the history of aviation.
MSE user J McEntee said:
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.
Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.
Explore the city's industrial and scientific history through its collections.
MSE user Irene Djan said:
National Museum Cardiff.
Be a part of Welsh history from early periods to the present day, including archaelogy and geology.
MSE user Rebecca M said of the museum:
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.
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.
See the Free Museums & Galleries guide to find your nearest.
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 adult/child tickets to Cineworld cinemas on Saturday/Sunday mornings
Buy online for selected Saturday/Sunday morning screenings and both adults and children pay £1 each with the Movies for Juniors offer. Recent films include Wreck It Ralph and Rise of the Guardians.
Vue school holiday £1.75 tickets
Children aged 2-12 can get £1.75 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.
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 (though you'll pay 50p booking fee per ticket).
'Free' cinema ticket with £4 worth of promotional sweets
You can get a 'free' cinema ticket valid on Sundays at participating cinemas - which include Cineworlds - when you buy 4 x big bags of promotional chocolates with "Sweet Sundays" written on the bag by 8 Nov 2013. Better still, the bags are on sale at £1 at Poundworld (subject to availability) and Waitrose (till Tue 16 Jul). So for £4, you're getting a cinema ticket and snacks - just don't gobble all of them down at once!
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 will send you a code to show to the cinema staff.
See new films for free with screening codes
Sign up to film preview websites and get screening codes to see selected new films for free. Enter the code it sends you on its website to see if your local cinema is participating.
Sign up to sites such as Show Film First, See Film First, Momentum Pictures and Disney Screenings. Recent films shown for free include Oz the Great and Powerful, Safe Haven and Robot & Frank. See Free Preview Cinema Tickets for more info.
Plus loads more - for a full list of offers, see Cheap Cinema Deals.
£10 for unlimited game rentals
You can keep them quiet for a while with the latest game releases till Sun 8 Sep, though we're warning you - it may be difficult pulling them off the sofa. Blockbuster's offering:
An unlimited game rental pass for £10
The pass includes new releases and "pre-owned" games for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and DS. Games include Grand Theft Auto, Skyrim, Call of Duty and more, though all games are subject to availability.
Anyone 18+ can sign up for free Blockbuster membership either online or in-store but the £10 pass can only be bought in-store. If your kids are under 18, you can add them to your account so they'll be able to rent age-appropriate games.
You can keep the game for as long as you like, though the maximum number you can have at any time is one.
See the new MSE gaming forum to chat about all things gaming-related.
B&Q free kids' diy classes
Sign-up to the B&Q Club and once you're registered, your 7-11-year-olds can take part in free DIY classes to make the following (subject to availability):
Bird peanut feeder
Once you're signed up, enter your postcode at the Kids Can Do It website to find your nearest of 59 participating B&Q stores. Then click 'book' and you'll be able to see a list of weekend dates and the workshops on offer.
Get crafty indoors
We asked for free ways to keep the kids entertained, and you came up with some right corkers such as:
Make your own play-dough
Papier mache masks/hats
Collages or mosaics
Make a kite
Fancy dress costumes
2for1 regional attractions
You can save a packet with 2for1 vouchers to regional attractions such as:
Taste of the World Food Festival West Sussex
Scone Palace near Perth
Glamis Castle near Dundee
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 of regional attractions and how to get your vouchers.
London Theatre deals
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. There are 30,000 tickets for the following shows:
We Will Rock You
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.
Free Spamalot tickets for London 'knights'
The producers of Monty Python's Spamalot are giving FREE tickets to theatregoers who turn up dressed as a knight, as well as anyone who has been knighted. The offer's on until until 2 Nov 2013, subject to seat availability.
Just arrive at The Playhouse Theatre, central London at least one hour before the show starts in all your Arthurian finery, which must include FOUR of the following knightly articles: a helmet, a hood, chainmail, armour, a tabard, a tunic, a cape, gauntlets, a shield. See the Spamalot deals page for more info.
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 £30 per year
These can be bought from the Railcard website and typically cost £30 per year. They cut a third off off-peak travel, so spend over £90 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.
Megabus from £1 each way, to UK cities and 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.
Buy train tickets with Tesco Clubcard Rewards
You can buy rail tickets using Tesco Clubcard vouchers* on rail site RedSpottedHanky*. £5 in vouchers gets you £10 in rewards. Full details in the Cheap Train Tickets Guide.
We've got a list of the cheapest ways to get around in Cheap Train & Coach Deals.
£10 Book bundles
Get the kids flicking through the paperbacks with The Book People bundle sets costing £10 (plus £3.95 del). There are popular titles such as:
Roald Dahl: Three Tales of Magic and Mischief
The RSPB Bumper Book of Wildlife Stories
Horrid Henry Fact Book set
The book bundles are worth up to £29 each, so they're a pretty good deal for the prices listed above. See The Book People Deals for the details.
FREE RACE NIGHT AT DONCASTER
Anyone living in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Humberside, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester or Lincolnshire can get a completely FREE ticket to Doncaster race night on Thu 18 Jul or Thu 25 Jul when entering the code RESIDAY.
There are seven races on each day, going till 9pm-ish so this could be a good evening out with your teens.
There are 16,000 tickets available for the family enclosure, (you don't need to go with kids but those aged 18 and under can go) which are usually £7 each. The offer ends the day before each race or once tickets are snapped up. The usual £2.50 admin fee has been waived too. Tickets are posted to your address so if you don't live in one of the above areas, you're not eligible.
See Horse Racing Deals for the full going.
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 & youth groups offer clubs for children during the summer 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. 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 so 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. 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 £700 in your pocket. In return, you're given £1,000 of childcare vouchers, so you're £300 per £1,000 better off. Check Childcare Vouchers and the Childcare Help guide for more.