Rhiannon | Edited by Gary
Updated 17 Oct 2017
Although it may feel as though the kids have only just gone back to school after the summer holidays, the autumn half-term is upon us. 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 kids eat 'free', cheap cinema tickets, plus 2for1 theme parks, attractions and zoos. There's 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 days out and activities, including...
The great outdoors
Visit the park
Here's a handy page where you can search for award-winning parks near you - and they're 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 if the autumn weather lets you down, there are craft activities such as colouring sheets. See Woodland Trust for the full info.
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.
Catch 'em all
It might sound a bit Oddish, but if you're out and about and it's safe to play, why not download the Pokémon Go app? It encourages children (and adults) to walk around outside capturing and battling virtual monsters, earning medals and interacting with local points of interest.
If we've Pikachu-ed your interest, do remember whilst the app itself is free, it will use data and there is the possibility of in-app purchases so make sure you set parental controls including a PIN, or even unlink your card details if your child doesn't have their own device. Check our Pokémon Go guide for tips on avoiding big bills.
Lego offers a free toy build on the first Thursday of every month for 6-14-year-olds in official stores. See all Lego deals.
Pets at Home runs small animal workshops during school holidays. See Pets at Home for more 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.
Apple is offering free coding workshops at its Apple Stores locations for all ages, including Swift coding, and programming robots. See Apple for the full details.
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. 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 ManchesterExplore 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.
Theme park season is coming to an end so it's your last chance to get in some thrill rides in the next few weeks, but 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 half-price entry to Alton Towers, 2for1s with Kellogg's cereal and National Rail tickets, and exchanging Tesco Clubcard vouchers for attraction tickets.
Half-price entry to Alton Towers or Sea Life centres
If you pick up a promotional bottle of Carex handwash (norm £1) or Carex shower gel (norm £1.50), you can use it to get half-price tickets at Alton Towers or Sea Life centres until 31 May 2018.
See Half-price entry to Alton Towers for the full details.
Ways to save at more theme parks and attractions...
2for1 with £3ish cereal
Look for promotional packs of Kellogg's cereal and snacks, including Rice Krispies, Frosties, Crunchy Nut and Squares (£2ish-£4ish in supermarkets) to get a 'free' adult entry voucher for 30 Merlin theme parks and attractions.
Effectively this is a 2for1 (or better) as you have to buy a full-price child or adult ticket to get a free adult entry.
The vouchers can be exchanged for entry on the day at attractions such as Alton Towers, Legoland, Thorpe Park, Chessington, Sea Life centres and Madame Tussauds until 30 June 2018.
See 2for1 Merlin tix 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 – see 2for1 entry train ticket trick. 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 of your points by converting them to vouchers. See the Tesco Clubcard page for 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 above three deals – we have noted where they don't apply to all. Some attractions may exclude special events, so always phone ahead to check first.
Cadbury World National Rail only.
Kew Gardens National Rail only.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach Clubcard only.
See the Cheap Theme Parks page for a list of all the attractions and deals.
You can use a rail ticket trick to get 2for1 entry to regional attractions. See 2for1 attractions with National Rail for more info and how to get your vouchers. Here are some examples:
Warwick Castle in Warwickshire.
Blackpool Tower Eye in Lancashire.
Manchester United Museum & Tour in Greater Manchester.
Kew Gardens in London.
Thinktank Science Museum in Birmingham.
Museum of Transport in Greater Manchester.
Brighton Toy and Model Museum in East Sussex.
Eden Project, Cornwall
Get 10% off when you book at least one day in advance online and a 'free' one-year pass when you choose to donate your entry fee to the Eden Trust when booking. So you’d pay £25 per adult, £12.60 per child and get entry to the Eden Project for a year.
For more information, see Eden Project.
London Transport Museum
Kids aged 17 and under get free entry to the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden. Anyone under 12 years old will need to have a paying grown-up with them – tickets are £16 online, or £17.50 at the museum, and this gives unlimited daytime entry for 12 months.
During the October half-term, between Sat 21 Oct and Sun 29 Oct, each paying adult to The View from The Shard can take up to two kids free of charge.
See The View From The Shard for the full details.
Just as familiar as "Are we 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 for a voucher first:
You can get a kids' main meal for £1 when an adult main is purchased from the main menu. See Harvester deals.
You can get two kids' meals for £1 when an adult main is purchased, valid Mon-Sat. See Toby Carvery deals.
You can get a free kids' meal deal (main, drink and dessert) with every full-price adult main purchased on Saturday and Sunday, and from Mon 23 Oct to Fri 27 Oct. See Giraffe deals.
Frankie & Benny's
Get a kids' meal for free incl a main, two sides, dessert and a drink, when an adult main is purchased from the main menu. See Frankie & Benny's deals.
Get a £1 kids' meal per full-priced adult main, valid every day. See Prezzo deals.
Get a free kids' (8 and under) main meal when one adult spends £10 or more. See La Tasca deals.
Kids get a starter, main, dessert and drink for £1 with each adult main purchased. See Bella Italia deals.
Kids get a 'free' meal with each adult main course purchased. See Jamie's Italian deals.
Get up to two kids' (8 and under) dinners for £1 when an adult dines at full price from the main menu on Mondays. See Hungry Horse deals.
The Real Greek
A kid eats for 'free' on Sundays when an adult spends £10. See The Real Greek deals.
There are loads of other restaurant offers on the Cheap Restaurant Deals page.
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 – see 2for1 entry train ticket trick. 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 them into vouchers, which can be redeemed at these zoos:
Even more offers
Free (or up to £50) activity holiday
Teens in England and Northern Ireland aged 16-17 can apply to the National Citizen Service for a week-long programme including activities such as canoeing, climbing and hiking followed by a team project in the community. It's either free via a bursary or capped at £50 with all meals included.
How: Enter details on the National Citizen Service page (parents or teenagers can fill it out) and your local provider will contact you to explain more. You must be 16 or 17 at the time of the trip.
It's a Government initiative and bursaries are available to some with low income or those receiving certain benefits. This has been popular with MoneySavers before.
- Phase 1: This is spent at an outward bound facility, participating in outdoor activities such as abseiling, rock climbing and canoeing.
- Phase 2: Teens will learn to be self-sufficient, cook for themselves and their team, manage a budget and develop skills including presentation, teamwork and leadership, whilst also finding out more about the needs of their local community.
- Phase 3: Based back at home, teens will continue to work together, organising a community project of their choice to help make a real and lasting difference to the lives of others.
For all the details, see National Citizen Service deals.
Free children's farms
You don't have to be out in the countryside to get a taste of rural life. Your little ones can make furry or feathery friends by visiting local children's farms, even in the big cities. Here are some that are free to enter:
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.
Vue school holiday £2.49 tickets
Children aged 2-12 can get £2.49 tickets to select morning movies at weekends and in school holidays with the Mini Mornings offer. What's more, accompanying adults get in for £2.49 as well.
£2.50 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 £2.50 (or £2.70 on-the-door) each with the Movies for Juniors offer.
Odeon kids' screenings for £2.50
On weekends and holiday mornings, for selected films, adult and kids' tickets at Odeon cinemas are £2.50 (£3 in some cinemas). 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 how to get a year's 2for1 for £2ish.
Recently released films you can watch include Despicable Me 3 and The Emoji Movie.
For a full list of offers, see Cheap Cinema Deals.
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:
Virgin Trains 10% off West Coast family tickets
If you're planning a day out or longer trip to/from London with the family in October, we've blagged 10% off Virgin Trains West Coast fixed-price family tickets until Sun 29 Oct. See full info at Virgin Trains deals.
Buy train tickets with Tesco Clubcard points
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 & moreWe've got a comprehensive list of the cheapest ways to get around in Cheap Train & Coach Deals.
Free football coaching
Free Junior Parkrun
Free court usage
Girls aged 5-11 can take part in free football coaching sessions running throughout the school holidays (£2-£5 for boys).
The programme, run by FA 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.
For the full details see FA Skills Deals.
Children aged 4-14 can take part in weekly timed 2K runs in parks all over the UK on Sunday mornings.
Children any age are also welcome at the weekly timed 5K runs on Saturday mornings, but these are usually busier - the advantage is the whole family can run (even the dog) and prams are welcome, too.
For the full details, including other free outdoor classes kids can get involved in, see Outdoor fitness.
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.
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. 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, then why not 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, or for indoors, 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.
£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:
Everyone wants a sweet treat over the holidays, and what's better than baking it yourself? Why not try your hand at baking one of the following:
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 live shows (16+)
Sam & Mark's Big Friday Wind-up (8+)
Little Big Shots (12+)
Michael McIntyre's Big Show (14+)
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:
The Voice UK auditions (14+)
Loose Women (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 a full list of free audience ticket websites and find out how to grab them.
Free car games
If you're heading to an attraction 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 phone box it's "ting-a-ling" and for a church 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.
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
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 £6 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.
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.
Get crafty indoors
We asked for free ways to keep the kids entertained indoors, 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
Whether you've a wee tot or big teen, the costs of childcare can be massive. See our Childcare Costs Help guide for how to boost your childcare budget, including tax credits, childcare vouchers, free school schemes and more.