Things to do with the kids
Days out, free activities, restaurant offers & more
Kids need to be kept entertained, especially during the school holidays. But there's no need to break the bank – our guide is packed with free and cheap activities to keep the little ones occupied, plus deals and tricks for cheap family days out.
Ideas include kids eat 'free', cheap cinema tickets, plus 2for1 theme parks, attractions and zoos – plenty to keep your munchkins occupied, whether they're toddlers or teens.
Came here from the MSE weekly email? See MSE Jenny's 23 free (or very cheap) ways to create summer magic for kids, including evening walks with a free stargazing app.
Days out & activities including...
The great outdoors
🏞️ Visit the park
Check out Green Flag awards to find your nearest award-winning free park.
🕵️ Become a nature detective
Grab 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 making squirrel-proof bird feeders and more, or if the weather lets you down, there are craft activities such as colouring sheets.
🌹 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 old and within the family group) accompanied by an adult.
🍓 Pick your own fruit & veg (seasonal)
Are your kids picky eaters? Why not visit a pick your own fruit or veg farm from late spring to autumn. See Pick Your Own Farms to plan your visit.
Theme parks & attractions
Theme park entrance prices are often as scary as the rides themselves. Buying tickets on the day could set you back up to £60 – enough to make you scream for the wrong reason.
Deals include half-price entry to Alton Towers and Sea Life centres, 2for1 with National Rail tickets, and exchanging Tesco Clubcard vouchers for attraction tickets.
🎢 Top theme park & attraction deals
Free sports & fitness
🏃🏽 Free Junior Parkrun
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.
See our Outdoor Fitness page for the full details, including other free classes kids can get involved in.
🎾 Free tennis coaching & court usage
You can net free tennis sessions or coaching as part of Big Tennis Weekends, organised by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), at venues across England, Scotland and Wales. Events are planned between now and September and are suitable for families and all abilities. See Free tennis sessions & coaching for full info.
Alternatively, check out Tennis for Free to find out where there are free ongoing tennis coaching sessions in your area. The scheme 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 'Swim Safe' sessions
Children aged 7-14 can take part in one-hour open water 'Swim Safe' sessions running in 36 open water locations in England and Wales throughout the summer.
The programme, run by ASA-qualified swimming teachers, will include up to 30-minutes of open water swimming, along with advice on water safety from qualified lifeguards. For the full details, see Swim Safe.
Regional attractions & days out
There are plenty of fun and interesting attractions to visit across the UK. Here are some ways you can save on a family day out, including castles, museums and gardens.
🚆 2for1 across the UK with a train ticket
Even if you're not travelling by train, it could be worth getting the cheapest single ticket to your attraction so you can still claim the deal. See 2for1 attractions with National Rail for more info and how to get your vouchers.
🌺 Eden Project, Cornwall
Get 10% off entry to the Eden Project when you book at least one day in advance online, and 'free' entry for a year when you choose to donate your entry fee to the Eden Trust when booking. So you'd pay £26 per adult and £13.50 per child, and get entry to the Eden Project for a year.
🚋 London Transport Museum
Kids aged 17 and under get 'free' entry to the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden in London. Anyone under 12 years old will need to have a paying grown-up with them – tickets are £16.50 online, or £18 at the museum, and this gives unlimited daytime entry for 12 months.
Cinema tickets for £2.50 or less
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 a trip to see the big screen more affordable.
🎬 Top cinema deals
Kids eat 'free' or for '£1'
Just as familiar as "Are we there yet?" is "I'm hungry!". The cost of keeping hungry little mouths fed, especially in restaurants, can soon add up for families. Fear no more, you can still enjoy a meal out and feed the kids for a fraction of the price.
With some restaurant offers, you can just walk in – with others you'll need to register and print a voucher off first.
🍕 Current kids' restaurant deals
Zoos & wildlife parks
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, see our full Cheap Zoo Deals for a round-up of roar-some deals to make a wild family day out cheaper.
🐵 2for1 with a valid National Rail ticket
If you buy a National Rail ticket and register at Days Out Guide you can get 2for1 entry to many big zoos and wildlife parks including ZSL London Zoo and Sea Life centres in Blackpool, London, Brighton and more.
You'll 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 for the same day you want to visit.
It's worth doing this even if you’re not travelling by train – see 2for1 entry train ticket trick. Cheap single tickets are usually available for a few quid, far cheaper than the entry price.
🐯 Cheaper tickets with Tesco Clubcard
If you shop at Tesco and collect points using your Clubcard, then there's a way to get three times the value on your points by converting them into vouchers, which can be redeemed at these zoos including Amazon World Zoo Park, Blackpool Zoo, Colchester Zoo, and Howletts Wild Animal Park.
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:
🐷 Open Farm Sunday
Each year, hundreds of farms across England, Scotland and Wales open their gates to the public for various activities for one day only. Most are free (a small number charge a fee, usually £1-£10) or ask for a donation.
This year's has already happened, but next year's Open Farm Sunday takes place on 7 June 2020.
Free in-store activities
🙂 Lego builds
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.
Pet products retailer Pets at Home runs small animal workshops throughout the year, including school holidays. Children of all ages are welcome, but sessions are designed for kids aged 5-11.
🖍️ Craft club
Arts and craft retailer Hobbycraft runs free workshops for kids in most of its UK stores. Workshops, dates and times vary from store-to-store but could include fun things like slime making, ceramic painting, and decoupage.
🎨 Art sessions
The National Gallery in London offers free art workshops and drawing sessions on certain days, including school holidays. Entry to the museum is free.
Dobbies Garden Centre runs free workshops for 4-10-year-olds on the first Sunday of every month and during school holidays. The workshops include planting seeds and learning about nature.
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.
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
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
Free Lego Life Magazine
If your child is aged 5-9, you can sign up to be sent a totally free Lego Life Magazine in the post four times a year.
The magazine includes Lego news, themed games and puzzles, character comics, posters, and sneak peeks at future Lego sets.
West End theatre tickets
If you're planning a trip to London, then a visit to the theatre might be high up on your to-do list. Tickets can really add up, especially if taking the family to see a big West End show, so we've pulled back the curtain on some ways to help you bag cheap seats.
🎭 'Free' kids West End theatre tickets
You can get a free child's ticket (age 16 or under) to 30+ London theatre shows in August when you purchase a full-priced adult ticket from Kids Week. 150,000+ tickets were made available on 11 June 2019, and shows include Wicked, Mamma Mia!, and The Gruffalo.
Depending on which show and seats you choose, you can save £14.50-£80. For the full info and list of shows, see Kids go 'free' to West End shows in August.
🎭 Theatre lotteries
A host of West End shows offer free-to-enter theatre lotteries which give you the chance to buy seats that can cost £100+ (depending on the show) for just £10-£25 including Disney's Aladdin, Hamilton, Matilda and more. See MSE Jenny's blog on the top theatre lotteries.
£10 book bundles
Get the kids flicking through the paperbacks with The Book People* bundle sets costing £10 or less (plus £2.95 delivery). These bundles come as sets of nine or 10:
- Greatest Stories Ever Told collection*
- Under The Sleepy Moon*
- The Three Little Superpigs & Other Stories*
- Biff, Chip & Kipper First Experiences collection*
If you go online to bookseller The Works*, you can get 10 kids' picture books sets for £10. Delivery's £2.99 or you can collect for free from a store. Collections include:
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.
⛺ 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?
🍬 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.
🌊 Turn your garden into a water park
...but only if the sun's out! 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
Kids will enjoy helping out in the garden or planting things of their own, or for indoors, try growing cress on the windowsills.
Free audience tickets
Rather than sitting at home in front of the telly, you can watch TV shows in person with free audience tickets for popular programmes.
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.
👏 Applause Store
One of the largest free ticket providers, Applause Store has big shows on its books including Britain's Got Talent (age 12+), Michael McIntyre's Big Show (age 14+), and The X Factor (age 8+).
🎥 SRO Audiences
Another biggie is SRO Audiences. Expect to find tickets for shows such as The Voice (age 14+) and 5 Gold Rings with Phillip Schofield (age 16+).
📺 Lost in TV
Take a look at Lost in TV for tickets to shows such as Ninja Warrior UK (age 8+).
Always make sure you check out the sites above, so you never end up paying money for tickets on eBay or other ticket sites. Depending on availability, you should always be able to get them for free.
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If you're heading to an attraction or to visit the family, there is a way to avoid the kids asking "Are we there yet?". Speed up car journeys legally with simple games (or even try them at home or on the train). Ideas include:
The classic car game... I spy with my little eye, something beginning with...
🅰️ Martin Lewis' 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.
🔢 Fizz Buzz
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.
🚘 Travel bingo
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.
🎱 Car snooker
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 MSE Forum thread for loads of other free and imaginative car games to keep the kids, and you, entertained while on the road.
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We asked for free ways to keep the kids entertained indoors, and you came up with some right corkers, including using cereal boxes to make a dolls' house or build a pinata. See the What to do with an old cereal box MSE Forum thread.
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.
Other ideas for getting crafty indoors include making your own play-dough, papier-mache masks/hats, collages or mosaics, make a kite, or create fancy dress costumes.
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.
📱 How to get started
Sign up for free 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.
Libraries & local tourist info
Your local council's website or magazine may list lots of free or cheap activities for children to do over the school holidays. You may also find free activities at your local library.
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.
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, tax-free childcare, free school schemes and more.
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