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19 April 2021
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 free museums, cheap cinema tickets, kids eat 'free', plus 2for1 attractions and zoos – plenty to keep your munchkins occupied, whether they're toddlers or teens.
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.
You can use a rail ticket to get 2for1 entry to 300+ regional attractions including Warwick Castle, Manchester United Museum & Tour, and Kew Gardens. You'll need to print a voucher for the relevant attraction and have a single, return, or season ticket bought from National Rail, which is valid on the day you want to visit your chosen attraction.
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.
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.
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.
World Heritage Site (and birthplace of Winston Churchill) Blenheim Palace is worth a family visit. A one-day ticket to the palace, park and gardens is £28.50 per adult, £16.50 for 5 to16-year-olds and free for under-5s. However, if you choose to donate the ticket price to its foundation charity you can convert it to an annual pass for no extra cost. The pass is then valid for 12 months from the date it was issued and includes entry to some (not all) special events.
If you've enough Tesco Clubcard vouchers, you can use these to pay for your ticket too. See our Clubcard Boost for more info on how these work.
MSE Tony reports that "the kids loved riding on the miniature railway (which costs an extra 50p per person) and finding their way out of the maze".
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.
Just as familiar as "Are we there yet?" is "I'm hungry!". The cost of filling hungry tums, especially in restaurants, can soon add up. Yet you can sometimes 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.
Check out Green Flag awards to find your nearest award-winning free park.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In summer, 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.
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:
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 Open Farm Sunday takes place on 7 June 2020.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Do check the attraction you want to visit is open, as many including Alton Towers and Thorpe Park are currently out of season and closed until the end of March 2020.
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.
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 theatre seats.
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 Hamilton, Matilda and more. See MSE Jenny's blog on the top theatre lotteries.
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:
World Book Day is Thursday 5 March so retailers are offering discounts on popular character costumes, including:
If you happen to be taking the family to McDonald's, keep an eye out for a free World Book Day token on kids’ Happy Meal boxes until Tue 17 Mar. While it's labelled a '£1 token', it actually gets you one book completely free from a selection of 12 children's titles. See FREE World Book Day token for more info.
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.
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?
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.
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.
...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.
Kids will enjoy helping out in the garden or planting things of their own, or for indoors, try growing cress on the windowsills.
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.
One of the largest free ticket providers, Applause Store has big shows on its books including Britain's Got Talent (age 10+), and Michael McIntyre's Big Show (age 14+).
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+).
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.
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...
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 MSE Forum thread for loads of other free and imaginative car games to keep the kids, and you, entertained while on the road.
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.
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.
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.
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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