Summer is fast approaching with its long school holidays, but the cost of living crisis means that families across the country and budgeting and worrying about how to entertain the children without breaking the bank.
Research released today from Travelzoo revealed that an overwhelming majority of Brits – 98% – are concerned by the rising living costs with many of us having to make sacrifices on enjoyable experiences in an attempt to get by.
Amongst the main things we are cutting back on are holidays and days out or experiences with the family.
But days out and experiences are hugely important to us with 86% holding them in higher regard than material goods. So we have scoured the country and picked out the best bargain family days out across the UK this summer.
Cheap and free days out with kids
Harry Potter Trail – Edinburgh
Grab a wand and join your robed guide on the original tour of Edinburgh designed especially for Potter fans!
You’ll discover the magical locations that inspired characters and scenes in the series, visit the places where JK Rowling wrote the books, and even learn a spell or two along the way…
Free tours available, more info here.
Royal Shakespeare Company dress up and walks – Stratford-Upon-Avon
Free activities run all day every day including a walking trail around historic Stratford, the chance to dress up in real costumes used on stage in Shakespeare plays, and join in with a host of play cart activities in the cafes and shared spaces in and around the theatre.
National Rail Museum – York
Almost 300 rail vehicles, including a Japanese bullet train, are housed in the world’s biggest collection of model railways at York’s National Railway Museum. There’s always a range of interactive activities for both at York and at sister museum NRM Shildon in County Durham, which is also free.
Tickets free, more info here.
Science Museum and Natural History Museum – London
Both are free to visit but pre-booking for certain exhibitions and events is essential. The NHM has a sister site in Tring, Hertfordshire that is also free, and in Oxford you’ll find the free History of Science Museum and Museum of Natural History.
Hobbledown Heath – West London
London’s largest leisure development since the Olympics will open its gates in July, just in time for the school holidays. Located in Hounslow, and spanning more than 126 acres, Hobbledown is a rain or shine experience featuring three villages where kids can climb towers, crawl through the tunnels, and step inside one of the largest indoor play arenas in the country, and all while coming face-to-face with goats, alpacas, meerkats, lemurs, and many other exotic and traditional farm animals. Under-2s go free and tickets start at £15 for entry to the whole attraction.
Sky Garden – London
The perfect day out for families looking to admire London’s skyline from above and for those on a budget as access is completely free. Located 155 metres up as London’s highest public garden, Sky Garden is a gourmet garden oasis offering spectacular 360-degree views across the capital. Inside, experience an abundance of lush greenery, exquisitely landscaped gardens, and panoramic views of London’s skyline from observation decks and an open-air terrace, as well as a variety of dining options including a ‘best of British’ menu on level 36 at Darwin Brasserie.
During public hours, children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult aged 18 years or over and are not permitted to enter Sky Garden after 6pm on weekdays and 9pm on weekends. Adults can visit with a maximum of three children. Access is free but visits must be booked in advance and spaces are limited. Free tickets are released every Monday here.
Wales Museums – Wales
All of Wales’ National Museums have free entry. The best options with kids include the National Museum Cardiff, where you can get up close to a huge woolly mammoth, and St Fagans Museum of History, which allows you to step back in time in more than 40 historic buildings.
National Parks – Nationwide
From the lush New Forest to the lofty Cairngorms, the UK’s 15 National Parks offer endless options for outdoor fun, from gentle walking to action filled adventure. Covering a staggering 16,267 square kilometres, they’re much closer and more accessible than many realise.
The Oswestry Balloon Carnival 20-21st August
The skies above the pretty market town of Oswestry will be filled with giant hot air balloons on 20-21st August as the North Shropshire town stages its annual Balloon Carnival. More than 25 balloons will set off on a mass morning then sunset launch from Cae Glas Park. Artisanal food pop-ups, local produce and craft stalls, live music and street entertainers will provide day-long entertainment for families attending the free event weekend-long event which will raise funds via an optional £1 donation to Nightingale House Hospice.
The Guy of Warwick Trail – Warwickshire
Warwick is famous for its castle, which offers packages and discounts on visits year-round, but there are a host of other things to do in the city, many of them free. From historic trails to an array of museums, plus parks packed with activities, there’s plenty of fun for all the family, and much at a budget cost. For example, St Nicholas Park has its own family area with activities priced at £1 per credit, while the Guy of Warwick Trail aimed at families is free to take part in.
Lincoln Castle & Lincoln Cathedral – Lincolnshire
Both have dominated the Lincoln skyline for almost 1,000 years and offer free access to the grounds for families on days out in the city.
The Hares of Hampshire – Southampton
From 16 June to 25 August The Hares of Hampshire will bound into Southampton with a free public art trail. Perfect for posing alongside, there will be 30 brightly painted and larger than life statues scattered across various locations in and around the city and beyond.
Follow That Duck – Sussex
Another art trail, this time of thirty 5ft tall ‘Rubber Duck’ sculptures positioned along the Sussex coast from Hastings to Bexhill this summer. The trail encourages people to engage with their local environment, get outside and get active in search of the 30 sculptures, and to discover new places. The ducks will be in situ for 10 weeks throughout the summer and each will host a wellbeing activity. The full trail will be manageable on foot or via public transport within one day.
Top tips for cheaper family days out
When planning days out it’s always worth exploring offers and deals ahead of the day. Pre-booking can dramatically reduce the cost of a family day out, and brands such as Kelloggs include vouchers on the side of packets offering free adult tickets when paying for a child at a host of attractions nationwide.
This summer is the perfect chance to grab a discount or freebie at your favourite places to eat. Food spots such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Greggs and Krispy Kreme offer free food and other rewards when you download their app and sign up for free membership. Some bars and pubs also offer free drinks when you download their app or sign up to a mailing list.
Families with children under 12 can often bag a discount at a local restaurant. Chains including Gordon Ramsay restaurants and The Real Greek offer free kids’ meals for every adult who buys from the main menu.
If you fancy getting creative in the kitchen, swapping restaurants for whipping up your favourite dishes can help you save. Making the most of summer days with a barbeque or picnic can cut costs too.
Families can experience movie magic at a discount over the summer. Cinemas across the UK offer cheap tickets to morning screenings of children’s movies for as little as £2.49 per person.
Children aged 17 and under can see over 40 top London shows for free throughout August when accompanied by a full-paying adult as part of Kids Week.
Keeping an eye out for free and cheap events popping up in your local area on social media or by signing up for event mailing lists can help keep costs down too. You can also sign up to a seat-filler website and get tickets to theatre, music and comedy shows for less than £10 a ticket.
Lane7 bowling alleys are doing a deal all summer for two games plus a drink for £10 per child.
Savvy travel spending
Whether you’re booking a train for a staycation or flights to jet off abroad, it pays to use price comparison websites to find the cheapest journeys and save money. Booking your transport as early as possible can also help vastly reduce the cost of your journey.
Family activities to do at home
Nest Friends is a website created by dad Rick Oliver to keep his kids entertained during lockdown. It features a number of free downloadable resources to help teach children about birds they spot, from create-your-own bird sheets to colouring pages and tick-off charts.
Treasure Trail apps
The beauty of treasure trail apps such as Geocaching and Pokémon is that they can be enjoyed absolutely anywhere, from your local park to holiday destinations. Simply download the app, press go and follow the clues. Take a picnic and make a day of it, or use it to kill a few hours without spending any cash. Or take a look at AllTrails for local walks with tips on what to spot on the way.
Go on a butterfly hunt
Use Heart of England’s free Butterfly Guide and go on a butterfly hunt. Use this handy spotter’s guides to identify butterflies.
Check local sites
Many local councils are offering free activity days and sessions over the summer, so check your local council website to see what’s on offer. Join Facebook groups for parents in your area, and take a look at signs in your local library advertising free activities. There’s a lot out there, you just need to know where to look!
READ MORE: 7 tips for travelling with toddlers