Make the most of the school holidays with our round-up of family days out and things to do on a budget
Looking for a family day out – or perhaps a short break together? There’s a huge range of fantastic family experiences to enjoy across the UK.
Museums and exhibitions
If you want to keep a young motor enthusiast happy, head to the Cotswold Motoring Museum in the chocolate-box village of Bourton-on-the-Water. This year the museum celebrates its 40th birthday with a 40 Year Flashback – an exhibition looking back to 1978.
Up in York, the Jorvik Viking Centre has reopened after 2015’s floods, and new technology now allows you to smell the streets of 10th century York (phew). At Hampton Court Palace, there’s the history-themed Magic Garden play area for kids to explore – complete with dragons.
At the O2, the ‘DC Exhibition: Dawn of Super Heroes' celebrates DC’s Super Heroes and Super Villains including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Joker. You’ll see original artwork, plus costumes, models and props used in the famous films, with Superman’s cape from the Christopher Reeve films and the 1970s Wonder Woman outfit.
And the Royal Institution has family events throughout the year, such as Mark Thompson's Spectacular Science and a series of Summer Schools from late July and throughout August. Find out more about levitation, space travel and how life is created, plus much more.
Explore the UK's zoos and wildlife parks
Prefer to get closer to nature? Many of Britain’s zoos and wildlife parks offer special wildlife experiences for junior animal-lovers, giving kids the chance to find out what it's like to work as a zoo keeper and care for the animals.
At Yorkshire’s Flamingo Land zoo park, kids can step into the enclosure for half an hour with penguins, meerkats or lemurs. At Drusilla’s Park in East Sussex, you can feed the mischievous coatis or even (by appointment) hang out with the pandas – and there's a 20% discount for Boundless members. And at Folly Farm in Pembrokeshire, brave souls can even feed the lions (through a fence, we’re relieved to learn).
Many zoos and wildlife parks also offer Junior Zookeeper experiences, lasting a half or full day and giving kids a real taste of life behind the scenes. Try Cotswold Wildlife Park just off the M4, Dudley Zoo near Birmingham, ZSL London Zoo or Edinburgh Zoo. Colchester Zoo has a Zoo Academy for six to 15-year-olds, while Bristol Zoo Gardens offers a Junior Keeper Experience.
Cycling fun for the whole family
Experience cycling at a world-class velodrome! Visit the Lee Valley VeloPark in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, home to the 2012 Olympics. You can cycle the track in the famous velodrome or try the challenging mountain bike trails. Or at the Cyclopark in Gravesend there’s a programme of special kids’ events for the holidays.
Visit a free festival
Family-friendly festivals like Latitude and Camp Bestival have ballooned in recent years, but with camping tickets often costing £500+ for a family of four, they hit your pocket hard. If you’re economising, you could just visit for a day – or take advantage of one of the summer’s many free festivals and events.
One of Bristol’s biggest outdoor events of the year is free – the aerial spectacle of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta (9-12 August). Meanwhile, over in Eastbourne, you can enjoy the aerobatics of the Eastbourne International Airshow (16-19 August) without spending a thing.
At Manchester’s Festwich (28-29 July) you can even watch Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Muse and the Foo Fighters play live for free – or at least, top-notch tribute acts rocking their classics. And come the late August Bank Holiday, London shimmies and shakes to the Notting Hill Carnival – Europe’s biggest street party and (for now, at least) free of charge.
Discover a free museumSnapping the silverware at Manchester’s National Football Museum
In the UK we’re lucky enough to have some of the world’s best free museums and galleries, so why not take advantage? London’s South Kensington museum quarter alone could keep you busy all summer, with the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and newly-enhanced V&A – featuring the new Exhibition Road Quarter – all offering access to most of their treasures without charge.
Outside London, there’s Wales’ Big Pit Coal Museum, Manchester’s National Football Museum, Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and Leeds’ Royal Armories – among many, many others. All have family-friendly exhibits, making a trip enjoyable as well as educational for the kids. Enjoyed your visit? Make a donation, or at least splash out in the café.
Play an old-school game
You can’t beat a classic game of hide-and-seek or hopscotch. Here's ten more of our favourite classic kids’ games.
A cheap bag of marbles can give hours of fun. Challenge each other to knock your opponent’s marbles out of the ring (drawn with chalk on a pavement, or marked with thread on the carpet).
One person is Simon and tells the other players what action to perform by starting each instruction with “Simon says…”. Simon tries to catch them out by making them follow a command that doesn't start with “Simon says”.
Using a simple loop of string you can make increasingly complex patterns. You’ll need at least two people, one to hold the loop and the other to manoeuvre the string; you can find instructions for the patterns online.
Dance around while music plays, while one person presses pause; as soon as it stops all players must freeze. The loser is the one who’s last to stop dancing.
Stuck in the mud
Add another element to a group game of tag. Once someone is caught they have to stand still, until another player releases them by running all the way around them in a circle.
One player stands in the centre of a group with a cricket bat, while the other players try to hit their legs with a tennis ball. The batter can deflect the ball with the bat, but they’re also caught out if another player catches the ball they’ve hit away. You can make it even more difficult by making the batter unable to move their feet, so they have to bat from any angle beside or behind them.
Also known as Forty Forty. One person stays at the designated base, and counts to 40 while everyone else hides. The seeker then leaves the base to find the others, but each person who’s discovered has to then race them back to base to win.
What’s the time Mr Wolf?
A group of children start at the other end of a room or playground and try to creep up on the person who’s Wolf, by calling out “What’s the time Mr Wolf”. If the Wolf answers a time such as “Five o’clock” they can move forward that number of paces, and the winner is the first to reach the Wolf. But if the Wolf answers “Dinner time” they chase the other kids back to the start in an attempt to tag them.
Great for getting five minutes of peace and quiet! All the kids lie on the floor, and can’t move or make a sound. The winner is the last one to remain still and silent.
Hand clapping games
These simple games actually help your kids boost their co-ordination and memory skills. Add a rhyme like ‘Miss Mary Mack’ or ‘Lemonade, Crunchy Ice’.
Hit the beach
Now here’s an easy sell to the kids. If the mercury’s above 20°C, you won’t find a better value family day out than a trip to the seaside. With nowhere in the country more than 70 miles from the coast, there’s guaranteed to be a beach within striking distance: get up early to beat the traffic and you could be breakfasting with a sea view. Not sure where to go? Fancy doing something more than just building sandcastles? Check out our roundup of the UK’s best beach experiences – from rockpooling to stand-up paddleboarding.
Get creative at home
If a day trip isn’t on the cards, how about getting creative in your house and garden? You can stimulate kids’ minds with games and activities that cost nothing. Here are five quick and easy ideas from Dawn Isaac, author of the brilliant 101 Things For Kids To Do Outside.
Water balloon piñata
Fill balloons with water, hang from a height outside and let children attack!
Make a human sundial
Put down a stone to mark the centre of a sundial, stand on this every hour and add stones to mark where your shadow falls.
In 20 minutes find as many different objects around the house or garden that will fit into the box – the one with the most wins.
Nature walk bracelet
Add double-sided sticky tape to a piece of card stapled to form a bracelet, and stick on nature finds to decorate it.
Set up camp
Inside or out, use old blankets covering a clothes drier or tied together bamboo canes to make your own tent.
Theme parks and attractions
Let kids of all ages get hands-on with big machines at Diggerland – they can embrace their passion for diggers and other types of massive machinery and, perhaps for the first time, have a go at driving them. Even if they don’t dream of operating full-size construction machinery, families will find plenty of entertainment at this theme park including go-karting and dodgems. There are indoor activities for rainy days, at four locations in Kent, Devon, Durham and Yorkshire. Boundless members can get 25% off standard Diggerland admission.
Marvel at the underwater world at a Sea Life centre, or take in an aerial view of London on the Coca Cola London Eye. LEGOLAND has special new Miniland displays from master builders to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the LEGO brick. You can also enjoy a brick-filled day at Legoland Windsor Resort or Manchester’s Legoland Discovery Centre.
At Cadbury World you can indulge those in your family who have a sweet tooth by taking them for a chocolately day out. You can enjoy a self-guided tour of the history of chocolate, where it comes from and the process that turns it into a delicious treat.
Got little thrill seekers on your hands? The UK's theme parks have plenty of new rides for 2018. Thorpe Park is always a family favourite, packed with more than 30 rides, attractions and live events, which include the UK’s top five rollercoasters. New for 2018 is The Walking Dead: The Ride (suitable for ages 13 and over) – zombies have taken over the park and you must make it to the Safe Zone if you want to survive…
Chessington has a new Tiger Rock ride within the Land of the Tiger enclosure for a family of four endangered Amur tigers. Plus for younger visitors there’s a new Gruffalo Groove, along with the Gruffalo River Ride.
And at Alton Towers there’s a new Wicker Man ride for teens and adults, plus the much-loved CBeebies Land has expanded, with a GoJetters Vroomster Zoom ride and Furchester Hotel Live experience.
Along with the many rides, attractions and zoo at Drayton Manor Theme Park, little ones can enjoy the 30 rides and a 15-acre zoo at Thomas Land. Events over school holidays at the theme park include a chance to meet characters from PJ Masks, and a Food & Craft Festival.
Save on days out with your Boundless discount
Do something new, treat the whole family or just yourself to a day out with a difference. With Virgin Experience Days you can choose from 2,000 offers, whether you’re looking for fun, relaxation, indulgence or just a memorable day. Enjoy a champagne afternoon tea for two, take the family to Kew Gardens and explore its newly renovated Victorian glasshouse (the biggest in the world and home to 10,000 plants), or choose from plenty more experiences – there’s bound to be something that’s up your street. Boundless members save 20% discount on full-priced Virgin Experience Days.
And if the weather is against us (or even if it isn’t and you need some air conditioning and a sit down) a trip to the cinema always goes down well. Boundless members can save on Odeon cinema tickets with special e-vouchers – adult prices start from £6.48.