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25 great family days out for £20 or less this summer

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25 days out under £20: We The Curious Planetarium show

From theatre tours to space trip virtual reality, live music and wild west shows: amazing (and amazingly cheap) family trips for the second half of summer

Thai food, jousting, cheap films and the only free county show: family days out to suit all tastes on a budget in August and September


25 days out under £20: Tour of England cycle race

1. Kids’ Cinema Clubs

Across the country, Odeon cinemas show kids’ and family films from £2.50 every weekend and on weekdays during school holidays. Vue cinemas’ tickets are from £2.49 with a similar programme.

For something rather special, you can also see cut-price kids’ movies (adults £5, children £3) in the recently re-opened oldest cinema in the UK. Just a minute from Oxford Circus in Central London, the Regent street cinema showcased the Lumiere Brothers’ new invention in 1896. Now, they show classic kids’ movies every Saturday morning. Upcoming features include The Incredibles (August 18) and The Wizard of Oz (25 August).

  • Don't forget, you can also buy discount Odeon cinema tickets for the latest releases with your Boundless membership

25 days out under £20: The Incredibles kids' cinema tickets

2. Space Descent Virtual Reality

Science Museum, London SW7, £3.50 per person (with discount)

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester M3, £6 per person

Experience a journey through space in the same type of Soyuz capsule that returned Tim Peake to Earth from the International Space station. The price for this out-of-this-world experience is a bargain anyway, but in London you can get two-for-the-price of one if you travel by train.

And, of course, in both Manchester and London, the Space Descent is to be found within inspirational and totally free museums that are a full day out in themselves.

3. Bring Your Own Baby comedy

Touring nationwide from 14 August

Top comedians perform morning shows for mums (and dads) with babies. Adult tickets from £10 (prices vary across the country); babies free. Take note, the comedians will be performing their usual grown-up material, so the shows may not be appropriate for children older than 12 months.

4. JRR Tolkien illustrator Alan Lee talks

Waterstones, nationwide, 27 August to 1 September, £5 per person

Legendary illustrator Alan Lee has shaped modern readers’ (and moviegoers’) vision of the worlds of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. He illustrated the centenary edition of Lord of the Rings in 1992 and went on to be lead concept artist on both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series of films. Waterstones are staging a series of signings and talks with him, taking in branches in Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, London, Reading, Oxford and Exeter.

5. Tour of Britain cycle race

Nationwide, 2-9 September, free

Turn out roadside to see Britain’s leading stage race, this year wending its way from Pembrey Country Park in south Wales to London via a circuitous route taking in Devon, Bristol, Leamington Spa, Cumbria, Mansfield (and many more towns and villages). Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas finished seventh last year; check the website nearer the date to see whether he is racing here for Team Sky again this year.

London and south-east England

25 days out under £20: Thai Festival

6. Sensational Butterflies

Natural History Museum, London, £5.85 per person or £19.80 family ticket

Experience hundreds of butterflies from all across the world flying around you in this magical installation in the grounds of the Natural History Museum.

7. Meet eye witnesses to history

Imperial War Museum, London SE1, Tuesdays and Thursdays 11am-1pm throughout August, free

Living history: throughout the school holidays, visitors to the museum have the chance to meet veterans and eye-witnesses from World War II and the Cold War and hear their personal accounts of historical events.

8. Kirkaldy Testing Museum

99 Southwark Street, London, open first Sunday each month, £5 adults, £4 concessions

See the room in which arguably the modern world was born. In 1865 maverick inventor David Kirkaldy started testing materials for iconic buildings of the day using his huge, self-built testing machine. Wembley Stadium, Sydney Harbour Bridge, jet aircraft… components for all of these were tested here on Kirkaldy’s various machines. The little-known museum is only open once a month.

9. Brighton Thai Festival

Preston Park, 18-19 August, 10am-7pm, £4 adults/teens, kids free

A feast of Thai culture: food, live entertainment, massage, children’s play area and… blindfold boxing. Tickets for adults and kids over 12 are just £4, under 12s get in free. The event also comes to Norwich on 1-2 September and Bristol on 8-9 September.

10. Turner’s House

Twickenham, TW1, £6 adults, family ticket £15

Newly opened to the public, Turner’s House is the then-country retreat built by the great painter JMW Turner for himself (and his dad) in 1813, now long absorbed into the west London suburbs. Come and have a look round, then go and have a picnic in Marble Hill Park, five minutes’ walk away.

11. Kent Chrome And Cruisers Classic & Custom Vehicle Show

Abbey School, Faversham, Kent, ME13, £5 adults, kids free

Enjoy a day of classic cars, kids’ activities, an auto jumble, and food and drink stalls. There’s also live music and DJs all day including veteran ‘80s rockabilly hitmakers Matchbox at 2pm.

South-west England and Wales

25 days out under £20: We The Curious Planetarium show

12. Planetarium nights at We The Curious

Bristol, Thursday evenings throughout August, from £7.50

A choice of two shows at the UK’s only 3D Planetarium every Thursday evening in August. Organisers at We The Curious, the science-based fun centre, promise the effect will be immersive and astounding. For over 16s only.

13. Aardman Animations talk

Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol BS4, 19 August, £3 per person

Gavin Strange, senior designer and director for Aardman Animations gives a talk (for adults and teenagers) on his innovative stopmotion methods. He promises it’ll be all-action: "I like to hit people in the eyeballs with a blast of colour and a dose of silly,” he says of his talks, “and hopefully leave them with a feeling of fizzy energy."

14. Mid-Somerset County Show

Shepton Mallet, 19 August, free for pedestrians, £13 parking per car

The Mid-Somerset County Show has a familiar mix of arena displays, giant vegetables, live entertainment, prize cattle, sheep show, cheese awards, cider championships, classic cars and more. But not a familiar price: it’s the only county show that’s free – for pedestrians, at least (parking is £13 a car).

15. Grand Medieval Melee

Cardiff Castle, CF10, 18-19 August, adults £6.50, kids £4.50

The castle grounds are turned into a medieval encampment, with music, games, falconry and jousting displays and have-a-go archery activities.

Midlands and east England

25 days out under £20: Ping Pong Parlour Oxford

16. Norwich Theatre Royal Open Day

Norwich, NR2 1RL, 11 August, free entry

See behind the scenes at the Theatre Royal to find out what goes into a stage production; there’s also a chance to reinvent your wardrobe with something theatrical, with a costume sale on the same day.

17. Robin Hood Festival

Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, 27 August-2 September, free, parking £5

Stories themed around forests, outlaws and medieval times, plus music, magic, pony rides and interactive fun throughout the week; this is the 34th year of the Robin Hood Festival.

18. Free table tennis coaching

Ping Pong Parlour, University Rugby Club, Iffley Road, Oxford, until 29 August

Three-hour table tennis coaching sessions every Monday and Wednesday throughout August. There’s also plenty of other ping pong happenings at the Parlour, from competitions to free play. Check the website for times.

Northern England

25 days out under £20: Wild West show Royal Armouries Museum Leeds

19. Folk on the Dock

Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool, 24-27 August, free

Ten stages and over 200 folk, acoustic and world music performers come to the Albert Dock over the Bank Holiday weekend. There’s sea shanties on boats in the dock, there’s a Cuban stage; young bouzoki-fired folkster Daoirí Farrell, winner of two BBC Folk Awards, will be playing – and so will the great Chris Difford of Squeeze – and they’re all free.

20. Wild West show

Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, 25-27 August, adults £6, children/concessions £3.50, family ticket £15

The world of the movie western comes to life in Leeds in this spectacular show from TV stuntfolk/daredevils Atkinson Action Horses, complete with sharp-shooting, trick-riding and a stage coach battle. Part of a weekend themed around legendary Wild West character Buffalo Bill, who invented the rodeo and turned his experiences with pioneers, cowboys and native Americans into a live show that was a success all over the world in the late 19th century.

21. Bee in the City

Manchester, until 23 September, free

Explore Manchester on a sculpture trail featuring over 100 giant bees plus another 125 model bees created by young people.

Scotland and Northern Ireland

25 days out under £20: The Jungle Forest School Northern Ireland

22. Silent comedy in the world’s oldest music hall

Britannia Panopticon Music Hall, Glasgow, 5 September, from 7pm, £5 per person

Watch silent comedies in the way your ancestors would have seen them – in the faded grandeur of the world’s oldest surviving music hall, to piano accompaniment.

23. Forest School

The Jungle, Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, BT45, 2 September, £7.50 kids, £5 adults

Tree climbing, lighting fires, building dens… a chance to connect with nature for children aged 3-14 as The Jungle, usually for schools and groups, stages one of its public sessions. There’s limited availability, so book early.

24. Sunday Funday

The Yard, Edinburgh, EH3 5EH, every Sunday in August and September except 23 September, £6 children for two hours, adults free

The Yard Edinburgh is a play centre for disabled children and their families. Every Sunday it’s open to the public, so you can enjoy the adventure playground, art room, soft play, sandpits, bikes and more.

25. Scotland Maritime Museum

Irvine, North Ayrshire, KA12; £7.50 adults, up to three free children with each adult

Explore Scotland’s seagoing heritage (and the museum’s boat collection); build your own boat, or sail a remote-controlled one. Just £7.50 – or 2-for-1 with train travel.

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