Ah, the long summer holidays – bliss for kids, but a financial obstacle course for working parents. So save money and spend some quality time together with our suggestions for great value things to do.
From festivals and exhibitions to a budget day out at the seaside, we'll help you fill the summer days with plenty of fun days out.
Soak up 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.
Two of Bristol’s biggest outdoor events of the year are free – the waterside entertainment of Bristol Harbour Festival (20-22 July), and 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.
Save on a day out
When it’s time for a family treat, you can save on many of the UK’s biggest theme parks and attractions as a Boundless member. Marvel at the underwater world at a Sea Life centre, let kids of all ages get hands-on with big machines at Diggerland, or take in an aerial view of London on the Coca Cola London Eye. You can also enjoy a brick-filled day at Legoland Windsor Resort or Manchester’s Legoland Discovery Centre.
And if they’re not entertained after all that, well – never fear: school starts again in a few short weeks…