Best free days out in summer
1/9 Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, London
The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground opened 15 years ago, in memory of the late Princess. Located beside Diana’s beautiful Kensington Palace home, the playground perfectly represents the princess’s playful and caring nature.
Diana adored kids, and it is a fitting tribute that the Memorial Playground is a paradise for little ones. Inspired by the beloved stories of Peter Pan, the playground encourages kids to follow their imaginations, explore their surroundings, and learn through play.
The centrepiece for the playground is a huge, wooden pirate ship and kids rarely need much prompting to get stuck in. Children up to the age of 12 are free to climb on the ship and let their imaginations run wild. As well as the impressive ship, kids can also enjoy a giant swing, slides, various toys, a beach and a sensory trail. The playground has been designed to incorporate an area where less able and able-bodied kids can play together. There is plenty of seating for the grown-ups too.
Not surprising, over 1 million visitors enjoy the playground every year and it makes for a perfect pit stop if you are exploring Kensington Gardens. Rest assured, there is an excellent café, serving sandwiches and salads, and offering a children’s menu. There are also toilets, including disabled and baby changing facilities.
Although the park is free, admission rules are in place to ensure health and safety rules are complied with. Your little ones won’t be allowed to enter or leave without an adult carer and it is worth noting that on warm sunny days, the queue can start as early as 10:30a, and queue management will be in place on busy days.
Opening times: 10am-7.45pm
2/9 Donkey sanctuary, Devon
Donkeys are famously friendly animals and they love to meet new people. There are hundreds of donkeys at the Sidmouth sanctuary. Discover their personalities and learn the stories of how they ended up at the sanctuary. The owners ask that you don’t feed the donkeys, but feel free to bring treats and which staff will pass along.
When you’re not admiring the animals, you can enjoy some of the other activities on offer such as walking trails, family treasure hunts and guided tours. The sanctuary also has a nature centre, set within costal woodland, bursting with wildlife for the kids to explore. At the centre the kids can keep a record of the different trees, look under the rocks and logs to see what hides beneath. There are also plenty of family amenities on site, with baby changing areas, and restaurants and café.
The sanctuary is holding its summer fair on 18 August and it promises to be a fun day with live music, fun games, face painting and donkey grooming. The event is free but it is a good idea to give them a call if you are interested, because spaces are limited.
The Donkey Sanctuary aims at transforming the quality of life for these amazing animals, and their good work does not stop in Devon. They have sanctuaries all over the UK, so regardless of where you are, there is no excuse not to pay these furry friends a visit.
3/9 Hackney City Farm, London
Imagine if you could visit a real, working farm without leaving the city. Thanks to Hackney City Farm, you can! For over 20 years, this charming attraction in East London has given the local community and visiting families the opportunity to experience farming at its finest.
Hackney City Farm offers children and adults the opportunity to get stuck in and get up close and personal with a range of farmyard animals. Local celebrities include Larry the donkey, the star of the show who has been on the farm for 18 years, guinea pigs, rabbits, pigs and more. If you can’t stop gushing and cooing over one of the animals you also have an option to sponsor them (for an additional fee). The price paid covers the cost of keeping your animal for one year and also means you can have one supervised visit per year, where you can help feed your animal and hold him or her, where possible.
As well as getting close to the animals on your trip to the farm, you and the kids can lend your hand to some gardening. See, smell and plant vegetables and other plants whilst learning how to live a healthier and happier with a lower environmental impact.
For children aged eight-12 years, the farm also offers The Mini Farmers Club, which is held every Saturday morning from 10.30-12.30pm. Your little farmers will learn about nature, make crafts and get to know the animals with careful supervision. The sessions are free – but before heading down it is best to call ahead, just to make sure there are enough spaces left!
As inexpensive days go, they really don’t get better than Hackney City Farm, where tourists and the local community are brought together by a shared love of nature.
Opening times: Open all year, Tuesday to Sunday 10am-4:30pm. The farms is closed on Mondays, except bank holidays
4/9 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is something truly special. It was originally designed as a meeting of balloonists, but has grown to become of the UK’s most iconic events.
This year marks its 37th year, and once again hundreds of hot air balloons will take to the sky over the four day festival from 6-9 August. If you want to be there bright and early (literally) you can arrive from 6am for ‘breakfast and balloons’. If you and the kids can wrestle yourselves out of bed then it’s a must for sure – especially for the incredible sunrise view.
But if early mornings aren’t your thing, you can head down in the afternoon and still have time to secure a good spot to watch the mass ascent as the balloons take off at 6pm over the City of Bristol. The Balloon Fiesta is known for their famous Nightglows, which run on Thursdays and Saturdays. As many as 30 balloons will team up to light up the sky in time to music – and it looks just as incredible as it sounds. The fiesta will end as all great parties should, with a showstopping firework display.
Throughout the four days, there will be plenty of attractions on site, including: aircraft flying displays, inflation races, appearances from the RAF Falcons parachute team and fairground rides. There will also be a live music stage to keep you and the kids entertained.
Families are welcome to bring a picnic, or can take advantage of the wide selection of food vendors on site. If you want to go all out you can bring a BBQ, but they are only allowed on one side of the arena, so make sure to check for the signs when you arrive.
While the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is free to attend, you will require a ticket to park on site. The carparks open from 5.30am, just before the morning ascent. A ticket will cost £10 on the day but advance purchase online will be £6.
5/9 Museum of Childhood, London
There is a common misconception among kids (and some big kids!) that are museums are bor-ing. But that doesn’t need to be the case, as the kids will quickly discover when you take them to the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. Not only will your wallet thank you, but the little ones will have a great time. The Museum runs free drop-in activities every day throughout the year which vary from arts and crafts to trails and storytelling. All are suitable for children aged three to 12, unless otherwise stated.
The museum also holds exhibitions that kids will find fascinating. One of the most popular exhibitions, Small Stories,has been running for over half a year, and aims to reveal the stories and facts behind the UK’s most famous doll’s house, taking visitors on a historical journey through the home and the ever changing progression of family life. Other exhibitions include The Alice Look, which brings together garments and illustrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Kites from Kabul, a presentation of unique handmade kites inspired by Afghan and Islamic design motifs.
If you plan a trip in August, you can also take advantage of the museum’s Summer Games event, where families can enjoy outdoor activities for free. If the kids start to feel a little restless, a selection of Montessori Family Packs are available for age five and under. Each pack contains a map, books and toys for them to distract themselves. You can borrow them from the Information Desk and they are all yours for one hour. Make sure to have some form of ID to leave them while you wander off. There are also special packs for families with a visually-impaired child and Making Sense packs, which are available for families with children on the autistic spectrum, with PECs symbols, a photo booklet and colouring sheets.
Opening times: 10am-5.15pm
Image credit: V&A Museum of Childhood
6/9 Yorkshire Sculpture Park
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a hidden gem that’s well worth uncovering. A little quirkier than your average park, YSP aims to provide a centre of international and national importance in the contemporary sculpture world. It combines art, heritage and a beautiful landscape, but as fancy as that sounds, it’s also great for kids.
Every Saturday and Sunday, families can join a free landscape tour, where you will be able see the very best sculptures the park has to offer. If you want to go all out, you can immerses yourself into the world of sculptures by taking part in sculpture making with your family. You can build space creatures and towers from wood, stones and other materials. Everything you need will be provided, and each session lasts an hour, giving you enough time to get really stuck in. It’s an activity suitable for all the family, but make sure to wear sturdy footwear because the building takes place outside. It comes with a small fee of £2 per person, but really worth it for a good hour of fun!
Once you’re tired from exploring the grounds and taking selfies with sculptures you can have lunch at the YSP restaurant, which has a fabulous view of Yorkshire. You can enjoy regionally sourced food and drink and even treat yourself to home-made cakes. If your little ones are a little fussy with their palette, the restaurant have child friendly food and highchairs available.
Opening times: Grounds & YSP Centre 10am–6pm
7/9 London Riviera
Going to the theatre or to watch films in London is by no means a cheap day out. But this summer you and the kids will be able to enjoy the classics for free, thanks to London Riviera, a family-friendly five-month food and drink pop up near Tower Bridge.
August is all about outdoor theatre and from Wednesday to Sunday, until 30 August, award-winning company, Gods and Monsters Theatre will be performing some real showstoppers. Look out for Captain Showoff!, set in Roman town, about the return of soldier Milos Colossus – but he’s in for a welcome home shock. Get ready for a good old singalong and watch the kids squirm with embarrassment! Also showing is Hecuba and The Trojan Women, a dark drama about defeat, slavery and the fall of Troy. Great for teens who love history.
Once theatre season finishes, more fun begins with movie season. Starting from 2September, families are invited to head to London Riviera to enjoy some delicious street food, cocktails and of course popcorn, without which no movie night would be complete. Watch classics and current favourites as the sun sets over the Thames.
Opening times: 8am-10pm
8/9 Ping!, London
Grab a bat and get ready for Ping!, the free ping pong festival running in venues across the country until 31 August. Whether you have never played before or you’re a ping pong ninja, everyone is welcome. And that is the beauty of Ping! – it is all about getting stuck in and having some fun.
Over 750 ping pong tables have been placed across different locations across England, so nobody has to miss out. As well as letting loose with free play, most of the locations hold master classes and tournaments – so if want to put your skills to the test, now is the time.
It is the ideal way to have some fun and dare we say it, a little exercise! Those bats really do work up a sweat. Ping! will be making its way to Victoria Park for Tower Hamlets Sport and Healthy Living Day. Why not make a full day of it and take a picnic with you? If you can’t make it, not to worry, there are still plenty of events to attend.
Opening times: Locations vary
9/9 BeachEast, London
Surrounded by 2200 sq metres of fine, deep sand, the kids will find it hard to believe that they are not on a real beach. Make the most of warmer days and soak up the sunshine or have a drink by one of the two beach bars. While you relax, the kids will be slashing about in a massive paddling pool, and once they get in you will have to drag them to get out. For those looking for more of a thrill, have a scream on some of the fairground rides on site.
A lively atmosphere is a given, especially since the beach is set in Stratford, minutes away from Westfield shopping centre. Live entertainment and themed events will also ensure there is always a holiday vibe. Seeing as BeachEast is set in London’s sporting heart, there is also an action-packed activities programme, featuring volleyball, cricket, football and much more. Although the Olympics were three years ago, the UK’s celebration of sport continues.
Opening times: 10am-10pm daily