Remember the excitement of the summer holidays when you were a kid? No school for six whole weeks – a-maz-ing. Now you’re a parent though, that six week stretch isn’t feeling quite as exciting, huh?
If you’re dreading how you’re going to keep the kids amused before school starts again in September, fear not! Here’s a handy guide to 84 free or cheap activities to entertain the children over the summer holidays.
Why 84 ideas? Because that gives you one suggestion per morning and per afternoon, seven days a week, for six weeks.
And this isn’t just your bog standard, predictable list of summer holiday activities. Oh no. Firstly, you won’t find any boring day-to-day jobs and tasks included in this list – so no suggestions of doing the supermarket shop or buying new school shoes. Secondly, you won’t find a hint of soft play…because I know you hate soft play. Finally, there’s a good mix of indoor and outdoor activities, because, y’know, British summer and all that.
Sound good? Well, read on for lots of great ideas of things to do with the kids over the six week school break. If you like it, share it with your friends or pin it to your Pinterest so you can refer back to it at a later date.
1: Go on a treasure hunt
Create a treasure hunt for your children around the house or in the garden by drawing a map and planting clues along the way. The treasure hunt can lead them to an activity-based prize such as board game or ingredients to make a cake – something to keep them entertained for another couple of hours!
Or, if you don’t want to go to the effort of creating your own treasure hunt, why not check out Treasure Trails? The website offers 1200 different trails around towns, cities and villages across the UK. Each route is easy to follow with several clues along the way, with some containing the added element of working out whodunit, finding hidden treasure or completing a mission. Each Treasure Trail costs £6.99 and can be downloaded straight from the website or delivered to you in the post.
2: Apply for a Blue Peter badge
Blue Peter badges are pretty cool – they give you free entry into 200 attractions across the UK like castles, zoos and theme parks. That’s a lot of free fun in one small badge – which would be especially useful in the summer holidays! But if you want to be able to flash your badge, you’ve got to earn it. Luckily, applying for the badge can be a great way to spend half a day or so in the summer holidays. Check out this step-by-step guide to winning a Blue Peter badge here.
3: Go on TV
If your children are budding entertainers or dream about having a career in the media, why not apply to go on a TV show? The CBBC website outlines how kids can apply to go on their favourite programme, and you can also find out details of how to sit in a TV audience.
4: Learn how to code
There are loads of cool toys and gadgets to teach children how to start coding. It’s a great skill to develop and loads of fun too. There are also websites where you can learn some of the basics of coding and have a go at creating your own game, like this one on the CBBC website. Have a look at your local libraries or council websites to see if they’re running any free courses too, like this ‘Code a Drone’ workshop in Manchester.
5: Go geocaching
Geocaching is where you go on a hunt for an item or a container which is hidden in a particular location, using GPS and coordinates posted on the internet. There are thousands of geocaches around the world and it’s a great way to explore your local area or a holiday location. To get started, go to the website and create an account. You can then use the website or the app to go on the hunt for your first geocache. Once you find it, you can sign a little log book and post details of your experience online for other geocache enthusiasts to refer to.
6: Get Wild
The RSPB runs a Wild Challenge, which challenges children to find new ways of connecting with the natural world in order to earn a bronze, silver or gold award. It’s free to sign up and take part, with 24 activities split into two sections – ‘Help Nature’ and ‘Experience Nature’. Activities include things like making a bug hotel, building a hedgehog café, rock pooling, bird watching and sleeping under the stars. Go to the RSPB website for more information.
7: Lego challenge
There are loads of impressive models you can build with Lego. Have a look on Pinterest for some inspiration or search online to see if there are any free or cheap Lego clubs near you. If there aren’t any formal Lego clubs, you could always get some of your children’s friends together to create their own. If you live in or near the North West, you could also check out the wonderful Lego creations at the Building Adventures exhibition (free entry for National Trust members!).
8: Go sightseeing
Become a tourist for the day in your own city or town to uncover some hidden treasures and learn more about the area. There are some apps you can download which will guide you around your chosen city or town, such as Geo Tourist, and there are also companies that put on free guided walks all over the world, such as Free City Walks and New Europe Tours.
9: Learn a new craft
The arts and crafts retailer Hobbycraft often puts on free or cheap workshops in its stores across the UK. Die cutting, model building and pastel drawing are all events coming up in various stores over the coming weeks. Check out the Hobbycraft website for more information. Or if there’s a particular craft you want to learn like knitting or crochet, look on YouTube for easy-to-follow tutorials.
10: Keep a scrapbook
Why not buy a notebook so your children can keep a record of their summer adventures? They can collect and stick down tickets, leaflets, photos, stamps, leaves, food packages, materials, colourful paper – anything they can find to help make a colourful and beautiful keepsake of their six-week break from school. There is lots of inspiration for scrapbooking online, or you might also be able to find scrapbooking workshops in your local area – like this free one in Manchester.
11: Go the beach
The summer was made for beach days! Even if it’s not particularly sunny, you can still wrap up and head to the coast. Take a picnic and a bit of pocket money and you can easily spend the whole day there. You can fly a kite, build a sandcastle, go crabbing, explore rock pools, paddle in the sea, play sports and so much more. Check out the National Trust website to find a beautiful beach near you, or this article outlining the top 20 beaches in the UK.
12: Go for a paddle
If you don’t live very near the coast, you can still go for a paddle. Have a look to see if there are any streams or rivers near you which are suitable for children to play in. One of my favourite places is Dovedale in Ashbourne, where you can have a paddle by the stepping stones.
13: Splash about outdoors
Another way to have a splash this summer is to head to a park with a paddling pool, fountains or water features. A few favourites include Sandy Lane Aqua Park in Chester, Congleton Paddling Pool, and Craig-y-Don Paddling Pool in Llandudno.
14: Pool party at home (complete with water fight)
A favourite way to keep cool if we have some sunny weather is to have a (paddling!) pool party at home. If you don’t have a paddling pool, you could always make do with a plastic box or baby bath (we have!). If you can brave a water fight, load of your water guns, water balloons, sponges, plastic cups or anything else you can use to soak each other with and let battle commence!
15: Sports day
Get a few of your children’s friends round to your garden or meet in a nearby park and hold a sports day. Three-legged race, egg and spoon, welly wanging, hill rolling, long jumps and tug of war are all simple games you can organise.
16: Play tennis
There are hundreds of tennis courts in parks and public spaces around the country which are free to use. You can also get free tennis lessons with a professional coach. Find out how to get free tennis lessons here.
17: Go swimming
Lots of local councils offer free or discounted swimming sessions for school children over the summer holidays. Have a look at your local council website to see what’s on offer near you. For families in Manchester, you can find out more information here. There is also the Swim Safe programme, which offers free outdoor swimming and water safety lessons for children aged 7-14.
18: Take up running
Whether your children aspire to be the next Mo Farah or just have lots of energy to burn off, running is a great way to get outdoors and get some exercise. There are some programmes like the Couch to 5k which are good for beginner runners, and your children can also sign up for the free Junior Park Runs, which take place across the country every weekend.
19: Go for a bounce
Trampoline parks are a great way to burn off energy, especially on a rainy day where you’d otherwise be stuck in the house. Lots of facilities offer discounts so make sure you have a look online for any discount codes or offers before you book.
20: Go to the cinema
A trip to the cinema doesn’t have to be pricey. Have a look to see if your local cinema offers discounted tickets for popular films, such as the Movies for Juniors at Cineworld, which only costs £2 per child. Or you can register with Show Film First, which organises film previews completely free of charge.
21: Have a movie afternoon
If there isn’t a cheap cinema option near you, you can always have a movie afternoon or evening at home. Draw the curtains, make a big comfy bed in the middle of the floor, get some tasty treats in and watch a family favourite.
22: Make your own film
Most smartphones these days will have a video recorder function. If you can trust your children not to accidently buy a load of apps, call Australia or drop your phone in some water, let them have a go at filming their own movie around the house or garden. Older children can even have a go at editing their film using free software such as Windows Movie Maker.
23: Become a budding photographer
Buy some cheap disposable cameras and let your children’s imagination and creativity go wild with a photography challenge. Once the photos have been developed you can use the pictures to create mixed media collages.
24: Build an obstacle course
Get your children to build their own obstacle course – either inside or outside, depending on the weather – and then time them and their friends to see who can be the quickest going around it. The more elaborate the course the better!
25: Build a den
Grab some bed sheets, pegs and cushions and build your own den. Not only is it fun to build the den itself, but you can then use the den for all kinds of games and play activities afterwards.
26: Go star gazing
Get a book on star gazing out from the library or have a look online for some guides and head to the garden at night time to see which stars you can spot. There are also some cool apps which show you what stars you’re looking at, like this Sky Map one for Android devices.
27: Camp in the garden
If you’ve got a tent or can borrow one, pitch it in the garden and have a mini camping session. You could even make a little fire if you’ve got a fire pit and toast marshmallows.
28: Become superheroes
Make masks and capes either of your favourite superheroes or make up your own characters. Once you’ve made your costumes you can act out superhero scenes.
29: Write and illustrate a book
Get some paper, pens and crayons and have a go at writing and illustrating your own stories. Once everyone has created their own books, you can sit around and share them with each other.
30: Put on a puppet show
Make either shadow puppets or sock puppets and put on our own puppet show. You can put on the show from behind the sofa or a table, or you could even have a go at creating your own puppet theatre with a cardboard box.
31: Put on a stage performance
For budding actors, writing and putting on a play or musical for friends and family can be great fun.
32: Get on your bike
Pack a picnic and get on your bike to explore your local area while exercising. The National Cycle Network is a series of traffic-free paths and quiet on-road cycling routes. Have a look online to help plan your journey. Throughout the summer, there is also a number of HSBC UK City Ride events taking place in certain cities. As well as a great opportunity for families to enjoy on road cycling safe from other vehicles, the days promise lots of fun entertainment too.
33: Have a wheelie good time
Head to a local skate park with scooters, skateboards or bikes. You don’t need to be amazing at tricks, just willing to give it a go. Skate parks are likely to get busy with older children and teenagers in the summer holidays so it might be a good idea to go as early as possible to beat the rush.
34: Bake a Pinterest worthy cake
OK, we’ve all made fairy cakes and banana bread in the past – now it’s time to up your baking game. Have a look on Pinterest for some cool baking ideas for kids. Gravity-defying, unicorn, rainbow, candy covered – the choice is endless!
35: Flower watering
Help keep your garden flourishing by water it every day. You could also offer to water the neighbours’ flowers if they struggle to do it themselves or are on holiday.
36: Car washing
OK, so we said no chores but car washing can actually be fun – especially on a hot day as it’s a good excuse to splash about with some water! If you’ve got any friendly neighbours who would like their car cleaned too, it’s a nice way to do a good deed.
37: Nature hunt
Make a list of items to find on a nature walk and head to your nearest footpath, park or woodland to try and find them all. You can also bring the items home to make a collage with them afterwards.
38: Flower pressing
Collect some flowers and leaves and make sure they’re dry. Place them underneath some heavy books with some kitchen roll protecting them, or use a flower press, to dry out the flowers. Leave for a few days and once pressed and dry you can create pretty pictures or greetings cards with them.
39: Painting and printing
Collect objects from the house or outside and use them to print patterns using paint. Things like leaves, flowers, sticks and kitchen utensils work well.
40: Mud kitchen
Create a mud kitchen outside with some old pots, pans, spoons and baking trays and get messy making some mud pies. If you’re worried about using the soil straight from the garden (ie in case cats use it as a toilet!) you can buy some soil from the garden centre to use instead.
41: Pick your own fruit and veg
Summer and early autumn are a great time to go fruit and veg picking. August and early September are good months to collect blackberries, which can often be found in parks and other outdoor spaces. Or you could go to a pick your own farm, but you’ll have to pay for the fruit and veg you collect. Have a look to see what food is in season throughout the year here.
42: Dog walking
If your neighbours have a friendly dog, you could offer to take it for a walk for them. Or you could sign up to a scheme such as Borrow my Doggy.
43: Chalk drawing
Get some chalks and draw on your patio, pavement or walls. It washes off easily with water and a little bit of soap.
44: Salt dough creations
Mix one cup of salt with two cups of flour and a bit of boiling water to make your own salt dough. You can then create ornaments or prints in the same way as you would using playdough. It’s a good idea to let the salt dough dry out overnight before you put it in the oven to set. You want it on a low heat – around 120 degrees – for about three or four hours. The bigger the objects you’ve made, the longer they’ll need to heat. Once cooled, you can then paint them.
45: Be a culture vulture
The UK has hundreds of free museums and art galleries – and many of them will be putting on free events and activities over the summer holidays. Have a look online to find out what is going on near to you. Money Saving Expert has a comprehensive list of all the free museums and galleries, which you can search for by location.
46: Fly a kite
Kite flying is great fun and you don’t always need a windy day to enjoy this activity. If you live near the coast or a big hill, there’s often more of a breeze there to get your kite up in the air.
47: National Trust
Family membership for the National Trust costs £114.60 a year or £9.55 a month and it gets you free access to over 500 locations and attractions, as well as free parking at most National Trust car parks. There will be lots of free activities and events going on at National Trust parks and properties throughout the summer, and the organisation also has a fun list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 and three quarters if you’re looking for more inspiration for outdoor activities.
48: Go to a community farm
Although some farms which are open to the public charge an entry fee, some community farms are free to look around and just ask for a donation instead. For example, The Garden House in Marple is a great place to visit for families in the North West, or there’s Bodafon Farm in Llandudno if you’re planning a trip to Wales.
49: Explore the capital
If you live in or near London, there are loads of free and cheap things for kids to do. Or if you live further away, you can look out for cheap train tickets to the capital – Virgin has just finished a summer sale where tickets from Manchester to London were only £11 each way.
Some ideas of activities include:
- A trip on Emirates cable car across Docklands to O2, which offers fab view of the industrial docks, tug boats and cranes. You can also combine this having a go of the free playground at Olympic Park
- You can even go swimming at the Olympic pool for a small charge too
- A trip to Greenwich with a picnic in the park and free entry to the museums
- Go on the DLR – it’s great for kids as it’s above ground and the stations are all disabled/pram accessible. There is lots to see out of the big train windows. If you sit at the front, you can even pretend you’re the driver
- Watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
- Visit Kensington gardens and have a paddle in the fountain or play in pirate ship at the playground
50: Go on a miniature railway
Miniature railways are great fun for younger children and are often very cheap. For example, in Abbotsfield Park in Urmston, Manchester, children can go on the miniature railway every Sunday for only 30p a go! There’s also the Cinderbarrow Minature Railway in Carnforth, which is run by volunteers who accept donations rather than a fee. Often miniature railways are in or near a park, meaning you can also take a picnic and make a whole morning or afternoon of it.
51: Find a free family festival
Music festivals tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but there are loads of family-friendly festivals and carnivals around the country which are put on completely free of charge. For example, the Romsey Summer Music Festival in Hampshire has lots of entertainment for children planned. There’s also the One Big Summer Weekend which will be held in Manchester at the end of July.
52: Train and plane spotting
If your children love vehicles, head to your nearest train station and become train spotters for the day! Take a little notebook and you can record what types of trains you see and where they’re going to. You might even be lucky enough to live near a station where steam trains pass through. Some airports also have visitor viewing areas, like the Runway Visitor Park at Manchester Airport. The Runway Visitor Park also has free rides and a playground for children to play on.
53: Learn a language
Even if you’re not going abroad this summer, you could still have a go at learning few basic words and phrases in another language. There are loads of free apps and websites which can teach you different languages. Here’s a useful list of some of the best free language apps available.
54: Get creative with toilet rolls
From mermaids and unicorns to dragons and superheroes, there are loads of things you can make from empty toilet rolls, so start collecting them. If you’ve got a rainy afternoon, head to Pinterest to find some ideas and get crafting!
55: Do a science experiment
It’s amazing what you can do with some bicarbonate of soda, vinegar and other household goods. You can make rockets, volcanoes and much more! Have a look online for some fun and easy experiments which you can do at home and get your little scientists to have a go.
56: DIY forest school
You don’t need to enrol onto an official forest school to have a go at some fun outdoor activities. Read up on the benefits of forest school and have a look for some simple ideas you can do yourself. Then head to your nearest woods, forest or park land and spend the day going wild and learning through nature.
57: Find the Gruffalo
The Forestry Commission England and Magic Light Pictures has developed the Gruffalo Spotter, which can be used at 26 forests across the UK. You can download the Gruffalo Spotter app for free and then go on a hunt to find your favourite characters from the children’s book, which is illustrated by Axel Scheffler. For more information go to the Forestry Commission’s website.
58: Take part in ParkLives
This summer, there is a whole host of free events and activities taking place in parks across the country thanks to ParkLives. There are all kinds of sports and leisure pursuits you can try out, including yoga, bootcamp, running, dance, archery, parkour, dodgeball, skateboarding and karate. You can enter your postcode into the website to find out what’s on near you.
59: Climb a mountain
The UK has loads of beautiful landscapes – and what better way to admire the views than from the top of a mountain? Hiking up a mountain with children doesn’t need to be too daunting. Take your time, wear suitable clothing and footwear, and take plenty of refreshments and you can make a great day of it. Snowdonia and Pen y Fan are a couple of child-friendly mountains you can climb in Wales. Have a look here for more details.
60: Write to a pen friend
If you’ve got relatives or family friends who live in another part of the UK or even abroad, why not get your children to write them a letter? With social media, messaging apps and emails dominating the way we communicate these days, we forget how exciting it can be to receive a letter in the post!
61: Play footy
As well as having a kick about in the park with friends, your children could sign up to the FA Lidl Skills programme, which offers football coaching during the school holidays at venues across England for only a small fee for boys, or free for girls.
62: Hold a disco party
Dress up in sequins and colourful clothes, dim the lights and put on your favourite tunes to have a disco afternoon or evening in the house. Don’t forget to make some yummy mocktails too!
63: Build a bug hotel
Bug hotels can provide a great home and safe place for all kinds of wildlife, including bees, ladybirds and even hedgehogs and frogs. Have a look at the RSPB website for some information and guidance on how to build one to put in your garden. Don’t forget to regularly check on your bug hotel to see who has moved in!
64: Play with slime
With some cornstarch, water and food colouring you can make your very own slime to play with. You can even put glitter in it to create a space-themed slime.
65: Eat out – for free!
Kids Pass is a family membership which gives families access to nearly 5,000 offers across the UK. As well as money off attractions, theme parks and the cinema there are also a number of ‘kids eat free’ offers at popular restaurant chains such as Giraffe.
If you use the special promotional code KPRS426964 you can get the Kids Pass for just £39.99 instead of £75. Or if you want to try before you buy, at the moment you can sign up for a 30 day trial for only £1!
66: Visit Ikea
Some Ikea stores are hosting lots of free summer activities, including planting workshops, face painting and treasure hunts. Some of the retail units are even giving away free ice cream to children who take part in the activities. Have a look at the Ikea website for more information.
67: Explore canals
There are 2,000 miles of canals and rivers, which go through the UK’s countryside, cities, towns and villages. As well as providing great places to walk along, you can also go cycling, canoeing or fishing. The Canal & River Trust has a comprehensive list of routes and paths, as well as details of events it hosts throughout the year – many of which are free.
68: Go batty
Summer evenings and nights are the ideal time to spot some bats. You can go on guided bat walks – your local Wildlife Trust website will have details of such events near you – or you can build your own bat box to encourage these creatures into your own garden.
69: Have an adventure away from home
For 15 – 17 year olds, the National Citizen Service (NCS) is worth looking into to try new activities, experience living away from home, make new friends and develop skills. There are three phases of the programme. The first ‘Adventure’ phase is made up for a five-day, four-night residential trip where teenagers will be able to have a go at activities such as rock climbing and canoeing. The second ‘Discovery’ phase is another residential trip where they will develop life skills like communication and leadership to help boost their CVs and UCAS personal statements. Finally, the ‘Action’ phase enables the participants to deliver a community project of their choice. The whole programme only costs £50, but some families might be able to access it for free.
70: Get fit outdoors
If you live in London or Bedfordshire, have a look on the Our Parks website where you’ll find details of free, group exercise classes. Some of the activities are designed specifically for children, such as Superhero Fitness – which is a free fun superhero workout geared at kids aged between three and seven.
71: Go to the theatre
The Kids Week website enables you to get a free kid’s theatre ticket when you buy an adult’s seat. There are some great shows available in the deal, including Aladdin, the Lion King and Wicked. Elsewhere in the UK, you might be able to find some free outdoor theatre productions near you. For families in the North West, for example, you should check out the free theatre shows being put on in Tameside, which includes plays such as James and the Giant Peach and Dotty the Dragon.
72: Go to a free city beach
Even if you don’t live near the seaside, you can still go to a beach! In Manchester alone there are at least three beaches you can visit this summer for free. If you want to build some sandcastles without heading to the coast, you can go to the Trafford Centre, Heaton Park, or Bents Garden Centre.
73: Complete the Summer Reading Challenge
Every year in the six week school break, the Summer Reading Challenge takes place. It’s completely free to take part and all you have to do is sign up at your local library and read six books of your choice. Some libraries are also hosting a number of events and workshops to coincide with the Summer Reading Challenge. Head to the website for more information.
74: Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival
You don’t need to spend a fortune on tickets to enjoy the Edinburgh Festival – take a look at what’s on at the Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival instead. The Kids Festival shows start on 30th July.
75: Make fruit and veg faces
Get a collection of fruit and vegetables and some cocktail sticks and create your own sculptural faces. The sillier the better!
76: Cook a three-course meal
Let your children choose some recipes to try out in the kitchen and cook a whole three course meal for the family to enjoy.
77: Win some cool prizes
Compers are people who enter competitions professionally and there are loads of opportunities to win some cool products from brands and companies online. Have a look at these kid friendly competitions and see if your mini compers can strike lucky this summer.
78: Perfect pets
If you’ve got a pet or thinking about getting one, go to one of the free workshops at your local Pets at Home store. The sessions show children how to care for different animals, including fish, gerbils, rats and hamsters. Have a look online to see what’s on near you.
79: Enjoy free travel and attractions in Scotland
If you’re based in or visiting Scotland, children can travel for free and also get free entry into a number of attractions thanks to ScotRail.
80: Explore parks near and far
You’ve no doubt been to your local park hundreds of times, but what about venturing slightly further afield? Hop on the bus, get on your bike or take a walk to a new park to see what’s on offer there. If you’re looking for ideas of where to visit, go to the Green Flag Award website to see which award-winning green spaces there are near you.
81: Go pond dipping
This is a fun activity that helps children explore what creatures live in ponds. You can try it yourself or have a look for some free guided events, such as this pond dipping workshop hosted by The Land Trust at Rabbit Ings Country Park in Barnsley.
82: Free the frozen
Take a container and place some plastic toys, fill with water and pop in the freezer for a few hours. Once the water has set, remove the container and task your children with freeing the frozen toys.
83: Find 58 BookBenches in Manchester
If you live in or near Manchester, or you’re visiting the city over the summer, why not go on a hunt to find the 58 book-shaped benches that are on display? Designed by local children and community groups, the BookBenches celebrate and promote literacy and there are fun activities families can complete when finding them all.
84: Learn about the world
Even if you’re not going on holiday anywhere, your children can still learn about different places and cultures. Pick a place and look it up online or go into a travel shop to pick up some holiday brochures, which will include lots of information about the location. You could also encourage your children to create a bucket list of places they would like to visit at some point in the future.