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Free and cheap things to do with kids over the summer holidays

Check out these free things to do with kids over the summer holidays - there are lots of options out there for your family

summer holidays activities/ illustration

Keep the kids entertained this summer with these fun activities! Illustration: Lizzie Lomax

School’s out, which means parents are plotting how to keep the kids entertained for the next six weeks. Luckily, there are plenty of free and cheap activities for kids over the summer holidays to keep the whole family happy.

Whether your child is fanatical about dinosaurs, a soon-to-be artistic genius or obsessed with animals, there is bound to be something they will love on this list. And the best news of all: every single one of them will barely make a dent in your bank account. 

If you have to work and can’t take your kids out for the day, the options for online adventures and games days might just be perfect for your kids. 

We know the cost of living crisis is tough and it can be especially challenging for parents who have hungry mouths to feed and little ones to keep entertained. The school holidays bring a whole host of other worries – like no free school meals or a lack of childcare options. 

So here’s one worry to scratch off your list.

Create your own toys or do junk modelling

Creating your own toys is a fun activity to do with the kids. At The Big Issue, we collaborated with science teacher and writer Alom Shaha for some cheap and easy creations for kids as part of our Summer Survival Guide. Why not try to make his marvellous mini mangonel?

You could also do junk modelling. Challenge your children to create something from the things you have around your house, such as kitchen rolls, egg cartons, milk cartons and cardboard boxes. You might just have a creative genius on your hands. 

Free museums for kids

Many museums have free entry for some of their exhibits and can be a fantastic day out for kids. You could head to the Natural History Museum to walk among the dinosaurs, learn about weird and wonderful inventions at the Science Museum or head to the Tate Modern in London. 

There’s the wacky House of Marbles games factory in Devon, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Money Saving Expert has a full list of free museums covering the whole of the UK. 

Free (or cheap) local farms

Many farms are run by charities so are free for families – although they might just ask for a small (voluntary) donation. Your little ones will adore seeing the animals, and they might even get a chance to pet or feed them. Make sure to check your local farm before heading there to see how much it will cost. They might also be offering activities for kids over the summer holidays, so keep an eye out.



Head to a national park

On the sunniest summer days, sometimes your kids need nothing more than running about in the grass to burn that cooped-up school holiday energy. Why not head to one of the UK’s beautiful national parks? Your kids could play hide and seek, climb trees and go wildlife spotting, and you could even have a picnic. Find out more here. 

Head to a toy library

Parents, you know the drill. Kids spend weeks begging for the popular new gadget before you finally cave, and then they are bored of it within hours of play. Instead of forking out the cash on new toys, why not seek out your local toy library?

There are more than 1,000 toy libraries across the UK, and they can usually be found by googling. The concept is simple – instead of borrowing books, you can pick and choose a toy to borrow from the library. They typically offer toys for all age groups and many run ‘stay and play’ sessions so children can spend time with a variety of toys. You’ll have to pay a small registration fee to become a member and borrow toys, but it’s much cheaper than buying new.

Create nature trail 

You can create a nature trail for your child. It’s as simple as plotting out a walk in your local area, of course somewhere green is ideal. Then, see if your kids can identify flowers and leaves while you’re out. You could also pick up some free paint swatch cards from home stores and paint shops and see if your child can find colour matches in nature to each one. You can find local woodland walks in your area through Forestry England.

Go to a waterfall

OK, so you won’t find many waterfalls in cities… But there are a lot across the UK which you can visit and enjoy during the summer holidays. Your kids can experience some real beauty – and often for very little cash. Find a full list here, but make sure you check there’s no entry fee before you go. 

Free online adventures for kids

If you’re not able to take your kids on a day out (maybe you have to work at home and want to keep the kids busy), why not treat them to an online adventure? You can watch animals in zoos across the world in Houston or San Diego or visit aquariums in Baltimore and Monterey Bay online. You can also take virtual tours or look at exhibits from museums around the world such as the National History Museum, The Metropolitan, The Smithsonian or The Louvre

Free meals for kids this summer

Some restaurants and cafes are providing options for children to eat for cheap or free. They include Asda Cafe, Yo Sushi!, The Real Greek and Bill’s. There’s a link here for all the options available. 

Pay what you can for theatre and food

Plenty of organisations are running ‘pay what you can’ schemes – so you can just pay for what you can afford in the cost of living crisis. There are theatres across the country where you can just pay a small amount to get in – like the Nottingham Playhouse. Or you could get cheap food at ‘pay what you can’ restaurants and cafes – like those run by the Real Junk Food Project. 

Have a games day

A games day is a great way to keep the kids entertained and busy this summer. Dig out your favourite family games and puzzles from the back of the cupboard and get into the competitive spirit! You can swap games with a neighbour or friend for ‘new’ games that don’t cost you anything. Get your kids to create their own mini olympics with all their favourite games.

Sign your kids up to a free holiday activity club

If you need to get your youngsters out of the house or you have to work and need childcare, why not sign them up for a holiday club? Many activity groups run by local councils will be free of charge or cheap for families. There might be football or sports clubs, arts and drama classes and play schemes. It’s also worth checking if there are discounts if your child attends for a full week or subsidies for low-income families. Find out more on your local council’s website.

Save money with discounted days out

The Official London Kids Week theatre promotion is offering free child tickets to London theatre shows with a full-priced adult ticket.

Aldi has partnered with Team GB and ParalympicsGB to offer free sports sessions for kids this summer if you spend £30 in store before 31 July.

Through National Rail, you can get two-for-one tickets at some of the UK’s biggest attractions. If you register with Days Out Guide and buy a National Rail ticket, you can get two-for-one tickets at more than 80 attractions, including Thorpe Park, Kew Gardens, Chessington World of Adventures, Alton Towers and Legoland Windsor.

If you receive universal credit, working tax credit, child tax credit, employment and support allowance, income support or jobseeker’s allowance, the whole family can go to London Zoo for £3. There are plenty more discounts on offer, so keep an eye out this summer!

Cook a cheap meal with your kids

Cooking with your kids can be great fun (once you get past the mess). We have tips for cooking for your family on a tight budget here which should help you find the cheapest recipes to please even the fussiest eaters in your family. We also teamed up with Marcus Rashford and Tom Kerridge last summer and they gave us some of their favourite recipes for kids which won’t break the bank. Why not try this fun recipe for tortilla pizzas this summer? 

Make your own slime, playdough or salt dough

There are simple recipes for making slime, playdough and salt dough, which will barely cost you anything. Your kids will love making a little bit of a mess and having fun over the summer holidays, and they’re easy and cheap activities which will fill an afternoon. 

Join a free drama summer school

Longfield Hall in London, a community charity supported by Big Issue Invest, is running a free drama summer school for budding actors aged six to 16. They can register for one of two week-long blocks to devise and perform their very own play.

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