Top 5 Dark Sky locations in Great Britain
Different days out from around the country that won't cost you a penny.
With the Summer holidays here, many parents are starting to think of ways to keep the children entertained while away from school. Six weeks is a long time to fill, and while visiting museums and attractions can be nice, the costs can soon mount up if you’re talking train fares, ticket prices, and lunch. Never fear, there are loads of options available to you that won’t break the bank – in fact, they’re free. Here are lots of ideas for some free family days out:
National Museum of Scotland: From dinosaurs to gaming technology, this fabulous and free museum in Edinburgh has something to entertain the whole family. Its various galleries tell the story of Scotland from prehistoric times right up to the present day. A giant T Rex skeleton hangs from the ceiling at the Natural World gallery, which claims to answer big questions such as ‘how does the world work?’ Not to be missed. The museum is open daily from 10am – 5pm.
Tollcross Children’s Farm: There is a lot to see at this farm in Glasgow, where traditional farmyard animals live alongside the more exotic, such as llamas, the Castlemilk Moorit, and Boreray Sheep. Children can enjoy learning about insects, petting some of the animals, and watching a 3D video telling the story of a robin. Tours are available, but should be pre-booked. The farm is open from 10am – 3:30pm (3:00pm on a Friday).
Lochore Meadows Country Park: Two miles north of Lochgelly, this beautiful country park is largely comprised of woodlands and meadows, and offers plenty of opportunities for family walks, bike rides, and picnics to name but a few options. Why not learn about the local wildlife at the nature reserve or take one of the trails around Loch Ore? Visitors can access the park from 9am - 5pm (closing at 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays in winter).
Big Pit National Coal Mining Museum: This free guided tour of a mine in Torfaen isn’t for claustrophobics. Necessitating helmet, belt, and head lamps, it begins with a 300ft descent down the (real) mine shaft in a cage and reveals elements of the miner’s experiences. There are also several above ground exhibitions which teach visitors about coal mining in Wales, children in the mines, geology, mining disasters, and the impact of Trade Unions. Open every day from 9:30am – 5pm.
Dolphin spotting at Cardigan Bay: Though there are plenty of (paid) boat trips that will take you out into the bay to spot the resident bottlenose dolphins, it’s quite possible to see them from the cliff top, free of charge. Pack your binoculars, a picnic, and some warm clothes and head for Mwnt, which is one of the best places for sightings – which happen throughout the year.
Imperial War Museum North: The World Wars continue to fascinate both adults and children alike and the northern offshoot of this famous museum highlights how they changed people’s lives. With exhibitions on Britain’s war efforts, the role of women, and the North West’s contribution to WWI, this is a popular attraction. Open daily from 10am – 5pm.
Tynemouth Longsands beach: It’s never too cold for the beach and while you might not want to swim or even paddle, this stretch of golden sand in Tyne & Wear still provides the opportunity for a picnic, game of football, building a sandcastle, and flying a kite. Go at low tide and you could even catch a few crabs in the rock pools.
The National Railway Museum: Rated by The Telegraph as one of the best free museums in the country, the museum has two sites - one in York and the other in Shildon, County Durham. Both offer train ride experiences, displays, talks, conservation workshops, museum collections, and paly areas. A current exhibition at York is Winston Churchill’s last journey, while Shildon is running a railway and landscape art event. The museums are open from 10am - 4pm (Shildon) or 6pm (York).
Sandwell Valley RSPB: This nature reserve near West Bromwich – with a brand new visitor centre to open in the summer - is a wonderful place for the little ones to learn about winged wildlife. Situated in the corner of the Sandwell Valley country park, there are swans, geese, ducks, summer warblers, and a variety of migrant birds depending on the time of year. There’s also walking trails and two working farms, so plenty to do. The reserve is open year round, though car parks and hides open at 10:30am.
Fradley Junction: This busy junction, the point at which the Trent & Mersey and Coventry canals meet, is part of the National Forest nature reserve in Lichfield, Staffordshire. It comprises a circular walk along the canalside, giving the children the opportunity to watch the barges and locks –a practice known as ‘gongoozling’. Refreshments available at the nearby café and pub are highly rated.
National Centre for Craft & Design: Anyone that loves arts and craft will adore this hub in Sleaford, which celebrates and promotes international craft and design. It houses 20 exhibitions which include (at the moment) a re-imagining the beach hut, one on space craft architecture, one on lesser known architecture, and another on paper arts. There are tours and workshops on offer, also, though charges may apply for these. The centre is open daily from 10am – 5pm.
The Donkey Sanctuary: Near Sidmouth in Devon, this is one of the loveliest places to take the family and admission is free, though donations are much appreciated. Set on a rolling hillside, you can groom the animals, see those that are recovering in the donkey hospital, and enter the maze. It’s also the starting point for a walk which leads you to the cliffs or down to the beach. Take a picnic and you could easily spend the whole day there. The Donkey Sanctuary also has centres in Birmingham, Belfast, Manchester, Leeds and Derbyshire. Open 9am until dusk, apparently.
Ashdown Forest: The 6,500 acre forest is nationally protected due to the varied wildlife that call it home (including Winnie-the-Pooh, who’s Poohsticks bridge is situated on the edge of the forest – you won’t be able to resist having a game). One of the largest and most beautiful open spaces in the South East, it offers wonderful views of the Sussex countryside.
Tilgate Park: Voted a favourite by Netmums, this park in Crawley, West Sussex, features a Nature Centre, lakes, woodlands, bridleways, gardens, and a brand new adventure play area. There are also craft units, picnic areas, and an environmental centre. Suffice to say, there’s plenty to do – just bring your comfy shoes. The only charges that apply are for parking and any refreshments you purchase. The park is open from 9am to 4pm (winter) or 6pm (summer).
This list is far from exhaustive, of course. A quick search online will return dozens of free or cheap days out for the whole family, so there’s no need to dig deep into your pockets to amuse the kids.