How to entertain the family this summer without breaking the bank

Planning some summer activities on a budget? Here are 12 cheap or free ways to keep children occupied over the weeks ahead.

Planning some family fun outdoors is one way to keep costs down this summer
A family in woods Planning some family fun outdoors is one way to keep costs down this summer (Alamy Stock Photo)

The summer is finally here, but while it’s a time for family fun, the prospect of filling the weeks with enough activities to keep children entertained can cause a financial headache for parents.

Research for American Express suggests the average UK family will spend £3,045 per child during the school holidays in 2024 on entertainment, including on sports activities, clubs, toys, books, magazines, games consoles, tech devices, meals out, days out, TV subscriptions and films.

To help keep the costs down, here are some tips:

1. Use rewards and loyalty points

Personal finance expert, Lynn Beattie, aka Mrs Mummypenny, says supermarket loyalty points can be used to help pay for attractions over the summer, from theme parks to zoos.

Points built up on loyalty cards can be spent on attractions over the summer
Points built up on loyalty cards can be spent on attractions over the summer (Chris Ison/PA)

She adds that she also recently discovered the Octopus Energy rewards scheme, called Octoplus, includes National Trust days out among its perks.

2. Discover free city tours

Beattie, who has teamed up with Boundless, a membership club offering deals and discounts to public sector and civil service workers (or those who are retired from this sector), to give her tips, also says that free walking tours are a great way to “rediscover” your local area.

She says: “Free walking tours are available in many towns and cities – you can find details online or try your local library or tourist information centre.

“We’ve enjoyed tours in London, Edinburgh and locally in Hertfordshire. There is no charge for the tour, but often tips are encouraged at the end.”

A walking tour can be a great way to explore a city, such as Edinburgh
A walking tour can be a great way to explore a city, such as Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

3. Plan some free fun outdoors

“Find your nearest green space and get outside – whether it’s a park, city farm, river or woodland,” suggests Beattie.

“Go for a bike ride or scoot, encourage children to build dens from branches or create your own nature trail by giving them a checklist of 20 flowers, trees, animals and birds to search for. Ask them what can they see, smell and hear.”

4. Try fruit picking

“Visit a ‘pick your own’ fruit farm and collect strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries or blackberries,” says Beattie.

“Incentivise children by bringing the fruit home for baking – there are plenty of simple recipes to get kids into cooking, and they’ll love decorating their bakes too. BBC Good Food is great for inspiration. Wild blackberry picking is a wonderfully nostalgic activity to enjoy with children – just make sure you know your berries and you only pick what you need.”

(Alamy Stock Photo)

5. Check out free museums and art galleries

Beattie says she loves to take a packed lunch to the South Bank in London, walk along the Thames and visit the Tate Modern.

She suggests: “Check out Money Saving Expert’s list of free museums and galleries where you can search by location.”

6. Get crafty with cardboard

“On the inevitable rainy days, making things is a great activity,” says Beattie.

“Save up some bottles and boxes from the recycling and challenge the children to see what they can build, with the help of felt tips and sticky tape – this could be a castle, a home for the cat, even a theatre for a puppet show. You can also find brilliant free colouring-in resources online to print off.”

Some retailers also give away free cardboard boxes in stores that can be handy for crafting projects, so keep an eye out.

(Alamy Stock Photo)

7. Try geocaching

Beattie says: “Another way to make a country walk more exciting is geocaching – a modern take on a treasure hunt using a GPS and a map, with locations everywhere.

“You can see how easy the treasure chests are to find and how recently they’ve been visited. Some geocaches have a stamp, so you can take an ink pad and collect stamps in a notebook.

“Make sure you bring a small item of treasure to replace the treasure you find – a great opportunity for kids to pick a toy they no longer play with to put in the chest.”

8. Join an assault course or junior parkrun

Running or walking in your local area can be a great way for the whole family to keep fit.

Shorter junior events often take place alongside those for adults.

Beattie says registering is easy and can just involve downloading or printing a barcode to be scanned.

9. Discover community activities

Libraries, churches and shopping centres can be great sources of information about classes and activities to try, says Beattie.

She adds: “Local Facebook groups are also a great resource, while some shops offer summer community programmes too.”

Retailers such as Waterstones, Hobbycraft and John Lewis often offer activities, and garden centre Dobbies has Little Seedlings gardening workshops for children, she says.

(Alamy Stock Photo)

10. Don’t forget to look for cashback offers when you spend

As well as Beattie’s tips, Adam Bullock, UK director at TopCashback, highlights a range of cashback offers that are available via the website, from Virgin Experience Days to the Bear Grylls Adventure in Birmingham to Odeon cinema membership deals.

Cashback is also available through the website on zoo trips, theme parks and National Trust memberships.

Quidco, another website, also offers cashback on some theme parks and days out.

11. Save money on kids’ meals

Supermarket cafes can be a way to make cost savings when grabbing a bite to eat, such as Asda’s “kids eat for £1” deal. Morrisons also has a “kids eat free” deal, when adults buy a main meal. Offers are subject to terms and conditions.

12. Make the most of tax-free childcare

Tax-free childcare can be used to help pay for some holiday activity clubs as well as childcare such as childminders and after school clubs.

More information can be found at