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Days Out, Museums, Outdoors, Parks, Unusual

Fun and free kids days out in Essex!

Okay so as we approach the kid’s summer holidays. Some of us with welcome arms while others are more likely burrowing their heads in their hands! It can be daunting, thinking ahead of 6 weeks of entertaining your offspring! It can also be very expensive so I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite free and cheap days out for kids. Here is my list of my favourite fun and free kids days out in Essex! So in no particular order:

Free kids days out in Essex

1. Priory Park, Southend

Priory Park is a particularly picturesque park, not only does it have a large children’s play area, it has a lake, a woodland walk, a cafe, beautiful walled formal gardens and it’s the home to Prittlewell Priory Museum. The Priory originally formed part of a Cluniac Monastery dating back to 1180. There are plenty of nice spots for picnicking and letting the kids run off some steam.
The museum is free to enter and if you particularly enjoyed your visit then donations are welcomed.
Free parking onsite (although not a huge car park).
Opening times – Summer opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10:10 – 17:00
Bank holidays 10:00 – 17:00
For more information visit their website.

2. Wind in the Willows Sculptures at Hanningfield Resevoir

Hanningfield Resevoir in Downham, Billericay is a great family day out. Stick on your wellies and take a wander through the woods to spot the well known characters from Wind in the Willows. A special map is available to purchase at the visitor centre. At each sculpture you can use the back of the map to make your very own brass rubbings of Badger, the Weasels, Ratty, Mole and Mr Toad.
You can visit for free but there is a suggested donation amount of £2 per adult, £1 per child or £5 per family.
They also offer a range of children’s activities during the summer holidays for just a £3 donation. Check their website to see what events are running.
The visitor centre has a refreshment area, gift shop and toilets with baby changing facilities. There is also a viewing area with views out across the Reservoir where you can relax and enjoy watching the wildlife.
There is free parking available onsite.
Open Daily: 9am – 5pm.
For more information visit their website.

3. Peter Rabbit Sculptures at Langdon Visitor Centre

Langdon Visitor Centre is in Lower Dunton Road in Basildon. It is a lovely nature reserve with a trail, meadows, woodlands and lakes. As you take a wander around the trail you will meet wonderful wooden characters from Peter Rabbit. They also offer lots of children’s activities during the summer holidays from scavenger hunts to making arts and crafts for just a £3 donation. Check their website or Facebook page for details.
The visitor centre sells refreshments, has a gift shop and toilets with baby changing. To the rear of the visitor centre is a pretty wildlife garden.
There is free parking onsite.
Open Daily: 9am – 5pm.
For more information visit their website.

4. Hollytrees Museum and Colchester Castle Park

Hollytrees Museum is a great museum set in Colchester Castle Park overlooking the picturesque Colchester Castle. There is a cafe, formal gardens and children’s playground with large sandpit play area to explore.
The museum gives a glance into life in Colchester and how it has evolved over the years. It has some really interesting exhibits and interactive parts to keep the kids interested and entertained.
Free entry.
Opening times of Hollytrees Museum:
Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm
Sunday 11am to 5pm
Parking is not available on site, you would need to use Colchester Town car parks.
You can visit the Castle Museum but there is a fee to enter.

For more information check their website.

5. Stick Man Trail at Weald Country Park

Another great free kids day out in Essex is Weald Country Park. It is set within 500 acres of parkland in Brentwood and home to The Stickman Play Trail. A fun trail bringing to life the story by Julia Donaldson encouraging imaginative play. A gorgeous walk through the woodland and parkland with activities to explore at each stop. It really is a lovely walk round and the children love investigating and playing around the wooden structures.

You can purchase a map at the visitor centre. There is also a deer to visit, cafe, play area, gift shop and toilets.
Free entry and parking is onsite, there is a charge for parking however:

Up to 1 hour £2.20
Up to 2 hours £3.30
Up to 3 hours £4.40
Over 3 hours £5.50

For more information please visit their website.

6. Hylands House & Park

Hylands House is based in Chelmsford in Hylands Park. The Grade II listed house is set in gorgeous landscaped parkland, with pretty formal gardens to explore, a cafe and adventure castle play area.
Free entry to the park and free onsite parking.
To enter the house is £3.80 for adults and free for under 16s.
Please check their website for opening dates and times of the house and cafe. Please also be aware that it will be closed for visiting during a weekend in mid August for a Festival.
For more information please visit their website.

7. Canvey Island Transport Museum

The museum in Canvey Island is the home to a selection of vintage buses, coaches and classic cars. In addition to the museum there is a model railway and gift shop selling die-cast models and transport souvenirs.
Entry is free but donations are welcomed.

Open the first and third Sundays between April and October.
Opening times 10am to 5pm.
For more information visit their website.

8. Chelmsford Museum at Oaklands Park

Chelmsford Museum is actually in Oaklands Park situated Moulsham Street, Chelmsford.
Set within gorgeous grounds with two fantastic playgrounds for the children, one for older children and one for younger.
Chelmsford Museum has some really interesting exhibits and also houses Essex Regiment Museum.
During the summer holidays they are hosting a number of themed craft sessions for school aged children. Children are encouraged to get creative, using the museum’s collections and displays for inspiration. £3 per child.
Free entry and free parking is available onsite. Please note there is some renovation work going on during 2018 but the museum is still open.
Opening times:
Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm
Sunday 1pm to 4pm
For more information please visit their website.

9. Rayleigh Windmill

Rayleigh Windmill is a 200 year old Grade II listed building where you can learn how the Windmill worked, climb to the top, try the quiz in the museum, dress up in traditional costumes.
Entry is free of charge but a donation of £1 per person is suggested. See our full review of Rayleigh Windmill here.

Opening times:
Wednesday 10:00am – 1:00pm
Saturday 1:00 – 4:00pm
Sunday 1:00 – 4:00pm

Please check in advance as they close for some private events at weekends.
Parking is at Mill Hall Car Park which is a paid for car park but free after 1pm on Saturday and free all day Sunday.
For more information please visit their website.

10. Great Notley Discovery Park

Great Notley Discovery Park is situated in Braintree. A great place to explore with the kids with interactive play equipment and sensory trails.
There is a cafe onsite, toilets and car parking.
Free Entry.
Opening times: The park is open daily from 08.00 till dusk
The visitor centre and cafe is open daily from 10.00 till 16.00. (Except 25 December).

11. Thames Chase Nature Reserve.

Thames Chase Nature Reserve based in Pike Lane, Upminster has a great nature trail with activities as you go round. It also boasts a play area, very nice cafe, gift shop and bicycle hire. It’s a great place to take the kids bikes to cycle round.
There are some great wooden structures as you go around the trail for the kids to play and climb on.
They are organising a range of children’s activities through the summer holidays on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week from 25th July to 24th August between 10:30am and 12:30pm. £3 donation per child.
Free entry.
Opening times: 10am-5pm weekdays and weekend (10-4pm in the winter).
Includes café and shop with toilets and baby changing.
Parking is onsite for a small fee.
For more information please visit their website.

12. Wat Tyler Park

Wat Tyler Country Park in Pitsea, Basildon has 125 acres of country walks, wildlife spotting adventure play area for kids and a miniature railway. The park has a fascinating history and was originally an explosives factory. There are informative signs as you walk around the trail.
There is a cafe and gift shop onsite with toilets and baby changing.
Free entry and free parking onsite.
Railway runs in the school holidays, adults £2.50 and children £1.50.
Opening times:
Monday to Sunday 10:00 – 16:45.
For more information please visit their website.

13. Hadleigh Castle

Hadleigh Castle is situated in Castle Lane, Hadleigh. The ruins of the castle are set high upon a hill overlooking the Essex marshes and Thames estuary. A gorgeous spot for settling down for a picnic and letting the kids let off some steam exploring the castle ruins.
Free entry all year round at any reasonable time.
It is situated right next to the Salvation Army Tea Rooms and Rare Breeds Farm with car park. Please note there is a charge for car parking.
Entry to the Farm isn’t free but it is very reasonable and is well worth a visit if in the area. They have a Willow maze, play area and lots of rare breed friendly animals to see.

14. Gruffalo Trail – Thorndon Country Park North

The Gruffalo Trail is in Thorndon Country Park North in Brentwood. It’s a great walk through the forest spotting all your favourite characters from The Gruffalo books by Julia Donaldson.
There is a visitor centre where you can purchase a trail guide for 50p. There is also a gift shop, cafe and toilets with picnic area.
Free entry and parking onsite. There is a charge for parking.
Opens at 09:30am.
For more information please visit their website.

So this is about fun and free kids days out in Essex. The following day out is not free but is very cheap and definitely a worth mention.

15. Canvey Island

You can get an all day wrist band for £5 to go on the fairground rides! It’s brilliant value for money and lots of rides to keep the little one happy. They also have the beach right next door, soft play centre opposite just incase it rains and Movie Starr cinema where tickets are just £3.50.

Please note all information was incorrect at time of publishing, please check venue websites or Facebook pages before you visit for up to date information or changes.

Thank you for reading ‘Fun and free kids days out in Essex!’. If you can think of any other great free days out in Essex, let me know!

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Castles/Houses, Days Out, Outdoors

Leeds Castle – The Loveliest Castle in the World

Leeds Castle Eden looking at Castle

Leeds Castle

Considered ‘The Loveliest Castle in the World’, Leeds Castle is simply stunning. One of my most favourite places to go.  I would never get tired of this stunning landscape.

Leeds Castle view across moat
There are so many reasons to love Leeds Castle in Kent. The Castle is set within 500 acres of the most beautiful and picturesque grounds. At the centre a picture perfect castle surrounded by a moat. It’s the perfect place to take children, there is so much there to inspire them and ignite their imaginations.

A nice added bonus is that you only pay to enter once, you can then return as many times as you like within the year. Basically an annual pass for the price of 1 days entry. There aren’t many places that offer that so it’s great value.

The Woodland Walk

Your journey starts with a woodland walk along paths that run alongside babbling brooks and waterfalls. There is an abundance of wildlife to spot along the route. Plenty of wildfowl, woodland birds and insects. We saw so many cute baby swans on our visit! Leeds Castle is famous for its black Swans.

Leeds Castle WaterfallLeeds Castle Eden sitting on a bridge
Leeds Castle Eden looking at Geese and their young
The Castle

I think one of the most interesting facts about the Castle is that it was once the palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. I love the story of Henry VIII and his wives.

The Castle is steeped in history and as you walk around the grand rooms you can see how it has changed over the years with rooms from different eras. There are gorgeous antiques to view and paintings adorning the walls. The Castle is as pretty inside as it is outside!

Leeds Castle front of castleLeeds Castle side viewLeeds Castle inside dining tableLeeds Castle library
There is plenty of information within the Castle with the option of an audio guide. They also have activity sheets for the kids, so Eden was kept busy looking for things as we walked round.

Leeds Castle eden with activity sheets
Facilities

The facilities are really good, plenty of places to stop for food and drinks, snacks and ice cream. Toilets are clean and tidy. If you bring your own food there are plenty of gorgeous spots for a picnic.

The Maze & Grotto

There is a large maze to solve and if you are lucky enough to find the centre, it leads to an enchanting grotto underground. The air is cool down there, with mythical creatures made from shells and a water feature. It is very atmospheric, a fascinating place. It is quite dark and noisy down there so could be a little frightening for younger members!

Leeds Castle maze
Boat & Train Rides

Should you wish you can take in the view by boat, there is punting available on the moat, or a ferry ride across the lake for a small extra charge.

You can also ride Elsie their train to and from the car park if you wanted for a small extra fee. We often choose to walk through the gardens into the Castle but return on the train. Eden loves it.

Leeds Castle view of the moatLeeds Castle Black swan Ferry
Play Areas

There are two wooden play areas at Leeds Castle to keep the little people happy. Squire’s Court for younger kids up to the age of 6 and Knight’s Realm for slighter older kids 7-14 years. Both of them are well put together with exciting tunnels, turrets, slides and zip lines. Plenty to keep the kids busy. There is seating available in and around the play areas for the adults.

Leeds Castle Play area towerLeeds Castle play area
Falconary

There are free flying bird of prey presentations  running daily, with Hawks, Vulture, Falcons and Owls. You can also see them in their aviaries.

Dark skies exhibition

There is a temporary exhibition running until 31st October 2017, the Battle of the Skies. A surround sound display depicting The Battle of Britain that took part in the skies above Kent. There are two planes there as part of the exhibition.

Leeds Castle planeLeeds Castle plane
The Grounds

There is so much to explore at Leeds Castle, the gardens are beautiful. Culpeper garden has the most pretty flowers and box hedges, a typical quaint English country garden.

Leeds Castle Culpeper GardenLeeds Castle GardensLeeds Castle Eden with Lavender
Every time we visit Leeds Castle we find something new. I would absolutely recommend it and would have to say it’s in my top 5! Eden loves it as much as I do!

Leeds Castle Eden looking at the castle
Thank you for reading ‘Leeds Castle – The Loveliest Castle in the World’.

Eden is wearing Top – Tu Clothing at Sainsburys, Jean shorts from F&F Tesco and Converse trainers.

Em.

Leeds Castle Kids Day out
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