The BEST free and cheap family days out in Essex
Family days out can work out expensive and with lots of days to fill in the holidays it can break the bank, so I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite free and cheap days out for kids. Here is my list of 25 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 the Southend Museums website.
2. Wind in the Willows Sculptures at Hanningfield Reservoir
Hanningfield Reservoir 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 the Essex Wildlife Trust 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 has just been renovated and has a gift shop, cafe and toilets with baby changing. To the rear of the visitor centre is a pretty wildlife garden.
There is free parking onsite.
Open Daily: 10am – 5pm.
For more information visit the Essex Wildlife Trust 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.
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 the Colchester Castle Park 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 520 acres of parkland in Brentwood and home to a deer park and 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 park 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 £230, 2 hours £3.50, 3 hours £4.60 and over 3 hours is £5.80
The park is open every day 8am to dusk. For more information please visit the Explore Essex 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.
Their is a kiosk for refreshments next to the play area. Opening Times of the kiosk are:
Monday – Friday 9am-3pm.
Saturday- Sunday: 9am-4pm.
There is Free entry to the park and free onsite parking.
The house is open one sunday per month.
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 the Hylands Estate 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 the Castle Point Transport Museum 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.
WINTER OPENING TIMES:
1 October to 31 March – Open every day (including bank holidays): 10am to 4pm.
SUMMER OPENING TIMES
1 April to 30 September – Open every day (including bank holidays): 10am to 5pm.
For more information please visit the Chelmsford Museum website.
The Hive Cafe is open for refreshments, for more information, visit The Hive Cafe’s website.
Monday – Sunday from 8am-5pm.
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.
The Rayleigh Windmill will be open to visitors for the 2022 season Sunday 3 April – Wednesday 28 September 2022.
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 the Rayleigh Windmill website.
Right next door to the Windmill is Rayleigh Mount, once home to a medieval castle, now an oasis for wildlife. You can walk round the mount and trace the layout of where the castle once stood. This is a free National Trust place to visit. for more information, visit The National Trust 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.
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.
Opening times: 9am till dusk.
Includes café and shop with toilets and baby changing.
All day parking is £2.
For more information please visit the Thames Chase website.
12. Wat Tyler Park
Wat Tyler Country Park in Pitsea, Basildon has 125 acres of country walks, wildlife spotting and brand new adventure play area for kids. The park has a fascinating history and was originally an explosives factory. There are informative signs as you walk around the trail. The play area has recently been updated.
There is a cafe and gift shop onsite with toilets and baby changing.
Free entry and free parking onsite.
Monday to Sunday 9am to 7pm.
For more information please visit the Wat Tyler 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 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. No booking required and pathways are buggy and wheelchair friendly.
Opens at 09:30am.
For more information please visit the Essex Wildlife Trust website.
15. Canvey Island
You can get an all day wrist band for £8 to get unlimited rides at the fairground! It’s brilliant value for money and lots of rides to keep the little ones happy. They also have the beach right next door, soft play centre opposite just in case it rains and Movie Starr cinema where tickets are just £3.50.
Plenty of local car parks, charges do apply.
16. Cammas Hall Farm
Cammas Hall Farm is set in the Essex countryside, just outside Bishops Stortford. A great spot for strawberry and fruit picking. They have a lovely outdoor play area, cafe and farm shop. They also hold many events throughout the year and its also a great spot for pumpkin picking come the Autumn.
I would definitely recommend a visit there. It’s best to check the Cammas Hall website or Facebook page first before going to find out whether they have strawberries ready for picking.
17. Essex Police Museum
An absolutely fascinating place and a great free kids days out in Essex. It is small but packed full of interesting facts and information and has an area aimed at children. They often run events throughout the year for a few pounds donation. All monies raised go directly to the Essex Police Museum to help fund it. We had great fun going round the museum on a treasure hunt and was awarded a mini magnifying glass for completing the challenge.
Visit the Essex Police Museum website for further information. Essex Police Museum, Chelmsford CM2 6DN.
Saturday: 10am to 4pm
Admission is free, although a small charge applies for special events. and Parking is free at Orchard Car Park. If you are using sat nav please use CM2 6DN ‘Kingston Crescent’.
18. BELFAIRS WOODS, LEIGH ON SEA
Belfairs Woods in Leigh on Sea in Essex is a great spot to wander through the woods or play in the large wooden play area. Parking is free and there is a cafe nearby for refreshments.
Parking is at the rear of the Inn at Belfairs.
19. MUSEUM OF POWER
The Museum includes numerous power-related exhibits that will interest all ages, many working examples of various power sources, machinery, equipment and tools. In addition, in the former workshop, the Steam Pump Tea Rooms offer a selection of refreshments. Outside in the grounds more attractions can be found including a model village, picnic area and the miniature railway.
They hold lots of events over the holidays for example Science and Art Workshops. Entry fee applies. Adults: £7.00; Concessions: Senior citizens and students: £6; Children 5 to 15 incl £3.50; Children 4 and under: FREE. Family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children) available for £18.
On days when the miniature railway is running additional charges apply for rides, currently £1 per train ride.
Usual opening hours Wednesday to Sunday 9:30am-3pm.
Please visit their facebook page or Museum of Power website for further details. Museum of Power, Hatfield Road, Langford, Maldon, Essex CM9 6QA. Tel: +44 (0)1621 843183.
20. Hopefield Animal Sanctuary
Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Brentwood gives a home for life to sick, unwanted and mistreated animals such as horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks and cats. Open to the public daily. They run themed events throughout the holidays.
- Monday – 10am to 3pm
- Tuesday – CLOSED
- Wednesday – CLOSED
- Thursday – 10am to 3pm
- Friday – 10am to 3pm
- Saturday – 10am to 3pm
- Sunday – 10am to 3pm
During school holidays & bank holidays, open daily between 10am to 4pm.
- Adult – £7.00
- Child (2-15) – £6.00
- Concession – £6.00
- Family Ticket – £24.00
Extra Animal Experiences help the sanctuary raise much needed funds and gets you even closer so you can help feed and groom. There is a play area and cafe onsite and free parking. Please check the Hopefield website or facebook for further details of their special events.
21. Stubbers Adventure Centre, Upminster
Stubbers Adventure Centre in Upminster has recently added lots of exciting new play areas and trails, meaning you can pay a small £3 entry fee and the kids can play all day. Included in that is: Park access 9am to 7pm, Free Parking, Adventure Play Area, Woodland Discovery Trails, Food Court and Coffee Shop, Big Top Activities, Wild Camp Taster Sessions, Paddle Beach and Pedalos (extra costs apply).
They also have over 35 other activities that can be booked at an extra charge, from abseiling to Canoeing! We tried out the High Ropes Course. Please note: Adventures are not included and need to be booked in advance; children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
Park Access – 9am to 6 pm (last entry at 4.30pm)
Coffee Shop – 9am to 5pm
Visit Stubbers website for more info.
Treasure Hunts in Essex
Although technically not a ‘Free kids days out in Essex’. These work out brilliant at £10 for a whole family day out. There are over 14 Treasure Hunts available across Essex. Read our full post about Essex Treasure Trails here. A Treasure Hunt in Essex is the best way to explore a new destination whilst having fun with friends and family. A perfect socially distanced outdoor activity for a cheap day out with the kids. You can download the booklet for £9.99 and enjoy time outdoors with friends and family solving the clues. Such great fun!
I hope our list of Free Family Days Out in Essex helps and inspires you. Please let me know if there are any great places I need to add to the list. Need ideas for free or cheap family days out in London, pop over and have a read!
Please note all information is correct 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 ‘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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