Family days out can be expensive but it is possible to stick to a budget during the February half-term school holidays by taking advantage of cheap and free activities – everything from robot coding sessions to “sword school” classes and hip-hop dance workshops.
The week-long break begins on 13 February for many schools in England, Scotland and Wales, although some schools break up the following week.
For some of the free events you will still need to book, while for others you just turn up on the day.
The National Trust is holding events at many of its sites for free or a for a small charge. At Brimham Rocks, the giant rock formations a few miles from Harrogate in North Yorkshire, there is a one-hour rock explorer activity on 14 February, and a session on 19 February where you can plant up your own crab apple seed to take home. The activities are free, although car parking charges apply for non-National Trust members. Check the website for timings and booking details.
English Heritage has special events running at its properties across the country, as do Historic Scotland and Wales’s Cadw. Members can usually access these events for free but non-members typically have to pay the normal entry fee. For example, at Dover Castle in Kent from 11 to 19 February there are storytelling events, and over-fives can take part in “sword school” classes to learn how to be a medieval knight.
What about going to see a waterfall? Often these will be free to visit but in some cases there may be a parking charge or entry fee. Wikipedia has a list of waterfalls across the UK.
While getting out in nature has lots of benefits, sometimes you need an extra activity to keep things interesting. For example, the Woodland Trust is hosting a tree-planting event at Yonder Oak Wood, near Exmouth in Devon. There are morning and afternoon sessions on 18 and 19 February. It is free to attend but online booking ahead of time is essential.
Rainham Marshes, the RSPB nature reserve in Purfleet, Essex, is running an arts and crafts session for children aged three to 10 on 14 February. You can sign up online and tickets cost £3. It is also hosting pond-dipping activities on 15 February (up to £5.50), and an event for toddlers on 13 February (£2.50). Those are among a number of low-cost activities happening at RSPB sites in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
On 11 February there is the second night of a free “festival of lights” in the Kent town of Chatham. Medway Light Nights runs from 6pm to 9pm and features a range of light displays including a 12-storey interactive installation.
Arts, crafts and museums
If you are hoping to absorb some arts and culture during the break, many museums and galleries run specific kids’ activities.
For Londoners or those visiting the capital during the holiday, the Southbank Centre is hosting the Imagine Children’s Festival (until 18 February), where many events are free, including hip-hop dance workshops, live music and arts and crafts sessions. The Tate Modern is hosting Threads, a free family event running from 11 to 19 February where you work together to weave your own artwork using colourful threads and textiles.
The Royal Air Force Museum London (free entry) in Hendon has a range of free activities on offer over the same dates, including a robot coding workshop, a radar maths challenge and tote bag making. The Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington is running free Korean-themed events including a drop-in workshop for families where you create a traditional Korean mask (15-17 February).
London zoo is offering £3 tickets for people receiving certain benefits, including universal credit, until the end of March.
Elsewhere, the Jorvik Viking festival takes place in York from 11 to 19 February, and there are plenty of free or cheap activities for children on the agenda, including Viking crafts and boot camps. The full programme is available online.
Green’s Windmill in Nottingham is running free and low-cost activities including fruity cupcake and choc chip biscuit baking workshops on 16 and 18 February respectively (£4 a child, booking essential).
In Leicester, the children’s arts event the Spark festival is on from 13 to 19 February, and free events include workshops to design mini placards and banners, a Belgrave Library “takeover” and a tea party.
Free meals for kids
Families can save on meals out by looking for “kids eat free” deals. Asda has partnered with Quaker Oats to offer children a free bowl of porridge between 8am and noon every day during the holidays in more than 200 of its cafes to help families struggling with the cost of living crisis. It will also continue its £1 kids main meal deal.
Westfield’s two London shopping centres are running a Kids Eat Free offer at many of their restaurants during half-term. The deal will run from 11 to 19 February at chains at the Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford centres, including Franco Manca and Bill’s.
Deals and discounts
You can also get discounted entry to attractions by making the most of special offers.
If you travel by train, you can get two-for-one entry to attractions such as Sea Life centres and Legoland Windsor through the National Rail website.
Kellogg’s is running a free adult ticket promotion on its cereal packs. Participating attractions include Legoland Windsor, Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures and Sea Life aquariums. It is one free adult per entry voucher, and the adult must be accompanied by a second adult or child paying the full “on the day” price, and pre-booking is essential.
You can often save money on transport with deals for children. For example, Transport for Wales is offering free travel for under-16s when accompanied by a fare-paying adult. Under-11s can travel for free at any time, and under-16s can travel for free on off-peak services.