This is the Milton Keynes Kids guide to our top ten FREE DAYS OUT in Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire that you can take your kids on during Easter half term 2016. It’s an updated version of my previous blog in February and includes new destinations. You will need to drive to quite a few of them and you’ll need to pay to park, but once there, they are free to enjoy. Should you choose to do the extra activities or events for Easter, they will require an additional charge. Click on the blue links for my full review, address details and gallery of pictures. They’re in order of how good we think they are based on the following; variety of activities for children; amount & quality of play equipment; distance from MK; any additional costs; and most importantly how much my 2 year old boy enjoyed them. Please check each place’s website or facebook page before travelling for up to date information.
1 – Stanwick Lakes has a HUGE adventure playground, a smaller play area for toddlers and a sand and water area. Definitely take a bucket and spade, waterproofs, towel, wellies and a change of clothes if they love splashing. There’s an adventure trail with two climbing rocks, a rope bridge over the water, a giant tyre swing (soon to be replaced with a new hexagonal swing and climbable animal structures) and zip wire. My toddler loved climbing up into the big bird hide. If it’s wet there’s a lovely visitors centre and small soft play area (additional charge applies). Approximately 40 minutes from MK. £3.50 to park during weekends and school holidays otherwise £2.50.
EXTRA HALF TERM ACTIVITIES – Over the Easter weekend (25th – 28th March 2016) children can win a small chocolate egg by taking part in the trail around the lake. On 6th / 7th April their Wild About Woodcraft event returns. Watch chainsaw carvers, bodgers, willow weavers and other skilled craftsmen at work and have a go at some of the activities.
2. Sywell Country Park has a sand and water play area called the filter bed which includes a water pump (my toddler loved this), a climbing frame, a smaller pirate ship style climbing frame and lots of sand for digging. Take waterproofs and / or spare trousers. We loved the animal / bug sculpture trail. It wasn’t huge but plenty big enough for my toddler and he loved spotting all of the animals. There’s a big slide there too. He also enjoyed seeing the cascading water and feeding the ducks. If it’s wet there’s a small indoor soft play area suitable for little ones – additional charge sometimes applies. It costs £3 to park from 25 March until 31 August 2016. Time from MK – 35-45 mins approximately.
EXTRA HALF TERM ACTIVITIES – Over Easter children can a buy a trail map to use around the park to answer the questions and win a prize. Quiz packs available from the Pump House Café and cost £2.
3. Salcey Forest is great fun for young children. It has a brilliant tree top trail. The structure rises to 15 metres above the woodland floor, with a crow’s nest platform at 20 metres reached by steps. It offers stunning views across Salcey Forest and the adjoining woodlands of Yardley Chase. It’s a bit wobbly! Fine to take the toddlers up – perfectly safe – but hold on to your belongings – you don’t want to drop anything over the edge. My 2 year old enjoyed going in the little wooden houses at the end of the elephant trail which you walk around at ground level. There’s a nice play area but it’s more suitable for slightly older children. Since we went, a Stick Man trail has been added to the forest. It costs £3 to park at Salcey Forest and it’s about 25 mins from MK.
EXTRA HALF TERM ACTIVITIES – On 29th, 30th, and 31st March as well as 5th, 6th and 7th April there is a ‘wizard wand walk’ at 3pm – the website suggests that children will get to find out more about the woods, wands, trees and their uses during a £1 guided walk. They are also doing magical lessons for £5 where children can choose from magical minibeasts and where to find them, wand whittling, broomstick making and maintenance, potions, mathology and art. These sessions run on the same days as wizard walk and are on between 1pm and 2.30pm – details on the fire and education site.
4. If you don’t want to travel too far from Milton Keynes then Rushmere Country Park is a must visit. There’s a HUGE slide, a big swing and a small but nice sandpit play area near the entrance to the park. Definitely take wellies for a walk around the woodland – it can get very muddy. We love to search for the fairy doors, big spider, giant’s chair and carved wooden chairs – it’s an easy circuit suitable for little legs. There’s a café if it rains. A £2 car park charge is payable on exit. Time from MK – 20 mins approx.
EXTRA HALF TERM ACTIVITIES – On Sunday 27th March there is an Easter Egg event costing £3.50 per child. From 25th March – 10th April there is a ‘whose egg is this?’ trail.
5. Irchester Country Park has one of the biggest playgrounds we’ve ever visited with a number of climbing frames, a snake swing and a sand pit digging area with train, bridges and slides. There’s also a separate dinosaur play area as well. If your son or daughter likes trains then it’s worth walking down to the railway museum. There’s one train you can sit in. There are plenty of trails if you want to go for a nice walk. If it’s wet there’s a café. It costs £3 to park from 25th March until 31st August and £2.70 at all other times. Approximately 35 mins from MK.
EXTRA HALF TERM ACTIVITIES – Between 25th March and 11th April pick up a quiz trail sheet from the café, £2.50 per quiz pack, and follow the clues along the trail. Friday 25 March 11:00am to 3:00pm – chicken chuckin’ – see how far you can throw the (rubber) chicken, 50p a try
6. Stockwood Discovery Centre is one of the best completely free days out we’ve been on recently. It doesn’t cost anything to visit or to park your car. With it’s lovely play equipment, beautiful gardens and lots of galleries with historical artefacts, there really is something for all ages. My little boy enjoyed the toddler park area with its house, slide and ride-ons. There’s also a larger climbing frame for older children. I liked wandering around the gardens – there’s lots of different ones and they’re all themed. FREE to park. Time from MK – 30 mins approx.
EXTRA ACTIVITIES OVER HALF TERM – Stockwood Country Fair is on Sun 27th March and Mon 28th March 2016 11am-4.30pm. Charges apply. Adults £4, children £3 and under 5s are free. There will be rural life demonstrations, craft gift and food stalls, animal petting farm, children’s rides, entertainment, falconry displays and archery
7. With its Gruffalo statue, Stick Man trail and impressive den-building area, Wendover Woods is well worth a visit if you have young children. Take your wellies though it’s SO muddy! As a fan of Julia Donaldson my toddler loved seeing the Gruffalo and its only a short walk from the centre of the woods. My 2 year old loved exploring the dens – some of the best we’ve seen at the various woods and forests we’ve visited. The play area is ok but nothing special and unlike some of the country parks we’ve visited isn’t worth going for that alone. £3 to park – approximately 45 minutes from MK.
8. The Natural History Museum in Tring is a weird and wonderful collection of 4000 animal and insect specimens that Sir Walter Rothschild collected during his life. It’s both impressive and quirky… and nothing like we’ve been to before. It’s on a number of levels and there’s so many animals to look at. My toddler enjoyed peering through the windows and asking me about them. It’s one of the best alternative indoor places to go if you’re fed up with soft play. But a couple of things to bear in mind, when the weather is bad then it’s really popular and can be difficult to park. Buggies are allowed in but if it’s busy then it’s better to carry your baby in a baby carrier. The café is really small. It’s approximately 40 mins from MK.
EXTRA ACTIVITIES FOR HALF TERM – There’s loads on during half term! There’s a ‘that’s not my egg gallery trail’ – explore the galleries to help kiwi find her lost egg to win a chocolate prize. Explore specimens to discover the world of egg-laying animals in ‘whose egg is this?’ There’s also colourful camouflage – create a colourful creature and see if it will be camouflaged in different environments. Other activities include a Tring park egg hunt, make orca sock puppets, and create a miniature penguin. They’re all on at various days and times – please look at the Natural History Museum at Tring website for details.
9.We’ve been to Willen Lake a lot since we’ve lived in Milton Keynes as it’s on our doorstep. Well it now makes our top 10 free places to visit thanks to the addition of the new play area – well I say new – it was opened in October 2015 but we’ve only just got around to visiting. It’s a nice wooden structure, and there’s also a dragonfly and pirate ship. The two toddler play areas remain. We also go there to feed the ducks and go for a walk. To park it costs 50p for up to 30 mins, 90p for up to 1 hour, £1.40 for up to 2 hours, £2.40 for up to 4 hours, £3.80 for up 8 hours.
10. Aldenham Country Park has an excellent free Winnie-the-Pooh 100 Aker Wood trail for children to enjoy. We loved throwing pooh sticks from the bridge and seeing all of the character’s houses. There’s also a couple of free play areas and nice walks to go on. There is absolutely loads of other things for children to enjoy like an adventure playground, pony rides, monkey nets and farm – but they do come at an additional cost – otherwise this park would be higher up my list. Time from MK – approx 45 mins. It costs £4.50 to park.
EXTRA ACTIVITIES FOR HALF TERM – The Companie of the Silver Arrow will be giving visitors a flavour of living history when they set up a Fifteenth Century camp with Mediaeval games and craft in the park on 26-27 March. There’s also an egg hunt trail – follow and solve the clues for a prize – costs £1 per child. Paint and keep a real goose egg (hollow). Limited number available. Please reserve in advance to avoid disappointment or ask on the day – £2.50
Bottle feed the lambs – £3 per child.
I'm Laura, mum of two boys - aged six and four. I started this website at the end of Sept 2015 whilst on maternity leave. I now work four days a week and do this blog late at night once the little boys are sleeping. It's won several awards over the last four years and I continue to run it for free and mostly focus on free, cheap, and good value days out. Do drop me an email email@example.com if you want to contact me. Don't forget to follow all of our latest adventures on facebook, instagram and twitter and have a look at all of the videos of the places we visit on the Milton Keynes Kids YouTube Channel - subscribe to it for notifications every time I add a new place. And remember... you may been reading this post months after we visited, do check with the destination you're visiting for up to date opening times and prices. If you find this blog useful then please do comment on my posts and leave me a Facebook review - it makes doing this all the more worthwhile.