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 the summer holidays 2016. It’s an updated version of my previous blog at Easter and includes new activities at each of the places. 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, they will require an additional charge. Click on the blue links for my full review, address details and gallery of pictures.Please check each place’s website or facebook page before travelling for up to date information. I can’t be responsible for any last minute changes or closures. DO GET THERE EARLY. Because they are free and lots of fun, these places can get REALLY BUSY so arrive when they open to avoid being disappointed if their car parks are full and you get turned away.

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 for 2 hours, £4.50 for up to 3 hours, £5.50 for over 3 hours.

EXTRA SCHOOL HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES –  Art sessions, Pond dipping, Mini-beasts, cookery fun, movies by the lake… check out the what’s on section of their website for dates, details and times.

stanwick lakes
Sywell Country Park

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.

3. 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 – it’s quite small but my 3 year old had fun finding the dinosaur bones in the lovely wooded area. If your son or daughter likes trains then it’s worth walking down to the railway museum (only open Sundays). 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. There is a jungle high ropes adventure course but charges apply.  It costs £3 to park from 25th March until 31st August and £2.70 at all other times. Approximately 35 mins from MK.

Irchester Country Park
Salcey Forest

4. 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 £4 to park at Salcey Forest all day and it’s about 25 mins from MK. Take coins!

EXTRA SCHOOL HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES – Every Tuesday in the school hols there are magical lessons for muggles for £5 where children can choose from Potions, Plantology, Wand Whittling, Broomstick Maintenance, Runes, signs and symbols. £1.50 charge for adults. Read all about it on the Salcey Forest website.

5. 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. 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 SUMMER HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES – There are several one off events including a teddy bears picnic, summer fayre and dog show as well as a concert. Details on their website.

Rushmere Country Park
Stockwood Discovery Centre

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 SUMMER HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES – There are lego workshops, very hungry caterpillar workshops and we’re going on a bear hunt workshops. All chargeable – details on the Stockwood Discovery Centre website.

7. We’ve been to Willen Lake a lot since we’ve lived in Milton Keynes as it’s on our doorstep. It has a fab wooden play area for children with a dragonfly and pirate ship. There are two toddler play areas which include smaller climbing frames, swings, a see-saw, a little house and rockers. We also go there to feed the ducks and go for a walk. There are loads of other things you can do but you do pay extra for them… a miniature train, pedalos, hamster zorb, segways, bike hire etc. All of the details are on their website. 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.

Willen Lake
Wendover Woods

8. With its Gruffalo statue, Stick Man trail and impressive den-building area, Wendover Woods is well worth a visit if you have young children. As a fan of Julia Donaldson my toddler loved seeing the Gruffalo and its only a short walk from the centre of the woods. He also 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.

9. 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

Aldenham Country Park
Tring museum

10. 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 SUMMER HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES – There’s loads going on at Tring including Fossil Fabrication, Tribal Den Building, Animal Pendants, Big Bug Hunt, Ice Age Animal Masks, Prehistoric Detectives, and Ice Age Cave Art. For times, dates and additional costs check out the What’s On page on their website.

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 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.

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