Looking for some free and really cheap Christmas events to take your kids to in 2019? This is my handpicked guide to some of fun places you can visit on a budget with your children that are within an hour of Milton Keynes. And once Christmas is over, there’s a few lovely walks you can go on too. All of these ideas are based on adventures I have had with my two sons – currently aged six and four at the time of writing. I am independent of all of the places featured and don’t keep a close eye on them so if you’re travelling from further afield please check all details with the venue themselves to save disappointment.
24th November – 1pm – 5pm – Woburn Sands Christmas Fayre, Woburn Sands High Street
One of the biggest, best and earliest local Christmas fayres is in Woburn Sands. I love it! If you fancy feeling festive it’s on SUNDAY 24TH NOVEMBER between 1pm and 5pm. There’s food stalls, gifts, a cheap SANTA and rides. I’ll be helping out on one of the mulled wine stands between 1pm-2pm so do say hi if you see me – I’m fairly easy to spot in my funny Santa dress. It’s on the High Street so it’s best to walk if you’re local. Frosts Garden Centre and Woburn Sands Emporium both have Christmas decorations up should you want to park there and visit there too. Hope to see you there and do buy some mulled wine – I can vouch for the fact it’s delicious.
Waddesdon Manor – FREE entry with a lottery ticket or scratchcard 27th-29th November
You can go for FREE to Waddesdon Manor on 27th -29th November if you’ve got a lottery ticket or scratchcard. Waddesdon have told me it’s one family ticket per lottery ticket (up to 2 adults & 3 children). No additional costs on those days. So that ticket enables you to go to the Christmas market and grounds – but doesn’t include the house. You’ll notice they’re school days so will suit you if you’ve got pre-schoolers or can go after school. More info on the the lottery website.
30 Nov, 1st Dec, 7/8 Dec, 14/15 Dec, 22/23 Dec – Free Santa at Ikea, Milton Keynes, Bletcham Way, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK1 1QB
There are lots of different Santas in and around Milton Keynes but they do vary in cost. If you’re on a budget, want to see a Santa without all the faff or simply want to get more photos of the kids with Santa then there are a couple of FREE ones. The first is at IKEA Milton Keynes and it’s the same Santa as in 2018 so you can see what he looks like in the picture below. He’ll be there weekends 30th Nov onwards between 10am and 4pm. You don’t have to book, you just turn up. I know lots of you thought he was fab last year. Thanks again to Michele for the photo. I don’t know how long you’d have to wait. It’ll just depend how busy it is on the day.
Weekends 9th Nov – 24 Dec and Thursday 19th, Friday 20th, Monday 23th ,Tuesday 24 December – Free Santa at Xscape Milton Keynes, 602 Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes MK9 3XS
Xscape Milton Keynes – the place with the Snowdome – are doing a FREE SANTA again for 2019. If you want to book in advance then there is a booking fee of 50p and by the time you read this most of the dates may have gone but it’s worth checking. OR you can just turn up on the day if you don’t have a booking but it’s on a first come first served basis and you’ll probably have to queue if that date is fully booked. I don’t know how long you’d have to wait. The Santa includes a free gift and you can take your own photos. This is what the grotto looked like last year. I don’t know what the gift is. It’s a good option if you want something low key, or really cheap, or you have young children and simply want a family photo with Santa. I assume they do it in the hope you’ll spend money in the restaurants there or on other activities, but you don’t have to. Here’s the link to all the dates he’s there with a further link to book.
Open now – not sure until when, Christmas display at Poplars Garden Centre, Toddington, Bedfordshire, LU5 6HE
Looking for a garden centre with an AWESOME FREE CHRISTMAS DiSPLAY? With a beautiful mirrored Christmas tree, glitzy fake Prosecco bar (no you can’t drink there!), ZEBRA and other safari animals – this is the one to go to this year. This is Poplars Garden Centre in Bedfordshire just off junction 12 of the M1. It’s so creative and great fun for kids too. My 4 year old son was fascinated to see everything. There’s a large excellent cafe there (not the cheapest) and also an outdoor play area with sandpit although I think it’s probably only open in good weather. There’s also a secret nature reserve out the back too. Well worth a visit if and when you’re feeling festive. The best postcode is LU5 6HE and it’s about 20 mins from where we live in Milton Keynes. Here are more pictures and details of the outdoor play area and secret nature reserve from my review from summer 2019.
Christmas walk through at Dobbies Garden Centre, Belvedere Ln, Watling St, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK17 9JH
There’s a FREE Christmas walk through at Dobbies Garden Centre in Bletchley, Milton Keynes outside in the gardening section. The address is Belvedere Ln, Watling St, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK17 9JH. There’s an animatronic polar bear, as well as stand-alone penguins and a reindeer. There’s lots of pretty lights. We went after school in early December and were the only ones in there. It takes you to their grotto but you can walk through it regardless. My children aged 6 and 4 enjoyed it – there’s Christmas music playing as you walk through. At the time we went it was quite dark – so it’s better for looking at rather than for photos. There was an ‘elf’ in there and he was very chatty and friendly. It’s NOT very big – it’s literally what you see in this video so you could be in and out in a few minutes. Round the back there’s a couple of places for nice photos – my kids loved the sleigh. It’s only a very short activity but it’s very cute for young children and my two said they wanted to go again. There’s also a pretty owl display as you walk into the shop. No soft play but there’s a large cafe. There’s also a charity book stall near the loos. If you go, it’s somewhere really to pop into on your way to or from somewhere else, or to meet a friend for coffee.
Open until Christmas Eve – probably, Christmas display at Frosts Garden Centre, Woburn Sands, MK17 8UE
If your kids want to see singing reindeer this is the place. They’re on the shop floor and you can see them for free in amongst the Christmas decorations. They’re not all in a row like previous years so young children will have to look up quite high to see the top one. The trees and decorations are pretty with lots of sparkle and include the miniature scene that kids can put their heads through but there are fewer interactive things and photo ops compared to other years. There’s an excellent cafe but only has a small place for children to play in with a few wooden puzzles fixed to the walls.
Christmas shop at the Olde Watermill shopping village, Bedfordshire
There has been a Watermill on this site in Bedfordshire since 1086 as the Watermill is mentioned in the Domesday book and it is one of the oldest overshot Watermills in the country. Now it’s a really quirky indoor / outdoor shopping place. Definitely wear a coat – it’s quite chilly when you walk around. There is a large Christmas shop there. There’s a few pretty features and a couple of model trains. I wouldn’t say displays as such – Poplars Garden Centre and Frosts mentioned above are better. I’d say it’s more for you rather than the kids – but if they like looking at pretty lights and decorations then it’s nice enough – see pictures below for the best of what’s there – there were outdoor stalls too when we visited too. My son liked tea room – only 59p for a babyccino which they kindly put some squirty cream on when we asked. There is a small soft play there but it was full when we got there. I don’t think I would have paid the £4 for my 4 year old son and £1 for me to go in though as he seems quite big for it now. There are other independent shops there. The address is Faldo Rd, Barton-le-Clay, Bedford MK45 4RF. There is free parking but it was really busy when we went mid November.
Crazy Christmas houses – Summerhayes from 7th Dec and Kennington Close from 1st December.
I will do a separate post about this if I have time with a guide to lots of different festive houses, but the two Christmas streets in Milton Keynes that should be on your ‘must do’ list I’ll include here. Summerhayes, Great Linford, Milton Keynes, MK14 5EX – more than a dozen residents decorate their houses in crazy Christmas lights to raise money for Willen Hospice. The last couple of years they’ve raised around £10k in each year. They go on 7th December at 6.30pm then every night until 31st December. Make sure you take cash do put in the donation boxes. Lights generally go on around 4.30pm but are dependent on when the residents are back home. DO NOT drive in the cul-de-sac itself – there are always people walking around so park on a nearby road. The other is Kennington Close, Newport Pagnell MK16 0NJ. They raise money for Willen Hospice and Age UK Milton Keynes. Lights go on 1st Dec – time TBC. They have snow machines but they will be weather and resident availability dependent – but the plan is for them to be in use on Saturdays in December and on Christmas Eve. These two are amongst the best Christmas streets in the whole country – so make sure you visit and donate some money to these fabulous charities.
Welford Christmas Tree Farm, Northamptonshire – until Christmas Eve
EDIT – Reindeer have now gone home and are no longer at the farm (correct 16/12/19)
Van Hage Garden Centre, One Retail Park, Eye Rd, Peterborough PE1 4YZ
We found the most delightful singing animatronic reindeer in early December whilst visiting my mum. There’s two of them and they sing Christmas songs together. My 4 year old son adored them and he liked them nuzzling his neck. There’s a sleigh behind them and it makes for the most wonderful family Christmas photo. There’s also a few other Christmas displays and free Gruffalo soft play for young children as well as a large cafe. Apparently there’s a small farm outside although I didn’t realise until we got home. It’s a large modern garden centre and you can park for free too. The address is One Retail Park, Eye Rd, Peterborough PE1 4YZ. It’s about an hour from where we live in Milton Keynes. If you’re not local I’d suggest you could combine it with a trip to Peterborough Museum and the cathedral which are both in the city centre and free to visit – it’s a long way just to go to a garden centre! However if you’re more Bedford, Cambridge or Northamptonshire way it won’t be as far. If you have a love of garden centres then whilst you’re in Peterborough I wouldn’t bother with Dobbies – hardly anything Christmas display-wise there. Notcutts garden centre is quite old-fashioned but the decorations are very pretty and there’s a couple of photo ops. The postcode for that one is PE2 5UU.
Selected dates in December – Victorian Christmas at Milton Keynes Museum.
Hands down it’s one of the best value days out you can do with the kids locally, but at Christmas it’s especially worth it. In addition to the awesome telephone gallery (try and get the kids away), cooking toast on a real fire, transport area, old school and toy room, they put on special activities for a Victorian style Christmas that you get included. They include, snow in the indoor high street, free mulled wine (I loved this!), free hot chestnuts, Christmas crafts and bell ringers. It only costs £10 for an adult, £7 for a child and it’s free for under 5s but that gets you in for the WHOLE YEAR and includes all their other special events too. Or £30 for a family. It’s a no-brainer. The Christmas event is NOT on every day. I’ve recently updated my review of the museum on a normal day. You can read it here. The address is McConnell Dr, Wolverton, Milton Keynes MK12 5EL. These are the dates and times.
Fridays 29th November, 6th and 13th December, 4.30pm-7pm
Saturdays 30th November, 7th and 14th December, 1.30pm-6pm
Sundays 1st, 8th and 15th December, 1.30pm-6pm .
FREE elf trail at Moggerhanger Park, Bedfordshire, 30th Nov – 22nd Dec
TOTALLY FREE! There’s going to be a FREE ELF TRAIL at Moggerhanger Park in Bedfordshire. It runs 30th Nov – 22nd Dec. You have to find the hidden baubles and then get a treat from the cafe at the end. Trail runs 11.30am – 4pm Mon-Fri and 10am-4pm at weekends. We haven’t done the trail before but we did visit Moggerhanger earlier this year. It’s nice enough. There’s a wooden play area, woodland walk and walled garden. You don’t even pay for parking. The best postcode is MK44 3RW and it’s about 25 mins from where we are in Milton Keynes. Here’s my previous review of Moggerhanger Park. I’d suggest if you’re not local and want to make the most of being in that area then there’s a big free play area at the Shuttleworth Collection a short drive away and you can watch planes take off from there as long as it’s not an event day. SG18 9EP is the best postcode. Here’s my review.
Rotary Club Santa float – various dates and locations – starts 1st December
Looking to spot the Watling Rotary Clubs’s Santa Christmas float around Milton Keynes this year? Here’s where you can see him between 6pm and 8pm – tell your friends! 1st Dec – Old Farm Park, 8th Dec – Newport Pagnell,15th Dec – Bletchley, 22nd Dec – Saints Estate / Far Bletchley. Here’s more info about the route he’ll take in each area The Rotary Club do it all to raise money for charity – so please give generously if you see Santa. Last year they collected an incredible £2,513 split between Willen Hospice Milton Keynes and the Winter Night Shelter MK.
14th and 15th December 12pm – 4pm Santa Specials on Caldecotte Miniature Railway
There’s a lovely sit-on miniature railway at Caldecotte Lake in Milton Keynes. In the summer in runs on Sundays but at this time of year it’s only on special dates. There’s a Santa special running on 14th and 15th December between 12pm and 4pm. The track is in a circle and you pay £1 pp for two laps around the track. Under 2s are free. It’s good fun. It only lasts a few minutes. There’s a play area at the edge of the lake – it’s fairly outdated now but will keep children amused and if you walk around both the north and south lake it’s about 5k so take scooters or bikes for little legs. The address is Lakeside Grove, Caldecotte, Milton Keynes MK7 8HP.
Too much festive stuff… or need to get out for a good walk? Here’s some of my favourites…
These are all fab places to stretch your legs and get the kids out of the house for a cheap day out. I’ve linked to my previous reviews. If you were linking of going on any of the bank holiday dates though I’d check with the country parks individually whether their car parks are open as I don’t know.
Every day until 27th March 2020 – Castle Ashby Gardens, Northamptonshire, NN7 1LQ
ABSOLUTE BARGAIN FIVE QUID DAY OUT! You will LOVE this but you MUST please read full post for info. With it’s castle themed play area, menagerie including MEERKATS, marmosets, rabbits, pigs & birds & beautiful grounds, Castle Ashby Gardens in Northamptonshire is a lovely, fun place to vist and it’s only 30 mins from MK. They are now in their winter season so according to their website FROM 5TH NOVEMBER UNTIL 27TH MARCH it costs ONLY £5 to visit which is the cost of car parking – as winter charges apply until then. (During the rest of the year it’s £18 for a family) NN7 1LQ is the best postcode. This video is from earlier this year when we went. THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
* You MUST take 5 x £1 coins for the parking machine
* The toilets should be OPEN
* The tea room may be CLOSED so please take food & drink & coins for parking.
* The menagerie is sometimes closed for maintenance
* Follow local brown signs to direct you
* PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE check their website before travelling, last year there were times when it was closed due to high winds so know if it’s open before going.
Wendover Woods – Shaun the Sheep Glow Trail, HP22 5NQ – on now probably until 2020
There’s an interactive Shaun the Sheep trail at both Wendover Woods in Buckinghamshire, and Salcey Forest in Northamptonshire. It’s cool! There’s an AUGMENTED REALITY photo opportunity. You have to download the app before you go. You can also buy a trail pack for £3.50 which includes a UV pen. Salcey Forest has lovely woodland and a play area but isn’t quite as good as when the tree top trail was open. It’s also more expensive to park than it used to be. So we decided to go to Wendover Woods as there’s some fab wooden play equipment there too as well as the Gruffalo statue. Make sure you only stay up to 4 hours though as the parking cost shoots up. Wendover is about 40 minutes from Milton Keynes. The person I spoke to at Wendover Woods thought the Shaun the Sheep trail would be there until next year. You must read my Wendover Woods glow trail review before you go for loads of useful info. Take wellies.
Visit any time – Daventry Country Park
With a brand new castle-themed play area for 2019 and at only £2 to park, Daventry Country Park in Northamptonshire is probably the cheapest country park we have visited. There’s a lake and sensory garden too. More work needs to be done and the loos need to be improved but that’s in the pipeline apparently. NN11 2JB – about 40 minutes from where we live in Milton Keynes.
Visit any time – Rushmere Country Park
It remains one of our favourite country parks – and it’s huge! There are fairy doors, a huge slide, a giant chair and spider all to find, but explore further afield and you’ll discover some hidden sculptures too in Oak Wood. You pay £3 on exit of the car park. Take a picnic to make it cheaper. LU7 0EB is the best postcode. There are loos and it’s about 20 mins from MK.
Leavesden Country Park, Hertfordshire
Leavesden Country Park in Hertfordshire is awesome. I could leave it there and just say put the postcode into your sat nav and go. It’s completely free and it’s free to park and it’s really big. It combines a big revamped adventure play area, cool heritage trail, pretty garden and other play area so there’s plenty to do and see. The best postcode is WD5 0NX. We just drove slightly further on to get to the car parks. Do read my full review before you go to see everything that;s there.
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