I know I love a good list and I’m sure you do too. Here is a mega list of more than 25 FREE days out near Milton Keynes to help you survive the summer holidays and weekends with the kids in 2022. You do PAY TO PARK at some of them. They are all within 40 minutes of Milton Keynes give or take a five minutes or so. There’s loads to do for children in Milton Keynes including cinema, bowling, escape rooms, indoor play… the list goes on and the cost very quickly adds up. However I’m very conscious of the cost of living and petrol, so the focus of this list is only on budget days out. If you find this helpful and are able to create some fab memories with your kids that you otherwise wouldn’t then please consider buying me a coffee to support cost of running this website. There’s no advertising and it’s a personalised guide put together out of a desire to help you have great days out on a budget. My website is up for renewal in August 2022 so I’m hoping to renew it for other year, so your support is really valued. Thank you. This is a list of ANYTIME PLACES (although splash parks are seasonal) rather than one off events. Some of them may have extra activities on though when you visit. This list is primarily aimed at people who live in Milton Keynes. It includes some residential parks which are great if you live locally, but not worth a big drive if you’re further afield.
Some tips! Please use this list as a guide only. I’m a mum of two children and have a day job – I don’t keep an eye on the latest information about these places all of the time. My children are 9 and 7 at the time of writing and we don’t have a dog. The key thing is PLANNING! If you’re visiting a museum then check the opening hours before travelling and whether you need to book. If you’re going to a country park check their social media for any updates about car parking or play equipment problems BEFORE heading out. Some places do get very busy at popular times so I advise you to go as early as you can (and the car parks open) to save disappointment. Some country parks do close their car parks if they’re busy, others will fill up quickly. Take cash wherever you go in case parking machines don’t take cards. Pack picnics to save money at the cafes. Know if there’s a loo there and if there isn’t where are you going to pee. There is only a small amount of information about each place. Click on the blue writing for my either my previous reviews or links to the places themselves. You will need to do some of your own research if you are looking to travel by public transport. We either use the car or cycle. And ALWAYS HAVE A BACK UP PLAN. If you get somewhere and it’s really busy or you can’t park know where you’ll go instead.
PARSON CLOSE RECREATION GROUND – AKA LEIGHTON BUZZARD SPLASH PARK
Leighton Buzzard splash park – If the weather is hot you could easily spend a whole day at Parsons Close Recreation Ground aka Leighton Buzzard splash park – it’s the closest FREE splash park to Milton Keynes. There’s also a beach and a newly built play area (open as of July 2022) and it’s completely free to visit. Best to go early on hot days. LU7 1SD is the postcode for Duncombe Drive car park which is the closest car park, but you’ll need to get there early for a space. If it’s full then have a back up plan and know where to park in the town centre and walk. there is the Multi-storey (West Street) car park postcode LU7 1DD and a number of other car parks close to the park at Hockliffe Street LU7 1HJ. Pay to park, free to enter. There are loos. It’s about 20 mins from Milton Keynes. The new equipment has only just opened so if you want to avoid the crowds leave it a while before visiting. The splash park is seasonal and tends to close at some point in September – although the rest of the park is open. The park is run by Leighton Linslade Town Council and this is the facebook page for the park. Suitable for most ages. EDIT 8/8 – the splash has been reopened following a week’s closure whilst the pump was fixed. Do check the park’s facebook in the future before travelling.
IRCHESTER COUNTRY PARK, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
Irchester Country Park – This country park in Northamptonshire is free to visit, you only pay to park. It has a fantastic eagle themed play area and ants nest play area set in a woodland walk. There’s also a large play area full of equipment and an outlook bridge to walk along. There’s lots of hills to run up and down, dinosaur bones, a cafe and toilets. Like anywhere that’s free, it can get busy so head there early. Address – Gipsy Ln, Little Irchester, Irchester, Wellingborough NN29 7DL. It has it’s own car parks. It’s about 30-40 minutes from Milton Keynes. It’s quite big and not everything is in the same place so sometimes people don’t find the ants nest, eagle or dinosaur bones. If you have older children there’s also other payable activities like the high ropes course so check their website for details and up to date parking prices and information. A mixture of paths and uneven surfaces in woodland. Suitable for most ages.
WILLEN LAKE, MILTON KEYNES
Willen Lake – Willen Lake is Milton Keynes’ biggest park and is free to visit, you just pay to park. The play area has been completely revamped in the last year to include a tall metal slide, wooden obstacle equipment and a toddler area in addition to the wooden equipment that was previously there. Is it the most exciting equipment compared to other country parks and similar destinations? In my opinion no, but if you’re looking for somewhere local to Milton Keynes to go, then it’s the place with the most facilities and stuff to do. My children are 9 and 7 at the time of writing, but i’m aware some parents with toddlers were disappointed that there’s only one baby swing and the toddler area is somewhat smaller than it was previously. The splash park is big and excellent but you pay to use the splash park (£5 per child for 45 minutes) and you have to book in advance. There’s a big wheel (payable), a cafe, nicer toilets than previously, kiosks and plenty of watersports there. There are two lakes to walk around which equate to about a 5km walk. From Willen Lake you can also walk into Campbell Park and along the canal and many of the surrounding villages also connect up. Have a look at their website for payable bookable activities. Do bear in mind its close proximity to the M1 means it’s an attractive stop-off point for visitors, and it’s one of the few places in MK with loos, so it can get busy on warm days. The address is V10 Brickhill St, Milton Keynes MK15 0DS. Top tip – If you you do decide to go for a walk, head in the direction of the church in Willen and you’ll find another play area there. Paths all the way around. Most ages but less equipment for young toddlers – there are better play areas for little ones elsewhere.
STANWICK LAKES, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
Stanwick Lakes – With fun play equipment, sand and water area and obstacle course, Stanwick Lakes in Northamptonshire is a good cheap day out for kids. One of the biggest highlights used to be a huge climbing frame, but that was sadly destroyed by fire. It IS currently being rebuilt (July 2022) so it’s worth keeping an eye on their social media to see when it’s ready to play on – apparently it’s meant to be at some point in August when there’ll also be a beach too. I will think even without the climbing frame it’s worth a visit. Arrive early on hot days – they do close the car park once it’s full. Take bikes and scooters too if you want a bigger adventure. Just pay to park. NN9 6GY is the postcode. There is a cafe and loos. Have a look at their website for the latest info. It’s about 40 minutes from Milton Keynes. Lots of paths around the lakes. The assault course can get VERY MUDDY on wet days. Suitable for most ages. Take changes of clothes and a bucket and spade for young ones.
EMBERTON COUNTRY PARK, MILTON KEYNES
Emberton Country Park – With a big pirate ship, two big slides, sandpit and stones area, there’s plenty to do at Emberton Country Park in Milton Keynes. Free to visit, you pay to park. There is a cafe / kiosk and loos. MK46 5FJ is the best postcode. It’s only a short distance from Olney if you want to have a mooch around. Parking charges did go up to £5 this year (2022) – for the latest info have a look at Milton Keynes Council’s website. Most ages. There is a path that goes around the lake.
RUSHMERE COUNTRY PARK
Rushmere Country Park – If you’re looking to keep a bit cooler and fancy a nice walk then Rushmere Country Park in Bedfordshire is one of the best and closest places to Milton Keynes to do just that. It has a sculpture trail to entertain the kids including a giant chair, big spider and fairy doors. If you want to walk further into the woods then you’ll discover insect sculptures too. There is a small play area near the cafe for young children. But sadly the big slide that was there has been replaced by benches. There is a kiosk in addition to the cafe as well as toilets. Free to visit but you do pay to park. Have a look at their website for the latest info. LU7 0EB is the best postcode. It’s about 15-20 minute drive from Milton Keynes depending where you live. Suitable for most ages, but play equipment will appeal more to younger ones now the slide has gone. Woodland walk, can get very muddy on wet weather days.
BROWNS WOOD RECREATION GROUND, MILTON KEYNES
Winnie-the-Pooh park – If you’re looking to stay local to Milton Keynes then Browns Wood Recreation Ground is arguably one of the best free residential play areas. It has an excellent pump track – suitable for bikes and scooters – as well as some good wooden play equipment, a multi-use games area, Winnie the Pooh sculptures, and new for this year – a two person assault course. There’s also a big field for play sports on. It’s one of the few residential play areas in Milton Keynes designed with a good sized car park. The best postcode is MK7 8DX. Do bear in mind that this is a residential area of MK and does not have any toilets or a cafe. There’s a good amount of stuff in a relatively small space. If you’re not local then I’d suggest you combine this play area with a visit to other play areas locally to make the most of your day. You may find my map useful. Free to visit, free to park, no facilities. We often cycle there via the redways or through Caldecotte Brook which takes you to Wavendon. If you’re driving then you’re best to head to one of the supermarkets if you need to pee – Tesco Kingston is about 10 min drive away. Suitable for a variety of ages. Take bikes, scooters and a ball.
PIRATE PARK, LOUGHTON, MILTON KEYNES
Pirate park in Loughton – There are loads of good free residential parks in Milton Keynes, The only problem is many of them don’t have facilities and somewhere to get refreshments. However the pirate park in Loughton, Milton Keynes is one of a handful where there’s a good cafe very close to it which has toilets. Do check The Grumpy Cook facebook page for opening days and times before travelling. The park itself has a pirate ship set in sand and other wooden equipment as well as a large climbing frame for older children. There’s also a big field for ball games. The address is Linceslade Grove, Milton Keynes, MK5 8DJ. From there you can walk to to the stepping stones which are in Loughton Valley Park. They’re about 5-10 minutes away. Have a look on my map to find them, Free to visit, free to park, cafe. Suitable for a variety of ages. Must like sand! Take a bucket and spade.
NENE WETLANDS, RUSHDEN LAKES RETAIL PARK, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
Nene Wetlands, Rushden Lakes – Rushden Lakes is a big retail park and leisure destination in Northamptonshire, but it has also has a pretty good play area and lake to walk around too with sculptures to spot. There are cafes, restaurants, cinema and indoor play. NN10 6AR which will take you towards Waitrose, then follow the signs to Rushden Lakes. There is free car parking available for visitors for up to five hours. Free to visit the play area, free to park and there are toilets. It’s about 35 minutes from Milton Keynes. Suitable for a range of ages. There’s a path that goes right around the lake.
DAVENTRY COUNTRY PARK, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
Daventry Country Park – With a castle-themed play area and at only £2.20 to park, Daventry Country Park in Northamptonshire is probably the cheapest country park with facilities we have visited. There’s a lake and sensory garden too. NN11 2JB is the best postcode and it’s about 40 minutes from where we live in Milton Keynes. There is an outdoor kiosk with refreshments and tables. There are loos although they’re not immediately next to the play area so allow yourselves 5 minutes to walk to them. The last time we visited the parking machines only took CASH. I don’t know if that’s changed but take cash anyway. Free to visit, pay to park, toilets and refreshments, take cash. Surface around the lake was uneven the last time we visited with some of the walk through woodland.
SYWELL COUNTRY PARK, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
Sywell Country Park – Sywell Country Park in Northamptonshire is probably one of the lesser talked about country parks in Northamptonshire, but with a sand and water play area, big slide, sculptures and reservoir, it’s still a nice place to visit for a cheap day out. Free to visit, you only pay to park. There’s a cafe / kiosk and toilets. Check the council’s website for the latest parking charges. I suggest you take cash in case there’s any problems with cards. It’s about 40 minutes from Milton Keynes.
BENNETT’S RECREATION GROUND, DUNSTABLE
Dunstable splash park and play area – Bennett’s Recreation Ground in Dunstable has both a splash park and an adventure play area, as well as a cafe. The splash park is small but nice. For opening hours and updates they regularly update their facebook page. It’s free to use and visit. They ask though that you don’t attempt to park on nearby residential streets. They ask that you park at Ashton Square Car Park, located off Bull Pond Lane. This car park is only a one minute walk from Bennett’s Splash, and is free on Sundays and Bank Holidays, and after 1 pm on Saturdays and Wednesdays (as of July 2022). It’s about 25 minute drive from Milton Keynes. The splash park isn’t that big so may appeal more to younger ones. The play equipment is suitable for a range of ages.
STANTON LOW PARK, MILTON KEYNES
Stanton Low Park – Stanton Low Park in Milton Keynes is one of the biggest, free residential parks in Milton Keynes. It has an excellent bike / scooter track which is good for young children. There’s lots of different play equipment although it is spread out. From there you can walk either to the ruins of the 12th century St Peter’s Church or you can walk along the canal to Great Linford Manor Park (also featured on this list). Stanton Low Park is in the residential area of Oakridge Park in Milton Keynes. It’s a Parks Trust site and is one of the largest parks with play equipment in Milton Keynes. There is a dedicated free car park. I wouldn’t say the car park is that easy to find as it’s at the far end of the park but it’s off Newport Road next to the Oakridge Park Local Centre where Asda is located. DON’T PARK IN THE RESIDENTIAL AREA. Assuming you have parked in the correct car park it is a bit of a walk to the play equipment and bike track down the path so don’t worry if you don’t see it straight away. Or you can park in the local centre itself as far as I know at the time of writing – the postcode is MK14 6FF. Do make sure there are no time restrictions by checking the latest signage. There is also a small car park for disabled people off Selkirk Drive. The only downside? There are NO LOOS so bear that in mind before visiting. The play equipment is on grass. Suitable for a range of ages but is spread out.
WENDOVER WOODS, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Wendover Woods – Wendover Woods is in Buckinghamshire is about 40 minutes from where we live in Milton Keynes. The address is Upper Icknield Way, Aston Clinton, Aylesbury – Sat Nav Postcode: HP22 5NQ. There’s a Gruffalo statue, play trail, play equipment, good cafe and loos. They also tend to have on some kind of themed trail too. There’s a Go Ape there but it costs extra and you’d need to book. You don’t pay an entry fee for Wendover Woods but you do pay to park – and whilst we welcome visiting places where you only pay to park, this one is on the expensive side compared to other forests and country parks. As of July 2022 it was £5 for up to 4 hours and £10 over 4 hours. Do check the Wendover Woods website for the latest details on what’s on and parking prices. Free to visit, pay to park. Woodland walks with uneven surfaces can get muddy in wet weather.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, TRING, HERTFORDSHIRE
Natural History Museum in Tring – This place in Tring, Hertfordshire always completely divides people – you either love it or find it completely odd. This building houses 4000 taxidermy specimens of almost every animal you can think of. It’s completely free to visit and free to park. HP23 6AP is the best postcode – It’s about 40 minutes from Milton Keynes. There are loos. There is a limited amount of walk-in availability so it’s best to book in advance. My youngest son finds the upstairs bit quite dark so bear that in mind if you have children. It’s not huge – I’d allow 1-2 hours to visit. There are quite a few suggestions on their website for what else you can do in the area. In the past during the summer we’ve gone straight to Tring then on the way back to Milton Keynes visited Wiggington play area and the Pick Your Own site at Grove Farm near Ivinghoe.
HOUGHTON HALL PARK, HOUGHTON REGIS, BEDFORDSHIRE
Houghton Hall Park – Cool wooden play equipment, beautiful gardens, den building and a lovely walk – Houghton Hall Park is a lovely big park in Houghton Regis in Bedfordshire. Completely free and free to park for three hours – although in their main car park you now need to display a ticket. The visitor centre is located at the Park Road North entrance to the park. If you are using a Sat Nav, they strongly recommend searching for Park Road North rather than using the postcode (LU5 5FU). From here you can follow the brown tourism road sign to Houghton Hall Park – there is a purple welcome sign on Park Road North outside the entrance to the visitor centre car park. It’s about 25 minutes from Milton Keynes. They often have extra activities on during the holidays so it’s well worth checking their website to see what’s on. There’s also a pretty good play area on the village green just outside the end of the park where the kitchen garden is. It may appeal more to younger children. There’s a path that goes around some of the park although there is a section of woodland from what I remember.
BANCROFT PARK, MILTON KEYNES
Bancroft park – Bancroft park is a lovely free play area in Milton Keynes that was revamped in 2019 – there’s a cool wooden climbing frame which is great fun as well as a separate toddler area. This is one of the parks we’ve visited the most. You can then walk around North Loughton Valley Park to explore the remains of a Roman villa as well as on to see the concrete cows. If you’re on bikes then you can go either further to find the railway bridge and on to Loughton Valley Park and Lodge Lake. MK13 0QB is the nearest postcode for the play area though. No loos sadly. Suitable for a range of ages. Paths go right through North Loughton Valley Park.
HOWE PARK WOOD, MILTON KEYNES
Howe Park Wood – Howe Park Wood is one of the few places in Milton Keynes that has both a cafe with loo and a play area. The play equipment is tiny and aimed at young toddlers. There’s also a group of frog sculptures. It’s free to park and you can do a nice circular walk around the woods, there’s often lots of logs to climb on. It can get muddy in wet weather and can be difficult to access. If you’re looking for a longer walk, then you can head out the other end, through the estate and then on to Tattenhoe Valley Park. The main entrance and car park is situated opposite Westcroft District Centre. It’s easy to find. We used the postcode MK4 3GG. The wood is free to visit and free to park. For a local woodland it’s a good sized car park and we parked easily There is also a car park at the other end of the wood. The address is 18 Howe Rock Pl, Tattenhoe, Milton Keynes MK4 3BX and I rarely see people park there. It’s worth keeping an eye on the Parks Trust website for regular tree tots sessions, summer open days, pond dipping etc. Free to visit, free to park. Play equipment aimed at young toddlers. Woodland walk, muddy in wet weather.
SALCEY FOREST, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
Salcey Forest – Salcey Forest in Northamptonshire is only a short drive from Milton Keynes and is a good place for a lovely walk. There are a number of trail routes and some small wooden houses to play in. There is a cafe and loos. The play area has a good sized climbing frame but it’s not suitable for toddlers. You do pay to park – have a look at their website before going for prices and up to date info. I struggle to get a phone signal there. You may see pictures of a ‘treetop trail’ at Salcey – it has been closed for a few years now due to safety concerns.It can get muddy in winter months making it difficult to use buggies. The address is Wootton Road, Northamptonshire, NN7 2HX
CALDECOTTE LAKE, MILTON KEYNES
Caldecotte Lake – Caldecotte Lake is one of the biggest lakes in Milton Keynes. It’s free to visit and free to park. There is a play area next to the car park which is ok. It’s approximately 5k around the lake so take scooters or bikes if you have young children and want to do the full loop. There are other play areas dotted around Caldecotte which aren’t too far from the lake, although I definitely recommend looking at my map before going so you have an idea of where they are. One of the biggest highlights is the volunteer run Caldecotte Miniature Railway which operates between April and October – do check their facebook page for days and running times before visiting. It only costs £1 per person for two laps around the track. They tend to run on Sunday afternoons, but do run more in the holidays so check before going. There is a large main free car park. The address is Bletcham Way, Caldecotte, Milton Keynes MK7 8HP. That main car park is next to the pub and the play area. That car park is for Caldecotte North. The alternative if you want to go to the South lake is a much smaller car park on the opposite side of the road. The car park is just off Monellan Grove and is the postcode is MK7 8AD. There are no public toilets there – that’s the only downside. There is a pub though for refreshments and they have loos. There’s a path that goes right around the lake.
LEAVESDEN COUNTRY PARK, HERTFORDSHIRE
Leavesden Country Park – Leavesden Country Park in Hertfordshire has an excellent play area and sculpture trail as well as a cafe and loos. Plus it’s free to visit and free to park. It was one of our favourite cheap days out in 2019. It’s about 40 minutes from Milton Keynes and almost next to the Harry Potter studios. Car parking is available next to Woodlands YMCA. The nearest postcode to the car park is WD5 0NX. We drove slightly further on to get to the car parks. There are two. It’s a slightly strange set out in that the country park is split in to two parts and you have to cross a road to get to the second part. More info on the Hertfordshire parks website.
AMPTHILL GREAT PARK, BEDFORDHSHIRE
Ampthill Great Park – There were some new additions to the play area at Ampthill Great Park in Bedfordshire in 2021, making it an even better cheap day out. There’s quite a lot of equipment as well as some nice picturesque walks, a cafe and loos. At only around 20 minutes from Milton Keynes, it’s the ideal place for a change of scenery and fun that’s not too far. When we last visited it was free to park (in addition to free entry) but if that’s changed then do let me know. The highlight for my boys was a water feature with tap which I hope is still working. There are two car parks off the B530, Woburn Street, Ampthill, MK45 2HX. More info on the Ampthill Town Council website. Play equipment is set on grass. Some woodland walks. Play equipment is suitable for a range of ages.
VARIOUS LOCATIONS, MILTON KEYNES (AND BEYOND)
Love Exploring app – various locations in Milton Keynes – There’s an app you can download on your phone called Love Exploring which features lots of augmented reality trails in different locations in Milton Keynes. You pick a themed trail and then visit the area, then walk around to try and find the location of some kind of animated creature or thing on your phone. There’s usually about eight of them with a fact about each thing. At the time of writing (July 2022) the themes included dinosaurs, space, tree fairies, and mini beasts. The locations included, but are not limited to Walnut Tree, Tinkers Bridge, Eaglestone, Waterhall Park, Campbell Park and Coffee Hall. We’ve tried a couple of them in Campbell Park. They’re are good way of getting the kids out for a fun walk without having to travel too far. The only problems we experienced were that the app could be glitchy and we had to come in and out of it sometimes for it too work, and having the location on all the time drained my battery, so much that it ran out. I do have an old phone though so I’d be interested to know if it’s the same on newer phones. It’s free to download and to do, so worth checking if there’s one near you and giving it a go. The app isn’t limited to MK so you can have a look to see if there are others. Better for children old enough to work phones and understand that the dinosaurs aren’t actually there.
WATERHALL PARK, BLETCHLEY, MILTON KEYNES
Waterhall Park – Free to visit, and free to park, Waterhall Park in Bletchley is one of the lesser talked about parks managed by the Park’s Trust. It’s a lovely circular walk though with lots of huge trees. There is a play area right in the middle of it. There is a car park off Mill Road. It’s quite hidden. I ‘think’ an approximate postcode is MK2 2LE – but you need to follow Mill Road around a corner to the left to find the car park. If there’s no spaces there, apparently you can park at the rugby club although we haven’t tried that. At the time of writing, one the the trails on the Love Exploring app was based there (see above). There’s a path that goes right around the park. No loos.
GREAT LINFORD MANOR PARK, MILTON KEYNES
Great Linford Manor Park – There’s been a lot of investment in Great Linford Manor park in Milton Keynes in 2022. There are a number of new sculptures, paths and benches in addition to a toddler park. It’s a lovely place for a picnic and there’s often events on there. My boys like climbing on the circle of rocks. Free car parking available at Marsh Dr, Great Linford, Milton Keynes MK14 5AS. Toilets, including an accessible toilet, can be found in Milton Keynes Arts Centre, open Monday-Wednesday and Saturday 10am-4pm ALTHOUGH they are occasionally closed for private events, so if you only want to visit if the loo’s open then the Park’s Trust say it is advisable to check ahead by calling 01908 608108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The park isn’t huge so if you want a longer walk then I’d suggest walking along the canal up to Stanton Low Park where there’s loads of play equipment (but no loos.) For more info about the park have a look at the the Park’s Trust website.
DUNSTABLE DOWNS, BEDFORDSHIRE
Let’s go fly a kite! Dunstable Downs is one of the best places to go if you want to fly a kite or look out on to picturesque views and watch gliders. Over the last year they’ve increased the number of free activities that they offer during the holidays so it’s well worth checking out their website to see what’s on. There’s an excellent cafe and toilets. Free to visit. Pay to park if you’re not a National Trust member. There used to be a natural play area in woodland there too. We haven’t been for a while so not sure if it’s still there. It used to be good for climbing on logs. Whipsnade Road, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2GY
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