This is a list of our ten best cheap days out for the summer 2018. I have put similar lists together before. They do change each year as facilities can become run down which can affect whether somewhere is still worth travelling to, or indeed we have new adventures, so there’s more places to choose from. We live in Milton Keynes and all of these are within an hour’s drive of MK. I know many of you who follow this blog live in surrounding counties or further afield so I’ve included postcodes so you can see how far each place is. I’ve deemed all of them are really cheap because you only pay for petrol, parking and a picnic. This list includes a brief summary of each place. If you want to see lots more pictures and videos click on the blue writing where you’ll be taken to my original blog post about them. Please bear in mind I can not keep an eye on each place every day, so do check their social media pages, website, or call ahead to check they’re open if in doubt. Some of them can get extremely busy so I’d advise getting to them early to avoid disappointment as some car parks can get full and you could find yourself in a big queue or even worse being 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 or flip flops and a change of clothes (or two!) for children of all ages – they will get wet. If you go after it’s been raining it can be really muddy with loads of puddles.There’s a Krypton Factor style assault course as well as an adventure trail with two climbing rocks, a rope bridge over the water, hexagonal swing and climbable animal structures and zip wire. My eldest 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). It’s in Northamptonshire approximately 40 minutes from Milton Keynes and can get really busy in the summer – GO EARLY – they will close the car park if it’s full. Parking charges vary from £2.50 to £5.50 depending on how long you stay for and what day of the week you go. NN9 6GY is the best postcode. Check their website for up to date details and activities.
2. Probably our best discovery of 2018 is Rushden Lakes. If you google it then it says it’s a shopping centre and it’s not obvious it’s also a delightful place to explore. But it is. So there is a big retail park there, but beyond that is a lake with cool wooden play equipment, splash zone and sculpture trail. There’s also a really lovely atmosphere there as you can sit and drink coffee and watch the world go by. It’s completely free to park for 5 hours. Pop into to the visitors centre to see what activities are going on there. It’s in Northamptonshire – about 30 minutes from Milton Keynes. NN10 6FH.
3. Sywell Country Park has a sand and water play area called the filter bed which includes a water pump, 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 young children. There’s a big slide there too. We 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’s been ages since we’ve been but hope to return soon. NN6 0QX – about 40 minutes from Milton Keynes.
4. Looking to stay fairly local to Milton Keynes? With it’s huge slide, giant spider, giant chair and fairy doors, Rushmere Country Park is a lovely place to visit with the kids. It’s only a short drive from Milton Keynes on the way to Leighton Buzzard. In the holidays they often have some kind of trail on, but even if they don’t there’s enough to explore. Can get muddy after wet weather. £3 to park, take change otherwise or you can buy a token in the cafe. LU7 0EB
5. Irchester Country Park has one of the biggest playgrounds we’ve 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 boys had fun finding the dinosaur bones in the lovely wooded area – it makes for some great pictures. 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. Costs £3 to park for up to 4 hours. £5 for more. NN29 7DL
6. If you don’t want to travel too far then Emberton Country Park is a good option. It still comes under Milton Keynes and is good fun for children. It has an excellent wooden pirate ship and cool, fast green slide in a good sized play area. It’s worth the kids taking a bucket and spade as there’s also a sand pit and diggers, as well as a stones area with pulley system. The lake is lovely to walk around too. There’s another play area to discover – all be it, it really needs updating. Disadvantages to Emberton are that a road runs through the middle of the park so keep a close eye on the kids and minimum parking charges are expensive compared to others – £4.10 in the summer months which is payable on entrance. MK46 5FJ
7. One of the furthest places from Milton Keynes on this list is Ryton Pools country park in Warwickshire. It has a pirate theme. There’s a smaller modern play area with pirate ship; larger play area with lots of fun wooden equipment and a big slide; pirate trail; den building area; and a miniature train although it wasn’t running when we went as we went before the summer season started. CV8 3BH
8. Almost an hour from Milton Keynes – so one of the furthest on our list – but being straight down the A421 and A1 it is relatively easy to get to – is Ferry Meadows Country Park in Peterborough. I have fond memories of going there as a child so was fascinated to see what it was like taking my own two boys. There’s a good few exciting play areas as well as a train (which you pay extra for… and check when it’s running). There’s lots of facilities, lakes, places to cycle and it’s a big park. PE2 5UU
9. The best value splash park locally is the one in Leighton Buzzard. It’s a good size, you can stay as long as you like and it’s free to use. It also has an excellent sandpit so it’s worth taking a bucket and spade and a ball – it’s big enough to be called a beach. Whenever we’ve been it’s been relatively quiet as everyone goes there for the splash park. There’s a good amount of play equipment but it’s quite retro and could do with updating. There’s a car park right next to the splash park. Head there early and you may get a space otherwise you’ll have to park in town. LU7 1SD for Duncombe Drive car park.
10. A day out for most weathers and completely free is Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton. Outside it has beautiful gardens, a climb on tractor and a play area. It’s there’s a huge collection of vehicles, skeleton bones and galleries full of stuff to look at. Lacks the volunteers that make Milton Keynes Museum so lovely, but nevertheless good fun and as you don’t pay to park it one of the cheapest places on this list. LU1 4LX. About 30 minutes from MK.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.