Cheap indoor days out instead of soft play

As much as I love getting my two sons outside to run around and explore, sometimes it’s just too cold. But I’m reluctant just to take them to the big soft plays. This is mostly for selfish reasons. Now that my eldest son is in school to take both of them I’d need to go on a weekend or in the school holidays and as fun as they are, they can be noisy, crowded and I constantly have to watch my 2 year old so that he’s not trampled on. So here’s an alternative list of some of our favourite, best value days out that have stuff to do inside. During half terms and school holidays they may have extra activities on, but I haven’t gone in to any specific detail here so that you can refer back to this article at any time when you need some ideas. You may be reading this months after it was written, so I can not stress enough how important it is to check the current opening times, dates, prices and facilities to save disappointment. It’s impossible to keep an eye on all of them all of the time. Many of the places below I have featured on this website so click on the blue writing for the full review.

The place we keep returning to time and time again is Milton Keynes Museum. The reason being is that it’s such good value for money. You pay £9 per adult, £6 per child and under 5s are free. But you pay on your first visit then you can return for FREE throughout the rest of the year – including all their special events. There’s lots of hands-on stuff to do, and the brilliant volunteers are so knowledgeable about the exhibits. My children love the telephone gallery which takes you on a journey from the early days of smoke signals right through to modern day mobile phones. Don’t miss the air raid shelter in the garden. I’ve taken my boys from about the age of two upwards – but do keep an eye on what the little ones are picking up. The address McConnell Dr, Wolverton, Milton Keynes MK12 5EL so is a great option if you don’t want to travel far and are local to Milton Keynes. Do check their website for up to date information.

Milton Keynes museum

If you’re happy to travel further afield then the National Space Centre in Leicester is a fab, fun day out for the whole family – and is also excellent value for money. When we last visited it was £14 per adult, £11 per child and under 5s were FREE. But you can upgrade that to a year’s pass and visit as many times as you like. There are six galleries of hand-on exhibits to play with, the UK’s biggest planetarium and a 42 metre high rocket that shoots out smoke at regular intervals. My sons most enjoyed the replica of the International Space Station as there are so many switches to press. Interestingly they found the planetarium quite an intense experience – they’re not huge fans of dark places, so be mindful of that if you have young children who are similar. The address is National Space Centre, Exploration Drive, Leicester, LE4 5NS. It’s about 1hr 10 mins from Milton Keynes. Check their website for up to date details.

National Space Centre

Looking for somewhere completely free? Stockwood Discovery Centre is a museum in Luton which houses some wonderful examples of horse-drawn vehicles. There’s a few you can look in. There’s also some other rooms with other historical objects and skeletons so there’s quite a lot to see. My sons enjoyed the climb-on tractor outside as well as the gardens and play area. Apparently the cafe is lovely but we haven’t tried it. Free to park. About 30 mins from Milton Keynes in good traffic. Stockwood Park Golf Club, London Rd, Luton LU1 4LX. Check their website for details.

Stockwood discovery centre

The Natural History Museum in Tring is probably one of the most weird places we’ve visited. It houses 4000 dead animals that were collected by Walter Rothschild. It’s completely free to visit. My sons enjoyed getting up close to animals like polar bears and lions. Most are behind glass. Parking was a bit dodgy when we visited. The address is Akeman Street, Tring, Herts, HP23 6AP. It’s only open for a couple of hours on Sundays. It’s about 40 mins from Milton Keynes.

Natural History Museum in Tring

We’ve only discovered the RAF Museum in Hendon, London recently and so I haven’t yet had time to write up a blog about it. But I can assure you it’s great fun. It’s free and you just pay to park. It houses loads of aeroplanes and has some good hands-on activities for kids. It’s all inside so a great indoor option.There’s a couple of galleries and plenty to see. From Milton Keynes it’s south on the M1 before coming off at Junction 4 and then it’s about 15 minutes from there. It took us under an hour. The address is Royal Air Force Museum London, Grahame Park Way, London, NW9 5LL. Check their website for details.

RAF Museum

More suitable for older children, but nevertheless excellent value for money, Bletchley Park takes you on a fascinating journey at the home of the codebreakers. At the time of writing it was £17.75 for adults, £10.50 for children over 12 and under 12s are free and there’s currently a residents offer on which means with proof of address you can get in for half price – more details here. That ticket will get you in for the whole year. I have taken my two sons – currently aged 4 and 2 – they most enjoyed the tablet tour and wearing headphones and it was more of a day out for myself and my husband, but they were happy enough. There’s loads to see and some interactive displays. There’s also a play area and ducks on a lake if the weather is nice.

Bletchley Park

The only place on this list we haven’t visited but I have it on good authority from a trusted Milton Keynes Kids follower that it’s good fun. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is known for its dinosaurs, Dodo and swifts in the tower. It’s free to visit. Thanks so much to Tina for the photos and recommendation. She says ‘There’s a live bee hive too! Plus live cockroaches, stick insects and a tarantula.The two bears are fab because you are encouraged to touch them! There’s a small coffee shop too. We used the park and ride’. It looks like the museum is about 1 hour from Milton Keynes and is open every day. There is no parking there and their website advises you travel into Oxford via public transport or use a park and ride. Definitely look at their website before going.

Planning a trip to Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton that I mentioned earlier? There’s another free museum which isn’t too far from there called the Wardown House Museum. It focuses mostly on Bedfordshire’s textiles and hat industry but there’s a few interesting things for kids including dressing up, retro toys and a mouse trail around the museum. Completely FREE to visit. A lot of it is behind glass though. My sons liked Wardown Park more – mostly because of it’s retro train in the park. Old Bedford Rd, Luton LU2 7HA. Check their website for opening times.

Still looking for soft play?

This is probably the best, cheapest option. More of a morning or an afternoon activity rather than a whole day out AND it’s just for children up to the age of 5, but we enjoy the baby and toddler sessions at Arabian gym in Bletchley leisure centre. They’re a charity and not as expensive as going to one of the bigger soft plays – plus you don’t lose your children so it’s much less stressful. Want a coffee from friends? There’s a cafe near the swimming pool in the leisure centre. Bletchley Leisure Centre MK2 2HQ. It’s free to park in the multi-storey car park – watch for the 30mph speed camera only a short distance away. The latest opening times on their website. The cost when we visited was walkers £4.15, crawlers £2.90, non-crawlers £1.90, adults 80p. Siblings £6.15 (only on the second child).

Arabian gym in Bletchley

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.