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Days Out on a Budget


So the summer holidays are fast approaching and let’s face it, it can be so expensive keeping the kids entertained all day every day. 

We’ve put together some ideas for places to visit and activities that are either free or don’t cost much, to give you some inspiration. The two biggest hidden costs of a day out can be car parking costs and food. Car parking costs are hugely topical at the minute in Havering but if you can car share with a friend or use public transport you can save. Frustratingly it’s just something that we have to put up with.  Taking a picnic will make a day out considerably cheaper. Yes, there will be some prep time needed before you leave home, but kids love picnics and often if the weather is on your side, it can really make the day. 

Let’s take a look at some things you can get up to. Some of these ideas are local to Romford and others might be a few miles away. Most are free and some have small entrance fees. We always recommend checking websites to confirm before you leave.

We are very fortunate to have several self-guided trails in our area. These are free although you may have to pay a few pence for a map if you feel you need one. 

  • At Thorndon Country Park you can follow the Gruffalo trail and discover all the animals that our kids have grown to love.  Ample picnic space and a café with a shop. Parking can be expensive but you can spend most of the day here so it’s good value. We never tire of Thorndon, it's our go to place!
  • In the style of another Julia Donaldson creation, The Stick Man play trail can be found at Weald Country Park. This has some fairly big climbing frames which would suit primary aged children and beyond.
  • Just outside Billericay you can find the Wind in the Willows trail at Hanningfield Reservior Visitor Centre, where there is also a Wind in the Willows Wildlife Garden. The trail is buggy and wheelchair friendly.
  • At Langton's Visitors Centre in Basildon you can take your kids on a journey to meet Peter Rabbit and his friends. An old favourite, whose popularity has spanned generations now. Currently the car park and visitor centre are closed so access is purely on foot.
  • Another popular open space is Belhus Woods, where there is a new and exciting wooden play area which includes a large sand pit, musical instruments, climbing structures and a picnic area.


Havering has an abundance of parkland which is a fantastic free resource for all residents.  Some will charge for car parking but often the fee is nominal. Raphael’s Park in Romford has so much to offer including a huge play area, duck pond, bug hotel, bandstand, tennis courts and a cafe. You can also visit a local favourite, Percy The Park Keeper there, creation of local author Nick Butterworth. Organise a picnic with friends, take a ball, scooters, bikes or whatever entertains your kids and enjoy the open spaces and the beautiful surroundings. It is easily accessible by bus or by foot from the town centre.

Click here for a list of some of our favourite parklands locally. Also consider planning a day trip to Epping Forest which is on our doorstep, Belhus Woods or Hainault Country ParkHadleigh Park near Benfleet has still got the mountain biking tracks that were used during the London 2012 Olympics which are free to use for those budding bikers! Promenade Park in Maldon is a little further away but it has so much to entertain the kids. There are playgrounds with a pirate ship and sand pits, walks, a splash park, adventure golf and a skate park.

If you are bored visiting the same play park, take a look at the options available locally. There are 21 parks with play areas local to Romford – so much choice.

Animal Fun!
We know that some zoos and farms can charge hefty admission prices but there are some great value days out to be had for animal lovers. 

  • In Hainault Country Park you can find Foxburrows Farm and Zoo. Its free, yes completely free and you can see some farm animals, meercats, exotic birds and owls. *Currently closed*
  • In Brentwood we have Hopefield Animal Sanctuary.  There is an entrance fee as this organisation is a charity who specialise in animal rescue. You’ll see donkeys, horses, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks and other small animals. They often run events which are seasonal and offer fun activities for kids. 
  • Wellgate Community Farm in Collier Row is a free venue which relies on donations from visitors. It holds regular events and open days throughout the year so keep an eye on our events page for details.
  • For something a little different, you could take the DLR and visit Mudchute Farm and Park which is a free farm open daily right in the shadows of the amazing city of London skyline. Mudchute is London's only approved rare breeds conservation centre.
  • For horse fanatics there is always Redwings Horse Sanctuary in Nazeing. Yes it’s a little bit further away than some other venues but it’s a very unique place and also offers free admission.
  • Harlow Town Park has a Pet’s Corner which is completely free, although as always donations are welcome. You can see the usual rabbits, chickens and ducks but you can also see reindeer, alpaca and llamas. There are rare breeds to see too, pigs and cows. 
  • Cedar's Nature Centre is a fantastic little zoo, home to lots of smaller animals like Meerkats, Owls, skunks, small bird species, rabbits, armadillos and various reptiles and minibeasts. There are lots of opportunities to get up close to the animals here. 
  • There are of course lots of options if you want to splash out and spend a few extra ££s - Colchester Zoo is a superb place to spend and day, as is Paradise Wildlife Park with it's lifelike dinosaur park as well as all the usual animals. Marsh Farm, Old MacDonalds Farm and Barleylands are always popular and have lots of events running throughout the summer. Check their websites for deals and ticket packages. 


Let’s assume that we are going to have a glorious summer with lots of sunshine to draw us towards the coast. Essex has some fantastic beach areas to explore and whether you prefer the buzz of a busy commercial beach with lots of entertain, or the peace and quiet of an untouched beach where the kids can make their own fun playing games and building sand castles, Essex has something for everyone.  

  • Frinton-on-Sea has a beautiful sandy beach. It has remained fairly uncommercialised so is perfect for a lovely family day out.
  • Westcliff near Southend has a mix of sand and shingle and although it is great beach for sand castle building at low tide, be aware that at high tide the beach can be completely submerged.
  • Chalkwell beach at Southend is a busy beach lots to entertain close by. It has the longest pleasure pier in the world and is hugely popular with families.
  • Clacton on Sea has a sandy beach and is a typical Victorian seaside resort and always busy when the sun shines.
  • Walton-on-the-Naze is a beautiful sandy beach with safe bathing and is perfect for the sandcastle builders in the family.
  • Grays Beach Riverside Park is a hidden gem! Here you will find a sand pit play area with a play galleon and play equipment for a range of ages and abilities, a skate ramp, an aerial zip-line, an adiZone multi-use ball court. There is also a large open grass field, perfect for picnics.
  • Mersea Island is a small island near Colchester. You can visit the beaches in East (pebble beach) and West Mersea!
  • Canvey Island beach is in the Thames estuary and is a sandy beach. It also has a children's tidal swimming pool which is really popular!


There are lots of options for beaches on our website here.

London has so many free museums if you feel like making a trip on the train. Kids travel free so that keeps the cost down. Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, toys and games at The Museum of Childhood or visit the Science Museum for lots of hands on fun.  The Museum of London at Docklands has Mudlarks Gallery specifically for young children and story time session daily which is free but you must book. Locally we have Havering Museum in Romford. It is open 4 days a week and often has activities running for kids. Keep an eye on our ‘What’s On’ guide for events happening there. Upminster Tithe Barn Museum of Nostalgia is an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures with hundreds of domestic and agricultural artefacts. See website for open days.

We have a great list of free things to do in London with kids here.

Do you know of a free or cheap day out that we can add to our list? Please get in touch by emailing us or via our Facebook page. We would love to hear from you!

***If you think you will be a regular visitor at any of Essex Country Parks you might find it good value for money to buy a season pass for the car park. This can be used at any of the parks.

Edited and updated July 2021

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