Best for kids
You’ll need more than a few hours to explore this enormous museum, but with free admission, you can keep coming back. The thousands of exhibits relate to everything from dinosaurs, human evolution and volcanicity to marine life, biology and geology. Our favourite bits? The museum’s colony of leafcutter ants and the geological exhibits – visitors can see the heat suits worn by scientists studying volcanoes and learn how today’s structures are built to withstand the strongest earthquakes.
Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Lincoln
This museum’s most famous exhibit is ‘Daphne’, a First World War tank that was built locally by Foster’s of Lincoln, but it also features an eclectic and fascinating range of more than 250,000 objects. The exhibits aim to showcase commercial, domestic, agricultural, industrial and community life in Lincolnshire from 1750 to the present, and kids are well catered for: as well as a playground, the museum features a ‘Children’s Trail’ that encourages young visitors to hunt for objects in the museum. There are also regular craft events for children: check the Facebook page for details.
Roskilly’s Farm, St Keverne, Cornwall
It’s free to enter this working organic farm, and every day kids can watch the dairy cows being milked at around 4pm. You can also sample the goods – the farm is famous for its ice cream, which is produced on site and sold in the Ice Cream Parlour. There’s also a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch, and kids can meet all sorts of animals, including sheep, pigs, turkeys and goats. Pick up a map from the farmhouse and head out to explore the 20 acres of farmland, which includes beautiful wild meadows and woods.
There are more than 114,000 natural science artefacts in this free museum, from stuffed flamingos to ancient fossils, and the observational beehive lets kids see a colony of 9,000 bees at work behind glass. Meanwhile, the museum’s famous butterfly house is set to reopen later this year after extensive renovation work. Regular Wildlife Watch events (£4 per person) encourage kids to get outside and head to the beach to see what secrets the sand holds.
Best for outdoor types
Edinburgh’s beautiful botanic garden was established in 1670 and today its 70 manicured acres are home to a number of rare plants, including the largest collection of wild-origin Chinese plants outside China. Head to the fragrant Scottish Heath Garden to enjoy the aroma of plants from the Scottish Highlands, or to the stunning Rock Garden, where you’ll find 5,000 alpine specimens. Our favourite bit is the balmy Windows on the World glasshouse, a tropical paradise with ten different climate zones containing everything from rubber and banana plants to rare flowering species from Asia, Africa and Australia. Green-fingered plant lovers will find plenty of inspiration in our guide to the UK’s most beautiful gardens.
Guided walks of Bath, Somerset
Passionate locals have been leading free guided tours of Bath for over eighty years. It’s a great way to explore one of the world’s oldest cities – prehistoric evidence suggests humans lived here thousands of years before it became a Roman settlement. The tours take in Bath’s most famous landmarks, including its beautiful Royal Crescent and historic Great Pulteney Street, which is the grandest – and widest – street in the city. Love walking? Check out our round up of the UK’s best walking and hiking routes.
See Britain’s tallest trees at Reelig Glen near Inverness, home to a Douglas fir that tops out at more than 66 metres. It’s part of a stand of enormously tall fir trees, all of which are more than 100 years old. There are several signposted walks around the picturesque glen that range from moderate to strenuous, and you can pop over to nearby Craig Phadrig to see an ancient hill fort that dates back to 300 BC.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland
A site of outstanding natural beauty, Holy Island is connected to the mainland by a thin causeway that’s covered at high tide (check the website for crossing times). The tiny, five-kilometre-wide island is home to a ruined monastery that was built in the seventh century and sacked by a Viking raiding party around 100 years later, an event that signalled the start of the Viking Age. Make sure to stop by St Aidan’s Winery for a free sample of Lindisfarne Mead, a fortified wine made from grapes, honey and herbs.
Best for book fans
Channel your inner hobbit and explore the areas connected with JRR Tolkien, who grew up in and around Birmingham. The city’s tourist board has created a downloadable guide which allows you to walk in the author’s footsteps. A great starting point is Sarehole on the city’s outskirts, believed to be the inspiration for Hobbiton and the Shire. The forested wilderness of Moseley Bog is referenced when the author wrote about the “Old Forest” and the beautiful King Edward’s Grammar School is where Tolkien took his entrance exam. The trail also passes by the towering Victorian waterworks next to Edgbaston Reservoir. This building inspired his descriptions of the Two Towers of Gondor, after which the second volume of Lord of the Rings was titled. Are you a bit of a bookworm? Discover some of the most beautiful places to buy a new read in the world.
The Potter Trail is a free walking tour – given by a robed guide – that takes in the various locations that inspired the Harry Potter books. You’ll see the café where JK Rowling wrote the first book in the series, as well as learn about real wizards and witches that plied their trade in the medieval city. The tour even purports to reveal the final resting place of Lord Voldemort… The free tour meets at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby on George IV Bridge, and donations to the guide are optional. If you’re looking for more literary walks, here are nine in London that celebrate greats from Charles Dickens to Virginia Woolf.
Best for sport fans
Got a budding Rooney with far too much energy on your hands? Take him down to the National football Museum, where kids (big and small) can learn about the UK’s national obsession. This hi-tech museum is filled with interactive exhibits and rare artefacts. Take a selfie with the shirt worn by Maradona during the infamous hand of god incident, practice your shooting skills by kicking a ball against an electronic wall and marvel at the simplicity of the world’s first football computer games. Once you’ve brushed up on your knowledge of the beautiful game, head to the first floor for the Match of the Day Commentary Challenge.
The site of the London 2012 Olympic Games has been extensively redeveloped, and offers all sorts of activities, from playgrounds to pixel art. The Tumbling Bay playground features treehouses and rock pools, while the Pleasure Gardens feature a climbing wall 195 computer-controlled fountains – kids love dashing between the jets of water. You can turn the blocks on the Pixel Wall to spell out a message, and make sure to pose for a photo next to the Olympic Rings. Various paid tours are on offer, including a look around the Olympic Stadium and a boat trip along the canal, but entry to the park is free. These 10 cheap-as-chips London hotels and hostels will help keep your trip within budget, too.
Best for history buffs
Durham Cathedral, Durham
As much as we love theme parks and relic-filled museums, nothing beats a cathedral for some tranquil time out. This UNESCO-listed building dates back to the eleventh century and it’s been in continuous use since then. There are free daily tours. Keep an eye out for the sanctuary’s knocker on the front door – years ago, any fugitive who touched it was granted sanctuary for 37 days. Climb the tower’s 325 steps for spectacular views over Durham, but steer clear if you’re about to graduate, because legend states that it’s unlucky for students to do so in the days leading up to their graduation.
Bradford Industrial Museum, Bradford
This Yorkshire museum provides a wonderful insight into Bradford’s industrial past. Marvel at the antique printing presses which used to churn out the city’s first newspapers and visit the restored terraced houses where mill workers lived. The shiny, vintage motor vehicles are a fascinating reminder of the car’s evolution, and the beautifully curated displays of textile machinery, once used to make military uniforms in the First World War, are also worth checking out. Who knew so much work went into making a single shirt? The museum is housed inside Moorside Mills, a textile factory which operated between 1875 and 1970.
Ever wondered how much a gold bar really weighs? Or who designs ten pound notes? Head to London’s Bank of England museum to learn all about the bank, its headquarters and the people who’ve shaped its 300-year history. Inspect the collection of banknotes and try to distinguish the genuine ones from the forgeries, and admire the beautiful furniture which once filled the bank’s wood-panelled rooms. This includes the Great Iron Chest, which is the bank’s oldest piece of furniture and inspired the design of the £50 note.
Northern Ireland’s parliament buildings (otherwise known as Stormont) opened in 1932, and there are free daily tours. Architect Sir Arnold Thornely intentionally gave the main building a width of 365 feet, representing the number days in a year, while the six floors and six exterior columns represent the six counties of Northern Ireland. But it wasn’t always this beautiful – during WWII the white Portland stone walls were smeared with cow dung to conceal the building from enemy aircraft. It took seven years to remove and the exterior was left permanently stained.
The Big Pit, Torfaen, South Wales
There are some wonderful museums in Wales, but this one has to be top of your list. Head deep underground at this fascinating, free attraction, which was a working coal mine between 1860 and 1980. You’ll descend 300 feet below ground level with a former miner and experience the sights, sounds and smells experienced by those who once worked here. During the 50-minute tour, you’ll visit the stables once used by the mine’s ponies and the coal face where miners once toiled away for hours on end. Love exploring abandoned places? Send some shivers up your spine by brushing up on the world’s most evocative ghost towns.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the industrial village of Saltaire was built in the nineteenth century to house workers in the nearby Salts Mill. The wool magnate Sir Titus Salt ordered construction of the village to provide better accommodation for his workers than was available in nearby Bradford, and the Italianate stone buildings and cobbled streets remain stunningly beautiful. Salts Mill is free to enter, and contains a permanent exhibition of the works of David Hockney: the artist was born in Bradford, just down the road.
Best for film fans
Manchester’s Central Library hosts a BFI Mediatheque, where you can view thousands of films, TV shows, documentaries and archive footage in the comfort of a personal booth, and all for absolutely nothing. There are eight BFI Mediatheques scattered across the country in London, Birmingham, Bradford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Wrexham, and all are free – check the BFI website for more details.
Tyneside Cinema was built in 1937 and was originally called the News Theatre – before TV and internet, locals would head there to watch the latest newsreels and find out about world events. The cinema now hosts free daily screenings of historic newsreels, and offers free guided tours that take visitors behind the scenes of the only purpose-built newsreel theatre in the UK that still remains in operation today.
If you’re running out of free attractions to visit don’t worry as National Rail are offering 2 for 1 vouchers on a bunch of UK attractions. These are only valid when paired with a train ticket so be sure to book now before you go.
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Village life means bowls on the green, quaint pubs, red phone boxes and Morris dancing in the village hall. But there’s way more going on in these chocolate-box towns, which are perfect for family trips, walking holidays and days out. Here, we take a look at life in some of the most beautiful villages in the UK, from Port Isaac to Plockton.