With the six week summer break upon us, many parents will be feeling low level panic already at the niggling thought: “How am I going to keep the children occupied and hold onto my sanity?”
Of course, you could throw some cash at the situation and solve the dilemma by signing them up for back-to-back holiday clubs: Tennis! Football! Drama! Wild bushcraft spoon-whittling!
But for most people who don’t have lottery-level funds to fall back on, this means hunting around for good value days out, free activities and nothing that involves standing in front of a cash machine and holding up your apron to catch the twenties as they fly out.
The Cambridge Independent has done the hard work for you in tracking down the best activities available to chase away boredom and help out a frazzled parent… no bank heist required.
Check out summer fun at the museums
These activities are usually free or cheap and have the benefit of at least being (a bit) educational. There are many events going on at Cambridge’s museums over the holidays, including craft, storytelling, treasure trails and even organised sword fighting, but here are a few that we think look the most fun.
Knight Club at Denny Abbey
Want to learn how to fight like a medieval knight? Who wouldn’t! Knight Club is returning to Denny Abbey for two days only and experts will be on hand to show participants the ropes. Sessions will run every hour throughout the day. All ages and abilities are welcome to join in, so parents and grandparents are welcome too. There will also be free craft activities on offer, including making your own medieval shield, and there is a museum trail to follow.
Sessions run every hour from 10am to 4pm on August 10 and 11. Price £2.50.
Choose your own adventure at the Museum of Classical Archaeology
The Romans are here! They’ve marched through the countryside of ancient Britain, bringing their strange customs and scary soldiers. But what happens next? Will you become a Roman or join the resistance? Will you explore the Mediterranean sea or stay at home? That’s entirely up to you!
Take your family on a journey in history with a story which puts you in control. The museum’s choose-your-own-adventure trail will guide you around the gallery and let you explore the colourful Roman world as you craft your own story. Where will the adventure take you?
Free drop-in. Runs from July 19 to August 30.
Beneath Our feet exhibition at Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
The museum is running a fun morning where visitors can try their hand at some archaeology inspired activities and get hands on with real archaeological objects. Then pick up a copy of the museum’s latest trail and explore some of the amazing things that have been found locally in the exhibition ‘Beneath Our Feet: Archaeology of the Cambridge Region’.
Free. 10am-noon, August 30,
Check out more museum events here: https://www.museums.cam.ac.uk/theme/summer
Join the Around the World Trail at Cambridge University Botanic Garden
If you have grandparents helping out with the childcare over the summer, this is one for them. It combines a lovely stroll around the beautiful grounds with a treasure trail for the kids. Pick up your free travel journal from the ticket office and set off on your adventure, tracking down amazing plants from all around the world, including a weird plant that is rumoured to eat sheep! As you complete your adventure collect the special travel stamps, record your findings and collect a free postcard at the end of your visit.
Runs until September 3. Children can enter the garden for free with a paying adult.
Become a nature explorer with The Wildlife Trust
Try a glow worm hunt
The Wildlife Trust is running a guided nighttime walk around Cherry Hinton chalk pits, which are home to a wide range of plants and animals. The east pit was quarried until the 1980s but now has a healthy population of these beetles. If you haven’t seen these amazing insects in action before, you’re in for a treat! Bring a torch and suitable boots and clothes for a walk around the reserve.
Meet at the entrance of East Pit on Lime Kiln Hill, Cherry Hinton, Monday, July 31. 10.15pm-12am. Suggested donation £3.
Join an evening bat walk at Paradise Nature Reserve
Paradise Nature Reserve is located on the west bank of the River Cam and includes woodland and a more open central marshy area. It is ideal for seeing (or hearing!) a variety of different species of bats. Come along for the evening to find out more about these elusive night-time predators. Bring a torch and suitable boots and clothes for walking around the reserve at night on Monday, August 28 from 8-10pm.
For more information, visit https://www.wildlifebcn.org/events?local_group=260
Shoot ‘em up (with lasers)
The Rumble Live, the woodland laser tag attraction, is running extended hours during the summer holidays and allows children as young as six and seven to join in when accompanied by an adult.
Rumble Live combines the outdoor elements of paintball with the pain-free aspects of laser tag and a healthy dose of competition resulting in a unique, family friendly attraction that gets kids off their screens and running around in woodland.
Its site at Grafham Water, Marlow Park, Grafham, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE28 0BH, is open Tuesdays and Thursday from 10.30am-5.30pm and on Saturdays and Sundays it opens 10.30am-6pm. Visit https://www.rumblelive.co.uk/. Prices from £15 per person.
As long as the sun is out, most under fives would happily spend the entire summer holidays here – job done.
Abbey splashpad: Abbey Leisure Complex pools, Pool Way, Whitehill Road, Cambridge CB5 8NT
The Abbey splashpad is behind the Abbey Leisure Complex pools – follow the path from the car park round to the back of the pool. It has 11 water features including tipping buckets, water cannons, and spray jets.
Coleridge splashpad: Coleridge recreation ground, Davy Road, Cambridge CB1 3QW
The Coleridge splashpad is near the play area on Coleridge recreation ground. The most convenient entrance is on Davy Road. It has 14 water features including a tractor-themed play piece with interactive panels and a crawling tube. There is also a two-foot-deep paddling pool.
King’s Hedges splashpad: King’s Hedges recreation ground, Jedburgh Close, Cambridge CB4 2XH
The King’s Hedges splashpad is on the ‘Pulley’ play area on King’s Hedges recreation ground. There are 14 water features in an outerspace theme.
Lammas Land paddling pool
Speaking as a veteran of the Lammas Land paddling pool, the secret to a relaxing day out is to bring along – or buy at the kiosk – an inflatable for your child to float about on/start water fights on while you keep watch from the side. Many of the parents there will have had the same idea and the pool will be heaving. There are plenty of trees to picnic under and a playground for afterwards. The toilets, however, leave a lot to be desired and this may limit the duration of your trip.
Science sessions at the Grand Arcade
The shopping mall, situated in the centre of Cambridge, is running free pop-up science events for families all summer until Sunday, August 27 in conjunction with Cambridge Science Centre. Entry is free.until Sunday, August 27. Each week the activities will explore a different theme including the brain, the atom, gravity, maths and DNA.
From engineering different bridges to experimenting with chemistry and physics, there is something for everyone at these events. Most main room activities are suitable for children aged 7-11 years. STEMtots is aimed at toddlers to age 5. Children must be accompanied by a parent or carer at all times.
City council play events
The council is offering several free family events over the summer holidays, including a community picnic; and the new Out of the Ordinary street arts festival happening in the city centre on August 26 and 27. Performance artists will bring fantastical worlds of colour, imagination and humour to Cambridge’s historic streets. The programme will be announced here: https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/news/2023/07/11/out-of-the-ordinary-street-arts-festival-august-bank-holiday
In addition to the scheduled events, the council is offering ‘borrow bags’ of games – such as parachutes and skipping ropes – for people to use with family and friends.
The full programme for the summer can be viewed online: www.cambridge.gov.uk/summer-events
Community picnics are taking place throughout the summer. Free activities on offer at some locations include an animal petting corner, circus skills, nature crafts, and museum on a bike – no booking needed.
Wednesday, July 26, at Storey’s Field Community Centre, Eddington Avenue
Wednesday, August 2, at Brown’s Field Community Centre, off Green End Road
Monday, August 7, at Thorpe Way play area, Dennis Road/Thorpe Way
Wednesday, August 16, at Trumpington King George V playing fields, Paget Road
Sunday, August 20, at Meadows Community Centre, Arbury Road
Sunday, September 3, at Nightingale Recreation Ground, Nightingale Avenue
Active Families activity days
Active Families events will take place every Tuesday in August, from 10am to 1pm, with a play zone, skipping ropes, space hoppers, hula hoops, rebounders, catch pads, family orienteering, table tennis, crazy golf, exercise and dance taster activities – and much more. No booking needed.
Tuesday, August 1 at Coldham’s Common and the Abbey Leisure Complex, off Whitehill Road
Tuesday, August 8 at Trumpington King George V playing fields and pavilion, Paget Road
Tuesday, August 15 at St Albans recreation ground and Meadows Community Centre, Arbury Road
Tuesday, August 22 at Storey’s Field playing fields and community centre, off Eddington Avenue
Tuesday, August 29 at Cherry Hinton recreation ground and village centre, Cherry Hinton High Street
Meet dinosaurs and fairies at the park
The city council has supported the Love Exploring app which shows augmented reality dinosaurs, fairies and a spacewalk across Cambridge’s parks. It can be downloaded for free. The app offers “Geo Games” which have tech trails and quizzes to get you hunting for clues as you explore the place that you’re visiting. Pictures, sculptures, views and information panels will all guide you to the answers.
Music in the Parks
Music in the Parks is a series of free open air concerts on Sunday afternoons, open to everyone, with no booking needed.
August 6, with the Haverhill Youth and Community Band on Trumpington King George V playing field, Paget Road.
August 13, with the Rajasthani Brass Band, dance and poetry, on Jesus Green.
August 20, with the Vocal Remix Choir and support on St Albans recreation ground, Arbury Road.
Plus additional dates during September.
Free holiday lunches
Holiday lunches are coordinated in partnership with Cambridge Sustainable Food for families of nursery and school-aged children who feel they would benefit from a free meal – there is no eligibility check and meals are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Free activities are also on offer. The lunches take place at Clay Farm Community Centre; Meadows Community Centre; Brown’s Field Community Centre; Akeman Community Centre; Arbury Road Baptist Church; and Church of the Good Shepherd.
A trip to the zoo
If you’re prepared to splash out on a day trip to somewhere further afield, kids will love a visit to Shepreth Wildlife park or Linton Zoo.
Shepreth Wildlife Park
From tigers to tortoises and the newly arrived sun bears – the wildlife park has a fantastic array of animals to see as well as regular keeper talks. There is also a play barn, outdoor playground and cafe.
Visit lions, tigers and leopards as well as a huge range of birds, reptiles and small mammals. There is also an adventure playground, cafe and picnic area. http://www.lintonzoo.com/
Family events at Wicken Fen
There are tons of activities to try at Wicken Fen National Trust site this summer from dragonfly walks and pond dipping to summercrafts and dance and drama workshops, filmmaking and wellbeing walks.