Free days out for kids in Kent and Sussex

Days out, Fall into Winter, Family, February Half Term

Kids having fun on a day out

Going on a traditional family holiday is something that most of us really look forward to every year – it’s a wonderful opportunity to spend lots of time together and make fun memories that will last for many years to come. However, with so many attractions and days out on offer, it can become expensive. But don’t worry, help is at hand! We have put together a great selection of family-friendly activities that you can do for free while on holiday in the glorious counties of Kent and Sussex.

Preparation is key

Holiday journals are a great idea and will keep them busy long after the day has finished. Knowing that they have to take photos and collect things for their books as well as writing up what they did is a sure-fire way to make a traditional family day out fun. Tell them that you’ll be giving prizes for the best one at the end of the holiday. To reward hard work, you can have different categories such as best writing, best photos or best nature collection.

Making a holiday journal is easy - just use our free printables to get started.

Learn something new at a museum

It’s always great to learn about the area you are visiting and holidays are the perfect opportunity to give school-age children something to talk about when back in class. You don’t have to spend lots of money going to expensive castles and stately homes - there are lots of places to go that are just as interesting and a lot cheaper! Many museums and exhibitions are free or just ask for a small donation towards their work.

For children who love pirates and shipwrecks, head to the seaside town of Hastings where you will find both the Shipwreck Museum and Fishermen’s Museum. Packed with maritime treasures and pirate paraphernalia with seaside shanties playing in the background as you walk round, they are really atmospheric.

Fishermens towers in Hastings old town, Sussex
Fishermen's towers in Hastings

You can take selfies at the tall black fishermen’s towers nearby and then explore the old town. It’s well worth taking the funicular railway (there is a small charge for this) up to the East Hill which has amazing views over the Stade, home to the largest beach launched fishing fleet in Europe. You can look over to France on a clear day and spot the ferries passing each other on their way to pick up passengers.

Further inland in the heart of the Weald is the quirky Cranbrook Museum. Full of exhibits showing local life over the centuries, it is only a stone’s throw away from the spectacular St. Dunstan’s church, which is definitely worth a visit. You can then walk up to the huge playing field where on sunny days, you can play games and have a scrumptious picnic; it also has an enclosed playground for little ones at the entrance.

The cherry on the cake is the huge Union Mill that looks over the town – it is fantastic for children as they can look around and see how the milling process works. They are given some wheat as they enter and invited to watch as it turns to flour in front of their very eyes - they even get a little bag of milled flour to take away.

Union Mill working windmill in Cranbrook, Kent
The impressive Union Mill

Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery is also great if you have a spare couple of hours and it also puts on lots of interesting events for children but do check dates. You can tie this in with one of the parks and walks in Tunbridge Wells to make a real day of it.

For kids' eyes only

  • Play spot-the-windmill on your way home – there are quite a few in the area!
  • Dress up as a pirate or fisherman for your trip to Hastings
  • Pick up leaflets from all the museums to make a fun scrapbook
  • Take photos of your favourite things in the museums and look them up on the internet to see if you can learn any more about them
  • Make a secret quiz to see if the adults were also paying attention on your day out!

Fun-filled days out

No child can fail to be delighted with the adventures on offer at Dinosaur Island, a play area in Southwater Country Park near Horsham packed with things to do. Set in a prehistoric swamp landscape, you can hunt for dinosaur bones, go on jungle swings, climb a volcano and much more. The Kent Firefighting Museum near Sevenoaks will be sure to keep everybody happy – kids can check out fire engines and equipment, helmets and fire extinguishers.

Lower Leas Coastal Park in Folkestone, home to the largest free adventure playground in the South East, will also go down a treat with its huge adventure play area, toddler's construction area, zip lines, sunken pirate ship and much more. There is a wildlife area for quieter moments where you can see if you can recognise any of the birds and little animals. Another brilliant afternoon out is at Pepenbury where you can help a charity as well as have fun. Try to spot pot-bellied pigs donkeys, goats and rabbits on the farm, stroll around the Bluebell Forest and play musical instruments along the fabulous walking trails.

Girl playing with goat on a farm day out

Or why not visit the colourful Brighton Pier and then take a walk along its long pebbled beach? Head over to the nearby marina where you will see boats of all sizes and get an opportunity to play on the free ping-pong tables and New York-style chess boards. Then finish off by heading into Brighton city centre where you can stroll around the Lanes, stopping only to pay a visit to the famous duck shop or one of the spectacular ice-cream parlours or pizzerias.

Brighton Pier seaside amusements
Brighton Pier by night

For kids' eyes only

  • Do some research on all the different types of dinosaurs to see if you can spot your favourites
  • Do a treasure hunt – make sure you put in lots of clues!
  • Build a dinosaur piñata – you’ll need a cereal box and lots of colourful paper and pens, and a big bag of assorted supermarket sweets
  • If you don’t manage to get to an ice-cream parlour, make your own sundaes at home with a huge tub of Neapolitan ice-cream, fruit, sauces and different coloured sprinkles

Active days out

What better time than on holiday to get active as a family? You can find lots of open spaces around Kent and Sussex that are perfect for team sports and this is something that all kids are sure to love. Rounders, badminton, croquet, volleyball… most families have equipment that they can throw in the car and if not, jumpers as posts and a bat and ball for a game of rounders is all that you need.

You can get cheap packs of trophies and medals in the party section of the larger supermarkets which makes team sports that bit more fun. Every child wants to go home with a medal and it turns a simple game into a proper day out. Kids will love it if you play the part of coach – just get your whistle and headband out and don’t forget orange quarters for half-time!

There are also lots of tennis courts here that are free to use – in Tunbridge Wells there is a wide selection, and at Pennington Park they also have a free mini-golf course but you will need to bring your own clubs. Just down the road, Tonbridge Park also has a mini-golf course and skate park and, to top it all, a miniature railway on certain days.

On sunny days, make the kids get on their bikes and get some exercise! If you can take your own bikes along on holiday, it is completely free to do the Tonbridge Castle to Penshurst Place Tudor Trail – it’s quite long for little legs at 6 miles but you don’t have to do the whole thing unless you want to. If you can’t bring your own bikes with you, you can hire them for a small charge at Bewl Water, the largest stretch of water in the South East. Here you can experience brilliant rides through miles of fabulous forest and all around the reservoir.

Bewl Water reservoir in the High Weald, Kent
Follow the trails around Bewl Water

For kids eyes only:

  • Organise a mini-marathon paint run – set interval posts around a large field and spray different coloured paints onto each other as you pass them – just make sure you wear old clothes and ask an adult to find non-toxic paint before your holiday.
  • Prepare lots of games that younger siblings will enjoy, such as hopscotch, tag, and hide and seek - make it more fun by making the adults join in!

Countryside days out

There are lots of excellent country and woodland adventures to be experienced in Kent and Sussex. The Ashdown Forest, with its fascinating Winnie the Pooh history, is a must-see; visit Pooh Sticks Bridge on the mapped walk around the forest, then head to the amazing Pooh Corner shop to buy some honey in case you see Pooh and friends on your travels! Birchden Wood near Groombridge is also a brilliant place for little ones to explore and is very buggy friendly – no need to worry about getting stuck in the mud!

This is an excellent time to teach children about trees and wildlife and our responsibilities toward them – children understand so much more when they experience things for themselves rather than just in class. You can do this amongst the 660 acres of countryside at Hastings Country Park, which is a great place to spot lots of wildlife and if you are lucky, grazing ponies. The Firehills lead down to huge cliffs where you can see France on a clear day and the White Cliffs of Dover! There is a visitor centre and an ice-cream van on sunny days, but a family picnic on the cliffs can’t be beaten.

Dartmoor ponies at Hastings Country Park
Hastings Country Park

Slightly more inland, Cobtree Manor Park in Maidstone has over 50 acres of parkland with a themed play area, sculpture trail and picnic areas. Or head to the elegant Dunorlan Park on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells. Set around a huge lake, there are lots of places for hide and seek, trees to climb and statues to photograph. You can also hire a boat or pedalo for a small fee, though do check dates.

The lovely thing about going to a park is that there are always lots of other children playing and picnicking so it’s a great way to make friends. Why not ask other little ones if they want to join in a hopscotch competition? While in Tunbridge Wells, you can also do the fascinating Heritage Walking Traildownload the PDF and visit over 30 places around the town!

For kids' eyes only

  • Make woodland dens, and don’t let any adults in!
  • Climb trees, but make sure there is an adult for this one.
  • Have a scavenger hunt - collect leaves, pine cones, conkers and twigs for holiday journals
  • Track animal footprints and take photos to see if you can recognise them from books or the internet
  • Take photos of wildlife and any little critters that you see – who can spot them the quickest without them seeing you? Make sure you don’t disturb them!

Days out and things to do at the seaside

There is nothing better on holiday than a bit of rock pooling and fossil hunting, and the beaches of Kent and Sussex are excellent places for both. Birling Gap between Brighton and Eastbourne is one of the best around, with rockpools galore when the tide goes out and a huge stretch of coastline for skimming stones when it’s in. Pett Level near Hastings has a little known ‘sunken forest’ and is a great place to hunt for dinosaur footprints and fossils.

Winchelsea Beach, with the ruins of Camber Castle in the background, stretching along to the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, is a wonderful day out, especially if you have a dog with you. The long stretches of golden sands and dunes at Camber Sands also make for a great free day out with miles of coastline to explore and amazing opportunities for sandcastles. Why not have a sandcastle competition with the winner putting up their flag, made before you go, as a sign of victory? Just make sure you take photos before the tide takes it back out to sea!

Sand dunes at Camber Sands beach, Sussex
Camber Sands beach

The lovely thing about the beach is that it can be great fun in any weather – there's swimming and playing in the summer with sandy beach picnics, and brisk walks and adventures in the winter, snuggled up together with fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. Best of all, they are completely free!

For kids' eyes only

  • Fly a kite, it’s really fun in windy weather
  • Collect shells and other beachy things to make jewellery at home
  • Play beach rounders and volleyball
  • Write huge messages in the wet sand and climb up dunes or hills to photograph them
  • Make a campfire and toast marshmallows - get the adults to organise this – you only have to toast and eat the marshmallows!

If you are thinking of heading to the South East for a holiday, why not have a look at our gorgeous selection of cottages in Kent and cottages in Sussex for somewhere to stay?

Posted by Elianne Reed on 11th December 2017