Family days out don’t need to cost the earth. We’ve put together a list of free things to do in Essex with kids.
From art to animals, here are some fun things to do with your family that won’t leave you feeling the pinch.
Free Animal Attractions
Ada Cole – Redwings Horse Sanctuary, Nazeing
B181, near Nazeing, Essex EN9 2DH
Redwings Ada Cole is rescue centre that is home to over 70 horses, ponies and donkeys. You are free to take a wander around the grounds to see the animals, who love to come over to be stroked. You can join one of the walking tours or horse care demonstrations. There is a café on site and also a small gift shop offering a range of souvenirs, all proceeds from which are used to support the horses. Entry is completely free, but of course donations are always very welcome.
Opening times: Open all year round, every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday 10.00am – 4.00pm
Pets’ Corner, Harlow
Pets’ Corner, Town Park, Harlow, Essex, CM20 2QG
Opened in May 1966, Pets’ Corner is a small friendly open farm located in Harlow Town Park. It has a large selection of traditional farm animals, more exotic animals such as reindeer, Llamas and alpacas whilst still keeping with the visitor’s favourites’ of rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens and ducks. Pets’ Corner is free to visit, but welcomes donations. You can buy feed bag for 20p from the on-site vending machines.
Opening times: 1 April to 31 October, 11.00am – 4.45pm
Winter opening: 1 November to 31 March, 11.00am – 4.00pm
Free Outdoor Play Spaces and Country Parks
Love the great outdoors? We’ve put together a list of top Parks and Open Spaces in Essex, many of which are free to visit (but be aware that some locations may charge a small fee for car parking).
From Essex’s longest play trail at Great Notley Country Park, near Braintree, to the Stick Man Trail at Weald Country Park, Brentwood, there is plenty of outdoor space in Essex to keep kids happy for hours.
Free Family Galleries and Museums
Lewis Gardens, High Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1JH
Firstsite is a contemporary gallery that hosts art exhibits, films, and creative events for grown-ups and art activities for children. It’s completely free to enter and lots of the kids’ events are free of charge too. If you’re in Colchester this is a pleasant place to visit, especially you’re a bit of culture vulture. For visits with children young and old, you will find there is more for them to see and do during the weekends and school holidays.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 10.00am – 5.00pm;
Hollytrees Museum, Colchester
Castle Park, Colchester CO1 1UG
Hollytrees is a grand 16th Century home that has since been converted into a museum that takes a look back at Colchester’s past. Kids love looking at the old toys, particularly the impressive dolls house. The museum is located in the grounds of Castle Park; perfect for those who want to blow off some steam on the large play area just two minutes’ walk away. Workshops for children also run in the school holidays.
Opening times: Monday – Saturday 10.00am – 5.00pm
Natural History Museum, Colchester
Natural History Museum, High Street, Colchester, CO1 1DN
This small museum, housed deconsecrated church, makes a handy break for children during shopping trips. The museum features exhibits that examine the natural history of Britain, focusing primarily on north-east Essex. Find out about wildlife habitats, climate change, and what lie beneath your feet! Also free to use is the resource trolley containing books, magnifying glasses, etc., and an interactive microscope. Workshops for children also run in the school holidays.
Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday 10.00am – 5.00pm; Sunday 11.00am – 5.00pm
Chelmsford Museum, Chelmsford
Oaklands Park, Moulsham Street, Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 9AQ
Chelmsford Museum is filled with information ranging from prehistoric times to industrial and social history. You will find exhibits of fine and decorative arts, coins, natural history including a live beehive! Set in landscaped gardens, there are two large children’s play areas nearby catering for kids of all ages. The museum host events and activities throughout the year.
Opening times: Monday – Thursday 10.00am – 5.00pm; Saturdays 10.00am – 5.00pm; Sundays 1.00pm– 4.00pm; Friday (school holidays only) 10.00am – 5.00pm
Essex Police Museum, Chelmsford
Essex Police Headquarters, Springfield, Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 6DA
The Essex Police Museum covers the history of policing in Essex from its Victorian origins to the modern day. In the museum you will find displays of artefacts, information on past criminal cases, an old jail cell, a handling collection and children’s activities, like trying on police uniforms. The Police Museum also runs a monthly toddler group and kids workshops on Saturdays, as well as Wednesdays during school holidays (small fee applies).
Opening times: Saturday 10.00am – 4.00pm (last entry is 3.30pm); Wednesday 10.00am – 4.00pm in school holidays
Essex Fire Museum, Grays
Grays Fire Station, Hogg Lane, Grays Thurrock, Essex, RM17 5QS
The Essex Fire Museum offers a fascinating look at how the fire service has changed over the decades. You find lots of historic equipment on display – from WWII tools to uniforms and fire engines – as well as old photographs and various documents. All visits to the museum are by appointment only and must be booked in advance on: Tel 01376 576847 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening times: Open days and Tour dates are available throughout the year. Contact for details.
Central Museum and Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend
Victoria Avenue, Southend on Sea, Essex, SS2 6EW
Central Museum and Beecroft Art Gallery lie in the heart of Southend on Sea, located in the former library building. The small but charming museum is home to collections of archaeological finds and local and natural history, and there’s a programme of exhibitions and events. The art gallery displays several exhibits a year ranging from paintings and sculptures to the photographic history of the area. The first floor of the museum also houses the Southend Planetarium, which offers various talks throughout the year. The museum is free but pre-booked tickets to these planetarium talks have to be purchased for £16 per family of up to 5 (2 adults / 3 children).
Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday 10.00am – 5.00pm
Prittlewell Priory, Southend
Priory Park, Victoria Avenue, Southend on Sea, Essex, SS2 6NB
Located in Southend’s Priory Park, Prittlewell Priory’s 900 years of history is brought back to life through numerous artefacts and exhibits, including interactive activities for children. The priory museum recently underwent a £1.8 million renovation, making it a wonderful place to visit with family members of all ages. The park offers good parking facilities and there is also a café and visitors centre adjacent to the museum. However, please note that buggies are not permitted in the Priory.
Opening times: Tuesday – Sunday 10.00am – 5.00pm; Bank Holidays 10.00am – 5.00pm
Winter opening: Saturday & Sunday 10.00am – 3.00pm; Bank Holidays 10.00am – 3.00pm inc. Easter weekend
Southchurch Hall Museum, Southend
Southchurch Hall Gardens, Park Lane, Southend on Sea, SS1 2TE
Southchurch Hall a medieval moated manor house located a short walk from the seafront, High Street, and Southend East Station. The building is free to visit and contains a handful of period rooms, including the main hall set out as when it was first built, a Tudor kitchen and a Victorian bedroom. The surrounding grounds are pleasant, with a duck pond containing koi carp and terrapins. There is also a gift / snack shop and toilet facilities on site. Despite being quite a small attraction, Southchurch Hall well worth a visit if you are planning a day out in Southend.
Opening times: Wednesday – Sunday 10.00am – 5.00pm; Bank Holidays 10.00am – 5.00pm
If you are planning to visit between 10.00pm – 2.00pm please call ahead to avoid disappointment.
Winter opening: Saturday & Sunday 10.00am – 2.00pm; Bank Holidays 10.00pm – 2.00pm inc. Easter weekend