Strapped for cash? We're armed with ideas on free and cheap things to do on a city break in England with the family, including museum tours led by cockroaches and venturing into blue lagoons filled with tropical fish.
England has got itself into a fair few scraps over the years and you can learn about its long military history at the free-to-enter Royal Armouries. It houses 70,000 pieces of armoury altogether – and if you time it right, you can see Henry VIII-style joust battles in the tiltyard. At the centre of it all is the remarkable Hall of Steel, a glass and steel stairwell decorated with 2,500 pieces of 17th-century armour and 19th-century military equipment. Military history is hungry work so fill your stomachs afterwards with tasty street food at the Trinity Kitchen on Albion Street.
For a free day out, the World Museum is a good place to start. Travel around the world and beyond, venturing into blue lagoons filled with tropical fish and squirming at spiders, scorpions and centipedes up close in the Bug House. You can even journey through space, learning about the Universe on your way. There are also interactive displays and larger-than-life models, including a two metre animatronic fly and Avril the giant spider, who welcomes visitors from her web on the ceiling!
All a bit too creepy? Head to nearby Crosby Beach for some art-on-sea instead. Antony Gormley’s Another Place sees a hundred lifesize cast iron human figures studded along the bay’s wide sands, each gazing out to sea and becoming increasingly submerged as the tide comes in.
This year marks 125 years of the Football League, and there’s no better way to pay homage (for free, of course) to the likes of Charlton, Moore and Beckham than with a trip to the National Football Museum. Footy fanatic or not, the museum will give you a great insight into the highs, lows and history of one of the world’s best-loved sports. Take the little ones to the Discovery Zone where they can listen to heart-warming tales of teams’ triumphs in story-telling corner and dress up as their favourite footballers.
There’s even an interactive baby pod where pre-walking children can play and learn. For kids who prefer dressing up as little soldiers, The Imperial War Museum North is one of the country’s most popular, and free, attractions and just the place to learn and reflect on wars through the ages. If you have younger children, ease them in gently with a 360-degree fully immersive Horrible Histories Rotten Rationing picture show.
London is home to one of the world’s finest collections of free museums and art galleries and, conveniently, three of them live side-by-side in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Stop by the Natural History Museum to get caught up in an earthquake, take a tour led by a by cockroach at the Science Museum and drool over one of the largest collections of precious jewellery and some of the finest design feats in the world at the V&A.
Elsewhere in the capital, stare ancient history in the face at British Museum, be transfixed by modern masterpieces at the Tate Modern and let both William Shakespeare’s and David Beckham’s eyes follow you around the rooms of the National Portrait Gallery.
This stylish and compact city in the East Midlands was voted ‘best value city break’ by Trip Advisor in 2013. The shopping here is some of the best in the country and you’ll find a lively night life, art galleries – the Nottingham Contemporary and The Harley Gallery are free – and more places to eat than anywhere else in Europe. Delving beneath the cobbled streets you’ll find a network of caves at City of Caves. And if you want to go further into Nottingham’s dark past there’s the Galleries of Justice featuring a grisly Crime and Punishment tour as well as a Robin Hood exhibition. You can buy joint tickets to here and the City of Caves saving you 25%. Speaking of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest is also free to roam and makes a great day out for kids.
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