Like most parents, I’m always keen to avoid spending a fortune over the summer months on days out with my children. So I’ve compiled a list of some of the best free and cheap things to do in Hertfordshire along with a couple of great places in neighbouring counties. We’re based near Hertford so the places below are within an hour’s drive of us. If you have any other suggestions for things to do in Hertfordshire please let me know in the comments.
Of all the things to do in Hertfordshire, one of my favourite ways to entertain the kids is take them for a walk or bike ride in the local woods. We’re blessed with some beautiful stretches of woodland in the county including some amazing bluebell woods in spring.
Mardley Heath, near Welwyn
This is honestly one of my favourite free days out in Hertfordshire. There are trees to climb, precarious but fun rope swings, and some industrious cyclists have built little jumps for bikes to whizz over. Can you find the amazing monster tree…?
Ashridge Estate National Trust near Berkhamsted
Particularly popular in the spring with its incredible show of bluebells, Ashridge Estate is a fantastic outdoor space. There are woodlands and meadows, plenty of wildlife plus a monument to climb and a cafe to refuel in.
Free (small charge to climb the monument)
Wendover Woods, near Tring
Run by the Forestry Commission, this woodland has the usual crowd-pleasers: play areas, cycle routes, Zog trail plus café and toilets. There are quite a few steep sections so just bear this in mind before your kids go zooming off down the hills…
Pay for parking, entrance free (some activities such as Go Ape carry a charge)
Panshanger Park and Woods, Hertford
This is our favourite local woodland. It has blackberries aplenty in the summer and is perfect for den building, balancing on fallen tree trunks and all the usual fun to be had in a wood. It’s not too big and it’s next to an open field leading down to a lake which we still haven’t got round to walking down to. Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust often organise family-friendly events there.
I love this sculpture trail through the woods, it was one of my favourite discoveries from last year. It’s suitable for buggies and it’s been perfectly designed to keep little ones’ interest as they explore the varying terrain and woodland.
Heartwood Forest, near St Albans
This is a “new forest” (but also includes ancient woodland) created by the Woodland Trust, perfect for teaching kids about the importance of trees and wildlife. It includes a short walk called the Magical Meander which is ideal for little legs. Read about our visit to Heartwood Forest.
Parks, play areas and splash parks
In the summer time, one of the best things to do in Hertfordshire if you have small children, is to visit a little splash park. It’s amazing how many hours you can loose watching little people in the water. Now my kids are a bit older, we require open spaces for biking and kicking a ball around.
Aldenham Country Park, near Elstree
This looks like a really great day out: lakeside walks, a farm, pony rides, cafe, farm shop and a play area. There’s also (not the original) 100 Aker Wood and an indoor play space.
£4.50 (or £4 online in advance) car parking, there are additional charges for some activities.
Dunstable Downs National Trust, near Luton
This beautiful spot is actually over the border in Bedfordshire but I’ve included it as it’s under an hour’s drive from us we visited recently and absolutely loved it. This is THE place to fly your kite. The views are stunning and there are woods to wander through, safe paths for cycling and a play trail which we didn’t have a chance to find. There’s also a cafe and shop.
£3.50 parking (free to National Trust members)
Howard Park and Gardens, Letchworth Garden City
We love this park with its shallow water play area and little playground. Everything still feels clean, new and well tended. Some parents may be put off by the proximity of the roads (it is unfenced) but it’s such a delightful place your children are unlikely to wander further than the wooden toy train in the play area or the ice cream kiosk. I’m always amazed at how quiet it is even on a perfect hot summer’s day.
Free (parking may need to be paid for)
Fairlands Valley Aquapark, Stevenage
Not a patch on Howard Park as it’s usually pretty busy and the playground doesn’t have good visibility if you have two children tearing off in opposite directions. However, the water park is fenced and the kids love it.
Hartham Common, Hertford
Perfect for budding cyclitsts, Hartham features long straight paths and plenty of grass and if it gets too hot you can cool off in the river on the far side of the common. There are also several play areas including a skate park plus toilets and a café as well as the town’s leisure centre.
Free parking at the leisure centre for 2.5 hours or you can park in Sainsbury’s and get your parking charge refunded if you buy £10 worth of groceries.
Cedars Park, Broxbourne
If your children have just learnt to ride their bikes and you’re looking for a safe, flat place for them to cycle, Cedars Park is perfect. The park was once home to a stately pile: one or two walls are the only reminder. Today you’ll find pretty gardens and big open spaces along with a little nature centre (our boys loved meeting the skunk!) and a cafe.
Free (the nature centre carries a small charge)
Cassiobury Park, Watford
This vast park comprises woodlands, open spaces, a splash park and a play area along with a cafe.
Some petting farms charge a small fortune to stroke a rabbit or bottle feed next month’s Sunday roast… However, there’s no denying that visiting a farm is a great day out with young children.
Church Farm, Ardingley, near Stevenage
Good old fashioned and down to earth fun on the farm without the huge price tag of other farms. Feed animals, go for a walk, enjoy the sunshine. The play area in the woods won’t appeal to anyone keen on health and safety but the cakes from the café will definitely win you over. It always seems to be muddy even on the driest days…
£3 per person or £10 per family
Cammas Hall Farm near Bishop’s Stortford
If your children need a bit of persuasion to pick fruit at Cammas Hall, you can bribe them with the promise of visiting the play area or maize maze (August to October) afterwards. There’s also a nature trail and a cafe.
Free, £3.50 to enter the maize maze
If your kids have an interest in bees or butterflies, Hitchin Lavender is a great destination (I’m basing this advice on the buzzing activity on the lavender in my garden). Peak blooming season is from late June to August.
Adults £5, under 14s £1, under 5s free
Van Hage Garden Centre, Great Amwell, Ware
Garden centres rarely seem to be just about selling plants these days. Van Hage near Ware has miniature steam train rides, a free mini farm and a little zoo. At Christmas there’s also an ice rink. We go for the trains and sometimes some seeds!
Free entry to the farm, £1 per person for train rides, Ventura Zoo Gardens adults £6.50, children £5
Standalone Farm, Letchworth Garden City
Another good value farm day out. This farm has an excellent playground and a model railway. There are cow milking demonstrations, pony grooming, and the all important tractor ride (which goes on a bit too long in my opinion). Temporary attractions include donkey rides, falconry displays and craft events.
Adults £7, kids £5.50
We have some great natural places to explore in Hertfordshire and just across the borders. With the increased awareness of our planet’s fragility, exploring a nature reserve with children is an important experience.
Hatfield Forest National Trust near Bishop’s Stortford
Just over the border into Essex, this nature reserve is big enough to warrant a full day out. You’ll find plenty of woods to explore plus a lake, open grasslands and that all-important cafe.
£8 parking (free to National Trust members)
Rye Meads Nature Reserve near Ware
This RSPB nature reserve puts on nature trails, guided walks and family fun days. There are various hides for viewing the birds, picnic areas and a visitor centre.
£4 car parking
Amwell Nature Reserve, near Ware
This is another great spot for spotting birds or simply for a bit of fresh air. There are hides to view the wildlife and plenty of pathways to explore.
Cultural days out
There is a wealth of cultural things to do in Hertfordshire. Our favourite local museum is Stevenage as it has such a breadth of child-friendly exhibits to explore.
Stockwood Discovery Centre, near Luton
Another great value day out in neighbouring Bedfordshire, Stockwood is perfect for rainy days. There are galleries to explore plus a garden, children’s play area and a cafe.
Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, near Enfield
If you find the volume of children at the London Transport Museum a little overwhelming (I always expect to loose my children in there), Whitewebbs Museum of Transport is a great, if rather old fashioned and modest, alternative. It’s usually empty when we visit but the limited opening hours could play a part in that. There are several floors of exhibits with everything from bicycles to London double decker buses. The cafe is rather basic but there’s a good picnic area next to an old railway carriage in which you’ll find a charming little model railway.
Free for children under 12, otherwise £5
Mill Green Museum, Hatfield
This is a great little museum about a working 18th century water mill. Mill Green is usually pretty quiet, I somehow managed to wander round it with a two and a four year old without damaging anything despite some steep steps to the top of the mill. There’s also a little garden outside for picnics.
Adults £3, children free, closed Friday, Saturday and Monday
Welwyn Roman Baths
Hidden beneath the A1, in a specially designed steel vault, you’ll find several Roman bath remains including cold, warm and hot rooms plus a well preserved heating system. There are various Roman artefacts on display and visitors can learn about how the vault was constructed too.
Adults £3.50, children free
Verulanium Museum and park, St Albans
This museum explores the Roman history of St Albans with interactive exhibits, dressing up clothes and activity sheets. There are impressive mosaics and recreated Roman rooms, The park contains important remains from the city’s Roman past including city walls and a theatre. There’s also a play area and a lake.
Adults £5, children under 16 £2.50, under 5s free (St Albans residents free)
Cromer Windmill, near Stevenage
I visited this little windmill with my children last summer. Fortunately my boys are relatively sensible and good climbers as it is slightly tricky climbing the steep steps to the top of this charming windmill which dates back several hundred years. I think I’ll bring another adult with me next time…
Adults £2.50, children 50p
This is such a brilliant local museum. Stevenage Museum has plenty of exhibits to keep children of all ages occupied for quite some time. There’s a 1950s kitchen where you can recreate The Tiger Who Came to Tea plus highwaymen artefacts and a “man trap” for catching poachers. There’s also a box of toys for toddlers to play with.
Free, you will need to pay for parking (avoid the pricey long-stay car park)
Natural History Museum, Tring
If you can’t face heading into London, Tring’s Natural History Museum is a far more manageable day out with children. Obviously the dinosaurs are not on the same scale as those in London but neither are the crowds.
Now my children are a bit older, I’m on the look out for things to do in Hertfordshire which involve a bit more adventure. We’re lucky to have the Lee Valley within day trip distance for lots of water-based fun.
Ware and Hertford Waterbus
Travel by boat along the River Lee from Ware to Hertford or vice versa. The trip takes approximately 90 minutes and there’s a train line linking the two towns for your return journey. We’ve yet to try this but children always seem captivated by boat trips so I’m hoping it will be a big hit. Also, if your children are anything like my younger son, it’s (I hope) a great way to keep them sitting still for more than thirty seconds (will report back in due course).
Adults £8, kids £4, under 3s travel free, buggies and wheelchairs welcome
Lee Valley Boat Centre, Broxbourne
You can hire boats of all shapes and sizes at the Lee Valley Boat Centre including rowing boats, pedaloes and electric boats.
Prices start from £9 for half an hour in a rowing boat which seats four people. Alternatively, bring your friends along: an eight seater electric boat is £31.50 for an hour.
Lee Valley canoeing near Waltham
If your children are over 8 years old, you can hire kayaks for an hour-long session on a lake in the Lee Valley during the school holidays. Wet suits can also be hired if you’re worried about falling in… If you have older children, they might enjoy the “Wipe Out” experience: an inflatable assault course across the lake.
£7.50 per person for one hour canoeing
Can you recommend any other cheap or free things to do in Hertfordshire? Let me know in the comments below.