This post about 50 things to do with the kids in Kent and East Sussex includes lots of suggestions for fun things to do on a budget anytime of the year!
Please note – this blog post still needs to be updated to reflect the changes during Covid-19. Watch this space!
Please note, there may be parking fees at some of these places and although entry is free, many of the venues are grateful for donations.
We have tried to ensure all of the information is as accurate as possible but it’s always best to check the website or social media for the event/activity before going along to ensure it’s still taking place or open.
At the bottom of this blog post, there are plenty of resources for other blog posts too, including the Best Beaches, Rainy Day Activities, 40 Pubs with Play Areas and the top Tunbridge Wells Summer Holiday Clubs and classes more!
♥ Birchden Wood – Just outside Groombridge, this is extremely buggy friendly with lovely wooden creatures scattered throughout the forest including a snake and a very large acorn along with some little outdoor dens hidden throughout the woods. There is a fee for parking so bring some change!
♥ Birling Gap – Fossil hunting and rock pooling at one of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastline on the south coast. Located between Eastbourne and Brighton, Birling Gap features an array of rock pools to explore when the tide goes out. There’s a National Trust Cafe there too, though part of the beach is used by nudists so you may want to stick to the main area at the bottom of the steps. There’s also a selection of child friendly events taking place there over the summer from ‘kite workshops’ to making a mini den, or skimming stones on the sea and catching a fish in a net.
♥ Broadwater Warren – Just off Broadwater Forest Lane, this is a beautiful place to visit on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells. There’s something very peaceful about the warren and the RSPB is making great progress with restoring it since they took over in 2007. The trail takes about two hours, though we usually just do part of it when we go. There’s plenty of parking, and you guessed it, it’s free!
♥ Broadview Gardens & Tea Room – On the lovely grounds of Hadlow College, Broadview Gardens & Tea Room are well worth a visit. There’s a room at the back of the building with children’s toys and books and a friend has recommended it as the perfect place to play hide and seek with the little ones in the gardens too.
♥ Calverley Adventure Grounds is a lovely place to pop into when in central Tunbridge Wells with the kids. My boys love the water pump there which is switched on throughout the summer. Combine it with some time in the soft play (if your kids are young enough) at Royal Victoria Place or drop into the Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Galley (also free) too.
♥ Cinderhill Woods – a 12-hectare nature reserve managed by the Kent High Weald Partnership. Footpaths and permissive bridleways provide well-managed routes on which to explore Cinderhill throughout the year, discovering the native wildflowers and animals of the heathland and ancient woodlands on your way.
♥ Cobtree Manor Park – Set on over 50 acres of parkland on the site of the old Maidstone Zoo, the park has a themed play area, a sculpture trail and lots of space for picnics. I’m told the cafe there is worth a visit too!
♥ Cranbrook Museum – the museum is set across three floors in a lovely Grade II listed building with a peaceful garden. There are literally hundreds of exhibits covering the history of Cranbrook and The Weald of Kent from artists and artisans to birds, coinage and costumes, local trades, family life and schools. I really enjoyed taking the boys to this – you can read more about our visit HERE. Opening hours are limited so check out the website HERE before going along.
♥ Dinosaur Island at Southwater Country Park in Horsham (RH13 9UN) – an adventure play area with dinosaur bones to discover in the sand, aerial walkways, jungle swings and a climbing volcano all set within a prehistoric swamp landscape. All weather pathways, accessible ramps, cafe, a wheelchair accessible roundabout, dinosaur sculptures and musical instruments make this playground inclusive and best of all? It’s free, though there is a small charge for parking which you can find out more about HERE!
♥ Dunorlan Park – Perhaps one of the most well loved parks around Tunbridge Wells, Dunorlan Park is a super park to visit with the kids. The play equipment is ‘natural’ and blends in beautifully with the park, while there are also boats and pedlos to use (for a small fee) on the beautiful lake. There’s a very reasonably priced cafe at Dunorlan too and lots of nooks and crannies to discover around the park. We usually park at the Hall’s Hole Road Carpark as there are usually plenty of spaces there. Parking is free too which is always a bonus.
♥ Watch the planes (for free!) at Eastbourne Air Show from Thursday 15th to Sunday 18th August along Eastbourne Seafront.
♥ Foal Farm – An animal rescue centre located in Kent’s Biggin 2Hill (TN16 3AX), Foal Farm is set across 26 acres of land where rescued animals are given essential medical assistance before many of them are re-homed. Visitors can go along to the farm for free (donations welcome) to see dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other animals as well as stock up on pet food, items and toys and visit the tearoom too! This is a great place to play with all of the new recovering bountiful pet animals!
♥ Hargate Forest – There are two walks to take at this beautiful forest in Broadwater Down. The entrance can be found at TN2 5PE which is the postcode for a property opposite the site entrance. We drove right by it so keep your eyes peeled! The green walk is one mile long and takes approximately 30 minutes to walk. You can download a little map of the woods here.
♥ Hastings Shipwreck Museum and Fisherman’s Museum – We have enjoyed several family days out in Hastings and have visited both the Shipwreck and Fisherman’s Museums each time. They aren’t the biggest Museums in the world, but they are interesting for two boat obsessed little boys. There’s a great playground by the beach and check out the Lifeboat Station while there too.
♥ Haysden Country Park – There is a lovely walk around Barden Lake at Haysden Country Park. The kids can feed the ducks and the outdoor cafe and playground on site are great too (just by the carpark). Look out for the tunnel, swings, zip wire, climbing frames plus lots more. There are several free activities going on at Haysden throughout the summer including Pond Dipping, a Min-beast safari and storytelling – some of which are free and some which you need to pay for (approx £4 depending on the event). You’ll need to book ahead too. More details HERE. There is a small fee for parking…
♥ Hobbycraft – we have heard rave reviews about Hobbycraft’s free events at branches (including Tunbridge Wells) throughout the summer and across the year. Choose from Slime Saturday to decorating foam shapes, making your own windchimes and so much more!
♥ Kent High Weald Partnership – KHWP is a countryside management partnership based in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells and will be hosting a National Playday Family Event at Grosvenor & Hilbert Woods on Wednesday 7th August 2019 – an annual celebration of outdoor play with free games, activities, crafts, facepainting and much more!
♥ Kent Firefighting Museum – The Kent Firefighting Museum at Woodlands Garden Centre near Sevenoaks (TN15 7EG) is open 7 days a week from 10am to 4pm. Children are bound to enjoy exploring the various fire engines, helmets, fire extinguishers, equipment and ladders in the museum. They have also opened a coffee shop there too. Entry is free!!
♥ Knole Park ‘Family Mondays’ – Visit Knole Park on Family Mondays during the summer for a range of themed arts and crafts activities, suitable for ages 5-12 years. There’s a different theme each week, and though the activities are best suited to children aged 5+ years, all ages are welcome. The sessions run from 11am-3pm and are free, though suggested donations of £2 are very welcome.
♥ Leybourne Lakes Country Park – This park, near Snodland (ME20 6AA), is set over 230 acres, and is designated as a Local Wildlife Site as well as being a Green Flag Award winning park. There’s plenty to do on a family day out to Leybourne Lakes including a visit to the picnic area, play area with adventure trail, play frame and smaller equipment for younger children near the Ocean Lake, waymarked trails for children with an Ocean Circular Walk and the Country Park by Numbers Walk. There are also all sorts of water sports available and a wide variety of wildlife as well as several free activities taking place over the Summer which you can read about HERE!
♥ London baby! If you are thinking of venturing to London, there are actually plenty of things you can do in London for free, which Rhian has written all about in one of her recent blog posts.
♥ Lullingstone Country Park – I’m told there is a ‘newish’ playground at Lullingstone Country Park and there’s also a lovely stream nearby to go paddling in as well as lots of fields and woodland to explore. Visitors can also take part in the Summer Holiday Activity Trail between 10am and 3pm – trail sheets can be purchased from the centre (£3 each). All completed trails will receive a small prize and there’s a child friendly cafe there too! There’s a small fee for parking – more info here.
♥ Manor Country Park – This is just a short walk south of West Malling town centre and has a lovely large, open green space, a lake, an abundance of wildlife, a playground and the all important cafe!
♥ Mote Park – An enormous green space in the heart of Maidstone which includes grassland, woodland, rivers and a 30 acre lake. There are two childrens’ playgrounds and a cafe too.
♥ National Cat Adoption Centre – based in Haywards Heath the centre is set in 51 acres of the beautiful Ashdown Forest in Sussex. The site is home to the organisation’s administrative offices, the National Cat Adoption Centre (NCAC), a state-of-the-art Veterinary Centre and Visitor Centre. There’s also a nature trail at the Cat Centre too, ideal for families, school children and nature lovers. Why not take a walk on the wild side and learn all about the natural environment?
♥ Notcutts Garden Centre – Following a complete makeover a few years ago, Notcutts can be a good place to spend a morning or afternoon with the kids. There’s an outdoor pirate ship and play area, along with a family friendly cafe with a good selection of food for both adults and children (and beautiful cakes too) and a jam-packed toy section with a mini ‘fairy’ door. There are also some smaller animals to have a look at and plenty of parking too! We have combined this with a trip to Pepenbury (now called Aspens) which is just a few minute’s drive away.
♥ Aspens (formerly Pepenbury) – I’m a big fan of this place for a simple, free and fun morning or afternoon. Enjoy a buggy friendly walk around the Bluebell Forest, spot the animals including the pot bellied pigs, hens and rabbits and have a play of the musical instruments along the trail. There’s a natural playground in the middle of the woods with some picnic benches. Check out the coffee shop, clean loos and some rides-ons for the little ones to use too. Pepenbury is a charity providing high quality care and support for adults with a learning disability and donations are very welcome – they can be left by the post next to the adult gym equipment just below the car park.
♥ Picnic Time – I do love a picnic – not just to save money and prevent messing up the house, but it’s also handy to have food available there and then when the kids have decided it’s time to eat! Some of our favourite places for a picnic include Dunorlan Park (near the playground), Grove Park (we used to live next to it) and Knole Park (spot the deers)!
♥ Playground Fun! Get back to basics at one of the many playgrounds around Tunbridge Wells, several of which have sandpits and plenty to keep the kids occupied. Some of our favourites are Pennington Park in Southborough, St John’s and the playground at Grosvenor & Hilbert Park. A blog post on the top Tunbridge Wells parks and playgrounds is coming soon 😉
♥ Polhill Garden Centre – oh I do love a garden centre too! In addition to a plethora of items for your garden at Polhill near Sevenoaks (TN14 7AD) there’s a gift shop, restaurant and deli in addition to an outdoor play area for the kids to enjoy and children’s zone which now includes quads, boats and mini golf (which cost £2 per go)!. Check out the ‘aquatics centre’ for hundreds (if not 1000s) of fish too!
♥ Pooh Sticks Bridge – The original Pooh Sticks Bridge can be found just beyond the village of Hartfield. You can pick up a map and an activities booklet at Pooh Corner Shop and enjoy a cuppa (or some cake) at Piglets Tea Rooms beforehand. Read more about our visit to Pooh Sticks Bridge here.
♥ Raystede Centre – Raystede is an animal welfare organisation which rescues, provides shelter for and re-homes more than 1500 animals each year. There is plenty to do for children at Raystede including looking at the many animals (including dogs, cats, donkeys, goats, alpacas and birds) along with enjoying the lakes, visiting children’s garden, enjoying a picnic or visiting the popular cafe. Entry and parking to Raystede is free, though donations are very welcome.
♥ Royal Victoria Place – There’s a soft play frame on the ground floor next to the side entrance for M&S which is a great way to entice my kids into the shopping centre (well at least the younger ones). It’s completely FREE and parents and carers are welcome to take their children there during the centre’s opening hours which are Monday to Saturday, 9am to 6pm, with late night opening on Thursdays (to 8pm) and Sundays from 10.30am to 4.30pm. There is also a free enchanting country garden themed experience taking place this summer!
♥ Seaside fun – Assuming the sun keeps shining, or even if it doesn’t, summer wouldn’t be the same without a few trips to the British seaside. Here’s a previous post on five favourite family beaches in Kent and East Sussex: Beach Beach Beach. Or if you can’t face the journey to the seaside on a hot and sunny day, why not create a beach resort in your garden? Globo Surf has a great guide to choosing inflatable pools for kids.
♥ Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve – A pioneering nature reserve which includes five lakes and a mixed habitat of ponds, seasonal flooded pools, reedbed and woodlands. The visitor centre houses displays illustrating the prehistory and history of the site and there are touch tables where visitors can handle all sorts of ‘treasures’. Find out more about events they are hosting in the summer too (which have a small fee and need to be booked in advance).
♥ Shorne Woods Country Park – Recommended by another Tunbridge Wells mum, Shorne Woods near Gravesend (DA12 3HX) sounds like a super place to visit for a family day out. Check out the eco-friendly visitor centre and café, a sensory garden, orienteering, fishing lakes, a trim trail and picnic and play areas as well as 292 acres of rolling woodlands, wetlands and meadows that can be explored through a variety of waymarked trails. They are also hosting a summer trail which costs £3 per trail sheet. More info HERE.
♥ Sure Start Centre – Many of the regular Tunbridge Wells District Children’s Centres sessions are running throughout the summer, so if you have children under 5, this could be a good option. There are also several FREE family fun days going on across the borough- see the timetable HERE.
♥ Swanley Park (with splash park) – There are lots of things to do at Swanley Park which is set on 60 acres, including a visit to the splash park (which is FREE!), a cafe, bouncy castle and bikes for hire. There are also deck chairs to rent in the hope that we might get some time to relax 😉 Enjoy the miniature railway and boating lake too.
♥ Tennis Time – There are lots of tennis courts around Tunbridge Wells where visitors can play for free. At Pennington Park in Southborough, there’s a mini-golf course too, so if you happen to have a set of miniature clubs, bring them along too! Other tennis courts include St John’s Rec, Hawkenbury Rec and Calverley Grounds.
♥ Tilgate Park – Recommended by a lovely friend of mine, Tilgate Park near Crawley (RH10 5PQ) is a great place to visit when the sun is shining (or reasonably good). There’s a large lake to walk or cycle around, beautiful walled gardens, a fantastic playground for the kids and lots of space for a picnic. Visitors can also check out the nature reserve full of all sorts of interesting animals while there, which has an entrance fee of £6 for 2 adults and one child over 2 years. Parking charges apply but entry to the park itself is free.
♥ Tonbridge Park mini golf, playground and miniature railway! As well as a spacious playground, there’s a large sandpit and a 9 hole mini-golf ‘course’. On Wednesday afternoons (during the summer hols) and weekend afternoons (2.30 to 4.30pm), visitors can have a go on the Miniature Railway outside the swimming pool too. There’s no charge for the railway, though donations are welcome. Older kids may enjoy the skate park too and if the weather is warm, you might enjoy a splash about in the outdoor section of the swimming pool too!
♥ Tonbridge to Penshurst Bike Ride – Follow ‘The Tudor Trail’ from Tonbridge Castle right through to Penshurst Place by bike. We did this before having kids and it was such a beautiful bike ride – it’s 6 miles (almost 10km) in distance with a few hills along the way and takes you through the beautiful Kent countryside via Haysden Country Park. The biggest hill is just towards the end of the journey but it’s well worth it, especially for the stunning view when cycling down the hill towards Penshurst Place in this mostly off-road ride. If you don’t fancy biking it, then there’s always the option of parking at Penshurst Place (for free) and doing a round-trip around the paramaters of the estate.
♥ Tonbridge Castle Grounds – We often go to Tonbridge playground (mentioned above) and recently enjoyed a wander down by the river and up to the castle while there too. There’s a cannon by the entrance (which my boys loved looking at) and a beautiful lawn where you can sit and relax while the kids explore. There’s lots going on down by the river with canoeists and kayakers passing by – you could even hire a boat next to the big bridge on Tonbridge High Street.
♥ Sign up to the Summer Reading Challenge at your local library. Free, fun and educational!
♥ Waterstones in Tunbridge Wells are hosting free craft activities on Tuesdays at 11am during the Summer. Check the website HERE for exact dates and info about events including Foil Art, Aladdin’s ‘Design Your Own Magic Carpet’ and more!
♥ Walmer Paddling Pool – A bit further afield, Walmer Paddling Pool in Deal is now open daily (weather dependent). Entry is completely free and the pool is set on Walmer Green, surrounded by lawns and next to the beach. The pool has qualified lifeguards, a refreshment kiosk, changing rooms and toilets as well as deck chairs for hire. Adjacent to the pool is a putting green, a play area with large children’s games and a bouncy castle.
♥ Wilderness Wood – This place is brilliant and definitely worth a visit. Visitors can do a circular walk of the forest, visit the fantastic coffee shop with massive pieces of cake and enjoy the mudpie kitchen and zipwire / giant swing. There are wonderful classes at Lucy’s Little Forest School, too. Although there isn’t an entrance fee, donations are greatly needed and appreciated. Read about our visit here.
For more inspiration, here are 75+ things to do around Tunbridge Wells this Summer!