Free Places To Go In Essex With Children

If you are looking for somewhere to go with children in Essex and want to have a cheap day out then there are lots of options. Here is a list of some of the best free places to go in Essex. Take snacks and drinks and the most you will have to pay is for parking and travel as standard entry is totally free. Sorry that I can't stop your children wanting to buy things in the shops though.

You might also be interested in this list of the best places to go in Essex with children and indoor places to go in Essex which are perfect for rainy days or even when it's too hot to be outside. 

Ideas for free days out with children in Essex illustrated by a preschooler in a park
Free Essex Museums, Activities and Days Out for Families

Free Places To Go With Children In Essex


Essex has a surprising number of museums and many of them are free. These are a great option all year round as they inside, but they are particularly good in school holidays as they often have special events on to make them more interesting for children. Check their websites or Facebook page for event information and if prebooking or payment is recommended. 

Free Essex museums include: 

Chelmsford City Museum, Chelmsford (CM2 9AQ)

This museum showcases Chelmsford's history from the Ice Age onwards as well as some interesting features like seeing inside a live beehive. Open daily between 10am and 4pm. Head to the Explorer Zone to pick up free resources to help encourage children to explore the park and museum. 
Read about what you can expect on a visit here.

Epping Forest Museum, Waltham Abbey (EN9 1EL)

This museum tells the history of the local area and will appeal to history lovers, but there are few interactive activities for children. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday between 10am and 4pm.

Essex Fire Museum, Grays (RM17 5QS) 

See a collection of historic fire engines and fire fighting equipment.  Open Tuesday and Thursday and some weekends, details are normally shared on their Facebook page. Entry is free, but you need to prebook as it is on the site of an operational fire station.

Essex Police Museum, Chelmsford (CM2 6DN)

Discover more about how the police work and the history of policing in Essex. Activities for children include dressing up and using magic ink to take finger prints. Open Saturdays 10 to 4pm. Check their Facebook page for last minute closures. Free entry, but some additional activities may have a small fee. Read our review here.

Leigh Heritage Centre, Leigh-On-Sea (SS9 2EN)

Based in the old Smithy in the Old Town and a cottage these free small museums have information about local life and the town's history.

Natural History Museum, Colchester (CO1 1DN)

Housed in a former church you can discover how hippos and mammoths used to roam the area. Focuses on the natural history of Britain and particularly North-East Essex. Open Tuesday to Saturdays 10 to 5pm and Sundays 11 to 5pm.

Tiptree Jam Museum, Tiptree (CO5 0RF)

This small museum shows the history of jam making at Tiptree. It wont take you longer that half an hour to explore. There are tea rooms and a jam shop are at the same location (a cream tea is £7.50). Open Monday to Saturday 9.30 to 4.30 and 10 to 4.30 in Winter and until 5pm in Summer. 

Rayleigh Museum, Rayleigh (SS6 7EJ)

A small museum above Pizza Express in Rayleigh High Street documenting the history of the town. More for history fans than young children. Open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10am to 4pm.

Southend Central Museum, Southend (SS2 6EW)

Discover items found in the earliest Anglo-Saxon Christian burial in the UK, items from a local shipwreck and local history from the Ice Age onwards. Open Wednesday to Sunday 11am to 5pm (closed bank holidays). Southend Planetarium is located inside the museum, but shows are not free.

Themed Trails

Sometimes children will happily go for a walk, but other days they need a little motivation. Luckily Essex has a lots of themed trails where you can spot wooden carvings or activities based on popular children’s books. Most locations charge for parking and there will be a small cost if you want to buy a map to help you find all the characters, these are normally available from the onsite Visitor's Centre when they are open. Warning: the Visitor’s Centres often have lots of tempting toys in too so if you have 2 or more adults with you it might be worth popping in to buy the map child free. 

The Gruffalo Trail, Thorndon Country Park, Brentwood CM13 3RE

Head to the Gruffalo Trail to meet wooden carvings of the mouse, fox, snake, owl, Gruffalo's child and Gruffalo from Julia Donaldson's books. There are toilets on site as well as a cafe in the Visitor's Centre and plenty of woodland to explore. Main paths are pushchair friendly. Payment for parking required. Read more information here.

Beatrix Potter Trail, Langdon Nature Discovery Park, Basildon SS16 6EJ

This short trail is a great length for little Beatrix Potter Fans. See wooden carvings of the best loved characters from the books including: Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. The recently renovated visitor's centre has toilets and a cafe. There is a play area, but it has been very water logged on some occasions when we have visited. Parking is free. Find out more information here. 

Wind in the Willows Trail, Hanningfield Reservoir, Chelmsford, CM11 1WT

At each of the sculpture's from the Wind In The Willows book you can take a brass rubbing. If you buy the map (£1) from the Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor's Centre you can borrow a crayon to make a rubbing on to the relevant space on the map. Main path is pushchair friendly. Parking is free. It's also worth visiting Hanningfield Waterside Park while in the area. You need to pay for parking, but there is a playground. It is possible to walk between the two locations round the edge of the reservoir, but it's a long way for little legs.

Brambly Hedge Trail, Abberton Reservoir, Colchester, C02 OEU

The trail takes you on a path to find 7 wooden sculptures of mice from the Brambly Hedge books. You can buy a map for £1 from the Visitor's Centre. There is a play area on site as well as a cafe and toilets. Free Parking. Find out more about visiting here.

Stickman Trail, Weald Country Park, Brentwood, CM14 5QS

The Stickman trail has a number of wooden sculptures around the lake, two play areas and lots to explore.  There are toilets on site as well as a cafe and ducks and deer you can feed (you can buy food from the cafe to feed the deer via the chutes). Payment for parking required. 

There are also often sculpture trails which appear in town centres and parks in Essex through out the year.


Another great way to get children out on a walk is to look for geocaches. These are small waterproof boxes hidden outdoors which sometimes have small treasures inside. You can download a free geocache app to help you find them. They normally have a logbook inside you can sign and sometimes a small toy or trinket that you can trade for something you have brought with you before you hide it back in the same place. You can find the location of geocaches using an app


Pets Corner, Harlow (CM20 2QG). 

This free farm is located in Harlow Town Park. You can see a range of animals from sheep to fish to reindeer. Open 11am to 4.00pm. Donations are welcomed. There are also a couple of playgrounds and a free paddling pool (Summer only) in the park making it an easy place to spend an afternoon. The nearest parking is about a 3 minutes walk away in School Lane.

Redwings Ada Cole, Nazeing (EN9 2DH). 

The Ada Cole horse sanctuary is home to 80 horses, donkeys and ponies. It is open Friday-Monday and entry is free, but donations are encouraged. There is a cafe and gift shop on site too.


Essex has a surprising number of beaches and waterside walks thanks to the shape of the coastline and estuaries. These are great for an interesting walk as well as a day at the beach. Some of the most popular sandy Essex beaches to visit with children are: Frinton On Sea, Walton On The Naze and Brightlingsea. If you are happy to budget for amusements and rides then Southend and Clacton are great to visit for cheesy British seaside fun. 

Read our guide to the best family beaches in Essex here.


Take a picnic and on a sunny day children will happily spend hours in a good park and playground, on cooler days you might want to try these hot picnic food ideas. There will be great local parks near you, but some of the most popular playgrounds in Essex are at Maldon Promenade, Colchester Castle Park, Hylands Estate and King George’s in Brentwood (although some of King George's areas are chargeable). Check out more details about the best Essex playgrounds in this post.

If you need inspiration while at the park then here are some games you can play with children outside.


Don’t underestimate your local library. They often have events and activities like board games, story time and colouring as well as obviously books. You can find your nearest library and it’s opening hours here.

Other free places to visit in Essex

Hadleigh Castle, Hadleigh, (SS7 2AP)

Visit the remains of the castle and pretend to be a knight. The site is open in daylight hours with street parking in Castle Lane. No facilities on site. Read our review of Hadleigh Castle here.

Chelmsford Cathedral, Chelmsford, (CM1 1TY)

Located in the heart of the city the cathedral has been built and added to over the years, but there are records of a parish church on the site from 1223. Look for the various artwork and two organs. 

Lee Valley White Water Centre, Waltham Cross (EN9 1AB)

Located just outside Waltham Abbey and across the border into Herts this is a nice place to visit on a sunny day. There is a sandpit (bring your own bucket and spade), a small playground and it's fun to watch the people rafting and canoeing on the former olympic white water course. There is also a 9 hole frisbee disc golf course next door which is free to use. Download a free scorecard and map from this page. You get up to 8 hours free parking if you spend £5 in the cafe or have pre-booked an activity (You'll need to register for the free parking period at reception or at the Cafe with a smart phone). Toilets on site as well as the cafĂ©.

Firstsite Art Gallery, Colchester (CO1 1JH)

This modern art gallery is free entry and has many free exhibits to encourage all to get into art. They often have free activities for children in school holidays as well. Open every day except Monday.

No comments

Thanks for your comment (unless it's spam in which case, why?)