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Thrills Without Bills: 11 of the Best Free Days Out in Britain

Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson had it right: the best things in life are free. But what they forgot to mention was how many of them are in cities across Britain!

Discover 11 of the best things to do without shelling out any cash below, and whether you want to museum-hop in Oxford, make like a spy in Preston, or picnic in Milton Keynes, you can get to each of them for 1/3 less with a Railcard

1. Milton Keynes 

A “city built with modern life in mind”, Milton Keynes has plenty of free ways to spend your days. For culture, see what’s on at MK Gallery(external link, opens in a new tab) while you’re in town, where you can check out classic and contemporary artworks and take in views across the city from the cafe. 

And for a no-spend day outdoors, head up to the Blue Lagoon. The former brickworks turned nature reserve is perfect for a picnic.  

Nearest station: Milton Keynes Central  

2. Sheffield 

There’s so much more to today’s Sheffield than its historic association with steelworks (it was once a global industrial hub). For example, among many other free things to do in the city, you can get up close with farmyard favourites at Heeley City Farm(external link, opens in a new tab), just 15 minutes from the city centre. 

You can also take in urban nature at Sheffield Botanical Gardens, where you can make your way around Himalayan Gardens, listed buildings and banana-plant-packed pavilions within minutes of stepping off the train.  

Nearest station: Sheffield 

3. Leicester 

Standing on the same site for over 900 years, Leicester Cathedral is one of Britain’s most important spiritual sites – and, since the reburial of King Richard III in 2015, it’s now one of the most visited, too. It’s free to enter but if you’re happy to hand over a few pounds, you can book a tour or a talk. 

Alternatively, for a more up-to-date way of spending your day, take the street art tour of the city centre and check out Graffwerk’s guide to all the must-see murals.  

Nearest station: Leicester 

4. Nottingham 

Built in the 16th century, Wollaton Hall(external link, opens in a new tab) is a must for history lovers. Combine it with a visit to the Natural History Museum’s 750,000 botanical, geological and zoological exhibits for a packed day out without parting with a penny. 

When you’re done, head on over to the New Art Exchange(external link, opens in a new tab) in Hyson Green for something a little more modern. Its ever-changing exhibitions are free to enter all year round.  

Nearest station: Nottingham 

5. Cambridge 

The River Cam is always free and well worth a wander. Likewise, seeing the enormous collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum(external link, opens in a new tab) won’t cost you a thing. With over half a million works of art and historical artefacts spanning centuries packed within its walls, you can easily and happily lose all sense of time.  

For a day out with a difference, consider visiting the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum (external link, opens in a new tab)to make your way through the history of polar exploration.  

Nearest station: Cambridge


6. Peterborough 

Peterborough is the place to be for free family fun. One of the largest country parks in the region, Ferry Meadows, is just three miles outside the city centre. It’s great for long walks and days by the water feeding the ducks. 

Elsewhere, make time for Peterborough Museum(external link, opens in a new tab), where you can walk back into the distant past. Its free collections cover everything from the Jurassic period to the modern day.  

Nearest station: Peterborough  

7. Oxford 

In Oxford, you can sign up for a free walking tour of the city’s best sights and narrowest alleys, where you’ll take in Radcliffe Square, the Bodleian Libraries and the city’s famous “Dreaming Spires”. 

For an afternoon indoors, make your way to the Ashmolean Museum(external link, opens in a new tab). It’s easy to get lost in half a million years’ worth of human history here, taking in Egyptian mummies and modern art along the way.  

Nearest station: Oxford 

8. Preston 

Preston is the place to unleash your inner 007, as you can solve clues on the Preston Spy Mission Treasure Trail from Winckley Square to Avenham and Miller Parks for an unusual way to explore the city. 

Samlesbury Hall(external link, opens in a new tab) won’t set you back a single cent, either. Head here for beautiful grounds, woodland trails, 10th-century architecture and a playground for little ones.  

Nearest station: Preston (Lancs) 

9. Chelmsford 

With roots stretching back to the 1200s, Chelmsford Cathedral is small in stature only. Be sure to check out its West End Organ, the first built from scratch for an English cathedral in over four decades. 

Meanwhile, over at Chelmsford Museum(external link, opens in a new tab), you can take a trip back to the Ice Age, brush up on military history and immerse yourself in the natural world at the live beehive.  

Nearest station: Chelmsford 

10. Stockport 

Get a little taste of Venice in Stockport with a walk along the towpath at Marple Locks. As well as the spectacular sight of one of the country’s steepest locks, you’ll pass the city’s famous stone aqueduct. 

Bramhall Park is free to explore, too. Expect amazing views of the Tudor-era Bramall Hall, woodland trails and plenty of spots for a paddle.  

Nearest station: Stockport 

11. Coventry 

Take your pick from the Historic Coventry Walk, the Canal Walk or the George Eliot Walk for a free and fun trip around Coventry’s famous landmarks. Expect spires, cemeteries, and lockkeepers’ cottages along the way. 

Get a little more hands-on with the city’s history at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum(external link, opens in a new tab). There are many amazing artworks among the Roman and Tudor artefacts.  

Nearest station: Coventry

Plan Your Journey

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