Discover the most popular cost-effective activities in the UK!
Contrary to popular belief, there is a diverse range of free and cheap family-friendly activities to enjoy on a budget. Whether visiting museums or exploring the great outdoors, the UK has plenty to offer without breaking the bank.
Throughout the year, national parks, art galleries and museums across the country host a wealth of activities for the family to enjoy. From epic walking adventures to discovering hidden hiking trails, there are many adventurous and highly cost-effective activities that the outdoors has to offer.
That’s why the GO Outdoors team decided to take a closer look at the top destinations with the best free family activities. Using various data sources, such as social media hashtags, visitor attendance records and popular search terms, we’ve revealed some of the most popular cost-effective activities to try out this year!
Location: Windsor and Maidenhead, Berkshire | Region: South East England
Total number of visits (2021): 5,400,000
Windsor Great Park tops the list by a landslide as the most popular destination, with a whopping 5.4 million visitors in 2021. Located in Windsor and Maidenhead, this much-adored park harbours royal history spanning over 1,000 years.
Perfect for families, the stunning outdoor location conceals ancient forests, rare wildlife and magnificent historical monuments making it a wonderful cheap day out for the whole family to enjoy. It’s therefore no surprise that this free attraction takes first place.
Location: London, England | Region: South East England
Total number of visits (2021): 955,873
In second place is London’s Science Museum. Home to award-winning exhibitions, iconic objects and incredible stories of scientific achievements, this free attraction had an estimated total of 955,873 visitors in 2021.
Situated in the South East region of England, this museum was founded in 1857 and has slowly become one of the city’s major tourist attractions. Maintaining two million years of human history, it’s no wonder it’s a top favourite for a cheap day out.
Location: Cobham, Kent | Region: South East England
Total number of visits (2021): 878,626
The Jeskyns Community Woodland ranks in third place as one of the most visited locations with an estimated total of 878,626 visitors.
Located in Cobham, Kent this woodland area is free of charge and is home to 360 acres of newly planted meadows and orchards. This free day out offers beautiful scenes and is surrounded by walking trails, play areas and dog activity trails. There is something for the whole family to explore and enjoy throughout the year.
Location: The Hebrides, Scotland | Region: West Coast of Scotland
Percentage of ‘excellent’ Tripadvisor reviews: 93%
St Kilda takes first place as the UK’s top-rated free attraction on our list with an impressive 93% excellent reviews on Tripadvisor. Wedged in the Hebrides on the West Coast of Scotland, this isolated archipelago is internationally recognised for its magnificent birdlife and is just as famous for its human history.
Giving you a glimpse of the history behind Scotland’s remotest island, this location looks back at the unique way the St Kildans lived before 1930. Not only is this stunning destination one of Scotland’s prized possessions but St. Kilda is filled with spectacular landscapes and has some of the highest cliffs in Europe.
Location: Isle of Staffa, Scotland | Region: Inner Hebrides, Argyll and Bute
Percentage of ‘excellent’ Tripadvisor reviews: 88%
Displaying some of the most iconic sights Scotland has to offer, the Staffa National Nature Reserve is a beautiful island filled with distinctive rocks, enchanting caves and seabirds.
Home to black guillemots, fulmars, and puffins, these volcanic rock columns received over 88% of excellent reviews and five-star reviews on Tripadvisor, making it the perfect location for a free day out, filled with family fun and adventure.
Location: Isle of Arran, Scotland | Region: South West Scotland
Percentage of ‘excellent’ Tripadvisor reviews: 86%
The highest peak on the Isle of Arran, Goatfell Mountain completes the top three list. A top destination for hillwalkers and climbers, Goatfell offers spectacular views, perfect for gazing across the island.
With its unique and dramatic scenery, it is no surprise that this destination has 86% excellent reviews on Tripadvisor.
London, England | Region: South East England
Search terms: “Science Museum London”
Total number of annual searches in the UK (2022): 1,046,500
Looking at some of the most widely searched places on our list, London’s Science Museum ranks top, with a total of over one million searches alone in just one year. This well-known museum also has over nine thousand reviews on Tripadvisor, making it a highly popular location.
There’s plenty for the family to enjoy, such as Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery – an interactive experience. It’s therefore no wonder this free attraction takes top spot as one of the most sought-after free family activities.
Location: Liverpool, Merseyside | Region: North West England
Search terms: “Museum of Liverpool”
Total number of annual searches in the UK (2022): 504,800
Located in the North West region of England in Merseyside is none other than the Museum of Liverpool. This spectacular waterfront museum explores the fascinating and diverse history of Liverpool and its heritage.
As one of the most popular museums in Liverpool, this family-friendly attraction received over 500,000 searches last year. It also has more than four thousand excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, making it a top location to visit.
Location: Manchester, Greater Manchester | Region: North West England
Search terms: “Science and Industry Museum”
Total number of annual searches in the UK (2022): 417,800
The Science and Industry Museum completes the top three list. Situated in Manchester, this museum tells stories and ideas that stem from the Industrial Revolution to today and beyond. This museum traces the development of science, technology and industry in the city of Manchester, highlighting scientific discoveries and industrial innovations. Great for a family day out, this free attraction had a total of 417,800 Google searches in 2022.
Location: Durham, County Durham | Region: North West England
Instagram hashtag: #DurhamCathedral
Number of posts: 76,000
Durham Cathedral grabs first place as the most Instagrammable free attraction on our list. This historic cathedral was first constructed between 1093 and 1133. Not only has it received over five thousand excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, but this Norman building is also one of the most Instagrammable free attractions that the UK has to offer, with a total of 76,000 hashtagged posts.
Location: London, England | Region: South East England
Instagram hashtag: #ImperialWarMuseum
Number of posts: 73,300
Following closely behind is the Imperial War Museum London, which takes second place. Considered to be the world’s leading museum of war and conflict, this popular attraction showcases an array of recreations of WWI trenches and the Blitz.
This top museum is also filled with revolving military exhibitions, making it a top destination for a cheap day out, capturing plenty of tanks and planes. It’s therefore no surprise that this location currently has over 73,300 hashtagged posts on Instagram.
Location: Windsor and Maidenhead, Berkshire | Region: South East England
Instagram hashtag: #WindsorGreatPark
Number of posts: 66,900
Windsor Great Park completes the top three list for the most Instagrammable free attractions. This Royal Park covers a total of almost 5,000 acres, which includes a deer park, forest trails and ancient woodland. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that this sweeping parkland has received nearly 67,000 hashtagged posts on the popular social media platform.
Location: Suffolk, East Anglia | Region: East of England
Total number of TikTok views: 8,400,000,000
When it comes to TikTok’s famous destinations, High Lodge Thetford Forest takes home the gold as the most viewed free attraction on our list. Situated in Suffolk, East Anglia in the East of England, this major tourist attraction has a total of a whopping 8.4 billion views across various videos on TikTok with its search term.
This location offers visitors the opportunity to experience nature at its finest, from climbing to cycling, it’s no wonder it’s a top attraction for outdoor enthusiasts.
Location: Isle of Arran, Scotland | Region: South West Scotland
Total number of TikTok views: 7,300,000,000
Goatfell Mountain takes the second spot with a total of 7.3 billion views across numerous videos when searching the term ‘Goatfell’ on the popular video-sharing platform.
With so many possible routes of ascent, Goatfell has become a largely popular peak among visitors and is the perfect destination for a free day out. It is estimated that it takes anywhere from two to five hours to climb this well-known landmark.
Location: Durham, County Durham | Region: North East England
Total number of TikTok views: 290,300,000
Once again, the Durham Cathedral makes it to the top three list, this time as one of the most viewed free attractions on TikTok. Located in County Durham in the North East of England, this Romanesque-style cathedral has made waves on the well-known video-sharing platform with over 290 million TikTok views.
Total visits (2021): 5,400,000
Annual membership price: Free
Windsor Great Park takes first place as the most popular cost-effective outdoor location on our list. Not only did this free outdoor attraction bag over 5.4 million visitors in 2021, but it also has over 1.6 thousand reviews on Tripadvisor – 72.92% of which are excellent – making it a wonderful location for a free day out.
Total visits (2021): 1,601,327
Annual membership price: £72.90
As one of the UK’s largest zoos, it comes as no surprise that Chester Zoo comes in second place, with over 1.6 million visits in 2021. It even offers many outdoor adventure play areas, such as its much-loved tree-top hideaway. Since it first opened in 1931, this popular attraction has been creating unforgettable experiences for both kids and adults alike.
For those who want to save money when visiting Chester Zoo, it costs as little as £72.90 for a junior explorer’s annual pass when you pay by Direct Debit. The best part is visitors get unlimited access to the zoo among other perks.
Total visits (2021): 1,410,785
Annual membership price: £53.25
The RHS Garden Wisley is also one of the most visited outdoor locations in the UK. In 2021 alone there were over 1.4 million visitors. Seen as one of the world’s great gardens, the RHS Garden Wisley has a lot to offer, including various restaurants and cafés and wheel-chair access.
Becoming an RHS member starts at just £53.25 by Direct Debit, which allows members to go free all year round. This membership is also great when it comes to enjoying a cheap day out with the family.
Location: Suffolk, East Anglia
Total visitors (2021): 537,098
High Lodge Thetford Forest tops the list as the most popular free attraction in the East of England, with just over half a million visitors in 2021. Not only does this spectacular location offer beautiful trails and play areas perfect for kids, but it’s also filled with rich wilderness and mountain biking opportunities. This stunning location really does offer a little something for everyone.
Location: Liverpool, Merseyside
Total visitors (2021): 251,186
Said to be the world’s first national museum devoted to the history of a regional city, the Museum of Liverpool ranks first place as the most visited free attraction in the North West of England. In 2021, there were approximately 251,186 visitors from across the globe.
This wonderful destination offers a great free day out with easy access to engaging exhibits that showcase Liverpool’s popular culture, bringing its incredible heritage to life.
Location: Windsor and Maidenhead, Berkshire
Total visitors (2021): 5,400,000
When it comes to the most popular free attraction in South East England, Windsor Great Park takes pole position. Ranked top spot, this great park is surrounded by history and shrouded in mystery.
With a whopping 5.4 million visitors, Windsor Great Park is the perfect place for picnics, walking, cycling and even horseback riding – perfect for a cheap day out.
Location: York, North Yorkshire
Total visitors (2021): 346,313
The National Railway Museum was Yorkshire and Humber’s most visited free attraction in 2021. This location received a total of approximately 346,313 visitors. Located in York, this museum tells the story of rail transport in Britain as well as the impact this has had on society.
Location: Glasgow, Scotland
Total visitors (2021): 75,758
Described as a world-class art museum and a place for people to gather, the Gallery of Modern Art is home to an outstanding collection of national modern and contemporary art. Situated in the city of Glasgow, this is no doubt Scotland’s most visited art gallery with 75,758 visitors in 2021 alone.
Location: Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
Total visitors (2021): 705,007
Located near the village of kings Clistone in Nottinghamshire, Sherwood Pines Forest Park is one of the most well-known forests in the Midlands. So much so, that in 2021 over 700,000 people visited this location. Originally known as Clipstone Heath, Sherwood Pines was acquired in 1925 and many trees were planted then.
Today, you can explore the many activity trails, play areas and mountain biking trails Sherwood Pines has to offer. Not only is this a top location for a free day out adventure but you can also extend your trip into an overnight stay! Forest holidays at this destination provide a stellar selection of stunning cabins located right in the heart of the forest.
Location: Durham, County Durham
Total visitors (2021): 251,456
Known to be a place of worship and hospitality for almost a millennium, the Durham Cathedral continues to thrive with over 251,456 visitors in 2021. Renowned for its spectacular Romanesque architecture and picturesque views, this magnificent location is at the heart of the Durham World Heritage Site.
Location: Shifnal, Shropshire
Total visitors (2021): 191,134
Dedicated to the Royal Air Force and to the history of aviation, the RAF Museum in Cosford is packed with family activities and events for all ages, especially hearing exciting and exclusive stories on flying experiences from the Royal Wessex.
Filled with a huge array of aircraft displays, this RAF Museum offers a fun, cheap day out for all the family. With so many opportunities to enjoy a great day out, it is unsurprising that in 2021 over 190,000 people visited this Museum.
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Total visitors (2021): 127,451
As the largest museum in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Museum explores the past, present and future through spectacular collections of art, history and natural science. With plenty of fun things to do with kids such as explorer maps, this family-friendly location is great for a cheap day out.
Open throughout the year and free for all, this top attraction saw over 127,000 visitors walk through its door in 2021. This is unsurprising considering its array of collections and five floors of free exhibitions and collections to explore.
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Total visitors (2021): 82,416
When it comes to top attractions in South East Scotland, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery grabs the top spot, with 82,416 visitors in 2021. Not only is this one of Edinburgh’s most remarkable buildings but the gallery also holds the national collections of portraits, as well as the Scottish National Photography Collection.
Location: Isle of Arran, Scotland
Total visitors (2021): 59,950
Great for a family fun day out and a hearty climb into the wilderness, Goatfell offers some of the best views across the Isle of Arran as it is the highest peak. In fact, in 2021 this destination welcomed nearly 60,000 visitors.
Perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, Goatfell offers great opportunities to venture into challenging and dramatic upland landscapes for panoramic views.
Location: Isle of Staffa, Scotland
Total visitors (2021): 17,792
With a total of 17,792 visitors in 2021, Staffa National Nature Reserve takes top spot as the best free attraction to visit in Argyll and Bute. This breathtaking nature reserve is also home to famous volcanic hexagonal rock columns and the magical Fingal’s Cave.
As you can see, there are plenty of good cheap activities across the country to explore, from beautiful national parks and woodlands, to top-notch museums. To help prepare you for your cost-effective day out, GO Outdoors have a great range of discounts on waterproof jackets, trousers and boots – giving you more for less!
To find out some of the top cost-effective activities for 2023, we took a closer look at over 50 of the most visited free attractions in the UK, which were sourced from ALVA’s most recent results from annual visits to various attractions. We used the figures for the number of yearly visitors to then rank the ‘free’ and ‘free except for special exhibitions/events’ attractions to find the most popular destinations.
For the top-rated free attractions, we looked at Tripadvisor reviews ranking the same locations to find which have the highest percentage of excellent reviews. This was done by collecting the number of total reviews for each location and also the number of excellent reviews to find out the difference. This data was collected on 26/01/2023.
The data for the destinations with the most annual UK searches were sourced using Keyword Planner. This information was gathered by looking only at specific search terms that relate to the attraction and its location ranging from Jan-Dec 2022. This data was then ranked to find the most commonly searched terms in the UK that people are most interested in.
To find out the most Instagrammable free attractions, we sourced data from Instagram by looking at the most popular destinations for each attraction based on the number of hashtags. These figures were ranked in order of the locations with the most posts.
Similarly, the TikTok data was also collected by searching each location on the social media platform’s search page. This showed the total number of views from all the videos with the relevant hashtags and mentions. This data was then ranked to find out which locations were trending the most.
Please note, the data for Instagram and TikTok were collected on 06/02/2023 and were correct at the time of collection.
Lastly, the most popular cost-effective outdoor activities also used figures from ALVA, which were filtered by the most visited outdoor locations. This was then ranked in order of the most visited places. The figures for the annual membership prices were taken from the official website of each attraction and are largely based on the price of one adult, purchased by Direct Debit.
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