Indoor Outings with Children

See also: Tips for Surviving the School Holidays

Our page Outdoor Outings with Children describes some outdoor activities that you can do with your children both when they are small and as they get older. But sometimes you don’t want to, or can’t, go outside.

Fortunately, you don’t have to stay at home until you are all climbing the walls.

There are plenty of indoor activities that you can do with children that will still get you out of the house. This page provides some ideas.

Soft Play

Soft play is basically a room full of cushions, mats, slides and ball pools, in which young children up to the age of about five or six, depending on the venue, can play.

On a quiet day, these are a great opportunity for your children to wear themselves out without you having to sit in the rain at the park. They also often have cafés attached, so you can get a coffee and chat to other parents.

On a busy day, unfortunately, they can turn into most parents’ definition of hell: full of screaming, fighting children. Many, but not all, have maximum numbers to avoid becoming overcrowded, but their legal maximum is still likely to be considerably above most parents’ ideal number, especially when your child is smaller or less mobile.

The bottom line is that you just have to go and try them out, and also ask other parents locally for advice. Different venues may be very different, and you may find one suits you much better.

Houses and Museums

Houses and museums may not seem like good places to go with young children, but they can be very entertaining, educational and welcoming.

Long gone are the days when nobody was allowed to touch anything, and families are generally made very welcome.

If you are a member of the National Trust in the UK or a similar body elsewhere, you will be able to get in free to all their properties with your children, which makes for very economical outings. The National Trust encourages families to visit, and their properties often supply fun trails or activities, and dressing up clothes for children. Other organisations, like Historic Royal Palaces, have noted the success of these strategies and adopted similar ideas.

Large houses also generally have plenty of space outside for running around, should that become necessary.

Museums are often heavily subsidised, or even free, or offer membership options.

The advantage of this is that you can visit for an hour or so, and then leave before everyone gets bored. You can therefore look at just one gallery, and feel that you have done the visit justice.

Eating Out

The mere idea of going out to eat or have a coffee with your children in tow may fill you with fear.

But many pubs, restaurants and cafés cater specifically for families with children, are very alert to the need to keep children entertained, and bring food quickly.

Many have children’s menus containing smaller portions and food that children particularly like.

In the UK Pizza Express, for example, will provide your children with children’s menus with puzzles and pictures to colour in, but Italian restaurants generally are very child-friendly.

Wacky Warehouse, and similar UK chains, often have soft play areas on site, where children can run around and play. Local restaurants and pubs may also have similar arrangements, and may be a very good place to spend some time, especially at quiet times, such as mid-morning, or mid-afternoon.

Public Transport

Public transport may not seem like the most obvious option for entertaining children. It does, however, have some serious advantages:

  • It is fairly cheap. Children often travel free on public transport, which means that for the price of an adult ticket you can often go quite a long way.
  • It is dry and warm. Don’t underestimate this advantage on a wet, cold day.
  • The scenery and people change all the time. Whether you are on a bus or train, you can see plenty out of the windows. Trains in particular show you people’s gardens and the backs of houses, which are things that children don’t very often see. Play spotting games: look for a greenhouse, a swing, a climbing frame, or whatever comes to mind.
  • The journey is part of the entertainment. You can go somewhere in particular, for example to a café or to meet a friend, or you can just go and ride round for a while, but the journey is a key part of the fun.


Libraries, like buses and trains, are warm and dry. They are also free, and contain both educational and entertaining material in the form of books and DVDs.

They usually have chairs or cushions, and are generally very happy for parents to sit and read to and with their children for a while. Librarians may even recommend books that your children might like.

Some libraries also have ‘Rhymetime’ and ‘Storytime’ sessions for young children, with nursery rhymes and singing. They may also organise craft activities during school holidays, so look out for posters or ask at the desk.

Sports and Leisure Centres

The obvious activity at sports and leisure centres is swimming, but there are also many other options available.

These options range from the more exotic, like ice skating, climbing and even go-karting, to organised activities for small children like gymnastics and other classes.

Have a look online, or go and visit your local sports centre to find out more about what is offered, and at what times of day, since some activities will only be available at certain times.

The Bottom Line…

The bottom line is that there are plenty of activities and outings that you can do with your children even if you want to avoid being outside.

The best advice is to check them out in advance, but then just go and try them. Most of the options described on this page are fairly cheap, so even if they don’t suit you and your children, you will not have spent a great deal of money.