Having young children, it sometimes feels that there’s a constant drain of money to keep them entertained. There are lots of things to do in the area that cost hard cash, but I thought it would be a good challenge to list 10 great things to do with kids in Richmond that are totally free. For those of you who like to count, you’ll notice i have listed 13… and i’ll let you be the judge of whether they’re all good enough.
They’re not all available all year round, and some of them might not be ideal in the winter but…. here goes.
1. Local libraries. “Not very exciting” I hear you say, but our libraries are not only warm in the winter, have great books to borrow for free, but also regularly host story and poetry readings for youngsters where you can sit in the background, read your own book, and know the little ones are going to be enthralled. There are also a few bookshops that offer this, including Langtons in Twickenham.
2. Starbucks. They’re everywhere. And their greatest redeeming feature for making every high street look the same is… the free babyccino. Our kids love them, they feel very grown up, and sometimes the milk is too hot to drink so we get an extra five minutes sitting down, checking email on the free wi-fi. Of course other coffee shops are available, and some also have free drinks for the kids, but not many.
3. Farmers Markets. Richmond, Barnes, Kew, Twickenham. Barnes wins ‘poshest market in the area’ but all the markets offer the same great child benefit…. free food. Try some cheese, try some bread, try an olive, maybe a little biscuit… a constant stream of free treats, and all the stallholders have to be nice to you, even when the kids scream.
4. Twickenham beach. It’s been with us for the last two summers (and extended it by a few weeks this year due to popularity), so I’m sure it will be back this year. Although it’s just an area of sand, it amazes and amuses our kids, and even in the winter when it has all been cleared up they still find a few grains of sand and get excited.
5. Hampton Court. Yes, it costs a fair few quid to go inside, or even to the main gardens, but you can still engage in some of the fun when King Henry and his entourage arrive on horse back through the ‘free bit’ on their special event days. The outer gardens are also quite good for a run around, and the cafe has an outside terrace so you can have a coffee while the kids play in safe view.
6. Playgrounds. There are so many playgrounds in the Borough, it’s quite amazing. And even though some of them have very similar (or identical) equipment, every new kids play area is a new adventure.
7. Bushy Park. I have no idea why our kids love Bushy Park so much. But they do. The area around the Pheasantry (not the Peasantry as I once tweeted) is fenced off from the rest of the Park with a river running through the middle, and it’s usually very quiet during the week. Lots of ducks to feed, bridges to cross, mounds to run down, trees to hide in, leaves to kick etc… And in the Autumn, just outside that area, there are thousands of conkers. Good parking too.
8. Summer Festivals. One of the year’s highlights is the Richmond May Fair, when the Green is covered with stalls, bouncy castles and snack stops. It’s free to enter, but soon becomes ‘not free’ as you’re dragged from stall to stall spending money. Maybe this shouldn’t be on the list? There are a number of fairs through the summer, with Twickenham and Kew seeming to get the lion’s share.
9. Strawberry Hill House. You may not know that you can park for free, and then walk around the grounds of Strawberry Hill House, again for free. There are hidden summer houses, trees to hide under, a tiny market garden, stinging nettles.. all sorts of fun. And the bonus (besides the cafe) is that you can then walk through into St Mary’s University and the kids can discover ramps, alleys and steps while you admire the sports facilities. This is all best done in the summer when the students are away and the gardens are open! This summer it should be spiced up with Olympic Athletes!
10. Expensive classes. Singing, dancing, gym, arts and crafts. All these can cost a fair bit. But the great news is that many of them offer a free trial. Say no more.
11. Richmond to Teddington, along the river. Perfect for walking, cycling and scooter-ing, with ice-creams at Teddington Lock as the reward. Along the way you can enjoy the views of Marble Hill House, Ham House and more. Obviously the river is not fenced off, so make sure you’re careful…
12. Richmond Park. Not just the fact that you can ride bikes around this stunning environment (try to plan a route that is downhill not uphill), but of course to watch the deer – and keep an eye out for Fenton, the YouTube sensation. The young deer in Richmond Park are generally born in June, so it’s an exciting time to see the new borns, and the rutting season is August… a time to be a little more careful.
13. Garden Centres. Yep. Free entertainment in garden centres. Fish tanks! Gnomes! Miniature trees! (do i sound enthusiastic enough? perhaps i should have stopped at 12?)
I’d love to hear your other ideas, i’m sure there are many more. Leave a comment and share with everyone!