January is officially the gloomiest month I have decided. Everyone is feeling the pinch, we are all suffering from the post Christmas blues, and the weather is seriously getting us down. So what could be better than a freebie I say! Guaranteed to put a smile on the most miserable of faces in the up and coming two months, here are the top family activities around the UK for February and March… and the best thing of all is that they’re all free!
1. The National Gallery, London
Feel like seeing a few famous faces and masterpieces? The National Gallery has about 2,300 of them, from big names like Van Dyke, Monet, Cezanne, Holbein, Van Gogh and many more. If you’re struggling to decide which to see first, how about taking one of the daily guided tours (they’re free too), where you’ll also learn the history and stories behind the paintings. The National Gallery is situated at Trafalgar Square London WC2N 5DN, tel: 020 7747 2885 or visit www.nationalgallery.org.uk
2. Meet the Vikings – Coppergate Square, York
A veritable host of Vikings will be setting up camp in York city centre from February 11th–18th. Check out their replica longship, kitted out for war, and learn about life at sea and on dry land. There’s a storytelling tent where you can listen to tales of ancient myths, gods and warriors, and even a “cunning woman” who’ll prescribe cures – not necessarily pleasant – for your aches, pains and war wounds. Find out more at www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk or by calling 01904 615505.
3. The Winter Garden, Sheffield
Located right in the heart of Sheffield, this is one of the world’s biggest greenhouses, where you’ll find around 2,500 plants growing in a specially-controlled microclimate. Amazingly, they’re all watered by hand (seriously); a group of green-fingered gardeners goes round with a hose or watering can to ensure the plants receive exactly the right amount of water. It’s thirsty work. The Winter Garden also provides a home for the Bessemer Gallery and offers a welcome stop for coffee and light refreshments. Access is available to the Millennium Galleries where, in Cafe Azure, a wide range of refreshments and facilities are available.
4. Borough Market, London
Why not try something new today? Like ostrich burgers, hemp seed falafel or venison fillets – all of which you’ll find at Borough Market – along with delicious cheeses and rather tasty coffee. It’s free to browse (and often sample, too) so who knows what you could end up taking home for a dinner? Borough Market is London’s most renowned food market; a source of exceptional British and international produce. Find out what’s on in the Market, try our delicious seasonal recipes, meet the Traders and the produce they sell, and use our interactive Market Map to plan your next visit. Open Thursdays Fridays and Saturdays.
5. Help the environment – Parkwood, West Malvern, Worcestershire
The Malvern Hills are some of the most scenic in England, and local conservation groups work hard to keep them that way. On March 3rd, the Malvern Hills Conservators are looking for volunteers to plant hazel, oak and ash trees on the hills’ wooded slopes. In return, they’re offering the chance to meet new people, enjoy fresh air and exercise, and get that warm glow from knowing you’ve done something worthwhile. March 3rd. For details of this and other projects, visit www.malvernhills.org.uk
6. Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds
If you’ve ever wondered where all the knights in shining armour are these days, they’re here. In fact, The Royal Armouries Museum houses 70,000 pieces of armoury altogether – and you can see a lot of it in action in the tiltyard, as two knights battle it out in a Henry VIII-style joust. The Royal Armouries is Britain’s national museum of arms and armour. At the Leeds Museum there are over 8,500 objects on display in five galleries: War; Tournament; Oriental; Self Defence and Hunting. Visit the newly refurbished Tournament Gallery and experience the might of Henry VIII – king and sportsman. 24hr information: 0113 220 1999 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
7. Blues on the beach – Swanage Blues Festival, Dorset
Our family used to go to Swanage for our holidays but there was never a blues festival when we went! It’s small but you know what they say, it’s perfectly formed and held at one of Dorset’s most scenic coastal towns. The festival is now in its 12th year, and it gets better with age. Blues fans from all over the country come to enjoy free admission to 60 gigs across 20 indoor venues, and watch daily open mic and Electric Jam sessions, street entertainers and buskers. March 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Visit www.swanage-blues.org for details.
8. Museum of Science and Industry – Manchester
Put down your history books and let history come alive at the Museum of Science and Industry as you explore Manchester’s fascinating past! The museum is jam-packed with exhibits that will live long in your child’s memory. Spread across five listed buildings, this free exhibition will keep children mesmerised for hours on end. http://www.mosi.org.uk/
9. Fly Your Kite- Nene Park, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire
Stretching 10 kilometres along the river Nene, this beautiful, unspoilt country park encompasses farmland, meadows, woodland and lakes. It’s worth visiting for the scenery alone, but another draw is the free workshops that run at the Visitor Centre throughout the year. Try your hand at making a kite (February 15th) or a nest box (February 17th), or join Conservation Officer Chris Park for a spring bird-watching walk on March 28th. Visit www.neneparktrust.org.uk or call 01733 234193.
10. Appear on TV! – Venues nationwide
For real? Yeah! Fancy being part of the studio audience at one of your favourite TV shows? Tickets are usually free, and there are several websites where you can book a seat or register your interest. Visit www.applausestore.com for Sky’s Got to Dance semi-finals (filmed at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire), www.sroaudiences.com for All Star Family Fortunes or Dancing on Ice shows in February and March, or www.lostintv.com for The Apprentice: You’re Hired! and ITV1’s The Cube.