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Fun on a budget: Ideas for days out near Derby and Leicester

Updated: Jun 29

Don't let finances stop you having fun. Big days out for the family might seem like an expense too far sometimes. Things like theme parks and zoos can't be done every weekend. We've rounded up some of our favourites below, some are near to the city and some a little further afield.

Bradgate Park

The sweeping 830-acre Bradgate Park site has loads to do. There's rocky outcrops and ancient woodland, there's shallows to paddle in and majestic deer to spot, and the historic ruins of Bradgate House and the iconic Old John Tower to explore too. Make time to enjoy the Visitor Centre which tells the story of the park.

Location: Newtown Linford, LE6 0HB/Cropston, LE7 7HQ/Hunts Hill, LE6 OAH/Swithland Wood south, LE12 8TN/Swithland Wood north LE12 8SS

New Walk Museum and Art Gallery

Located on leafy New Walk in Leicester, this attraction has plenty to fill a day.

From dinosaur skeletons to Egyptian relics to Picasso artworks, you'll be amazed at what the site has packed under one roof. And admission is free, with donations welcomed.

Location: 53 New Walk, Leicester, LE1 7EA.

Markeaton Park

Lots of space with plenty of opportunity for families to enjoy a day out together.

During the summer there is a free paddling pool and in the grounds there is always something going on. Feed the ducks at Markeaton Lake and for a price, you can hire a rowing boat or pedalo. Entry is free and there are refreshments available on site.

Location: Markeaton Lane, Derby, DE22 4AA.

Wollaton Park

Wollaton Park is an historic deer park in Nottingham, where you can get up close to the herds. There's also a great play area for the kids, a cafe, and you can take a look around the historic Wollaton Hall too which was used as Wayne Manor in the film The Dark Knight Rises in 2011. Admission is free.

Location: Wollaton, Nottingham, NG8 2AE.

The National Forest

The National Forest stretches across Leicestershire, Derbyshire into Staffordshire and has loads to do with the kids. We suggest grabbing your bikes and heading out to some of the amazing cyclepaths in the area, such as the Cloud Trail from Worthington towards Derby, or the Ashby Woulds Trail you can take from Measham to explore the extensive Donisthorpe Miners Welfare site.

Location: Off High Street, Measham, DE12 7HR

Gorse Hill City Farm

In the city of Leicester you can find 20-acre working farm Gorse Hill. The community project has large animals like cows, donkeys, ponies, pigs, sheep and goats as well as small animals to meet including chickens and ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs and budgies. Admission is £2 for adults and £1 for children - and you can buy a bag of feed for 50p.

Location: Anstey Lane, Leicester, LE4 0FJ.

Matlock Bath Aquarium and Exhibitions

Splashing out on a trip to see some sea life needn't break the bank. The Matlock Bath attraction is £3.30 per person to get in, with children four and under free, and there's more than 50 species of fish to see, as well as a hologram exhibition, a petrifying well and gemstone display, and more. Plus Matlock Bath itself is well worth a wander around to boot.

Location: North Parade, Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, DE4 3NS.

Foxton Locks

Have you ever seen a boat go uphill? Located near Market Harborough, Foxton Locks is an incredible feat of engineering which does just that. Watch colourful canal boats take 45 minutes to move up it's staircase flight of 10 locks on the Gran Union Canal, see the Victorian inclined plane boat lift, and explore the side ponds and trails. There's also a museum (admission £4 for adults and £1 for kids) plus shops and two pubs nearby.

Location: Gumley Road, Foxton, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 7RA.

The Aeropark

In the shadow of East Midlands Airport, near Castle Donington, is this museum and viewing area where you can study the aeronautical technology of yesteryear, or just watch the modern jets of today landing and taking off. It's run by volunteers, and costs £4 adults and £2 for children five and over. There's also the Airport Trail sculpture walk around the airport's perimeter to explore.

Location: Hill Top, Castle Donington, Leicestershire DE74 2PR

Elvaston Castle

The first country park in England, Elvaston Castle and its surrounding parkland is a beautiful spot on the outskirts of Derby. The park has around 321 acres of open parkland, woodland and more formal gardens and it's won a national standard Green Flag Award for five years running. Sadly, the house itself, described as a "gothic revival masterpiece", is not open to the public. Entry to the park is free.

Location: Borrowash Road, Elvaston, Derby, DE72 3EP.

Belper River Gardens

Belper River Gardens are great. Little ones can play in the play area and explore the band stand and there are great views over the Derwent.

You can hire a rowing boat for a small fee but it can be as much fun to watch inexperienced rowers struggle. There is no charge for admission.

Location: Matlock Road, Belper, Derbyshire. DE56 1BE

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