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There are few things that are certain when you have children; you cannot guarantee they’ll be Prime Minister or to be honest, even their hair colour. But there are two things you absolutely, 100% can guarantee:

  1. Whichever way they come out, it’s gonna hurt
  2. They cost an absolute bomb.

When the £100 bill for a term of ballet lessons arrive, I look back with fondness at the times my single self said I was ‘broke’ and then promptly went out and drank cocktails until 4am followed by a slap-up donner kebab.

The weekends can be the worst. Someone suggests a trip to the zoo, you know it’s pricey but you reckon if you take your own picnic it won’t be too bad. But what is a Dairylea sandwich compared to a £10 pizza the size of your thumb? And Meryl Streep would be proud of the performance my son puts on in the gift shop when he NEEDS-THIS-GIANT-MONKEY-OR-HE-WILL-DIE-OF-NEGLECT.

But what are the alternatives? I’m so glad you asked…

Sandy Lane Park and Aqua Park

An absolute favourite with my children. Boasting both a playground and a separate ‘aqua park’ (various fun looking fountains), you can spend the entire day here. It’s clean, well maintained and has free parking.

The only downside is the unpredictability of it opening. If it’s earlier in the year, (it officially opens on 25th March) no matter how hot it is, it may not be open. Or even if the fountains are on, you might find the adjoining toilets are locked. Also, there is nowhere to buy food or drinks within walking distance, but Waitrose is a quick drive up the road if you’re desperate.

However, if you’re prepared with the suncream and a picnic, it’s a total winner.

Chester Cathedral Gardens and Falconry

Hidden behind the cathedral, it looks small at the start but you can easily while away the hours. There are plenty of birds to look at as well as other animals, engaging flying displays, a nature trail and a huge amount of green space to have a good run round in.

A family ticket for two adults and two children costs £14 and the best part is that it’s a day pass, so you can come and go as you please.

Children’s library at Storyhouse

Storyhouse has been a welcome addition to Chester’s cultural landscape and whilst not every activity is cheap, the children’s library is well stocked and comfortable. There are also regular activities during the week and at the weekend that are either free or very cheap. There are chalkboards and games to play, making for a very friendly atmosphere.

TableTop Game Shop

For slightly older children, this place is a godsend. They run regular sessions where for a small fee (usually under £5) you can go in and play a wide range of board games. The staff are really friendly and inviting and it’s nice to take part in activities that don’t involve a screen. There’s always a wide range of customers, not just the stereotype of geeky lads and no one will feel out of place inside. Perfect for rainy days or for a family day that won’t cost a fortune.

Chester Bandstand

A landmark of the Chester landscape, bandstand entertainment has undergone a revamp this year, with everything from musicians to poets putting on a show every weekend until the August bank holiday. There are plenty of places along the river to grab an ice cream, you can feed the ducks and the toilets are spotless. Perfect to let the children expel some energy running along the river bank whilst you enjoy some local talent.

So there you have it. Some lovely alternatives to the usual bank-breaking children’s days out or soft play. Shudder. Have more suggestions? Get in touch – hello@amble.to.