School holidays are just around the corner – again! It’s a time that can make any parent a little nervous about what lies ahead. Keeping the kids entertained for two whole weeks can be a big ask, as well as being tough on the wallet.

But never fear, help is here! They say variety is the spice of life, and if you scratch the surface of your city, you’ll find there’s endless ways to surprise your kids these holidays. Here are 10 ways to have a cheap and cheerful break with your children.

1. Explore the underwater world

If there’s one guaranteed way to get kids excited about being out of the house, it’s by showing them the life beneath the waves! Australia’s aquariums are brimming with awe-inspiring animals and will leave the little ones wanting more. Most aquariums also include interactive areas where kids can get hands on with the marine life. There’s an aquarium in most of our capital cities, and Sydney Aquarium and SEA LIFE in Melbourne have special school holiday programmes too.

Aquariums aren’t always the cheapest places to visit, but it’s pretty easy to spend an entire day there, so it’s a decent value purchase. Make sure you take lots of breaks and try and catch some shows or feedings, to keep your kids from getting tired or bored.

2. Visit a modern museum

Just because the kids are out of school, it doesn’t mean their brains should go on holidays too! Get them excited about art and culture by visiting a modern museum. Contemporary art has a way of connecting with kids, and most galleries offer special self-guided tours for little ones.

Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane all have their own contemporary art museums, usually including interactive exhibitions and sometimes school holiday programs. If you’re in Canberra, a visit to Questacon is a no-brainer, to kids engaged in the fun of science. In Melbourne, Scienceworks offers a similar program, and Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum is open in Ultimo until the end of June 2020, before it moves to Parramatta.

3. Visit a weird museum!

If you’ve been to all the ‘standard’ museums, there’s plenty more to explore. Australia has some weirdly specific museums and galleries, so why not find something new to learn about!

Whether it’s the Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying, the Mad Max 2 Museum, or even the Giant Earthworm Museum. Yes, all of these exist!

If your kids are into space travel, you might also be in luck! The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, located near Tidbinbilla national park, is actually run by NASA, and has a small but awesome accompanying museum. Or, you could go see the debris from the space station Skylab, which fell to earth over Esperance, WA in 1979.

Plus, don’t discount places like Maritime and Science Museums – they’ll usually have programmes and tours just for the kiddos, and they’ll actually learn something too!

A tesla coil surrounded by purple sparks of electricity, similar to the one at the Scienceworks museum in Melbourne. Scienceworks is a good rainy day school holiday activity.

4.Fun at the farmer’s markets

The sights, the sounds, the smells – a visit to the farmer’s markets is truly a sensory experience for kids these days! Find out where your nearest farmer’s markets are and take a drive with the kids. The fresh produce, delicious freebies and colourful characters will have them smiling for days.

Some markets even offer classes and tours for the little chefs in your family – the Adelaide Central Market has classes for kiddos to learn to cook with fresh produce.

5. Get on your bike

Dust off your bikes, load up the car and spend a day on two wheels these school holidays. A good, old fashioned bike ride is a great way to expend a little energy. 

The web is a great resource for finding nearby bike paths and trails – most cities or states will have government websites, like Sydney.com, Visit Canberra, or SouthAustralia.com, where you can find maps and suggestions. There are also plenty of third party sites that compile lists of the best bike trails, like this Urban List article about biking in Perth.

So hop on google and see what’s good in your area. If you don’t own bikes, most big parks with bike paths will have a hire place somewhere nearby. If you’re feeling particularly brave, try tandem riding with one of your kids – laughs are guaranteed.

ride a bike in the city

6. Bush walking in a National Park

If your kids are a little too comfortable shackled to a video game controller, the best way to deliver some vitamin D and stretch their legs is with a good bush walk. Do some online research and find the best walking trails in your nearest national park. Jump in the car – don’t forget to pack plenty of snacks and water – then head off. Once you’re there, let mother nature take over. The kids will be blown away by the beauty hidden in their own backyard.

Make sure you check conditions ahead of time, and check that the national park you’re planning on heading to is open. Some national parks are still closed because of damage from the 2019/2020 bush fires. 

7. Play a round of Putt-Putt

Hit a hole in one these school holidays with a round of mini golf. Putt-Putt is the perfect game for kids: it’s quick, cheap, and (relatively) easy. While a lot of the old courses may be shutting down, there are often school holiday pop-ups in capital cities, so make sure you scout them out!

Holey Moley also operates Putt-Putt bars in cities across Australia, and kiddos are welcome before 5pm with adult accompaniment. Their courses are super detailed and themed, guaranteed for lots of fun and great photos with your family!

8. Visit the animals at the Zoo

It’s a classic school holiday move, but there’s a reason kids love the zoo. It’s not often that children get to see the mystery of the wilderness right up close, so a day at the zoo is a must. During school holidays, most zoos will also run educational talks. It’s a great way for kids to learn about conservation in a fun and unique environment.

Sydney’s Taronga Zoo and Melbourne Zoo are both central zoos for their capital cities. Check out the pandas at Adelaide Zoo, or meet animals like meerkats and red pandas up close at the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra! If you’re more into reptiles, Australia Zoo near the Sunshine Coast in QLD has you covered, or check out the Australian Reptile Park near Gosford, a short drive from Sydney.

Want that full zoo experience? Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo is one of Australia’s largest, and you can even stay overnight, with the animals just outside your door.

A giraffe at Sydney's Taronga zoo in front of the Sydney skyline

9. Young kids do Yoga

Who wants to nama-ste inside when you can head out into the big wide world and get your yoga on! Yoga for young kids is becoming increasingly popular with classes available in most big cities. It’s a great way to keep them active while also ensuring they’re having fun on their holidays.

10. Cook up a storm in the kitchen

Last but not least, turn your child into a mini master chef! Pick a recipe together then jump in the car, head to the supermarket and grab your ingredients. You can then spend the day mastering this new dish with the kids.

YouTube and Netflix make cooking together easier than ever before, even if you’re a beginner yourself! Find a video of something you’ve always wanted to make and get started. You’ll all feel a sense of achievement when it’s ready to be devoured, plus you’ve taught them a brand new skill! That’s win-win!  

Other budget-friendly tips

These are just a few ways to enjoy the school holidays on a budget – but there are many more. Here are a few general tips to keep your costs down, no matter what you and your family get up to:

  • Plan school holiday activities one month in advance and draft up a budget accordingly.
  • Always pack lunch and fill up water bottles before heading out on a day trip. This is a great way to save money and avoid expensive on-site cafes and unhealthy fast food options.
  • Sign up to daily deals sites to stay updated on local bargains and discounts on activities, accommodation and restaurants.
  • Buddy up with another family for a road trip getaway. It helps parents share the costs and responsibility, while the kids have more friends to play with.

About Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.