Summer of free fun starts here

School's out for summer - and here's how to fill the holiday with family fun for free. Today ROWAN MANTELL finds something free to do, out and about, every day for the first fortnight of the holidays. Planning your bargain break starts here!


Hit the beach!

It's the first day of the school summer holidays – and time to celebrate that school's-out-forever vibe with a trip to the beach. Take your pick of our beautiful beaches. Head to Wells for shells, Great Yarmouth for family fun, Blakeney for seals, Waxham or Holkham for dunes, West Runton for rockpools and fossils, Cromer for surfing, Sheringham for cliff walks and almost anywhere else along the coast for a for wide open summer of free family fun.

Or make an entire dawn-to-dusk day of it by seeing the sun rise at the easternmost point of Britain, at Lowestoft, and then set over the sea at Hunstanton – our east coast, west coast resort.

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High flying holidays.

A family fun day at the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton, near Bungay, will include a Spitfire flypast, plus entertainment and activities. Make and race a plane, try everything from wacky science experiments to American swing dancing sessions, find out how people lived in the 1940s-1960s, and try military uniforms for size. The museum's extensive collection of aircraft and military vehicles will also be on show, plus its permanent exhibitions on RAF Bomber Command, the Royal Observer Corps, Air Sea Rescue and the US Air Force 446th Bombardment Group.


City playdays.

A series of events in Norwich parks and play areas is launched today with organised fun and games at the Ives Road play area. Punch and Judy, clowns, bushcraft and treasure hunting are all promised between 11am and 2pm. The Neighbourhood Playdays are aimed at people who live nearby. Twenty events will be held through the summer, with Alderman Walker getting the Playdays treatment tomorrow, Harford Community Centre hosting on Wednesday and Earlham Park the focus of neighbourhood fun on Thursday.

For full details of the all the events, running Monday to Thursday until August 25, visit


Weird and wonderful wildlife.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust will be leading an hour-long adventure through Upton Broad and Marshes in the hope of finding snakes, butterflies, birds and even dragons

Explorers should wear wellies for a discovery tour of wild things living in this lovely corner of the Norfolk Broads.

No need to book, meet at the car park on Low Road, Upton, near Acle, at 11am. The adventure happens all over again on Tuesdays August 2, 16 and 30.


Fireworks over Great Yarmouth.

Fireworks will light up the night sky over the sea every Wednesday of the school summer holidays at 10pm.

The annual free firework extravaganza also includes two hours of music and entertainment build-up, at the Central Beach, from 8pm each Wednesday. But don't wait until dusk to visit Great Yarmouth – the famous golden sands are a wonderland of free summer fun all day long.


Escape to the circus – in a book.

Fun days and story sessions are just some of the circus-themed activities on offer at your local library this summer. The kids'

summer reading challenge includes a Circus Stars folder, and stickers to collect for every book read.

Look out for details of circus-themed events in your local library all summer - there's one today at North Walsham Library, where a half-hour of Circus Story Time runs from 4.30pm.


Outdoor theatre.

The traditional summer season of free alfresco drama in Norwich's parks opens this afternoon with Magic Moon at Waterloo Park at 3pm.

Fasten your seatbelts and blast off to the moon with Captain Marshmallow and Astronaut Bobby. This show is aimed at youngsters aged 5-11.


Cliff top festival.

The Gorleston Cliff Top Festival brings music, sports, stalls, bands, dance and entertainments to the cliffs today and tomorrow, finishing with a firework finale at 10pm on Sunday.

It's become known as the 'mile-long summer attraction' and runs from midday today and 11am tomorrow.


Coastal capers.

Try sand sculpting and marine art, join a guided walk or a coastal explorer session at Lower Green, Hunstanton.

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust free Coastal Capers event runs from 10.30am to 4pm and is all about raising awareness of the fascinating world beneath the sea during National Marine Week.


Pack in some lunchtime entertainment.

LunchBox is the perfect place to enjoy your city centre lunch break. The now-traditional summer serving of top street theatre comes to the Millennium Plain, outside the Forum, every weekday lunchtime for the next fortnight.

The free alfresco fun features dare-devil stunts, music, dance, slapstick and more.

It begins with Maniax - an explosive escapology street show involving chains, padlocks and stunts on a towering platform. Performances begin at 12.30 and 1.30pm.

Tomorrow Norwich's own The Garage brings beat boxing, hip hop and slam poetry to LunchBox.

On Wednesday a film crew needs a new heroine for its Bride of Kong movie, there's comedy and music on viola and cello on Thursday and slack rope stunts meet fairytale quests on Friday.


Mobile arts emporium.

Me and Er is run by artists Alison Atkins and Cordelia Spalding – from a horsebox equipped with everything visitors need to paint, draw, create a postcard or sculpt with clay, wire and other objects.

Everyone, of any age, is welcome to come and have a go at art on the Me and Er tour of Norfolk.

Today the Me and Er horsebox will be parked up near Bridge Stores, Acle, from 11am to 4pm.


Big screen outdoors cinema in Norwich or play in Yarmouth park.

The Big Screen on Chapelfield Plain will be showing family films most Wednesdays through August. Today see The Princess and the Frog at 10am, 12 noon, 2pm or 4pm.

Coming up at the open-air cinema on Wednesdays outside Chapelfield through the rest of the month – Despicable Me, Toy Story and Tangled.

And in Great Yarmouth join the annual celebration of children's right to play. Mark the day in Yarmouth from 11am to 3.30pm with junk modelling and den building at St Nicholas Recreation Ground. Children of all ages welcome, accompanied by a responsible adult.


Capture the castle.

Step back in time to one of our local historic castles. As well as the big name, king-of-the-hill castles firmly on the tourist agenda, there are several local castles you can raid for free.

Try the wonderful castle at Castle Acre. This beautiful village, near Swaffham, was once one of the greatest Norman settlements in the country. Its double-moated castle ruins are surrounded by enormous earthworks. Inside was a Norman manor house.

There is no admission charge and the castle ruins are open any reasonable time.

Weeting Castle, also run by English Heritage and also free to see, is a ruined early medieval moated manor house, built in local flint.

Then there is Thetford Castle, which started out, thousands of years ago, as an Iron Age fort. With the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066, the invaders built their own castle mound within the ancient fortifications.

Baconsthorpe Castle, at a mere 500 or so years old, is more a moated, fortified manor house in a beautiful isolated riverside setting near Holt.


Outdoor theatre.

The traditional summer season of free alfresco drama in Norwich's parks continues today with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Find out how mad a mad hatter gets, what makes a caterpillar grumpy and why the hedgehog is so prickly in this version of the classic tale aimed at youngsters from four to 11. The fun begins in Waterloo Park at 3pm.

Next Wednesday – we focus on another fortnight of fantastic local freebies including carnival, creatures of the night, classic cars and classic kids' films.