Free Festive Fun: Places To Visit (Hertfordshire and Beyond) 

We have visited lots of garden centres and a few shopping centres this season to enjoy the festive displays. So I thought I would write a round-up of some free places to visit this season. Ideas range from places to pop to briefly when you are short on time, to places where you could easily spend several hours, or even make it a whole day out… and it won’t cost you a penny! (Except parking in some cases).

Please note additional activities such as ice skating, grottos etc… mentioned are NOT free, there is generally a charge for these activities.

So here are our suggestions…

Christmas display with title 'Free fun festive places to visit (Herts and Beyond)'

Garden Centres

Crews Hill, Enfield

This is a whole row of garden centres, most of which have some festivities. One in particular has a large display, an ice rink, snow globe, grotto with train ride and real reindeer. Crews Hill is somewhere that you can easily spend most of the day if you wanted. You can also soak in the atmosphere in an hour or two though if you are pushed for time.

An interactive elf display at Springtime Crews Hill

Christmas lights at Springtime Crews Hill

A Christmas display at Crews Hill, Enfield

Van Hage, Great Amwell

This is another of the larger garden centres. It has an ice rink (bookable in advance), grotto and lots to see generally. It also has an animal garden onsite too.

Christmas display at Van Hage

Snowman Christmas display at Van Hage, Great Amwell

Notcutts, St Albans

Great for popping into briefly if you are passing or are nearby. The giant snowman is fab! Have tea or breakfast with Santa has a fun alternative to a grotto. (Book in advance, costs apply).

Notcutts, St Albans, Christmas door display

Notcutts Christmas section

World’s End Wyevale, Wendover (Bucks)

We visited this garden centre for the first time recently. There is a mini funfair and a huge Christmas shop, plus a grotto and winter wonderland (entry charges apply). Even if you don’t pay to go into the wonderland, as we didn’t, it is still worth a visit. It has a nice Christmassy feel generally.

Worlds End Wyevale Garden Centre Christmas display

Vanstone Park, Hitchin

This is a fun place to pop to if you have a short time to spare for a quick whizz around. There is a woodland train ride too.

Vanstone Park garden centre snowman festive Christmas display

Burston Garden Centre, St Albans

We popped here for the first time a couple of days ago. Cute displays, worth a brief visit for a little while.

Christmas door Burston St Albans

xmas display at Burston with Christmas trees and seals

Colourful festive Christmas display Burston Garden Centre St Albans

Aylett Nurseries, St Albans

This has lovely displays and some nice little interactive activities too. It is perfect for soaking in the festive atmosphere while on a time limit.

Aylett Nurseries St Albans xmas display

Aylett Nurseries festive display

Aylett Nurseries Christmas small world display

Aylett garden centre xmas festive small world display

Shopping Centres

St Albans

St Albans centre has a nice little display in Christopher Place, a traditional style Christmas Market in the Vintry Gardens next to Abbey Cathedral (with a timetable of events and activities), and there is a fun Nutcracker Trail across the city too.

Santa in a sleigh with reindeer and christmas tree in Christopher Place festive display St Albans

Centre MK, Milton Keynes

Whilst many of the activities here are at additional cost, such as carousel, train rides, grotto and helter skelter, there are also some pretty displays and a brilliant festive atmosphere generally. Plus a little snow area!

Centre MK festive display with igloo

Centre MK festive train ride

Squiggle playing in fake snow at Centre MK Milton Keynes

The Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

I have saved the best until last! This is my top pick this season because I love the theme; Santa’s Waste-Not Workshop focuses on recycling and green living. With awesome displays and cool activities that educate and inspire during what can be a very consumer-based and wasteful time of year, I think this is genius! Squiggle loved lighting up the tree using energy she generated from cycling – such a clever idea. Well done to whoever came up with this, it gets a big thumbs up from us!

Squiggle cycling to light up clean energy Christmas tree The Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

Santas Waste-Not Workshop, Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

Upcycled festive display at Santas Waste- Not Workshop, Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

Snowman display at Santas Waste- Not Workshop, Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

Seasons Geetings everyone!

Where is your favourite festive place to visit?

Christmas: Ayletts Garden Centre, St Albans, Herts

We love visiting Ayletts garden centre at Christmas, they always make a wonderful effort with their displays and often add extra activities or competitions for children too. This year is no exception!

As you walk into the entrance, there is a very modest display with Christmas tree. But keep walking beyond that and the garden centre opens out into a lovely walk-through Christmas scene. Each year there is a different theme, usually featuring cute woodland characters.

Ayletts, garden centre, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, places to visit, days out, festive fun, Christmas, families
Walk-through Christmas scene.

Next to the entrance to the walk-through scene is a large snowman with a twist; turn the handle to make him come alive! It’s quite sweet and I like the retro style way it works, rather than it randomly going off when people walk past, which often gets annoying!

Grab yourself a pencil and paper to take part in their free competition. Find the ten letters hidden around the Christmas sections to make up a word, and have a go at naming the snowman too, then post it in the box before you leave.

Ayletts, garden centre, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, places to visit, days out, festive fun, Christmas, families
Squiggle doing the free festive competition.

There is also a collection for Age Concern as part of this display, so don’t forget to take a few coins to throw into the little ‘pond’ there!

Ayletts, garden centre, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, places to visit, days out, festive fun, Christmas, families, Age Concern
Squiggle throwing coins into the ‘pond’.

There is a large Christmas section in a separate building in the middle of the garden centre. They sell everything from confectionary to lights, to singing santas!

Ayletts, garden centre, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, places to visit, days out, festive fun, Christmas, families
Squiggle dancing with singing santa.
Ayletts, garden centre, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, places to visit, days out, festive fun, Christmas, families
Miniature Christmas scenes.
Ayletts, garden centre, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, places to visit, days out, festive fun, Christmas, families
Squiggle loves these statues!

Ayletts, garden centre, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, places to visit, days out, festive fun, Christmas, families

Ayletts is a family run business situated on a dual carriageway on the outskirts of St Albans. It has a large cafe, good disabled access and a good size car park. Next door to the garden centre is Partners Pet Supermarket, an independent pet store, and Maidenhead Aquatics, which has a small soft play area in the cafe and fish you can feed. It is well worth a visit if you are local and have up to a couple of hours to spare. Especially during the festive fun!

Christmas at Van Hage, Great Amwell, Hertfordshire 

Van Hage is a large garden centre in Hertfordshire. It has a massive free car park and the garden centre itself covers a very generous sized area, both indoors and outside. In addition to the huge selection of brands and items for sale, there is also a restaurant, miniature railway (small additional charge), free animal gardens and various events.

Van Hage, Great Amwell, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, days out, garden centre, animal gardens
Van Hage animal gardens
Van Hage, Great Amwell, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, days out, garden centre, animal gardens, wildlife
We love these DIY wildlife ideas!

During the festive season, they also have a very popular ice rink. Sessions can be booked online in advance, which is essential during busier periods. There are dedicated parent and toddler slots and a very limited number of SEND sessions too. Prices vary, but most sessions cost £10 per adult or £8 per adults, with certain concessions available, plus there is an additional charge for supports from £5 each. Further details are on the website.
Van Hage has a great Christmas selection, with cute displays and a Santa’s Grotto. I don’t know what the actual grotto experience is like as we haven’t visited, but the rest of the garden centre certainly helps us to get into the Christmas spirit!

Van Hage, Great Amwell, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, days out, garden centre, reindeer, family fun, festive, Christmas, winter
Giant reindeer at the entrance
Van Hage, Great Amwell, Hertfordshire, places to go, things to do, days out, garden centre, festive, winter, Christmas, family fun
Van Hage at Christmas

More photos from a previous visit can be found here.

November: Part One

These are some of the things we have been doing so far this month…

character drawings 01.11.14
Drawing various characters she has created in a variety of outfits 01.11.14
fishing 01-11-14
Fishing for coins in the bath- a game she designed herself 01.11.14
water scales 01-11-14
Squiggle started off using her balance scales to compare volumes of water. This then led to a discussion about measurements of solids and liquids, and the units they are measured in. She then decided to experiment with comparing the ducks and water combined. She observed that when the water was the same volume each side and therefore balanced, that the two ducks did not weigh the same. This was not what she predicted because they look the same and are the same size, but she the concluded one of them must have water inside adding to the weight. She then tried to push the duck down into the water and was amused that it popped back up again so we discussed why this happens. She also noticed the water level rises as she did so, which also led to a discussion on water displacement. 01.11.14
white water rafting 01.11.14
We went to watch white water rafting at Lee Valley. 01.11.14
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Caldecotte lake 02.11.14
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Watching watersports on the lake 02.11.14
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Photos at the lake 02.11.14
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One of my favourite photographs of Caldecotte lake 02.11.14
cuddly toy cat game 3-11-14
Cuddly toy cat game 03.11.14
paradise park play area 4-11-14
Paradise park 04.11.14 physical exercise and a spot of map reading too
paradise park animals 4-11-14
A few of the animals at Paradise park 04.11.14
paradise park monkey 4-11-14
We were lucky enough to spot a two day old newborn baby gibbon clinging to mum 04.11.14
sylvanian school game 5-11-14
Squiggle used her Sylvanian families to act out a day at school. This led to some very interesting questions, such as why do the children need to wear a school uniform, who decides what it should be etc… We then had a very balanced discussion about the differences between school and home education. She was able to articulate very well why she personally feels home ed is much better suited to her needs. 05.11.14
southend 6-11-14
Southend beach 06.11.14
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We found this great resource at the beach playground, it is simple explanation of the weather cycle. Squiggle enjoyed learning how clouds form and how it rains. This led to further discussion about weather, the sun and also how stars form too 06.11.14
southend boats 6-11-14
Boats at Southend 06.11.14
southend more photography 6-11-14
Some of my favourite photos from our trip to Southend 06.11.14
southend photography 6-11-14
Scenic photos of Southend 06.11.14
fireworks fleetville 7.11.14
Local fireworks display 07.11.14
fireworks crabtree 8.11.14
Watching fireworks with a friend 08.11.14
fashion garden 9.11.14
Playing in the garden 09.11.14
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Picnic in the garden 09.11.14
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Fun at Bopping Babes disco 09.11.14
sylvanian imagination 10.11.14
Small world imaginary play 10.11.14
sylvanian ayletts christmas display 11.11.14
Acting out Ayletts Christmas display from last year 11.11.14
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We then visited Ayletts garden centre to see this year’s display 11.11.14
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Notcutts garden centre 11.11.14
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Squiggle made her own Christmas sticker book 12.11.14
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Sylvanian family decorating for Christmas (wearing clothes she made for them for winter) 12.11.14
duplo treehouse 13.11.14
Duplo construction (tree house playground) 13.11.14
clarence park 13.11.14
Clarence park 13.11.14
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Squiggle designed a multi pack of cat treats 14.11.14
cats 14.11.14
Squiggle then asked the next day to go to the pet shop to buy the cats a treat 15.11.14
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Chilling together
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Van Hage garden centre 16.11.14
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We popped to Stanborough lake briefly on the way home 16.11.14

 

In addition to these activities, we also practised estimating (time mainly) and discussed the difference between a guess and an estimate. We have also played a game several times that she invented whereby we try to recall what we were doing x number of days ago. This proved to be a fun memory game and we enjoyed talking about past events, as well as doing the maths to work out how many weeks, months and sometimes years ago the day was. I also discovered she didn’t know what a typewriter was when she found a miniature toy one (then again, why would she know!) So we discussed technology and how it has progressed, which she found very interesting.

 

Van Hage- it really is more than just a garden centre!

We went to Van Hage today, not for the first time, but I really think it deserves a mention as a great (and FREE) family trip out. In addition to things you might typically expect to find in a garden centre there is a lovely animal garden. They have a range of animals there and offer opportunities to interact with some of the animals at weekends and during school holidays (see website for details). There is even a miniature train ride (small charge of 80p per passenger applies).

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Stroking a snake at the reptile encounter today.
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She had the opportunity to touch a lizard.
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The chickens roam around freely and some are happy to be touched.
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They have a lovely range of animals.
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Looking at the giant bunnies and goats.
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She was able to stroke a tortoise today as well.
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We enjoy looking at the pretty displays.
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There are fun facts and activities in the animal garden.
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She learnt she was about the same height as a penguin.
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There is lots of useful information available.
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There are lots of flowers to look at to of course!
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The pet shop has a resident cat.
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There are lots of interesting things to look at in general.

 

Definitely worth a visit! See website for more details of events and activities http://www.vanhage.co.uk/garden-centres/great-amwell/