Free and cheap summer activities/trips for families with children


Looking for more money saving tips?

News & Observer’s duty journalism team sets up a

with tips for reducing costs in several categories. We will often add new stories.

With inflation on the rise, we are all looking for ways to save a little money and control our budgets.

News & Observer’s duty journalism team sets up a Economy series with tips for reducing costs in several categories.

In this article, we offer tips for saving money with the family (or on activities involving children) during the summer holidays. We’ll update this story with any great tips we get from readers.

1/ Free bus rides for children

Use the bus: Gas prices are tough right now. Did you know that residents of Triangle can take the bus for free until the end of June 2022? And even after that, children under 12 travel free on regional buses. This includes GoTriangle, GoDurham, GoRaleigh and GoCary (as Chapel Hill Transit is free for all ages.)

The Youth GoPass also allows passengers between the ages of 13 and 18 to travel for free. Without a pass, these users can take the buses at half price. To find out how to get your pass, visit

(Plus, what kid doesn’t want to pull the yellow lanyard when it’s time to get off?)

For our complete guide to public transport in the Triangle (including electric scooters, bike share and Amtrak), visit

2/ Free entertainment, children’s books

Enjoy summer reading at the library: It’s time to get your library card, if you don’t have one yet! Sign up for summer reading programs and check back often for free books, movies and more. (Many of our local libraries also have summer reading programs for adults, such as Wake County Public Libraries and Chapel Hill Public Library.)

Be sure to stay up to date with your library’s calendar of events. Many local libraries have stacked schedules, filled with storytimes, crafts, bird watching, scavenger hunts, concerts and more.

For our Complete Guide to Enjoying Free Stuff at Triangle Librariesvisit

3/ Save money on food

Make cooking a family affair: Restaurant meals can quickly eat into a family’s budget. Instead of dining out, take advantage of summer vacation to turn meal and snack prep into an adventure. YouTube is a treasure trove for kid-friendly cooking videos, and your kids can use their library cards to check out kids’ cookbooks.

Go further and have fun, theme nights:

  • Play Italian music while you prepare a simple pot of spaghetti with the family.
  • Turn your home into a restaurant, with fabric tablecloths, beautiful glasses and evening attire.
  • Try your hand at baguette making and learn a few French words along the way.
  • Is your family competitive? Turn your kitchen into a Food Network cooking contest and see who can turn Tuesday night ingredients into a decadent meal (and enjoy all the creations together afterwards).

Color me healthy has free recipes, a guide to making more meals at home, and more. Color Me Healthy is a partnership between NC State Cooperative Extension and the NC Division of Public Health. (Info:

And stay tuned: we’ll have a story soon with tips for saving money at the grocery store.

4/ Cinema offers at reduced or free prices

Go to the cinema (daytime): These cinemas make incredibly cheap family summer movies – sometimes totally free.

  • AMC Theaters: Tickets are 30% off if you see your film before 4 p.m. (Info:

  • Cinemark: Summer Movie Clubhouse offers $1.50 tickets to select movies throughout the summer. Also get $1 off kids snacks or any size popcorn and drink combo. (Info:

  • Stone Theaters: Admission, popcorn and drinks are all $1 every Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. from June 6 to July 28. (Info:

  • Regal Cinemas: Summer Movie Express tickets are $2 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. (Info:

  • Marquee cinemas: The Wakefield 12 Theater in Raleigh offers free admission to select family movies at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. (Info:

(Did we miss any summer deals for local theaters? Let us know by emailing [email protected])

5/ Day trip, rail vacation with discount tickets in NC

Take a day by train: Amtrak’s $5 Children’s Special Fare allows customers to pay $5 one-way ($10 round-trip) for children ages 2-12 when purchasing a priced adult ticket. regular. The agreement runs until August 31.

A day trip by Carolinian or Piedmontese train can take the family to Selma, Charlotte, High Point and other destinations. To purchase tickets, visit

Note: Although this discount cannot be combined with any other offer, groups traveling with four or more members can benefit from significant discounts on train tickets. For more information, visit

6/ Free parks, paddling pools, playgrounds in the Triangle

spending time outdoors: And visit some of the Triangle’s many parks, playgrounds, historic sites, greenways and more.

Here are some of our favorites Triangular parks with playgrounds:

  • Pullen Park (Raleigh) — Fancy a carousel ride? Otherwise, there are paddle boats and a train, plus a playground, aquatic center, arts center, sports fields and more at this historic Raleigh park. Location: 520 Ashe Avenue, Raleigh information:
  • Chavis Park (Raleigh) — Another one carousel!? While you’re there, visit the playground (with a water feature in the warmer months), art exhibits, community center, sports centers and more. Location: 505, boul. Martin Luther King Jr, Raleigh information:

  • Children’s playground together (Cary) — The Kids Together play area at Marla Dorrel Park provides easy mobility for everyone. Landscaping and play areas provide multi-sensory stimulation. Restrooms include changing tables for adults and additional space for wheelchairs and strollers. Location: 111 Thurston Drive, Cary information:

For a comprehensive guide to parks with playgrounds (and other outdoor activities to tick off your summer bucket list), visit

Take out your bathing suit and head to a wading pool in the Triangle. Here are some free ones:

  • The Taylor Street Park Spray Ground is located at 416 N Taylor St. in Wake Forest. It’s free and open to the public. For hours and more information, visit

  • The Eva E. Ennis Splash Pad is located at 502 Martin Luther King Jr Dr. in Smithfield. It’s open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, and gambling is unsupervised. For hours and more information, visit

For a complete guide to public pools, wading pools and spray grounds, visit Not all of these activities are free, but many cost just a few dollars.

7/ Free and inexpensive bowling

Lace up your bowling shoes: And enjoy free or cheap bowling this summer. Check out these programs:

(Did we miss any local summer bowling deals? Let us know by emailing [email protected])

8/ Free or inexpensive museums for the family / children

Go to a museum: And time your visit so that your tickets are free.

Here are some museums that are always free:

Some museums sometimes offer free or discounted admission:

  • Durham Museum of Life and Science: During Durham Community Days, Durham residents can enter the museum free of charge with proof of residency. (Info:
  • Marble Children’s Museum in Raleigh: Through the Museums on Us program, cardholders with Bank of America, Merill, and Bank of America Private Bank can receive a free admission ticket on the first full weekend of each month. (Info:
  • Kidzu Children’s Museum in Chapel Hill: Kidzu offers a number of free activities for children throughout the month. Garden Parties are held on the third Friday of each month, Junior Gardeners are held every Thursday morning, and After-Hours Sensory Friendly Nights are held on the third Wednesday of each month for children with developmental or developmental disabilities. (Info:

(Did we miss any deals from local museums? Let us know by emailing [email protected])

9/ Free live music, summer concerts for the family in NC

Add family concerts to your calendar: And keep checking the websites for updated listings of shows and events.

Here are a few concert series that take place throughout the summer:

To keep the evening free, pack sandwiches and snacks so you don’t buy food truck bites. Don’t forget your insect repellent!

(Did we miss a series of free summer concerts in the Triangle? Let us know by emailing [email protected])

10/ Free children’s activities in Raleigh this summer

Meet at Dorothea Dix Park: And take advantage of all the free entertainment that takes place there all summer long. There are walking tours, fitness classes, arts and crafts events, sky viewing parties and more.

Check the calendar for a full list of events:

11/ Free outdoor summer movies for the family in NC

Pop some popcorn and pack lawn chairs: For a night under the stars… and in front of the spotlight. There are outdoor movies all over the Triangle, and many are free.

Here are some outdoor film series in the Triangle:

Share your saving tips with us

Any tips for saving money? Share it with us in the form below, or try accessing the form here.

We might use your advice in a future story.

This story was originally published June 16, 2022 1:59 p.m.

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Kimberly Cataudella (her) is a duty reporter for The News & Observer.

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Richard V. Johnson