Center Parcs is a popular holiday destination in the UK. With individual lodges dotted around the complex and woodland to create hidden pockets and adventure, it’s the perfect family holiday.
The lodge is pretty much a home from home scenario with everything you need to make a home-cooked meal, along with plenty of space to sit at the dining table along with a large sofa to relax on an evening. This is one of the biggest ways in which you can save money at Center Parcs, but how can you save money on activities?
We worked out that only certain activities were worth the money (in our opinion) we created a list of activities we feel are worth the money and time doing them. But you don’t have to book any activities at all, there are a whole host of things you can do for free.
Here are our 19 free things to do in Center Parcs.
Table of Contents
- 19 Free Things To Do In Center Parcs
- 1. Feed The Wildlife
- 2. Go Swimming
- 3. Play On The Playgrounds
- 4. Play In The Toddler Maze
- 5. Spend Some Time Birdwatching
- 6. Go On a Wildlife Hunt
- 7. Go On a Scavenger Hunt
- 8. Have A Movie Night
- 9. Walk Around The Lake
- 10. Go For A Bike Ride
- 11. Go For A Night Woodland Walk
- 12. Play Some Free Sports
- 13. Family Board Game Night
- 14. Build Sandcastles On The Beach
- 15. Ride The Train
- 16. Go For A Picnic
- 17. Go On The Zip Line
- 18. Go On A Tree Hunt
- 19. Spot The Wood Carved Animals
19 Free Things To Do In Center Parcs
While you might have figured out how to save money at Center Parcs, what you need to pack and which location you want to visit you might be wondering what you could do there. With so many (and I mean SO many!) activities to choose from you might be left feeling a little confused.
With so much to do, activities actually require you to book and pay for each individually. Prices vary depending on the activity and if the person is an adult or child. You might look and choose one or two to do for children or even as a family but otherwise you might be wondering what can keep active children entertained.
We came up with this amazing list of 19 free things to do in Center Parcs to keep everyone happy and enjoying their holiday. Some of these are specific to a location but we tried to make as many as possible that can be done at any location.
Even if you are visiting family who is staying at Center Parcs and are just getting a day pass, these are all the activities you can still do and more during your day.
Alternatively, you might be looking at booking and looking at whether Center Parcs is worth it or not. If you can plan in advance and only pick activities you really want to do, it is totally worth it.
Always check the activity against your location choice before booking.
1. Feed The Wildlife
Something that is so amazing to see and witness at Center Parcs is the wildlife. There isn’t a day at Center Parcs you won’t spot some wildlife, whether it is ducks, geese or squirrels. If you are lucky you might even get to see ducklings and deer.
We found taking a number of different bird feeds and nuts for the squirrels were great as we got to attack a number of different species to the lodge. If you don’t fancy listening to the ducks quaking outside your lodge, you can take you bird food on a woodland walk and feed them as you move around the parc.
Though we loved being able to go out on a morning and see the birds happily snacking on seeds and nuts while we enjoyed our breakfast. If you are unsure about what wildlife food to put out you can buy some in the ParcMarket which is recommended.
We found many of the ducks liked to hang out near the lake so don’t forget to take a little bag of bird feed if you plan on having a stroll around the lake. Spring is a perfect time to see much of the wildlife as babies are born and parents are often waddling around with anything from 3 ducklings to 10.
Squirrels are a big part of park life and so you will see plenty snacking away on nuts and jumping from a tree. On our visit to Whinfell Forest, we spotted many red squirrels which was lovely as we had never seen them before.
2. Go Swimming
Swimming is one of the best free things to do at Center Parcs. The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is open to all guests from 10am to 9pm and is a popular place for many families and people to go during their trip. This probably has to be my favourite thing to do as there is so much to do.
There is something for everyone from rapids to ride, water rides for both adults and kids, jacuzzi’s for the adults and a super fun play area with a pirate ship for infants and smaller children to play in.
This is an area you can easily spend a few hours and really tire yourself before going back to your lodge for lunch and to charge your batteries. There were pools that were both inside and out so no matter the weather there is somewhere for you to go. The outside pools are even heated so even with the snow falling you can stay warm.
We found the swimming pool, rides and rapids were especially popular with older children and teens as it was somewhere they could have a little more freedom, though make sure you accompany them to the swimming pool to follow the safety guidelines.
Remember you will need to pack extras for little ones from swimming nappies, armbands and towels. For a full list of what to take to Center Parcs click here.
3. Play On The Playgrounds
Center Parcs has a number of small of playgrounds dotted around the village and resort perfect for keeping little ones happy. They are made from wood and have a bark flooring which really fits in with the woodland and theme of the park.
The playgrounds are mixed in sizes and can differ from location to location. This is a wonderful place for parents to have a little sit back and rest while kids go off and play.
Each playground in Center Parcs is slightly different so even if your children get bored of one there are others they can play on. We also found that this was great as some had been tailored to smaller children and some to older.
We also found that if one park was busy and quite crowded we would go for a walk and find another to play on. As we went with children ranging in age from 4-8 we didn’t struggle too much as anything the 8 year old could do, the 4-year-old would also try.
If you arrive to Center Parcs early and can’t get into your lodge for an hour or two then look at taking the kids to the playgrounds and stretch your legs after a long car ride. We also found many parents splitting up duties, some would take the car and unpack into the lodge while the other would go and keep children entertained at the playgrounds.
These are especially helpful on the first and last day of your holiday as there can sometimes be limits in place to what activities can be booked and used on Monday and Friday. Look at utilising some of the other activities throughout your stay and try and save the playgrounds for the first and last day.
4. Play In The Toddler Maze
This is a wonderful place for small children to play and had a small adventure of their own. These aren’t in every location so check before booking.
The maze is made up of super short planks of wood running in different directions to join up and create a fun and simple maze. They are short so parents and guardians can keep a watchful eye over while they go and explore.
The maze is simple and doesn’t have much to it but it can be so adventurous and exciting for smaller children which makes it better. I love this free activity as it includes an element of a paid activity and gives you an added place to go for free other than the playgrounds. Especially if the playgrounds are busy or they want to do something new.
5. Spend Some Time Birdwatching
Something we know is a popular pass time for the older generation is birdwatching. With Center Parcs having such a wide range of plants, trees and wildlife it really draws a lot of birds and different species. Much like a wildlife walk you could set up a seat outside your lodge and enjoy a little birdwatching.
Remember to take a pair of binoculars so you don’t miss any of the smaller birds in the area. Something my parents really enjoyed was sitting on a bench and watching the variety of birds in the area.
We also found that the birds liked picking at seeds so we put down feed in the wooded area behind our lodge to attract more wildlife to see.
6. Go On a Wildlife Hunt
One of the things we really enjoyed was getting into our boots and heading out in the woodland and exploring. We found many of the paths and roads would wind around and take you to different depths of the park.
This is a great way of doing something fun and free, getting some fresh air and learning something new.
If you really wanted to make it fun you could print off a check sheet to take out on the walk to try and find as many animals as you can. From Ducks, geese, deers, squirrels and more. You can include the name of the animal and a small picture and really turn it into a fun learning game.
This was really fun for children as they enjoyed finding new creatures and spotting the squirrels, we were located at Whinfell Forest which had an abundance of red squirrels which none of us had seen before. We also saw toads and small rabbits in the picnic areas.
7. Go On a Scavenger Hunt
Everyone loves a scavenger hunt, we often play these games at home with our nieces and nephews so why not take the same type of activity but to Center Parcs with you. You can create a little sheet to bring with you of things to find from pine cones, pines, different types of leaves and flowers.
Collect them up in a little basket or bag and display them when you get back to your lodge or dry them in the oven to take home and frame as a token of your trip. I love this idea as it creates a fun activity for you all to do when you are home.
We saw wild mushrooms and toadstools growing within the forest floor which was really cool, but make sure you don’t touch them as they can be poisonous. There are plenty of other cool things you can see as well and this can change over the different seasons depending on which location you go to.
8. Have A Movie Night
Even if you plan to have evenings out whether you go swimming, eat out or even head to the spa for an evening treatment there is no doubt one night you will want to stay in and snuggle. We spent our first night in with a takeaway and watched a film by the fire.
It was lovely and such a nice way to start our holiday. This is a great thing to do especially if you have children, you can light the fire (if it is cold), have some treats and sweets and watch a film together on the sofa.
You could even go as far as having the duvet from one of the beds on the sofa to snuggle under. Or if you don’t want to use the bedding, bring a couple of your own blankets to snuggle up with.
You can use a number of services on the Center Parcs TV so you can watch what you like. Remember to bring your Roku, Firestick, Now TV or more with you to watch the things you love even at Center Parcs. We even loved doing this when it was the two of us for our honeymoon and found we could have just as much fun without children.
9. Walk Around The Lake
Every Center Parcs has a lake, it isn’t always huge but it makes a great focal point to the park and can be a great place for a walk. A great free thing to do at Center Parcs is to go for a walk around the lake.
We used this as a place to walk or run to get some fresh air and work off our dinner. It is a wonderful spot to head on an evening as the sun is going down to see the sunset and see the birds and ducks playing in the water.
Some of the Center Parcs locations have larger lakes compares to others but this shouldn’t be an issue as they all provide a good place for a run, walk or gentle stroll.
We really enjoyed being able to have a walk around the lake and spot the wildlife paddling around, like the ducks and geese. We loved watching the other people do the different water sports available along with watching people fly over the water on the zipline.
10. Go For A Bike Ride
One of the biggest things to do at Center Parcs is to go for a bike ride. Since cars are not a viable way of getting around due to the amazing way of how Center Parcs set up, many people turn to use bikes as a mode of transport.
Whether you decide to bring your own or hire a bike from Center Parcs themselves. There are smooth pathed roads along with some other routes that are perfect for exploring the park. This is a perfect way of seeing more of the area, seeing new things and having and adventure.
There are plenty of roads that are flat for those looking to have a more gentle bike ride or alternatively there are plenty of routes which take you up hills and down giving you a better sense of adventure and exercise.
There are also a couple of routes labelled up for footpaths or bike tracks which take you off-road and into the woods to give you something a little different to experience. Though if you have anyone with stabilizers or just learning to ride a bike I would stick to the tarmac routes around the village.
11. Go For A Night Woodland Walk
The woodlands and forest at Center Parcs are wonderful and are one of the best parts of the holiday. Something that is really amazing to do which is free is to explore the woodlands at night. The woodlands and pathways are lit up on an evening making it much easier to explore and enjoy.
There are also chances of seeing some different animals and wildlife in the evening. We took the children out for a walk to burn off some last-minute energy before settling down for bed. We decided to go just as the sun was setting and remembered to take a couple of lanterns and torches with us incase it got really dark.
We found a little branch den along with the way which the children loved along with some new flowers and trees we hadn’t seen on the main footpaths around the village. One reason we really enjoyed our woodland walk was that there were very little people around and it felt like we had the whole woodland to ourselves.
This is the perfect activity for an evening if you are looking to do something and enjoy the weather. I also feel like this is a great free activity no matter what the weather as it can be fun in the sun or snow. We chose to wear our boots and trainers as they were the most comfortable and suitable for the terrain.
12. Play Some Free Sports
While there are a variety of sports and activities within Center Parcs that you can book and do, they do cost. If you want to do any sports activities such as football, cricket or bowls you can opt to take your own set and play in the wooded areas behind your lodge.
This is a great way of keeping everyone entertained without having to book lots of activities or create an itinerary. You can bring something as simple as a football or bring your own rackets and a shuttlecock or tennis ball.
While it isn’t the perfect place to play sports it is much cheaper and if you have little ones, it can be a fun alternative to booking a court and them getting bored after 15 minutes.
13. Family Board Game Night
Winter nights cuddled up in the lodge is a lovely way of spending some time with your family. There are no board games included in the lodges but it doesn’t mean you can’t take your own
On our latest trip, we took a couple of board games in preparation for colder nights and having a good family night in. We took games such as Rush Hour, Exploding Kittens and a good old fashioned game of Monopoly.
You can take whatever games you have already and that you and your family enjoy playing.
Team this up with an easy to make meal and even a hot chocolate before bed and you will have a perfect family game night. I love this idea as it is so simple and using something you already have at home and that everyone enjoys. You could even have something set aside as a treat for the winner(s) such as sweets.
14. Build Sandcastles On The Beach
Who doesn’t love building sandcastles? Due to all Center Parcs locations having a lake for the water sports there are only small areas at the side made up to be a beach. This is perfect for a place to build sandcastles and enjoy playing in the sand.
Pick up your bucket and spade when you are packing at home and throw it in the car. Having these on hand is really fun, especially if you have babies/infants as you can have a nice fun hour or so playing in the sand. And we all know babies love to make a mess.
Some of the locations have more activities based around their lakes and so doesn’t leave much place for sandcastle building but if you can find a good spot on a sunny day it is the perfect thing to do. We found that our stay at Sherwood Forest was better for sandcastle building than Whinfell Forest.
15. Ride The Train
There is a land train which is accessible to guests and is free at Center Parcs. A super fun way of getting from one point in the park to another is using the Land Train. This is perfect for those who aren’t taking bikes or looking to hire bikes during their stay.
It is free to use for guests and is perfect for getting you close to your accommodation after a big stack of beautiful pancakes at the pancake house.
The land train is only currently available at Longleat Forest Center Parcs.
16. Go For A Picnic
One of my favourite free things to do at Center Parcs is to go for a picnic. With so many areas in which you can go and put down a picnic blanket it makes for a perfect scene to have a picnic. Make sure you find a spot that is a little off the beaten track, even behind your lodge or on a bench by the lake.
There are bins located around the park so if you have any rubbish you can dispose of it there or take it back to your lodge with you.
Pack up some sandwiches and head out to enjoy a picnic in the woods. I love this idea as you can even call it a teddy bears picnic and take along some cuddly friends to play with while you are out.
A great way of making this more eventful you can team this up with a woodland walk and have a full day adventure walking around Center Parcs on all the small hidden trails and back pathways.
17. Go On The Zip Line
There are a couple of different xip lines but most are part of an activity that requires booking and paying for (though some are very much worth it for the view and fun factor). There is a small one located on one of the main playground areas if your young kids are desperate to go on the zipline find the one in the playground and go on that.
Along with the zipline there are plenty of other things they can ride, climb and slide down while they are there.
We found that the zipline was based in the largest playground on site and near the village centre on the walk from the car park. This is one of the main places many families will stop after arriving and before leaving for one last play.
Something really fun that we noticed was that the zipline was a good distance from the floor so it was easy for adults to hop on, lift up their feet and have a mini zip across the park. Some chose to do this with their small children and some chose to go solo. Either way it was a great place for everyone to have fun!
18. Go On A Tree Hunt
Learning about wildlife, trees and plants can be really fun. So we decided to make it into an activity at Center Parcs. With the whole park area being made up of different plants and trees there are plenty to see and learn about.
You might want to download a plant recognition app to your phone or pick up a fairly cheap book to look at and analyse the woodland.
Each Center Parcs will be different from the next so even if you play this game at Whinfell Forest it will be different from Sherwood Forest.
You could create your own sheets using simple images and text for younger children to use and create it into a game and even offer a prize or treat at the end. We even played a game to pick a tree we liked and gave it a hug and a name to help if grow big and strong.
19. Spot The Wood Carved Animals
Something we found on our first visit was a whole host of wood carved animals dotted around the park. They are different animals and carved into old log woods. Some of them were even made into benches to provide handy little seating around the park.
I really like this idea as it is something different and interesting to what else you can see and do at Center Parcs. There are plenty around so you might not see them all in one go but that doesn’t matter as you can keep coming back to see more.
Some are stand-alone statues, some are hidden on the ground and some are made into benches. This can be super fun and even educational, especially for younger children.