It can be easy to blow the budget on a day out, but there are plenty of attractions and activities across the UK where you don’t have to spend a penny. From art galleries to wildlife reserves and beautiful beaches, you can embark on fun adventures without breaking the bank. And with your Motability Scheme car, WAV, scooter or powered wheelchair, the world opens up even more for you.
Here are some of the best free accessible days out around the UK.
1. Get your art fix at London’s Tate galleries
There is no better way to while away an afternoon than taking in some of the UK’s finest art in the capital’s iconic Tate galleries. Tate Modern, housed in the Bankside Power Station, exhibits contemporary works by the biggest names in 20th- and 21st-century art, from big names like Picasso to more obscure artists like Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Jenny Holzer.
Tate Modern has 12 disabled parking spaces on Park Street, available to pre-book 24 hours in advance (email email@example.com or call 020 7887 8888; you can also pre-book wheelchairs or mobility scooters). Around 50 metres from the parking, there is level access to the South Entrance of the Blavatnik Building, where you can pick up a RADAR key for lift access to Turbine Hall and all gallery floors. There is also ramp access via Turbine Hall, and accessible toilets on every floor.
Over on Millbank, Tate Britain covers a broader range of art from different historical periods, from the Pre-Raphaelites to David Hockney, Bridget Riley and the world’s largest collection of works by JMW Turner. Five accessible parking spaces are available on John Islip Street.
You can travel between the two galleries on the Tate Boat, which can take wheelchairs and some scooters. Both galleries have excellent wheelchair access, neurodiverse facilities like ear defenders and quiet rooms, as well as features such as Braille and large-print gallery plans. Tate members and a companion can book ahead for a touch tour, which allows visually impaired visitors to handle selected art and sculptures.
2. Take a ramble around Carsington Water, Derbyshire
Enjoying a waterside view beside the peaceful Carsington Water
With fantastic views of one of England’s largest reservoirs, the eight-mile route around Carsington Water wends through wildflower-carpeted meadows and semi-ancient woodland. On this scenic circular trail, you’ll have the chance to spot waders, wildfowl and, if you’re lucky, buzzards soaring overhead. It comes highly recommended by Disabled Ramblers and is also popular with dog walkers.
The Reservoir Trail is too steep in parts for manual wheelchairs, but the visitor centre has two all-terrain scooters that can be rented out on a first-come, first-serve basis for free. Alternatively, there are easier routes including the one-mile Stones Island trail, which starts at the visitor centre and takes in a Bronze Age barrow and standing stones.
There is ramp and lift access to the visitor centre, accessible toilets and café, which offers panoramic views (book afternoon tea for a special experience). There is a sensory guide available online too.
3. Road trip through scenic Snowdonia
Boardwalk to Benar beach in Drffryn Ardudwy
Mountains, valleys, forest and beaches: Snowdonia is a road trip to remember. From the handsome little town of Machynlleth in the Dyfi Valley, drive towards Dolgellau. Continuing north, look left for some impressive close-up views of Cadair Idris, southern Snowdonia’s most famous peak. First stop is the excellent Coed y Brenin Forest Park, where an all-ability walking trail leads through lush woodland. There is disabled parking, lift access in the visitor centre, a hearing loop and accessible toilets.
Next, it’s onto Beddgelert, a pretty village with an accessible information centre, a RADAR key-accessible public toilet and an accessible riverside walk, while nearby is a monument to the legend of Gelert. From here, retrace your route before diverting through Penrhyndeudraeth, over the River Dwyryd and onto Harlech, whose stunning thirteenth-century castle (ground floor accessible only) looms dramatically over the sea.
Continue down the coast a few miles north of Barmouth, where an accessible boardwalk leads through the sand dunes to Benar beach in Dyffryn Ardudwy. Take the coast road – looking out for the knitted ogre at Llwyngwril – past Aberdyfi and back to Machynlleth.
4. Check out historical aircraft at the Royal Airforce Museum Cosford, Shropshire
Historical aircraft at the Royal Air Force Museum
Located beside an active airfield, the three hangars of the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford are home to more than 70 aircraft. Highlights include the oldest remaining Spitfire, as well as engine and missile collections. The National Cold War Exhibition brings its topic to life by displaying historic planes alongside iconic cars, tanks, life-sized Russian dolls and other items from the era.
The site offers excellent access throughout, with low-level barriers allowing unobstructed viewing of exhibits and wide aisles for easy navigation in wheelchairs. There’s also free manual wheelchair and motor-scooter hire on a first-come, first-serve basis, plus tactile diagram booklets for people with impaired vision. Admission is free, but be aware that there’s a small charge for the car park.
5. Art galore at The Whitworth in Manchester
After a multimillion-pound revamp in 2015, Manchester University’s Whitworth Gallery is more accessible than ever before. The art galleries are now double the size and, best of all, there is now access to every floor. Check out the latest art exhibition, browse modern sculptures by Hepworth and Moore and browse the largest collection of textiles outside London’s V&A. It’s a stunning space: the glass walls and walkways of the award-winning gallery blend seamlessly with the park beyond.
Free disabled parking bays are located on the roads boarding the park near the entrances, and the surrounding terrain is level. Set in open parkland, the museum feels calm and there are autism-friendly art groups, ear defenders to borrow, quiet rooms and quiet hours.
The main entrance is ramp-accessible with wide electronic doors, and there is lift access to every floor, where accessible toilets can be found. Staff are trained to support visitors with a range of disabilities.
6. Enjoy a little peace and quiet at Buckfast Abbey, Devon
An early 20th-century monastery on a medieval site, Buckfast Abbey is a slice of living history in Devon. Home to Benedictine monks who follow a strict regime of study, prayer and work, it’s a tranquil place that also features well-tended gardens. Unusually, the monastery is also associated with the alcoholic Buckfast tonic wine, which you can buy in the on-site shop.
There’s step-free access to the abbey, with a movable ramp allowing wheelchair access to some areas, plus a lift to the ornate chapel. The on-site restaurant is accessible and has an outdoor terrace with fine views. Manual wheelchairs are available to borrow, and other facilities include audio and Braille guides.
7. Go birdwatching in Sence Valley Forest Park, Leicestershire
This former opencast mining site – which was active until 1996 – has been transformed into the thriving Sence Valley Forest Park. The park is made up of wildflower meadows, woodland and lakes stitched together by pathways, and is part of the National Forest. It is particularly popular with birdwatchers: more than 150 species have been sighted here and there’s an accessible bird hide from which to catch a glimpse of them. The River Sence is now home to otters and water voles, while bats flit around the forest canopy after dark – Pipistrelle, Daubenton’s and Noctule bats have all been spotted.
Surfaced paths lead to three lakes and a picnic site set among woodlands. Other facilities include a fishing platform for disabled users (with a permit), plus accessible toilets. The posts marking the trails indicate the level of accessibility to wheelchairs, and there’s a disabled car park in the centre of the site, which means you can avoid steep downhill paths. Check the accessibility page online for further details.
8. Learn about Welsh traditions in St Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff
Get an insight into Welsh heritage at St Fagans National Musem of History
Set in the parklands around St Fagans castle near Cardiff, this open-air museum brings together more than forty buildings from different historical periods. With livestock on site, as well as farming and craft demonstrations, St Fagans National Museum of History offers an insight into Welsh history and culture.
There is disabled parking by the main entrance, three accessible toilets, and wheelchairs are available to borrow free of charge. There are level pathways through the parkland, though due to the historic nature of the buildings, some have steps. The terrain on the castle side of the museum is steep in places and may be difficult for wheelchair users; a map displaying a flat, accessible path is available.
If you prefer to visit during quieter hours, try to go after 3pm when there are fewer people around.
9. Strike out across the sand in Great Yarmouth
The golden sands of Great Yarmouth
Crossing a beach in a wheelchair isn’t easy, and it’s always good to find places that have installed a walkway to make it a little less taxing. At Great Yarmouth, the tourist office has gone a step further and has two specially designed beach wheelchairs available to use for free. There is an additional beach wheelchair available to hire from Great Yarmouth Sea Life Centre on the seafront.
With large pneumatic (air-filled) wheels, the chairs can cross the sand without getting stuck and are free to hire for up to a day at a time. You’ll need someone to push you though, even if you usually propel yourself, thanks to those inflated wheels. It’s also essential to book ahead, particularly in the summer. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org with Beach Wheelchair Hire in the subject line, and include in the email: the date and time you’d like to use the wheelchair, a contact telephone number, and the beach – Great Yarmouth.
10. Outdoor adventures at Stanwick Lakes, Northamptonshire
From cycling, fishing and birdwatching to adventure playgrounds, barbecue facilities and sculpture walks, there is something for everyone at Stanwick Lakes. Check out the archaeological exhibits in the visitor centre (don’t miss the Roman floor mosaic), get creative with a craft workshop and explore the seven miles of wheelchair-accessible trails. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 10am, staff lead a Health Walk to encourage people to touch the sculptures in the park.
Please note that while all activities are free, you have to pay for parking (there’s no charge for people who walk or cycle into the grounds). The car park has two Blue Badge spaces around ten metres from the main entrance, which has step-free access. There is level access throughout the visitor centre and café, and a lift to reach the mezzanine where two accessible toilets can be found. The rangers’ log cabin and bird hide in the nature reserve are wheelchair-accessible.
The central adventure playground is flat with plenty of benches, though some of the equipment is inaccessible because of sand surfaces. The route around the lake is fairly long but dotted with rest benches and is accessible for manual and powered wheelchairs. Stanwick Lakes can get busy during weekends and school holidays, so visitors with sensory conditions may want to visit early or later in the day and plan accordingly.
For other inspiration on great days out around the UK, see The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain.
What is the Motability Scheme?
The Motability Scheme enables disabled people and their families to access a brand-new car, Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV), scooter or powered wheelchair, by exchanging their mobility allowance to lease the vehicle of their choice. Find out more:
Rough Guides would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs (in order of appearance on the web page):
- Header image: Tate Britain Duveen Galleries © Rikard Osterlund
- Waterside trails © Carsington Water
- Boardwalk to Benar beach in Dyffryn Ardudwy © Ffoto Nant
- Historical aircraft at the Royal Air Force Museum © RAF Cosford
- Insight into Welsh history © St Fagans National Museum of History
- The golden sands of Great Yarmouth © Great Yarmouth Borough Council