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There are plenty of alternative ways to celebrate your kid’s birthday without throwing a party. This list of fun birthday party alternatives could save you money and keep your stress levels down.
PARTIES AREN’T THE ONLY WAY TO CELEBRATE A KID’S BIRTHDAY
Whilst most kids love having a birthday party, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that most parents find hosting parties both stressful and costly, which somewhat reduces the enjoyment factor!
And to circle back, whilst lots of kids love having a birthday party, plenty of kids do not enjoy having a party thrown for them. Or sometimes they aren’t in the mood for a party that year.
Saving money can be a big factor in deciding not to have a party. But cost doesn’t have to be a factor. For example, you may fancy doing something completely different for one year, not have time to organise a party or can’t face the stress of it.
My favourite birthday celebration for my daughter was taking her and a handful of friends to Build-A-Bear and then for a pizza. It was such a laid-back day. My kids, husband, and I were super relaxed, and I felt involved in the celebration rather than just hosting and facilitating it.
The good news is that you don’t have to throw a party to celebrate. There are still plenty of ways to make your child’s birthday special.
Whether this is something you talk over and plan with your child or organise as a birthday surprise, here is a list of ideas for alternative ways to celebrate that ensure the birthday boy or girl has an amazing and memorable time.
24 BIRTHDAY PARTY ALTERNATIVES FOR KIDS: FUN IDEAS FOR CELEBRATING WITHOUT A PARTY
Browse this list of fun activities, day trips and other special excursions that make great alternatives to birthday parties for kids, from babies to toddlers to tweens and teens.
1. SHOPPING TRIP – THIS IS BETTER THAN IT SOUNDS!!
This is particularly good for tweens and teens. It kills two birds with one stone – buying stuff for teens is HARD to get right, so make a celebration out of shopping for their birthday gifts. Instead, include lunch or dinner somewhere. Many restaurants will do a special something with dessert to help celebrate a birthday.
2. DINNER SOMEWHERE FANCY
This is awfully grown up, but why not?! Find a restaurant that specialises in their favourite food, or somewhere a little more special than where you usually go for lunch or dinner as a family.
3. FAMILY CAMPING TRIP
Take the family on a camping weekend for a special birthday celebration. Splash out on extra delicious food to cook over the campfire. Perhaps make birthday S’mores instead of birthday cake. Family camping trips are a perfect way to get quality time and reconnect to the great outdoors.
4. GO TO A FESTIVAL
Speaking of camping, how about booking a family-friendly festival by way of celebration? This is perfect for summer birthdays. Latitude and Camp Bestival are both hugely popular family-friendly UK festivals.
5. HAVE A CITY DAY
Go to your nearest major city and visit a museum, art gallery or kid-friendly attraction. We took our daughter to London Zoo for her second birthday, invited her aunt and cousin along, and all had a super time.
6. GO TO THE SEASIDE/COAST
How about a day beside the seaside? Eat fish and chips, go on the amusements and even pop into an arcade to try and nudge some ten-pence pieces off their shelf!
7. FLY OFF ON A MINI BREAK
Fly off to another part of the country or abroad for a mini break. Ask the pilot to make a birthday mention on the flight (try your luck for an upgrade!!). This is a great way to combine a family holiday and a birthday celebration and save money overall.
Related: How to pack for a family holiday
8. COINCIDE THE MAIN FAMILY VACATION WITH A BIRTHDAY
Now, this is something I tend to do each year for my husband’s summer month birthday. Once on holiday, you can make the birthday special with an extra fancy outing, dinner at a fancy restaurant or even spa treatments for teens.
If you’re going to the US, perhaps you could combine a trip to Disneyworld or Disneyland into a holiday as a birthday celebration.
9. PICNIC IN THE PARK
Please keep it simple and gather friends for a picnic in the park. Ask everyone to bring their own picnic food, then provide special drinks and a birthday cake for a special touch.
10. HOST A SLEEPOVER
Sleepovers come in various shapes and sizes. They can be full-blown parties in themselves or low-key with just a handful of friends, a movie to watch, some fun food and the simple enjoyment of getting to sleepover together.
Related: Snacks that are perfect for sleepovers
11. GO TO THE MOVIES
Seek an age-appropriate movie at your local, major, or luxury cinema. 12 and 13-year-olds will love the novelty of going to the cinema without their parents in tow, so drop them off, load them up with pick n mix and arrange to meet them at the cinema when the movie finishes.
12. HAVE A FAMILY GET TOGETHER
Ok, this is verging on having a party, but it can be as simple as gathering your nearest and dearest for finger food and drinks. No need for fancy party decorations, party bags or party games, just a chance for cousins to hang out and aunts, uncles and grandparents to catch up… and sing happy birthday to the birthday boy or girl.
13. HAVE A ‘YES’ DAY
How about having a ‘yes’ day? It’s a day when parents have to say ‘yes’ to everything (within reason!). Here’s a great post with 40 ‘yes’ day ideas. Set a maximum budget and be clear on ground rules (also in the linked post).
14. GO TO A SPORTING EVENT
Is your child a football or basketball fan? Do they love athletics? How about planning a special trip to a big sporting event? The atmosphere at big sporting events is often electric. If you plan ahead, you might even get a special half-time birthday mention for them.
15. SEE THEIR FAVOURITE MUSIC ARTIST IN CONCERT
This is one of my favourite alternatives to throwing a party. Tickets to big-name music artists’ concerts are hugely expensive, so this is a great way to give your child an extra special birthday treat. Out of the goodness of my heart, I am taking my daughter to see someone called Harry Styles this summer. I, I mean she, cannot wait.
16. VISIT AN AMUSEMENT PARK
Amusement parks are another expensive day out that can be hard to justify. So visit a birthday celebration and come out feeling like you’ve saved money on having a party rather than like you’ve paid through the nose for a day of queuing and the occasional ride.
17. GO TO THE THEATRE
How about booking a trip to the theatre? For example, if you’re within striking distance of a major city like London or New York, you could pick a major musical or theatre production. Theatre tickets for major shows are expensive, so this is a great way to take in some culture and celebrate simultaneously.
18. GO TO THE ZOO OR A WILDLIFE PARK
What about a trip to the zoo or to a wildlife park? Both zoos and wildlife parks make great days out. Make sure you choose one with a good track record for conservation and looks after the animals.
Some zoos and wildlife parks have overnight accommodation if you want to get fancy. For example, we had an amazing stay in a shepherd hut at Port Lympne Safari Park a few years back.
19. TRY AN ESCAPE ROOM
Escape rooms are hugely popular at the moment. They are a great family bonding experience as you combine your witts with working out how to escape.
20. BOWLING ALLEY
Who doesn’t love pretending they’re a rival to The Big Lebowsky at their local bowling alley? Lots of bowling alleys now offer upgrades on their basic bowling lanes, and there are even some fancy bowling alleys like All-Star Lanes in London.
21. MINI GOLF OR CRAZY GOLF
How about a family mini-golf or a crazy golf tournament? There are more and more crazy golf places springing up in the UK. It’s a fun alternative to going bowling. You could add to the day by celebrating the birthday child and the tournament winner with dinner afterwards.
22. DO SOMETHING SWEET AT A DESSERT BAR
Dessert bars and ice cream parlours continue to be a growing trend in the UK. They make a great venue for a birthday celebration, perhaps for a small after-school gathering or a family outing.
23. TAKE IN A STUDIO TOUR OR TV EXPERIENCE
Studio tours are a great way to see behind-the-scenes of some of the biggest movies in the world. The Harry Potter studio tour is brilliant.
We took our daughter for her 6th birthday, and the tour kicked off with her being allowed to open the doors into the great hall for the tour we were on because it was her birthday celebration.
If you are in the States, you could try the Paramount Studio tour – we did this a few years back and loved it. Then there’s Universal, Sony, Warner Brothers, or how about The Friends Experience if you’re close to New York?
We went to the Stranger Things Experience in London in 2022, which was beyond epic. It is currently touring the world, so check and see if it is somewhere you can get to.
24. ORDER TAKEAWAY/TAKEOUT
How about keeping things simple and ordering your child’s favourite takeaway/takeout food? Nobody has to cook, and everyone can eat delicious food and relax. Combine it with watching a movie and having a chilled evening.
GREAT REASONS NOT TO HAVE A BIRTHDAY PARTY
When you become a parent, it feels like throwing epic birthday parties for your child/children is a necessity of parenting.
It is all very exciting planning that first birthday party – or at least the idea of it is, but the reality can be somewhat less than exciting!!
The early years can often mean having to throw parties that include every child at nursery or school, which not only means you have a social calendar that is decidedly underwhelming if you are over the age of five but also means that you end up having to host one of these super-sized parties.
Often, these parties are the least exciting as a parent, they are the parties you spend ages planning and preparing for, and then they are seemingly over in a flash, and you were so busy hosting that you didn’t even get to enjoy the celebrations.
Ok, so that is a bit of a doom and gloom take, I have loved making special parties for my daughter, but I just wanted to acknowledge that it isn’t always a party for the parents!!
But with the downsides in mind, I thought I’d draw up a quick list of reasons why it can be good not to throw a birthday party for your child’s birthday:
- Your child is so young they won’t know what’s going on (hello, parents of 1 and 2-year-olds)
- Your child is shy and doesn’t enjoy being the centre of attention
- Your child is neurodivergent and doesn’t enjoy party atmospheres
- It would be best if you cut back on spending
- You could do without the stress of organising a party
- You don’t have time to arrange a fancy party
- You fancy doing something different this year
- You want to be in the moment and enjoy celebrating with your child
- You’re sick of keeping up with the Jones’ (Kardashians) and can’t be arsed to find the ultimate party entertainer and Instagram-worthy birthday cake.
- You are SO over stuffing party bags and coming up with clever ideas for what to stuff them with
- You feel nauseous at the number of gifts your child ends up with when they have a party for 30 classmates. It all feels so unnecessary.
HOW TO GET YOUR CHILD’S BUY-IN TO NOT HAVING A PARTY
So, you may be set on skipping the party this year, but what about if your child eagerly awaits their annual version of the Met Gala? How do you avoid disappointing them?
As with most things in life, planning is everything. Get them involved in the planning process (unless you are planning a surprise), and give them options. Ask them what their dream birthday celebration would be.
Reassure them that there will still be a birthday cake, candles, and singing happy birthday. This is their day, and you will make sure it is special.
Explain to them that a special treat or trip is a great way to celebrate as a family and how wonderful that is.
If you will avoid having a party because of money worries or other stresses, try to deliver the news in an age-appropriate way. Don’t burden young kids with money worries and other pressures, and tell older kids on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. Accentuate the positive.
BYE BYE BIRTHDAY PARTY HELLO, BIRTHDAY FUN
In reality, throwing a birthday party for your child isn’t always necessary. There are plenty of alternatives that can end up being more memorable and more fun.
Whether you plan a special treat or trip or organise to do something special at home, the important thing is to focus on making your child feel special on their special day so that you can enjoy their birthday as a family.
Good luck making birthday memories that last a lifetime for your child and yourself.
Luci is the founder of Mums Make Lists. She has written about all aspects of organising family life for ten years. Her main areas of expertise are family finance and budgeting, simplifying housekeeping and family admin and kids’ party planning. Read more.