The 19 best things to do with kids in London
The 19 best things to do with kids in London
London is a dream destination for kids; there is a never ending amount to do and more than enough to keep you all busy and entertained for months.
It goes without saying that London offers a huge amount of iconic attractions that you may well want to tick off your list if this is your first time in the city: the Eye, the Zoo, the Palaces, the museums and the parks would be enough to fill a week in London. There are numerous reviews of these major attractions so we have focused this guide on our own top recommendations if you are in London with children. We’ve also included a range of activities in London for different ages of children, and different price points, including some free activities in London as, there’s no getting away from it, a break in the capital can be quite costly once you factor in days out, meals and accommodation.
Best London museums for kids
London's museums truly are world class and the best thing about them is that they are almost all free! When people refer to the Big Three they usually mean The Natural History Museum; The Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert (V&A), all three are adjacent to each other in West London, a few minutes’ walk from South Kensington tube. All are free, albeit with a suggested donation and, depending on your interests (and attention span) you could easily spend a day in all of them. However, if you were going to choose just one to spend the day at, our recommendation for children is the Natural History Museum: fossils, dinosaurs, space, skeletons, history or creepy crawlies, whatever ignites your kids’ imaginations, this museum has it all. There are wide open spaces and most exhibits have an interactive element. And if you want something a bit special, you can even book to sleepover in the museum and explore what happens in the galleries after dark…
If your kids are a little older then a visit to The British Museum is a must. While younger children might not appreciate the historical significance of, say, the Rosetta Stone, if yours are school age or older, or have done the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans or any Medieval History it is a great opportunity to bring their school work to life, tick off a few homework points, and burn off plenty of energy walking around the galleries. The architecture of all these museums is stunning; they are all really family friendly and there are frequently changing exhibitions and fun trails to help keep even the littlest legs moving.
If you want to get slightly off the beaten track, or your kids have a taste for the macabre, The Clink Prison Museum can be found near London Bridge tube. Probably the oldest prison in England, dating back to 1114, fans of the gruesome and gory will love it.
The best days out for Children in London
You might like to consider pre-booking a couple of cornerstone activities during your trip and leave it loose for the remainder of your stay in London. If so, our recommendations for a great full day experience are these:
KidZania at Westfield London
This is a totally unique attraction at Westfield in West London where kids really do run the world. During a four hour experience, children can choose to either spend or earn a salary of Kidzos (the currency in Kidzania) by taking part in different activities focused on developing real-life skills. Kids can see if they’ve got what it takes to do a range of jobs including firefighter, pilot, dentist or journalist.
Adults are forbidden to enter the activities and are actively encouraged to ‘check in’ older children on arrival. Luckily, Westfield is just next door and so if your kids are aged 8+, why not leave them and enjoy a few hours retail therapy?! If you decide to go in with them, a family of four should expect to pay between £80 and £90 and it is wise to book in advance. Once you’ve finished your slot and your kids have either saved or squandered their Kidzos, you can head to the shopping centre where you can find a head-spinning array of restaurants, shops and cinema and bowling alley which unfortunately don’t accept Kidzos as currency.
Despite the fact it is a little bit outside the city, the Warner Bros Studio Tour is well worth trying to incorporate into your family’s visit to London. Tickets must be purchased in advance but the experience will enchant the whole family. You can visit the sets of the movies, see the special effects that created the on-screen magic and see props and costumes up close. A family of four will cost £140 but children under 4 are free.
A West End show
It’s worth saying at the outset that a West End show is unlikely to be a cheap activity. However, a London show is a bucket list item for any family with a love of theatre. The Lion King, Aladdin, Cats, Matilda, School of Rock and Mamma Mia are, we think, the best for kids and if you want a good view then expect to pay around £100 minimum for the most popular shows. If you can be flexible with dates and times, try to grab some last minute tickets at the box offices or the kids’ weeks schemes have proved a good way to save money, but are, obviously quite popular.
Ever fancied exploring London Zoo after dark? If you want a truly exclusive experience, why not stay over at the Gir Lion Lodge at London Zoo? You’ll stay in a lodge in the grounds of the zoo itself, enjoy a sunset tour, a torchlit tour and an early morning tour which all take place when the Zoo is closed to the public. A family of four could expect to pay in the region of £400, but this is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience.
Taking a boat to Kew Gardens
Who doesn’t love a boat trip? The Thames River Boats sail regularly from Westminster to Hampton Court, the route that British Monarchs throughout history have sailed. Although the boat goes all the way to Hampton Court, the ride from Westminster to Kew is the perfect length for kids, being just 90 minutes long, during which time you will pass under 11 of London’s famous bridges, you can get a great view of London from the River, see loads of sights and, on a sunny day, it beats the train hands down. And at the end is Kew, a wonderful day out for the whole family, even if your kids’ appreciation of horticulture is limited, they will love the palm houses, the tropical nurseries, the cactuses and waterlily houses; there is a road train you can jump on and giant pagoda they will enjoy if they’ve got enough energy to climb the 253 steps! The boat fare is £55 return and entry to Kew is £44, although extra charges do apply for some activities.
Again, this is a full day activity as it’s a little way out of central London, however, there are direct trains from London Waterloo to Hampton Court which take about 35 minutes. You can explore the Palace itself, the Great Hall, the Haunted Gallery and the Tudor kitchens. If your children are interested in history or doing the Tudors at school, it’s a great opportunity to see British history brought to life and learn more about one of our most famous and colourful monarchs, Henry VIII.
Included in the admission price you can join a Welcome tour of the main courtyards led by a guide in period costume. This introduction only takes 30 minutes and so should be brief enough for all but the shortest attention spans. The gardens here are absolutely beautiful and of course include the famous Maze, which was always my personal favourite as a child; there’s also now a fantastic playground in the magic garden, but do check seasonal opening times.
So, you’ve decided on a few must-do activities, or maybe you’ve already ticked some of these off your list? If you want to try something a bit different, here are our favourite things to mix it up during your stay in London. Some of these can be enjoyed in half a day or a few hours, others, you’ll be able to spend most of the day doing, especially if you stop for lunch (or coffees/cakes/snacks which is inevitable with kids in tow).
Best free and cheap things to do for Kids in London
If your kids are a little bit older and can be trusted not to run off in crowds or break everything they touch, then you should all enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of these markets. There is great street food, knick knacks and clothes for them to browse and buy.
Camden Market is in North London and can be reached in a few stops on the northern line, you can easily spend a day wandering the market and locks and trying some street food. Spitalfields is East of Liverpool Street Station and if you do decide to head this way, a visit to Spitalfields City Farm is also a great way to spend half a day and free to get in (although donations are appreciated). The best day to visit Portobello Road market is on a Saturday although it is open on other days (check the website for details)
If the sun is shining then Covent Garden can really offer a full day of entertainment that is very kind on the bank balance. You can wander around the markets and browse the range of unique and colourful shops and stalls, even if you don’t spend too much. However, if your children tire of this, head to the cobbled piazzas, find a sunny spot and let your children watch the street performers. You might get an opera singer one minute, a ventriloquist next, then a juggler or a mime artist. Give your kids a handful of change so they can tip their favourites and you’ll probably get at least an hour of peace and quiet.
Spend a day in the parks
Whatever time of year you’re visiting, London’s parks are spectacularly beautiful. You can easily spend a day in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, both of which cost nothing to enter. If the weather is nice then the Serpentine Lido and paddling pool are open from May to September, you can dip your toes in the Diana Memorial Fountain, or stay (hopefully) dry and hire a rowing boat
The Princess Diana Memorial Playground and Trail is a great way to spend an afternoon, the playground is immense and beautifully designed and will keep toddlers to tweens happy for ages. If the playground is too busy or you fancy a walk, you can follow the Princess Diana Trail which will take in all the highlights of this area.
The Hyde Park Playground is a play area that sits on the southern boundary of Hyde Park along South Carriage Drive. The playground has views over open sports fields, tree lined avenues and the Serpentine, and can often be less busy than the Princess Diana Playground.
Try a Themed Tour: For all but the youngest kids, there is a tour in London that will keep them interested, you can find guides for a whole range of themed tours and, if you go for a walking tour, it will be a great way of wearing them out.
If your children are school age or avid readers then you can explore famous locations immortalised in Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear, Peter Pan, Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes.
Maybe your young ones are glued to their phones? If so, then the Instagram-worthy Brixton Culture and Graffiti or East London Street Art Tours might persuade them to look upwards and get you some cool points to boot.
For nerves of steel then why not try a Jack the Ripper or Krays tour, a Ghost Walk, walking with sharks at the Sea Life Centre or the London Bridge Experience.
Lovers of British Rom Coms will love this three-hour bus tour where you can see locations of films such as Bridget Jones, Love Actually and Notting Hill (yes you can get a photo in front of the blue door!)
If your kids are reasonable walkers most of the walking tours we’ve named will be appropriate for them as they are between 1 and 2 hours long; younger ones can be buggied or put in a backpack, although do check the site or with your tour guide that routes are buggy friendly.
Our favourite tours for kids
Brit Movie Tours: London is one of the most filmed locations in the world and there are hundreds of tours themed around films and TV on offer here. This is a film nerd’s paradise.
http://www.americantourguideinlondon.com/tours/ - while there are a range of different themed tours on offer through this guide, The Supercalifragilistic and the Gunpowder, Treason and Plot tours are, in our opinion the most child friendly.
https://freetoursbyfoot.com/london-tours/tour-calendar/ - this is a great site that offers a packed schedule of tours covering many different interests, however it does operate a ‘pay what you feel’ system, meaning that you probably will want to give something. However, they do, very generously, offer self-guided downloadable tours here https://freetoursbyfoot.com/self-guided-london-tours/
Explore the magic of Chinatown
Just an hour or two walking around this area will be fascinating for kids, especially if (like mine) you don’t live in a city with its own Chinese quarter. For all ages, the colours, sights, sounds and smells should be of interest them and there are multiple perfect photo opportunities for even the most demanding tween. Many Chinese supermarkets will have live seafood and exotic looking fruit and vegetables, and mine love buying funky looking snacks and noodles in boxes at the shops on Gerrard Street that you can eat back at your apartment, making it a good value morning or afternoon well spent as supermarkets tend to be super cheap! If you do fancy eating out here, there are, of course, many restaurants to choose from, not just Chinese but Thai, Korean, Japanese, Burmese and Vietnamese
La Hanoi is a great value, friendly and casual Vietnamese, making it a good choice with kids.
The Four Seasons is a bit more formal and slightly more expensive (although neither will break the bank) and has been a Chinatown stalwart for many years due to the consistently good Cantonese cuisine and professional service.
If you want to spend a bit more, or like a bit of spectacle to accompany your lunch (and let’s face it, who doesn’t’) Olle is a Korean barbecue restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue with barbeques built into your tabletop on which chefs cook your meat to order.
Similarly, Xu is a welcoming and serenely Art Deco interiored Taiwanese restaurant and tea house on Rupert Street. Taiwan is known for its seafood so if this is what you fancy, do consider visiting here as it does do it extremely well. The food is generally very good, although possibly better for slightly older children or adventurous eaters.
Bubblewrap Waffle: these are waffles, but not as you know them. Bubblewrap has taken the humble waffle to the next level of indulgent decadence. Unlike our western shaped waffles these popular Hong Kong street food snacks are hexagonal with round batter pockets, all the better for wrapping and filling with an outrageous selection of fillings and toppings. These taste as good as they look (check out #bubblewrapwaffle need we say more) Your children will either be bouncing off the walls till midnight or crash into a hyperglycemic slump, but either way, after tasting these, flat waffles will be ruined for you forever.
Enjoy a breathtaking panorama at the Sky Garden
The Sky Garden London is London’s highest public garden situated on the 26th-28th storeys of 20 Fenchurch Street AKA The Walkie Talkie. You can book a slot for nothing online to explore the gardens, or you can book a table at one or the several bars and restaurants that share the space.