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My City (with kids!) – London
London is one of the most iconic cities in the world. It’s big, fast-paced and exciting and it’s a great place to be young, free and single. But is London good for kids? We say absolutely it is for one simple reason. There’s an extraordinary number of things for kids to see and do in London. And the best part? Many of these things to do in London with kids are free!
London is a big city. Huge in fact. You’ll want to see and do as much as you can. Understandably, it can feel a bit overwhelming when you’re planning your trip, so we’ve come up with the very best things to do in London with kids to help with your planning and make sure that you have the most memorable time.
Whether you have a budding historian, a Harry Potter fan or a London bus spotter, you’ll find something in London to keep them happy. So, where do you start?
It can seem overwhelming to know what to visit first, and it can definitely be expensive. But with so much to do, it’s also a fantastic place to visit with kids; there is always something everyone will enjoy plus some fantastic things to do for free.
Here are some tips on things to do with kids in London…
The most iconic sights in London
London is incredibly rich in history with many iconic sights. This is the reason so many people come to visit. The most famous of these landmarks are Big Ben (or more accurately the Elizabeth Tower) & Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge (not to be confused with London Bridge) and Buckingham Palace.
When we visit London, we like to pick a main sight and then walk around the area. Walking is really the best way to get to know a city. There are so many hidden gems to discover when you’re on foot, like cool street art, and you can mix it up a with a bit of bus travel if the kids get tired.
You can take a tour around all of them except for Big Ben (unless you are a UK citizen and you write to your MP well in advance to arrange it). It’s always best to book your tickets in advance for the popular attractions.
You can’t miss getting a taste of some of the country’s royal history and traditions while you visit. My favourite is the Tower of London, a fortress that still dominates the river and which dates back around 950 years.
There really is nowhere else like it – a royal palace, but also a feared prison, once home to the king’s private zoo and now to ravens (who have to stay put, otherwise legend says the disaster will befall the Crown), there are centuries of history to explore as well as the Crown Jewels to see.
Even if your kids aren’t usually into history, having the ‘beefeaters’ as the ceremonial guard are called – all retired and decorated soldiers in their eye-catching red and gold uniforms – is something rather different from your average tour guide. There are also family trails, regular exhibitions and lots of room to run around.
Explore the Queen’s own home (well, one of them) at Buckingham Palace. The state rooms are open during the summer and selected dates throughout the year, although this is better with older children. If you don’t plan on touring Buckingham Palace, it’s still worth going to see the Changing of the Guards which takes place at 10.45 am each day (with the handover at 11 am). It won’t take place in really bad weather, but a little London drizzle never hurt anyone!
With older kids, you can get some of the best views from the Mall (but turn up early) or head to Wellington Barracks beforehand to see the guards being inspected and the music starting. It’s easier to get a peek with little ones who won’t want to wait for ages or be able to see over the crowds.
Head west, beyond central London, to Hampton Court Palace which is fantastic for all ages, with special trails, gardens and a maze, plus play areas. You can even dress up in velvet robes…
Best kid-friendly London attractions to visit in good weather
Despite being a major city, with millions of people crammed in, London is surprisingly green. And when the sun shines, it’s easy to step away from the bustle, the traffic and all those people and enjoy the parks.
Best parks to explore in London with kids
Despite being one of the biggest cities in the world, London has a surprisingly large amount of green space which is another reason that it’s great to visit with kids. A lot of these parks have playgrounds which are handy for breaking up the sightseeing. If you’re visiting London on a budget (and weather permitting), you can also enjoy a picnic in a park.
Each park has its own character.
Hyde Park is the largest and most famous park. Home to the Serpentine Lake, there is plenty of space to run around. You may want to check out their concert schedule as there is usually something going on in the summer. In the winter, it’s home to Winter Wonderland.
Our favourites are Regent’s Park has an open-air theatre, 4 great playgrounds, beautifully manicured gardens and London Zoo, while Kensington Gardens has the Diana memorial playground. It is quite simply a magical place for the kids to explore. If you go to St James’s Park at 2pm, you can see pelicans being fed.
Other great parks around London are Hampstead Heath (for beautiful views over London from Parliament Hill), Richmond Park (where you can sometimes spot the famous red stags).
Across the river is Greenwich Park (where you can step over the Meridian Line and have great views of London), Battersea Park with its own small zoo, Go Ape high ropes course in the trees and Buddhist temple
There are little parks such as Coram’s Fields, which you can only enter if you have kids with you, and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, where you could easily spend a day (or more) exploring.
Best London Squares
In addition to the big parks, there are lots of small squares in central London. These are great if you want to have a break from the hustle and bustle and are not near the larger parks. They don’t have playgrounds but they do have park benches for a quick rest and space for a picnic. The best ones are Lincoln Inn Fields, St James’s Square, Russell Square and Berkeley Square. If you happen to be in London on the weekend of 6-7th June 2020, there is an Open Garden Squares Weekend and you’ll be able to buy tickets to visit some of the private garden squares in London.
Best London splash parks
If you’re visiting London on a hot day (yes, it does occasionally happen!), you might want to take a break from sightseeing and check out a water feature. If you are planning on doing this, it’s advisable to pack some swimmers and a towel but if it’s a spur of the moment thing, pants do just fine (for little ones!)
Our recommendations are the recently regenerated Kings Cross area at Granary square, the Diana Memorial playground, the Southbank (opposite the Hayward Gallery), Somerset House or the large paddling pool at Coram’s Fields.
Or wander along the Thames path – you could walk for miles through London but one of my favourite sections takes you from Westminster and the houses of Parliament/ Big Ben, past the London Eye, and along the Southbank to the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and Borough Market.
Best museums to visit in London with kids
London’s museums are world class – and even better, most of them are completely free unless you visit one of the special exhibitions. The Natural History Museum and Science Museum are fabulous for younger kids, but there are also family-friendly activities at the Victoria & Albert Museum and British Museum, plus the National Gallery and the Tate Modern.
You may not think that museums are a great place to take kids, but gone are the days of boring, stuffy exhibits gathering dust. Each of these museums have plenty of fun activities for the whole family.
The Natural History museum has a great dinosaur section which is what we always head for first. The fun activities they offer for families are mostly run at weekends and during school holidays. Did you know that you can recreate the Night at the Museum movie? The whole family can have a sleepover and explore the museum by torchlight at night.
The Science Museum is right next door to the Natural History museum and is a must see for inquisitive minds. There are a whole host of fun and interactive family activities. It’s home to the Apollo 10 command capsule, an IMAX theatre and a flight simulator.
You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy a visit to the British Museum, although you may come out being one. The entrance hall (the Great Court) is worth a visit itself as it’s so impressive but they also have an extensive collection of artefacts, including Egyptian mummies. They have introduced digital exploration of the museum for kids and there are free workshops like ‘Building Roman Britain in Minecraft’ and making mosaic masks.
The London Transport Museum is perfect for littler ones who love different vehicles but also anyone who fancies driving an underground train (simulator only), while the recently opened Postal Museum has kids’ play area and a restored mail rail train to ride.
We also recommend the Tate Modern, the Imperial War Museum and the RAF Museum (slightly out of the centre of London).
London local insider tip: Take a London Bus
Open topped buses can be very fun, but if you’re not too fussed about the commentary (and younger kids often aren’t), then riding London’s red double-decker buses means you can see some of the same sights for much less and tick off another iconic London highlight.
With any visit to a new city, we like to start with a bus tour of some form to get our bearings. The great thing about London is that there are a few public bus routes that will take you past some of the most iconic sights in London. Make sure you sit up top on the double decker bus (iconic in its own way) for the best views.
The best routes are 73, 11 and 24 and they will take you past Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral and more. You can find the exact London bus routes here.
You can treat them like a hop on / hop off bus tour without the commentary. Just bring your own guidebook along. A single fare is £1.50 and you can take an unlimited number of buses within one hour of paying. A whole day of bus travel is capped at £4.50 making it a really cheap and easy way to get around. Children under 11 are free and you can check other London bus fares here, including weekly passes.
Once you have your bearings, you can start getting to know London a little better.
Kids under 10 travel free while children aged 11-15 can get Young Visitor discounts on an adult’s Oyster card for travel on bus and tube. Route 9 takes you from Trafalgar Square to the South Kensington museums, no 11 goes past Westminster Abbey and Horseguards Parade, while 15 takes you past St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.
Even better, take a walk through the city. As well as my favourite stretch along the Thames, don’t miss the oldest streets in the City of London where you can see the Monument to the Great Fire, ancient guild buildings, St Paul’s Cathedral and endless old streets.
Pick up a treasure trail with several set in the City, including murder mystery and spy versions, so you don’t miss a single detail. These are a lovely way to explore with kids and easier than just going for a walk sometimes. I’ve done quite a few with my daughter.
The best day trip from London for the whole family
There’s plenty to keep everyone entertained in London, but sticking right in the centre misses some of the best bits. One of my favourite days out, especially on a sunny day, is to take a boat along the river to Greenwich.
Hop off and you can explore the Cutty Sark, a historic tea clipper ship with exhibits throughout on life aboard and the routes she sailed. But there are also more museums, including the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum, you can see the prime meridian used as the basis for navigation and time, and wander the stalls in Greenwich market, which is open every day.
The 02 Arena is also nearby, with exhibitions as well as restaurants, concerts and events such as Disney on Ice.
The best food to try in London with kids
Honestly you could get any kind of cuisine you want in London, and kids are far more likely to want pizza.. but try to encourage them to try a few traditional British foods like fish and chips or afternoon tea!
The best way to get around in London with kids
The tube means you can get to most places relatively easily, plus it’s a novelty for most kids to ride on an underground train!
Best attractions to visit in London with kids
Although there are many things to do in London for free, there are also some very pricey (but quite cool) attractions. If you’re going to visit these, you can look out for offers online and book in advance to try to keep the price down. If there’s a London show you want to see during August, try to grab free child tickets in Kids Week. It may be worth getting a Merlin’s Magical London Pass if you’re planning on doing more than one of their attractions. If you’re travelling into London by train, look out for 2 for 1 offers in London.
We recommend the London Eye (for spectacular views over London), Madam Tussauds (for incredibly realistic waxworks), Harry Potter studio tour (failing that you can visit Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross station) and the Tower of London (for the Crown Jewels and other Royal history).
Finally, your trip to London with kids would not be complete without a visit to Hamleys. This comes with a big disclaimer that this may be the most expensive part of your London trip!