Readers have been asking me for London itineraries for kids, some sort of plan to make best use of limited time in my home city. I can’t really do that, the amount of time you’ll want to spend at each attraction will vary enormously and the ages of your children may limit the amount of pavement pounding you can do.
What I can do is give you a few suggestions, lets start with free things to do in London with kids, ideas for the most mind-blowing and London-y places you can take your young family.
Hopefully all these amazing free things to do will compensate for your hotel expenses.Ouch!
We’ve been travelling full-time with our kids since 2012, London really hurts our wallet, but we can give you a few tips on finding bargains on London accommodation and food, in another post, find then at the end of the page. Let’s go with the free stuff!
Everything in this post is FREE! There is also a book on this topic, if you’d like to dig even deeper. Click on the image to investigate. There is a crazy amount of stuff you can get in this city, from transport to haircuts.
South Kensington Museums.
South Kensington tube station is always insanely busy because this is the jumping off point for the big 3 South Ken museums. The Natural History Museum and The Science Museum are next door to each other, the V&A is over the road. I haven’t been to the V&A in years, only to its spin-off The Museum of Childhood ( on the far side of London at Bethnal Green, too far to include in a short visit) because these two suit my children best.
UPDATE: We spent most of yesterday in the V&A it’s sensational! Post coming.
You could spend days exploring these museums, we go back time after time. But for those of you on a short visit, here are some suggested highlights.
These museums are free, but a small donation would be nice.
The Natural History Museum
Get here before opening time or late in the day. Queues build up for entry, you don’t want to waste your day standing in line. Avoid summer and Christmas school holidays if at all possible. The side entrance ( next to the Science Museum) is sometimes less busy than the front.
Opening time is normally 10am, check their website.
Do Not Miss: The building itself, it’s stunning inside and out, the kids won’t be interested but the grown ups can be impressed. The entrance hall as you go in houses the iconic dinosaur and the statue of Darwin on the steps at the back of the hall. Most children will want to see the free dinosaur exhibit on your left as you go in. It can get incredibly busy, if you have to visit in school holiday weekends, consider booking timed dinosaur exhibit entrance tickets in advance.
When you’re done with dinosaurs, head to the back of the museum for the mammal hall and the life-sized blue whale.
My boys are into arthropods so we head to the right of the main entrance for creepy crawlies. If time is short you can stop there and leave.
Upstairs the earthquake mock-up is popular with kids, as is the giant escalator through planet earth.
The Science Museum
Your problem here will be getting your kids to leave. For that reason I’d be careful about visiting if you’re on a tight schedule. I’ve dedicated a whole post to the Science Museum and its children’s facilities, click-through to have a read.
The Science Museum is next door to the Natural History Museum and is always way less busy. They have an IMAX cinema here ( not free), kids workshops and all manner of special exhibits.
Other Museums and Galleries
London is absolutely stuffed full of museums, most of them free.
The British Museum
This is where you need to come for the Rosetta Stone, mummies and artefacts ancient and modern from all over the world.
The kids’ audio guides are sensational, but unfortunately not free, my boys (8 and 10) lasted 2 hours and covered ancient Egypt, the Americas, Africa and Asia. We’ll be going back for the rest of the tour soon. You can see our post on visiting the British Museum with kids here.
Tottenham Court Road, Holborn or Russel Square are the nearest tube stations, it’s a bit of a walk.
Coram’s fields playground is nearby and is a great place for the kids to play outside, it also houses a few small animals.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery sits at the back of Trafalgar Square and its steps give you the best vantage point for photos of the square. Again, this is free to enter, but a donation is suggested ( no pressure).
You could quickly pop in and out just to see a favourite painting ( we recommend Van Gogh for kids, thanks to his Doctor Who appearance) or you could take a free 1 hour tour starting at 11.30 every day. There are also free drawing groups and family activities on some days.
Kids audio guides are available for a very moderate cost. The guided tours are free. We have a post on The National Gallery with kids here.
The Tate Modern
Is on the South Bank, again, it’s free and fabulous. See our post on the Tate Modern here.
Other Free Museums Worth Visiting
The Museum of London at Canary Wharf is excellent. Housed in an old warehouse building, it’s really atmospheric
If you want a hassle free trip to London, with free admission to over 60 top attractions, consider investing in a London Pass. Pay in advance for your choice of the capital’s prime attractions to help you budget your trip, save time and cut stress. .
London’s Parks and Playgrounds
London is an incredibly green city with endless green spaces, gardens, boating lakes, tame squirrels, ducks, swans and playgrounds. Our personal top recommendations would be:
The Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens. this one is stunning!
Regents Park, for a walk, a play and a glimpse of some of the animals in the zoo.
Hyde Park for Speaker’s Corner, The Serpentine and ultra tame squirrels.
3 years of travel with kids. 3 years of playgrounds, from Bucharest to Battambang ( both were excellent ! ). It’s the best way for them to connect with other kids, we find. We just sit and wait for them to be done. It’s really important for the boys to have their time and not always fit in with what we want to do. #familytravel #travelwithkids #worldschooling #homeschooling #lovelondon
I’ll have to produce a separate post on London’s parks and playgrounds, there are just too many to include here.
Street performers and buskers are always fun for the kids, particularly if they haven’t seen moving statues and levitating Yodas before. The walk from Covent Garden Station down to the actual Covent Garden is always lined by street artists, you’ll find full on performances in and around the market. If you stop to watch a show it’s polite to pay, this is how these guys make a living.
You’ll also find more highbrow singers and musicians performing here most days and the market and shops can be fun for the kids.
There is a Disney store on Covent Garden.
Soldiers, Horses and Palaces
You can walk right past the front of Buckingham Palace. If you’re there at the right time on the right day, you’ll catch the changing of the guard ceremony here. Check this website for times and dates.
Green Park tube station is your best stop for Buckingham Palace, you can walk down through the park to the main gates. Alternatively use St James’s Park, there is a great kids’ playground there.
You can walk down The Mall or through St James’s Park to Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade to see the soldiers on horseback. You’ll catch the changing of the guard here at 10am on weekdays, 11am on Sundays. You’re half way between Trafalgar Square and Westminster here.
For Harry Potter Fans
Platform 9 and 3/4 is at Kings Cross Station. There is a photo opportunity and a shop selling 9 3/4 merchandise unavailable anywhere else. Click through to our post for more details.
Baker St Station has Sherlock Holmes themed times and outside, on the street, you will find a statue of the great detective. If you walk around the corner along Baker St ( towards Regent’s Park) you’ll pass the Sherlock Holmes museum where a police officer in period costume poses for photos.
Get a Photo in a TARDIS
A souvenir shop outside and to the left ( towards Tussauds) of Baker St Station has a life-sized TARDIS. The real Doctor Who exhibition is based in Cardiff and is well worth a visit.
Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear took his name from London’s Paddington Station. It’s worth popping along to see the cute statue of the little bear and his suitcase. There is a Paddington Bear shop too.
Don’t Ever Forget Hamley’s
You totally MUST take your children to Hamley’s, arguably the finest toy shop in the world. It’s on Regent St a short walk from Oxford circus and has 5 floors of the best toys in the world brought to life by lively and fun demonstrators. It’s a very hands-on kind of shop.
Hamleys can get very busy towards Christmas when the window displays put on a fantastic show beneath the Regent St. lights. Arriving for opening time is a fun experience, they put on a bit of a show with a Disney-esque “rope drop”.
If you carry on walking along Regent St you come to Piccadilly circus and can walk on to Leicester Square and Covent Garden.
My kids were totally unimpressed with Harrods, other than the confectionary department. Harrods has the most impressive selection of chocolate and sweets you will ever see, the cakes are pretty splendid too. We had a few free tasters but ended up spending a lot on knock-out chocolate.
The M&Ms Store
London’s M&Ms store is on Leicester Square. I think it’s bigger than the New York one, it’s certainly newer, but they’re not so free and easy with handing out the free chocolates.
The South Bank
The South Bank of the Thames is a lovely spot for a walk with views of the river, the houses of Parliament and London’s most famous bridges. If you can walk all the way from Tower Bridge to Big Ben’s tower with the kids, you’re doing well.
Along the way you’ll pass some great spots to play, there is a cool adventure playground right behind The London Eye ( one of our favourite attractions, but far from free), looking up at this awesome construction is pretty cool too. For Doctor Who fans, it was a giant transmitter in Rose Tyler’s first episode, they’ll be pleased to see it in real life.
The Shard, featured in a Matt Smith episode, is on this side of the river too, but best viewed from the other bank. Sadly, they charge for admission.
There is a sand play area near London’s “beach” down towards Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. There is usually a guy down there making sand sculptures, low tide only of course! You’ll also walk past The Clink Prison Museum, The Golden Hind and maybe end up at foodie favourite, Borough Market, a great place to grab some lunch.
Look out for the RSPB stand outside the Tate Modern, they were there all last summer helping us to spot the Peregrine Falcons through super powered telescopes.
There is a lot of crazyness in Camden, it’s great for grown ups but small children may find the crowds and bustle overwhelming. If you can get to Camden on a quiet day it’s lovely down by the canal, a great spot to watch the narrow boats navigating the lock. See our post “one day in London” for more on this area.
Richmond Park is a fair way out of central London, around 45 mins on the District Line from the middle of town.
I include it because your kids will probably never get a better chance to get up close and personal with red and fallow deer. We live out here, we go for a walk in the park most weeks, Richmond itself is a stunning spot on the Thames, it’s well worth making the trip and strolling along the Thames. You’ll be bumping into celebrities constantly, everyone lives out here, darling.
Again, Greenwich is a bit of a trek to get to, but it really deserves a look for it’s maritime history.
The Maritime Museum is free, as is the walk up to the observatory to see the marker for the prime meridian. You can also walk under the Thames in a pedestrian tunnel here. The Cutty Sark is magnificent and an amazing interactive exploration for the kids, but there is a charge. You can see it from outside, for free, it’s imposing and magnificent.
You can’t feed the pigeons these days, but you can climb on the lions, my boys love that. If your children have the book Katy in London ( or the new Katie’s London Christmas), they’ll know all about the lions’ magic powers.
I believe you can still splash in the fountains on hot summer days, but you’d better check that one with the local constabulary. You can also see this large blue chicken on one of the plinths at the moment. The art displays here change fairly regularly.
Other Free Events and Attractions for Kids in London
You’ll need to check current events at the time of your visit, there is always something going on in London and events are extremely well done. I’m working on a list of websites for you.
We’re Big on Books Here, Some London Kids’ Books Recommendations!
Don’t Forget Your London Guide Book
And the London guide book for kids ( we own this one, it’s great!)