London is a great city to visit with kids. There is so much to do in London with kids, including fabulous free museums, wide open parks to run around, shows to see and visitor attractions galore. We spent nearly a week in London, and for most of it I was sightseeing on my own with the kids – aged 2 and 4.
We were cursed with terrible weather for most of our stay, and so many of our plans to explore the parks, or take a river cruise down to Greenwich and see the Cutty Sark had to be abandoned. But we compensated by taking the kids to see a show at Leicester Square Theatre, taking some extra time to explore the Borough Market, and doing some extra indoor activities such as the London Sealife Aquarium and the London Transport Museum.
Here we highlight ten fun things to do in London with kids.
Hop On-Hop Off Open Top Bus Tour
An open top bus tour is always a good way to take in the sights of a big city, without tiring out little legs. The main tour bus companies in London are The Original Tour, Big Bus London and Golden Tours. All the routes and prices they offer are similar. The ticket price allows you to hop-on and hop-off on any of their buses during the validity of your ticket.
You are provided with headphones, and commentary is available in multiple languages. We ended up choosing Golden Tours, as that was who approached us first – I imagine they are all much the same, although The Original Tour does provide a Kids Activity Pack, and also have a dedicated children’s commentary, which is a nice touch. Kids aged 4 and under travel free.
ZSL London Zoo
London Zoo is a great fun day out for the family. There are more than 17,000 animals from more than 750 species at the zoo, so there is plenty to see. Various talks and feeding times are spaced out throughout the day, so check it all out online before you go to plan your day.
The highlight for us was feeding time at the walk-through Lemur enclosure, where the lemurs happily scurry past you and sit next to you to sunbathe. When the kids tire of looking at animals, there are also bouncy castles, playgrounds and face painting stations, plus a nice grassy area to run around on.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum has a special place in many a child’s heart thanks to its dinosaur gallery, life size blue whale model, and the iconic Diplodocus skeleton that greets you in the Central Hall. There’s a huge amount to take in here – more than 70 million specimens from around the natural world, from rocks to insects, from giant squid to humming birds.
The main advice for the Natural History Museum is to get there early, and make the dinosaur gallery your first stop. We arrived at the museum fifteen minutes before opening time, and although there was already a queue, we entered without having to wait further. Once inside, we made a beeline for the dinosaur gallery, and again did not have to queue. However, by the time we left the dinosaur gallery, there was already a large queue formed.
For small children, the majority of exhibits are a bit beyond their comprehension, so we skipped through the Natural History Museum fairly quickly and tied it in with a stroll through Kensington Gardens and a visit to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground (see below).
Next door to the Natural History Museum is another fantastic free attraction – the Science Museum. The most visited science and technology museum in Europe has over 15,000 objects on display and promises plenty of hands-on fun for kids, as they explore the worlds of Space, Medical History, Energy, Agriculture and much more. Check out real space rockets, sea planes and steam engines, track down a seven-toed cat, and discover how climate change is affecting our planet. If you’re visiting with younger kids, make your way to the Garden in the basement – an interactive zone specially designed for children aged 3-6.
Beyond the free exhibitions, there is also an IMAX theatre showing science-based 3D movies, and flight simulators, where you can discover the thrill of riding with the Red Arrows, or on board an RAF Typhoon jet.
Princess Diana Memorial Playground
The Diana Memorial Playground is a fabulous playground, close to her former home in Kensington Gardens. There’s a sensory trail, teepees, slides, climbing frames, plenty of sand to dig in and water fountains to splash in, and then the centerpiece – a large wooden pirate ship. There’s ample seating for adults, and a café at the entrance serving salads, sandwiches and drinks, including a children’s menu.
Thames River Cruise
The best way to avoid London’s traffic when sightseeing is to take to the Thames. The most popular river cruise company is City Cruises, who have a fleet of boats departing piers at Westminster, London Eye, Tower Pier and Greenwich every thirty minutes. These sightseeing boats have large open-air decks for taking in the sights, and are buggy and wheelchair friendly, with toilet facilities and fully stocked bars. Various sightseeing tickets are available. Under 16s travel half-price, and under 5s go free.
Another option is the Thames Clipper, which runs regular riverboats, calling at piers from Putney to Greenwich. You won’t get a tourist commentary, but you get the same view, although they have less outdoor deck space. You can buy Single, Return or hop-on-hop off tickets valid throughout the day.
The London Eye is the UK’s most popular paid-for attraction, receiving more visitors annually than world famous attractions the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge or even the Great Pyramids of Giza. A ride aboard this iconic structure takes around 30minutes, and gives you the opportunity to take in all the sights of London – on a clear day you can see for 40km – as far as Windsor Castle – from the top.
I was advised to book online before we went, but thanks to a credit card malfunction this wasn’t possible. However, we arrived at the ticket office close to 10am and managed to buy tickets and board the London Eye by around 10.20am – so if you can’t book online, then try to get there early. Fast track tickets are also available if you get there and find the queues too long.
London Sealife Aquarium
There are over 500 species of fish and marine animals at the London Sealife Aquarium. With 14 zones to explore, you will find marine life as diverse as Green Sea Turtles, Sand Tiger Sharks, Sea Dragons, Red Tailed Catfish, Poison Dart Frogs, and even Cuban Crocodiles. And did we mention there’s a face-painting stall? Always a winner.
I will say, having visited many aquariums around the world, the London Aquarium was slightly disappointing, considering the ticket price. However, it is still a good option to combine with a ride on the London Eye, as it is right next-door, and you can get a slightly discounted ticket price if you buy together with your London Eye ticket.
Changing the Guard
Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace is an excellent way to indulge in the pomp and ceremony of the British Royal Family. The ceremony represents the official handing over of duty from the Queens’s Guard (soldier’s guarding the Palace) to the New Guard, who march from Wellington Barracks, accompanied by a military band. All the soldiers dressed in their red coats and bearskin hats, the choreographed nature of the ceremony and the noise of the band make this a fun spectacle, and the kids will love it.
The Changing the Guard ceremony takes place daily at 11.30 from April to July, and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting. The New Guard arrives at around 11.15 and you should try to get there early to beat the crowds and get yourselves in a good viewing position. The ceremony lasts around 45minutes.
London Transport Museum
I was skeptical when a friend recommended the London Transport Museum as a way to entertain the kids in London. But as the weather was so abysmal during our visit, any indoor activity was welcome, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun we had.
There’s plenty of opportunity for hands-on fun, from ‘driving’ a double decker bus, to climbing the stairs of a routemaster, or driving a tube train simulator. A ‘stamper’ trail helps you explore the galleries in order, collecting a stamp at stations along the way – according to my 4-year old, this was the highlight of the museum. End your visit in the All Aboard family play zone, filled with child-sized transport options to climb on and ‘drive’.
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