Traveling to London with kids can be so much fun. There are so many things to do in London with children, including fabulous free museums, wide open parks to run around, shows to see and London family 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 family trip to London, and so many of our plans to explore all the best parks for kids in London, 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 enjoy the Borough Market, and exploring some of the indoor London attractions for kids, such as the London Sealife Aquarium and the London Transport Museum.
Here we highlight what to do in London with kids.
Hop On-Hop Off Open Top Bus Tour
Taking an open top bus tour is a great way of seeing London for kids, where they can take in all the sights of the 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. I imagine they are all much the same, although The Original Tour provides 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 kids day out in London and is one of the top UK attractions for kids. There are more than 17,000 animals from more than 750 species at London 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 of London Zoo 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. No wonder this is one of the most popular kids activities in London!
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of the best free things to do in London with kids. It holds a special place in many a London kid’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.
One of our best tips 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.
If you’re visiting London with toddlers or very young children, the majority of exhibits will be 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 of the best London museums for kids – 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.
The Science Museum is another of our favourite things to do in London with kids for free. It is worth looking beyond the free exhibitions however as they often have interesting and fun visiting exhibition that are worth paying extra for. 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
Another of our favourite free activities for kids in London is The Diana Memorial Playground, 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. If you’re looking for things to do in London with toddlers, this would be a good option too.
Thames River Cruise
A fun way to visit London with kids is to take a Thames River Cruise. This way you can avoid London’s traffic when sightseeing and take in some of London’s most iconic landmarks in comfort.
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 one of the most iconic things to do in London with family. It 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 30 minutes, 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.
As this is one of the most popular activities in London, it also attracts some of the biggest visitor numbers and the queues here are notorious. You should try to book your tickets online and get there early. For family outings in London I would also advise booking fast track tickets, as we all know queueing for ages with kids can be no fun!
London Sealife Aquarium
There are over 500 species of fish and marine animals at the London Sealife Aquarium, another of the most popular London attractions for children. 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. There’s even 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 one of the best places for kids in London on a rainy day and is also good to combine with a ride on the London Eye, as it is right next-door, and you can get a 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 and is a must-do on a London family vacation. 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, so is a good way to start off a children’s day out in London.
London Transport Museum
I was skeptical when a friend recommended the London Transport Museum as one of the best things to do in London with kids. But as the weather was so abysmal during our visit, any indoor activities for kids in London was welcome, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun we had and would go so far as to say it was one of the best indoor activities for kids in London.
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’. Given how many tiny tots there were here, I would say this has the reputation of being one of the best London museums for toddlers too.
Looking for London tours for kids? We can recommend the London Duck Tour – click here to read all about our experience.
Heading further north? Click here to check out our ideas for fun things to do in Edinburgh!
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