Five fantastic free things to do in London with kids

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On London Bridge

It’s January and some of us are a bit short of cash (all those presents take it out of you, don’t they?). So, I thought I would try to be useful. Here are 5 great free things to do in London. Save on entrance fees – and treat yourself to a coffee and cake instead….

Please note that, once I started on this post I realised that there are so many brilliant free things to do in London, we are all spoilt for choice. And I haven’t even mentioned the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery which have some wonderful children’s trails and often have workshops for kids too, nor the many city farms including Spitalfields and Kentish Town!

1) The Diana Memorial playground in Hyde Park

London has some absolutely gorgeous parks – perfect for the kids to let off steam. You can enjoy magnificent views from Primrose Hill in North London, or go boating in Regent’s Park (one of my favourites). But if I only had to pick one for families, it would be the Diana playground.

Set up in memory of the former Princess, mother of Princes William and Harry, and located near her home at Kensington Palace, this play area is wonderful, imaginative, clean and fun. Aimed at children under 12, adults are only allowed in if they have a child with them and the masterpiece is the huge wooden pirate ship. Most children love this, enjoying the pulleys and ropes, walkways and more. It’s all lovely and safe, surrounded by sand and has a lovely Peter Pan connection through various scenes from the famous story.

But there is more to it than the ship. There is a giant swing, tunnels, sensory trail and lots of sculptures to discover too. There are also enough toilet facilities, plus nappy-changing and a café. My only warning is that it can get extremely busy.

There is so much to see at the British Museum
There is so much to see at the British Museum

2) Enjoy the museums

This is the most obvious of my suggestions, but it’s still worth emphasising. London has the most fantastic variety of museums and some of the best will cost you absolutely nothing to explore! Most of them also offer children’s trails, activities and even backpacks which contain anything from puzzles to quiz questions and which you can borrow while you find out what’s on offer.

Try the Natural History Museum if you crave some dinosaur action (but note that it is always busy), the Science Museum for hours of experimental fun (you can return to this one over and over again) and the British Museum for ancient Egypt, the Rosetta Stone and more. The Museum of London is a wonderful place to visit, with or without kids, and tends to be a little less busy than the others. There you can find out about anything from the capital in Roman times to the Great Fire. Its partner museum, the Museum of London in Docklands, is another gem, telling you about how important the Thames has been. It also has a lovely “mudlands” kids’ play area.

 

Big Ben
Big Ben is just one of the landmarks you can see while walking around London

3) Take a walk along the South Bank

This is my favourite part of London as it seems to sum up the history, beauty and bustle. I’d recommend that you take the tube or a bus to Westminster, where you can marvel at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, as well as explore Parliament Square and its multitude of statues (including one of Winston Churchill). Then cross the bridge (enjoying the views) and walk down towards the National Theatre (you’re now on the South Bank!). You will pass the London Eye and Aquarium among other attractions, and also come upon various stalls as you make your way towards the Royal Festival Hall. If you want to keep walking, you can continue on past my favourite bridge (Tower Bridge) the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern, all the way to London Bridge and treat yourself at Borough Market. However, if you have young kids, they may not want to go this far! Wherever you end up, you’ll love the views and get a real sense of what this fantastic city has to offer.

4) Somerset House

This beautiful Georgian building – once home to Anne of Denmark, Henrietta Maria and Catherine of Braganza – has a magnificent courtyard and offers some great views of the Thames from its balcony. But it’s particularly worth a visit because of its summer fountains – which your kids will love jumping in and out of, and you might enjoy too – and its winter ice rink.

If you have older kids, you might enjoy one of the free guided tours (check for details, but these are usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays and some Saturdays). For children aged 6-12, there are regular family themed workshops (usually on the first Saturday of the month), with the next one, on Saturday February 7th, all about 3D mapping!

The Tower of London
Visit the Tower of London late in the day and watch history come alive in front of you!

5) The Ceremony of the Keys

If you book this online, it will cost you £1, so it’s not entirely free, but it’s definitely worth it – even if you have to plan your visit in advance. When else do you get to go to a ceremony which has been performed regularly for 700 years?
The ceremony is at 9.30pm each evening, so may not be suitable for very young children, but it will excite most ages. It lasts about 40 minutes and is essentially the formal locking of the gates at the Tower by the Chief Yeoman Warder and his accompanying guards. The same wording is used each night, starting with “Halt, who comes there?” Not to be missed!

We’d also recommend The Changing of the Guard, Kenwood House, some of the London markets (although beware of pester power here) and many more!

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44 Responses

  1. These are great – between Christmas, sales and a looming tax bill, free definitely gets my vote. We’ve managed a trip to the Natural History Museum, I’m already planning the Science Museum later this month, and I think the Museum of London should be on there too.

    I’d definitely agree about the South Bank too, just wandering along there is always a fantastic experience.

  2. Love these ideas, and will definitely be checking out the Tower in the evening. We love the number 15 bus as an almost free treat when we are in London as there are so many exciting places to spot on it’s route between the Tower and Trafalgar Square. Can’t wait for the Shaun the Sheep trail which arrives in the spring and is free!

    • Yes that trail sounds like really good fun. We enjoyed the Gromit one in Bristol a few years back, so we are on for the new one too! Thank you so much for your comment

  3. Great ideas – really must do more of this sort of thing with my children (although not many left!!( Lx

  4. Fabulous list! We completely agree with almost all of the items. Haven’t had the pleasure of the Ceremony of the Keys yet, but will seek it out when next in London. We also listed the Princess Diana playground as our #2 top tip for visiting London with kids on our webpage here: http://exploretheworldwithyourkids.com/london-england/

    Thanks for the excellent post.

  5. We love days out in London, so much fun.

  6. Great ideas – I didn’t know about the Ceremony of the Keys. Tate Modern on the South Bank is fun to whizz around too, and there’s a great view of the Thames from the cafe.

  7. What a great list. I can’t wait to take my children when they are a little older.

  8. We love the Diana memorial playground, such a brilliant place for a run around and great for children of all ages.

  9. I visited London three years ago for the first time in my life and I fell totally in love with it. This year, as my first grandson was born, I was thinking how exiting it will be to go traveling with him, now that I no longer have my own small children. So when I’ve read your post, I realized it will be really instructive to take him on a trip to London when he grows a little bigger. Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions. I’ll keep your post bookmarked.

  10. What great ideas, we always try to pack in as much as possible when we go to London to try to make the most of it and your ideas are perfect for our next trip so thank you for sharing!

  11. I can not wait for the boys to get a little older to do the Ceremony of the keys with them. We love the South Bank and also the museums. In fact we just love London, there is so much for kids to see and do.

  12. Brilliant post! We’re heading to London soon as my partners family lives there and after looking for things to do I was shocked at how much some places cost! I’ll definitely be book marking this post for ideas.

  13. We always enjoy London but it is quite a way for us to travel. A great post of things we can do next time we are there though. Last time we visited the Natural History Museum and the Tower, the children loved it.

  14. I have never been there, but it looks wonderful. It is on our list of places to go!

  15. Great ideas. There are so many free museums and galleries, it’s just about finding them!

  16. I want to take Baby to the Diana Memorial Playground, it sounds lovely x

  17. Some great ideas here. We really want to take our children for a long weekend soon as there is so much to see and do, they would love it!

  18. Oooh, I didn’t know about the mudlands area, so thanks for that! My top tip for the Diana playground is always to go early, when it opens 🙂

  19. Ooh great post, I’m going to bookmark this one! We’ve taken ours to the Science Museum before and they (and we!) totally loved it. x

  20. Oh yes – museums are always a great option… everyone can find something to get exited about in there

  21. Great ideas we are off to London for half term and I will be using these places!

  22. I did the ceremony of keys not long after I moved to London and it was brilliant x

  23. I would love to see the ceremony of the keys

  24. I will remember this for our next trip to London. We were there just before Xmas and the “xmas market” along the South Bank were lovely.

  25. Done all of these – great choices. Well recommended.

  26. Hi Sarah, I just nominated you for the Premio Dardos Award in recognition for your cultural, ethical, literary and personal in your writing..I love following your family adventure stories and find your blog is very inspiring 🙂 http://selimfamily.com/2015/01/26/premio-dardos-award-recognition-of-cultural-ethical-literary-and-personal-in-writing/

  27. Ahhhh, London. What’s not to love. We’re so lucky to be spoilt for choice. The Southbank and Regents Park are my favourite haunts. This year, I have made a promise to myself to make more of an effort to go into town on the weekends. As I commute everday into Waterloo, I sometimes get lazy on my days off! Museums are on my hit list

  28. Ah, I’ll have to pin this post for our future visits to London! I don’t know if we’ll make it there again before my younger decides she’s too old to play on playgrounds, but I’m sure (hope) we’ll get to see the Somerset House and the Tower of London this time, and the National Gallery as well.

  29. These are all places I’d love to see without my kids! The British Museum is one attraction that is certainly on my list of places to visit if and when I ever travel to London.

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