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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!