Play England defines free play as “…children choosing what they want to do, how they want to do it and when they want to stop and try something else.” This kind of play is good for both children and their parents, and when you’re travelling with young children, free play can help them unwind and settle into their new environment. But big cities don’t often have many places where children can just kick back and play free.
We’re lucky here in London. There are plenty of spaces where children can play unrestricted – all very close to central hotels, so you don’t have to travel too far. Here are a few of our favourite London spots for free play. They’re all completely free to enter. And if you’re on a budget and looking for deals on places to stay in London, do check out the Groupon Travelodge page.
Do you know of any more London spaces for free play? Please tell us your favourites in the comments below.
Coram’s Fields opened over eighty years ago, on the site of a foundling hospital established by philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram. Its seven acres, in historic Bloomsbury, not far from the British Museum, include children’s playgrounds, sand pits, a duck pond, a pets corner and a café. The adventure play area features a zip wire, a witch’s hat swing, a sensory and music area and one of the largest slides in town. Like all playgrounds, you do need to keep an eye on your children. But no adult is allowed into Coram’s Fields unless they’re accompanying someone under 16. So it’s pretty safe for youngsters to roam about and play unrestricted.
Coram’s Fields is at 93 Guilford Street, London, WC1N 1DN. The nearest buses are the 17, 45, & 46 at Gray’s Inn Road or the 7, 59, 68, 91, 168 & 188 at Russell Square. The nearest tubes are Russell Square, Kings Cross St Pancras & Holborn or Chancery Lane. Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston train stations are all within walking distance. There is no car parking on site and metred parking in the area costs around £4p/hr.
London’s Southbank is a treasure trove of family entertainment. The London Eye, Shrek’s Adventure and the London Aquarium line up along this bit of the Thames, all within a stone’s throw of each other. A few minutes’ walk away is the Southbank centre, which regularly holds seasonal family-friendly festivals like Imagine Children’s Festival in February, and Wonderground in summer, with talented buskers, a colourful carousel and other fairground rides. In amongst all this excitement, Jubilee Gardens is a small, pretty, landscaped park with 96 trees and a playground for 3-11 year olds. It opened in 2012 to celebrate HRH Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. With rope bridges, wooden swings and giant stepping stones, it’s a good place to let children unleash their imaginations. You’ll need to supervise them, but you can do it safely from one of the Gardens’ benches.
Jubilee Gardens is at Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1. It’s opposite the Houses of Parliament and next to the London Eye. The Gardens are within easy walking distance from several London Underground stations: Waterloo, Embankment, Charing Cross, Blackfriars and Westminster. The closest rail stations are Waterloo, Waterloo East, Charing Cross and Blackfriars. As well as meter bays located around the streets of South Bank there are also a number of car parks including the Hayward Gallery Car Park, National Theatre Car Park and The Union Car Park.
AHOY! and All Hands Galleries, National Maritime Museum
Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum is the largest maritime collection in the UK, and possibly even the world. You can find yourself gazing for hours at intricate ships in bottles, nautical costumes with ornate, glistening buttons (including the uniform Nelson wore at the Battle of Trafalgar), and splendid artworks by JMW Turner and others. For the under-7s, the Ahoy! Gallery is an immersive space where they can dress up in sailor’s garb, stoke the boiler of a steamship, land a fish or tend ships in the interactive boatyard. For 6-12 year olds, the All Hands Gallery is a space where children can help prepare food in the ship’s galley, or load cargo in the port, as well as shoot down pirate ships in an interactive game.
The National Maritime Museum is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich group, so if you wanted to explore more of this corner of London, there’s the Cutty Sark, the Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory, home of the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time.
The National Maritime Museum is at Romney Road, Greenwich SE10 9NF. The nearest stations are Cutty Sark DLR, Greenwich rail station and Maze Hill rail station, or Greenwich Pier, where Thames Clippers, City Cruises and Thames River Services run regular boat journeys to and from central London.
Diana Memorial Playground at Hyde Park
Hyde Park is a huge green space in the centre of London. It covers 350 acres, so visitors with children would be wise to pick their section and head there on public transport, otherwise you may find yourself with a long march. In the warmer months families can go boating on the Serpentine lake, and try out the new solarshuttle, which glides along powered only by the sun. Knightsbridge or Hyde Park Corner are the best tube stations for reaching the jetty.
For free play, the Diana Memorial Playground i s a space where children can go wild. Queensway is the closest station. This Peter Pan-inspired playspace features a sensory trail, teepees, a pirate ship with beach and many climbing frames. Only adults supervising children up to the age of 12 are allowed in, and children aren’t allowed to enter or leave the playground without an adult carer. On hot days, especially in the summer holidays, visitors sometimes have to queue to enter the playground.
The postcode for the park is W2 2UH, but this is for guidance only as the park covers a large area. The tube stations on the edge of Hyde Park are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge.
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This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.