If you’re heading to London with kids, something you should consider is going to see one of the excellent London shows for kids. There’s such a wide variety here in the UK capital, from elaborate musicals for kids to simple, engaging performances that tiny tots will love. Here are some of our favourite theatres for kids in London, for you to bookmark. Don’t forget to check the listings of these London family theatres when you visit our home town!
This post contains affiliate links, where I may make a small amount of commission if you click through and make a purchase. We were offered review tickets to some of the performances mentioned.
For reviews of children’s shows in London, and other ideas about things to do in London, check out our London section.
Where children are the focus: theatres for kids
We’re lucky enough to have some theatres just for kids in London. These venues only show performances aimed at children.
The Unicorn Theatre is a purpose-built children’s theatre in an airy brick building close to London Bridge. The Unicorn Theatre presents about twenty performances a year, and there’s plenty of variety. It caters well for all ages, from teenagers down to the very youngest audience members. I took Gwen and Austin there to see Gwen’s first ever theatre shows, Sensacional, a spectacle of sound, light and movement for under-3s, and a baby-friendly performance of David McKee’s Not Now Bernard. The Unicorn Theatre often has kids’ activities in its foyer during school holidays, so look out for these extra activities.
Unicorn Theatre address: 147 Tooley St, London SE1 2HZ
The Polka Theatre, the oldest theatre in the UK dedicated to performances for children, first opened its doors in the west London district of Wimbledon in 1979. It’s always been a welcoming, friendly space and now it’s going through a major refurbishment to extend the cafe and theatre space, as well as modernise the central areas. We’ve loved travelling there to see performances like Michael Morpurgo’s I Believe in Unicorns, and Moominsummer Madness, a puppet show based on Tove Janssen’s classic. We’re looking forward to find out what the new space will be like, in Autumn 2020.
Polka Theatre address: 240 The Broadway, Wimbledon, London SW19 1SB
Little Angel Theatre
The Little Angel Theatre is a cosy venue tucked away behind one of Islington’s busy streets. It has been an internationally renowned puppetry centre for over 50 years, and all of its performances are puppet-based. So although it’s not specifically a theatre for kids, the overwhelming majority of its performances are designed for a young audience. As well as shows, there are family activities like Saturday Puppet Club and Crafty Kids Club. We went to see a heartwarming adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s Paper Dolls at the Little Angel Theatre – a performance that made a big impression on my young daughter.
Little Angel Theatre address: 14 Dagmar Passage, London N1 2DN
Discover Children’s Story Centre
At Discover Children’s Story Centre, in Stratford, East London, you’ll find a twinkly-lit magic forest, an alien story sorting office, and a frosty playground, complete with penguins. In the world of Discover, it all feel perfectly normal. A multi-sensory space rather than a theatre, Discover hosts storytelling sessions, immersive exhibitions based around children’s books (we visited an excellent one based around the zany world of Dr Seuss), and the occasional theatre performance. The House Where Winter Lives by theatrical trailblazers Punchdrunk, and Once There Was, based on a book by Nick Butterworth, were shows at Discover that we enjoyed very much.
Discover Children’s Story Centre address: 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London E15 4QZ
Shows in London that won’t break the bank: London theatres outside the West End
Children’s shows in London are rarely going to be dirt cheap, but you can avoid paying West End prices if you look at theatres outside the area around Charing Cross and Covent Garden. These excellent theatres all host excellent family shows, some of which premiered in the West End. Most of them offer tickets at a fraction of West End prices.
The Albany Deptford
The Albany is a small community theatre in Deptford, south-east London. Although you’re not always guaranteed to find a family performance there, during the school holidays there’s usually a strong selection of visiting shows. These are often world-class, like the excellent adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ The Bear, whose puppetry drew parallels with War Horse from the critics, or Mad Blood Stirring’s cutting edge version of Romeo and Juliet, aimed at 9-13 year olds.
The Albany address: Douglas Way, London SE8 4AG
London’s Southbank Centre, on the edge of the River Thames, is a complex of arts venues: the Hayward Gallery, Purcell Room, Queen ELizabeth Hall and Royal Festival Hall. The large brutalist buildings have space to host a broad cross-section of art, music, drama and dance, and you’ll often find children’s performances at Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal Festival Hall, especially during school holidays. We’ve been to see some outstanding drama, like the acclaimed Rubbish by Theatre Rites. and an immersive experience based around the world of Tove Janssen, Adventures in Moominland. During February half term, for the last 19 years the Southbank Centre has hosted the Imagine Children’s Festival, 12 days of international performance, music, literature, comedy, creativity, parties, participation and free fun for children aged 0–12 and their grown-ups. Polly Dunbar is just one of the many super-star authors who have led sessions at Imagine.
Southbank Centre address: Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
Set in the bustling centre of the south London Borough, Greenwich Theatre is a traditional 400-seater, with a strong line-up of family shows, especially during school holidays. Greenwich Theatre often stages popular children’s theatre shows for a day or two, before they head off to another venue on their tour. So we managed to catch the excellent Les Petits adaptation of Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs there, as well as Cat in the Hat and The Adventures of Pinocchio. Do look out for the annual Greenwich Theatre, which is often one of the best in town. We went to see Cinderella there one year. If you’re looking for information on other places to see London Pantomimes, check out our guide.
Greenwich Theatre address: Crooms Hill, London SE10 8ES
This north London venue, twinned with the Pleasance in Edinburgh, stages performances that also run at the Edinburgh Festival. Shows at the Pleasance are mainly for an adult audience, but it’s worth checking to see what’s on, as the occasional children’s theatre performance makes its way down from Edinburgh. We saw the excellent Cat in the Hat there.
The Pleasance address: Carpenters Mews, North Rd, London, N7 9EF
Rose Theatre Kingston
Although it’s on the other side of London from where we live, the Rose Theatre Kingston is one of our favourite theatres for kids. It’s a friendly, comfortable space on the banks of the Thames, with a play corner for children, and decent food and drink on offer in their Swallow Bakery. The Rose Theatre stages visiting performances, like Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, or the Night Pirates. It also put on home-grown performances, like Roald Dahl’s The Twits, The Witches and George’s Marvellous Medicine, all in collaboration with Curve Leicester; or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, featuring actors from the Rose’s very own youth theatre.
Rose Theatre address: 24-26 High Street, Kingston, KT1 1HL
Stratford Circus Arts Theatre
Stratford Circus is an Arts Centre based in east London. As well as a broad arts-based programme, with workshops including family jazz sessions and regular celebrations of LGBT arts, Stratford Circus hosts family theatre performances from the traditional to the avant garde. We went to see an excellent science show by Tea Dance for Little People there.
Stratford Circus Arts Centre address: Theatre Square, Stratford, London, E15 1BX
The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre is West London’s largest theatre, with a Main House, Studio Theatre, a cinema, café, bar and restaurant. It consistently stages top-class productions, from the intimate Pins and Needles performance of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas, to the magnificent Bugsy Malone, a grand spectacle in the Main House.
Lyric Hammersmith address: Lyric Square, King St, London W6 0QL
If it’s atmospheric venues you’re looking for, The Vaults will fit the bill. Housed under Waterloo station, The Vaults is a series of rooms with high-arched brick celings, and where you can hear the trains trundling overhead. It can have quite a spooky feel, which is why it’s great for more macabre productions, like the sensational Les Petits’ immersive adaptation, Adventures in Wonderland. We also thoroughly enjoyed watching The Falcon’s Malteser by Anthony Horowitz there. A lot of The Vaults’ productions are aimed at adults, but a few are suitable for the family.
The Vaults address: Leake Street, London SE1 7NN
Battersea Arts Centre
Battersea Arts Centre is a theatre and more, set in a former town hall with 80 rooms. Renovated after a recent fire, the Main Hall is a grand, atmospheric auditorium, which shows a strong line-up of performances designed to captivate, and which often challenge taboos. We saw the excellent Snow White and Rose Red there, staged by female-led company RashDash.
Battersea Arts Centre address: Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN
Peter Harris Planetarium
Not a theatre exactly, but the Peter Harris Planetarium, in Greenwich’s Royal Observatory, stages some excellent space-themed shows in its 3-D, domed space. You just lie back in one of the comfortable seats, and watch the planets revolve above your head. We watched Asteroid: Mission Extreme, a film narrated by Sigourney Weaver, all about asteroids and their possible effects on our planet.
Peter Harris Planetarium address: Royal Observatory, Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich, London SE10 8XJ
Top London theatres that occasionally host kids theatre
These London theatres aren’t based in the West End, but their shows sometimes still carry a heavier price tag. There you’ll see critically acclaimed, world-class theatre.
The Bridge Theatre
Founded by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, The Bridge commissions and produces new shows in its 900-seat auditorium, overlooking the iconic Tower Bridge. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe played to rave reviews, and upcoming shows include a dramatisation of Phillip Pullman’s La Bell Sauvage.
The Bridge Theatre address: 3 Potters Fields Park, London, SE1 2SG
The National Theatre
The National Theatre, on London’s Southbank, is a world-leading centre of theatre, and generally stages performances aimed at adults. The occasional family-friendly show does slip into the line-up, though. Recent hits included War Horse.
The National Theatre address: Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PX
Mainly staging performances penned by the Bard, The Globe Theatre is one of the best places to take your family to see Shakespeare’s plays brought to life. A reconstruction of the theatre where Shakespeare’s plays would originally have been staged, as well as watching world-leading performances at The Globe your family can take a tour, or even take part in special storytelling or dramatic workshops, in the school holidays.
Shakespeare’s Globe address: 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT
West End theatres for kids
Although West End shows for kids can be expensive, there are ways to save on costs. You can try to get hold of London kids week theatre tickets. This is an annual initiative where, for the entire month of August, some theatres offer free tickets to children when they accompany an adult who’s paid the full ticket price. Kids week theatre tickets sell out fast, though, so be quick!
Here are some West End theatres that are currently showing family shows (or which have done so recently).
Leicester Square Theatre
Although it’s technically a West End theatre, Leicester Square Theatre is much cheaper than most other venues in this area. The underground auditorium hosts comedy podcast recordings, as well as regular children’s performances, like Stick Man, the Scarecrow’s Wedding, and Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales, all Scamp Theatre adaptations of classics by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Keep an eye on the listings to see what else is coming to this small, friendly theatre.
Leicester Square Theatre address: 6 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX
Gillian Lynne Theatre
The first West End theatre to be named after a woman, the Gillian Lynne Theatre – named in honour of the choreographer of Cats – is currently showing hit musical School of Rock.
Gillian Lynne Theatre address: 166 Drury Lane, London WC2B 5PW
The Ambassadors Theatre is one of the smallest West End theatres, seating just 444 people. Recently it staged a touring production of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, which we reviewed here.
Ambassadors Theatre address: West St, London WC2H 9ND
A Grade II listed Art Deco theatre, the Dominion Theatre is a beautiful space to watch some stellar shows. We watched Aliens Love Underpants Live there, and it’s currently staging The Prince of Egypt.
Dominion Theatre address: 268-269 Tottenham Court Rd, Fitzrovia, London W1T 7AQ
Prince Edward Theatre
Disney’s Mary Poppins is playing at the Prince Edward Theatre, a former cabaret restaurant that lists Julie Andrews and Elaine Paige among the distinguished actors who have trodden its boards.
Prince Edward Theatre address: Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4HS
Disney’s The Lion King is the big draw at the Lyceum right now, and what a performance it is. With packed houses for the last 18 years, the show has thrilled generations.
Lyceum Theatre address: 21 Wellington St, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7RQ
Matilda the Musical really is a special event. You can read our review of Matilda the Musical at Cambridge Theatre here.
Cambridge Theatre address: Earlham St, London WC2H 9HU
The Peacock Theatre is on the edge of the campus of the London School of Economics and Political Science. As well as hosting some University lectures and talks, the Peacock stages performances from Sadler’s Wells dance theatre. We’ve seen some excellent shows there, from Christmas family favourite The Snowman street dance classic, Zoonation’s Into the Hoods. It also hosts other visiting shows, like English National Ballet’s My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty, and My First Ballet: Swan Lake, both specially developed for young children.
Peacock Theatre address: Portugal Street London, WC2A 2HT
The Old Vic
The Old Vic has, over the years, played host to opera, dance, cinema, music hall, classical dramas, variety, big spectacles and novelty acts. These days it’s best known for its cutting-edge drama and although most productions are aimed at adults, some, like A Christmas Carol, are also suitable for younger audiences.
The Old Vic address: The Cut, London SE1 8NB
Victoria Palace Theatre
A leading theatre since 1910, hit show Hamilton is currently at the Victoria Palace Theatre.
Victoria Palace Theatre address: Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5EA
The Palace Theatre is a striking red-brick building in the heart of the West End. Currently playing is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Palace Theatre address: 113 Shaftesbury Ave, Soho, London W1D 5AY
Do you have any favourite theatres for kids in London? Tell us about any we’ve missed!
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