Thinking of visiting the UK capital in May, June, July or August? Or are you looking for something to do in the school holidays? Here is your guide to free, mid-priced, and top-deck family fun in London.
Mid-priced fun (under £15 per adult)
- For a Thames cruise experience, City Cruises’ River Red Rover ticket allows open passage on any City Cruises sightseeing boats for 24 hours or 72 hours. You can hop on and hop off at any one of four piers. For an extra charge, the Rover ticket can be combined with visits to London attractions like the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare’s Globe or the Cutty Sark. Read about our trip with City Cruises here.
- You can visit the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford, east London. The Fantastic World of Dr Seuss interactive exhibition is on until September 2017. Discover regularly run events, workshops and storytelling sessions for youngsters. In Spring half-term (29 May-2 June), artist Grace Emily Manning will be holding workshop sessions where over-fives make a character, then learn how to animate it in a short film.
- Aussie DJ Monski Mouse is returning to London with her Baby Disco Dancehall, as part of the Southbank Centre’s Underbelly Festival. Read our inerview with DJ Monski Mouse here.
- As well as rare birds, otters and pond-dipping, the London Wetland Centre in Barnes now has the Dusty Ducks, a set of 6-foot characters designed by Aardman Studios. The Ducks will feature in activities over Spring and Summer 2017.
- There are scores of family-friendly music events at the London Proms, including Sunday matinees and bring-along-your instrument performances.
- The first exhibition showing illustrator Quentin Blake‘s personal sketchings of birds is at the House of Illustration, Kings Cross.
- You can often find family attractions at Canary Wharf. Check out their Family Summer Festival for listings.
- You’ll see some of the best contemporary art at the acclaimed Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
- The Southbank Centre have extended the run of Adventures in Moominland, into the middle of August. The immersive exhibition exploring the characters and life of Finnish writer Tove Jansson is part of the Centre’s year-long Nordic Matters festival, which features a range of other Scandi-inspired events. Here’s what we made of Adventures in Moominland.
- For a big dose of London’s past brought into the present, visit the Tower Bridge exhibition. There you’ll be treated to a glimpse into the bridge’s history, stunning views across the Thames and dizzying glass floors.
- During the warmer months, the brave can go wild swimming in Kings Cross Pond Club, a natural bathing pond just metres from the busy train station. Until then, a series of talks and events are held on-site.
- Why not drop in to Dulwich Picture Gallery in August for family month, which features sessions with a teaching artist, art play, and storytelling.
- Set in acres of parkland, Eltham Palace and Gardens is part 1930s art-deco showhome, part medieval royal residence. With dressing-up, regular family events and a castle-themed playground, the English Heritage site is great for a family day out, as we discovered.
- If you visit Kew Gardens you can find out about the lives of bees inside the Hive, Wolfgang Buttress’s acclaimed 17-metre construction made of thousands of pieces of aluminium.
- Fancy a bounce? Head to Oxygen at Acton, London’s first trampoline park.
- Climb aboard the world’s sole-surviving tea clipper, the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, and explore the life of a seafarer. The Cutty Sark runs regular activities for youngsters, including a Sailor’s Challenge over spring half-term (1-4 June). You can read more about a family visit to the Cutty Sark in this post by Mummy Travels.
- London’s Planetarium, at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, has a full programme of features suitable for all ages, from pre-schoolers upwards.
Top-deck fun (over £15 per adult)
- A Duck Tour is an enjoyable way to see the historic heart of London. You trundle around the streets on a DUKW, an amphibious vehicle dating back to WWII. Half-way through, the DUKW turns into a boat, and takes you splashing into the Thames. We experienced this quirky guided tour, and you can read about it here.
- Backyard Cinema is an immersive cinema experience, which runs screenings at pop-up locations around the city. We went to a delightful showing of Home Alone in their Winter Night Garden. For families with older children, Romeo and Juliet is showing until September, and Summer favourites will screen on ‘Miami Beach’, where families can watch films with their toes buried in the sand.
- If you want a birds-eye view of the capital, head for the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel on the banks of the River Thames.
- To commemorate 350 years since the Great Fire of London, St Paul’s Cathedral is running history tours and talks exploring the events of 1666. There’s a family tour full of facts, where children can earn a Flame the Phoenix badge.
- If you’re tired of walking, why not climb aboard London’s original buses and trams at the Transport Museum, Covent Garden (kids go free).
- You can get face-to face with sharks, penguins and other marine life at the Sea Life London Aquarium. Just opened is Ocean Invaders, a set of immersive displays all about jellyfish.
- If you want your mind to be blown, check out Star Wars Identities at the O2, Greenwich. The exhibition’s designed to appeal to fans and non-fans of the film franchise, and runs until 2 September.
- You can ride with your favourite characters from the Shrek films in 4D at Shrek’s Adventure.
- Visit the Churchill War Rooms to discover the wartime bunker that sheltered Churchill and his government during the Blitz.
- Coram’s Fields was London’s first free children’s playground. The seven-acre park is on the site of Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, immortalised in the book and Broadway show, Coram Boy.
- As preperation for going to the Tate Museums, you can visit the new Tate Kids website, which has art-based games, videos on street art, screen printing and Matisse for children.
- A picnic in St James’s Park, just up the road from the Houses of Parliament, will give you a great view of Buckingham Palace. As well as plenty of interesting sights in this area, including the changing of the guard, you can also watch the park pelicans being fed (just make sure they don’t try and steal your sandwiches!).
- The National Maritime Museum is one of the most child-friendly museums in London. Over spring half term (Monday 29 May – Friday 2 June) there’s a full programme of activities, including Art of the Sea, where children can create a maritime-themed masterpiece.
- The V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is free to enter. You can see artist Rachel Whiteread’s collection of doll’s houses, Place, House and Building. From July this will be joined by another free exhibition, Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories.
- Surrey Docks Farm has a petting area, and all the animals you would expect from a city farm: sheep, pigs, miniature ponies, donkeys, cows, chickens, turkeys, ferrets, rabbits and guinea pigs. It opens out onto the Thames-side path, opposite Canary Wharf, so it makes a good starting point for a riverside walk. D took his first blacksmith lesson at the foundry there, which you can read about here (you have to book in advance, and pay for the lesson).
- Another city farm that’s completely free to enter is Mudchute, in east London. With 32 acres, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were out in the countryside (apart from the fantastic views of Canary Wharf, that is!)
- Hyde Park playground has views over open sports fields, tree-lined avenues and the Serpentine boating lake. If you don’t mind paying an extra charge, you can take a dip in the Serpentine Lido. Otherwise, the Diana Memorial Fountain and the Statue of Achilles are free to access.
- If you take a stroll around the streets of Shoreditch or Camden, you’re bound to see stunning street art.
- The National Gallery has regular children’s workshops in the school holidays, including a Secret Garden art-themed hunt (free), and a sing and play activity with ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ (an admission charge applies).
- You can roam the Victorian streets of the capital and see what Roman Londinium must have looked like at the Museum of London. Read about our visit to the museum here.
- The mummies are marvellous at the British Museum. There are free trails, workshops and activities for family visits.
- It’s always fun to explore the two-acre wilderness that is Camley Street Natural Park, just a stone’s throw from the Eurostar terminal at King’s Cross.
- Beast-lovers can quake at the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum. The fun doesn’t end there. Until mid-September the Sensational Butterflies exhibition features a tropical butterfly house, with colourful species ethically sourced from Central and South America, Africa and Asia. There’s also the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, which is always good value. Entrance to the main museum is free, but there’s a charge for the exhibitions.
- The fearsome Crystal Palace Dinosaurs date back to the 1850s and are resident in an large park, with a playground and city farm.
- Days could be lost in exploring the five floors of the Science Museum . For an extra charge, the Robots exhibition and Wonderlab immersive gallery are out-of-this-world.
- Children’s Day at the legendary Notting Hill Carnival, where you can watch a parade of dance and exuberant costumes, is on Sunday 28 August.
- Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street is London’s highest public garden and offers 360 degree uninterrupted views across the City of London. Spaces are limited so online booking is essential. Visitors can wander around the landscaped gardens, observation decks and open air terrace.
- There’s always a bit of a queue, but it’s completely free to have your picture taken disappearing into the wall, Harry Potter-style, at platform 9 and 3/4, Kings Cross station.
- The Horniman Museum, Forest Hill, is set in beautiful grounds that are perfect for exploring. The museum’s free to enter. There’s an extra charge for the aquarium, and the current Robot Zoo exhibition, where you can learn about the inner workings of animals.
This is a living post, and I’ll be updating it regularly. What is your favourite way to have fun in London? Do let me know, in the comments below!
You can find more information on the Visit London website.
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