Welcome to our What’s on London guide. Here at the Pigeon Pair and Me, we’ve hand-picked some of the best things to do in London, our home town. While some of the family days out and London attractions mentioned here are open all year round, others are purely things to do in London with kids this summer. I’ll be updating this feature regularly, so if you have any extra tips about what’s on in London in August, July, June or May, just let me know in the comments below.
What’s happening in London museums & galleries
If you’re looking for the best things to do in London with kids but don’t want to spend too much money, try a museum. Most of the UK capital’s museums and galleries are completely free, so they make for a great cheap family day out. Sometimes there’s a charge for some of the special exhibitions, like the ones mentioned below. Check the museum websites for more information.
Artifical Intelligence at the Barbican
AI: More than Human runs until 26 August 2019. It showcases interactive installations across the arts centre, inviting visitors of all ages to engage with the past, present and future of artificial intelligence in an informal way. Highlights include Sony’s robot puppy aibo, who has developed a specific personality from his database of memories, and Future You, where visitors can physically interact with a huge robot version of themselves and teach it how to move. You can read more about AI: More Than Human in my review.
Address: Barbican Centre, Silk St EC2Y 8DS
Secrets at the Science Museum
Days could be lost in exploring the five floors of the Science Museum. For an extra charge, Wonderlab: the equinor gallery, an interactive space designed for children, is out-of-this-world. From 10 July a new exhibition, Top Secret, will uncover the remarkable world of codebreaking, ciphers and secret communications. You can read about our own visit to the Science Museum here.
Address: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington SW7 2DD
Beasts of London at the Museum of London
A star-studded cast including Kate Moss, Brian Blessed, Pam Ferris, Nish Kumar, Stephen Mangan, Angellica Bell and Joe Pasquale, bring history to life at Museum of London, near Barbican in central London. The actors narrate the story by giving voice to creatures that have lived in the UK capital: foxes, lions, elephants, horses, rats, pigeons and more. They show how these animals have helped shape London, from the Roman era through Medieval London and right up to present day. The show runs until 5 Jan 2020. Family tickets are available from £20
Address: Museum of London, 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN
Quentin Blake at the House of Illustration
A living exhibition showing illustrator Quentin Blake‘s prolific projects as they happen in his London studio is at the House of Illustration, Kings Cross. This small gallery also runs family workshops, so do look out for them over the summer months.
Address: 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross N1C 4BH
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
The National Maritime Museum is one of the most child-friendly museums in London, with a whole AHOY gallery dedicated to interactive fun. Over spring half term a Seaside Puppets workshop lets kids get creative and hands-on.
Address: National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich SE10 9NF
Family workshops at the V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green
The V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is free to enter. It’s a moderate-sized collection of toys through the ages, with a full schedule of drop-in family workshops over the school holidays. These include game and building design for over-7s, as well as storytelling and play sessions for younger kids.
Address: V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road E2 9PA
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
You’ll see some of the best contemporary art at the acclaimed Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. A London tradition since 1769, this year’s event sees a ‘menagerie’ of animal-themed art in the Central Hall. Over 1,200 works will be on display, most of them for the first time.
Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly W1J 0BD
Treasure hunts at The V&A Museum
The world’s leading museum of art and design is based in South Kensington. It’s close enough to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum for you to be able to visit all three in one day. The museum hires out backpacks containing a kit to take children on a treasure hunt through the museum. You can read about our hunt for beautiful glass sculptures here. There are lots of drop-in family events over the holidays and weekends, like design sessions and pop-up performances.
Trains at the London Transport Museum
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). Untangling the Tracks, a new family-friendly exhibition looking at the Thameslink Programme, runs from 24 May 2019.
Address: London Transport Museum, Covent Garden Piazza (south-east corner) WC2E 7BB
Welcome Wednesdays at the National Gallery
The National Gallery of art, featuring some of the world’s greatest paintings, holds Welcome Wednesdays for under-5s, featuring music, storytelling, dance, and art activities.
Address: Trafalgar Square WC2N 5DN
Egyptian Mummies at the British Museum
The mummies are marvellous at the British Museum. There are free trails, workshops and activities for family visits. For manga fans, the largest manga exhibition ever to take place outside of Japan will run until 26 August.
Address: The British Museum, Great Russell Street WC1B 3DG
Brick Wonders and butterflies at the Horniman Museum
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, the Butterfly House, and the current Brick Wonders exhibition, featuring wonders of the world built from 500,000 Lego bricks.
Address: 100 London Road, Forest Hill SE23 3PQ
The Moon at the Natural History Museum
Beast-lovers can quake at the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum. The fun doesn’t end there. Until 1 January 2020 the Museum of the Moon exhibition features a 6m model of the lunar surface. Until 30 June 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.
Address: The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road SW7 5BD
Free London events and free things to do in London with kids
Despite rumours to the contrary, there are plenty of free activities in London. Just take a look at the list of museums above. It covers only a fraction of London museums, which mostly charge nothing for people to walk through their doors. Here are some more suggestions for ways to entertain your family this summer, without breaking the bank.
Playgrounds in London – the best parks in London for families
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.
Address: 93 Guilford St WC1N 1DN
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!).
Address: St James’s Park SW1A 2BJ
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.
Address: Hyde Park playground W2 2AR
It’s always fun to explore the two-acre wilderness that is Camley Street Natural Park, just a stone’s throw from the busy hub of King’s Cross.
Address: Camley Street Natural Park, 12 Camley St, Kings Cross N1C 4PW
The fearsome Crystal Palace Dinosaurs date back to the 1850s and are resident in an large park, with a playground and city farm.
Address: Crystal Palace Park, Thicket Rd SE19 2GA
Visit a city farm London
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).
Address: Surrey Docks Farm, Rotherhithe Street SE16 5ET
Another of the farms in London 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!)
Address: Mudchute Farm, Pier St, Isle of Dogs E14 3HP
Things on in London that are completely free
This year, Children’s Day at the legendary Notting Hill Carnival is on Sunday 25th August. You can watch a parade of dance and exuberant Caribbean-themed costumes, without paying a bean.
Address: The carnival takes place on the streets of W10 and W11, usually around Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Grove, Westbourne Park and Kensal Road.
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.
Address: Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch St EC3M 8AF
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.
Address: The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 3/4, Pancras Rd, Kings Cross N1 9AP
What to do in London if you love history
Tower of London
Free to Historic Royal Palaces members, or £24.70/£11.70 children/£44.40 or £62.90 family saver ticket (online prices)
The historic Tower of London makes for a great family day out any time of year. You can read about our afternoon at the Tower of London here. This May half term will see Horrible Histories Live on Stage at the Tower. After you’ve heard the tales about the torturing Tudors, you can go to see the Crown Jewels and regalia worn by monarchs through the centuries.
Address: Tower of London EC3N 4AB
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.
Address: Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Rd SE1 2UP
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.
Address: Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich SE9 5QE
The Cutty Sark
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, especially over the school holidays, when they can meet Cutty Sark characters, take the helm at the ship’s wheel, climb into the crew’s bunk beds and meet her famous figurehead Nannie the Witch.
Address: King William Walk, Greenwich SE10 9HT
Churchill War Rooms
Visit the Churchill War Rooms to discover the wartime bunker that sheltered Churchill and his government during the Blitz.
Address: Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street SW1A 2AQ
A cruise on the River Thames
Several tour operators run guided sightseeing trips down the River Thames. It’s a good way to learn about how the city sprung up around the river. The Thames has been London’s central hub from Roman times down to the present day. Some operators sell tickets combining river tours with visits to London attractions like the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare’s Globe or the Cutty Sark. We were given some of these tickets, and you can read about our trip with City Cruises here.
Family events at the British Library
Writing: Making your Mark runs at the British Library until 27 August. It covers the evolution of writing, from hieroglyphs to emojis. More than 100 objects span 5,000 years and seven continents. The Library will also run a Family Takeover and a Build a Story Day. A Building Family Trail helps youngsters explore the Library through puzzles, drawings and games.
Address: British Library, 96 Euston Road NW1 2DB
What’s in London for people who like immersive experiences
Gringotts Wizarding Bank at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London
£43.00/£35.00 children/£140.00 family ticket
Harry Potter fans will love the new 16,500 sq ft extension to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, where the wizardry behind the making of the films is unveiled. The Leavesden attraction’s a magical place, as we discovered when we went to see Hogwarts in the Snow at Christmas, which you can read about here. Now visitors can walk through the new wizarding bank of Gringotts and the Lestrange vault. The masks worn by Bogrod, Griphook and other goblin bankers will be on display, as will the Sword of Gryffindor and Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup.
Address: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR
The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience London
£54.99+ per person, depending on the dates
The all-new Crystal Maze opened on 29 March in West End London. Children can now join in with the fun so long as they’re over 13. The experience is based on the 90s TV classic. In teams of eight or less, families battle it out for 75 minutes in the maze’s four themed zones: Aztec, Medieval, Industrial and Futuristic. A charismatic and eccentric Maze Master leads the teams, and it looks an awful lot of fun.
Address: The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience London, 22-32 Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 7EU
The Tiger Who Came to Tea at Discover Children’s Story Centre
Until September 2019. £1.50 in addition to a Discover Day Pass (£6.50 per person)
This immersive exhibition of the world of Judith Kerr’s creatures has been a best-seller at Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford, east London. Although it’s best suited for toddlers and younger primary school-aged children, Discover can be enjoyed by children up to the age of eight. Older children are welcome, too. Included in the Discover Day Pass are storytelling sessions. You can read about our day out at Discover Children’s Story Centre here.
Address: Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, Stratford E15 4QZ
What’s going on in London: music, dance and London theatre shows for families
Matilda the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre
Matilda’s run in London’s West End is now into its seventh year. The multi-award winning musical from the Royal Shakespeare Company, inspired by the beloved book by Roald Dahl, is terrific. You can read what we thought of Matilda here. Tickets aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny.
Address: Cambridge Theatre, Earlham Street WC2H 9HU
BBC Family Proms
There are scores of family-friendly music events at the London Proms, which runs from 19 July-14 September. These include Sunday matinees, CBeebies tie-ins and bring-along-your instrument performances.
Address: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore SW7 2AP
Royal Opera House Family Sundays
Families can discover more about opera, ballet and the Royal Opera House in fun-packed Family Sundays, with a range of exciting and creative activities. There is usually one Sunday a month devoted to family day. No session will run in August, but there are two family days in July instead. Pre-booking is essential, as Family Sundays get booked up well in advance.
Address: Royal Opera House, Bow Street WC2E 9DD
Underbelly Festival on the Southbank
2019 marks the eleventh year of Underbelly Festival on the Southbank. It’s one of the biggest multi-arts offerings in London, with over 100 shows programmed over six months, until 29 September.
There are tons of family-friendly shows over the summer, from the incredible Transit by FLIP Fabrique to Morgan & West’s Utterly Spiffing Spectacular Magic Show For Kids (and Childish Grown-ups), and Comedy Club 4 Kids. As well as FLIP Fabrique’s Transit, Underbelly features more of our own personal favourites: The Showstoppers Kids’ Show, and, from 26th May-28th Jul, Monski Mouse Baby Disco Dance Hall.
Address: in between Southbank Centre, Jubilee Gardens and the London Eye, just off Belvedere Road
Summer events at the Southbank Centre
The Southbank Centre, London’s cultural arts hub that includes the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, will host a collection of family-friendly events. Parents looking for things to do in London with toddlers will love Soundpit, an interactive musical display of giant sandpits brought to life with graphics, sounds, and motion sensor technology. Or for 3-6 year olds there’s Stick By Me, a quirky show exploring childhood imagination and fantasies using mime, music and comedy.
From June to September, Jeppe Hein’s Appearing Rooms fickle water fountains will splash unsuspecting passers-by. Until then, the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden is open to all.
Address: Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road SE1 8XX
Street Art London
If you take a stroll around the streets of Shoreditch or Camden, you’re bound to see stunning London street art. You’ll find it in less well-known places, too. Read about some of the street art in Brockley, a quiet corner of south-east London. Let us know if you’ve spotted any other up-and-coming areas for street art!
London today: family fun
The London Eye
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.
Address: The London Eye, Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road SE1 7PB
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.
Address: Kew, Richmond TW9 3AE
Fancy a bounce? Head to Oxygen trampoline park at the O2, Greenwich or Acton, west London.
Peter Harrison Planetarium at the Royal Observatory
London’s Planetarium, at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, has a full programme of space-themed feature films suitable for all ages, from pre-schoolers upwards.
Address: Royal Observatory, Blackheath Ave SE10 8XJ
WWT London Wetland Centre
As well as rare birds, otters and pond-dipping, the London Wetland Centre in Barnes now has family wildlife photography workshops.
Address: Queen Elizabeth’s Walk, Barnes SW13 9WT
SeaLife London Aquarium
You can get face-to face with sharks, penguins and other marine life at the SeaLife London Aquarium. Just opened is Coral Kingdom, the UK’s largest living coral reef.
Address: SEA LIFE London Aquarium, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road SE1 7PB
You can ride with your favourite characters from the Shrek films in 4D at Shrek’s Adventure. New for 2019 is the chance to meet your favourite Dreamworks characters face-to-face, in the interactive arrivals hall after the main tour.
Address: Shrek’s Adventure, County Hall , Westminster Bridge Road SE1 7PB
London weather in June, July and August
The average London summer temperature has a high of between 21° and 23°. But because of global warming, in recent years it’s been much hotter, with very little rain. Always take a water bottle with you when you travel!
For information on how to get to the different addresses mentioned here, see the Transport for London website.
To find out more about London, see the Visit London website.
This feature gives some suggestions, but I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on in London for kids this summer. What would you suggest? In particular, I’d love to hear about any free events in London.
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