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Here’s a list of 50 free things to do in London with kids, put tother by Londoners with kids.
50 Free Things to Do In London with Kids
It goes without saying there are some truly amazing free things to do in London with kids.
We have seven of the world’s best big museums in the city for example and they are all free!
There’s just one problem.
On every school holiday or wet Sunday when you want to visit, they are crammed with the world and his wife and his fed up kids.
Hmmm … and don’t get me started on the price of the big name London sites charging £60 a pop (and some) for the family to get in!
How can you enjoy London with kids without battling crowds or spending a fortune?
Well, we’ll let you into a secret … there are loads of free things to do in London with kids you have probably never heard of and that kids love!
Free Things To Do in London With Kids
So we have put together this mega list of all our faves that we think you’ll love all year round whether you’re a London mum like us or just here for a visit.
The trick we’ve found to getting the best out of these free sites and really enjoying a family day out in London, (believe us we’ve had some rubbish ones!), is to remember these golden rules:
1. Less is more … kids do enjoy culture but in small bites. All the places in our list are free so it’s fine to only plan on spending an hour or even less. Better they enjoy themselves and leave wanting more than coming to associate museums with being bored rigid.
2. Kids NEED to run around … so always combine a museum with the promise of outdoor fun after. In our list you’ll find suggestions for fab parks & playgrounds close by every museum we recommend. And don’t forget London’s very own ancient woodlands & heaths & beautiful marshlands.
3. Take a picnic … museum cafes are never cheap and in our experience the noise and queues are a sure guarantee for a collective family meltdown, so take a picnic and enjoy it outside.
4. Kids love transport … trapping a child in a car seat for 30 minutes to stare at your head in traffic is the sure fire way to get a trip off to a bad start. I don’t know a kid who doesn’t love trains & trams & buses. Make London’s brilliant Overground and DLR trains and super-cool hop-on-the-back Routemaster buses part of the trip. (Where you can avoid the tube, as kids less keen on staring at dark tunnels). We’ve included tips on the best stations & Routemaster stops to use for all our suggestions.
5. Take scooters … our scooter goes everywhere with us so we can easily get between museums & parks and public transport even with tired legs. When not needed it gets carried in our unbelievably brilliant Scooter Bag from ScooterSlingz – designed by fellow London mum Penny Othen, I can’t recommend it enough.
6. Enjoy the streets of London … so much of what’s best about London isn’t tucked away in museums. It’s curious old shops, striking street art & fascinating historic plaques. Take the time to enjoy them rather than scurrying the kids along.
7. Get out & explore … yes there are amazing world class tourist attractions in zone 1 but the rest of London is brimming with little known gems. Going out to what might seem like the back of beyond to find King Harold’s grave will much better fuel your kids adventurous spirit than trooping round the same old exhibits with everyone else!
One thing to remember is that although these sites are free, they nearly all depend on donations & right now many are struggling. If you can afford a small donation, it will help them to keep them free for those who can’t.
If you want to avoid the British Museum crowds or found that rooms of Greek vases left them cold check out these fab child friendly alternatives:
1. John Soanes Museum A magical old house with moving walls, twisty turny stairways and a spooky crypt the John Soanes Museum is crammed full of antiquities. Takes less than an hour and you can scoot up Red Lion Street to Coram’s Field playground after. Routemaster: 8 Brownlow St
2. Museum of London A big fave, the Museum of London covers London history from before the Romans to today with interactive kid’s height exhibits and just a little on everything. Scoot down to the Millenium Bridge and South Bank for a picnic after. Routemaster: 8 King Edward St
3. Petrie Museum For hieroglyphics & everything Egyptian without the crush pop into the Petrie Museum. Combine with Regents Park or Coram’s Field. Routemaster: 390 Gower Street/UCH
Our last trip to the Imperial War Museum was on a wet bank holiday – it was heaving! For kids mad on soliders and battles try these less busy options:
4. Airforce Museum: With over 100 planes on display, the RAF Museum in Hendon will keep kids of all ages happy for a good few hours. It’s about 10 minutes scoot from Colindale tube on the Northern Line or hop on the bus.
5. Wallace Collection: Chock full of enough weapons & armour from centuries past to satisfy the imagination of any wannabe medieval knight, the Wallace Collection is smack between Regents and Hyde Parks so can easily be combined with a picnic and football or whatever. Routemaster: 10/390
6. National Army Museum: All sorts of interesting items from wars past from a saw used to amputate limbs at Waterloo to Florence Nightingale’s lamp and everything in between. Note the popular Kids Zone is shut until 2016 for refurbishment. When you’re done Battersea Park is just over the Albert Bridge. Routemaster 11 Royal Hospital Road
Natural History & Science
The dinosaurs (and much more) at the Natural History Museum are amazing for kids of all ages but the crowds are horrid. For a quieter time …
7. Horniman Museum Our local museum the Horniman is home to a fab jumble of weird and wonderful natural history and ethnography. After, head over the road to Sydenham Wood for den building & more. Overground: Forest Hill
8.Wellcome Collection The super cool medical collection (including body parts!) plus contemporary art exhibits at the Wellcome Collection appeal more to older kids but has young explorer activities for under 10s. Regents Park is close by. Routemaster 10/390 Euston Square
9. Grant Museum The Grant Museum is small but has bones and specimens from just about every species on the planet crammed into it’s rooms. Regents Park & Corams Fields are close by. Routemaster: 10/390 Gower Street/UCH
The Transport Museum is fab but unfortunately not free and has big queues. For transport mad kids do make the DLR, Overground, Routemasters and south London trams part of the trip. And for free transport fun visit:
10. National Maritime Museum Enjoy boats & naval exploits of all sorts for free at the Maritime museum. There are hands on galleries for under 7s and a giant floor map that we spent ages sailing around. Unfortunately, Greenwich’s other museums aren’t free but the Maritime museum is good a few hours of fun and is surrounded by beautiful park land. Plus there’s all the fun of getting there on the driverless trains of the DLR.
How We Used to Live
Stories of how we used to live always seem to capture kids imagination and luckily London has a whole host of small museums that are perfect for short visits:
11. Geffrye Museum Set in beautiful old alms houses right by Hoxton Overground station, the Geffrye Museum lets kids explore historic interiors on a more child friendly scale than the V&A. We explored the rooms and lovely gardens in under an hour and then scooted down Hackney Road to Hackney City Farm. On Sundays the fab Columbia Road Flower Market is also close by.
12. William Morris Gallery For more beautiful interiors on a child friendly scale head out to William Morris Gallery in the designer’s old house in Walthamstow. There’s fabric, furniture, art and more and the house is surrounded by Lloyd Park for a picnic and running around. It’s about 15 minutes scoot from Walthamstow Central tube.
13. Vestry House An old workhouse now full of old toys, costumes, interiors and the famous Bremer car which was Britain’s first petrol driven car, Vestry House is just 15 minutes scoot from the William Morris Gallery and 5 minutes from Walthamstow Central tube so you could easily combine the two. If you’re feeling energetic you could also combine with Walthamstow Marsh nature reserve.
14. Museum of Childhood The Bethnal Green wing of the V&A, the Museum of Childhood has toys galore from times past plus loads of small child friendly displays & activities. It’s just 10 minutes scoot from the lovely Victoria Park. Routemaster 8 St John on Bethnal Green
15. Forty Hall A beautiful 17th Century mansion tucked away in gorgeous grounds in Enfield, Forty Hall has to be one of the least known free things to do in London with kids. Recently refurbished, it doesn’t have a big collection of stuff but is very family focused and has all sorts of activities to help kids explore how we used to live. Get the 191 bus route to Forty Hill stop from Enfield Town (Liverpool St), Enfield Chase (from Moorgate) or Southbury (Liverpool St) stations.
16. Burgh House A lovely old house in Hampstead with local history & 20th Century Art collections, Burgh House has regular family activities. Combine with Parliament Hill Playground or Hampstead Heath for a small trip.
Pictures & Art
If the sheer size and crowds of the National and Tate Galleries send you and the kids into some strange combo of panicked torpor try these alternatives which are easily digested in an hour or less:
17. Kenwood House Up at the top of Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House has Rembrandts, Vermeers, Turners and more to enjoy before you hit the truly beautiful wilderness that is the Heath. To get there, take the 210 bus from Archway tube getting off at Kenwood House stop. You can get the overground home at the bottom of the Heath.
18. Whitechapel Gallery In my experience kids like modern art in small doses so the Whitechapel Gallery is a perfect 30 minute pitstop before a 10 minute scoot to Spitafield City Farm. Whitechapel overground is just along Whitechapel Road.
If like us you don’t fancy forking out £50 for the family to visit St Pauls or Westminster Abbey, it’s good to know there are free things to do in London with kids that are oozing with history …
19. Southwark Cathedral It may not be as grand as St Pauls or Westminster but Southwark Cathedral is big, beautiful, seriously old and free AND it had a Dr Who episode filmed in it and in our house the Dr beats Christopher Wren hands down 🙂 It’s right by London Bridge station but it’s more fun wandering along the south bank to Blackfriars.
20. Waltham Abbey is a massive Norman church set by the river Lee in the ruins of the old Abbey. It was first built by King Harold (who is reputedly buried here) and rebuilt by Henry II in penance for murdering Becket before being dissolved by Henry VIII. Follow the path under the road at the bottom of the abbey gardens to explore the lovely Corn Mill Meadows (there’s a child friendly loop walk past a cool bird watching hide) or if you’re feeling adventurous hop on the 66 or 255 bus by the church to Epping Forest. To get to the abbey get a train to Waltham Cross (from Liverpool St or Seven Sisters) and the 66 or 255 bus to the church.
21. Lesnes Abbey A cool adventure if your kids are doing the Tudors, Lesnes Abbey is hidden away in south east London. The ruins are in Abbey Park and back on to Abbey Woods so loads of opportunity for running around. Take the train from London Bridge to Abbey Wood station which less than 10 minutes from the ruin.
The London Dungeons and the Chamber of Horrors in Madame Tussauds may be scary but the price of a family ticket is even more frightening!
22. Hunterian Museum A free gory alternative the Hunterian Museum is the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons and full of strange (& rather sinister) body parts. It’s just across Lincolns Inn Fields from the John Soanes Museum and can be combined with Corams Fields playground. Routemaster 8 Brownlow St
Animals & Wildlife
London Zoo is amazing but definitely not cheap so if the kids want to get up close to animals check out these lovely free options:
23. Spitafields City Farm Around the corner from Shoreditch High St overgound station Spitafields City Farm has donkeys, goats and more plus lovely vegetable, herb & wildflower gardens. It can be easily combined with a quick dose of culture at Whitechapel Gallery.
24. Hackney City Farm Beautifully ramshackle Hackney City Farm with its huge pigs, handsome goats and rampaging chicken is our personal fave among the city farms. You can easily combine it with the Geffrye Museum. Routemaster 55 Warner Place or Hoxton overground.
25. Mudchute Farm Bigger than most of the city farms Mudchute Farm on the Isle of Dogs is Luci’s fave. There’s lots going on so you can easily spend a couple of hours there and the driverless DLR journey to Mudchute or Island Gardens is part of the trip in its own right. You could also combine with National Maritime Museum which is just a stop away on the DLR.
26. Camley Street Hidden away behind King’s Cross Station Camley Street Natural Park is a lovely wildlife reserve next to Regents Canal where you can spot kingfishers, reed buntings and more. Combine with Wellcome Collection which is just along Euston Road Routemaster 10 King’s Cross
27. Deen City Farm There are cows, goats, ferrets, apalcas and owls at this little farm right by Morden Hall in Wimbledon. AND you can get there on the tram from Wimbledon and Mitcham Junction stations.
Woods & Wilderness
28. Epping Forest The woodlands of Epping Forest are perfect for a whole day of den building, stream fording, blackberrying and wildlife spotting. The forest is over 6 miles long so don’t plan on covering it all! We got the central line to Theydon Bois and explored near the deer sanctuary. Or get the Overground from Liverpool St to Chingford which is 10 minutes walk from the visitors centre. If you’ve got energetic kids you could go to Waltham Abbey first then get the 66 or 255 bus to Wakes Arms in the middle of the forest.
29. Hampstead Heath The woods and grassland of the Heath take some beating. If you make a day of it and start at Kenwood House at the top of the Heath you can maraud your way down the 1.5 miles to Hampstead Heath or Gospel Oak stations on the Overground picnicking wherever takes your fancy on the way. Both routes are brilliant but my personal fave is striking west to Hampstead Heath.
30. Richmond Park Another of London’s great open spaces that needs little introduction Richmond Park. Everyone can run wild for an afternoon whilst admiring the 600+ deer who live in the park. Richmond is on the overground.
31. Walthamstow Marsh The Walthamstow Marsh nature reserve is one of the few surviving areas of London’s old marsh land meadows and is full of birds and rare flowers. You can reach via Clapton overgound and the energetic could combine with Vestry House Museum.
32. Sydenham Wood Our local fave Sydenham Wood is part of the old North Wood that stretched over south East London. Perfect for den building & blackberrying it’s just over the road from the Horniman Museum. Get the overground to Forest Hill.
Parks & Playgrounds
33. Corams Felds One of London’s most famous old playgrounds, Corams Fields can look a bit scruffy but kids love it (well ours do!) and it is super handy for the John Soanes, Grant and Petrie museums plus the British Museum.
34. Brockwell Park OK we’re totally bias here as Brockwell Park is at the end of our road but if you’ve got small kids it’s a wonderful free place to spend half a day. There’s a great playground, paddling pool, sandpits, duck ponds with a resident heron, a walled garden, BMX track, miniature railway and more. It’s also home to Brockwell Lido (free for under 5s) and the truly amazing Lambeth Country Show. Take Thameslink to Herne Hill station.
35. Victoria Park More bias here as Luci lives right by Victoria Park but it is one of London’s loveliest old parks with playgrounds, boating lake and loads of room to run around. It’s just 10 minutes scoot from the Museum of Childhood
36. Regents Park Needs no introduction but worth remembering that Regents Park is just 10 to 15 minutes scoot from the Wallace and Wellcome Collections and the Petrie and Grant Museums. There are 3 playgrounds close by the Marylebone Green, Gloucester Gate and Hanover Gate entrances.
37. Morden Hall An idyllic park tucked away in south London by the river Wandle, Morden Hall has a tiny museum around its water mill and an adventure playground. Deen City Farm is just next to the park. If you take bikes, you can cycle along the Wandle trail by the river. AND very importantly you can get there on the tram from Wimbledon & Mitcham Junction stations.
38. Parliament Hill Playground is at the bottom of Hampstead Heath just 5 minutes from Gospel Oak overground and has sandpit and paddling pool as well as play equipment. Good for exploring after time on the Heath if you’re going home via Gospel Oak or you could combine with the Burgh Museum
39. Battersea Park right by the river and with a fab playground Battersea Park is a good place for a picnic and a run around after you’ve been to the Army Museum over Albert Bridge. It does have a nice zoo but a family ticket is £29.
40. Kensington Gardens just a 10-15 minute scoot up Exhibition Road from the Victoria & Albert, Science & Natural History museums Kensington Gardens has loads of space to run off any big museum blues and is home to the Diana fountain & playground which despite my scepticism pre-visiting my daughter loves. Routemasters 9 & 10 both run along the bottom of Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens.
41. Jubilee Gardens Playground Just over the Golden Jubilee Bridge (which is great fun to walk across) by the London Eye, the Jubilee Gardens Playground has some seriously tricky climbing frames to keep even big kids engaged for an hour or so. It’s 15 minutes of the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery & Imperial War Museum and the only downside is it can get hectic.
The Big Museums
So in the end we couldn’t write this list without including the biggies. They are wonderful, just don’t be tempted to make a massive day of it. Pop in for an hour, then get outside and run around. And unless you’re there early or at the end of the day you’ll have more fun if you avoid super crowded displays.
42 British Museum The Egyptian rooms (especially the Mummies) in the British Museum are always rammed. Our alternative faves are the Saxon and Viking rooms and the Assyrian sculptures which remind us of The Magicians Nephew. When you’re done scoot off to Corams Fields or hop on the number 24 Routemaster up Tottenham Court Road and get off at Drummond St or Camden High St for a short walk into Regents Park and the Marylebone Green and Gloucester Gate playgrounds.
43 Natural History Museum The dinosaur gallery at the Natural History Museum is usually painfully busy so be wowed by the blue whale instead and then check out all the interactive fun in the Creepy Crawlies. As soon as the kids start to flag head out the side entrance on Exhibition Road and scoot up to Kensington Gardens.
44 Science Museum So much of the Science Museum is so brilliant – we totally love Launchpad on the 3rd floor plus the rockets downstairs. Once you’ve all your had your fill and need some fresh air head up to Kensington Gardens.
45 Victoria & Albert Museum Gorgeous stuff in the V&A may be mummy heaven but let’s be honest doesn’t always float kids – and particularly boys – boat! The museum makes a big effort though to be family friendly and there are costumes to try on in the Victorian Discovery & Theatre Galleries and other hands on exhibits throughout the gallery. Again once you’re done scoot up Exhibition Road to Kensington Gardens.
46 National Gallery The National Gallery is definitely one of those places where less is much, much more for kids. Pick 4 or 5 rooms at most – it’s an obvious choice but the French impressionists in rooms 43 to 46 are a good place to start. Afterwards head across the Mall to St James Park (there’s a small playground up by Buckingham Palace) or across the river to Jubilee Gardens.
47 National Portrait Gallery We went to the National Portrait Gallery on a drizzly Sunday and thought the BP Exhibition would attract. But with so many people all my daughter could see was legs and her choice was to head up to the Tudors who to her mind were much cooler 🙂 Plus she totally loved being able to grab a pencil and sketch pad (they’re handed out on each floor) and drawing her own. As with the National Gallery head for St James Park or Jubilee Gardens after for a run around.
47 Imperial War Museum As a mum you might not think the Imperial War Museum would be your thing, but alongside the planes and rockets in the main hall there’s interesting stuff about the home front. My 5 year old loved looking at the recreation of a south London house in A Family in Wartime. There’s plenty of space to run around in the surrounding IWM gardens afterwards or it’s a 15 minute walk to Jubilee Gardens.
49 Tate Modern We have this idea that kids like modern art. In my experience not so much! But the Tate Modern itself and its location are cool so make getting there part of the trip by catching Routemaster 11 to St Pauls and then walking over the Millenium Bridge. Nip in for a quick 40 minutes or so around one section e.g. Level 4 Structure & Clarity or Energy & Process and then enjoy a picnic and a wander on the South Bank entertained by the giant balloon blowers and human statues on the south bank.
50 Tate Britain The Tate Britain is home to British art from 1500 to the present day. Generally quieter than the other biggies, it’s a lovely place for a quick dip into Henry Moore, Turner or Blake (for slightly older kids who appreciate the weird). To run around after hop on the 87 past Westminster to Horse Guards Parade and walk through to St James Park.
With just a little bit of planning, you really can make getting there and back an exciting part of the trip. These are our quick tips as London mums for making the most of it.
Routemaster Buses Every under 8 I know adores the iconic Routemaster Buses, which have been recently reintroduced on a few routes and let you hop on and off the back door and have back stairs. You pay with an Oyster as on all London buses but kids under 11 are free. We’ve given tips on which buses to use but for more route details use the TFL route look-up – just enter the route number in the right.
London Overground Kids love London Overground because, unlike on the tube, there’s stuff to see out the window almost all the time. It’s a brilliant way to avoid the tube generally and to get to otherwise hard to reach places in South and East London. Plan your route using the TFL planner clicking on Travel Options and unselect Tube to get it to give you Overground options.
It’s worth knowing you can switch between the Liverpool Street branches and the Croydon, Clapham Junction & Crystal Palace branches with a quick 5 to 10 minutes scoot between Whitechapel & Bethnal Green stations. This option never comes up in TFL’s map but it’s a very handy way for us southerners to get up to the William Morris Gallery, Vestry Museum, Forty House and Epping Forest and for northerners to get down to Crystal Palace, the Horniman and Sydenham Woods
DLR The driverless DLR trains let you sit right at the front or back as if you were a driver. Definitely a must if you’re going to Mudchute Farm or the London Maritime Museum.
South London Tram TWe have very few trams in London but if you fancy a trip to the lovely Morden Hall Park and Deene City Farm you can get the tube to Wimbledon or a train to Mitcham Junction from Victoria and hop on the tram at either of these stations.
Scooters Scooters really do make getting around in London easier. It’s even easier with the truly brilliant scooter bag given to us by ScooterSlingz which means you can easily carry the scooter on platforms and around the place you’re visiting. You might even get your kids to carry it themselves 🙂
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