20 Top Things To Do in London With Kids
London is usually high on bucket lists for family vacations to Europe. The people speak English, there’s a lot of familiar, kid-friendly food, and the city has attractions and activities you know you want to see before you even pick up a guidebook. But which of those attractions will kids like best, where can you reliably take toddlers, and what will teens want to do in this famous U.K. city?
Well, there’s plenty for all ages! We asked moms and dads who have lived in or spent considerable time in London to tell us their favorite things to do with their kids. Some are obviously kid friendly and others might surprise you. Most will work with a wide age range, except where noted. Make a goal to try them all on your visit and tell us what London attractions you like best!
The 20 Best Activities For A London Family Vacation
1. The British Museum
This museum holds a historic treasure trove from mummies to the Rosetta stone. And it has plenty of resources for families. Ask at the family desk about organized activities and gallery-based backpacks on weekends. During the week check in for self-guided support including a family app and activity trails through the museum. Ages 8YO and up will get the most out of the activities and teens will appreciate the museum without them.
2. The Science Museum
This museum is designed to appeal to adults as well as kids and has a variety of activities for different age groups. Teens will like the VR experience and learning about super viruses while school-age kids will like the interactive math gallery and Wonderlab. All ages welcome but 6YO and up will get the most out of it.
3. The Natural History Museum
This museum offers everything a natural history museum should, including galleries that cover dinosaurs, evolution, the ocean and space. All Ages, though teens and tweens who have been to similar museums might pass on this one.
Note: All three of the above museums are free. Special activities and exhibits sometimes require tickets in advance and some of these have a fee.
4. The London Transport Museum
This Covent Garden museum offers a look at the 200 years of transportation in London via a wider range of exhibits than you might expect. It also offers guided tours of unused Underground stations and other spots in “hidden London,” which will appeal to teens and some tweens. The museum is free for kids but charges admission for those over 18. Teens can visit the museum for free without a grown-up. All ages. Good Toddler activity.
5. The Tower of London
We’ve all heard of the Tower and know of some of the grisly things that have gone on there, but until you visit London, most people don’t really know what it is: a royal palace, fortress and prison. The colorful Yeoman Guards give tours that are included with your ticket price. The guards are not actors, but members of the British military; being appointed a yeoman guard is a significant honor. You can also admire the crown jewels, watch an outdoor show about Anne Boleyn and explore the grounds on your own.
Kids ages 5-15 pay a little less than half-price. Under 5s are free and those 16 and up pay full admission. Best for ages 7YO and up.
6. Historic ships along Thames
The Golden Hinde is a replica of the ship Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the earth in the 1570s; In 1979 a vrew of 15 retraced Drake’s trip in it. The Cutty Sark is the last remaining tea clipper, making cargo trips to and from China in late 1800s; it was one of the fastest ships of its kind. The HMS Belfast is a 9-deck WWII-era warship. These ships sit at points along the Thames that are not near each other. How many you visit and how long you stay on each one will depend on you and your kids’ interest in maritime life and history. Preschoolers might just like exploring the ships. Ages 7-10YO and up are more likely to listen to the guides and learn something.
Costumed interpreters, interactive kitchens, multi-sensory experiences for preschoolers and the Magic Garden lawn and playground make Tudor England come to life in a very family friendly way. You can safely take toddlers and preschoolers to enjoy the grounds and some parts of the buildings. The older your kids are the more you’ll do and see.
This 11thcentury castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Queen Elizabeth is the 39throyal to live here so it is a treasure trove of both history and royal opulence. Take a guided tour of the grounds, stop by St. George’s chapel and admire the meticulously detailed 1920s doll house. Ages 8YO and up. (Read more about Windsor Castle and Hampton court with our Tips from a Londoner.)
This is one of those places that can be hard to leave once you walk in with a child, but the London Tower of Toys is an essential thing to do with kids. There is a “grand opening” every morning with giant bears, acrobats and more. Catch a royal bear wedding in the afternoon or explore a new Lego center where you can build all you like and to buy unique London-themed figures. 12YO and under.
How can you resist a stores that sells chocolate ducks, frogs, hedgehog sand love birds, along with chocolate covered marshmallows, popcorn and more? I don’t know what jazzles and tickles are, but I’d be willing to seek out this Covent Garden store to find out. Absolutely all ages.
Boxing Day (December 26) is the day the winter sales start across London, from the luxury boutiques on King and Bond streets to the more mainstream shops on Oxford and Regents streets and in Covent Garden and Westfield. Pick a neighborhood and wear good walking shoes to find famously great bargains. Teens will thank you; school-age kids will happily spend the afternoon at Kidzania (see below) while you bargain hunt.
This West End neighborhood is home to much that tweens and teen will appreciate more than younger kids. Ample shopping includes Carnaby Street boutiques, Hamley’s toy store, an the instrument shops of TinPan Alley. Several area theaters house popular musicals. Restaurants can be decidedly grown-up around here, but the Breakfast Club, Lebanese Yalla Yalla, the Masala Zone, Honest Burgers and Venetia tapas spot Polpo will do for families looking for a pre-show dinner. Best for tweens and teens.
13. The South Bank
Britain’s self-proclaimed cultural district is home to the London Eye, the Florence Nightingale Museum, art galleries, an urban zip line, and an eclectic collection of restaurants from chip shops to creperies. The South Bank Centre almost always has something going on for families; right now they’ve brought to life the world of the Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins. All ages.
14. A Wet CityTour
We don’t mean walking around in the rain. Another thing to do while your kids are at Kidzania is to take one of many drinking-themed guided walking tour of London, from companies such as Liquid History. You’ll explore historic pubs, hidden city corners and colorful local history. Ages 18YO and up.
Just for fun
15. Hyde Park
This is the large, rambling city park you need when your kids are tired of sightseeing. Wander the paths, go boating on the Serpentine, find the shaded, woodsy playground, kick a soccer ball around, even take a swim on a rare warm day. All ages. Good toddler pick.
This indoor entertainment mecca describes itself as a city run by kids. During four-hour sessions kids choose professions, earn “money,” open bank accounts and do leisure activities. It takes playing “grown-up” to a whole new level. Kids from 4YO to 7YO need an adult chaperone, but 8YO-14YOs can be dropped off and collected later. Kidzania has outlets in several cities around the world and tends to be a popular family activity wherever it opens.
17. Ice Skating
You won’t mistake the outdoor rinks at Somerset House or Hampton Court for your local hockey rink. If you visit London between November and March take a turn on these ice ponds that enjoy very splendid British backdrops. Ages 4YO and up.
18. Harry Potter Mania
Fans of a certain teen Wizard will need to go to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. You’ll explore sets for Diagon Alley and the Great Hall, Bow to Buckbeak in the Dark Forest, see plenty of props and costumes and of course raise a glass of Butterbeer in the studio café. Buy tickets well in advance for this magical day out. Ages 8YO and up who have seen the movies.
19. More Harry Potter Mania
If you didn’t manage to get tickets to The Cursed Child or the Warner Brothers tour you can still give your kids a dose of Potter with the Tour For Muggles (top), a walking tour or filming locations and spots that “inspired” JK Rowling when she was writing the series. Ages 8YO and up who have seen the movies.
During the holiday season Hyde Park shines with carnival rides, ice skating, giant ice sculptures, live shows and warm and yummy things to eat and drink. All Ages.
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Thanks to Helen Hookway, Tamara Boorstein, Cat Jordan, Suzanne McGee, Joe Buscemi, Dan Shrage for contributing their great ideas.