5 Things To Do With Kids In London

I wasn’t born in London. But I lived in London from when I was five until I was seventeen, and then again from 21 to 35, and London feels like my (and is my son’s) home town.

So here’s my recommendations for five things to do with kids in London. Despite the weather, it’s an extremely child-friendly city.

1: Go On A Boat

Golden Hinde ship at London Bridge.

One of the best ways to experience London is on the Thames. Kids will love the amphibious river tours that depart from the London Eye — vehicles drive into the Thames, turn into boats, tour the river, and then transform again. Alternatively, taking a river bus to Greenwich is a cheap option. Other great maritime things for kids to do in London? Spend the night on a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s pirate ship, the Golden Hinde, rampage up and down the stairwells of the warship HMS Belfast and experience the tea clipper Cutty Sark.
London Duck Tours
River buses
Golden Hinde
HMS Belfast
Cutty Sark

2: See Something Gross

Skulls and gore on the walls of the London Dungeon.
The London Dungeons, by London Bridge, offers a gross and gory tour of the horrors of old London that boys, in particular, will love — it’s halfway between a haunted house and a history show. The Old Operating Theatre offers live demonstrations of 19th century surgery (no anaesthetic!) every Saturday. And the Hunterian Museum houses a collection of bizarre medical specimens and wildlife based on a nineteenth century collection: a great (free) thing to do with older kids in London.
London Dungeons
Old Operating Theatre
Hunterian Museum

3: Visit A Free Museum

Image from Science Museum, London.
London’s museums are free and famous. Dinosaur fans will love the skeletons, fossils and animatronic dinos at the Natural History Museum. The Science Museum, right by it, has interactive areas for little kids and tweens-teens. The British Museum provides an insight into ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece; the Museum of London gives onto a Roman wall; the National Gallery and Tate Modern hold world class art collections; and the Imperial War Museum, a mecca for war and vehicle buffs, reopens on 19 July 2014.
Natural History Museum
Science Museum
British Museum
Museum of London
National Gallery
Tate Modern
Imperial War Museum

4: Go Skating in Winter, and Swimming in Summer

Photo of Natural History Museum ice rink by T Shields
During the winter, London offers open air ice skating in atmospheric venues from Somerset House to Hampton Court to the Natural History Museum. In summer, outdoor swimming is a great adventure. The bathing ponds on beautiful Hampstead Heath are open to kids aged eight and over, but the lido nearby on Parliament Hill is open to all.
Somerset House Ice Rink
Natural History Museum
Hampstead Heath Bathing Ponds

5: Get LostEdge of hedge maze with parkland in the background.

London’s most famous maze is in the gardens of Hampton Court Palace, built almost 500 years ago by Tudor power broker Cardinal Wolsey. Kids of all ages love the high green hedges, set among dazzling gardens and a royal park with deer in it too. Maze obsessives might want to check out the Crystal Palace maze too, not to mention the giant dino sculptures and the adventure playground.
Hampton Court maze
Crystal Palace

Looking for family-friendly hotels in London? Check Agoda.

Or for more inspiration, check out five things to do with kids in:

Brisbane, Australia
Central Australia
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Kingston, Canada
Vancouver, Canada
Costa Rica
Antigua, Guatemala
Lake Chapala, Mexico
The Netherlands
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Fethiye, Turkey
Boston, USA
New York, USA
Seattle, USA
Sunset Coast, Michigan, USA

Thanks to Kathryn Wright, T Shields, Darren Straight, Andrew Kemp Photography and Science Museum London for the images.

67 Responses

  1. Great post Theodora! I loved London on my own, and loved it more years later with my kids. It’s such a family friendly place and there is SO much to do!

  2. Justin says:

    I will be going to the gross part by myself for now, I couldn’t pass that up. And the free museums are a bonus as well. Nice work. This really helps as I had no idea about this stuff before!

  3. Some great ideas, particularly the free ones 😉 thanks for sharing the handy links too.

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks, Jesse. There’s a surprising amount to do for free in London. Which you sort of take for granted until you travel to Australia, North America and the rest of Europe. You can eat for free with the Krishnas, if you’re interested…

  4. Wonderful! Thanks for this post. We’re plannning on visiting London this June so I’m happy to have read this. Hopefully we’ll get to do all 5 when we’re there. Well at least the dungeons and maze tours anyway. :=)I’m so excited!

    • Theodora says:

      Hampton Court is really worth a full day in the summer. Not just for the maze. You can tour the kitchens, the tennis courts, all the rooms of an enormous palace and the gardens are aMAZEing…

  5. Lisa says:

    We have only had our kids to London once but they loved it – In fact, my older daughter is a bit of an Anglophile who says she’s moving to London when she’s older! Great list of things to do – I’d never heard of the Hampton Court maze – it looks like good fun!!

    • Theodora says:

      Hampton Court as a whole is wonderful. It’s a bit of a schlep out to deep suburbia, but it was one of the highlights of London when we were kids — and my son loved the maze too.

  6. We are headed back to London next Fall and I can’t wait to check some of these places out with our toddler and his baby brother. I’ve seen a few with just the hubby, but as you know, when you throw a kid into the mix the experience is vastly different and usually so much more enjoyable!

  7. Awesome! Thanks for these. We might be in London this year so this will be extremely helpful

  8. Amy says:

    The gross part looks really interesting. I have an image in my head of London being very much a historical city, so I love how modern all these things are.

    • Theodora says:

      London is still historical — it’s very much an unplanned city, with stuff that’s grown up in the years since it all burnt down in 1666 (and earlier stuff outside the old city boundaries) and fundamentally lowrise with a lot of Victorian architecture. We do have some good pieces of modernist architecture, but it’s nothing like Australian cities. We do not have that riverside skyline of high buildings, although there are a few more coming in.

  9. what a great list!! i’d say, see some theatre. that always makes us happy. thanks for the excellent tips!

  10. I love the boat photo….loooove it! And I am seriously wondering what the gross thing is…! Great ideas we will use someday soon!

  11. Mary says:

    Love this Theodora! Great post of unique places to visit! I had no idea the museums were free, great tip there. I am a descendant of Sir Francis Drake as well so I need to add that boat trip to my must sees.

    • Theodora says:

      It’s right by London Bridge, so very easy to get to. But as a descendant, I guess you’d want to spend the night on it, too. Museums are free. And buses are free for kids 11-17, and all transport is free for under 11s, so it’s not as expensive a destination for families as some folk make out.

  12. Renee says:

    Great list, Theodora. I haven’t been to London in years (and never with my family) but clearly it’s time to go back. When we do, I’m going to head right for the gross stuff and then follow up with the museums.

    I’m bookmarking this post.

  13. Great Post – Seems like it rivals Kuala Lumpur as a kid friendly destination!

    • Theodora says:

      It is surprisingly kid-friendly. Apart from our obsession with kids behaving well, which, as an American, you should deal with just fine…

  14. Emiel says:

    Love the list. My daughter really wants to go to London and these tips are really new to me. Great stuff outside of the usual highlights!

    • Theodora says:

      Since discovering Van Gogh by way of 1) Doctor Who and 2) (post-doctor who) the National Gallery, Z’s quite keen to visit the Netherlands, too.

  15. Sophie says:

    My 10-y-o daughter is all set to see something gross now!

  16. Diya says:

    I really liked how you grouped this guide by themes. Keep us updated post Olympics – I wonder if other kiddie things will pop up as a result of the events.

    • Theodora says:

      Well, they’ll have an entire site to turn around into something useful, so one would hope there’ll be the odd kiddie thing coming out of it…

  17. I loved ice skating at Hampton Court Palace! These suggestions even work for big kids like me =)

  18. Tracy says:

    Damn I wish I had of known about that maze during our recent visit. That would have been fantastic.

    We made it 1/3 of the way through the Dungeons before the kids couldn’t take anymore and we had to leave. It was just a little too much for them. Hopefully in a few years time we can try again.

    • Theodora says:

      The Maze is wonderful, as is Hampton Court Palace as a whole, but none of it is at its best in the winter — though it is evergreen, so it does still work. Maybe next time you make it out this side of the globe?

  19. The maze sounds like a lot of fun for my kids

    • Theodora says:

      It’s brilliant. Actually takes a long time to solve if you’re a child, though. (Well, it did for me…)

  20. See something gross – that’s a great idea for kids 😛

  21. Cheryl says:

    What a great list of things to do! As an adult I’d have fun with most of these activities, especially the maze. 🙂

  22. Loved this write up ! I was in London twice as a teen ( once in June and once in December ). I preferred the June visit. Do you know of a place called Sussex Gardens? We stayed at a B & B there. My parents took the 4 of us kids to the popular tourist sights : Buckingham Place, Big Ben, Westminster Abby, Piccadilly Square, Madame Tussaud’s, Harrods , and we just had to go to the small pubs for Fish and Chips ! I loved how they served the food in rolled up newspapers and handed you vinegar to go with your meal ! All of the places you mentioned in your article sound great . Never knew of these activities and sights. Thanks for sharing, Susan

    • Theodora says:

      Yes! I know Sussex Gardens, and, of course, I almost mentioned fish and chips. London is definitely much better in summer than in winter, unless you’re local to it.

  23. Is it wrong that I want to do most of the things on here too? 🙂

  24. chloe.k says:

    i love the bodees i love blod

  25. sydney says:

    Really helpful article!

  26. I love London one of my favorite place in the world. what a lovely monument and tourist place . My vacation always prefer to London with my wife reena.

  27. London, uk has to offer: lifestyle, artistry, people, design, residence and wonderful.

  28. Suki F says:

    The dungeons looks like fun. Maybe not for my kids but I think i’d really enjoy a visit.

  29. If you want to learn about the Earth, different species and, the dinosaurs, Natural History Museum you should visit. Great for adults and kids alike!

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