Insider’s Guide to London with Kids
Visiting London with kids is an absolute delight as the city counts so many iconic spots and activities for all ages. With family-friendly museums, only-in-London experiences, sweet treats and places to roam around, there are so many fun options that it’s hard to pick a handful. However, after 5 years living in London, I know which activities we’ve recommended to our friends and which have been a wild success.
Here are 15 of the best activities I’ve done with my girls and that are sure-fire ways to delight all ages. I’ll start with the most iconic figure of Victorian children’s literature, the boy who refused to grow up and flew out of his nursery to become an eternal child.
#1 Play With Peter Pan at Kensington Gardens
Peter Pan’s adventures began in the heart of London, in Kensington Gardens where J.M. Barrie took daily strolls and let his imagination spin a lake, an island and wild children into the island of the Lost Boys and a Victorian pirate world. Today, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are two connected parks that provide the greenest escape of the city and a great place for kids to run around, tumble on the grass or ride bikes. The statue of Peter Pan by the Italian Gardens is fun, but the highlight of your Peter Pan excursion will be the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, directly inspired by the stories of Peter Pan. There, children can climb aboard a wooden pirate ship, crawl into teepees, or play on the sandy shores that could belong to the island of the lost boys.
#2 Have Tea, Cakes and Sandwiches
Nothing says England like a pot of tea or hot chocolate, scones and a plate of cucumber sandwiches. If you want to go all out on the tea ceremony, I seriously recommend these places for afternoon tea with children. They all celebrate the art of tea time with cloth tables, stacked plates of sweets and savory treats, and a choice of fine teas and hot drinks.
For a more relaxed take and delicious eats, I love the simplicity and yumminess of Fleet River Bakery at Holborn, the various Euphorium Bakery outlets throughout the city, Books for Cooks at Notting Hill, Violet or E5 in Hackney, Peggy Porschen or Dominique Ansell in Belgravia or Muriel’s Kitchen at South Kensington.
#3 Harry Potter Studios | Where Muggles Go To See Wizards
Muggles, beware! The Warner Bros Harry Potter Studios are a day trip in itself and a destination for visitors around the world. You will be able to visit the studios where the actual shooting of the movies took place, as well as see tons of props and lifesize sets like the amazing Diagon Alley or Ministry of Magic.
#4 Play At Hamleys, the Oldest Toy Shop in the World
Grown-ups have Harrods to look forward to. Children have Hamleys as a must-see spot in London. The Regent Street toy store features seven floors exploding with toys, games, and the fun little things of life you did’t know you needed. It’s the sort of place where you better walk in prepared with a set budget and a time frame. With neither, you’re likely to spend the day watching your kids go crazy for the latest Lego structure, a mini-drone or an automated pet.
#5 Ride On A Double-Decker Bus
The best seats on any double-decker bus are the two front benches at the top. No compromise. Trust my girls, that’s what they run for when we board any bus. All the other seats are considered less desirable, though the top floor is still more fun than the street level. The good news is, double-deckers are very frequent in downtown London and can connect you from one adventure to the next providing the cheapest sightseeing opps in the city. Buses with rear open platforms are even more fun, but they’re less common. You can find them on the routes of the 9 (Hamersmith to Aldwych), 11 (Liverpool Street to Fulham Broadway), 24 (Pimlico to Hampstead Heath), 38 (Victoria to Clapton Pond) and 390 (Archway to Notting Hill Gate).
#6 Plan A Day Trip To Windsor Castle
In the series of the best London day trips with kids, Windsor Castle is very near the top. Easily accessible by train from the center of London, it’s a royal castle still lived in by the Queen and it’s pretty awesome. The child-friendly audio-guide provided the best visit for my girls and I even found it more fun than the adult version. Boys and girls alike will be awed by the impressive doll house of Queen Mary, the grandeur of the state apartments and the Changing the Guards ceremony (certain days).
#7 Tour The Tower of London
Ravens, yeomen, crowns, and dungeons – what’s not to like? The Tower of London is a fantastic place to visit with children. Not only will they be able to run in the various alleys and courtyards connecting the towers, but they’ll probably learn a thing or two about being a monarch, who Oliver Cromwell was or what it’s like to end up in the dungeons. If your crew likes things that glitter and shine, it’s well worth lining up to see the Crown Jewels while you’re swept past display cases on a conveyor belt (no more lingering). You might even be tempted to do it twice. Ask for kids’ itineraries at the entrance desk and you’ll be able to explore the premises with a child-friendly booklet that includes fun anecdotes and facts.
#8 Walk Along The Thames
The river Thames is one of the best assets of the city and one my favorite walks starts at the London Eye all the way to Tower Bridge. Combining images of Dickens’ London with beautiful pubs, this portion of the Thames Path is a great way to see London. It will take you past the wacky Navigators moving sculpture-fountain in the Hays Galleria, past HMS Belfast, past the only surviving WW2 ship in Europe, past the s the replica of Sir Francis Drakes’ galleon the Golden Hinde, past the Globe Theater where Shakespeare plays are performed, past the Modern Tate (kids play area and programs inside), and all the way to Tower Bridge, a bridge that you can walk on or over (see the high level walkways).
#9 Explore the London Zoo
Conveniently located close to Madame Tusseaud, the oldest scientific zoo in the world, the London Zoo doesn’t show its age at all. Located along Camden canal inside Regents Park, the zoo has every single animal your children ever dreamed of. Maybe more, come to think of it. They have 750 species in enclosures. On a recent visit, we stared a python in the eyes (like Harry Potter) in the Reptile House, watched an aardvark feeding (awkward animals, these aardvarks), snapped shots of a vocal sea otter family, followed penguins along the glassy walls of their “beach,” blinked to find frogs and lizards camouflaged with their surroundings, stepped carefully in the dark recesses of the night exhibition of the Rainforest building, and took a rest inside the B.U.G.S. house. Phew! If the animals didn’t look particularly exhausted, we were. So much walking! But it was fun and the cafes and carousels add a nice playful treat.
#10 See Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum
You can easily spend a day at the Natural History Museum. This iconic museum is Night At The Museum brought to life for your family and entrance is free. Step inside the grand Victorian Central Hall and you’ll be facing the skeleton of a mighty diplodocus. Along the walls, extinct animal specimens were brought by Darwin from his voyages. You’ll be torn between the options. Should you start by the dinosaur exhibit? Yes probably, but note that some lifelike creatures can freak out young children. My girls love the Creepy Crawlies and Volcano and Earthquakes galleries. For some serious wow, the Mammals gallery can’t be beat. Head to the Darwin Centre and see eye to eye all of the specimens that Charles Darwin classified, preserved in glass jars. For multimedia events, check out daily events at the Attenborough Studio.
#11 Curse Like A Sailor in Greenwich
Greenwich’s clame to fame goes beyond the famous meridian and its Royal Observatory. Along the Thames, you can visit the Cutty Sark, a 19th century British clipper beautifully restored and suspended in the air between the museum’s walls. There, you can walk over the deck, inside the hold and under the hull, exploring and imagining the voyages of this famous sea merchant ship. Here you can use your best salty dogs slang and get away with it as living history. For more naval fun, the National Maritime Museum is gorgeous and the Queen’s House is an architectural masterpiece with art covering naval history as well as botany.
#12 Visit Covent Garden
Covent Garden is like a mini-London capsule that has everything you need–restaurants, shops, museums and musicals. On the front piazza, street performers entertain people day and night and for more serious entertainment, the Royal Opera House is right here. If your kids love trains, the London Transport Museum is a fun museum for all ages. Browsing the shops around Coven Garden can take a while and fortunately, cafes and restaurants are peppered through the area. Head to Neal’s Yard, a famous small alley that opens onto a courtyard and contains several health-oriented businesses such as Neal’s Yard Remedies and Neal’s Yard Dairy. Buy same day half-price tickets and in the evening, you’ll be able to watch a musical for a true West End experience.
#13 See London from Hampstead Heath
One of London’s most popular open spaces, Hampstead Heath provides miles of trails, swimming ponds and numerous playgrounds for the enjoyment of families with children. It also features one of the best views in London at Parliament Hill (98m/322 ft), a grassy hill from which the view over London is protected by law. We love to start at Hampstead Heath Overground Station–stopping for artisan breads and lunch items at Euphorium Bakery–walk vaguely north all the way over the arch bridge to Kenwood House. This stately home is managed by English Heritage and features amazing paintings. The Brew House Cafe features inside and outdoors seating in the garden, and the small Steward’s Room is only for take-out. Inside the house (free entry), children can pick up the family trail (with super fun “paws” punch cards) and explore, or stay put and play at the amazing play room facing the open hill.
#14 Walk through History at the Museum of London
The Museum of London is not some dusty old haunt for ailing seniors. Open daily and offering free admission, this London museum is in fact two museums that recreate the entire history of the city through the ages, from early humans to the Sex Pistols. While the museum in the City focuses on the entire city, the Museum of London Docklands focuses on the London docks and the history of the river Thames. It’s safe to say that you can spend an entire day in either museum as the rooms are full of interesting details. At the museum in the City, my girls love the replica of a Victorian street lined with period shops, some of which you can walk into to pretend play. In the Docklands, Sailortown steals the show, a replica of dark alleyways for sailors complete with ship supply shops, stationers and seedy tavern. Fortunately, both feature really good cafes.
#15 Have A Pint At St. Katharine’s Docks
Steps from Tower Bridge, St. Katharine’s Docks is a real gem for the entire family and a picturesque reminder that London is a city built around the river Thames. This still-operating marina offers great scenery by night as the lights of the boats reflect in the waters of the dock. Mostly pedestrian, St. Katharine’s Docks is a great way to end a long day and if you feel so inclined, head to the famous Dickens Inn for a pint and pizza. It’s a restyled and reconstructed wooden warehouse building thought to have housed tea or to have been owned by a local brewery. With family-friendly food and a decent selection of ales, this inn is a good spot to relax after the Tower of London.