There’s no denying that my home city can be expensive – but with so many free things to do in London with kids, there are plenty of family days out that won’t cost you a penny.
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Whether you’re looking for a cheap day out in London with kids, want to mix some budget options in with the pricier family attractions, or fancy a challenge like seeing London for less than £5 per day, these are my top picks.
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See London’s sights for free
Palaces, historic landmarks, even some traditional ceremonies which go back centuries – these free things to do with kids in London are unmissable.
If you’re ready to get walking, I’ve got a self-guided walking tour route of London’s landmarks which will take you past all the key sights without spending a penny.
See Tower Bridge rise
With its blue and white decoration, Tower Bridge is a London icon (and no, it’s not called London Bridge). And you can also see Tower Bridge lift around 800 times a year.
The central sections can be raised to allow larger boats to sail into the Upper Pool of London – technically the bridge is a combined suspension and bascule bridge – and the times are published in advance.
You can get some of the best views of Tower Bridge opening from the bank too, with viewpoints on the north bank near the Tower of London and towards St Katherine’s Pier – spot the girl with a dolphin fountain as you do – or on the south bank near HMS Belfast or around Butler’s Wharf.
Check the most up to date schedule of bridge lift times.
For more ideas on how to save money on days out in London with kids, check out my top tips
Bonus: Tower of London – The Ceremony of the Keys
At the nearby Tower of London, the historic Ceremony of the Keys is sadly no longer completely free. The £5 fee per ticket is still well worth it to watch history in action though, one of the most unusual things to do in London with kids.
Back in the 14th century, Edward III was furious to discover he could walk into the Tower of London unchallenged – and decreed the fortress should be locked at sunset and unlocked at sunrise from that point on. And the tradition continues to this day, with the visit now starting at 9.30pm: tickets available from the start of the month, must be prebooked.
Check out my experience of watching the Ceremony of the Keys with kids
Look at Buckingham Palace
If you want a glimpse of the State Apartments, it won’t come cheap – but having a look at the sweeping façade of Buckingham Palace (and checking to see if the royal family is at home), comes absolutely free.
If you spy the Royal Standard fluttering above the palace roof, it’s a sign that the monarch is in residence, but if the Union Jack is flying, it’s proof he’s not present.
You can also spot the Victoria Memorial, before heading off down the tree-lined stretch of The Mall or into St James’s Park towards Westminster or Green Park towards Piccadilly.
Listen to Big Ben
One of the icons of London, the Elizabeth Tower – which houses Big Ben – was under scaffolding for years during a long restoration project but has happily now been unveiled once more.
The 96m tall clocktower dates back to 1859 and with London traffic (and lots of visitors climbing the stairs inside as part of the Big Ben tours), the renovations were the first for around 40 years.
Now work has been completed and the clock face is visible again. The 13.7 tonne Great Bell, as Big Ben is officially known, was also silenced during the facelift, except for special occasions but has resumed the famous ‘booooong’ throughout the day once work is complete.
See the Changing of the Guard
Another tradition that dates back centuries – this one to the late 15th century – the Changing of the Guard is one of London’s most popular free attractions as they march in their famous bearskin hats as a full military band plays.
The Household Troops have guarded Buckingham Palace since Queen Victoria moved in in 1837, although they have protected the monarch and royal palaces for centuries before then. And from 10.43am, the Old Guard hands over to the New Guard in a ceremony which takes around an hour.
You can also see the guards starting to form up by the palace from 10.30am and the new guard arriving from Wellington Barracks. The Changing of the Guard normally takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays (daily in June/July) but may be cancelled for major events as well as particularly bad weather – check it’s going ahead before you queue.
Expect to get there early if you want a good spot – being too close to the palace isn’t always ideal, as you don’t necessarily have the best view through the gates. If you’re visiting London with younger kids, get a taste at Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk beforehand, where you can spot them forming up and hear the music at around 10.15.
For a less busy option, you can also see the Queen’s Life Guard change on Horse Guards Parade, which tends to be less busy – 11am daily, except on Sundays when it takes place at 10am.
For more royal places in London to visit with kids, check out my pick of the best, from palaces to castles and more
Hop on a London bus
Another icon of London, a red double-decker bus is a great experience as well as doubling as a mini free tour of London – see if you can grab the front seats at the top for the best view.
Strictly speaking, this one is only free for kids – parents have to pay (although adult fares are a mere £1.75 for an hour, so it’s still a bit of a bargain – cards only, no cash. Check out this post for more details of using public transport in London with kids).
Sadly the last of the classic Routemaster buses has been retired from Route 15 but it’s still a great route to see the sights, passing the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and Trafalgar Square.
Or route 26 travels from Victoria via Westminster Abbey to Horseguards parade, Trafalgar Square and on to St Paul’s (replacing the old route 11), while route 9 takes you from Trafalgar Square west past Piccadilly to the South Kensington museums and Kensington Palace.
Visit the Sky Garden
London’s highest public garden is free to visit, although you do need to book in advance to soak up the views – unsurprisingly tickets to the Sky Garden get snapped up at weekends and you’ll need ID, so plan ahead.
Not far from Monument station (take a look at the famous Monument itself on the way, another free thing to do in London with kids if you don’t climb it), the garden sits at the top of the skyscraper Londoners know as the Walkie Talkie building – if you’re struggling with directions, it’s not tricky to spot.
With a covered terrace, you can get some amazing views across to the Shard, St Paul’s, Tower Bridge and along the Thames during your hour slot. You can stay longer if you plan visit one of the places to eat and drink, although these are (obviously) not free.
For more great free views in London with kids, including the nearby Garden at 120, check out my top picks
Explore Covent Garden
There’s always something to see around the Covent Garden Piazza, whether you prefer to browse the market stalls, enjoy some street theatre or discover the latest displays. At Christmas, giant baubles hang from the glass roof, while you could also find anything from Lego creations to occasional entertainment on the big screens.
The street performers audition for the coveted slots here, and you might spot anything from magic tricks to music – it’s free to watch, although if you enjoy the show, it’s only fair to drop something in the hat at the end.
While you’re there, take a stroll over to nearby Neal’s Yard for its eye-catchingly bright buildings.
If you’re looking for the best places to stay near Covent Garden with kids, check out my pick of family hotels in London
Art in Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square might be most famous for Nelson’s column – do wander past to spot the lions at its foot – but since 1998, there’s been a succession of artworks on the previously empty fourth plinth in the square.
There’s been everything from a giant blue cockerel and a bronze skeletal horse to a ship in a bottle, and The End, a giant swirl of whipped cream with a cherry and a fly on top, while a drone transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square.
Antelope by Samson Kambalu is the latest occupant, and a stroll around the square is perfect to combine with a (free!) visit to the National Gallery nearby.
Scroll down for more free London museums with kids
If you’re a UK resident, there are several ways you can get into the Houses of Parliament for free (otherwise there are also paid tours and a virtual tour on offer).
You can book up to six months in advance by contacting your MP (whatever you think of their politics!), to join a 75-minute official tour through the Palace of Westminster, so you can discover more about the history and traditions of Parliament and its home.
It’s worth knowing that these don’t run every day (and not at weekends)
Alternatively, you can also get a free ticket to see a debate, either in the House of Commons or the House of Lords – worth doing if you fancy taking in one of the more popular debates.
You’ll need ID, there’s airport-style security and it’s a good plan to dress reasonably smartly too.
Otherwise you can chance your luck on the day and queue to get in to see the House in session – recess quite often coincides with school holidays however, if you’re visiting with kids.
Discover the Roman Mithraeum
There are plenty of reminders of the Roman city of Londinium if you know where to look including part of London Wall near the former Museum of London site.
But easily one of the most impressive is the London Mithraeum. The Roman temple of Mithras was founded in the 3rd century by the Walbrook, one of London’s lost rivers, before it lay hidden for centuries until 1954.
It was only in 2017 when the reconstructed temple was reopened in its original site, under Bloomberg’s European Headquarters at 12 Walbrook, including interactive displays and information for kids. It’s free to enter but prebooked tickets are recommended.
For more Roman sites in London to visit with kids, check out my post – including plenty of free options
Find a Roman amphitheatre
Head over to the City of London and you can find another Roman highlight at Guildhall Yard – stroll around the open space in front of the 15th century Guildhall and you’ll see black stones curving around the yard.
These mark the place where the Roman amphitheatre once stood. Head into the Guildhall Art Gallery and you can see the remains of the amphitheatre itself, including part of the arena walls.
The Art Gallery itself is also free to visit, and you’ll often find events taking place in Guildhall Yard or as one of the locations for events covering the Square Mile making up the City of London.
Visit Fulham Palace
For centuries, Fulham Palace was the home of the Bishops of London and you can still see inside the house, now a museum which dates back around 750 years.
As well finding out more about the Bishops who lived here, and at previous buildings on the site, there’s a chance to learn about the estate which once supplied the palace, its royal visitors, plus there are free trails for kids to follow.
Outside, the 13-acre gardens include a natural play area, and there are regular events and activities during school holidays. Tickets to the house and museum are free but need to be prebooked.
The palace sits next to Bishop’s Park, with more playgrounds, including water play and an urban beach, plus a rose garden and sculpture garden, while you can also join the Thames Path here.
Get outdoors in London
Despite being one of the biggest cities in the world, London also scores well when it comes to green space, with a series of lovely parks. You’ll also find plenty of chance to get outdoors in London along the Thames and at some specially designed trails too: all completely free.
London is a surprisingly green city with plenty of parks to choose from but what makes Coram’s Fields unique is that this stretch of green space is only open to families – unless you’re visiting with kids, you’re not allowed in.
Stretching across seven acres, there’s lots to discover inside as well: several play areas, including a few traditional playgrounds with swings, slides and climbing frames, as well as some interactive options to make music… or at the very least, lots of noise!
Coram’s Fields is also home to a little wildlife garden, plus it’s walking distance from the British Museum so it’s easy to combine the two for a free day out in London.
Here’s what I thought of a visit to Coram’s Fields with a preschooler
While Kensington Gardens isn’t the biggest of the royal parks, it’s one of the best if you’re visiting London with kids.
The biggest draw is the Diana Memorial Playground in the park’s north-western corner, with a huge wooden pirate ship as its centrepiece, plus a sensory trail, play sculptures and plenty more.
For tips on more of the best playgrounds in London, check out this post
It’s also house to the statue of Peter Pan, next to the Long Water as you walk towards Hyde Park, with squirrels, rabbits, mice and fairies climbing up towards Peter himself.
Walking distance from the (free!) South Kensington museums, including the Natural History Museum and Science Museum, it’s also easy to combine with Hyde Park.
Stretching around the Serpentine, Hyde Park is home to Winter Wonderland in the run-up to Christmas and various events during the summer. But it’s a lovely place to escape the city at any time of the year.
For kids, there’s a playground at South Carriage Drive or you can entertain yourselves by getting different views of the water as you cross the three bridges over the Diana Memorial fountain. On hot days, you can dip your feet in at the edge (as well as hiring deckchairs by the lake).
Hyde Park has its own quirky history too. For almost 150 years, Speaker’s Corner has been the place to go to make your voice heard – anyone can share their views (as long as it doesn’t break any laws) and you’ll usually find crowds gathering to listen on Sunday mornings.
At the other end of the park, Rotten Row was once the haunt of highwaymen, as well as a place for the cream of society to exercise their horses in centuries past. The long sandy bridleway was lined with streetlamps to deter the thieves although you can still spy people riding horses in the park.
St James’s Park
The oldest of the royal parks, St James’s Park is a lovely green haven if you’re exploring around Westminster – especially the chance to spot the park’s most famous residents, the pelicans.
There have been pelicans living here since the 17th century and they even have their own island in the lake. The official feeding times take place between 2.30 and 3pm, although you can still spot the birds swimming and preening all day.
The views from the Blue Bridge across the water towards Buckingham Palace, and out to the London Eye in the other direction, are wonderful too. Keep an eye out for the rose emblems on the ground marking the Diana Memorial route too.
As well as getting a peek at a few of the zoo’s animals from the path outside, the park is something of a haven for wildlife, especially birds.
There are also four separate playgrounds for kids to enjoy, or stroll through the formal gardens. At the right time of year, Queen Mary’s Gardens has 12,000 roses in bloom.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can hire rowing boats and head out onto the lake – although this does have a fee.
For a longer walk, you can follow the Regent’s Canal towards Camden from here, or cross into Primrose Hill for one of the best views in London. It’s also a short stroll from Baker Street and the various tourist attractions there.
Look out for peacocks in Holland Park, often to be found strutting magnificently around the Kyoto Garden.
The garden itself was a gift from the Japanese city, and with its waterfalls and pools reflecting the cherry blossom in Spring and the flaming Japanese maple trees in autumn, it’s a beautiful spot to stroll.
More exciting for kids is the adventure playground, aimed at children aged five to 14, with a zip wire, climbing frames and wall, and various other fun options, along with a sandpit area for younger kids.
For tips on more of the best playgrounds in London, check out this post
Greenwich Park has one of the best views in London, from the hill of the Royal Observatory, gazing down to the Old Royal Naval college and across the Thames to the Docklands and the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the financial district.
But that’s only one reason to explore Greenwich Park with kids. It’s the oldest enclosed royal park and has its own herd of deer which live around the Wilderness, in the south-east of the park.
There are gardens galore, some with a long history: wander through the Queen’s orchard, the park’s herb garden and rose garden, and walk the length of London’s longest herbaceous border. There’s also a playground here.
And while boat hire isn’t free, you could also head out onto the lake between Easter and October, in the shadow of the Queen’s House.
It’s a great option to combine with the National Maritime Museum nearby (scroll down for more free London museums with kids), also free to enter, and you can climb up to the Royal Observatory and see the meridian line.
For more reasons to visit Greenwich with kids, check out my post
Battersea Park is another lovely place to stroll, with a variety of different attractions if you’re visiting London with kids – the majority have a fee, including the Go Ape Battersea high ropes, Battersea Park Children’s Zoo, pedal and rowboats on the lake, and Putt in the Park mini golf, but there’s still plenty to do without paying a penny.
Look out for the London Peace Pagoda as you wander, a gift to the city from the founder of the Japanese Buddhist movement in 1984. The park also stretches along the edge of the Thames so you get the river views and a chance to stare across to the Chelsea Embankment.
The biggest of the royal parks, Richmond Park stretches for an astonishing 2,500 acres and is also a nature reserve.
Most famous for its herds of wild deer, both red and fallow deer, you’ve got a good chance of spotting them as you wander – the Tamsin Trail, along the edge of the park is ideal for families, as it’s almost car-free, and is a good path to follow to get a few glimpses.
It’s important to remember that they are wild animals though, so don’t try to feed them and always keep at least 50m away, especially during the rutting season (from September to November) and during May to July when fawns are born.
Don’t miss the pretty Isabella Plantation gardens, with lovely winding paths past the flowers and water, or on a clear day, climb King Henry’s Mound and look across towards St Paul’s Cathedral more than 10 miles away. It’s a protected view, so nothing is allowed to be built in the sightline.
For more of the best views in London with kids, check out my top picks
Walk the South Bank
There’s always something new to discover along London’s South Bank, with events and festivals regularly taking place, new artwork often appearing, street art, plus a string of historic sites and major attractions to see.
The Thames is the heart of the city, so a walk along the river is always one of the best things to do in London with kids. One of my favourite stretches runs from Westminster Bridge to Southwark Bridge, with views to landmarks like the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s, as well as walking past the London Eye, the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe theatre.
For more things to do on the South Bank with kids, check out my tips
Keep going a little further and you can see the Golden Hinde, a recreation of the ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe, then on towards the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
Don’t miss the little details too, from the decorative lampposts to the fountains which create the Appearing Rooms (take spare clothes!) and a whole string of artistic touches. These change constantly, but check out this walk along the South Bank for some of the highlights to look out for.
The Imagine Children’s Festival also takes place on the South Bank, usually in February, running for 12 days and aimed at kids aged up to 11, all completely free.
For another fun, cheap walking tour of London (although not completely free), get 10% off the treasure hunts from Treasure Map trails using code MUMMYTRAVELS
Explore Little Venice
If you’re looking for waterfront walks, there’s more than just the Thames to explore, with plenty of options along the city’s canals.
The Regent’s Canal passes from Camden, past Regent’s Park and London Zoo, but one of the best areas to wander around is picturesque Little Venice with its houseboats moored along the banks or cruising down the still water… not to mention a floating art gallery and puppet theatre,
Thought to have been given its name by poet Robert Browning, it’s a wonderfully peaceful spot. The nearest tube is Warwick Avenue but you can also walk along to Paddington Basin, with its Floating Pocket Park (mini green spaces which bob on the water).
Head there at midday on Wednesdays and Fridays, and you can see the Fan Bridge being lifted as well.
Check out a playground
If you visit almost any one of London’s parks, you’ll find a playground to entertain your kids – from the best-known like the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens to Holland Park’s adventure playground.
But there are a string of others if your kids need a brief break from sightseeing. A stone’s throw from the London Eye, Jubilee Park & Garden has its own playground, or Victoria Park in east London has both a playground and a splash park, while if you’re out by the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Tumbling Bay playground has sand, wobbly bridges, pools and more to play in.
For somewhere really special, head to Paddington Recreation Ground playground, aka Paddington Rec near Maida Vale tube – designed for all ages and abilities, it’s intended to encourage creative play… and you’ll find a steamliner, train, tunnel, musical instruments, a wood forest play area among the trees, plus the highlight of pastel coloured playhouses which look like terraced houses.
For my complete set of the best playgrounds in London, check out this post
Splash in a fountain
When London basks in one of its occasional heatwaves, there’s nowhere better to be than the fountains which have started popping up all around the city – come prepared with spare clothes!
As well as the Appearing Rooms on the South Bank (scroll up for more details), some of the best are at Granary Square near Kings Cross. Made up of 1,080 separate jets, they dance in patterns, as kids splash excitedly among them.
You can also find more fountains in the courtyard of Somerset House off the Strand, as well as The Riverside at More London near Tower Bridge, 200 jets arranged in lines which spring up to catch the unwary.
Spot the Crystal Palace dinosaurs
A short train ride from central London lies one of London’s most unusual attractions – and one that, apart from the fare to get there, you can enjoy entirely for free.
Created back in 1854, the 30 life-size models are all of extinct animals, including dinosaurs, based on the best scientific knowledge of the time – not all of which is quite correct.
Now Grade I listed, they’ve been restored more than once and if they don’t look quite as you might expect a dinosaur to, they’re still well worth seeing. You can find them in the south east side of Crystal Palace Park, which is also home to one of the country’s biggest mazes, another Victorian design.
For more unusual things to do in London with kids, check out my pick of the best
Explore Hampstead Heath
This huge stretch of open heathland stretches from Hampstead to Highgate, and is home to the highest point in London – Parliament Hill. The view here is protected, and you can gaze down onto St Paul’s and the Palace of Westminster, as well as some of the city’s tallest buildings.
The woodland and meadows have inspired writers and artists, so it’s a lovely place to amble: you’ll also find playgrounds at the southern edge. There are three bathing ponds in the east too, although there’s a charge to use these (and you need to prebook).
If you’re already an English Heritage member, you can visit Kenwood House for free, with its art collection inside the grand Georgian building, family activities and more grounds to explore.
See Walthamstow Wetlands
Around 15 minutes from central London, the Walthamstow Wetlands are the newest and biggest wetlands in the city – and unlike the previous title holder, the WWT London Wetlands Centre at Barnes, they’re free to visit.
There are regular family-friendly activities, or you can simply follow the 13 miles of paths through the nature reserve, keeping an eye out for wildlife and enjoying the peace as you wander the trails around the reservoirs… while pondering the thought that these supply drinking water for 3.5 million people every day.
Tottenham Hale tube is one of the easiest to get to, on the Victoria line from Oxford Circus and King’s Cross, then less than 10 minutes’ walk to reach the wetlands themselves.
For another free alternative, the newly reopened Camley Street Natural Park sits between King’s Cross and St Pancras, with wetland, woodland and grassland habitats in the 1 hectare reserve
Free museums in London
Some of London’s best-known museums are famously free to enter, and there’s so much to discover inside that it’s easy to spend a day looking around – or just pop in for an hour without worrying about pricy entrance fees.
For now, prebooking tickets to London’s free museums is recommended, especially during school holidays (although some walk-up tickets are available), but there’s still no charge unless you’re also visiting one of the special exhibitions.
For more ideas on things to do in London with toddlers and preschoolers, check out this post
Natural History Museum
One of the best free museums in London with a toddler – although older kids will love it here too – the famous dinosaurs and blue whale skeleton hanging in the entrance hall are just the start of what you can see at the Natural History Museum.
Older kids will love the earth sciences section, including a simulated earthquake, after being whisked upstairs by an escalator rising towards dramatic rumbles and red light.
Younger ones will enjoy the mammals section, and the chance to see Andy’s clock if they’re fans of CBeebies shows Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures and Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures. You can even have a little break in the Wildlife Garden as well.
It’s unsurprisingly popular, so the free tickets for weekends and school holidays do get snapped up fast – don’t leave it too late to book.
For my tips on visiting the Natural History Museum with kids, click here
A short walk from the Natural History Museum, you could even squeeze both these great free London museums into one day – although you won’t be short of things to see at either.
And apart from the interactive exhibits of Wonderlab, which does have a booking fee, there’s no charge to visit the Science Museum.
Toddlers and younger kids will love The Garden, with lots of chances to get hands-on, playing with water, making music, sensory displays and giant blocks. The Pattern Pod is another great one for preschoolers and primary school age too.
And that’s before you check out the space gallery, as well as galleries on communications and information, plus an overview of 250 years of scientific and technological advances which have transformed our everyday life.
Prebooking tickets is recommended and you’re advised to allow at least two hours for a visit.
For my tips on visiting the Science Museum with kids, click here.
The British Museum
With around 80,000 items on display at the British Museum (from its bigger collection of eight million or so), it’s also a great place to visit with kids.
The mummies and the Ancient Egypt galleries are among the most popular (and usually the busiest) but are never less than fascinating. But with trails designed for age three upwards (including two for preschoolers focused on colours and counting), it’s easy to bring the artefacts to life.
You can discover Anglo Saxon treasure, games which date back thousands of years, gods, jewels, everyday items and unique finds, not to mention Romans, Greeks, Vikings and a huge amount more.
Only the special exhibitions have a charge, and if you’re visiting with kids aged under five, you should be able to skip the queue at the entrance – prebooking tickets is recommended and trails can be downloaded in advance.
For my tips on visiting the British Museum with kids, click here.
Museum of London
There’s nowhere better to discover more about the city you’re visiting than this free museum – the Museum of London traces the capital’s history from the days when hippos roamed in what’s now Trafalgar Square.
EDIT: The museum is now temporarily closed until reopening in its new site at Smithfield in 2026
It’s a great one for school age children, including great galleries on Roman London, the Anglo Saxons, the plague and Great Fire of London, as well as more modern times. You can also pick up trails for kids to follow as they explore.
Based out near the Barbican, it also tends to be slightly quieter than the South Kensington museums at weekends, ideal if you’re trying to escape the crowds with kids in London.
This lovely museum is outside central London but is easy to reach from London Bridge, and particularly fun with younger kids.
With lots of galleries on different themes, the Horniman is good for little attention spans as you can wander from natural history to world music and culture, to see butterflies and wander the grounds outside (with more animals to spot there too).
The Nature Base gives kids a chance to get hands on, including stroking a stuffed fox and badger, while older ones can learn more about conservation too.
The temporary exhibitions do have a small charge, as does the small aquarium, but otherwise it’s free to enter. Save some time to visit the Horniman Triangle playground nearby, with sandpits and climbing webs among the play equipment.
Read more about my visit to the Horniman museum with kids here.
Victoria & Albert Museum
While families flock to the other South Kensington museums, the Victoria & Albert Museum (or V&A) is one which often gets overlooked with kids.
But the world’s largest museum of decorative and applied arts has some fantastic family activities to try, even for the youngest visitors, which are great for bringing the collection to life.
With the costumes from the Lion King, eye-catchingly dramatic court dresses, and a very unexpected automaton of a tiger eating a man, as well as statues, sculptures and more, it’s a fabulous treasure trove to explore with kids.
There are also free family events during school holidays and some weekends, as well as trails to follow (download before you come or pick up when you arrive – the family backpacks are currently unavailable though).
For my tips on visiting the V&A with kids, click here
National Maritime Museum
One of the Royal Museums Greenwich, this free museum traces Britain’s maritime history over the centuries, with exhibits including the coat Nelson was wearing when he died.
You can also see model ships and maps, as well as artworks, with tales of piracy and adventure, Polar exploration and voyage through the Pacific – the Ahoy gallery is the best spot for families with younger kids, or check out the interactive Sea Things gallery.
Better for older kids than toddlers, although there are family trails and a great giant map in the heart of the National Maritime Museum to play on. Prebooking tickets is recommended.
For more ideas of things to do in Greenwich with kids, click here.
Set in a converted power station on London’s Bankside, Tate Modern is definitely not your average art gallery – kids are encouraged to talk (and there’s plenty of space to run around in the turbine hall) plus you’ll find lots of easy ways even for younger ones to enjoy what they see including suggested games.
The Tate Modern also has suggested routes for families to follow through the collections, which include big names from the 20th century, such as Matisse, along with works from the past decade on display.
It’s an easy one to add in to a walk along the South Bank as well (scroll up for more details).
With well over 2,000 works, you can see some of the greatest art in the world at the National Gallery – and you don’t need to have an in-depth grasp of art history to enjoy looking at the collections.
See how many of the 30 highlights you could find, while there are trails to follow (although paintings do tend to move).
For creative kids, don’t go without packing a pad and some colouring pencils – you’ll spot plenty of other families stopping to create their own art along the way.
There are also family activities like Sunday storytelling sessions and other school holiday events, plus plenty of ideas of art activities for kids at home if they’re inspired by a visit. You can also watch videos of curators telling some of the stories behind the paintings (aimed for aged 8+) before you visit.
Museum of London Docklands
The sister site of the Museum of London, the Museum of London Docklands sits in a converted warehouse on West India Quay, once the heart of London’s thriving docks industry, and it’s the perfect place to discover this aspect of the capital.
With galleries set out in chronological order, you can travel from late Tudor times when the river traffic moved east from the wharves around the Tower of London right through to the modern day, when London’s financial district took over the area.
There are displays on slavery, you can walk through a recreation of sailortown and look inside an air raid shelter, as well as learning more about the Great Stink and the Great Dock Strike. There are clever interactives which mean you needn’t touch the screen either.
Prebooking tickets is recommended but entry is free, including to some of the temporary exhibitions although there is a small charge for the Mudlarks play space (which must be prebooked). Otherwise this is one museum which is better with primary school-aged children and older than with preschoolers and toddlers.
Read more about my visit to the Museum of London Docklands with kids here.
Imperial War Museum
Founded during the First World War, the galleries at the Imperial War Museum focus on the experiences of people affected by war, so while you’ll also get to see some very large guns, planes hanging from the ceiling and collections of medals, there’s more emphasis on individual stories.
The newest galleries include one covering the Second World War, and the museum runs regular family events during school holidays – one of the recent ones was based around spies and espionage.
There is a separate exhibition on the Holocaust as well, which is only recommended for children aged 14+.
The closest tube station is Lambeth North, although you can walk it from Waterloo in less than 15 minutes.
The Royal Air Force Museum in Colindale, north London tells the story of the RAF over its first 100 years, from the founding in 1918.
Inside the hangars, you can see a whole string of aircraft from over the years, as well as displays of everything from logbooks and hidden maps to survival rations, plus other vehicles.
Kids can try on an RAF uniform or test their own reaction times, along with sensory areas to touch the models and discover some RAF smells and sounds, plus the chance for the littlest ones to climb into a miniature plane.
Tickets are free but prebooking is advised. You can also prebook car parking in advance if you don’t want to travel by tube, but this does have a charge.
More free things to do in London with kids
Whether you fancy seeing your favourite book character, discovering the city’s art or spotting animals, there are plenty more ideas of free things to do with kids in London.
See the Paddington statues
For fans of Paddington Bear (and who isn’t?), you can’t miss a visit to Paddington Station, where the furry hero of the books was first found by the Browns and received his name.
The lifesize bronze statue with the label asking people to look after this bear is back in its usual home by Platform 1, after a brief stint near the Praed Street entrance, between Platforms 9 and 10. Keep an eye out for a plaque marking his appearances on the page and on screen too.
You can also find the Paddington bench within the station, where kids can sit next to him and pose for photos.
The station is also the starting point for the Pawprint Trail – three trails, in fact, each with one of the Paddington statues from the 2014 collection dotted around the city.
One route takes you along the canal to Little Venice and beyond, another to Paddington Basin, so they are good options to combine with either of these (scroll up for more details) as well as a visit to Paddington Rec. The third leads in the direction of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
For a less well-known statue of Paddington, head to St Mary’s Churchyard at nearby Paddington Green, where you’ll find him commemorated with his creator Michael Bond, one of the Sustrans portrait benches dotted around the country – here alongside two other locals, nurse Mary Seacole and mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing.
You don’t have to leave central London to find him either: there’s also a statue of Paddington with his famous marmalade sandwiches in Leicester Square.
For more things to do around Leicester Square with kids, check out my top picks
Stroll in Harry Potter’s footsteps
Harry Potter fans can find a string of sites from the books and movies across the capital, including a chance to see the designs which brought the wizarding world to life, as well as locations which pop up in the films.
Start at King’s Cross: Platform 9 ¾ was actually filmed between platforms 4 and 5, but there’s a chance to pose with a luggage trolley disappearing through the wall on the station concourse.
There’s a professional photographer taking shots, complete with the scarf of whichever house you choose (usually from 9am to 9pm) and a chance to buy these in the shop next door, but there’s no obligation and you can also take your own photos for free.
There’s usually a queue, so it’s best to turn up early or be ready to wait (unless you turn up after the shop has shut with your own camera and props).
You can also stroll through Leadenhall Market, which doubled as Diagon Alley in the first movie, and spot the blue door to the optician’s in Bull’s Head Passage which became the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. Or watch out for Death Eaters as you walk across the Millennium Bridge between Tate Modern and St Paul’s.
Fans can also visit the House of MinaLima – graphic design duo Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima created everything from the Marauder’s Map to packets of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. It’s free to look around their gallery at Wardour Street (formerly on Greek Street) if you can resist buying a souvenir.
For more Harry Potter locations in London, check out this post
Spot street art
London’s street art scene is constantly changing, so it’s possible to return again and again to see something new – but as well as making special visits to see the latest creations, it’s easy to see some of the works across the capital as you wander past other attractions.
Stroll along the South Bank and you can see street art by Stik at Hungerford Bridge, not far from the London Eye, as well as a technicolour Shakespeare near the Clink tunnel beyond the Globe, and more in the Leake Street tunnel near Waterloo – just for starters.
Otherwise, parts of East London – especially Shoreditch and Hackney – are good locations to try. Wander along Brick Lane and the roads nearby, or if you’re close to Liverpool Street and Spitalfields, there’s street art to be found here too.
Camden is also worth a visit, while Walthamstow is making a name for its street art too – follow the Wood Street Walls maps.
For more things to do in Camden with kids, check out my top picks
And the London Mural Festival saw more than 150 artists create over 40 works of art across the capital in September 2020 – many of which still remain.
Wander around God’s Own Junkyard
If you’re visiting Walthamstow at the weekend (or on Fridays), don’t go home without a stop at God’s Own Junkyard, with its piles of neon signs.
Some are former film props, but you’ll find all kinds of brightly wonderful creations on display – and heaped up against the walls – including retro signs, religious statues, disco paraphernalia, all free to wander around.
Better with teens and older kids (or you may want to distract younger kids from a few of the psychedelic delights on display).
Walk The Line
The Line is London’s first public art walk, a great way to mix the chance to get outdoors with enjoying art, heritage and nature.
The entire thing is supposed to take around 2 ½ hours to walk, running between the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and The O2, along some of east London’s waterways and following the line of the Greenwich Meridian.
There are half a dozen artworks on the North Greenwich peninsula alone, near The O2, and you could also hop on the tube if you’d like to see each one but your kids don’t fancy doing the entire route on foot – especially as you can usually count on getting lost at least once along the way.
Visit a city farm
If you’re visiting London with kids who love animals, add one of the many city farms to your list, with a string of sites dotted around the capital.
At Vauxhall City Farm, you’ll find alpacas alongside farmyard animals and even a couple of cats, while there are llamas at Mudchute. Hackney City Farm has some smaller fluffy inhabitants including rabbits and guinea pigs as well as larger creatures too.
Some of the farms have limited opening hours, so always check directly for the latest information.
Go to Golders Hill Zoo
If you’re looking for something more exotic than domestic animals, how about a free zoo in London?
Golders Hill Zoo is far smaller than London Zoo (or even Battersea Park Children’s Zoo) but still has some distinctly unusual animals living in its home in Golders Hill Park (technically part of Hampstead Heath, in London’s Golders Green) – all registered with BIAZA, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Don’t expect lions or tigers but you can spot ring-tailed lemurs and coatis, as well as kookaburras and eagle owls, plus a herd of deer. It’s lovely if you’re looking for a free day out in north London with younger kids.
Here’s what we thought of a visit to Golders Hill Zoo with a toddler
Explore a market
London is famous for its markets, and while they’re only free if you’re strong-willed enough not to buy a souvenir or two, they’re a great experience while you’re visiting the capital.
Portobello market is the world’s largest antique market, although you’ll find fashion, vintage and more on the stalls – Saturday is the main day to visit here, and hipster favourite Broadway market in Hackney.
Spitalfields Market is one of London’s oldest, and is now open every day, as is Camden market, with some great food and a multicultural mix of homewares, fashion and jewellery. Greenwich market is another daily option, with antiques, fashion and food.
For food, it’s hard to beat Borough Market, although only the extremely strong-willed can resist buying something off the stalls selling both produce and very tempting dishes here.
Spy famous names in a cemetery
The idea of going for a walk in a cemetery might seem an odd one, but it’s actually a fascinating day out with kids in London – and needless to say, usually free – especially if you visit one of the Magnificent Seven, the ring of seven graveyards created mostly in the Victorian age and inspired by Pere Lachaise in Paris.
Brompton Cemetery has an unusual attraction for younger children – Beatrix Potter used to live nearby and some names on the tombstones apparently inspired characters in her stories: keep an eye out for Peter Rabbett, Jeremiah Fisher, Mr Nutkins, Mr Brock and Mr McGregor as you visit.
You’ll also find Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Victorian adventuress Elizabeth Le Blond and pioneering physician Dr John Snow, plus this cemetery has made countless appearances in films, including Bond movie Goldeneye and Sherlock Holmes.
Kensal Green is London’s largest and oldest public cemetery, with giant mausoleums as well as the grave of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, plus tightrope walker Charles Blondin, best known for crossing the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope.
Bunhill Fields is a Nonconformist burial ground which dates back to the 1660s, with the graves of writers, artists, intellectuals and radicals, including John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and William Blake.
The best-known of the cemeteries, Highgate, isn’t free (unless you’re a grave owner), although the entry charge is minimal (from £4.50 for an adult ticket to the East Cemetery, 50p for kids) and some of its catacombs are Grade II listed. It’s the final resting place of Karl Marx, George Eliot and poet Christina Rossetti. Archway tube is the closest, rather than Highgate itself.
*First published 2020, last updated 2023*
PIN FOR LATER: FREE THINGS TO DO IN LONDON WITH KIDS
Tower of London/Trafalgar Square/Coram’s Fields/St James’s Park/Greenwich Park/Natural History Museum/Horniman museum/V&A/National Gallery/Museum of London Docklands/Paddington bench/Shakespeare street art/Borough market images copyright MummyTravels, changing of the guard courtesy Adobe Stock, all other images courtesy of Depositphotos
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