London Baby! I always get over-excited about London, but exploring with tots took it to a new level. I was a bit daunted by the city, but discovered that the offering for kids is fantastic. Here is the best of the best that we've personally experienced.
Top Things to Do in London with Kids
1 – London Zoo – VISITED POST-COVID
So London Zoo is quite an expensive treat, but when you stroll past lions, tigers, gorillas, hippos and giraffes it’s clear where the money’s being spent. Most of the big safari animals are here, plus a butterfly zone, penguin area, bug building, nocturnal zone, as well as popular creatures from meerkats and flamingoes to crocodiles and sloths!
[COVID – Hand sanitiser was everywhere. Masks were required in indoor enclosures. Visitors followed three (mainly outdoor) routes to see all the animals, and it felt very easy to keep to yourself. Signs everywhere reminded people not to touch handrails and the glass. The cafe required food to be ordered via an app, but we chose to eat at home.]
2 – London Transport Museum – VISITED POST COVID
In London terms, the Transport Museum charges quite a reasonable entrance fee, as children are free. [For the price of a ticket you also get a year’s access pass to the museum, should you wish to return.]
A lift takes you back in time to the 1800s, where you step into a world of water travel on the Thames, and horse and carts on the streets. My favourite section covered the spooky, disused tube stations.
[COVID UPDATE The kids loved the play areas, which are surprisingly hands on and interactive. The tots repaired machines, manned taxis and steered a Thames Clipper. Hand sanitiser is all over the place, but whenever my children touched a steering wheel or ‘drove’ a tram, I’d use my own sanitiser immediately. The play area is also cleaned by staff at regular intervals.]
3 – The Natural History Museum
FREE – The Natural History Museum is a classic. It’s also free, which is an added bonus. The new blue whale, pride of place in Hintz Hall, is a sight to behold, and the animatronic dinosaurs are wonderfully terrifying. Top tip, visit early or late to avoid massive queues.
4 – Imperial War Museum
FREE – Fascinating for adults, and far more engaging and thought provoking for young children than expected. From incredible aircraft to touching scenes in the trenches, my boys were interested and full of questions.
5 – The Postal Museum
The Postal Museum is brand spanking new, and its tiny wee Mail Rail only opened in September 2017. There are three attractions, the museum itself that tells the story of Britain’s social and communication’s history (which is far more interesting than it sounds, and involves dressing up opportunities and colouring-in stations for tots). The play area ‘Sorted!’, which is utterly fantastic fun, involves lots of interactive play and learning on a postal vibe. And lastly, the inimitable Mail Rail. This little train, wich once carried the post, shut down in 2003, and has now been converted to carry curious little passengers and their parents into dark tunnels. Informative and fun videos engage all, it’s a total winner.
6 – Visit a Park or Garden
FREE – Every park in London has something to offer. My personal favourite is St James’ Park where kids can feed birds and chase squirrels. I liked strolling through the Ada Salter Gardens in Southwark Park, which has a cafe on site too. We explored Chumleigh Gardens, admired the water fountains and the kids played in one of the three playgrounds (age specific) at the spacious Burgess Park.
We tried the Diana Memorial Garden in Kensington Gardens, but the children found it very busy and I found it hard to keep an eye on the kids, as the swings are separated by hedges from the boat etc.
A few streets away from the Postal Muesum are Coram’s Fields. You can only enter these play areas if you have a child with you. This entry policy is something I’ve never experienced before and, whilst I wouldn’t want too many green spaces off limits to those without children, it was somehow hugely reassuring.
7 – Visit a Garden in the Sky
FREE – Visiting the Sky Garden is a real highlight, just something a bit quirky and different, with a mix of dining experiences on offer too. Click here for 16 tips and things you need to know before visiting.
8 – Set Sail on the Thames Clippers
London Underground is not particularly child friendly, and not at all buggy friendly so, especially on a sunny day, set sail aboard MBNA Thames Clippers to get from A to B and take in the glories of the Thames as you go. Kids love it, and cruising the river engages all ages.
9 – Get Nautical at the National Maritime Museum
FREE – Having reached Greenwich aboard a MBNA Clipper we headed for the National Maritime Museum. Its play area, ‘Ahoy!’, is brilliant for kids. They can dress up as pirates, go fishing, shop in a fishmongers wearing ridiculous headgear, stoke the boiler of a steamship, and generally cause maritime chaos. It’s free, and when busy there’s a simple one-in-one-out policy, so arriving early is a smart idea.
The exhibitions in the rest of museum didn’t cross over particularly well with our tots. For example, the Battle of Jutland exhibit interested me, but was far too adult a theme for preschoolers, and their noise level felt a tad disrespectful, so parents may have to do a bit of tag-teaming to experience see the adult exhibits. [After the museum, we ate at the Coach and Horses bar in Greenwich Market that did fantastic Sunday Roast style dishes, and a hearty kids menu.]
10 – Visit the Rainforest Cafe
For a dining extravaganza book a table at the Rainforest Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue. Upon entering a subterranean jungle, animatronic gorillas, elephants, crocodiles, big cats and butterflies come to life with noise and movement. The kids were beside themselves. The food is quite expensive for what it is, and the soft drinks are extortionate, but you’re essentially paying for the location, the set design, the aquarium and the fun times.
11 – Go for Afternoon Tea
VISITED POST COVID Quite pricey treats but really quite special experiences. Two options we’ve adored include the Peter Rabbit Afternoon Tea at the Terrace at Piccadilly. Super cute themed tea, with children’s and grown up versions. If you really want to spoil the kids then this hotel is around the corner from Hamley’s Toy Shop. [COVID UPDATE – Use hand sanitiser on arrival, track and trace, and you’re good to go.]
The imagination that the Ampersand Hotel put into their children’s science themed Afternoon Tea is fabulous. Dry ice, syringes, space rockets and jelly in petri dishes – simply wonderful. [Close to the Science Museum.]
12 – The Museum of London
FREE – This treasure covers the history of London. Engaging films about the (quite brutal) Romans and gladiators totally captivated my boys, and they were equally fascinated by the horrible histories of the Great Fire of London and the Plague. Drama, death and development that makes little minds whirr.
13 – Eat at Mercato Metropolitano
To get your cool back then, if you’re anywhere near the Elephant and Castle, drop by Mercato Metropolitano. Go there whether you have kids or not! This covered food market is delicious and chilled. It works well for kids due to how spacious it is, it’s buzzing with noise, and customers can choose from numerous specialist stalls.
We chose pulled pork and raclette for the boys, I indulged in a duck and seaweed dish, and craft beers, wine and champagne are also for sale. The gelato stall is fantastic. Borough Market is nearby and quite similar, but it’s almost too popular for its own good and there’s hardly any seating, so Mercato Metropolitano gets my vote.
14 Go Underwater at Sealife London
Sealife London offers a few hours of glorious underwater exploration. It’s not cheap but once inside you’ll see where your money goes. The shark tank is naturally impressive, I always have a soft spot for seahorses, but it was the jellyfish that blew my mind. Absolute things of beauty, how does nature do it? [At County Hall, Sealife London is brilliantly positioned on the Southbank for food, drink, the London Eye and the Shrek Experience.]
15 – Shopping Tots
London has some of the biggest toy shops and best retail experiences on offer, so if you want to treat your kids try Hamley’s on Regent Street, but if you don’t want to spend any money then window shopping comes into its own espcially over the festive season.
16 – Get Up There – Visit the Shard
Looking for a way to visit the Shard on budget – click here to discover more.
17 – Get Rich Quick at the Bank of England Museum
FREE – Visit the free Bank of England museum, which has fantastic age-specific activity sheets for kids. Feel the weight of a real gold bar, and take selfies in a gold safe.
18 – Catch a Red London Bus and Sit Upstairs
My husband knows the bus routes so my boys were king of the castle, sitting on the top of a red London bus. They found this everyday journey disproportionately exciting. Whilst the tube isn’t buggy friendly in the slightest, you kinda have to use it to get around London, the plus side is that the kids love it.
Avoid peak travel times, when it gets stupidly busy, and make the most of it. Generally my husband carried the buggy and I was in charge of the tots, but I wouldn’t have attempted it on my own.
19 – Visit Kew Gardens
These expansive gardens contain glass houses, an aquarium, very cool playgrounds, and lots of space for little ones to run off steam. Discover more here.
Lastly, the best bit of transport we’ll always associate with London was the Caledonian Sleeper. Travelling from Aberdeen to London in pyjamas!
The sheer excitement of falling asleep on a train was nearly too much for my tots. Arriving in London around 0745 it actually fitted well with my kids’ schedules. And everyone asks, did you sleep? I’m a mum, of course I slept. I’m exhausted! It was far easier than travelling through an airport so I’ve written up the experience, with all the pros and cons, but overall it’s a great way to get to the very cool London with your very cool kids.