As a mother who lives in London with two children under the age of four, I am almost constantly looking for activities for the little ones in London. If you are planning to explore the city for the first time with small children, it is wise to plan a visit. But don’t worry for a second that there’s nothing to do for the little ones in London. The city is literally a wonderland for children, and I often like it better for children under the age of five.
I love London and falling in love with the city again through the eyes of my children, Finn (4) and Isabel (1), has been one of the great joys of raising children. While researching with them, I realized that there are curious and exciting things lurking almost everywhere you go. From big buses to flashing lights, sounds and smells, people and places, there’s really lots to do for the little ones in London, and – best of all – if you don’t want to spend money, you can entertain them all week without spending!
What to do in London with your children
Sights are everywhere! (Image: Helen Wright)
All guides will take you to the most important family attractions in London, but it’s hard to say which ones are worth visiting or which are worth fighting for in the crowd. I’m sure the zoo or aquarium will be fun, but if you really want to enjoy London with the kids, choose the attractions that are unique to this city and you won’t be disappointed.
In this list I have put together 21 of my favourite free (or independent) activities in London for the little ones. It may surprise you how much fun you can have while spending little time on it. At the end I made a list of paying attractions, with a short explanation of why I think these are the best places to visit in London with young children.
Having fun in London is easy (Photo: Helen Wright)
It comes down to it: Although the city is very busy and lively, I have always found the places that are offered here to be safe and stress free when visiting children. You will never lack a place to go to the bathroom or change a diaper, find something to eat and drink, or just sit back and relax. Moreover, almost all pubs in London welcome children during the day. So if members of the mini-pub family want to take a little break (or better yet, a nap), you might even get the chance to enjoy a British pint! Have fun!
21 free items in London for children
Playing with public transport
Get on a London bus (Photo: Julian Walker)
Pipes, buses and trains O MY! I still haven’t found a toddler who isn’t fascinated by fun and colourful vehicles, and London’s huge transport network is full of them. But instead of seeing them parked in a museum, the big red buses are a way of life here in London, so you can take one wherever you want.
Despite the fact that the buses run 24 hours a day along our street, Finn never gets tired of getting on double-decker buses. He likes to sit in the front row and pretend to be the driver – and it’s also the seat with the best view of the city. All buses in London are accessible, so you can get on the bus without taking your baby or child out of the pushchair. However, only two wheelchairs may be seated in each bus at the same time, and if a wheelchair user asks to be seated in the bus, you must still get off the bus to make room for him or her, because users with fewer users have priority. In this case you can ask the driver for a ticket, so that you do not have to pay again in the bus behind you. You must touch the bus with your card or Oyster Card, but you must not touch it when you get off.
Finn never gets bored on the bus (Photo: Helen Wright)
The bus stops in London are actually very easy to use. At the bus stop you will find out in which direction the bus is going and where it stops on the way. The bus stops are organized in small groups, so most buses that stop there go in the same direction.
You can use a contactless card or means of payment on almost all public transport in London (bus, metro, tram, DLR, London Underground, TfL Rail Services*, Emirates Airlines and River Bus – but not nationwide). In the past, the best way to get around London was a day pass, but today it is officially cheaper and easier to pay without contact. How it works and other ticketing options are explained in detail on tfl.gov.uk/fares
DLR DRIVING – FREE FUN IN LONDON FOR CHILDREN
My dad used to do this with me! (Image: Helen Wright)
Another fun transport option that you can pretend to be in London is the DLR (Docklands Light Railway). It is mainly a suburban line, which runs through the residential areas of central London and the financial district around Canary Wharf, but also serves the London City Airport. You can get on the DLR in central London (near Tower Bridge and the Bank) and it’s so much fun to drive, because in electronic trains without drivers you can literally sit where the driver would sit if there was one.
A warning: We’ve never had a problem with DLR trains, but if you’re not familiar with London, I wouldn’t advise you to get out and explore many places along the way. There are a few exceptions (like Cutty Sark and Royal Victoria), but the DLR is up and down, so your little one won’t want to stray off the path.
Emirates Airline gondola lift
– Cableway with simple design (photo: Helen Wright)
Emirates Air Line is a fun and inexpensive way to see London from the air. These closed cable cars cross the Thames from Victoria’s Royal Dock to North Greenwich (where O2 is located). You can buy an individual fare (£4.50 for adults, £2.30 for children) for a one-way journey or pay with your Oyster Card at a discount of £1.
Remember that for this fun activity in London for the little ones, you just come to ride the zip line. There is not much to do on either side of the airline, but on the Greenwich side there are many restaurants and shops, as well as a playground and spaces to burn energy outdoors. From here you can enter the city via North Greenwich Metro station on the London Underground’s Jubilee line.
Use of TUBE in London with young children
The London Underground in London with young children is a fast and efficient way to get around the city and discover as much as possible during your visit. If you’ve never travelled with children on the London Underground, it’s normal to feel anxious, but travelling with young children on the Underground is actually quite fun.
Whistling fun for three and one (Photo: Helen Wright)
That goes without saying, but it’s easier to take the subway if you don’t have a pram. It can be very busy and many stations or junctions do not have accessible platforms with ramps and elevators, so you may encounter stairs and almost certainly escalators. However, we know that if you have to spend the whole day in London with the little ones, you need a place where they can rest their little legs or take a nap. Plan your trip in advance if possible. On a map of the London Underground, look for the X-symbol which indicates that access from the platform to the street is infinitely variable. The Mumderground application is also a useful resource for buggies in the metro.
I do a lot of stroller rides in the subway and I recommend investing in a lightweight stroller that you can lift yourself. Small, narrow strollers are ideal for the subway because they take up less space when it’s busy and are often easier to handle. We use GB Pocket, you’ll know more about it by reading the post about the necessities for travelling with children (opens in a new tab). Travel with a backpack and leave room for extra parts. A pram with lots of bags and toys hanging on it is less easy to manoeuvre and increases the risk of falling backwards. Don’t forget that your child doesn’t need any extra toys to keep his attention, there will be plenty around to keep him entertained.
Fun and safety (Picture: Helen Wright)
In my experience, 99% of the time in the subway, someone will offer to help you carry your stroller up the stairs, and, sorry guys, but 75% of the time it will be a woman…. There were small steps (8-10 steps) where I had to carry a Finn, so a lightweight stroller is best for babies in London. But on the escalator I always take her out of the stroller and hold her in my arms. I think it’s the safest way to go, and I feel better knowing I have them.
Luggage racks, such as Phil and Ted’s Parade Carrier, are also perfect for exploring London with the little ones and taking the subway. I absolutely do not recommend the reins for toddlers, which can be dangerous for other people and can easily get entangled. It’s also not a good idea in busy times, when your little one walks between the legs of a busy adult.
London locations for children
Mounted Surveillance parade / Buckingham Palace
Changing the guard is a milestone (Picture: Chris Wotipka)
If you’re looking for a typical London experience, there’s nothing more British than changing guards at Horse Parade and Buckingham Palace. The show shows all the queen’s horses and all the queen’s men (okay, not all) in all their glory and performs one of the oldest and most famous royal ceremonies.
The event, which is free of charge, is usually not too busy, and the minimal fencing allows the little ones to have a very good view of the action without having to cling on. Ceremonies are generally not well attended, so some social distance can be taken. There are two shifts of guards to choose from; one is outside Buckingham Palace at 11am (every day from April to July and beyond). The other is at the Horse Guards Arch at the Horse Guards parade in front of Whitehall at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sunday). Check the weather – there’s no ceremony if it rains. Go to royalparks.org.uk for dates and times.
The Barbican is an art and entertainment centre in the city of London, best known for its classical music concerts. It may seem unlikely that there are children in London, but I actually spend a lot of time there with Finn. In addition to the concert hall, the centre also hosts contemporary art exhibitions, often very small and friendly. From light and sound installations to an exhibition of retro toys, the Barbican is a discreet (and not too serious/ unconventional) place where young children can discover works of art.
Fire of Imagination (Image: passport-stamps.uk)
There are also early morning games in the conservatory and a forest on the roof – the perfect place to let your imagination run wild (and play hide-and-seek). Although the Conservatory is closed (it is closed for public events), Finn and I once spent two hours there walking through the halls, driving up and down the lifts and exploring the Barbican High Walk, a series of elevated walkways that were an integral part of the original Barbican design and served as a safe and fun place to walk with children under the age of 5. The Barbican was built in the 1970s and is one of the best examples of the city’s brutalist architecture. You may not like it for your little ones, but try taking them to a nice bathroom for a spaceship and see how they react.
Barbican is an unofficial image of a playground: martin_vmorris)
The centre’s casual restaurant (Barbican Kitchen) offers both indoor and outdoor seating, as well as buffets and à la carte menus. And, uh..: Children eat for free at certain times! The outdoor area is ideal in summer, but don’t leave without a delicious ice cream at the dessert bar. * It’s a big problem. * They also serve wine.
Like the Barbican, the Tate Modern is a contemporary art space that embraces the noise and energy of the little ones. The main atrium itself, with its long colourful ramp and high industrial ceilings, is the ideal place for children. In the main hall there is usually an open and accessible exit for visitors of all ages. There was recently a whole hall full of different swings in the gallery. It was a success with Finn and his cousins!
There is more than art to the Tate (Image: Nathan Rupert)
There are also small children’s exhibitions, but children should not run too fast. Sometimes I just take a look at a large gift shop with a brilliant selection of children’s books, toys and gifts. Outside, over the Millennium Bridge (connecting Tate Modern and St Pauls) is also very popular with my kids, and from there you have great views of the city and Tower Bridge.
Bridges and boats
It’s so easy to entertain the little ones in London without spending a lot of money. Of course there is a wide range of paid attractions along the Thames, such as the London Eye, the London Aquarium and the Tower of London, but the little ones will enjoy themselves just as much by strolling along the river and soaking up the everyday surroundings.
The London skyline looks incredible from the water. One way to enjoy it without spending too much time on a guided tour (and with the option to get off when your little ones are bored) is the Thames Clipper River Bus. Clipper operates a shuttle service along the Thames between Battersea Power Station and North Greenwich, serving many key London locations. There is a café and a bar on board and you can sit inside or outside. https://www.thamesclippers.com/
The Thames is not the only scenic waterway in London. You can also stroll along the Regent’s Canal, which runs through Paddington, Little Venice, Camden, St Pancras and Angel, Islington. Along the canal you will see playgrounds, shops and cafes, galleries, dog walkers, runners, cyclists, paddlers, street artists and pop-up markets. Indeed, a visit to the canal offers Londoners (and their children) an authentic perspective on life. Be careful along the canal, apart from the obvious danger of a toddler falling into the water, you will have to avoid rush hour bikes, skateboards and small crowds. Don’t be discouraged, the canal tends to be very familiar (we walk past it every day and it should be noted that if someone falls, he can probably get up again, because it’s only a metre deep).
Look from the towpath or take a short boat trip (Photo: Helen Wright)
Another way to enjoy the canal is by taking a seat on one of the many narrow boats sailing along the Regent’s Canal. My experience is that short and precise visits (maximum 30 minutes) work best in London with young children, because there is not much space in the boats and you are encouraged to sit inside. We often drive from St Pancras to Angel through the Islington tunnel and Finn loves it.
Granary Square is a relatively new area in London, but it is becoming increasingly popular and it is easy to understand why. Located on Regent’s Canal behind King’s Cross, this huge open space has something for everyone. Expect to see local food markets, street artists, pop art institutions and family and friends picnicking, cycling and enjoying life.
Bring a change of clothes (Photo: Phil Rogers)
The main attraction for the little ones are the fountains on the dance floor on Place du Grenier. They can run, jump, play and dodge the water jets while the parents sit on the edge, stay dry and enjoy a cup of coffee or a soda in one of the nearby bars. We love this place and even in winter the atmosphere is always lively. Of course, summer is at its best when the little ones enjoy the sun all day. There is a wide choice of fast food, street food, restaurants and pubs nearby so that everyone is well served.
Playground for adults and children (Photo: Phil Rogers)
If you are in the area, it is also worth taking a stroll through the light tunnel that connects the Cross of Kings and St Pancras stations with the social area of Granary Square. The curved tunnel is equipped with a wall of LED lighting and will certainly attract the attention of your mini explorers.
There’s so much to do nearby, and another weird little thing to watch is the magic wall that leads to Platform 9 ¾ made famous in Harry Potter books and movies. The Inside Kings Cross station is a model photo wall with a luggage cart that disappears into the wall and where the Hogwarts Express is waiting for you to take you to Hogwarts Meadowland. Pottery lovers can pose for the perfect selfish attacker by crossing the wall. If you’re in the neighbourhood early, go there first, because it’s not uncommon to see a line of people waiting to be photographed.
Don’t miss the train! (Picture: passport-stamps.uk)
Hidden Gardens Across London (Image: Helen Wright)
If you’re not used to city life and think it can be overwhelming for your little one, a stroll through London’s residential areas will reveal an incredible amount of green space, playgrounds, city gardens https://secretldn.com/8-secret-urban-gardens-london-might-not-know/ and gardens and community spaces that are open to the public and can be enjoyed. When I wrote this message, I was looking for a source that listed all the gardens, but I couldn’t find one. I think the magic of mysteries lies in discovering them yourself. Believe me, they’re here.
Speaking of gardens, I’d like to talk about the Sky Garden, a covered conservatory on the 43rd floor. Floor of the Walkie Talkie building, which derives its nickname from its capricious shape. The garden and viewing gallery are free and the open atrium offers panoramic views of London. For both adults and children it is fun and exciting to see the London skies from above. At the top there is a fairly comfortable café with a bar and plenty of space to enjoy the view with a drink and a piece of cake. Admission is free, but tickets can be reserved in advance at https://skygarden.london/.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The area where the 2020 Olympics once took place has been transformed into an epic outdoor space that people of all ages can enjoy. If you are looking for things to do in London with young children, this area is definitely worth considering. In addition to the huge Westfield Stratford Mall (which has excellent facilities for babies and toddlers, such as huge baby changing and nursing rooms, microwave ovens for heating milk and a variety of restaurants), the chic setting of the Olympic Park is an exciting place to stroll around the city.
Olympic Park is perfect for kids (Image: Jeremy Paton)
The park has two large playgrounds: the Tumbling Bay Playground and the pleasure gardens. Tumbling Bay is artfully integrated into the natural environment of the park and includes traditional slides, swings and swings, as well as water features, rock pools, sand traps, tree houses and weighbridges. The Pleasure Gardens playground has a giant red climbing wall (although perhaps too difficult for the little ones), huge slides, swings and a huge sandpit.
Both playgrounds can ideally be combined with a visit to Westfield (or the Discover Children’s Story Centre below) and, if you choose to go there, with the DLR (above) which easily stops at Stratford International Station.
Street art in London with children
Weather permitting, it is also unique to roam the cooler parts of London in search of colourful street art. Technically, urban street art is illegal, but works of art have become such a part of London’s identity that they are celebrated as part of the city’s identity. Finn is very happy with the drawings and colours of the rainbow, and he is eager to see the drawings I haven’t seen.
Children see art better than adults! (Image: Helen Wright)
The best area to see a wealth of lively street art without having to walk too much is East London and especially Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Hackney. But you also see expressive art in Camden and on the South Shore. The nearest metro stations would be Liverpool Street and Shoreditch High Street.
I think exposing children to urban street art is great for developing creativity and imagination. It may not be something they learn in the nursery or the neighbourhood you love, and it also sends the message that art doesn’t have to be clean and tidy, limited to quiet environments and galleries (or over a babysitter’s coat). If you are really organized, you can pack some chalk and encourage the children to draw their own mural on the floor and see if the art of graffiti inspires their artistic expression.
Pictures everywhere! (Image: Helen Wright)
In these neighborhoods there are many cafes, street restaurants and fast food stores. So you don’t have to sit down and have lunch somewhere – and you can be sure it will be quite tasty too. But he can be busy, so always keep an eye on your little one. You wouldn’t want them to get lost in a sea of hipster legs.
One of the most famous and popular tourist attractions to visit in London with young children, but worthy of this list because it has much to offer. Like the natural history museum (which is also fantastic, especially if your children love dinosaurs like mine), the science museum is free and absolutely great.
Fin was on the moon to be there (Image: Helen Wright)
I chose the Science Museum because many parents think it is better suited for older children, but Finn has been enjoying it since he was 18 months old. He’s fascinated by the constantly updated Modern World, Space and Flight exhibits, with moving planets, giant planes and vehicles to explore, and flashy gadgets that make sounds and move – basically all the things he’s not allowed to play with at home! There are also two areas that are perfect for the little ones: Pattern Pod (a multi-sensory and repetitive space that follows patterns and shapes) and The Garden (an absurd indoor space perfect for crawlers and toddlers, with stuffed animals, toys and water games, as well as live entertainment. If it rains, we can play in the science museum all day long and I have as much fun as they do!
Top tip: If your little one sleeps in the pram, take the opportunity to walk through the most difficult exhibitions. I recommended him: The secret life at home, which is the fascinating gallery of medicine, is frightening but overwhelming.
More things to do in London for the little ones (won’t break the budget)
Apart from the cost of your travel card, everything I’ve covered so far will keep your baby busy in London while you spend almost no money! Pretty handy, huh? If you find this post useful for your travel planning, please let us know on social media! Your support helps us run our blog.
There are so many things to do when visiting London with the little ones, but not all of them are worth the mammoth price. The next five places are attractions we love and my kids never seem to get bored no matter how often we visit them.
The London Postal Train is a popular attraction for London Finns (Photo: kitemaster guy)
This new attraction in London has a good dose of history and adventure, perfect for the little ones. The Centenary Post Office Railway carried mail under the streets of London from 1927 to 2003. It is now a modern, interactive museum that tells the history of the Post and the importance of the postal service (listen carefully) before you take the model train through the original tunnels.
The Modern Museum is interactive and fun (Image: Helen Wright)
Despite the seemingly boring theme for a museum, the Post Office Museum is so much fun. I’ve learned a lot myself, and the children love the exhibitions, the vehicles and the mobile activities. There’s also some free soft play. Moreover, the train is actually very entertaining. However, the cars are very small, so if you don’t like closed spaces, it might not be for you. Adults, £25, children 3-15 years, £9, under 3 years, free. postalmuseum.org
Discover Children’s Centre, Stratford
Finn loves the Tiger Picture : (Helen Wright)
It’s our favorite place in London for the little ones. The Discover Children’s Centre is located in Stratford, close to Westfield and Olympic Park (and easily accessible by metro and bus). The attraction celebrates children’s books by bringing them to life in an interactive environment.
Pop-up shows change with the seasons, but are always well designed and colorful. Children from 8 to 7 months old love it. The first time we went to the tiger, who comes to drink tea (a favourite dish of the Finns). He was absolutely excited to meet the tiger. After the animated narrative, the children are invited to enter the storyline, where they can play in rooms recreated around their favourite books.
Isobel also found Picture : Helen Wright.
On the upper floor there is an indoor playground, an outdoor playground and a small bookshop. Allow 2-3 hours for your visit and enjoy it as much as possible. Admission for children 2 years and older, £6.50, for one year, £1. Less than 1, but free. discover.org.uk
Hamleys Toys Store – London’s dream home for the little ones.
Free fun if you don’t buy anything! (Image: Helen Wright)
Okay, so it’s a free and fun place to take the little ones to London if you don’t buy them anything…. I wanted to record it because sometimes (usually when it rains) we take a bus ride and meet at Hamley’s Toy Shop on Oxford Street to play a bit. Historic Hamley’s is more than just a toy store: Seven floors of the children’s paradise, including an entire floor of Lego.
There are usually artists, magicians or employees on each floor who present gadgets and toys. For the little ones there are life-size models such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig and Star Wars. There are toys available, as well as fun and interactive elements. We can play Hamleys for hours, but be careful, it is very rare that we leave without having bought anything….
London Museum of Transport
The London Museum of Transport is a great attraction for young children (Image: Pete Edgeler)
This museum has received our vote for two reasons: it is unique in London and children can enter it for free! As you may have guessed, my kids love transport, so it should be a success for them anyway, but the museum is brilliantly organized with some great features for the little ones. My favorite is the subway simulator (you’re never too old to be excited about driving a train!) There are also interactive games, lots of buses, trams and shiny trains to watch, scheduled touch and feel sessions, and songs and stories with the teachers. They also hold SEN sessions at the London Transport Museum for children with greater needs, where sounds are muffled.
Adult, 18.50 pounds. Children under 16 years free of charge. ltmuseum.de
Ongar Epiping Railway
Steam locomotive on the Epping Ongar Railway (Picture: Mark Seton)
It’s in the suburbs of London, at the end of the Central Line, but a nice subway ride takes you back in time – literally. The railway of this period is closest to the centre of London and includes war buses, steam locomotives and conventional diesel trains. A bright red router picks you up at Epping station and brings you back to England during the war. It’s a great choice if you have some free time and want to take a little break in the lively urban environment, and of course if your kids love trains! Adults, £13, children, £7, family card, £38 eorailway.com.
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