London with Kids

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The 11 Best London Tours for Kids & Families

 

  • London In A Day – The best comprehensive tour of London. Kid-friendly and really fantastic.
  • Harry Potter Walking Tour in Central London (with Platform 9 3/4)
  • Harry Potter Studio Tour & Transfers – visit the fantastic Warner Brothers Studio outside of London
  • Afternoon Tea Bus Tour – Fun way to see the highlights of London. I was shocked by how good the food was. Our kids loved it.
  • WWII Westminster Walking Tour & Churchill’s War Rooms – Explore the secret underground war rooms and learn London’s World War II history. Great for teenagers.
  • Stonehenge & Roman Baths: Full-Day Tour from London – Great way to see these iconic English historical sites.
  • The Original London Sightseeing Bus Tour
  • London Street Art Tour & Workshop – Wonderful tour of London’s East End. Kids love this one.
  • Soho Food & Walking Tour
  • Private Guided Tour of the British Museum – A superb introduction to one of Europe’s best museums.
  • Classic London 3 Hour Bike Tour – A fun and active way to see the best of central London. With tour guide.

 

The 27 Best Things To Do with Kids in London

1. Tower of London

  • This well-preserved medieval castle is one of London’s premier attractions for families – adults and children love it. Interior exhibits are interactive and informative. The castle was eventually converted to a prison and the site of many executions. Much of its history is dark and gruesome. Arrive as close to opening time as possible and head straight to the White Tower which is loaded with interesting and kid-friendly exhibits (lines start forming shortly after the gates open and grow longer throughout the day). Next visit the Crown Jewels. There are free guided tours that start every 30 minutes and last 45 minutes – grab a program before you enter (by the ticket booth) which lists all the events for the day. (1 restaurant)

 

2. Tower Bridge

  • London’s number one icon. The bridge opens and closes almost 1000 times a year (schedule posted online and at the bridge). The Tower Bridge Exhibition provides a history of the bridge and allows access to the bridge’s top walkway by way of an elevator. You can see the river below through the reinforced glass section in the middle of the walkway. You can also get a look at the steam-driven machinery that raised bridge for the first hundred years of its existence. (Historical note: The Luftwaffe didn’t bomb the iconic bridge during WWII because it needed it as a landmark.)

 

3. British Museum

  • One of the world’s best museums has a kid-friendly attitude and fun children’s audio tours. The Rosetta Stone, the Elgin (Parthenon) Marbles, and the Egyptian mummies are some of the jaw-dropping exhibits. Get activity trails and activity backpacks (weekends and holidays only) from the family center in the Great Court as you enter the museum. (3 restaurants)

 

4. London Transport Museum

  • This is one of our kids’ favorite attractions in London. A great collection of buses, trains, trams, and subway cars. Kids can enter most exhibits. It’s a very hands-on and fun museum filled with video screens, posters, maps, illuminated boards, subway signs, and models. There’s an under-fives play area and a very cool museum shop. (1 restaurant)

 

5. The Making of Harry Potter – Warner Bros Studio Tour London

  • In Leavesden, 20 miles north of London, you can visit the studios where most of the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Visitors can explore the different sets (4 Privet Drive, Hogwarts dining room, Dumbledore’s office), practice wand magic in Dark Arts, explore the Forbidden Forest, and check out thousands of props and costumes. Extras include riding a broomstick using green screen technology, climbing aboard a mockup carriage of the Hogwarts Express and drinking Butterbeer. Since it takes at least an hour each way, you’ll need a whole day to make the most of your visit. (2 restaurants)

 

6. Legoland Windsor

  • Legoland Windsor is all about the bricks. It’s divided into several different ‘worlds’, from the Kingdom of the Pharaohs and Land of the Vikings to Ninjago World and Miniland – where you get to see London’s famous buildings recreated in miniature using Lego bricks. There’s a good mixture of rides for toddlers, pre-schoolers and primary school kids, as well as fantastic Lego creations, 4D movies, live shows and adventure playgrounds. Some of the rides mean getting wet, which is particularly fun in hot weather. Download the Legoland app to find your way around the park. (5 restaurants)

 

7. National Portrait Gallery

A scrapbook of British history in museum form. The gallery houses pictures of the major (and not-so major) figures of the nation’s history from King Henry VIII to David Beckham. It makes a great introduction to British history for both kids and adults. Kid-friendly audio tours are available. (2 restaurants)

 

8. Royal Air Force Museum

  • If you love planes you’ll love this museum – regardless of your age. 100’s of aircrafts from every age of flight are on display. The Battle of Britain hall is particularly interesting. It does take some effort to get here as it’s located in the London suburb of Colindale – 30 minutes by tube from central London. (2 restaurants)

 

9. Imperial War Museum

  • One of the best museums in the city. It features an incredible array of airplanes, tanks, guns, gear, and historical information. Displays and exhibits are meticulously detailed. Videos have survivors and soldiers re-telling the horror and challenges of war. The audio tour is a must. The holocaust exhibit on the top floor is rightfully restricted to kids 11 and older. The National Army Museum is another museum potentially worth a visit. It’s focused almost exclusively on the history of British forces and not nearly as interesting as the Imperial. The NAM does, however, have a Kids Zone in the basement that is a great play area but does get busy so reservations are recommended. (The IWM has one restaurant. The NAM has a small cafe.)

 

10. Changing of the Guard

  • Some kids find this a little dull, others love the pomp and tradition. The best place to see the guards is on The Mall, near St. James’s Palace. If your kids are small they won’t see much squashed in with the crowds at Buckingham Palace. There is also a Changing of the Guard at Windsor Palace (35 minutes outside of London by train) that sees far smaller crowds but offers more pageantry.

 

11. Buckingham Palace

  • Think of this as a grandly decorated Victorian home and you won’t be disappointed. Kid-friendly audio tours available. If kids are expecting the castles of legend then Windsor Castle will better feed their imaginations. (Buckingham Palace has one cafe on the terrace.)

 

12. National Maritime Museum

  • 500 years of maritime history packed into one fantastic space. Hands-on exhibits make it fun for younger kids but this is definitely an all-ages attraction. Battles and boats galore plus free themed talks. (2 restaurants)

 

13. Natural History Museum

  • One of London’s best museums for all ages. Dinosaurs, blue whales, saber-tooth tigers, elephants, volcanoes, meteors, earthquakes, and all sorts of creepy crawlies. The ideal mix of kid and adult fun. Multimedia guides are available and can be booked in advance. (2 restaurants)

 

14. London Eye

  • This giant ferris wheel offers fantastic views of greater London. It takes 30 minutes to go around and the wheel moves at such a calm speed it’s not scary for any ages. Passengers are completely enclosed in air conditioned and heated glass pods that fit 25 people.

 

15. Museum of London Docklands

  • This is one of my personal favorites. Geared to slightly older kids the exhibits do a great job of tracking the history and growth of the London riverfront from Roman days to modern times. (For more London history check out the excellent Museum of London.) Sailor Town is a reconstructed Victorian port town done with fantastic detail. If you’re based in central London it’s a little out of the way but worth the 20 minute journey to East London. (2 restaurants)

 

16. Science Museum

  • A futuristic museum that is spread across seven floors of interactive and entertaining exhibits and explores everything from space travel to the Industrial Revolution. There’s something here for kids of all ages, including toddlers. Highlights include the giant telescope in the Exploring Space section, flying machines in the Flight Gallery – from hot air balloons to vintage planes, and the IMAX cinema shows on deep space and the underwater world. Visits to the Science Museum can easily be combined with visits to the Natural History Museum. (1 restaurant)

 

17. Tate Modern

  • London’s best contemporary art gallery has plenty of interactive activities for kids. It’s inside the former Bankside Power Station and younger kids can run around the vast Turbine Hall. Kids aged 3 and older can sketch their own masterpieces at the Bloomberg digital drawing bar and then have their art projected onto the gallery’s walls. The Sonic Trails app is especially designed to take kids on sound journey through the gallery, while the Tate Kids Collection Case is a scavenger-hunt-like exploration of the Materials and Objects display. (1 restaurant)

 

18. London Dungeon

  • The London Dungeon is an interactive recreation of the gruesome parts of London’s 1000 year-old history. Costumed actors lead you through expertly created sets; you come face to face with King Henry VIII ordering the execution of his wife, Guy Fawkes of the Gunpowder Plot, a medieval plague doctor and the murderous barber of Fleet Street, and others. Creepy props, sound and light effects, plenty of audience participation, actors jumping out at you from dark corners and a ‘death drop’ ride make it suitable for older children only.

 

19. London Sea Life Aquarium

  • Large, state-of-the-art aquarium popular with families and children. There are 17 themed zones to walk through. The Atlantic and Pacific Ocean habitats show off creatures of the deep, while Tidal Reach proves that coastal British waters are anything but boring! Sharks glide around a wreck, monster catfish lurk in warm rainforest waters and kids can look for Nemo and Dory in tanks full of clown fish and blue tang. Highlights include the Ocean Tunnel, with sharks swimming overhead, feeding times at the ray and rainforest fish tanks, and the Antarctic section featuring gentoo penguins.

 

20. London Zoo

  • London Zoo sits in the northern part of Regent’s Park and is extremely popular with families. Wildlife habitats include Tiger Territory, Gorilla Kingdom, Land of the Lions, Penguin Beach and Reptile House (where part of a Harry Potter film was shot). Meet the Monkeys is a big hit with younger kids and you can visit creepie crawlies in the spider walkthrough. Kids (11-15-year-olds) also have the option of playing junior zoo keeper for a day (book in advance) and the zoo organises BegBugs sleepovers in the Bug House. (2 restaurants)

 

21. National Gallery

  • A stunning collection of 2300 paintings. Free tours everyday at 11:30 and 2:30. Kid-friendly audio tours are available for £1 or can be downloaded in advance. Family audio tours and special weekend events such as story-telling. (2 restaurants)

 

22. HMS Belfast

  • A floating musuem in the form of a retired World War II ship. 7 levels to explore and kids can go everywhere. The living quarters, naval guns, anti-aircraft weaponry, and Operations Room will fill 2 hours easily. This is a much better use of time than visiting the nearby Golden Hinde ship. (Small cafe open during peak hours.)

 

23. The Shard

  • London’s tallest skyscraper with superb city views from the Skydeck on the 72nd floor. The 306m-tall building is the tallest in the EU and on a clear day you get 360-degree views for up to 40 miles. Using binoculars you can zoom in on London’s different landmarks, from the Houses of Parliament to Tower Bridge. The interactive audio guides are suitable for older kids; find the building you’re interested in, and you get to hear its story. Strollers are not allowed on the observation deck but can be stored downstairs. (2 restaurants)

 

24. V&A Museum of Childhood

  • This excellent branch of the Victoria & Albert Museum displays one of the best collections of childhood-related objects in the world. Kids are fascinated by the immense number of dolls, dolls’ houses through the ages, vintage board games, construction toys (Lego, Meccano), battery-powered robots and favourite toys from the 20th century, decade by decade. Action figures, teddy bears, puppets, magic lanterns and MicroMachines are among the highlights here. It’s a great place for adults, too – you may well spot your favourite childhood toy here! It’s in East London, but well worth the underground ride from the city centre.

 

25. Cutty Sark

  • Raised off the ground and surrounded by glass on the Thames riverbank in Greenwich, the Cutty Sark is the world’s last surviving tea clipper. This 19th century boat used to sail to China and back, bringing back a cargo of tea in exchange for other goods. Today, you can climb aboard and explore the sleeping quarters of the captain and officers, mess about with the interactive maps, play hide and seek behind boxes of cargo and take the helm at the ship’s wheel. There are backpacks full of toys for families to borrow and a free family trail leading through the ship’s interior.

 

26. Madame Tussaud’s

  • The London branch of the world-famous wax figure museum is good fun for families, and particularly for older children. Start by having your photos taken with Hollywood movie stars and then move on to the Royal Family, pop stars (Jimi Hendrix to Lady Gaga to One Direction), Olympic athletes (Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Serena Williams…) and more. There are 15 interactive areas in total and it’s a good idea to arrive at opening time, as there are queues later on in the day. There’s a ride at the very end that’s suitable for children over 6. Priority entrance tickets let you check out the Star Wars Experience and watch the Marvel Super Heroes 4D movie.

 

27. Boat Tour of the Thames

  • Taking a boat along the Thames is a great way of seeing many of London’s best-known landmarks without the kids getting too tired. It’s something that can be done on rainy days as well, since boats have enclosed seating. From Westminster pier, City Cruises and Thames River Services run east as far as Greenwich, passing the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Cutty Sark on the way. Older children may enjoy adrenalin-charged speedboat tours of the Thames with Thames Rockets.

 

28. Kid-friendly Theatre and Musicals in London

London is loaded with great shows and tickets for even the most popular shows are available on relatively short notice (though obviously book well in advance if there’s a particular show you want to see).

TKTS is the main discount site (though there are many others). They have a booth at Leicester Square but the website posts discounted tickets as well

Use Ticketmaster.co.uk to check seating maps and theatre layout but buy your tickets elsewhere.

These are the best shows for kids:

  • The Lion King (tube: Covent Garden) – Playing since 1999. Fantastic music and story.
  • Wicked The Musical (tube: Piccadilly Circus) – The the untold story of the Witches of Oz. Supremely entertaining for both kids and adults.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (tube: Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road) – In two parts (you’ll need tickets for each), it’ll take 5 hours to see it all – but so worth it to true Potterheads. There’s enough time to grab dinner in between, or you can plan to see the two parts on consecutive days if you wish.
  • Matilda the Musical (tube: Covent Garden or Leicester Square) – Roald Dahl’s classic story about the original British kid with magical powers, newly-imagined with a superb musical score.

 

The Best Parks & Playgrounds in London

  • Kew Gardens (tube: Kew Gardens) – A treetop walkway with great views, an indoor playroom, and days-full of fun.
  • Hampstead Heath (tube: Hampstead) – The best place in the city to feel like you’re not in the city. Great for picnics and lakeside walks.
  • Hyde Park – There’s lots here. The Diana, Princess of Wales pirate-themed playground is very popular with kids (tube: Queensway). You can also rent paddle boats and row boats or cool off in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain (tube: Knightsbridge or Hyde Park Corneer).
  • St James’s Park (tube: St James’s Park) – A beautiful park with one of the best playgrounds in the city. Visit the pelicans on duck island.
  • Battersea Park (tube: Sloane Square then bus #137 or train to Battersea Park station) – Boating on the lake and the Children’s Zoo are the highlights. The zoo features kid-friendly animals (butterflies, small primates, farm animals) and an excellent playground with a fire engine (open 10:30 to 17:30 in summer and 10:30 to 16:30 in winter).
  • Regent’s Park – There are several excellent playgrounds, the London Zoo, boat rentals, and a beautiful rose garden decked out with waterfowl and Japanese bridges.
  • Need more parks and playgrounds: list of adventure playgrounds in London.

 

Using the London Tube with Kids

  • The tube is easy, convenient, and safe for families to use. Most stations are far beneath street level and require a lot of steps or escalator rides. Many stations do not have lifts (elevators) from street level to the train platform making it very difficult if you’re traveling with a young child or stroller.
  • This is a map of the London tube stations and their accessibility options (pdf file). The stations marked with a green circle and an A are the most accessible.
  • Kids 10 and under are free on the tube and Docklands Light Rail (DLR). Kids 11 to 15 do need to pay. Be sure to travel with an Oyster card or Travelcard as they offer big savings (details below).
  • If you have an Oyster card you scan it as you enter and leave the tube station. If you have a paper Travelcard you insert it at one end of the turnstile and it pops out the other side.
  • If you’re traveling with kids 10 and under (who won’t have a ticket) be sure to use the gate entries instead of the turnstiles which are meant for individuals.

 

Riding the Bus with Kids

  • The bus is a fabulous option for getting around London. Most buses are of the iconic double-decker variety and offer great views of street life and many popular London attractions from the top deck.
  • Unlike the tube you won’t have to negotiate stairs, escalators, busy train platforms, or transfers between lines. Buses run about every 3 to 10 minutes depending on the route. (We’ve rarely waited more than 5 minutes for any bus.)
  • The Oyster and Travelcards (details below) that are used for the tube are also accepted by the bus. Central London buses do not accept cash so you pretty much have to buy either an Oyster or Travelcard (or individual tickets from a tube station but this is an expensive way to travel).

 

Using an Oyster Card for Public Transit

Oyster cards are plastic (credit-card sized) cards for using the tube, bus, or DLR (Docklands Light Rail). You pre-load them with money at a tube station. To use them you swipe across an electronic sensor as you enter a bus or tube station.

With the Oyster card you get large discounts on fares and you’ll never pay more than you would have by using individual tickets – always less, usually about 50% less.

Oyster cards not only save you money but they make getting around the city very easy. There’s no having to worry about having the correct change or figuring the fare for a bus ride. It turns London into a big hop-on/hop-off network of buses and trains

Things to know about buying and using Oyster cards:

Oyster cards require a £5 deposit which is refundable (along with any unused balance) if you return your card at a tube station.

Kids 10 and under are free on the tube, bus, and DLR so they don’t need an Oyster card

Ages 11 to 15 will need to submit a photo to get an Oyster card. This can be done in advance but is still a hassle. I’d recommend doing one-day travelcards for kids in this age range unless you’ll be in London for more than a week. If you’re in the city for more than a week then it’s worth it to get the photo card whether it be an Oyster or 7 day Travelcard (which also requires a picture).

 

Using Travelcards (and getting a 2 for 1 discount for attractions)

An alternative to Oyster cards is buying Travelcards. They are roughly the same cost as Oyster cards. Their big advantage is that they allow 2 for 1 entry to several top attractions in London: The Tower of London, Madame Tussauds, river cruises, and the ZSL Zoo.

The best thing to do is to get Oyster cards for the adults and 1 day Travelcards for the kids aged 11 to 15. On the day you plan to go to one of the attractions covered by the 2 for 1 deal (the most popular being the Tower of London) get Travelcards for the adults and use them to get the discount into the attraction. (Remember that the Oyster card is simply a means of payment so if you don’t use it one day there’s no “cost”.)

Using Travelcards for the 2 for 1 discount isn’t straightforward so here are a few things to note:

To qualify Travelcards must be purchased from a railway station in London. These Travelcards will have the rail logo in the bottom corner.

Travelcards purchased from any other outlet (e.g. tube station) are not valid for the 2 for 1 discount.

You can buy Travelcards from the ticket offices of the following rail stations: Paddington, Euston, St Pancras, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Charing Cross, Waterloo, and Victoria. Travelcards sold at airports are not valid for the 2 for 1 discount.

Travelcards can be bought for 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month. The 7 day or 1-month Travelcards require a photo id card. Photos must be brought to the ticket office when purchasing.

The 1 day tickets must be used on the same day as the visit to the attraction will occur. (Although they can be bought a day or two beforehand.)

The 2 for 1 discount also applies to domestic rail tickets to and from London. Your visit to the attraction must fall within these 2 dates (as they naturally would for most people). Most foreign visitors to London are not arriving at London from a different UK city and then departing again by train within the country so this is mainly for UK citizens.

And finally but very important, vouchers must be printed for the attraction you are visiting. To get the discount you’ll need 2 validated Travelcards and one voucher.

 

Getting into London from Heathrow Airport

  • The easiest way into the city is with hired car (40 minutes into the city). City Transfers UK is well regarded though there are many companies and they’re all pretty much the same. A hired car is surprisingly inexpensive when booked in advance and the best option for a family of 4 or more. Larger cars are available for bigger groups. One-way to or from Heathrow will be about £75.
  • Taxis (40 minutes) are expensive. Walking out the door of the airport and hopping in a taxi will be almost double the price of arranging a hired car.
  • Tube (45 minutes) is the cheapest. The Piccadilly line connects Heathrow with central London. But if your hotel isn’t directly on the Picadilly line it will require a transfer. The tube doesn’t have any dedicated spots for luggage so if you have a lot it will be a pain (and there will be stairs to contend with on the London end.) A one way trip on the tube will be between £3 and £5 depending on the time of day. Buy an Oyster card at the airport to make it cheaper.
  • The Heathrow Express (15 minutes) can be a good option if you’re staying near Paddington Station. Otherwise, it’s just expensive – and requires another tube or taxi trip to get to your hotel or destination.

 

The London Pass – Is it worth buying for families?

 

  • The London Pass is a card you can buy that allows you into many (but not all) major attractions around London.
  • You lose flexibility by buying the pass as you have to choose a 1, 2, 3, or 6 day pass and then work hard to cram all of your sites into those days.
  • Remember that many of London’s most popular attractions and museums are free – and thus aren’t covered by the pass. If you’re buying the pass only for the Tower of London, Madame Tussauds, or the ZSL Zoo you’re better off using a Travelcard for the day (details below) and getting the 2 for 1 discount.
  • A big selling point of the London Pass is the “fast track” line skipping but this is rarely an issue for visitors as most of the attractions covered have short to non-existent lines even in summer.
  • You can buy the pass with an associated Travelcard for transportation – but this works out more expensive than buying the pass and Travelcard separately.
  • That said, the London Pass does offer some savings, the pass can be a convenience, and the company itself is trusted and reliable. The most popular attractions covered by the pass are the Tower of London, Tower Bridge Exhibition, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, and the London Zoo.
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