London with kids
You have already covered the classics – from the Tower to the dinosaurs of the Natural History Museum, feeding countless squirrels on the way. What else to do with kids in London? Here are a few ideas. Scroll downs for themes: afternoon tea, Harry Potter, fun restaurants, Paddington, rainy days…
Also have a look at our weekly post on what do this week-end in London! online on Wednesdays.
The Alice inspired picture was created from vintage illustrations by the super talented Happy City
1 – Show them, on Trafalgar Square, the smallest police station in this country.
2 – Look for the pelicans in St James Park.
3 – One thing you probably did not know about the Southbank Centre – it has a singing lift! Click here to see the video.
4 – Each Sunday, a magic carpet settles in front of a painting at the National Gallery (the page shows a specific date in the past but this is a recurrent event, look for it in what’s on) a different one each time. Kids can listen to fascinating stories for 30 mins. Yes, it’s free.
5 – Going through Chelsea? Say hi to the pensioners in their famous red coats. You can see a fun elephant there.
6 – The Natural History Museum is a favourite for its dinosaur gallery, but do have a look outside for this statue too. See how many animals the kids can count.
7 – Tell them about the story of the red telephone boxes.
8 – Strolling around Waterloo? Stop in this hotel for a picture on some fun chairs with Big Ben in the background.
9 – Did you know kids can follow a Sonic Trail at the Tate Modern? Borrow a MP3 player – it’s free – and discover lots of different sounds around the museum, some linked to the paintings, others referring to the place at night… As if it had a life of its own.
10 – Find little treasures at your feet in the National Gallery.
11 – Coming to London for the first time and would really prefer to follow a guide? London Incognito has a special tour for children (the website is in French but they are London based and do it in English). They can also prepare a bespoke one if your prefer.
12 – Let them make a miniature London.
13 – Little Venice hides a puppet theatre on a narrowboat. Amazing performances that will charm the whole family.
14 – A gorgeous time-defying atmosphere: try the Pollock’s toy museum. The cardboard theatres are particularly amazing.
15 – The word opera rarely brings much cheerfulness from a child. But take them on the backstage tour of the Royal Opera House to see the dancers practising, the costumes, the machinery behind it all and they are sure to be fascinated. Amazing how many floors the building hides! One Sunday a month, there also is family day with lots of workshops for the little ones.
16 – At Discover, the whole family can have a go at inventing stories.
17 – Along Gabriel’s wharf on Southbank, when the tide is low, is a piece of sandy beach. You can go mudlarking or just watch artists create huge sand sculptures.
18 – Follow the steps of the 101 Dalmatians.
19 – They’re longing for a pet but you neither have the space nor the time? Here is an easy compromise: Lady Dinah’s emporium, the first cat café in London. We loved the one in Singapore. Feline fascination guaranteed.
20 – Every Saturday, get those roller skates out and spend a disco time with the family (children are welcome from the age of 5).
21 – The Barbican offers a do-it-yourself adventure trail for families. And it’s free.
22 – Check out the Museum of London too for free kids workshops every weekend. Click here for the program.
23 – To avoid the dreaded “Are we there yet?” question, get them one of these fabulous London maps. Fun. Indestructible. Even rain resistant.
24 – Walk along the Thames but on the Hammersmith side. No or very little traffic, beautiful views, ice cream vans, gardens, pubs with terraces. Fantastic on a sunny day.
25 – Rediscover Kensington Palace. Imagine a beautiful fairytale book – magical indeed. Drawers contain little treasures, art displays are amazing, playing cards give you little clues to interact with characters in costumes and learn fun anecdotes, walls sometimes even whisper secrets.
26 – The Saatchi Gallery is kids friendly with its wide spaces, let alone it’s free. It is never too early to initiate the kids to contemporary art and inspire them. Its restaurant, the Mess Gallery, offers a nice terrace where they can continue to run, jump and play without annoying anyone. No traffic either. And they do a really good afternoon tea at a great price!
27 – If you are at St Pancras tube station, do take the light tunnel! The colours change as you walk through. The kids will love it.
28 – Revisit London with the brilliant album by Steve Antony – The Queen’s hat. Very sweet, a touch of Mary Poppins and a great way to think of their favourite milestones!
29 – Balance a shopping session on Oxford Street with a visit at the Wallace Collection. The Armoury rooms is sure to wow your little knights.
30 – Looking for themed souvenirs? London has Moomin / Paddington / Dr Who and Alice shops – all the details are here.
♥ ♥ Afternoon Tea ♥ ♥
31 – Try BB’s afternoon tea aboard a vintage double decker – 3 experiences in 1: treats, views and travel back in time!
32 – The Milestone Hotel has cleverly thought of an afternoon tea for kids too. They can wear a chef’s hat and apron, go down to the kitchen, meet the cooks and decorate their cupcakes. Their eyes will sparkle and you… can indulge in your own adult version in peace.
33 – Going to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical? One Aldwych, nearby, does an amazing themed afternoon tea if you want to add to the magic.
♥ ♥ Famous attractions we loved ♥ ♥
34 – I always thought that The London Dungeon was more for over 18s. I have just tried it with my almost 9 year old daughter and she loved it. We equally screamed and laughed. She wanted to go back as soon as she stepped out!
35 – You already knew of Madame Tussauds’. They have now opened a gallery dedicated to Star Wars. Fancy a selfie with Yoda?
36 – Kidzania has just opened in London – a place where kids can role play and try 60 different jobs for fun!
37 – See green on Southbank with Shrek’s adventure. Great fun for kids… and parents!
♥ ♥ Cinema ♥ ♥
38 – The Soho Hotel projects children movies every Saturday in their super comfy private screening room. With a lunch buffet, popcorn, ice cream and prosecco.
39 – Wow them. In this cinema, you can order your dinner from your seat and eat it during the movie.
40 – Going to the movies with a baby? Impossible? Well, Odeon has special sessions just for parents of little ones.
♥ ♥ Gardens and Playgrounds ♥ ♥
41 – In Kensington Gardens, a playground dedicated to Lady Di is Peter Pan themed – huge pirate ship sailing on a sea of sand, musical instruments, wooden animals. Free, there often is a queue at weekends but it is so worth the wait.
42 – The Royal Parks are fun for running, jumping and picnicking. But if you fancy a slice of countryside while in the city, try the cute Phoenix Garden close to Tottenham Court Road or Roots and Shoots close to Waterloo.
43 – Remember the Olympic Games? The park reopened to the public, including The Orbit, this funny tower overlooking it all. There is a super cool playground too. And lots of space for kids to run, cycle, climb. Oh, and watergames in the summer so do plan a change of clothes. Have a closer look at the benches there…
44 – Did you know the Barbican hides a lovely conservatory at the heart of its concrete structure? Free, open every Sunday.
45 – Sometimes, it is worth spending a few more minutes in public transport. The Dalston Eastern Curve Garden is one of these fab surprises, a really relaxed, kids friendly place with lots of corners to explore and even toys for kids to play with. And a café. Just cross the street when getting out of the overground and you’re there.
46 – Escape the buzz of Covent Garden (great on your own, sometimes too much with kids!) and sit in the garden of St Paul’s church. Theatreland being nearby, it has also been nicknamed the Actors’ church as they often come here before the plays. A number of benches are dedicated to them. Have a look inside the building too. On the left side is a miniature stage, where different lights can be switched on and off.
♥ ♥ Harry Potter ♥ ♥
48 – There also is a Harry Potter dedicated shop in King’s Cross. Yes, near platform 9 ¾, of course. And yes, they do sell wands!
49 – Wizards will also love the Darwin Center – lots of animals kept in formol, a strange kind of beauty. A must stop at Halloween!
♥ ♥ Nice views ♥ ♥
50 – Walk through the tree tops at Kew Gardens.
51 – Take a Double Decker, sit on the first bench of the top floor, right in front of the window. Even better, take the vintage #15 from Trafalgar to St Paul. It feels like going on a real adventure.
52 – On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you can climb aboard a Victorian Omnibus. Now that is really memorable.
53 – The Ghost bus tour is quite a fun option for lovers of spooky stories. This double decker repainted black will drive you all over town. No big scares but a lot of laughs. On the double decker side, also see BB’s in the afternoon tea section.
54 – Seeing London from high? The London Eye and the Shard are the most famous places to go too but how about a real experience, climbing the roof of the O2? For children 10+. Really fun, safe and perfectly achievable.
55 – Near the O2 also is London’s only cable car, going over the Thames. Cool view!
♥ ♥ On the water side ♥ ♥
56 – Be a sailor for the day. Jump on the Thames Clipper to Greenwich, visit the beautifully restaured Cutty Sark and finish on the last floor of the Greenwich Maritime Museum: boys love, love, love to try parking their boat on the simulator.
57 – Indulge in a Duck Tour – these buses will take you, yes, you read that right, on the Thames too. They also do two special themes once a month – James Bond and Pirates specials.
58 – Boating in London? Here are the best places to do that. Includes a swan pedalo. I love the idea.
59 – Did you know you can try Stand up paddle boarding on the London canals? How cool is that on a hot summer day? In Paddington, Kew Bridge, Putney, Brentford Lock.
60 – During the summer, if the weather is really warm, stop at the Somerset House – children can happily play in the courtyard fountains. They are likely to get pretty wet though so do plan a towel and a change of clothes. Every summer, Southbank also installs a disappearing/reappearing fountain. The walls are made of water of different heights, changing all the time. Children love to jump through them and back again. As for Somerset House, do plan a towel and change of clothes. In Hyde Park, another beautiful memorial to Diana offers a large circular river of flowing water. As it is not very deep, children can safely experience it and parents usually sit in the inside disk of comfortable green grass.
♥ ♥ Paddington Bear ♥ ♥
61 – This free public art trail around the station will take you to quite a few fun sculptures (and two little know very original bridges), 6 of which dedicated to the famous bear. There is, of course, a Paddington shop in the area.
♥ ♥ Rainy day ♥ ♥
62 – How about heading for the new trendy café in town then, Draughts, home to no less than 500 board games? Yes, children are welcome. Your turn to play! More pics here. In St Pancras (perfect before junping on the Eurostar) stop at Drink, Shop and Do, just 5 mins walk from the station. This vintage inspired tea room also has a few board games.
63 – We love, in Kensington, Maggie and Rose, a special family place. Activities for kids, softplay, a stylish decor, a mini-cinema, a brasserie but also a rooftop to have lunch on sunny days. Because we all need a haven to have a guilt-free coffee/magazine time while the children have fun…
64 – I often go to the V&A childhood museum. Free, 3 floors of toys collections, interactive games, a sandpit with lounge chairs on the top level and a reasonably good café. What’s not to be liked?
♥ ♥ Restaurants, cool cafés, sweet shops and ice-cream ♥ ♥
65 – Take them to the Cereal Killer Café on Brick Lane. A funny little place stocking dozens of funky cereals and offering cereal cocktails (no alcohol involved!) with popping candy, chocolate sauce… and the milk of your choice. A little expensive (4-5 pounds a bowl) but really fun. The one in Camden (Unit 2, Mezzanine Level, Stable Market – the address is not on their website) – is much bigger and as much fun – a few pictures here.
66 – Not so many pubs are child friendly in London – we quite like, close to the Dulwich gallery, The Rosendale in West Dulwich which has a playground part outside for the little ones and a lovely dedicated menu.
67 – Have lunch at Richard Branson’s restaurant in Kensington. The roof terrace offers a pleasant garden for the summer and you will even meet (real) flamingos there.
68 – Not always easy to keep kids quiet in a restaurant. They need to be on the move! Try Bounce – in Holborn, so not far from the British Museum. they have quite a number of ping-pong tables which should make the whole family happy.
69 – Dinner in a restaurant with kids? Yes, sure, it is possible. To be comfortable, that usually means a lesser class of restaurant though. And you’ll have to look after the kids, keep them occupied. Is it really that relaxing? Try La Belle Assiette. A chef will come to your place, bring all the ingredients, cook a wonderful dinner with dishes adapted for the kids if you ask, will share techniques and anecdotes and will tidy up the kitchen. It’s relaxing, the kids are in their own environment and can move around as they wish but you still can enjoy a first class meal…
70 – In this Islington café, parents can finally take a break. Thought up by two mums, it has everything from babies’ and toddlers’ food to a box full of disguises to keep the kids busy. Lots of activities and even kids discos.
71 – Love the Biscuiteers crunchy creations? Rejoyce. They have a café in Notting Hill. Choose your favourite shape, decorate, enjoy! The kids should be pretty busy adding funky colours so you’ll have plenty of time to drink your coffee.
72 – No matter how cold the weather is – kids always melt for ice-cream. Go for Yuforia or Snog – their frozen yogurt version makes it guilt free and you can choose the toppings: fruit, biscuits, chocolate sauce…
73 – At Scoop Gelato, close to Covent Garden, ice creams are guaranteed free from artificial colouring or fake flavours. It’s all about creaminess and real taste. The kids will love the cones with sprinkles and you can also have it served on pancakes or waffles.
74 – Their eyes are sure to sparkle at the wonderful sweet shop of Suck & Chew.
75 – Another fab list if you need more ideas still: 10 kids friendly restaurants in London to make your life easier.
♥ ♥ Urban Safari – street art ♥ ♥
76 – Go street art hunting in Shoreditch. Kids tend to find a lot more hidden treasures than their parents! Brick Lane, Hanbury Street, the Village Underground are great places to start.
77 – There are lots of street art tours on offer. I like Global Street Art in Camden as they work with both building owners and artists to sponsor murals. They know all the latest pieces!
78 – Take some chalks and bring them to Leake Street Tunnel, close to Waterloo, where street artists can legally create all kinds of paintings. Let the kids join in and draw whatever they wish.
79 – On Tower Bridge (and often on the Millennium one too), look out for locks on the side grids. These are left by lovers in memories of their trip there. The keys are to be thrown in the river. The number of them varies as the Town Hall regularly clears them away. In Shoreditch, a fence is even dedicated to these locks on which people leave their initials, a message. Go on, turn them into street artists!
80 – Have you heard of geocaching? All around the world, fans hide a little box with a message and there are plenty to find around London. Some even hold little treasures to exchange. Just register on the website, get the GPS/map coordinates and work out the clues. A great way to get little ones more familiar with historical milestones.
81 – Sometimes, London walls have ears. Well, this one close to Covent Garden has.