The city of London has survived Viking attacks, burning, bombing, battles, conquests, sieges and terrorism. It is full of great stories, and there are ancient buildings alongside brand new skyscrapers. Here are ten not to miss places in London with kids…
1. The Science Museum is full of hands-on demonstrations that will thrill any budding engineer, and is the home of the oldest surviving steam train, ‘Puffing Billy’. Learn about the properties of materials and how we made flight possible. New exhibits document the rise of digital technology, and Google has got some mad interactive stuff going on in the basement.
2. The Natural History Museum is one of three must-see museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington: The Natural History Museum, The Science Museum and The V&A. The Natural History Museum is by far the coolest thing for kids in London (as voted by my kids) and a must see. If your child has ever shown even a fleeting interest in dinosaurs, this museum is famous for its collection so go. There are skeletons galore, animatronic velociraptors and a terrifyingly lifelike t-rex. Besides the obvious dinosaur epicness, there are 70 million specimens of minerals, insects, and other interesting things for kids to see. And while your children are gazing at scorpions, plate tectonics displays and blue whale skeletons, look up. The Natural History Museum is also famous for its ornate architecture. On floor tiles and columns you will see sculpted animals and leaves, and the ceilings are stunning.
3. The Victoria and Albert Museum is not as child-centric, but it is a beautiful place and the grownups in charge deserve a visit after all of the dinosaur fun. Head upstairs to the ceramics department, where kids can practice stacking plates for firing and see what happens when a kiln over fires. Little girls will love the fashion exhibitions. And my son once pointed out that some of the statues have, “no arms or legs, but they have, you know, allllll the other bits!!” See? Something for everyone.
Entry to the above museums is free. They are very near to one another and surrounded by child-friendly cafes and picnic areas. I would recommend arriving early (the London museums generally open at 10 a.m.) since the crowds throng in by lunchtime.
4. If the sun comes out (it’s been known to happen!), head to Regents Park. It’s the home of the London Zoo, where you can see lions, penguins and more. And the 2,500 acre Richmond Park itself is worth a day’s visit, with woods, wildflowers and herds of deer. Kids love to run wild here, and they can hide in hollow trees, climb, build forts with branches, get muddy and yell to their heart’s content. There is some special natural beauty at almost every time of year, from bluebell woods to autumn leaves. When you are all worn out, have high tea at Pembroke Lodge, a Georgian mansion with delicious cakes and spectacular views of the Thames Valley.
5. Covent Garden is one of a kind, a sort of market and town square. You can buy all sorts of things from antiques to designer perfumes to quirky wooden toys (go downstairs for these). But the best thing about Covent Garden is the street acts. A guy juggling deadly swords while balances atop a ladder; tumbling acrobats completely covered in green paint; magicians, singers and clowns. They make for an entertaining afternoon, and there are good things to eat while you wait for the next act.
6. A Palace should really be in your list of things to see in London, if you want the full English experience. Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace are both open to visitors and child friendly. Hampton Court has a cool maze where you can lose the kids, and several interesting ghosts.
7. Pickfords Wharf is the home of ‘The Clink‘, one of the oldest and most notorious prisons and now a museum sure to fascinate small boys. Sir Francis Drake completed his circumnavigation of the world at Pickfords Wharf, and a re-creation of his ship, The Golden Hinde, can be visited here. Staff in full period costume provide guided tours, perfect for any aspiring 16th Century ship’s mate. Eat at the Old Thameside Inn, where you will have a good view of London Bridge.
8. For a bird’s eye view of London including the Thames and the Houses of Parliament, hop aboard the London Eye, one of the world’s largest Ferris wheels.
9. The Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens was built as a tribute to Princess Diana. The design was inspired by the stories of Peter Pan, so expect an enormous wooden pirate ship, wigwams, water play, a beach, a sensory trail and other hidden wonders. Real fun for younger kids.
10. This might sound cheesy, but a good open-topped bus tour is not just for old biddies! London’s streets are full of incredible history, and up above street level is the way to experience it. Find a tour bus with live guides, not the pre-recorded ones. Sit near to them and let them know that you are a big fan of Harry Potter, or dragons, or the Great Fire of 1666. They love an enthusiastic audience and will entertain you. Did you know that there are four stone dragons that still guard the four corners of Ancient London? See if you can spot them!
Looking for more ideas in London? Here you go!