London, the capital city of the United Kingdom, is a 21st century city with a history stretching back to Roman times. There is so much to see and do in London, a place to visit several times.
If you are planning a trip to London, how do you decide where to go? London is a huge city. It takes days, weeks really, to see the best of this vibrant city. Trying to figure out what to do can be overwhelming.
We have spent many weekends in London with our children and more recently visited for a week during the summer holidays. Our children are now aged 13, 11 and 9. Here is our guide to the best things to do in London with kids, hopefully it will be a good source of inspiration for your family trip to London.
1. LONDON DUCK TOURS
London Duck Tours offer probably the most unique way to see London with kids. You hop aboard a distinctive yellow amphibious World War II vehicle and set out on a true adventure through the streets of London. It is far more exciting than just an ordinary sightseeing bus tour or river trip.
We did the Classic Sightseeing Tour that takes you past many of the most talked about sights in central London, coupled with live commentary. The best part of the tour was of course the splashdown onto the River Thames. You spend about twenty minutes on the water travelling from MI6 down to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
We loved the London Duck Tour and would certainly recommend as a fun way to see the sights with children.
Tip: Plan to do a Duck Tour at the start of your time in London as it shows you many of the main sights from the comfort of your amphibious vehicle!
2. THE TOWER OF LONDON
A 900 year old fortress built by William the Conqueror on the banks of the River Thames. Start your visit off with a free Beefeater tour before venturing around on your own. Beefeaters guard the Tower of London and are all decorated military veterans having been in the armed forces for twenty two years. They get to live within the walls of the castle. Tours meet at the front lawn inside the gate. If the kids get bored during the tour, you can easily break away and do your own thing. There are three points on the tour where your Beefeater will explain the associated history of the Tower of London.
Before you enter, make sure to pick up the Family Trails booklet from the visitor center to keep the kids even more engaged during your visit. The booklet does not follow the same locations as the Beefeater tour, rather it takes you through different areas of the Tower of London.
A visit to the Tower of London is expensive but well worth it. You can easily send several hours here. We did the Beefeater tour, followed the family trail answering the questions, saw the Crown Jewels, watched the Guards and saw the ravens. Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London then England will fall!
Tip: The Tower of London is always busy, so if you can, get there early to avoid some of the later day crowds.
Read Also: 10 Top Tips for Visiting the Tower of London
3. ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
St Paul’s Cathedral, with its world-famous dome, is an iconic feature of the London skyline. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1708, it was the greatest building project of its age, taking a decade to design and 40 years to build.
This is, maybe surprisingly, a fantastic place to visit with children. Their family multimedia guide was amongst the best we’ve used with quizzes, activities and interactive games, all to be completed while exploring and learning about the cathedral.
The highlight of a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral has to be the climb to the top of the dome. At 111 metres high, the dome is the second largest cathedral dome in the world, weighing approximately 65,000 tons. St Paul’s has a three-dome structure, allowing the inner dome to rise in proportion to the internal architecture and the outer dome to be much larger and impressive. It is this outer dome shell that is prominent on the London skyline. Between these two domes is a third; a brick cone which provide strength and supports the stone lantern above.
Our climb to the top of the dome took us firstly to the Whispering Gallery high above the cathedral floor. The 257 steps to this point were just the beginning! Looking down at the cathedral floor below was dizzying. We then continued on, up small twisting staircases, 528 steps in total, to the Golden Gallery which offers fantastic views over the city of London. It was cloudy and drizzly on the day of our visit but I’m sure on a fine day you could see for miles.
It was then down to the Crypt where you’ll find the tombs of many famous people including Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Christopher Wren himself.
Tip: Keep your entrance ticket as it allows you free entry for 12 months.
4. TOWER BRIDGE
Tower Bridge is one of the most recognisable bridges in the world.
Apart from seeing the iconic bridge open and close which we did for the first time this visit, the Tower Bridge Exhibition provides a great view from the top, partially glass walkway. Learning about the history of the bridge, as well as seeing the steam-powered machinery that raised the bridge for the first hundred years of its existence, is worth the admission price. The bridge only opens and closes about 1000 times a year, which averages out to less than 3 times a day.
Tip: Check out the bridge opening times schedule here. It does not open every day, so be sure to check the dates and times. It is definitely worth seeing if an opening coincides with your visit.
5. COVENT GARDEN
London can be an expensive place to visit with its attractions and entrance fees but there are plenty of things to do that are free. Our boys love spending time in Covent Garden watching the various street performers. We can sit for a couple of hours watching the various entertainment, some better than others!
Tip: Clap and shout loudly if you want to be asked to take part in some street entertainment. My boys have become expert at this as I hide behind them!
6. THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
More free options are the various London museums. This time we opted for the Natural History Museum. Some might say that it hasn’t changed a great deal over time and is a little dated but it is still a favourite of ours. The boys loved the dinosaur exhibit as well as some of the larger mammals.
Other worthwhile London museums with kids include the British Museum, London Transport Museum and the Science Museum. The fact that entry is free to all these museums means you can spend just a couple hours at a time, before moving on.
Tip: Don’t miss the new 25 metre long blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling in the Hintze Hall.
7. WEST-END MUSICALS
London is famous for its West End musicals. This time we opted for the Lion King (our second visit) and Aladdin. Both were fantastic. The Lion King is my all time favourite family friendly musical with its magnificent costumes and props. Suitable for both adults and children alike it takes you on a marvellous adventure to Africa. Aladdin was magnificent too and might even have been preferred by the boys. Matilda is another firm favourite, the boys still talk about the scary Miss Trunchbull, even though it was a few years ago since we saw it. Here is a list of some of our favourite family friendly musicals.
- The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre.
- Aladdin at Prince Edward Theatre.
- Wicked at the Apollo Victoria.
- Mamma Mia! at the Novello Theatre.
- Thriller – Live at the Lyric Theatre.
- Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theatre.
Tip: Visit the ticket booths in and around Leicester Square for cheap discounted tickets to London shows. There is often better availability for matinees and mid-week showings.
8. LONDON EYE
The Coca Cola London Eye, a giant ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames. This makes our top 10 of things to do in London with children because of the amazing views but there are some drawbacks. Sunset is a good time to visit as the light is really beautiful and makes for fantastic photographs.
The London Eye is probably one of the most popular attractions in London, so expect long queues. Our advice would be to buy your tickets online in advance (it’s faster and cheaper), the only disadvantage being that you don’t know what the weather will be on the day of your visit. If you can afford it, priority tickets are really worth it to skip the queues.
Tip: If you are planning to visit several London attractions from Merlin Entertainments group, it’s best to buy a combination ticket as it will save you a lot of money. Other attractions in the Merlin Entertainment group are the Sealife Aquarium, Shrek’s Adventure, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds.
9. AFTERNOON TEA AT ST. ERMIN’S HOTEL
Afternoon Tea is a very British tradition. It was introduced to England by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. She found the time between lunch and dinner too long and that’s how the tradition was born. In the 1920’s afternoon tea became a huge social event among the English aristocracy. It later spread to the middle classes.
The St. Ermin’s Hotel, a luxury hotel in the heart of London, is located in a beautiful historical building. They offer a truly family-friendly afternoon tea with a special Buzzy Bees afternoon tea for kids. Adults are not forgotten with their own afternoon tea selection, including sandwiches, cakes and scones. There is even the option to complement your tea with unlimited Prosecco! Here you can find the current St. Ermin’s afternoon tea selection. After enjoying tea, take the family to see the hotel’s famous beehives where over 350,000 bees make the honey enjoyed in elements of your afternoon tea.
The cost of afternoon tea can be prohibitive in some locations in London, particularly where children are charged the same price as adults. At the St. Ermin’s Hotel we felt the tea was good value, accessible to most families. A perfect way to celebrate a special occasion or to spend a memorable afternoon in London.
Tip: Book your afternoon tea for 4.30 or 5pm, you’ll be so full you can skip dinner!
10. LONDON PARKS AND PLAYGROUNDS
London has many parks and playgrounds that offer perfect opportunities for children to run around, let off some steam and be kids! Here are some of our favourites:
- Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens: Probably, our favourite in London. It has a Peter Pan theme with a pirate ship sailing in a sea of sand, tee pees, and a tree-house encampment. The park is gated, but entrance is free. There is also a snack bar and carousal just outside the park. This is definitely one not to be missed.
- Battersea Park: A great park on the river Thames with a playground, rowing boats, bike rental, and train.
- St. James Park (near Buckingham Palace): Great playground.
- Hyde Park: Head to the Serpentine and take a rowing boat or pedal boat.
- Jubilee Gardens playground: Located at the foot of the London Eye.
MORE IDEAS FOR THINGS TO DO IN LONDON WITH KIDS
London is a huge city with much to offer. Here are some more ideas of things to see and do in London with kids:
- Sea Life London Aquarium
- London Zoo
- The Royal Mews
- Madame Tussauds
- Tate Modern
- HMS Belfast
- Science Museum
For more on London read: A Family Guide:20 Things To Do With Kids – Wanderlust Crew