15 Fabulous Free Things to do in London with Kids
Visiting London with kids is an insanely cool thing to do, but it can also be expensive unless you check out some of these fun free things to do in London with kids.
During our 20 years living and working in London, we enjoyed trying various London food tours and checking out the newest restaurant openings. Our London bucket list was long but wasn’t particularly family-friendly (or free). Once the kids came along we had to re-think our London life and we discovered that there were a lot of great things to do in London with children. The best part was that most of them were completely free.
Now you’re wondering what to do in London with kids that is free right? You could spend your days walking around the most iconic London sights and discovering the prettiest streets in London as this is completely free but that’s probably not what you’re here for.
If you’re looking for inspiration on great days out with kids in London on a budget, we’ve come up with a list of our top 15 favourite free things to do with kids in London. This guide to free kids activities in London will help you plan your days well and keep your daily sightseeing spend to a minimum.
Make sure to check out our post on the most child friendly restaurants in London (including information on where kids eat free).
1. British Museum
You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy a visit to the British Museum. The entrance hall (the Great Court) is worth a visit in its own right as it’s magnificent. They have an extensive collection of Egyptian artefacts, including mummies, which is always the area our kids want to visit.
They have made the visit more child-friendly by introducing digital exploration of the museum and there are free workshops like ‘Building Roman Britain in Minecraft’ and making mosaic masks. It’s such a fun and educational place to visit and one of our top recommendations for free things to do in London.
They do a lovely afternoon tea (not free!) in case you are looking to try a very British tradition.
Other free museums in London that are great for families are:
Natural History Museum (see #11 below)
Science Museum (see #12 below)
COST: FREE (donation welcome)
Closest Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Holborn
2. Take a London bus
One of the things we like to do when visiting a big city for the first time is to take a bus tour to get our bearings. The great thing about London is that you can see a lot of the iconic London sights from the top deck of the good old London bus on certain routes. Our boys love riding on the top (at the front) of a double-decker bus which is where you get the best views from.
You will need a travel card or a credit card as they don’t take cash on the buses anymore. Kids under 11 travel for free with an accompanying paying adult. It’s a much cheaper alternative to taking an expensive open-top bus tour. Just make sure you have your guide book with you for your DIY bus tour of London.
The best London bus routes for sightseeing are:
Starts: Liverpool Street Station
Sights: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament/Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.
Ends: Victoria Station
Starts: Victoria Station
Sights: Buckingham Palace gardens, Wellington Arch, Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Oxford Street.
Ends: Stoke Newington
Starts: Hampstead Heath
Sights: Camden, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square (for the Houses of Parliament/Big Ben and Westminster Abbey).
COST: FREE (for children under 11 with a paying adult)
3. Fountains by Kings Cross
If you’re visiting London on a hot day, head to Granary Square by Kings Cross where kids can have a play in the water feature. Ideally, you will have brought their swimmers and a towel but if not, then you can let them run around in their pants as we do! This newly developed area also has lots of bars and restaurants and is always buzzing with activity.
Closest Tube: Kings Cross
4. Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you can visit Platform 9 3/4 and join the queue outside of the Harry Potter shop in Kings Cross station to have your photo taken with your chosen Hogwarts house scarf, pushing a trolley through the wall. It will cost you if you want to buy the professional photo but you’re allowed to take your own photos too.
If you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, it’s worth checking out the Harry Potter studio tour on a day trip from London. It’s one of the best Harry Potter experiences in the UK. There is a cost for this and it needs to be booked in advance as it is a very popular attraction.
(Note you can also take free Harry Potter walking tours)
Closest Tube: Kings Cross
5. Watch Tower Bridge open
Tower Bridge is an iconic London landmark (and not to be confused with London Bridge as you will probably be quite disappointed if you go to London Bridge by mistake!). At certain times of the day, the bridge opens to let large boats through. You can check the lift times to see when this happens.
You can also pay to climb up the bridge and walk over it, stopping for photos in the glass-floored gallery.
Closest Tube: Tower Bridge
There’s always something child-friendly going on at the Tate Modern. We usually approach it by crossing the Millenium Bridge from St Paul’s Cathedral where you get a great view along the Thames towards the Shard and Tower Bridge.
The last time we visited, there was a special floor in the turbine hall which allowed kids in socks to slide like ice skaters. We spent a good 30 minutes sliding around. To see any special exhibitions, there is a cost for these but under 12’s are free.
If you go up to the top floor of the Blavatnik building, you can step out onto the terrace and you get wonderful panoramic views of London. You can also enjoy a drink and a snack here.
Note – if it’s views of London you’re looking for, here are some more great places for free views of London:
Royal Observatory Greenwich (see also #14 below)
COST: FREE (donation welcome)
Closest Tube: St Paul’s or Southwark
7. Street Performers at Covent Garden
Covent Garden has long been a place for street performers to entertain a crowd. They usually hang out at the West end of the plaza. You will see the human statues which get more ingenious each year, magicians, musicians and comedians. There is something for everyone. You can sit with the crowd on the cobbled streets or you can sit and enjoy a drink on the terrace of the Punch & Judy pub.
Covent Garden is also a great place to eat with loads of family-friendly restaurants. While you’re in the area, make sure to check out Neal’s Yard, one of the most colourful places in London with lots of cute shops and restaurants.
COST: FREE (tips welcome)
Closest Tube: Covent Garden
We’ve put Hamleys in here because it’s free to go in and browse but whether or not you will get away without spending any money in there is another matter. It is every little child’s dream. A whopping seven floors jam-packed with the latest toy or your favourite classic toy. There will no doubt be toy demonstrations going on, puppet shows, parades and for the older kids, a NERF blaster testing zone!
We spent a long time watching a radio-controlled helicopter and then obviously there were protests when we decided it was time to go without buying it. Warning: it’s a bit of a sensory overload for kids but according to our boys, it is one of the best things to do in London with kids!
COST: FREE (although you might need a second mortgage to pay for the toys)
If you are in London at Christmas, Hamleys have a lovely Santa’s Grotto (not free but worth checking out if you’re looking for somewhere to visit Santa in London).
Closest Tube: Oxford Circus
If you’re looking for somewhere for the kids to let off steam after visiting Hamleys, then you may want to take them to one of the many great parks in London. Our favourite is Regent’s Park because it has a selection of playgrounds to choose from. It’s also very pretty with rose gardens and it’s home to London Zoo (not free).
Other playgrounds you can visit are South Carriage Playground in Hyde Park and the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens. If you go to St James’s Park at 2.30, you can watch the pelicans being fed.
Closest tube: Regent’s Park (Regent’s Park), South Carriage Drive (Hyde Park Corner), Diana Memorial (Queensway), St James’s Park (St James’s Park)
10. Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place outside Buckingham Palace at 10.45 am every day (except in bad weather). The handover takes place at 11 am and the whole ceremony takes about 45 minutes. There are 5 regiments that make up the Queen’s Guard and although at first glance they appear to all be wearing the same iconic red uniform with bearskin hat, there are subtle differences in their uniform. See if you can spot them.
Closest Tube: Hyde Park Corner
11. Natural History Museum
London’s Natural History Museum is one of the best museums in the world. It was once famous for the large dinosaur skeleton in the main entrance hall, but that has been replaced recently by a skeleton of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. There are all sorts of interesting exhibits and free activities but for our children, it’s always about the dinosaurs.
They have additional paid exhibitions which are well worth checking out. We love the Wildlife Photographer of the Year because we love wildlife and are always so inspired by the beautiful photos. It’s a great choice for a rainy day. Make sure to get there early as it is very popular, especially with school groups from all over the world.
Closest Tube: South Kensington
COST: FREE (donations welcome)
12. Science Museum
London’s Science Museum is just next door to the Natural History Museum. It is full of gadgetry big and small to capture the imagination of budding scientists. It’s fun and interactive and one of their most interesting exhibits is the Apollo 10 command capsule. They also have an IMAX theatre and a flight simulator making it another great rainy day choice.
Closest Tube: South Kensington
COST: FREE (donation is welcome)
13. River bus
The river bus is a great alternative to a Thames cruise. It runs between Putney in the west and Woolwich in the east and stops off at the 22 piers along the way. There is an indoor seating area and outdoor deck in warmer weather. You can also buy refreshments on board.
Whilst it is not free (unless you’re under 5), it’s a cheaper way to see the sights of London than taking one of the official London sightseeing cruises.
COST: FREE (for children under 5 and the half-price child fare applies from 5-15). There is a discount if you already have a TFL travel card. Another option is kids go free with a family river rover ticket which is valid all-day.
14. Parliament Hill views of London
One of the best places in London for a view of London is Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. It is a bit of a walk to the top, but the views over the whole of London are incredible.
While here, you can also walk across the Meridian line in Greenwich Park – Longitude Zero (0° 0′ 0″). The location of every place on this planet is measured from this point. There are also a couple of lovely play parks and the National Maritime Museum is free to visit (re-opening 7th September 2020).
Nearest Tube: Hampstead / Belsize Park
15. Catch a show at a London theatre
London is home to some of the best theatre productions in the world. Have you ever wanted to see The Lion King, Mathilda or Wicked but the tickets are just too expensive for the whole family? If you happen to be visiting London during August, you might be able to bag yourself free theatre tickets for the kids (under 16) with Kids Week. The catch is that you need to have one accompanying paying adult per free child ticket. You can also buy up to two half-price child tickets with one paying adult.
Even though it’s not technically free, we’ve put it in here anyway as a bonus because it’s still a big saving. You need to be on the ball and know when the tickets are first released. In 2019 it was at 10 am on 11th June. It’s a bit like getting tickets to some of the hottest concerts. Have the items in your basket ready to check out at 10 am sharp and you may just get lucky!
COST: FREE (for children under 16 with an accompanying paying adult)
As promised, here is a helpful map of all the key sites mentioned.
We’ve given you 15 great ideas here, and hope something for everyone – whether you’re visiting London in the summer or the winter. If you’re looking for even more free things to do in London here are a couple more great resources: 33 free things to do in London and London sightseeing for kids.
One last tip if you’re visiting London is to download some London-specific apps to help you plan, find your way around and book stuff ahead of time. One of our favourite apps is Klook which is what we used to book our Tower of London tickets and our Chelsea Stadium tour tickets.
Looking for accommodation in London?
We recommend Booking.com which has the largest selection of accommodation to suit all budgets.
We hope you enjoy these activities as much as we do. Let us know in the comments if you have any other favourites you would add.
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