5 Top London Museums for Kids
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Many of London’s 200+ museums have exhibits and interactive activities that are child-friendly. Also, many of London’s museums are free, which makes them a reasonable day out when exploring the city. As TPG's resident London mum, here are five of my favorites, many of which are located near great point redemption hotels for families. So, if you plan to do London on miles and points, consider adding these museums to your tour plan.
The Postal Museum doesn’t normally make standard tourist lists but is surprisingly fascinating. The museum is in the old mail depot and includes a 15-minute train ride along the old mail route in hidden underground tunnels. The tiny two-foot (610-millimeter) narrow-gauge train is perfect for children and thrilling for adults to see a part of London reserved for underground subway workers. The Postal Museum also has a play space called “Sorted!” The space is light and airy and reminds me of the best children’s museums I’ve ever been to. The ticketed entry means that the numbers are capped at 20 and there’s always space to play. It’s a mini-town with a sorting station and trolleys to drive the mail. My son loved it so much that we held his third birthday party there and he has requested it again.
Location: Clerkenwell. 15-20 Phoenix Place WC1X 0DA. A little tricky to find. The train ticket also gets you into the museum on the other side of the road adjacent to the kid-friendly café. The train commentary talks about The Blitz bombing campaign during World War II, which can be a bit scary for really young children. There are plenty of eateries around. When traveling around London with your children, any black-cab driver will know it as "Mount Pleasant," the name of the old mail depot.
Cost: $6.50 for Sorted! play area only (ticketed entry, ages 0–8 suggested; adults free); $15.50 for play area and train ride for children; $22 for adults. All mail rail tickets include admission to the exhibit.
Hours: Daily from 10am–5pm
London Transport Museum
At least once a month, my boys and I visit the London Transport Museum. Normally a museum covering 200 years of transportation history would not appeal to me, but it's great for kids and adults. It has amazing play areas for kids ages 0–7 called All Aboard (think buses and taxis that kids pretend to drive) and interactive areas for lots of simulation driving games for older children. It is free for ages 17 and under, and while the adult ticket is expensive for London ($22.75), it is good for an entire year, although it is nontransferable and the museum strictly checks ID. If you’re staying at a London hotel near the Covent Garden area, it could be worth stopping in more than once during your visit, especially on a rainy day.
The museum’s family program includes a sing and story time on Tuesdays during the British school year and an extensive program of tours, storytelling and crafts during British school vacation weeks.
Location: Covent Garden Piazza (southeast corner)
Cost: 17 and under free; $22.75 for adults at the door; prebook online for $21
Hours: Open daily 10am–6pm (last entry 5:15pm)
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is tough to beat — free entry for all, a full-size tyrannosaurus as the showpiece, plenty of open and airy space and kid-friendly eateries, all housed in a gorgeous Gothic building created in the vision of the founder as a "cathedral to nature." Try the dinosaur-centered kid-centric café T. rex Grill (open 11am–4pm) and the Darwin area that allows older children to delve deeper into natural science. It’s ideal to go to the Science Museum around the corner first and then the Natural History for lunch and an afternoon of exploration.
The museum is always trying new ways to reach more visitors, such as late-night hours and its program "Dawnosaurs," which is a morning event for children on the autism spectrum to enjoy the museum with their families and siblings before it opens.
Location: South Kensington. Cromwell Road SW7 5BD
Cost: Free; there is a charge for some temporary exhibitions
Hours: Open daily. 10am–5:50pm (last entry 5:30pm)
Sometimes overshadowed by its nearby neighbor the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum takes the prize as the most child-friendly museum for all ages. The basement (go through the Space exhibit and then down the elevators) is home to “The Garden,” an interactive space for children 3–6, where I've brought my children from just a few months old. It has a water station (with raincoats), a small climbing frame and a sensory area with instruments and plenty of interactive bits for little ones. You often need to arrive at the opening to avoid lines, but as it opens at 10am, it is not usually too difficult for families with little ones (depending on jet lag) to make it.
Older children love exploring the museum with Treasure Hunters, the Science Museum's app, where you snap photos of places in the museum and challenge other visitors. Other sections of the museum host an Imax movie theater and interactive experiment exhibits.
Hyde Park is around the corner and a welcome place to run around outside after attending the South Kensington museums.
Location: South Kensington. Exhibition Road SW7 2DD
Cost: Free for permanent exhibitions; Imax and special exhibits are extra
Hours: Open daily 10am–6pm (last entry 5:15pm)
V&A Museum of Childhood
Over in East London, you’ll find the V&A Museum of Childhood. While seeing toys and technology from the '80s and '90s made me feel nostalgic and then old, I still love this museum. As it is essentially a museum full of toys that you cannot play with, the museum has added many interactive features to make it more hands on. Clear display cases mean that I can see my children most of the time and the café in the middle has lunch boxes and coffee to refuel everyone. It just added play sessions for children under age 5 on Saturdays during the school year and hosts a comprehensive school vacation program that is free but requires booking online. The museum is a nice change of pace from the more central museums and a great addition to your day when visiting East London.
Location: Bethnal Green. Cambridge Heath Road E2 9PA
Hours: Open daily 10am–5:45pm (last entry 5:30pm)
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