16 kid-friendly things to do in London
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This week TPG is focusing on London and all it has to offer points-and-miles travelers. Whether you’re interested in the city’s ancient history, art and theater scenes, or plan to shop until you drop, London has a little something for everyone. Check our London hub for advice on how to get there, where to stay and what to do.
With sharks and Shrek, military pageantry and royal palaces, tea and sweets, and world-class museums, London is one of the best places to visit with children.
Most major airlines fly to London and there are many nonstop routes from U.S. gateways so using your points and miles is easy (though watch out for some airlines that charge high fees and taxes). Hotels can get expensive but that makes London a great city in which to use your hotel points at one of the many point-friendly hotels representing all the major loyalty programs.
Tip: Look into the London Pass that gives you access to more than 80 attractions. The cost of the pass starts at 75 pounds ($96.75) per adult or 55 pounds ($70.95) per child 12 and up, but the activities included can far offset the price of the pass. Children 11 and younger can travel for free if they are accompanied by an adult holding an Oyster card, the smartcard for London Transit. You can purchase passes in increments of one, two, three, six or 10 days. Besides the pass, many attractions offer a significant savings if you purchase a family ticket and buy in advance.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in London with kids.
Hop-on, hop-off bus
Sightseeing via a hop-on, hop-off bus is a great way to explore any city, but that’s especially true in a large metropolis like London. A Big Bus London double-decker will give you a great orientation to the city’s sights and sites. There are other a few other hop-on, hop-off bus operators, including Golden Tours and The Original Tour.
Big Bus London offers four routes: The Red Tour that takes you through Central London; The Blue Tour of West London; The Orange Route from Madame Tussauds to the London Eye, and The Green Link that connects King’s Cross to Central London. The bus company also provides a great map to figure out which route best covers the attractions and landmarks you want to see.
I love taking a hop-on, hop-off bus during my first day in a new city. (Mommy Points agrees and outlines the reason these sightseeing buses are worth the money.) Also, the first day of a European vacation often includes jet lag from a red-eye flight, so it allows me to sit more and walk less while sleep-deprived.
Cost: 35.10 pounds ($45.28) per adult and 26.10 pounds ($33.67) per child (5–15). There are other premium ticket options as well if you are looking for a multiday tour. All three hop-on, hop-off tour companies are included with the London Pass.
The London Eye has been around since 1999 and will give you unbelievable views of the city from 440 feet above the Thames River. It is much like a Ferris wheel, but it is a 30-minute ride and could bore children. Nonetheless, it is known as one of the “must-dos” in London with its spectacular views of the city. The Jubilee Gardens playground is nearby for kids to blow off steam.
During peak times, such as the summer, the line to visit the London Eye can be long. There is a Fast Track option, although the price is quite high. Going first thing in the morning or during the weekday can help shorten your wait time.
Cost: 30 pounds ($38.70) per adult and 24 pounds ($31) per child (3-15). Fast Track options cost an additional 10 pounds ($13) per person.
Sea Life London Aquarium
Next to the London Eye, the Sea Life London Aquarium is a great family activity. There are many creature exhibits, especially the sharks, and interactive components, such as feeding the stingrays and touch tanks.
Cost: Starts at 24 pounds ($31) per adult and 19 pounds ($24.50) per child (3–15).
Also next to the London Eye, the interactive Shrek’s Adventure is fun for families with younger kids. Inside, you follow Shrek on an adventure through 10 fairy tale-themed live shows, moving from room to room. Your kids will also love getting their picture taken with Shrek at the end.
Cost: 21 pounds ($27.10) per adult and 17 pounds ($22) per child (3–15). There are also package options that combine tour tickets with attractions such as the London Eye and Sea Life Aquarium.
Boat tour of the Thames
If you want to see the city from the water, a boat cruise down the Thames River is the way to go. My family absolutely loves exploring cities through the waterways — it is calming and kids are drawn to boats. There are a few tour operators in London. City Cruises is a popular one with cruises leaving every 40 minutes.
This tour company has piers at Westminster, London Eye, Tower and Greenwich. You can buy a single-ride ticket or a 24-hour hop-on, hop-off ticket.
Cost: A single-ride ticket starts at 10.75 pounds ($13.90) for adults and 7 pounds ($9) for kids (5–15) or you can purchase a round-trip ticket for slightly less than the cost of two one-ways. If you’d prefer to use the boats to visit many sites during a 24-hour window, the prices are 19.50 pounds ($25.15) per adult and 12.75 pounds ($16.45) per child (5–15). The 24-hour ticket is included in the London Pass.
If you want to see where the queen lives, you can visit Buckingham Palace in August and September while the queen is on her annual visit to Balmoral, Scotland (exact dates change year by year so check online).
During the self-guided tour, you’ll see the state rooms and the gardens. Touring the palace typically takes about two hours, so this is definitely a better tour for older kids who are OK on their feet for a longer time. Unfortunately, strollers are not allowed in the state rooms, but you can borrow a baby carrier free of charge.
Cost: 25 pounds ($32.25) per adult and 14 pounds ($18) per child (5–16).
Changing of the Guard
If the state rooms at Buckingham Palace are not on your itinerary, you can still see the changing of the royal guards. This typically takes place daily in June and July and on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between August and May.
At 10:43 a.m. the old guard leave St. James’s Palace for Buckingham Palace and at 10:57 a.m. the new guard leaves Wellington Barracks for Buckingham Palace. The official start time for the actual changing ceremony is 11 a.m. and it lasts about 45 minutes. This event is fully open to the public — no tickets required. It can get crowded and I suggest arriving well in advance to try to get a good spot.
Note: Dates and times can change because of other ceremonies, road closures or weather. Always check the website in advance to check on timing.
Cost: No tickets are needed.
Horse Guards Parade and Household Cavalry Museum
If you’d prefer to avoid the crowds at the changing of the royal guards at Buckingham Palace but still want to see a changing of the guards ceremony, you can go to the Horse Guards Parade. Here you will find few crowds and it will be a much more manageable experience with kids. This 30-minute ceremony takes place daily at 11 a.m., Monday through Saturday and at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Tip: I’ve taken my kids to both ceremonies; this one is preferable with children.
You’ll also find the Household Cavalry Museum at the Horse Guards, the official entrance to Buckingham and St. James’s Palaces. There you’ll be able to watch real soldiers on the job. There is also a self-guided audiovisual tour.
Cost: There is no charge to watch the Horse Guards Parade. Museum pricing is 7 pounds ($9) for adults and 5 pounds ($6.45) for kids (5–16). Included in the London Pass.
Hyde Park and Kensington Garden
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens consist of more than 500 acres of large grassy areas, lakes, statues and fountains. There are also many playgrounds; my absolute favorite is the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.
In winter, Hyde Park has Christmas markets and in summer, you can go boating on the Serpentine. This is a great area for kids to run around and get out their energy, especially on a beautiful day.
Cost: Boating costs 12 pounds ($15.50) for adults for one hour and 5 pounds ($6.45) per child (4–14). Families with children under 12 months of age can only use the Serpentine Solarshuttle boat.
The Science Museum is a great place to take the kids before or after spending time outdoors in Hyde Park. There are many interactive galleries, IMAX films and rotating exhibits. For little kids, I highly recommend The Garden play area in the basement — my kids had a blast there.
Cost: Admission is free, although some exhibitions do come with a charge. IMAX film is included with the London Pass.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is next to the Science Museum and is another great indoor activity with kids. Seeing the dinosaurs and learning about volcanoes and earthquakes is a favorite. There is also a nature center with live talks. With the numerous hands-on and interactive activities, it will keep your kids entertained for hours.
If you happen to be visiting during the late fall or winter, you can also go ice skating at a rink at the museum.
Cost: Entry to the museum is free, although select exhibits require paid tickets. Ice skating starts at 12.65 pounds ($16.30) for adults, 8.80 pounds ($11.35) for children, and 39.60 pounds ($51) for families.
There is no better way to fully embrace British culture than by taking afternoon tea. You can book a tea at many hotels but when traveling with a family, you’ll want one that is kid-friendly. At the Ampersand Hotel you can book the Science Afternoon Tea with a dedicated kids menu including chocolate spacemen and dinosaur biscuits. And, of course, there is Champagne for the adults, if you are in the mood. Note: They have vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Cost: The cost of afternoon tea varies by location, but this venue starts at 39.50 pounds ($51) per adult and 29.50 pounds ($38) per child.
Tower Bridge is one of the most well-known bridges in London (although often mistaken for London Bridge) and will allow you to get some great views of the city and the Thames through its glass-bottomed floor. Inside the tower, you can learn more about the mechanics of the bridge by watching videos and exploring the Engine Room.
Kids will enjoy the app that allows you to use your phone for a real-life simulation.
If you have a child with special needs, Tower Bridge offers Autism-Friendly Early Openings with timed tickets at 9:15 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month.
Cost: 9.80 pounds ($12.64) per adult and 4.20 pounds ($5.42) per child (5-15). Included with the London Pass.
Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of the top tourist activities in London and a great one for families. This is where you’ll see the Crown Jewels and tour the tower with a yeoman warder.
The Tower may be better suited for older children, but younger children will enjoy playing make-believe in this real-life castle and fortress. There can be long lines and crowds at peak times. There are also many stairs, so keep that in mind for little ones. It is also not the most stroller-friendly place.
Cost: 24.70 pounds ($31.86) per adult and 11.70 pounds ($15) per child (5–15). Included in the London Pass.
London Transport Museum
For train-loving-kids and adults, the London Transport Museum is a great activity. Almost every kind of transportation is on display, from double-decker buses to London cabs to trains. The museum is interactive and fun and even takes you back in time. There is a playzone and book corner and special family events such as story time and sing-alongs.
Cost: 16.50 pounds ($21.30) per adult; kids 17 and under are free. Your ticket is good for museum admission for a year. Included in the London Pass.
Lego Store and M&M Store
In Leicester Square, you’ll find both the Lego Store and M&M store. If you have never visited either of these stores in another city, they are something else. In the Lego store you can build your own Legos and in the M&M store you’ll enjoy sweets and more sweets.
M&M Store, London (Jennifer Yellin / Deals We Like.)
With so many parks, playgrounds and attractions, London is a must-do for families visiting the U.K. and the rest of Europe. Just pack a light rain jacket and some rain boots and you’ll be on your way to a great vacation.
Continue planning your trip to London:
- How to spend a Sunday in London
- These are the best times to visit London
- Where to eat in London with kids
- 5 top London museums for kids
Featured image courtesy of Uca Michelii via Unsplash
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