Kings and queens, Mary Poppins, Oliver Twist, Platform 9-3/4... the minds of kids are full of snippets about London, which makes visiting in real life all the more fun. Below you'll find suggestions for great sightseeing in London, and happily, many are free. Be sure to also see money-saving tips for families visiting London.
Boat Tour on the Thames River
Many tourist vessels ply the Thames. The one above has a top deck for viewing, and below-deck seating, with tables and snack bar; there are sportier models, and dinner outings... See choices for London Boat Tours.
Riding along in a boat, visitors can enjoy a full range of sights along the Thames: Houses of Parliament, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Eye... This is a highly recommended way to start your sightseeing in London, and the boat tour's commentary can provide an introduction to the city's history, often with some entertaining humor thrown in.
By the way: London Bridge-- which was falling down-- was moved to Arizona in 1962, so it doesn't appear in our sightseeing suggestions here.
Tower of London
The Tower of London -- which isn't one tower at all, but acres of towers, ramparts, and a Green with resident ravens-- is a must-see attraction on the Thames. Beheaded Queens, imprisoned princes, famous prisoners such as Guy Fawkes: history would be thick here even without the presence of the Crown Jewels and the Beefeaters.
Take a photo tour of the Tower of London, with visitor tips.
London's sprawling Science Museum is extremely kid-friendly, with many interactive areas to explore. You can tour many of the exhibits online, and find out what's playing at the IMAX theaters.
Good news for families: the price for entrance is the same for adults and kids: free! The same is true for several other top museums in London, including the Natural History Museum, just around the corner from the Science Museum.
And that money you saved on admission? Don't be surprised if your kids suggest you spend it in the gift shop, which is giant and full of neat science-related stuff.
London's Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is just a short walk from the Science Museum: a visit to both would make a great day of sightseeing. My son was tired by the time we entered the Natural History Museum, but the sight of giant real dinosaur skeletons was like a shot of adrenaline. And of course, there are restaurants in these museums where families can rest and refuel.
As with the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum is well-priced for families: it's free for kids and adults too.
Dinosaurs are a star attraction, but there's much, much more in this huge museum, which is housed in a splendid piece of 19th-century architecture.
See more photos of the Natural History Museum.
The British Museum
The British Museum is one of the world's great museums, and even if your kids rush through in a superficial manner, they will at least have seen the Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies, and Greek statues-- all of which will make them feel proud and special when they're in school back home.
And the price is again that beautiful four-letter word: Free.
Try to explore the British Museum website before you visit: check out tips for families and children, including info on best things to do when visiting with kids.
Trafalgar Square and Royal Museum
Some call it the heart of the city: people -- and pigeons-- flock to this square which is part shabby, part regal, and definitely a must-see in London. Trafalgar Square was built in the 1830's to commemorate Admiral Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar; his statue tops an 185-ft. a column in the square, above. Around the base of the column are four giant bronze lions.
To one side of the Square is the National Gallery, which has a vast art collection including many fine works by Turner. As with other of London's great museums, The National Gallery makes it easy for families to visit. Visitors will find kid-friendly features such as "Family Sundays" with storytelling and art workshops; "family trails" to follow through the museum (printed, or audio); facilities (for baby changing etc.); holiday workshops and more. Check the website for the latest updates. Plus, the National Gallery is FREE, like so many of London's top museums.
Also very near to Trafalgar Square is the Church of St. Martin's in the Field, known to classical music lovers as the site of many recorded concerts. Free lunchtime concerts are offered regularly. Perhaps one parent can partake of art in the gallery or music at St. Martin's, while the other watches pigeons with the kiddies outside?
Built for built for the year 2000's millennium celebrations, the London Eye soon became an important landmark, thanks to its striking visual appearance on the banks of the Thames. Taking a flight on the giant wheel offers a rare chance to get a birds-eye view in London, a city not known for skyscrapers. (The Eye is the 6th highest structure in town.) See photos of the London Eye, plus tips for visitors.
Shakespeare's plays are not only peerless literature, many of them are also great fun for kids, thanks to scenes with slapstick and plots with mistaken identities. And what better place to see a play by the Bard than in Shakespeare's own Globe Theatre?
Mind you, the original Globe burned down hundreds of years ago, due to some fiery 17th-century special effects during a performance. This new Shakespeare's Globe opened in 1996 and strives to recreate the original as much as possible. The crowd of "groundlings" stand in the yard, just as they did in Shakespeare's day; there are also seats for sale on the ground level and in balconies. (Book ahead!)
My family loved our Shakespeare's Globe experience. We also sampled Shakespeare outdoors at night in Regent's Park, which is another great way to enjoy a play in London. Read more, and take a photo tour of Shakespeare's Globe.
More London Sightseeing
There is of course much, much more to see in London: Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey (pictured above), Covent Gardens, the huge London parks.
Take a self-guided walking tour with the help of a guidebook, or perhaps sign up for an escorted Walking Tour. My son and I took one about Ghosts of London, led by a personable and enthusiastic guide. (If you have young kids and want to do a walking tour, be sure to verify what ages are allowed to participate.)
Day Trip: LEGOLAND Windsor
This theme park, designed for ages two to twelve, makes a nice day trip for families visiting London.
LEGOLAND Windsor is a theme park designed especially for two to 12-year-olds. Even grown-ups can have fun too, of course, but the prime age is from two to ten; kids that age will love everything about the place.
LEGOLAND has rides, including (appropriately tame) coaster and water slide; mazes; live shows; fun zones such as water-squirters; driving school; and Lego creations all around the park, including fabulous collections in Miniland. There, 35M pieces of Lego recreate scenes from Europe: windmills, castles, famous buildings, little moving trains...
To reach the theme park, visitors take a train to Windsor and then a shuttle bus. Also at Windsor is Windsor Castle --an official residence of Her Majesty-- and Eton College. Allow an entire day to visit LEGOLAND, plus time to stroll around Windsor afterward.
Note that Legoland is closed in winter months. Take a PHOTO TOUR of Legoland, with visitor tips.