London can be a wonderful destination for a family vacation, offering a wide variety of attractions that appeal to both children and adults alike. From free kid-friendly activities like watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace to exploring museum exhibits designed with children and toddlers in mind, there's plenty of ways to entertain the whole family during your trip to London. No matter if you visit in spring, summer, fall, or winter, you're sure to find a whole lineup of great family-friendly events and activities happening all across the city.
Attend Annual Events for Kids
Regardless of what time of the year you visit London, there's no shortage of annual events happening that appeal to all ages. Whether you're looking for a festive holiday party or simply want to enjoy some music, movies, or culture in England, the city hosts special family-friendly events every month of the year.
- January: From the New Year's Day Parade to the London Art Fair, January is a month for celebrating culture and the coming year in London.
- February: Along with Valentine's Day events, which may be geared more toward adults, London celebrates food this month with Pancake Day Races, which sees contestants trying to outrun one another while flipping pancakes in frying pans on Shrove Day.
- March: The biggest holiday of the month, St. Patrick's Day, is celebrated with a variety of events including a fair in Trafalgar Square and a parade through Central London.
- April: While not always held this month, Easter celebrations are typically the highlight of April in London; your kids can join locals and travelers alike in hunting eggs, attending church services, witnessing hot cross bun ceremonies, or watching the London Harness Horse Parade.
- June: Trooping the Colour, also known as the Queen's Birthday Parade, takes place on June 11 and is one of the biggest events of the summer for families, but you'll also have the opportunity to see free performances of West End shows during West End Live later in the month.
- July: The oldest tennis tournament in the world, the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, takes place this month, but you can also enjoy open-air concerts on the north bank of the Thames during the Summer Series at Somerset House event.
- August: This month might be the best for kids to visit since two major kid-friendly events take place in August, the Notting Hill Carnival Children's Day and Kid's Week.
- September: This month is a great time to visit many of the city's historic sites and homes without spending too much money. Stop by Open House London for a chance to see the inside of some of the city's oldest estates or come during Heritage Open Days to visit historic sites like Big Ben, the London Eye, and Westminster Abbey free of charge.
- October: Along with a host of fall festivals including the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival, you can also enjoy Chocolate Week in the middle of the month, which features confectionary demonstrations and free samples from some of England's best suppliers of chocolate.
- November: Celebrate Guy Fawkes Day (also known as Bonfire Night) on November 5 with a ceremonial bonfire lighting or stop by the Lord Mayor's Show on the second Saturday of the month to see the new Lord Mayor of the City of London sworn into duty for the year, which is followed by a grand parade.
- December: While Christmas events and markets are the highlights of activities this month, the Spitalfields Winter Festival in mid-December is a great way to introduce your kids to opera, folk classical, and contemporary music in East London.
The Museum of London Docklands has a great play area for kids under 12 called "Mudlarks." Everything is themed around life in the London docks, so big kids can weigh cargo or load a tea clipper while the smaller kids get to crawl around and play with large foam bananas and London buses or pretend to drive a DLR train.
To get to the Museum of London Docklands you need to take the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), which is a great kid-friendly adventure all on its own. Get a seat at the front as these trains don't have a driver and you, or your little one, can pretend to drive the train.
Stop by the bronze statue of the fictional character Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, which is located next to Hyde Park, for the opportunity to snap a photo and even read one of the famous Peter Pan stories by J.M. Barrie. The exact location of the statue was chosen by Barries, who lived close to Kensington Gardens and published his first Peter Pan story in 1902 using the park for inspiration. In his Peter Pan tale, "The Little White Bird," Peter flies out of his nursery and lands beside the Long Water Lake on the spot where the statue now stands. While there, you can also stop by Kensington Palace, which is also known as Blenheim Palace, for a quick tour of the premises.
The Foundling Museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, London's first home for abandoned children. The Foundling Museum is free for children at all times but there is a small charge for adults. They have regular family events on the first Saturday of every month during which admission is free for all. Just around the corner is Coram's Fields, a central London children's playground where adults are only permitted with a child and there is always staff on site. Here, you'll also find a pet's corner and a cafe as well as playground activities for all ages.
The London Dungeon calls itself "the world's most chillingly famous horror attraction," which covers over 2,000 years of London's gruesome history. Although it moved from Tooley Street in March 2013 to its new home on the South Bank next to the London Aquarium and by the London Eye, this famous attraction features a cast of actors who tell gruesome tales about London's past as well as two rides: Henry's Wrath, a boat ride down a recreation of the River Thames, and Drop Dead, where you drop down three stories of the building to "escape to freedom" (and the gift shop).
It can be a chore taking children shopping with you, particularly in a big city, as they can get easily bored. However, Hamleys is the oldest, biggest, and most famous toy store in the world and a surefire way to entertain your children for an afternoon. Originally established in 1760, Hamleys has been a London landmark since the early 1800s. The Regent Street store has seven floors packed full of the latest toys, games, and gifts, and there's even an exclusive Narnia staircase, too. After you're done shopping at Hamley's you can continue keeping your little darlings stimulated by visiting a few of the top London shops for children nearby including Mystical Fairies, Oh Baby London, and Forbidden Planet.
The London Zoo opened in 1827 and is reputedly where the word "zoo" originates. Its focus is on conservation, and it has long-term breeding programs for 130 species as well as extensive education programs. The London Zoo is an excellent family day out for kids of all ages, and there are plenty of free activities once you're inside so you can easily spend a whole day there. Daily events include a tropical birds tour, the Megabugs Live (B.U.G.S.) show, a showcase of big fish, and an event known as Giraffe High Tea as well as shows with birds and small animals at the Animals in Action Amphitheatre.
The British Museum opened in 1753 and has prided itself on remaining free to visit throughout its history. There is so much to see at the British Museum in London that it would easily take a week to get around everything. However, you and your family can see all the British Museum highlights within a few hours. Be sure to stop by the Egyptian Mummies exhibit, the Rosetta Stone tablet, and the Easter Island Statue. Alternatively, book a family trip on the British Museum Highlights Tour, which takes you "around the world in 90 minutes."
Learn About Nature and Culture at the Horniman Museum
Another free museum in London, the Horniman Museum and Gardens is a great find tucked away in the depths of south London just 13 minutes by train from the London Bridge station. Founded by the Victorian tea trader Frederick Horniman in 1901, the museum features exhibitions of the natural and cultural world as well as an aquarium. The highlight of the museum is the overstuffed walrus in the Natural History Gallery that was created by a taxidermist who had never seen this creature in the wild and didn't know it was meant to have loose, wrinkled skin.
Almost every museum and major art gallery in London hosts special events and exhibitions with children in mind, and many of them are free. Whether your children are fans of art, history, culture, or science, you're sure to find a museum or gallery in London that caters to their particular interests.
- Trafalgar Square's National Gallery always has free family activities, plus ArtStart, a multimedia system that allows you to search the collection and helps you plan your visit.
- In South Kensington, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum all offer free admission for children and explore art, history, and science through a variety of interactive and educational exhibits.
- In east London, the Geffrye Museum holds children's special days and the Museum of Childhood focuses entirely on kids' toys and games throughout history.
- The Guards Museum has real military uniforms for the kids to try on, and they can also take a photo in full uniform and get a certificate of "service to the country" by completing a special training demonstration.