Visiting London with a family and wondering how to make your budget stretch further and still enjoy the city to the fullest? In this guide, we share some of the best FREE and CHEAP things to do in London with kids. This article was published in collaboration with a local family who shares their favorite spots and proves that you can visit London without breaking the bank. Find out!
London is one of the most visited cities in the world, famous for its history, landmarks and culture. But it’s also one of the most expensive cities to visit in Europe, and you will quickly notice it when trying to find an affordable place to stay or researching the very best things to do in London with kids…
Luckily, London also has a huge range of free and cheap activities that are perfect for families.
While some of the most famous attractions, such as the London Eye and the Tower of London, or families’ favorites such as Shrek’s Adventure or Harry Potter Studios can be quite pricey to visit (but oh so fun!), this guide will show you that there is no shortage of free and very affordable options that will keep kids happy and your costs low.
One of the best things about London is that it has tons of world-class museums and galleries which are free to visit. There are also many beautiful parks and playgrounds. You will find all the best ones featured below. But we all know there are only that many museums a child can get excited about, and you are likely not traveling to London just to explore its playgrounds…
So in our selection, we included a much bigger mix of diverse and affordable family-friendly attractions and experiences in London that will make your visit so much more memorable. Most of these places are completely FREE to visit for the entire family, some others are free for kids, and those few that have a fee are very affordable for families.
To help you plan your time, we also include a map indicating the exact location of all the places mentioned in this guide. At the bottom of this article, you can also find some itinerary suggestions allowing you to combine several of the best free London activities and make the most of your time.
Good to know: While we have been to London countless times, we still feel that we just scratched the surface of what this amazing city has to offer. So for this guide, we asked for recommendations from a local, a fellow travel writer Fiona Spinks. London is her home city and she loves to explore it from a tourist perspective and discover new places with her family. She’s visited every place mentioned in this article multiple times, so all the tips are based on personal experience.
MAP & Getting Around
Below, you can see a map indicating all the best free and cheap London attractions mentioned in this article.
Getting around: London has an excellent public transport system. Virtually every part of this large city is accessible by the underground metro (aka the Tube) or buses. There are also plenty of taxis and rideshares, but road traffic can make car journeys extremely slow.
The good news is that London is also very walkable and many attractions are located close to each other. So we only recommend taking the metro for bigger distances. The time it takes to get down to a tube platform and back up to reach your destination, for shorter distances you are often quicker on foot. London is a very safe city so walking around is not a problem.
How to use this map: Use your computer mouse (or fingers) to zoom in or out. Click on the icons to get more information about each place. Click the arrow on the top left corner for the index. Click the star next to the map’s title to add it to your Google Maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open Google Maps, click the menu and go to ‘Your Places’/’Maps’. If you want to print the map or see it in a bigger window, click on ‘View larger map’ in the top right corner.
Good to know: Since this is a rather long list, we start with some of the most popular FREE sites first. Paid attractions are listed further down, but they are all very affordable and are well worth considering too.
We strongly encourage you to scroll through the entire list before deciding where to go. That way, you have a much better idea of how many different choices there are for affordable family-friendly things to do in London.
Here are some of the best FREE things to do in London with kids:
1. Natural History Museum
London’s Natural History Museum at South Kensington is one of the best museums in the world, and it’s completely free to visit. Not just free for kids – free for everyone.
The museum has a collection of more than 80 million items. Yes, that’s right, 80 million. Just a small part is on display but the number does demonstrate how extensive the collection is (and there’s always something new to see, even if you have visited before!).
The Dinosaur collection is the most popular part of the museum for kids, with its animatronic T-Rex and dinosaur skeletons. But there are many other interesting exhibits about space, rocks and minerals, and oceans that most children will love too. Our kids are always fascinated by the sparkling precious gems in the rocks and minerals section.
TIP: Keep in mind that this is a very large museum, so you won’t be able to see it all in one day, at least not without doing a huge amount of walking. So we recommend picking several exhibitions that you absolutely want to see and going there first. Afterward, you can decide if you want to stay longer, based on how excited or tired the kids get.
Good to know: While the main collection of the museum is free, you still need to book tickets in advance. Being one of the most visited museums in London, it can get very busy here, so they limit the number of visitors.
2. Changing Of The Guard
The Changing of the Guard is a Royal ceremony during which the soldiers on duty guarding Buckingham Palace hand over responsibility to the new guard. It’s usually accompanied by a band that plays music as the troops march towards Buckingham Palace, up the Mall from St James’s Palace, or along Birdcage Walk from Wellington Barracks.
The Changing of the Guard takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays at Buckingham Palace at 10.45 am, but the soldiers start at Wellington Barracks at about 10 am. In addition, there is also a similar ceremony at Windsor Castle (outside the city) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 11 am.
Be sure to check the official website in advance to see the exact dates and the details of each ceremony. Some of them are without music and sometimes, they also get canceled due to special circumstances.
TIP: The most popular spots to watch the ceremony are just outside Buckingham Palace. However, it’s usually very busy so it’s best to arrive well in advance, which may not be ideal with younger kids. You’ll generally have a more relaxed experience if you view the marching guards from the Mall, by St James’s Palace or Birdcage Walk outside the barracks, rather than the ceremony itself.
If you are not sure where to go, there are also guided tours available that – among other things – bring you to the Changing of the Guard ceremony. These tours are usually not very expensive and show you some other sites too. There are also various historic tours if you are interested to learn more about London’s history.
Good to know: Although the King’s Guard with their bearskin caps may not look like typical soldiers, they are members of the British Armed Forces. You are welcome to take photos but don’t try to get too close to them as they are on duty.
3. Covent Garden
Covent Garden is famous for its market, street performances, and theatres. The market is free to explore, and there are lots of stalls, shops, and cafes to browse. It’s also a great place to pick up some souvenirs and handmade jewelry.
But perhaps the most fun for kids is watching the street performers. You’ll often see buskers, living statues, and magicians around Covent Garden market. If you stay to watch for several minutes rather than just walking past or stopping for a few moments, it is polite to tip them. This doesn’t have to be a significant amount – giving your kid a £1 coin to drop into their bucket is fine. The performers have to audition to perform in the market, so it is more regulated than street performers in other locations.
Covent Garden Market also has seasonal pop-up stalls, so you might find summery drinks in June and July, or spiced apple juice and hot chocolate in November and December. Just remember that if you are from North America and see a stall selling hot cider, it’ll be alcoholic as we don’t distinguish between cider and ‘hard cider’ in the UK.
Check out the tiny St Paul’s Church on the west side of the market. It is also known as the actor’s church. It is free to go inside, where you can view the memorial plaques for various actors, from Charlie Chaplin to Helen McCrory (who played Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films). Just be aware that it is an active church so visitors must be respectful of services that may be happening at the time of your visit.
TIP: In the northeast corner of the market square, you’ll see the entrance to the Royal Opera House. If you want to extend your budget, seasonal performances of ballets such as The Nutcracker are always popular. Otherwise, there are several theatres nearby performing family favorites such as The Lion King, Frozen, Matilda, and more. You can find an overview of London Musicals here.
Good to know: Covent Garden Tube Station has no escalators, just lifts and a 193-step staircase. During busy periods the wait for a lift can take quite a while and leave you in a fairly confined space. It’s often easier to get to and from Covent Garden via Leicester Square station which is just a 4-minute walk away.
4. Sky Garden
Sky Garden is a public garden located in the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ skyscraper in London’s City financial district (a short walk from the Tower of London and Tower Bridge). Sky Garden occupies the top three floors of the building and – in addition to the garden – also has several restaurants, bars, a gift shop, etc. It’s also used for various events.
But the main reason to come here is, of course, the Sky Garden itself, and the amazing views it provides. Plus, it’s just a truly unique place, a lush garden inside a skyscraper.
Sky Garden is a more upscale experience and is best for families with older children or teens, as it’s not a space for running around.
Good to know: Access to the garden is free, but it is very popular and has limited capacity, so you have to reserve a free ticket. It’s practically impossible to find a spot at the last minute, so plan ahead! The tickets are released about three weeks in advance. For more information, see their website.
TIP: Bring your photo ID as you may be asked to provide it at the entrance. Also, the Garden is partially open to the elements so make sure you are dressed for the weather.
READ ALSO: Best Views in London
5. Harry Potter Locations
FREE, unless with a tour.
The world of Harry Potter needs no introduction, and there are many places around London where you and your kids can experience a little bit of the magic.
You can have your photo taken by the entrance to Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station (just try to get there early and on a weekday or the queues for your photo can be an hour or more). They will take photos on their professional cameras for you to buy, but you can also use your phone for free, as long as you have someone to take it as the staff won’t use your equipment.
The Harry Potter shop is next to the platform where you can buy all kinds of items, from wands to clothes and stationery. If you are at King’s Cross Station on 1st September at 11 am, you’ll even hear the announcement for the Hogwarts Express leaving the station!
Not far from King’s Cross, you can find Claremont Square which was the location of Grimmauld Place in the fifth film. Just remember that the buildings are residential, so be considerate when taking photos.
Westminster Station was used in the scene from the 5th film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as Harry and Mr Weasley head to the Ministry of Magic. It is one of the nicer tube stations, although not as pretty as they made it to be for the films. Still, it is rather easy to visit, particularly if you’re already planning to see the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Abbey, as you might pass through this station anyway.
Good to know: There are also Harry Potter walking tours around London that will bring you to these and many other locations. It’s fun to do if your kids have the stamina for it and you don’t want to worry about doing research and looking at the map all the time.
TIP: If you want a full-on Potter experience, you can also visit the Warner Brothers Studios, with many of the original sets and props. It’s a fun day out, but it’s not a cheap thing to do. It’s also a bit more difficult to get to as its original purpose was for filming, not for tourist accessibility. You can either book a round-trip bus transfer + ticket from the city center or take a train from Euston to Watford Junction and then hop on to the shuttle bus to the studio. Make sure to book in advance as it is an extremely popular destination.
6. Science Museum
Science Museum is probably the best free museum in London for kids from about 5-6 years and older. It has a wide selection of displays, intending to spark kids’ interest in science, maths, and engineering. But there’s just so much to see, no matter your interests.
Some of the favorites include the Space Gallery where you can see highlights such as the original Soyuz module that brought astronaut Tim Peake back from the International Space Station. Our kids also love the Pattern Pod and the Flight Gallery where you can learn everything about the history of flights and see various planes including a cross section of a huge Boeing.
The are also some free guided tours that are well worth it and you could easily spend half a day here just for the main collection. In addition, there are some paid activities and exhibitions like the IMAX cinema, Power Up hands-on gaming experience, or Wonderlab interactive experience.
Good to know: General entry is completely free, but it’s best to reserve free tickets in advance. On the website of the museum, you can also find more information about different activities, guided tours, etc.
TIP: The Science Museum is located just near the Natural History Museum, so you could visit both on the same day. Just keep in mind that visiting two major museums in a day might be tiring for the family.
7. Tower Bridge
FREE, unless you go inside.
Located just near the famous Tower of London, Tower Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks of London and an absolute must-see! Just walking over this famous drawbridge is like an attraction in itself, not even to mention seeing how it opens to let the ships pass.
Let’s clear something up first – London Bridge and Tower Bridge are often confused by first-time visitors, but they are very different. Tower Bridge is iconic and impressive with its towers and drawbridge, London Bridge is grey and simple (although you can get some good views from it).
As the name suggests, Tower Bridge connects the Tower of London to the south side of the river. For the best views of the bridge, we recommend walking along the pedestrian path on the north bank, just outside the grounds of the Tower of London. That pathway offers photo opportunities for both the bridge and the Tower of London itself, without paying the fairly high entrance fees to enter the Tower.
Good to know: The main bridge is free to walk across, but you have to reserve a paid ticket if you want to visit inside and walk on the upper walkways and the glass-floored bridge.
TIP: Tower Bridge is opened for boats to pass through roughly 800 times per year, but this isn’t spread out equally. It may mean that you can see it open and close several times in one day and then there will be no bridge lifts for a week or even longer. If you want to catch it in action, be sure to check bridge lift times in advance.
8. Leicester Square Shops
Leicester Square (pronounced as Lester Square) lies in the centre of London’s West End, with the surrounding streets full of theatre venues where you can see the best musicals in London. But there’s so much more and this is one of those places that you absolutely have to visit in London with kids!
Leicester Square is home to the world’s largest candy store – the 35,000 sq ft, 4-level M&M’s London shop. You can choose from around 100 varieties, and even buy a personalised M&M with your face on it! There are plenty of photo opportunities with the M&M characters, and kids will love all the colorful and delicious displays!
Just be aware that your kids will likely want to buy something, so you may have to agree on a budget in advance. Also, the prices here are far higher than buying the equivalent in a supermarket. The bags easily fill up, so supervise their selections and pay attention to the weights – not the bag size. Even better for budgets, take all the photos and then buy your actual M&Ms at the nearby Tesco.
The LEGO Store is another very popular fixture at Leicester Square. As well as a variety of sets to buy, there are also demonstrations and activities in store. Until recently, it was the largest LEGO store in the world, but that title has now been taken by a store in Sydney, Australia. Nevertheless, there is plenty to see here, from London landmarks to a James Bond car, all made of LEGO.
Good to know: On weekends, the stores can become extremely busy with queues to get in. So if you can, try to visit during the week.
TIP: Also, don’t forget to check out all the statues in Leicester Square. You can find statues of Paddington Bear, Harry Potter, Mr Bean, Mary Poppins, Indiana Jones, and many others.
9. The Vaults
If you would like to get a bit off the beaten path in London and show your kids a different side of the city, then don’t miss The Vaults. This is a pedestrian walkway under the railway arches of Waterloo Station that is famous for its street art and graffiti.
The world-known artist Banksy held a graffiti festival here in 2008 and since then, it is one of the few public spaces in the UK where graffiti is not just legal, but celebrated.
This is a great place for kids to see graffiti artists at work, in a space that is constantly changing as new pieces are created all the time.
Good to know: Access to the tunnel can be found on Leake Street, just near Waterloo Station (close to the London Eye and other popular family attractions). It’s a public space that is free to visit at any time.
In addition, there are also paid events in the Vaults venue. Most of the immersive theatre shows at the Vaults are adult-only, but there are occasionally shows for kids, particularly during the Christmas and New Year period.
READ ALSO: Hidden Gems of London
10. London Transport Museum
FREE for KIDS.
A lot of kids will at some point go through a stage of being obsessed with trains, buses, and boats. So if your kids are in that stage, then they will love the London Transport Museum.
The museum takes you on a journey throughout the history of London public transport. From horse-powered trams to trains, metro, buses, trams, to river cruises – there’s a lot to see. There are lots of interactive displays and also trains and buses that you can visit inside – always a huge hit with kids!
All Aboard is a play area with miniature versions of these machines that kids can climb into and ‘drive’. There are also costumes for the kids to play with and interactive activities dotted around the main collection.
Good to know: London Transport Museum is free for kids aged 17 and younger, but the adults will have to pay. The adult ticket is valid for a year, so it’s a great option for locals who can return several times but less ideal for tourists on a budget. Still, it’s very affordable for London standards.
In addition, this museum is very centrally located, close to many other attractions mentioned in this post (like Covent Garden and many others). So combine it with the free attractions nearby, and you can easily fill a day in this part of London on a rather low budget and with lots of fun for the whole family.
TIP: In addition to a ticket, you also need to book a timed-entry slot in advance. This doesn’t cost any extra and is just used to prevent overcrowding. For more information, see the official website of the museum.
11. Camden Town & Market
Camden Town is one of the coolest parts of London, famous for its live music venues and markets. During my teen years, I was often there on Saturdays listening to music, clothes shopping, and trying out different foods.
But it’s a great place to visit with family too. Younger kids will love the colorful and vibrant atmosphere, and teens will enjoy the music scene, quirky shops, and browsing the stalls at Camden Market.
There’s also a huge number of food options to choose from with food trucks and stalls inspired by food from around the world. Camden is also very inventive in its food offerings – such as the classic British roast dinner sold as a ‘burrito’ wrapped in a Yorkshire pudding, Rainbow Pancake Stack, or Funky Chips with the most unusual toppings…
For the ultimate sugar rush to keep everyone happy, head to Chin Chin for their incredible hot chocolate. This is the proper stuff, thick and rich, with a marshmallow on top that is blow-torched to toasty perfection. They also make amazing ice cream for days when it’s too warm for hot drinks.
Good to know: Camden gets very busy at weekends, but it’s also a great time to visit for the best atmosphere.
TIP: To escape the hustle and bustle, make sure to take a boat or go for a walk along Regent’s Canal.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Camden
12. The Regent’s Park & Canal
The Regent’s Park is one of the more central London parks, located west of Camden Town and north of Madame Tussauds. If you take a walk (or a boat) along Regent’s Canal, you could easily visit all these places together.
The park itself is beautiful, especially the Rose Garden in summer. There are several cafes within the park and plenty of space for kids to run around. You can also choose from 4 different playgrounds, with the Gloucester Gate playground including a small zip wire for children to ride as well as the classic slides, sandpits, and climbing frames.
The park also hosts paid activities. You can hire a pedal boat on the Boating Lake – always popular in summer. London Zoo is also located here, at the northern edge of the park, which is a great place to visit with kids. The tickets are quite pricey, so if you decide to visit, plan to spend plenty of time inside so that you can enjoy it to the fullest.
The Open Air Theatre in the park runs seasonal productions too. Just come prepared for the weather as there is very little shelter, as I learned with some discomfort when it started raining during a performance…
13. St James’s Park
St James’s Park lies directly between Buckingham Palace and Westminster with the Houses and Parliament and Big Ben, so it is very popular. It’s also a great place to wind down and rest a bit when visiting the main landmarks of London with a family. You’ll likely pass by anyway, so why not take a few minutes, relax, and let the kids play a bit…
This park is widely known for the very tame squirrels which are often happy to wander straight up to people and even eat out of their hands (not something we would particularly recommend, but it’s always fun to watch).
The lake in the park is home to a variety of birds, including ducks, swans, and even a few pelicans. There is also a small play area at the west end of the park with swings and slides, but the main interest for kids here is usually the wildlife and the views of London landmarks.
TIP: If you can time your visit to be at Duck Island Cottage at around 2.30 PM, you can also watch the pelicans being fed at St James’s Park.
14. National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich collection and one of the best hands-on museums in London for kids. It’s also one of the top places to visit in Greenwich and is free for all ages.
This museum celebrates the maritime history of Great Britain, with exhibits dedicated to world exploration and trade, but also piracy, the challenges of Polar exploration, etc. You can also see the famous painting ‘The Battle of Trafalgar, 1805‘ by J.M.W. Turner.
In addition, there is a lot to see and do specifically for families. The AHOY! Children’s Gallery, for kids up to 7 years old, has a play area with a ship to climb on and games to play. AHOY! is free to enter during term time on weekdays, and has a small fee at weekends and during school holidays. For older kids, there is an outdoor playground, the Cove. It has a ship, a model shark, and slides and can be visited separately from the museum as well.
On certain days of the week, there are also scheduled sessions for children. These include character encounters to meet historical figures such as a female pirate or sailor from the 1800s tea trade, and creative hands-on activity sessions. Some of these activities require pre-booking and may only run during term time, so check the museum website when planning your visit.
Good to know: The museum is free to visit and you can just turn up on the day. However, online bookings are also possible and – for some activities – highly recommended.
TIP: The best way to get to Greenwich is by boat from London city center. There are various options for Thames River Cruises; most of them are free for kids under 4 and offer discounts for older children. This is one of the best-value cruises.
15. Greenwich Park
Greenwich Park is another place that’s well worth at least half a day of your time. It’s located just south of the river, in a part of the city known for its maritime history and with fantastic views of central London.
The park itself and some attractions are free to visit, but there are some paid family-friendly activities too. The playground at the northern end of the park is maritime-themed, with a pirate ship swing, sandpits, and huts. As mentioned above, there is also a free playground just outside the National Maritime Museum.
Cutty Sark, a British clipper ship turned museum is also located in Greenwich and is a great place to visit with kids! You’ll need tickets for this one, though.
The Queen’s House is a free museum, but it’s best to book your visit in advance too. Family trail guides and conservation kits are available to help kids explore the collection.
The Old Royal Naval College with the Painted Hall is free for children but adults need a ticket. Like many other museums in London, you can pick up a free activity pack for kids with puzzles and games to help them explore the museum. On Sundays, they have additional activities for kids, such as storytelling, craft activities, or meeting characters from maritime history.
The Meridian Line is the most famous of the Greenwich landmarks, marking the line that divides the earth into eastern and western hemispheres. Access to the Meridian Line landmark is included in the price of visiting the Royal Observatory. Displays include telescopes, maritime clocks, and instruments relating to astronomy and navigation.
Good to know: As the observatory is on a hill, you might struggle with pushchairs or wheelchairs, and younger children may not have enough energy to do so, so this is best suited for kids who are at least 8 years old. Planetarium shows are also available at an additional cost.
TIP: If you want to visit the main kid-friendly attractions in Greenwich, consider the Royal Museums ticket.
LEARN MORE: Top Places to Visit in Greenwich
16. British Museum
The British Museum is another world-class museum that you can visit in London for free. And it’s quite family-friendly too.
The collection may have its controversies, but it’s excellent. The Ancient Egypt section is a particular hit with kids, especially the mummies. The displays about Japanese samurai and the ancient Greeks and Romans are also very popular.
Activities for kids include Museum Missions which set tasks such as finding certain objects and taking photos or making videos. Museum Explorer trails are also fun; you can either print the guides at home in advance or use the free Wi-Fi and QR codes to have them on your phone as you explore.
There are also free drop-in events to help kids learn about topics such as Ancient Egypt, Chinese Art, and Aztec Masks.
Good to know: The main collections of the museum are free to visit. While normally you can just show up without a booking, they recommend reserving free tickets in advance if you want a guaranteed entry. For more information and family activities, see the museum website.
17. Diana Memorial Playground
There are several memorials to Diana, Princess of Wales, around the UK, but the one in London is special and is built with kids in mind.
Located in the beautiful Kensington Gardens next to Kensington Palace, Diana Memorial Playground has a pirate ship for kids to climb, water to play in, and a sand pit to build in. There are also swings, slides, and plenty of space to run around in.
The playground is very popular so there can be a bit of a wait to get in, especially on sunny weekends.
Good to know: There is a cafe here, bathroom facilities, and plenty of seating for parents to watch their kids. Unusually for London playgrounds, this one is staffed by a first-aid-qualified adult, but parents are still responsible for supervising their children.
TIP: You might want to consider bringing a change of clothes, especially if you have little ones who love to splash around in the water.
18. Borough Market
FREE, but you won’t be able to resist some delicious food!
Borough Market is the most well-known food market in London. Located in the heart of the city and open six days per week, the market is both a tourism hotspot and a local favorite.
From stalls selling cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, and pastries to sit-down restaurants and food trucks, you’ll find plenty of options to try out.
Wandering through the market is free, but you’ll find it a challenge not to buy a few treats. Perhaps raclette from Kappacasein or handmade fudge from Whirld. You’ll easily find a few sweet treats to keep the kids happy while you wander or buy a few options to take for a picnic.
We recommend exploring the day’s stalls in full before you choose, to make sure you find the best options.
TIP: Come here at around lunchtime. You can also easily combine a visit to Borough Market with the View from the Shard which is just nearby. HMS Belfast (more about it below) and the Tower Bridge are also just a short walk away.
19. Tate Britain
The Tate Britain is one of London’s many art museums and is also free to visit. The collection spans 500 years of British art. It is often overlooked in favor of its sister museum, the Tate Modern (also free to visit), which means that the Tate Britain is often much quieter and more relaxed, while also offering family activities. The Tate Britain also includes a modern art selection, so the collection is more varied overall than the Tate Modern.
There are several activities here specifically for kids. Tate Draw, for example, provides space for children and young people to create art using tablets. It’s open during normal museum opening hours. Play Studio with dress-up items and crafts is open Friday-Sunday during term time and every day during school holidays.
The museum also hosts special exhibitions in addition to the main displays, some of these exhibitions are free and others require paid tickets.
Good to know: This museum is open daily, is free to all, and doesn’t require reservation (unless you want to visit some very popular temporary exhibitions). For more information, see their website.
20. The Queen’s Walk & Jubilee Gardens
The Queen’s Walk is a pedestrian path that takes you along the southern bank of the River Thames from Westminster Bridge to the Millennium Bridge. When Londoners talk about the South Bank, they are usually referring to this section of the river. It’s just over a mile and at a normal walking pace would take about 30 minutes. But since you will pass by some of the most famous landmarks along the way, you will definitely need much longer.
The starting point at Westminster Bridge gives you views across the river to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. You’ll also be right next to the SEALife London Aquarium, Shrek’s Adventure, and the London Eye at that point. The walkway here is often lined with stalls selling drinks and souvenirs, and there’s even a double-decker bus that’s been converted into a frozen yogurt stand.
Next, you’ll pass by the Jubilee Gardens, which includes a good-sized playground in the shadow of the London Eye. Buskers and street performers are also often in this area.
Walking further north, you’ll see the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, and the Southbank Skate Park. Depending on the time of day it might not be in use, but on bright sunny days, kids will enjoy stopping for a few minutes to watch the skaters show off their tricks to the crowd.
TIP: As you continue, you’ll pass by the OXO Tower. While this may not look particularly interesting from the outside, the 8th floor has a free public viewing platform next to its restaurant. This viewing platform is less known, so is generally a much quieter place to get some nice London skyline views and photos.
Walking further in the direction of Blackfriars Bridge, you’ll find lots of places to grab a coffee or hot chocolate to keep you going. You’ll soon pass by the Tate Modern which is another free gallery to visit and is known for its exhibition space. You’ll soon reach Millennium Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The previously-mentioned Borough Market is also just a few minutes walk from here.
21. Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian-only bridge across the River Thames in the center of London. This is where the Queen’s Walk takes you if you walk it in its entirety – across the river to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
London has a lot of bridges and they aren’t all created equal. Millennium Bridge takes my top spot thanks to the amazing views (although Westminster Bridge would be a close second).
You’ll be able to see several London landmarks from the bridge, including the Shard and Tower Bridge. Looking south, you can see the Tate Modern building, but by far the best view is facing north. Millennium Bridge views of the iconic dome of St Paul’s Cathedral are some of the best in the city, and they are totally free to enjoy!
TIP: If you want to get some nice pictures of St Paul’s Cathedral, you’ll get far better photos from this bridge than you would up close. So this is the perfect place for some photos with your kids.
Interesting fact: The Millenium Bridge is also a Harry Potter filming location, from the opening scene of the sixth film.
22. Paternoster Square
Once you are on the St Paul’s side of the Millennium Bridge, make a little detour to Paternoster Square, just outside the London Stock Exchange. Initially, you will likely see the tall column and lots of office workers on their coffee or lunch break, but what you’re aiming for are the sculptures.
One of them is best known as Shepherd and Sheep. This is a bronze statue depicting a shepherd herding five sheep.
Another sculpture in the square is Paternoster Vents, made of stainless steel and with a rather more practical function – to provide ventilation to the underground electrical substation beneath it.
You’ll also occasionally find other temporary exhibits in the square, such as the bronze sculpture called The Wild Table of Love which stood here for a while and attracted lots of attention. It is now located next to Paddington Station. In case you’re interested in seeing it, we indicated the new location of this sculpture on our map as well.
FREE, unless you buy something, of course.
Harrods is one of the most famous shops in the world and one of the must-sees in London. It’s definitely not a cheap place to go shopping, but it is fun to look around. You can also find some affordable souvenirs to take home.
This huge department store is like an attraction in itself. Don’t miss the impressive Egyptian Escalator, the beautiful Food Halls, and – of course – the toy section that will impress the whole family! They also have some of the best Christmas displays if you happen to visit London in winter. There are also seasonal decorations on a variety of occasions and it’s worth coming here either way.
Our kids absolutely love Harrods and it’s one of the few places that they keep on talking about as an absolute favorite to visit in London.
TIP: There are several very nice restaurants at Harrods too, but on a lower budget, you can also just grab something for a picnic at the Food Hall and head to the nearby Hyde Park (more about it below).
24. Hyde Park
Hyde Park is perhaps the most famous of London’s parks. It’s a beautiful place with well-maintained gardens and lots of open space for families to enjoy.
Children will enjoy spotting swans and ducks on the lake and playing in the playground, and when the weather is good Hyde Park is a perfect choice for a picnic. Hiring a pedalo or row boat on the Serpentine Lake is a popular summer activity. Between April and September, you can go for a swim in the Serpentine Lido.
On Sundays, you can visit Speaker’s Corner, a true example of free speech where people are welcome to debate or make speeches. Just remember, there are virtually no restrictions on language or topic, so you’ll need to make a judgment about whether your kids are old enough for this particular experience.
WINTER TIP: Hyde Park is also the location of London’s annual Winter Wonderland, one of the best Christmas Markets in London. During off-peak times, you might be lucky with a free entry ticket, although you will need to pay for any rides and activities once you are inside.
Spitalfields is another great neighborhood in London for families. Best known for its market, Spitalfields has a big variety of food and shopping options. But it’s also just a really nice area to explore, especially if you like quirkier neighborhoods and street art.
Spitalfields Market is a combination of shops and market stalls that sell clothes, jewelry, accessories, and homeware. It’s not a food market, but a fun place to wander around with kids, see what’s on offer and perhaps pick up a souvenir.
There are also lots of food trucks and restaurants around the market. Between them, they cover everything from British food to French cuisine or Indian street food. Whatever your budget or taste, you’ll find something to enjoy in Spitalfields.
TIP: Look out for the sculptures of cute baby elephants around the market. The Herd of Hope is a group of 21 sculptures, 20 of which represent actual orphaned elephants, with information about their story. The sculptures are intended to raise awareness and funds for the Sheldrick Trust which cares for orphaned elephants in Kenya. As they are in a public space, children will love trying to find all of the sculptures and reading about their backgrounds.
26. Shoreditch Street Art
FREE, unless with a tour.
Shoreditch is an artsy neighborhood just near Spitalfields that’s well worth visiting too. There’s a lot of interesting street art to discover in this part of London. It’s like an ever-changing, free outdoor gallery and you never know exactly what you’ll find.
Our kids always love looking for street art and it’s a fun way to get a bit off the main tourist routes and explore a more local neighborhood. Plus, all the colorful creations make for some fun photos.
Good to know: You can just wander around trying to find some of it yourself, but there are also guided tours available that will make your visit so much more special. For example, this highly-rated street art tour is very affordable (and even cheaper for kids) and it starts just near Old Spitalfields Market.
27. RAF Museum
The Royal Air Force was the world’s first independent air force (as opposed to squadrons that were within other military branches such as the Navy). The RAF Museum gives kids the chance to get up close to historic planes and helicopters and is perfect for children who love machines.
You can pick up and borrow activity backpacks and trail guides for kids to go hunting for particular interactive displays around the museum, or check out the Sound Trail to try and match the sound to the display.
There is also an outdoor play space with climbing nets, slides and mini versions of aircraft for them to sit in.
Good to know: Entry to the main exhibits is free, but you’ll have to pay to access flight simulators and 4D theatre shows. On the website of the museum, you can find more practical information and reserve a free entry for your visit.
28. Crystal Palace Park
The famous Crystal Palace building was originally constructed in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and then removed and rebuilt in what is now known as Crystal Palace Park in south London. Although the building no longer exists, the 200-acre park is still put to good use.
There is a lot to see and do at this park – from boating and fishing lake and a museum to a skate park and a gorilla statue. There are also all kinds of seasonal events and a weekly market on Sundays. The main family attractions include the Crystal Palace Park Farm, the Maze, and the Dinosaur Trail.
The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are perhaps most impressive for kids. You can find several big dinosaur statues and other sculptures in the area around the Lower Lake. The Maze is best in spring and summer, and there are a variety of small statues within the maze.
The farm is home to a variety of animals including chickens, goats, and sheep. It’s part of the Capel Manor College animal management course for students to gain practical experience. Kids can go to see the animals and learn about their care, and it is free to visit most afternoons – just check the park’s website to confirm opening times.
29. Young V&A
Formerly known as the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, the Young V&A is an outpost of the main Victoria and Albert Museum. Previously the museum was more about childhood than for children, but it has been recently rebranded and renovated and is now much more child-friendly.
The building is now much brighter, with three main zones that are broadly, but not exclusively, aimed at different age groups. There are lots of things for kids to touch and play with, stories, displays and games.
If you’ve ever visited the old museum and have somewhat dark and dingy memories of it, give it another go with your kids. Just remember it’s in East London, not South Kensington where the main V&A Museum is.
Good to know: General entry is free of charge and the museum is open daily. For more info, please see the official website of the museum.
30. Somerset House
The original Somerset House just near the river in the center of London was built in the 1500s for the Duke of Somerset, but his house later passed to the Crown. The current building dates to 1775 and it’s been used for all kinds of public purposes ever since. Nowadays, it’s focused on art and cultural innovations.
Somerset House is free to visit and includes tours (which must be pre-booked) to explore its history. There are various art exhibitions during the year and Somerset House also hosts music events (these are usually paid activities).
The main reason that most people visit Somerset House is indeed for the special events, with the most popular of them being the open-air skating rink which is set up every holiday season. Each year the courtyard of the beautiful Georgian building is transformed into a winter wonderland.
Skaters of all levels of ability head to the ice for 45-minute sessions, some clinging on to the sides and others performing tricks. In addition to the skating rink, you’ll also find festive food and drink for sale, and there are accessible sessions for wheelchair users as well as skating lessons.
The skating price will depend on when you go – during weekends and Christmas school holidays, tickets are more expensive than on November weekdays. You also need to book further in advance for sessions closer to Christmas as it is a very popular activity for both Londoners and visitors.
Good to know: Somerset House is open daily except on Mondays and is free to visit. Check their website for any special events or guided tours.
In addition to the free activities featured above, there are tons of affordable sites and attractions in London that are great for families as well. Below, we feature some of the best options. These are all really nice to do, are family-friendly, and rather cheap (definitely for London standards). Take a look!
Here are some of the best CHEAP things to do in London for families:
31. Thames River Cruise
No visit to London would be complete without taking a boat trip on the River Thames. The good thing is that these cruises are very family-friendly and there are many different options for all budgets. On most boats, kids under 5 travel free and kids under 16 get a big discount.
A river cruise on the Thames is a wonderful activity for the whole family. It allows you to see some of the most famous landmarks of London in a relaxing way and any weather. The kids will be glad to rest from all the walking too.
Good to know: Most cruises run between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge, so it’s also a perfect way to travel between these two popular areas. Furthermore, some boats go all the way to Greenwich, which – as we mentioned before – has quite a few cheap and free sites that are well worth visiting. No matter which option you choose, taking a boat trip on the Thames is a perfect addition to any London itinerary.
TIP: If you are looking for the most budget-friendly option, this is the best-priced cruise I was able to find. You can choose from which pier you depart and the ticket is valid for a single journey. Alternatively, if you want to see various parts of London using a boat, opt for a hop-on hop-off 24-hour ticket. It’s a great value and will make your commute between the main landmarks more relaxing and way more scenic than using the tube.
PRO TIP: Many popular activities in London include a free River Thames cruise, or you can get a discount when purchasing it in combination with other tickets. For example, the London Eye has combination tickets, many walking tours and hop-on hop-off buses include a river cruise, and there are even multi-attraction tickets like this that combine all of the above.
32. The Postal Museum
The Postal Museum is one of the more-affordable London sights that is really interesting for families.
The main attraction at this museum is the Mail Rail. The tunnels that were once used to move mail below the busy city streets of London have now been converted into a fun train ride. The 15-minute loop includes an audio-visual presentation about the use of the trains and the people who worked there.
As the tunnels were built for sending mail and not people, the cars can be a bit small. If you are particularly tall, you might feel cramped, but for kids and average-height adults, it won’t be a problem.
There are lots of other things to see and do here in addition to the Mail Rail. The kids can write a message and send it through a vacuum tube, dress up in various costumes, or design their own stamps.
Good to know: There is also a soft play section that you can add to your general entry ticket, and all tickets have a discount if you book online in advance. Tickets include unlimited access to the main museum for one year, but the Mail Rail is only included on the first visit.
TIP: The Mail Rail and Museum are in two separate buildings. Head to the Mail Rail first and then the main museum after your ride.
33. HMS Belfast
CHEAP for kids.
HMS Belfast was an active ship in the Royal Navy and saw combat in World War Two and the Korean War. Nowadays, it’s part of the Imperial War Museum group and functions as a floating museum. It’s located near the Tower Bridge and is easy to combine a visit here with many other great activities in that part of London.
You can explore the ship, climbing up and down through different decks and experiencing what life as a sailor in the Royal Navy would be like. There are also free audio tours and trails for kids. Family events are also available on weekends and are included in your general admission price.
Some parts of the ship are wheelchair/stroller accessible, but the nature of the ship’s design means that wheelchair users won’t be able to see everything. It is also recommended that you don’t bring buggies with you since there isn’t anywhere to store them.
Good to know: HMS Belfast is open daily and it’s best to reserve timed-entry tickets. Adult tickets are not very cheap, but since kids pay half the price and under 5s can visit for free, it’s one of the more affordable London attractions for families.
34. Clink Prison Museum
Clink Prison Museum is built upon the original site of an old prison. Dating back to 1144, this was probably the oldest prison in England.
The original prison was in use for around 600 years until it was destroyed in 1780. This museum aims to recreate the sights, sounds, and smells of the original.
For kids who like a gruesome story and want to learn more about London’s dark history, this museum will be a hit. They can hear the stories of prisoners, see the conditions they lived in, and even touch some artifacts such as torture devices. It’s not as spooky as London Dungeon (which is recommended for ages 12 and higher), but younger kids might find it a bit too much. It’s definitely not one for young kids who are easily scared.
Good to know: This museum is located on the South Bank, close to London Bridge and Borough Market. It’s also within easy walking distance from HMS Belfast and many other landmarks. You need about 1-1.5 hours for a visit. Tickets are very affordable for both – adults and kids – and they also have family tickets that offer even better value. See their website for more information.
35. London Cable Car
London Cable Car, now called IFS Cloud, (previously Emirates Cable Car) connects Greenwich to the Royal Docks across the River Thames. The cars run 90 meters above the river giving great views of the surrounding area.
The whole family will enjoy the 10-minute ride over the water with the view of various landmarks around the Docklands and Greenwich area. The journey is all about the views, so only really worth doing on bright, clear days.
Good to know: The cars arrive every 30 seconds, but at weekends you may still have a bit of a wait. Tickets cost just a few pounds, with discounts for kids, and free for 4 or under. You can also buy family return tickets to save money if you are going both ways.
TIP: The Greenwich terminal of the cable car is located next to the O2 Centre, which is well worth visiting too. It has a large selection of restaurants and outlet shops (our favorite being discounted treats from Hotel Chocolat). There is also a cinema and a bowling alley, and you can even book a climb on the rooftops of the O2 arena (ages 8+ and at least 1.2m tall).
36. Discover Children’s Story Centre
The Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford is a great place to visit for younger kids (ages 0-11) and their grown-ups.
There are two main play areas and an outside space as well as rooms dedicated to special activities such as story-telling with authors. The ground floor play area is themed as an Enchanted Forest, and it is unlike any other play center we’ve seen in London – it is very pretty. The room is full of things to play with and touch, drawing stations, and various climbing structures.
The next floor is themed around the sky and space, with a rocket ship to climb on and a Story Factory. There is lots to do and the purpose of the center is to help kids learn through play.
Discover Centre also emphasizes accessibility. Once a month they have signed performances for visitors who use British Sign Language. They also have a monthly ‘Sensory Adapted’ session with reduced lights and noises for visitors who might be overwhelmed during the main sessions.
Good to know: Tickets are very affordable and babies visit for free. Once you have your ticket, you can come and go for the rest of the day so it’s best to book for an early arrival. Additional costs apply for special events, but there is plenty to do with the standard ticket. For more info, see here.
37. Kew Gardens
Unlike most London parks, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a paid site, but it’s well worth it! This is a historic garden and London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s absolutely stunning. Plus, there is a lot to do for all ages.
The Children’s Garden is for kids between 2-12 years old, and is much larger than typical park playgrounds, with 4 areas for different themes. In addition to climbing frames and slides, there is also a tree-top walkway, hammocks, and swings. Kids will also find plenty of displays to learn about the plants that they are playing next to.
The walkway in the Children’s Garden is around 4 meters high, but you’ll also find the main tree-top walkway in the garden, 18 meters off the ground.
For flora lovers, there are extensive botanic collections and a few glasshouses to explore. Don’t miss the Temperate House which houses 1,200 species of rare plants, kept at a temperature that allows them to thrive. Palm House is smaller, warmer, and much more humid, but also houses rare plants, including some that are now extinct in the wild.
Several buildings also function as art galleries and Kew Gardens regularly play host to special music and art events. In winter, the Gardens have special events and lighting for Christmas.
Good to know: Ticket prices vary according to the season, day of the week, and how long in advance you book or buy at the entrance. Kids’ tickets are seriously discounted and there are also family passes available. Check their website for your visit dates and book online to save money.
More Free Places to Visit in London with Kids
There are many more family-friendly activities and free places to visit in London with kids than we could ever cover in one article (or you could visit in one or even several trips)… Nevertheless, if you are looking for even more ideas, here are a couple of additional recommendations that we feel deserve an extra mention as well:
- Holland Park has two very nice play areas: the Adventure Playground with a zipline, climbing frames, and slides for kids ages 5- to 12, and the Toddler Playground with sand pits and shorter climbing frames for younger children. Children will also enjoy spotting the koi fish and other wildlife in the Kyoto Garden.
- Tate Modern. This is one of the most popular (and free) museums in London that is dedicated to contemporary art. It’s not really for families, but if you like modern art, well worth a visit. Also, because it’s located so close to many other major landmarks.
- Richmond Park southwest of London is enormous, around 3 times the size of New York’s Central Park. It is particularly famous for the herds of deer that freely roam around the park, as they have done since they were first introduced to the park more than 300 years ago. There is plenty of other wildlife for kids to look for in the park, such as kingfisher birds, herons, butterflies, and beetles. Petersham Gate Playground has climbing frames sandpits and water features.
- Museum of London Docklands. This branch of the Museum of London is an underrated gem. It tells the story of the development and history of the Docklands area over more than 300 years. This museum is full of interactive displays for kids, such as building a tunnel with foam blocks, and a recreated Victorian street to explore. It also has activity sheets, walking trails, and a special family gallery, Mudlarks.
- Vauxhall City Farm is a good place to introduce the kids to all kinds of farm animals, such as sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc. They also offer pony rides, meet-and-greets with your favorite animal, and other activities.
- Victoria Park in northeastern London has several nice playgrounds with wooden climbing frames, hunts, and sandpits. There is also a nearby skate park with visitors of various ages and skill levels practicing and showing off their tricks. The park also hosts a very popular Sunday farmers market.
- Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has lots of activities for families. There are several free play areas in and around the Westfield Shopping Centre, as well as a cinema and bowling alley. The Splash Fountain is a great way for children to cool off and play in the summer. Tumbling Bay playground includes treehouses, swings, and aerial walkways. There are also several cafes and plenty of green space for kids to enjoy. In addition, you can also visit ArcelorMittal Orbit which houses the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide, as well as the UK’s highest freefall abseil.
- Hampstead Heath is a wild park a bit outside of London. Its elevated position offers some amazing views over the city. On clear days you can see many landmarks including the Shard, the Gherkin, and Canary Wharf. For children age 5+ there is a playground and clubhouse with play sessions, outdoor activities, and climbing frames. If the weather is very nice, you can also go swimming in one of the ponds (needs reservations).
Itinerary Suggestions for Free London Sights
Given the size of London, it’s a good idea to strategically plan your visit so you aren’t spending too much time traveling between places. You can easily group some of these suggestions based on location, with examples below.
(1) Covent Garden area: The London Transport Museum is next to the Covent Garden Market building, and Leicester Square is only a few minutes away on foot. You can combine these easily to fill up a full day without needing to get on a bus or tube between stops. You would also only be a short walk from the National Gallery if you prefer artwork instead of the Transport Museum. Somerset House is also in this area.
(2) Historic/Royal sights: Check out Buckingham Palace, watch the Changing of the Guard, and walk through St. James’s Park. In this area, you will also find Westminster Abbey, Big Ben Tower, and the Houses of Parliament. Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery are also nearby and could connect well with all the sites in the Covent Garden area.
(3) Waterloo to Tower of London: If you start at the Vaults by Waterloo Station, you can then follow the Queen’s Walk, pass Millenium Bridge and Clink Prison Museum, have lunch at Borough Market, and then head towards Tower Bridge passing HMS Belfast on the way. There’s enough to see in this area that you can easily fill up a few hours just on that one stretch of path along the river, not even to mention the paid attractions such as the London Eye and SEA Life close to Waterloo, or the Tower of London at the Tower neighborhood.
(4) Camden – Regent’s Park: Camden Town is at the northern end of Regent’s Park, so these two could be combined for a day out. If you don’t mind some paid attractions, you could also add in a boat trip or a visit to London Zoo or Madame Tussauds.
(5) Kensington: The Natural History Museum and Science Museum are next to each other. It’s also fairly close to Harrods, Hyde Park, and Diana Memorial Playground. You could pick a few of these but try to be realistic about how much you could do after a morning at the museum.
(6) Greenwich: All the Greenwich attractions are located just next to each other, and many are free. Visit the National Maritime Museum, enjoy the views from the park, and check out the Queen’s House. You can also visit Cutty Sark, The Royal Observatory, and take a river cruise on this day.
(7) East London: Olympic Park and Discover Centre – these are both within walking distance of Stratford station in East London. You could also add in the Young V&A which is just a few stops on the Central line from Stratford.
There are many more ways to plan your itinerary, with plenty of free activities; these are just a few examples. So much also depends on your interests (and those of your kids), the time of the year when you visit, how many days you have in London, etc.
READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in London with Kids
As you can see, despite London’s image as a very expensive place to visit, you can still find lots of free and affordable things to do as a family.
On rainy days, there are plenty of museums to visit to keep you dry. When the weather is nice, you can enjoy some of London’s parks. Whatever the season or weather, you’ll never be short of things to do.
London truly is one of the greatest cities in the world and a fantastic place to visit with your children. Have a great trip!
More travel inspiration for your visit to London:
- Good to know:
- What to see:
- How to plan your time:
- Day trips:
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