London has always been one of the global top 10 destinations for visitors. With travel resuming and no COVID-testing requirements, the city is a great place to visit. Indeed, London is an expensive city, from hotels, food and transport, and if you’re travelling from halfway around the world (eg Asia), airfares for a family of four might make you reconsider the trip entirely. However, don’t strike off the city just yet as it has many experiences to offer including free things to do!
Here are my top suggestions for the free family-friendly experiences a young family can enjoy without breaking the bank, from wonderful museums, outdoor playgrounds, animal farms to exciting sights. Compiled from my first-hand experiences from living in London for the past 1.5 years with a toddler, this guide is also created as a cheat sheet for family and friends on things to do with their young children when they visit London.
Top 3 Museums
London is home to many free museums and with the unpredictable weather in the city, museums are great indoor options to get away from wet weather. Additionally, visiting museums can increase the little ones’ knowledge and the educational aspect is ideal for family bonding. Often, museums are quite relaxing and a safe space for young kids to roam about.
Located at South Kensington, the Natural History Museum is one of the most popular museums in London and is a must-see especially for kids who love animals and dinosaurs! The museum is famous for dinosaur skeletons on display and is home to an extensive collection of natural history specimens in the world. Even adults will be fascinated with the collection of specimens from billions of years. I highly recommend adding this to the itinerary!
The Science Museum is just next to the Natural History Museum, so combine both to make the best of the day out. Learn about the incredible achievements made by mankind through technological advances and see the stories come to life in the different galleries such as rockets and satellites in Exploring Space or full-size steam engines in the Energy Hall. For children under 5, visit the interactive galleries, Pattern Pod and The Garden, to help the little ones explore through play.
Calling all aspiring pirates and young explorers! A visit to Greenwich is not complete without visiting the National Maritime Museum, where children can explore and discover a maritime treasure trove. The largest museum of its kind, there are fun-filled themed activities for the family, and children 7 and under can visit the popular Ahoy! Children’s Gallery (free on weekdays) where they can have an immersive maritime experience.
Top 3 Playgrounds and Parks
London is home to many beautiful parks which are perfect for walks and picnics when the sun is out. A visit to the park with outdoor play is essential especially to expand the little ones’ energy to get a good night’s rest for the entire family!
As one of the eight Royal Parks, Hyde Park is one of London’s most popular parks for visitors. It covers an area of 350 acres, and there is much to see and experience, including diverse wildlife, swimming in the Serpentine, playing sports or exercising and playgrounds for young children.
The most popular playground, which has 1 million visitors annually, is the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground, located next to the Kensington Palace. Children would love the wooden pirate ship on a beach, inspired by stories of Peter Pan, where there are teepees, play sculptures and a sensory trail. Parents would love the ample seats to relax while watching the children explore through play.
Battersea Park, a Victorian park built between 1854 to 1870, features a large lake with a variety of wildlife, Pump House gallery, sports facilities and a scenic riverside promenade. The south London park also includes impressive fountains, a Peace Pagoda and a children’s play space.
Separated by zones, the extensive play area is suitable for children aged 4 to 7 and 8 to 14 years old. There is also a toddler play area with a colourful static train that is suitable for children 1 to 3 years old with parental supervision.
Coram’s Fields is well-known for their policy on being a children’s only park and playground, and adults are only permitted to enter when accompanied by a child under 16 years old. Located in Bloomsbury, their play space includes play equipment for different age groups, with a large adventure play area for older children and sand pits for younger children.
They have wide lawns that are suitable for children of all ages to run free and for children under 5, there is a dedicated space on weekdays which includes a reading corner, creative corner and a small soft-play area for that special parent-child bonding.
Top 3 City Farms
Although London is a concrete jungle, there are opportunities for the family to get away from the hustle and bustle of city living by visiting farms and zoos in the city. Spend some time with the family at these free city farms and experience a little bit of rural life in the heart of London.
Founded in 1972, Kentish Town City Farm is the UK’s first city farm. Located in Camden, the farm is open every day, catering a space to children for play and exploration. Many animals including goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, pigs, a cow, and chickens can be found in the beloved farm which covers 4.5 acre of land. It also has a community garden, a wildlife pond and a riding arena, which is currently closed due to rail repairs as the farm is alongside two railway lines.
After visiting the busy Brick Lane, take a rest at the Spitalfields City Farm, which is known for its flowers and herbs all over the farm. Check out the wildlife garden, grass road and the vegetable garden and enjoy the green spaces at the farm. The farmyard is home to many loved animals including donkeys, a horse, goats, a sheep, a pig and a ferret. There are self-guided tours, but slots need to be pre-booked.
Get up close to farmyard animals like ponies, donkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, geese and ducks and experience farming in the city. The lovely garden is open all year round and includes an orchard area with apple, plum and pear trees, while the bog garden is filled with wetland plants. Children will love exploring the garden which has a selection of vegetables and herbs.
Top 3 Sights
Besides visiting museums, playgrounds at the park and farms, London offers many free sights which is equally engaging for the whole family and is great for including in your itinerary.
Enjoy a stroll by the Thames and be amazed at the number of things to discover and see while you walk along the riverside area of South Bank. Admire the iconic landmarks like Big Ben, The London Eye and Globe Theatre. The bridges are also unmissable, and children would love to see the Tower Bridge, a suspension bridge near the Tower of London as well as London Bridge, although the original has been moved to America.
The little ones would also love seeing the river and the boats, including the HMS Belfast, a naval cruiser used during the second world war and The Golden Hinde, a full-size replica of the world-famous English galleon ship used by Sir Francis Drake. If you want to head indoors, visit the Tate Modern, a museum which showcases modern and contemporary art and is a good space for young kids to explore. South Bank is filled with free things to do for the entire family!
If you visit Buckingham Palace, be sure to plan the timing to view the changing of the guards, also known as Guard Mounting, a formal ceremony of switching of guards from protecting the palace. The event is very popular so do get there early to get a good view, especially with young children. To avoid crowds, there are also several places to see the ceremony, like Friary Court, The Victoria Memorial and The Mall, where the little ones can see the soldiers marching down the road.
As London’s highest public garden, this sub-tropical garden is located in The Fenchurch Building, also known as the Walkie Talkie building. Catch breath-taking, panoramic views of the London skyline and see most of London’s iconic landmarks including The Shard, Tower Bridge and The London Eye. The observation decks and open-air terrace are great for views and family photos for wonderful memories. Booking in advance is a must as the place is very popular. Free tickets are released three weeks in advance so do plan ahead.
There are a lot of free attractions in London but I hope these shortlisted suggestions of free things to do are helpful for planning for your family trip! It will be great to know which place you plan to visit or have visited, so leave me a comment below!
For a more general guide to London, check out the Top 10 Places to Visit. And if you’re a student visiting the Baker Street area in Marylebone, here’s the Top 10 Student Lunch Deals you don’t want to miss!