50+ FREE things to do in London with kids

London Bridge, free things to do in London with kids

I love exploring London with my children. It’s easy to spend a fortune when you visit London with kids BUT there are some amazing free things to do in London for families. Expansive parks, iconic sights, famous museums – all free to enjoy.

We’re lucky to live close to London so I often take the kids to the capital for a day out. I love walking through the capital. St James’ Park used to be a favourite haunt when the kids were young as there’s a great little play area which amused my two for hours. We enjoy wandering through colourful Carnaby Street and China Town or strolling along the South Bank on a summer afternoon.

Rainbow decoration on Carnaby Street in London
Colourful Carnaby Street

If you’re planning to check out free things to do in London with a toddler, consider bringing a scooter or balance bike. Exploring London is a lot more enjoyable if your kids are able to zip along on two wheels. One of my boys was glued to a balance bike for much of his early childhood and it made outings in London and elsewhere a lot more fun for all of us.

Some of the attractions I’ve details below – such as the museums – are very popular so I’d recommend checking your kids’ school calendars for any sneaky inset days. And although booking is no longer essential at some destinations, it’s definitely wise to secure your time slot if you’re making a special trip to one of the capital’s top spots.

If you have any suggestions of other things to do in London for free with kids, please let me know in the comments below.

Table of Contents

Free central London attractions for families

If it’s your first time in the capital, check out this selection of free things to do in London for kids which are right in the heart of the city.

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

Despite this being one of the most famous free things in London for kids, I have to confess that I’ve not yet taken my kids to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

If you’re not familiar with this military tradition, it’s essentially a change of shift – soldiers coming off duty and being replaced with a new set. However, unlike changing shifts in Asda or at your local hospital, there’s lots of pomp – fancy uniforms, a live band and usually a pretty big audience of tourists.

Find out more from the Household Division

Watch Tower Bridge open

Children love watching this iconic bridge opening. We were lucky enough to sit on the Paddle Steamer Waverley as it chugged beneath the bridge. However, you can get a pretty good view from the banks of the Thames – there’s a decent grassy area near City Hall where you can have a picnic and watch the bridge open – check out the schedule.

Tower Bridge lifting
Free things to do in London with children: watch Tower Bridge opening

Enjoy sunset over the River Thames

I love the views from London’s bridges. I used to walk over Hungerford Bridge every day when I lived and worked in London and – corny as it may sound – I always enjoyed it (particularly on my way home). Hungerford Bridge, like the Millennium Bridge, is a pedestrian bridge so it’s a great one to linger on with children.

Check out London’s street performers

You’ve got a choice of locations to check out some of London’s best street performers. There’s usually several people doing silly things along the riverfront near the London Eye. Covent Garden is another popular haunt as is Trafalgar Square. My kids could spend all day watching someone escape from a straight jacket followed by some break dancers and fire eaters!

Although the street performers are “free”, they do need to earn a living. So it’s worth having some cash in your pocket for the kids to drop into the cap at the end.

Watch the skate boarders on the South Bank

The skateboarders who hang out beneath the Southbank Centre are always a highlight for our kids when we go for a wander along the Thames. I love that this prime space in central London continues to be occupied by young folk and graffiti!

Enjoy the free Christmas lights in London

Looking for free things to do in London at Christmas? I love wandering through London in the evening at Christmas time. And it’s not just Regent Street and Oxford Street which pull out all the stops. The South Bank looks amazing too as do many of the other main streets in the capital. If you don’t fancy forking out for the ubiquitous Christmas light shows which are popping up all over the country, take a wander through London for a free sparkly experience.

Christmas lights on the South Bank in London
Christmas lights on the South Bank in London

Free things to do in London in the rain with kids

As well as plenty of world-class museums (which I’ve included below), there are lots of interesting things to do in London with kids when it rains.

Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross

There tends to be a bit of a queue for this Harry Potter attraction, and you do get funnelled through the gift shop afterwards, but it is free to take a photo of the kids dashing towards the wall with the trolley.

Child pushing Harry Potter trolley at platform 9 and three quarters in london
Things to do in London with kids for free: Platform 9 3/4

And if the rain stops, there’s a whole host of Harry Potter filming locations to explore across London – tracking them down is a great free activity to do in London with kids.

Sky Garden

Obviously the coffee and cake aren’t free at this fancy garden in the sky, but the views across London are – and they’re rather impressive. Ensure you book way in advance to get the time slot you want.

Book a timed entry to the Sky Garden

Take a “normal” London bus

Don’t spend a fortune on the tourist buses when there are plenty of traditional bus routes which will take you past some of the best sights in London. Route 11 glides past Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and continues on to the Strand and St Paul’s Cathedral. The journey ends at Liverpool Street from where you can explore Brick Lane or Spitalfields Market.

Children under 11 can travel for free on London’s buses, tube, DLR and rail provided they’re travelling with an adult who has a valid ticket. And if you have the patience to read through the rules on the TFL website, you can apply for free and discounted travel for children over 10.

Free museums to visit in London with kids

We have so many brilliant free museums in London for families. Most run special events during school holidays and weekends. Sometimes the museums get incredibly busy so consider visiting in one of the less busy tourist months such as November, or check when your children have an inset day and plan a visit then. Some of my favourite free days out in London for kids have been at these museums.

Natural History Museum

Packed with stuffed creatures and huge skeletons, the Natural History museum is a real treat for kids. The dinosaurs are an obvious draw but there are plenty of less obvious attractions to explore with children such as the slice of giant sequoia tree, Guy the handsome gorilla (former resident of London Zoo) or moon rocks donated by Nasa.

Find out more about the Natural History Museum

Science Museum

If you have a budding engineer, doctor or technician among your offspring, they’ll enjoy exploring the Science Museum. I visited the museum recently with one of my boys – he did some virtual welding, learned about the peculiar practices of 19th century doctors and shifted rocks from the bottom of a seabed.

Child at Science Museum in London. Free things to do in London with kids
Free things to do for kids in London: virtual welding at the Science Museum in London

Find out more about the Science Museum

British Museum

If you’re unsure how your family should tackle the immense collection of artefacts in the British Museum, there’s a dedicated family desk where you can pick up activity trails, choose a “museum mission”, or for little ones a museum backpack, to help you explore.

There are some incredible highlights at the British Museum which children are likely to enjoy such as the Ancient Egyptian galleries – mummies, tombs and statues; and the amazing archaeological finds of the Anglo Saxon ship burial from Sutton Hoo.

Older children might prefer a more philosophical visit to the museum, questioning Britain’s right to retain such wonders from around the world – the Elgin Marbles (or rather Parthenon Sculptures) are a good place to start.

Find out more about the British Museum

The National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum is one of my favourite London museums to visit with kids. There are child-friendly tours, several excellent play spaces and a giant map for kids to leap around on whilst grown ups enjoy a quick cuppa in the adjacent café.

Child walking over map at National Maritime Museum in London. Free things to do in London for families
Exploring the world at the National Maritime Museum

Read about our trip to the Maritime Museum or find out more about the Maritime Museum here.

Museum of London

There are two Museums of London – one in the City and the other in the Docklands and they are both excellent. One of my boys loves history and particularly enjoyed exploring the World War II displays at the Docklands. The City branch (soon to be relocated to Smithfield Market) covers the ancient history of London as well as significant events such as the Great Fire and the plague – both of which kids are captivated by.

Find out more about the Museum of London

National Army Museum

If there are any gaps in your knowledge of the many wars the UK has involved itself in, the National Army Museum should be able to plug those holes.

Unfortunately, the really cool sounding Play Base for little children does carry an entrance charge.

Find out more about the National Army Museum

Imperial War Museum

Unlike the National Army Museum, the Imperial War Museum concentrates on conflicts from 1914 onwards.

Find out more about the Imperial War Museum

Tate Modern and Tate Britain

We often pop into the Tate Modern with our kids just to check out what’s new in the Turbine Hall. Quite often it’s something that children will find fascinating – Olafur Eliasson’s sun was a huge hit while more recently Anicka Yi’s creepy drones looked like giant alien jellyfish.

Art installation at Turbine Hall Tate Modern
Alien drones at the Tate Modern

The Southbank gallery focuses on worldwide art from the last 100 years whereas the original Tate – now Tate Britain – covers British art from the 16th century to the present day.

Find out more about the Tate galleries

The Victoria and Albert Museums

We loved exploring the V&A Museum of Childhood so I’m intrigued to pay it a return visit when it reopens as Young V&A in 2023. The main Victoria and Albert Museum is focused on decorative art and design – great for any children interested in fashion, textiles or performance – to name just a few.

Some of the family trails exploring the V&A collection sound really fun.

I have to admit that I’ve visited the V&A several times with my kids simply to use the lovely play fountains in its central garden. It’s a wonderful summer oasis.

Find out more about visiting the Victoria and Albert Museums

Bank of England Museum

My boys found this museum a bit heavy going but they were quite young when we visited. The main reason for our trip was to pick up a gold bar – they’d watched the car chase in the Italian Job and were intrigued by the weight of gold bars. You can indeed pick one up in the Bank of England Museum!

Find out more about the Bank of England Museum

And if you’re a fan of the Italian Job, check out my article about the filming locations you can visit in Turin.

Horniman Museum and Gardens

If you don’t fancy fighting the crowds at the National History Museum, this delightful, smaller museum in Forest Hill (Lewisham) is a great alternative. It’s also a lot smaller than the central London museum so it’s far more manageable with little children.

As well as plenty of stuffed animals, there’s also an excellent display of musical instruments and a gallery about anthropology.

Outside, there are lovely gardens to explore and a park with glorious views over London.

Find out more about the Horniman Museum

Free London play fountains and splash parks

If you’re exploring the capital in the summer months, you’ll need to find somewhere to cool off – the London Underground can get pretty hot and sweaty.

Granary Square fountains at King’s Cross

We quite often get the train home from King’s Cross so Granary Square is a handy place to spend a bit of time at the end of a busy day exploring London. There are plenty of seats surrounding the fountains for weary parents to collapse on.

Find out more about Granary Square fountains at King’s Cross

John Madejski Garden at the V&A

I used to love coming to this hidden oasis at the centre of the Victoria and Albert Museum – in fact I’ve still not taken my kids to the museum itself.

Find out more about the John Madejski Garden at the V&A

Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park

This is a popular one – expect it to be rammed on a hot summer’s day. It’s in the middle of Hyde Park, close to the Serpentine so if it looks too busy, go for a wander – there’s the Hyde Park playground and the Princess Diana playground not too far away.

Find out more about the Diana Memorial Fountain

Jeppe Hein’s Appearing Rooms at the South Bank Centre

This is such a great location for a splash park – it can be tiring wandering along the South Bank so this is the perfect destination to encourage those little legs to walk a bit further.

Find out more about Jeppe Hein’s Appearing Rooms

Somerset House fountains

The courtyard at Somerset House is such a crowd pleaser – splashy fountains in summer, ice rink in winter (that’s not free unfortunately!) and it’s not far from Trafalgar Square.

Find out more about the Somerset House fountains

More London City Hall water fountain

This series of water features really has the best location – with a view of Tower Bridge.

Find out more about More London, City Hall water fountains

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park fountains

The Olympic Park has lots of great play spaces – just check that West Ham are not playing when you plan to visit the water fountains as the jets are switched off on match days!

Find out more about the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park fountains

Unusual free things to do in London with kids

If you’ve covered all the free places to visit in central London for families, fear not, there are plenty of free things for kids in London off the beaten track.

Walk among dinosaurs in Crystal Palace

Looking for free activities for toddlers in London? There are around 30 prehistoric creatures roaming around Crystal Palace Park – including dinosaurs and mammals. Sculpted by 19th century artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, the dinos and their companions are set in a landscape designed by Joseph Paxton. Definitely one of the best parks in London for kids.

Find out more about the Crystal Palace dinosaurs

Visit the animals at Mudchute Farm in East London

This free London farm, best accessed on the DLR (which in itself is a brilliant experience for little ones), is a wonderful green lung in the heart of the Isle of Dogs. It’s a couple of stops on the DLR from the Museum of London in the Docklands – a good place for a picnic after exploring the exhibitions.

Find out more about Mudchute Farm

Walk through the tunnel under the Thames at Greenwich

Not far from Mudchute Farm is the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which stretches for nearly 400 metres beneath the Thames. The tunnel links Greenwich with Island Gardens – so you could combine a trip to Mudchute Farm with a visit to the Maritime Museum on the other side of the river.

Find out more about the Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Pay your respects to Londoners past at Brompton Cemetery

Unlike the more well known Highgate cemetery, the vast cemetery at Brompton is free to enter. This is the final resting place of suffragette Emeline Pankhurst.

See if your children can find the wolf at Brompton Cemetery – a memorial to Chief Long Wolf, a Sioux chief who died here during Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. His remains have since been returned to his ancestral burial ground in Dakota, USA.

Find out more about Brompton Cemetery

Take a street art tour of London with your kids

There are lots of street art tours in London – some of which are free – but you can just as easily put your own tour together. Two of the main areas for street art in London are Shoreditch and Croydon.

Or follow The Line of public sculptures through East London

The Line is a series of public art installations which are sited along the line of the Greenwich Meridian between the O2 and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. You can spot artworks by the likes of Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin and Richard Wilson, among many others.

Looking for more outdoor art in the UK? Check out my guide to the best sculpture trails and sculpture parks in the UK.

Find out more about The Line

Explore an underground Roman temple

Beneath Bloomberg’s European headquarters is a Roman temple dedicated to the mysterious god Mithras. Originally discovered in the 1950s, the temple was dismantled and removed from its location to another site.

However, thanks to various building projects and sites changing hands, the temple has been returned to its original location and is now open to the public. Definitely one of the more unusual places to explore with kids in London.

Find out more about the London Mithraeum

Check out the neon lights at God’s Own Junkyard

Filled with neon signs and colourful electric displays, God’s Own Junkyard is part gallery, part shop. If you’re looking for free things to do in London with teenagers, I’m sure this eclectic display of neon will tick lots of boxes for anyone with a passing interest in Instagram (or whatever teenagers use to post pictures these days).

God’s Own Junkyard is only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes shuts for filming. It’s fairly off the beaten track – a 10 minute walk from Walthamstow station so it’s not ideal for little children (and some of the signs are not age appropriate either).

Find out more about God’s Own Junkyard

Learn 1300 years of London history at All Hallows by the Tower

Looking for spooky free things to do with kids in London? One of my sons visited this church near the Tower of London on a Cub Scout trip. He loved exploring the undercroft with its subterranean chapel, model of Roman London and the preserved Roman pavement. Samuel Pepys surveyed the Fire of London from the tower of All Hallows.

Find out more about All Hallows by the Tower

Fun free walks to do in London with kids

London is such a brilliant city to wander through. I quite often take my kids into London and never actually visit any “sights” – it’s easy to just walk and discover. If you’d like some additional ideas (aside from the family friendly suggestions below) – check out TFL’s Walk London page or the London Wildlife Trust.

Green Park to the London Eye

When my children were still small enough to be confined to a buggy, I was limited to tube stations which had step free access. So I often found myself at Green Park tube station – a great starting point for an adventure across some of the most child-friendly bits of London.

It’s a lovely walk through Green Park – particularly in autumn when there are lots of dead leaves to chuck in the air – to Buckingham Palace before heading on to St James Park where my children used to spend hours in the little play area (which has a handy ice cream kiosk). From there, it’s a fairly short walk over to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament – and there’s step free access back onto the Jubilee Line at Westminster. Alternatively, if the kids still have some energy you can walk over the bridge to the South Bank or head along Whitehall to peer through the railings at Downing Street.

Harry Potter themed walk

There are lots of Harry Potter walking tours in London but it’s not hard to do this independently. Key sites across the capital include Diagon Alley (Leadenhall Market), the Ministry of Magic (Great Scotland Yard), Grimauld Place (Lincoln’s Inn Field) and Gringotts Bank (Australia House) This does involve hopping on the tube in between certain destinations (or a very long walk).

Fire of London walk

What better way to learn a bit of London history than by retracing the flames of the Great Fire of London. There’s a free self-guided walk which takes around two hours, taking in Pudding Lane (where the fire began), St Paul’s Cathedral and Leadenhall Market.

Find out more about the Fire of London walk

Regents Canal walk

The Regents Canal cuts right through London. Pick a section – Victoria Park to Camden or Camden to Little Venice and take in the varying scenes. Houseboats, grand homes, street art and plenty of decent pubs and cafes for a pitstop. Cycling along the canal is fun – but you do need to watch out along some of the narrow stretches. I felt like a total amateur last time I cycled there!

Regents Canal in London
Regents Canal in London

Spot bluebells in London – in spring

Bluebells appear from mid April to early May, with variations depending on the weather. Whilst you won’t find many blue blooms in central London, there are several parks and woodlands on the outskirts of the capital where you can walk (carefully) among the bluebells.

So, where are the best places to see bluebells in London? There’s a decent patch in Highgate Woods and you’ll spot some in Richmond Park too. Epping Forest and Wanstead Park are also reliable places for these springtime blooms.

If you fancy a day out from London, I’ve put together an article about bluebell woods in Hertfordshire – many of these can be easily accessed from London by train.

South Bank walk

I love having a wander along the Southbank. There are so many highlights for the kids to look out for – skateboarders, donut kiosks (!), Gabriel’s Wharf, Tate Modern, the Golden Hinde and HMS Belfast.

Free things to see in London for families, night time view of London and Thames
View across London from the South Bank

I particularly love the South Bank at Christmas time when there are so many lights reflected on the Thames and plenty of additional stalls selling delicious things to eat and drink.

The key is to stop regularly – for ice creams, skateboard-watching or to simply sit on a bench and watch the world go by. If you have very little people – bring a scooter.

Find out more about the South Bank

Best places in the capital for a picnic: London parks for kids

Aside from the obvious central Royal Parks which are great for a picnic in between sightseeing, there are plenty of parks for kids in London – some with amazing views over the capital – which are a little more off the beaten track but still perfect for families to enjoy.

London Eye with play area in foreground
Playground next to the London Eye

If you’re after playgrounds in London, they’re everywhere. We love the one in St James’s Park and there’s a good one next to the London Eye (surprisingly quiet when we visited in July 2022). If you’re desperate for a spot of green space for the kids near Trafalgar Square, saunter down to the Victoria Embankment Gardens where you’ll find a little play area at the far end.

The Olympic Park has some lovely play spaces and of course there’s the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens. We discovered a real gem during a trip to Kings Cross recently. Hidden away along Greys Inn Road is Calthorpe Community Garden. It’s a locals kind of place really but it fitted the bill for us – somewhere to eat our picnic and let the kids have some space to run around. We ended up fishing for newts and learning about bee keeping – there’s lots of cool stuff going on!

Coram’s Fields

If you’re over 16, you can’t enter Coram’s Fields without a child. Whether you agree with this sort of segregation or not, there’s no denying this central London park is a real gem for little ones. There’s sandpits, an adventure playground, paddling pool and wheelchair-accessible play spaces too.

Coram’s Fields has plenty of green open spaces as well as good sporting facilities – table tennis, basket ball court and a long jump landing pit. There’s also a wildlife area for little beast enthusiasts.

Find out more about Coram’s Fields

Greenwich Park

Greenwich has all the ingredients for a perfect free day out in London with kids – after a morning tracing the UK’s plundering past in the Maritime Museum, head out into Greenwich Park and take in the views across the Thames.

There are lovely shady avenues of majestic trees to wander along in Greenwich Park – perfect on a hot summer’s day. Get the kids to stand on the Prime Meridien and attempt to explain to them that every place on earth is measured in terms of its angle east or west of this line. Then head over to the nautically-themed adventure play area.

Find out more about Greenwich Park

Primrose Hill

If you’re after a good view while you’re eating your sandwiches, you can’t go too wrong with the 63 metre elevation of Primrose Hill, adjacent to Regents Park.

Find out more about Primrose Hill

Parliament Hill

Further out of the capital, in Hampstead Heath you’ll find one of the highest viewpoints in London. 98 metres above sea level, Parliament Hill offers a glorious view of the London skyline including glimpses of the Shard and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Find out more about Parliament Hill

Richmond Park

Home to over 600 deer, Richmond Park is the place to go for wildlife in London. On the western edge of the park is a children’s play area. Traffic-free bike trails criss-cross the park – ideal for a family day out.

For more child-friendly bike rides (across the UK), check out my guide to the best UK bike rides for families.

Lee Valley Regional Park

Want to feel like you’ve left the capital behind for the day? Head to the Lee Valley Regional Park for extensive walking and cycling trails. Enjoy a picnic on the grass surrounding the White Water Centre – and watch the paddlers be put through their paces.

The Lee Valley stretches into Hertfordshire which has some fantastic family friendly attractions for those looking to escape London. Check out my article on the best things to do in Hertfordshire.

Find out more about the Lee Valley Regional Park

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So, do you have any suggestions of family friendly things to do in London that are free? Let me know your favourite free things to do in London with kids in the comments below.

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