Free things to do in London with kids

Visiting London with kids is an insanely cool thing to do and it’s one of the most fun places for kids in the UK. It can also be insanely expensive if you visit all of the major London attractions.  But did you know that it doesn’t have to be expensive because there’s an incredible range of free things to do with kids in London?


St Paul's Cathedral in London

St Paul’s Cathedral in London

During our 20 years living and working in London, we got to know it inside out. We’ve now moved just outside of London, but we still love to take the kids there for days out and show them our favourite childhood haunts. There’s always something new to see.

Are you now wondering what to do in London with kids? You could spend your days walking around the most iconic London sights as this is completely free. If, however, you’re looking for something a little more involved, we’ve come up with a list of our Top 15 favourite free things to do in London with children. This guide to free kids activities in London will help you plan your days well and keep your daily sightseeing spend to a minimum.

Don’t forget to check the helpful map at the end highlighting all of the sights and activities we mention.

1. Take a London bus

One of the things we like to do when visiting a big city for the first time is to take a bus tour to get our bearings. The great thing about London is that you can see a lot of the iconic London sights from the top deck of the good old London bus on certain routes. Our boys love riding on the top (at the front) of a double-decker bus which is where you get the best views from.

You will need a travel card or a credit card as they don’t take cash on the buses anymore.  Kids under 11 travel for free with an accompanying paying adult. It’s a much cheaper alternative to taking an expensive open-top bus tour. Just make sure you have your guide book with you for your DIY bus tour of London.

Kids on a London bus

Riding on the top deck of a London bus

The best London bus routes for sightseeing are:

Number 11

Starts: Liverpool Street Station

Sights: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament/Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.

Ends: Victoria Station

Number 73

Starts: Victoria Station

Sights: Buckingham Palace gardens, Wellington Arch, Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Oxford Street.

Ends: Stoke Newington

Number 24

Starts: Hampstead Heath

Sights: Camden, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square (for the Houses of Parliament/Big Ben and Westminster Abbey).

Ends: Pimlico

COST: FREE (for children under 11 with a paying adult)

2. Fountains by Kings Cross

If you’re visiting London on a hot day, head to Granary Square by Kings Cross where kids can have a play in the water feature. Ideally you will have brought their swimmers but if not, then you can let them run around in their pants like we do! This newly developed area also has lots of bars and restaurants and is always buzzing with activity.

COST: FREE

Closest Tube: Kings Cross

London with kids in kings stables fountains

Kids playing in the fountains at Granary Square in London

3. Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you can join the queue outside of the Harry Potter shop in Kings Cross station and have your photo taken with your chosen Hogwarts house scarf, pushing a trolley through the wall. It will cost you if you want to buy the professional photo but you’re allowed to take your own photos too.

If you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, it’s worth checking out the Harry Potter studio tour on a day trip from London. There is a cost for this.

COST: FREE

Closest Tube: Kings Cross

Harry Potter's Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross St Pancras

Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross St Pancras

4. British Museum

You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy a visit to the British Museum. The entrance hall (the Great Court) is worth a visit in its own right as it’s magnificent. They have an extensive collection of Egyptian artefacts, including mummies, which is always the area our kids want to visit.

They have made the visit more child-friendly by introducing digital exploration of the museum and there are free workshops like ‘Building Roman Britain in Minecraft’ and making mosaic masks. It’s such a fun and educational place to visit.

COST: FREE (donation welcome)

Closest Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Holborn

British museum London

The Great Court at the British Museum – Photo by Ryan Stefan on Unsplash

5. Watch Tower Bridge open

Tower Bridge is an iconic London sight and not to be confused with London Bridge as you will probably be quite disappointed if you go to London Bridge by mistake. At certain times of the day, the bridge opens to let large boats through. You can check the lift times to see when this happens.

You can also pay to climb up the bridge and walk over it, stopping for photos in the glass-floored gallery.

COST: FREE

Closest Tube: Tower Bridge

Visiting Tower Bridge London

Visiting Tower Bridge in London

6. Tate Modern

There’s always something child-friendly going on at the Tate Modern. We usually approach it by crossing the Millenium Bridge from St Paul’s Cathedral where you get a great view along the Thames towards the Shard and Tower Bridge. The last time we visited, there was a special floor in the turbine hall which allowed kids (and big kids) in socks to slide like ice skaters. We spent a good 30 minutes sliding around.

If you go up to the top floor of the Blavatnik building, you can step out onto the terrace and you get wonderful panoramic views of London. You can also enjoy a drink and a snack here.

If you want to see any special exhibitions, there is a cost for these but Under 12’s are free.

COST: FREE (donation welcome)

Closest Tube: St Paul’s or Southwark

London with kids views from Millenium Bridge to the Shard

View of the Shard and Tower Bridge from Millenium Bridge

7. Street Performers at Covent Garden

Covent Garden has long been a place for street performers to entertain a crowd. They usually hang out at the West end of the plaza. You will see the human statues which get more ingenious each year, magicians, musicians and comedians. There is something for everyone. You can sit with the crowd on the cobbled streets or you can sit and enjoy a drink on the terrace of the Punch & Judy pub.

Covent Garden is also a great place to eat with loads of family-friendly restaurants.

COST: FREE (tips welcome)

Closest Tube: Covent Garden

Best things to do in London with kids - watching street performers in covent Garden

Watching street performers in Covent Garden

8. Hamleys

We’ve put Hamleys in here because it’s free to go in and browse but whether or not you will get away without spending any money in there is another matter. It is every little child’s dream. A whopping seven floors jam-packed with the latest toy or your favourite classic toy. There will no doubt be toy demonstrations going on, puppet shows, parades and for the older kids, a NERF blaster testing zone!

We spent a long time watching a radio-controlled helicopter and then obviously there were protests when we decided it was time to go without buying it. Warning: it’s a bit of a sensory overload for kids but according to our boys, it is one of the best things to do in London with kids!

COST: FREE (although you might need a second mortgage to pay for the toys)

Closest Tube: Oxford Circus

9. Park Playgrounds

If you’re looking for somewhere for the kids to let off steam after visiting Hamleys, then you may want to take them to one of the many great parks in London. Our favourite is Regent’s Park because it has a selection of playgrounds to choose from. It’s also very pretty with rose gardens and it’s home to London Zoo (not free).

Other playgrounds you can visit are South Carriage Playground in Hyde Park and the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens. If you go to St James’s Park at 2.30, you can watch the pelicans being fed.

COST: FREE

Closest tube: Regent’s Park (Regent’s Park), South Carriage Drive (Hyde Park Corner), Diana Memorial (Queensway), St James’s Park (St James’s Park)

10. Changing of the Guard

The Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place outside Buckingham Palace at 10.45 am every day (except in bad weather). The handover takes place at 11 am and the whole ceremony takes about 45 minutes. There are 5 regiments that make up the Queen’s Guard and although at first glance they appear to all be wearing the same iconic red uniform with bearskin hat, there are subtle differences in their uniform. See if you can spot them.

Changing of the Guard London

Changing of the Guard. Photo courtesy of visitlondon.com

COST: FREE

Closest Tube: Hyde Park Corner

11. Natural History Museum

London’s Natural History Museum is one of the best museums in the world. It was once famous for the large dinosaur skeleton in the main entrance hall, but that has been replaced recently by a skeleton of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. There are all sorts of interesting exhibits and free activities but for our children, it’s always about the dinosaurs.

They have additional paid exhibitions which are well worth checking out. We love the Wildlife Photographer of the Year because we love wildlife and are always so inspired by the beautiful photos. It’s a great choice for a rainy day. Make sure to get there early as it is very popular, especially with school groups from all over the world.

Closest Tube: South Kensington

COST: FREE (donations welcome)

free things to do in London with kids: London Natural History Museum

Visiting the Natural History Museum in London

12. Science Museum

London’s Science Museum is just next door to the Natural History Museum. It is full of gadgetry big and small to capture the imagination of budding scientists. It’s fun and interactive and one of their most interesting exhibits is the Apollo 10 command capsule. They also have an IMAX theatre and a flight simulator making it another great rainy day choice.

Closest Tube: South Kensington

COST: FREE (donation is welcome)

13. River bus

The river bus is a great alternative to a Thames cruise. It runs between Putney in the west and Woolwich in the east and stops off at the 22 piers along the way. There is an indoor seating area and outdoor deck in warmer weather. You can also buy refreshments on board. Like buses and the underground, kids under 11 travel free with a paying adult.

COST: FREE (for children under 11 with a paying adult)

14. Parliament Hill views of London

One of the best places in London for a view of London is Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. It is a bit of a walk to the top, but the views over the whole of London are incredible.

Nearest Tube: Hampstead / Belsize Park

COST: FREE

View from Parliament Hill for view over London

Views over London from Parliament Hill

15. Catch a show at a London theatre

London is home to some of the best theatre productions in the world. Have you ever wanted to see The Lion King, Mathilda or Wicked but the tickets are just too expensive for the whole family? If you happen to be visiting London during August, you might be able to bag yourself free theatre tickets for the kids (under 16) with Kids Week. The catch is that you need to have one accompanying paying adult per free child ticket. You can also buy up to two half-price child tickets with one paying adult.

Even though it’s not technically free, we’ve put it in here anyway as a bonus because it’s still a big saving. You need to be on the ball and know when the tickets are first released. In 2019 it was at 10 am on 11th June. It’s a bit like getting tickets to some of the hottest concerts. Have the items in your basket ready to check out at 10 am sharp and you may just get lucky!

COST: FREE (for children under 16 with an accompanying paying adult)

Kids week London

Watching a play at the theatre during Kids Week

As promised, here is a helpful map of all the key sites mentioned.

There is something for everyone, whether you are visiting London in the summer or the winter.

If you’re visiting London around Christmas time and are looking for things to do in London with kids at Christmas, you can visit Winter Wonderland for free (although certain rides are payable and ice skating needs to be booked in advance). If you’re visiting at the end of August, the Notting Hill Carnival is great fun, although the crowds are getting bigger and bigger each year.

We hope you enjoy these activities as much as we do. Let us know in the comments if you have any other favourites you would add.

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15 free things to do in London with kids

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  1. […] London is one of the most iconic cities in the world. It’s big, fast-paced and exciting and it’s a great place to be young, free and single. But is London good for kids? We say absolutely it is for one simple reason. There’s an extraordinary number of things for kids to see and do in London. And the best part? Many of these things to do in London with kids are free! […]

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