After living in London for four years and exploring every chance we can, I’ve crafted a hard-earned, opinionated list of favorite things to do with kids in London. Our daughter is now four, a wonderful age to explore the capital, though we’re still hauling around a massive bag full of snacks, wet wipes, dolls, crayons, books, extra clothes and who knows what else.
I have found the effort that goes into these London adventures—and traveling in general—achieves the impossible: slowing childhood down by creating lifelong memories beyond the daily routine, by planning time where we are unable to be anywhere else but in the moment with her.
This list is aimed towards kids in the three- to eight-year-old range.
London Playgrounds: Beyond the Diana Memorial Playground
Before moving to London, I had visions of weekend visits to the Diana Memorial Playground, playing with my toddler on the pirate ship—the playground was inspired by stories in Peter Pan. The reality is that it can be one of the most crowded play areas in London, and I have learned to avoid weekends. But it’s hard not to get misty-eyed at the circa 1909 clock outside the playground reading “Time Flies” on each of the four clock faces. And the playground is a nice pairing with a visit to Kensington Palace—the permanent Queen Victoria exhibit is surprisingly kid-friendly with dress-up clothes and a miniature opera house that mesmerized my daughter for 20 minutes.
Lesser known to visitors, these playgrounds are also worthy of a day out:
Paddington Recreation Ground: This park near Maida Vale station has an incredible playground—it cost £340,000 to build—and is separated into areas for younger and older kids, all inspired by Paddington Bear. Younger ones can play in a row of seven pastel-colored playhouses inspired by the Brown family’s street, then hop onto a steamliner and train. On sunny days, have lunch or ice cream at the cafe just outside the playground.
Coram’s Fields: Close to the British Museum and built on the site of Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, this is a backdrop for magical childhood memories—huge play areas for kids of all ages, water play areas and ice cream.
Parliament Hill Playground in Hampstead Heath: Start by climbing to the top of Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath for the incredible view of London, then walk down to the lovely, large playground.
Kew Gardens + Children’s Garden: Officially called the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the main entrance is at Victoria Gate, an easy walk from the Kew stop on the District Line from central London. The grounds include some of the world’s largest greenhouses holding rare, endangered plants; the Great Pagoda, built in 1762, where you climb 253 steps for panoramic London views; a Treetop Walkway nearly 60 feet above the ground; and a former royal home, Kew Palace.
Children’s Garden: Book ahead for an hour-long slot or try for a walk-up slot. Last year, they opened the new Family Kitchen & Shop–the kid-friendly food also appeals to adults with higher quality ingredients. Within Kew Gardens, younger kids also love to run around the bottom of The Hive, a tall metal installation that recreates what it is like to live inside a beehive.
There are nice cafes at Kew like the Orangery, but I also love The Original Maids of Honour, a five-minute walk from the entrance gate, a place that feels undiscovered by travelers but has been operating in the same location since 1860, serving delicious cakes, pastries and quiches.
Related: Three Days in London with Kids
Top Museum Intel
The three mighty museums (the Natural History Museum, V&A and Science Museum) in South Kensington are extremely popular, so you need to go in armed with a few tips.
If it’s half-term break in London, the Natural History Museum will be especially crowded, so try to check London school dates, not usually the same as the U.S. No matter what, go right when it opens. Tickets are normally free, so I’d even consider buying a membership to have access to the member dining rooms for a quiet lunch and break from the chaos. Many three to five-year-old Brits have an obsession with the T-Rex and will happily spend 30 minutes staring at it—some kids will be too scared.
The V&A’s greatest hits include the Cast Courts (with a model replica of the “David”), the Costume Galleries and portrait miniatures. But the Victorian-era café is super family-friendly—it is the world’s oldest museum restaurant and one of the most stunning interiors in London. At the time the cafe was built in 1868, one review compared it to “the richly and gaily adorned cafes of Paris.” In the summer, let kids run in the water pools outside to cool off.
For older kids (six+), the Science Museum has wonderful interactive exhibits like the Wonderlab and the permanent Space exhibition. Younger ones (two to six years) will enjoy The Garden play area, which also has water play.
Elsewhere in London, in Covent Garden, the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden has two small but great play areas for toddlers and preschoolers, plus you can combine it with a casual lunch in Covent Garden at the Ivy, Le Pain Quotidien or Shake Shack.
The Wallace Collection in Marylebone is one of London’s lesser-visited museum gems showcasing Rembrandts and an entire room dedicated to 19th-century paintings of Venice. While the exhibits are not particularly family-friendly, you can see the highlights in about an hour and their beautiful café is good for kids.
A recent discovery for me, Horniman Museum and Gardens quickly became an all-time favorite place for younger kids in London. It’s filled with local families from nearby Dulwich and Herne Hill and has enough to fill at least a half-day—a small but fascinating aquarium, a homespun animal farm with goats, alpacas and big, fluffy bunnies, a butterfly exhibit and a large musical instrument collection, plus a separate room where your kids can bang on instruments from around the world.
There is always a rotating special exhibit. Right now, Elmer and Friends is open through April 16, 2023 and kids can dress up like the book’s famous patchwork elephant. The permanent exhibits–like a reimagining of a Lagos street market, where kids can play shop and incredible taxidermy in the Natural History Gallery—are quirky, fascinating and perfect for kids and adults.
I can’t recommend this very special place more highly. Don’t miss the London skyline view with the Shard from the animal farm. Caveat: It’s not easy to get to by public transportation. Book transportation ahead or hop in a taxi from your hotel.
Other museums we’ve loved: Museum of London Docklands in Canary Wharf with 40-minute play sessions to book; and the Postal Museum with separate play area for very young kids and an underground 15-minute Mail Rail ride.
Indagare can connect you with great guides to make these museums come alive in special ways for families.
A Great Day: London Zoo + Cupcakes + Paddington’s House in Primrose Hill
Here’s a great day for families in one of London’s prettiest neighborhoods: Climb up to the top of Primrose Hill for one of the best city views, then let your kids run wild down the hill to Regent’s Park Road, the main street of Primrose Hill. Stop by Paddington’s house from the live-action movie at 30 Chalcot Crescent—the curving row of pastel-colored houses is London architecture at its best. Then make a reservation at Greenberry Café for a casual brunch with eggs, salads and sandwiches, followed by a walk down Gloucester Avenue to Primrose Hill Bakery for mini (or not) cupcakes.
From here, walk to the small pathway near the Melrose and Morgan deli that leads down to the canal. This is one of the most charming sections of London’s canal system, of which there are more than eight miles. Follow the canal (you’ll pass by a floating Chinese food restaurant, Feng Shang Princess, a favorite of Paul McCartney) and ten minutes later, pop back up to ground level close to the entrance of the London Zoo. Monkey Valley, with an 80-foot aerial walkway, opened last year.
A Few Tips on Dining in London with Kids…
With kids, I love Where the Pancakes Are in Fitzrovia; ice cream sundaes and scones at the Parlour at Fortnum and Mason; and Pizza East Portobello for dinner or Granger & Co for breakfast, both in Notting Hill. For a step up from casual but still kid-friendly, try Daphne’s in South Kensington, OXO Tower Brasserie for great views of the Thames, and any of the The Wolseley Hospitality Group restaurants–The Delaunay in Covent Garden, Colbert in Chelsea’s Sloane Square, or Soutine in St. John’s Wood.
For an only-in-London feel, head to Chinatown for cash-only, uber-casual dumplings at Jen Café, followed by ice cream in the famous “bubble wrap” waffle cone—originally from Hong Kong—at Bubblewrap on Wardour Street.
All of the high street restaurant chains are family-friendly: Wagamama, Nando’s for chicken, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Honest Burgers. Use them to your advantage—London parents go with their kids all the time. Just know that Franco Manca is better than Pizza Express for pizza and Spaghetti House is better than Zizzi for high street Italian. The Ivy chain has expanded and it’s kid-friendly while appealing to adults—the Chelsea branch is particularly pretty.
Eat Elsewhere, Snack Here: The Secret to Borough Market
Historic Borough Market is London’s most famous food market, but with kids, it can be tiring to find seating with limited options.
Instead, start with pre-booked, VIP tickets at the London Eye (side note: the SEA LIFE Aquarium across from the ferris wheel feels dark and dated) and walk along the South Bank towards Borough Market. If you went straight there, it’s a 30-minute walk with some of London’s best views, but take your time to amble—and have the stroller ready for young kids. In warmer months, there is live music, a carousel, ice cream stands and food trucks—there is also a popular Wagamama. The route takes you by Shakespeare’s Globe theater, which offers guided family tours (best for ages 7-11).
Then end at Borough Market to check it out. You hopefully won’t be starving, but can pick up some of those famous bites to snack on. Friday and Saturday have the best options, like the perfect chorizo sandwich at Chorizo Grill at Brindisa Borough, the grilled cheese sandwich at Kappacasein made with Poilâne bread, Montgomery cheddar, onions, leeks and garlic) and coffee at Monmouth Coffee.
Great London Kid’s Shops
Hamley’s is the most famous toy shop of all—the largest in the world with seven floors of overstimulation, plastic and polyester, bright lights and neon signs. I recommend visiting as soon as it opens. For more special finds, head to the children’s section at nearby Liberty London. Out of central London, there are several wonderfully curated children’s shops like Luna & Curious in Shoreditch, Niddle Noodle in Crouch End, Ottie and the Bea in Greenwich and Molly Meg in Islington. In Notting Hill, don’t miss the flagship store of Spanish children’s clothing brand La Coqueta.
More Ideas: Battersea Park, Skyline Views & Peppa Pig Tours
Battersea Park & Children’s Zoo: On a sunny London day, 19th-century Battersea Park—directly across the Thames from Chelsea—is the perfect backdrop for a British picnic with kids, with Fortnum’s hampers, sausage rolls and Pimm’s for the parents. Or find a seat at the Pear Street Cafe—the owners previously worked with Chef Skye Gyngell (now of Heckfield Place fame) at Petersham Nurseries and at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. They have lots of outdoor seating, a small kid’s menu, and high-quality ingredients with housemade sourdough, avocado toast, egg sandwiches, tacos, salads and more.
For kids, the Battersea Park Children’s Zoo is a great place to spend a few hours—big enough to be exciting with great play areas, ice cream kiosks and lots of cute animals, but small enough not to be exhausting.
Sky Garden: With its soaring multi-level space within the 2004 “Walkie-Talkie” building, Sky Garden has incredible views and is a fun place for kids to run around. Book ahead for breakfast or lunch at Darwin Brasserie and you don’t need a pre-booked ticket for the experience, though they can usually accommodate walk-in’s–you’ll need an ID with you to get in. After the Sky Garden view, you can walk through the historic Leadenhall Market and over to Spitalfields Market and London’s Eataly outpost.
Peppa Pig Afternoon Tea Bus Tour: For Peppa Pig fans, this double-decker afternoon tea bus tour is a very special experience combining afternoon tea, snacks and seeing the sights of London. As you’re driving over Tower Bridge, TV clips play of Peppa and friends on the very same bridge. Is it the best scone and tea sandwich you’ll ever have? No, but the cookies are shaped like Peppa, you get a cute souvenir mug and some things we do mostly for the kids.