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Free things to do with the kids in London

Keep children entertained without opening your wallet with these free family outings

Land of Kids
Sadly most budgets won't stretch to a daily trip to the zoo, but that doesn't mean that an outing is out of the question. Grab a packed lunch and leave your purse at home for these free activities for kids. And once you've got their fun planned, see what other affordable activities the city has to offer with our guide to free London.

Explore a child-friendly free museum

Horniman Museum

Critics' choice

An anthropological museum set in 16 acres of landscaped gardens, the Horniman Museum has a traditional natural history gallery – dominated by a bizarre, overstuffed walrus – where the exhibits are displayed in traditional cases with no computer touch-screens in sight. There's also a state-of-the-art aquarium, a collection of around 1,600 musical instruments and an area where visitors can play some of them, as well as a permanent gallery dedicated to African, Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian art.

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Forest Hill

V&A Museum of Childhood

Critics' choice

Home to one of the world's finest collections of children's toys, dolls' houses, games and costumes, the V&A Museum of Childhood shines bighter than ever after extensive refurbishment, which has given it an impressive entrance. Part of the V&A museum, the museum has been amassing childhood-related objects since 1872 and continues to do so, with 'Incredibles' figures complementing bonkers 1970s puppets, Barbie Dolls and Victorian praxinoscopes.

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Bethnal Green

Science Museum

Critics' choice

The Science Museum features seven floors of educational and entertaining exhibits, including the Apollo 10 command module and a flight simulator. The Wellcome Wing showcases developments in contemporary science, medicine and technology. The Medical History Gallery in the museum's attic contains a substantial collection of medical history treasures. Pattern Pod introduces under-eights to the importance of patterns in contemporary science and Launch Pad is a popular hands-on gallery where children can explore basic scientific principles.

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Brompton

Natural History Museum

Critics' choice

The handsome Alfred Waterhouse building houses a collection that contains some 70 million plant, animal, fossil, rock and mineral specimens. The Natural History Museum’s Life Galleries are devoted to displays on animal life, from creepy crawlies to the plaster cast of a Diplodocus that lords it over the Central Hall. The Earth Galleries explore the natural forces that shape our planet, the treasures we take from it, the effect we have on it and its place in the universe.

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Brompton
Find more amazing free museums in London

Discover the fun of the farm

Hackney City Farm

Nestled on the busy throughway between Broadway Market and Columbia Road, Hackney City Farm has become a fashionable stop-off for ambling weekend marketgoers, thanks in a large part to its Italian café deli Frizzante, serving hungry Hackney folk fresh seasonal Mediterranean cooking and tasty farm breakfasts. The café may be a big draw but the rest of the farm is thriving with happy animals, a pottery studio and garden. The farm is a vital community hub with a vegetable box collection scheme for locals and courses on low-impact living and beekeeping. There is even a bike repair and service centre, so you can cycle your veg home.

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Bethnal Green

Kentish Town City Farm

If you have ever been on the Overground noticed horses near Gospel Oak station, you will have had a sneak peek at Kentish Town City Farm. Tucked in and around the railway, a treasure trove of wildlife unfolds as you explore: goats romp under brick arches, sheep bleat over the whirring of nearby trains and frogs croak in a lively pond. Children are at the heart of the farm, with a range of weekend workshops, an under-fives activity room and a dedicated team of local young volunteers. With councils cutting funding, farms like this will struggle to continue this good work, but they are keeping spirits up with a range of activities, including building a working kiln.

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Gospel Oak

Spitalfields City Farm

If you spend Sundays munching bagels and rummaging for vintage bargains on Brick Lane, you’re missing a trick not to visit this urban oasis built in a former railway goods depot. There are many rare breeds of animals: stop by and visit characters such as Bayleaf the donkey and Bentley the goat, or pick your own veg. The farm also reaches out to local residents with projects like the ‘Coriander Club’ for older Bangladeshi women, free cookery classes, a young farmers' club and gardens growing produce and herbs.

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Bethnal Green

Vauxhall City Farm

You may be surprised to find this compact farm just off the busy main Vauxhall junction, but it has managed to pack in a range of animals, duck pond, ecology garden (complete with bog, wormery and stag beetle nursery) and community allotment, which grows plants used as dyes for the spinning classes that take place on the farm. There is also a riding school with a paddock across the road, which is probably the only place you can keep an eye on MI5 while out for a gallop. Plus the farm’s dedication was recently rewarded with a prize for ‘Commitment to the Community’ and was winner of ‘Business of the Year’ at the Lambeth Business Awards 2011.

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Vauxhall
See our full guide to London's city farms

Enjoy the great outdoors

Camley Street Natural Park

A small but thriving green space on the site of a former coal yard, Camley Street is a lovely oasis at the heart of the renovated King's Cross. London Wildlife Trust's Flagship Reserve, it hosts pond-dipping and nature-watching sessons for children and its wood-cabin visitor centre is used by the Wldlife Watch Club.

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King's Cross

Coram's Fields

Thomas Coram established the Foundling Hospital for abandoned children on this spot in 1747. Part of the old estate now houses the Foundling Museum, a thoughtful retelling of the story of Thomas Coram and his charity’s vast achievements. The Foundling Hospital building was demolished in the 1920s, when it moved to the countryside. 

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Bloomsbury

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground

The Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground celebrated its tenth anniversary in June 2010. This commemorative play area is easily the best bit of Kensington Gardens for a child. A huge pirate ship on its own beach takes centre stage (take buckets and spades). Beyond this lies the tepee camp: a trio of wigwams, each large enough to hold a sizeable tribe, and a tree-house encampment with walkways, ladders, slides and ‘tree phones’. 

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Knightsbridge

Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park

Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park is a four-acre wetland area with wet woodland, marsh and meadow, as well as lakes and streams. It's home to an assortment of plant life and wildlife including frogs, toads and newts, dragonflies and damselflies, and a wide variety of birds which can be observed from specially designed hides.

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Greenwich Peninsula
See our full guide to outdoor London for kids

Find a lovely local park

Springfield Park

If Springfield Park were anywhere but this slightly forlorn corner of Clapton it would be overrun with joggers, revellers and pram-toting parents; instead, it's so little-known it's like a private garden for locals. Further north than its more famous East End siblings Clissold and Victoria, Springfield Park is a way to leave London for a few hours without the bother of actually travelling. The lack of tube connections is almost a bonus. 

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Upper Clapton

Victoria Park

No territory better exemplifies the tension between east and west London than Victoria Park. It sprang to life as a Royal Park but became municipal in 1887; it's rougher around the edges than its western counterparts and thus a great expanse to kick back and let nature revitalise you. Vicky Park is wonderful for youngsters too: the V&A Playground is equipped with swings etc, and the fantastically designed Pools Playground encourages creative play.

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South Hackney

Crystal Palace Park

Children going through the dinosaur phase always enjoy a visit to 'the monsters' - five dinosaur sculptures that lurk among the trees around the lake. The remains of a Victorian pre-historic theme park created on the site by Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins, the dinosaurs were restored in 2003.

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Crystal Palace

Holland Park

The history of Holland Park, one of London’s finest green spaces, makes an interesting tale for history buffs and horticulturalists alike. The park surrounds a Jacobean mansion, Holland House, named after its second owner, the Earl of Holland, whose wife was the first person in England to successfully grow dahlias. In the 19th century, Holland House became a hub of political and literary activity, visited by Disraeli and Lord Byron amongst others, but was largely destroyed by bombs during WWII.

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Holland Park
See our full guide to London's best local parks

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