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Up at the O2

101 things to do in London with kids: play and active fun

We’ve got tons of suggestions for ways the kids can get out, get active and tire themselves out

By Laura Lee Davies
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Take the little tykes to a thrilling skate park, get them pedalling around a park or challenge them to a water-borne obstacle course. Then take a breather as they conk out with exhaustion on the way home. In theory anyway…

SEE THE FULL LIST101 things to do in London with kids

Play areas and active fun for kids

Paddle your own canoe at Lee Valley White Water Centre

Sport and fitness Stadiums Waltham Cross

This amazing watersports centre scores high for city thrills, not least because it’s an Olympic-standard resource built for London 2012 that was actually open to the public before the Games got started. Cool or what? Sessions include one-off rafting and kayaking courses, but a favourite for teenagers is the six-weeks of level two hour-long classes that prepare you to take on the centre’s most tricky challenges.

Prices vary

Age 12+

Dodge the water jets in Granary Square

Attractions Public spaces King’s Cross

The area behind King’s Cross is gradually turning into a charming piazza between the station and the nearby arts venues and college buildings. Already there are some lovely features, including rows of ground-level fountains that rise and fall unpredictably. Try to stay dry or just run straight in and get soaking wet as you play. Bring a towel!

Free

All ages

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Swing on the flying trapeze at Circus Space

Things to do Games and hobbies Hoxton

At this circus-training centre there are courses and facilities for professional artists but also special bookable workshops for beginners of all ages. These include monthly Youth Experience Days where older children can develop key circus skills. Booking in advance is essential, but it’s worth it – a chance to take on the trapeze, the tightwire and the diabolo with expert supervision and tutoring.

£55

Ages 8-16

Commandeer a wigwam at the Diana Memorial Playground

Kids Playgrounds Kensington

Located next to Kensington Palace, this play area has a Peter Pan theme and a fabulous wooden pirate ship as its centerpiece. Specially designed to suit children of all physical abilities, the playground includes a beach, sculptures, teepees for make-believe games, and a sensory trail. It’s free to enjoy, but at busy times there might be a queue to get in.

Free

Under-13s

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Hone your wheel skills at BaySixty6

Sport and fitness Ladbroke Grove

This skate park under the Westway is a brilliant mix of street cool and great organisation (reassuring for parents who don’t want to spend hours in A&E). Friendly and encouraging, they offer regular beginner sessions but also plenty of challenging thrills for experienced skaters, BMX bikers and professional scooters at an excellent purpose-built skatescape. Perfect for kids who want to mix it with older riders who’ve acquired serious smarts.

£7 session, £4 beginners’ weekend session, £2 after school Mon-Fri, £10 day pass. £5 skateboard hire, £2 helmet hire (£10 deposit)

Under age 16

Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes
JJ Hall

Get some 1960s-style strikes in at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes

A change from the vast bowling alleys at out-of-town leisure complexes, Bloomsbury Bowling has a retro feel to it, plus it’s smaller than most alleys (there are just eight lanes) so it has a more intimate vibe. You can come for a game with the kids during daytime hours, or book a bowling and karaoke party here, from £12.50 per child. Note: there are no gutter bumpers and no children admitted after 8pm.

From £39 per hour

Age 6+

Bedford Way, Bloomsbury

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Learn how the grown-up world works at KidZania

Attractions Theme parks Shepherd’s Bush

KidZania at Westfield White City is a slick attraction – a whole city built for child play. Kids can dress up and role-play with hands-on activities, becoming anything from a heroic firefighter or a chocolatier to a glamorous pop star or a dentist – testing themselves at a variety of life skills. Just pray they don’t come home thinking a ‘makery’ is what we call a workshop.

£16.50, from £28 under-15s, £10 under-4s, free under-1s.

All ages

Bounce around inside a work of art at The Idol soft play centre

Sport and fitness Leisure centres Barking

Tired of the usual bright and tacky indoor playgrounds near you? Then head over to Abbey Leisure Centre in Barking and set the kids free to jump and roll and slide around a work of art. Turner Prize-nominated, multimedia artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd has created an incredible black-and-white play complex inspired by Greek mythology and science fiction. Brilliantly bonkers.

£5.50, £4.50 under-3s, £1.50 under-1s (one adult per child, £1.60 each additional adult)

All ages

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Hire a laid-back bicycle from London Recumbents

Sport and fitness Cycling Dulwich

Cycling for kids in London gets harder as roads get busier and space to store a bike at home gets squeezed. Happily, London Recumbents, who hire all kinds of funky, differently styled cycles in Dulwich Park and Battersea Park, are here to help. Have a go at a three-wheeler (you sit low on the ground and the pedals are stretched out in front of you) or one of the many other models suitable for all ages, including tandems and cycles adapted for special physical needs.

No need to book ahead. Hire from £8 per hour, hirer must be over 18 (ID required)

All ages

Tackle a floating assault course at London Aquatics Centre

Sport and fitness Olympic Park

The stunning swimming pool complex designed by Zaha Hadid for London 2012 is now open to the public. There are Aqua Splash sessions with a 25m inflatable obstacle course suitable for kids 5+, diving for children 8+ and family sessions – but beware, booking is essential. Under-8s and non-swimmers under 16 must be accompanied by a competent adult swimmer.

£4.50 Swim for Families, £2.50 under-16s. £7.50 Aqua Splash, £5 under-16s. £3.50 Dive for All, £2 under-16s

All ages

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Scale a skyscraper at Clip ’n Climb

Sport and fitness Climbing Fulham

Give your furniture a break and take the kids to a proper climbing centre. Clip ’n Climb in Chelsea is a colourful landscape of specially designed climbing walls suitable for various ages and levels of ability. Completely safe for beginners, with challenges including ‘The Skyscraper’, ‘Jungle Gym’ and ‘Vertical Drop Slide’, this is a brilliant place for restless little monkeys to gain confidence clambering, climbing and dropping.

£19, £14 under-16s (£14 off-peak, £9 under-16s)

Ages 4+

Hurtle down the giant slides in Victoria Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Victoria Park

On the east side of vast Victoria Park, The Hub is a playground for bold adventurers. Along with climbing equipment and sand play (plus a pool play area that’s open in summertime), The Hub boasts huge swooping slides for speedy thrills. There is a skatepark here, too, though smaller children might prefer to head for the V&A playground to the west of the park, near Grove Road, for the gentle pleasures of swings and other things.

Free

All ages

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Go leaf-boat racing at the Princess Diana Fountain

Kids Playgrounds Kensington

Located by the Serpentine in Hyde Park, the Diana Memorial Fountain is a landscaped circular stream made of granite that’s well suited to impromptu leaf-boat races. Water flows and bubbles from the top in two directions down a gentle slope, meeting in a pool at the bottom. Especially busy in summer, it’s open throughout the rest of the year as well. Children love racing round it, following the flow. You’re allowed to sit on the side and dip your toes in, too.

Free

All ages

Ride a Shetland pony across Richmond Park

Things to do Richmond Park

Stag Lodge Stables operates lessons and hacks in the relatively car-free settings of Richmond Park and nearby Wimbledon Common, suitable for all ages and abilities. For little ones (ages 3-6) the Shetland pony sessions are particularly popular, and include a four-day holiday course. Birthday party bookings are also available.

From £25

Ages 3+

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Splash about in the Science Museum's water play area

Museums Science and technology South Kensington

For small children, it’s the doing not the looking that amuses and inspires. As a result, this busy museum’s hands-on galleries win the day. The Garden is a free play zone where young’uns can don aprons and play with waterways and boats, jump around exploring light and shadows and discover the science of sound through all kinds of fun activities.

Free

Ages 3-6

Free Range Urban Kids
© Jorn Tomter

Go really wild with Free Range Urban Kids

Celebrating the great outdoors at all times of the year, Free Range Urban Kids encourages young children to play and learn through nature. Den building, mini-beast spotting and foraging are typical of the alfresco diversions on offer at this ‘Forest School’ playgroup and holiday club based at South Millfields Park. Everything has been thought about, including a discreet outdoor potty area, and a professional and friendly team runs drop-off sessions.

£18, £16 each for six sessions, £35 Holiday Club (ages 3-8; 4 hours, lunch included)

Ages 2-5 (ages 2-3 parents stay for the session)

Various London venues

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Tackle the mountain biking at Lee Valley VeloPark

Sport and fitness Stadiums Olympic Park

With the space to create graded mountain bike runs (the three trails are graded red, blue and black, like ski runs), this is one of the more easily accessible parts of the cycling experience available to the public, post-London 2012. It’s useful to sign up for free membership in advance, then you should be able to just turn up and pay for a session anytime, daily from 9am to sunset. Although booking ahead is recommended.

£5, £3 junior, £3 Super Thursdays

Ages 5+

Score a goal at Chelsea FC Stadium Tours

Museums Fulham

Get a glimpse of parts of Stamford Bridge usually only accessible if you’re a player or an official. See the Home and Away dressing rooms, the Press Room and sit in the dugout on a guided hour-long tour, with behind-the-scenes insights. The most popular tour option includes a museum visit with interactive exhibits to test your footie skills. Closed on match days, check availability online.

£17, £12 concs, £11 under-16s, free under-5s

All ages

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Throw some shapes with Big Fish Little Fish

This family-friendly disco crew references the rave culture of the early ’90s, but happily their events around London and at festivals are thoroughly wholesome affairs. Suitable for babies and children of all ages, Big Fish Little Fish daytime gigs give parents a chance to enjoy good music in a setting that the whole family can enjoy, complete with activities like synthesizer workshops and hulahoop demonstrations. Check their website for upcoming dates.

Prices vary

All ages

Various London venues


Have lunch in a pirate ship at The Ship of Adventures

Restaurants Cafés Dalston

Ah-harrrrr, me laddies, there be pirates in Hackney! The Ship of Adventures is a bookshop, café, gift shop and events space decked out to look like you’re onboard. Brilliantly evocative and offering a friendly welcome, it’s an inspiring space to pop in to or to book for a party. They also publish the works that come out of their regular creative projects with young people.

Free, pay for food on board

All ages

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101 things to do in London with kids, Climbers and Creepers play space, Kew Gardens
© RGB Kew

Nurture a budding nature lover at Kew Garden's Climbers and Creepers

Attractions Parks and gardens Kew

There’s a lot of natural wonder to be enjoyed at Kew, from the treetop walk with a bird’s eye view over the park, to the incredibly stinky, rare flowering titan arum plant, but for younger visitors the specially created and recently refurbished Climbers and Creepers play zone is a treat. Kids get to feel like tiny insects crawling over huge wooden models of plants and play with interactive features – including the chance to discover the perils of carnivorous plants!

Free with main Kew entry (£16.50, £15.50 concs, £3.50 under-17s, free under-3s)

Ages 3-9

Make stories come to life at Discover

Art Arts centres Stratford

London’s dedicated Children’s Story Centre is a colourful gallery inspired by children’s books, with special exhibitions and events linked to favourite authors and illustrators. Children can play inside and outside, exploring a secret cave, sliding down a magic tower and dressing up. There are places to hide in, treasure to seek out and the chance to fire young imaginations to create their own stories.

£5, free under-2s, £18 family

All ages

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Play with your food at Full of Beans

Restaurants Cafés Highbury

This is one of London’s handful of lovely children’s play cafés. With a special area where little ones can clamber, role play and potter while parents sip on good coffee (Caravan), Full of Beans in Highbury has a free and easy atmosphere, making mealtimes pleasantly laidback. At brunch, lunch and afternoon tea there are mini versions of most dishes, and there are also regular activities for music, storytelling and even learning French.

Prices vary

Ages 0-8

Learn to turn the city into a playground at Parkour Generations

Things to do Poplar

The art of running at walls and jumping off things like you’re Spiderman isn’t limited to adults (and Spiderman), kids find honing these skills exhilarating too. A wonderful release after you’ve been in school, resisting leaning back on your chair all week. Parkour Generations runs classes on the fundamentals, in a safe environment.

£5, free to Westminster residents

Ages 7-19

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Burn some energy at Barnard Park Adventure Playground

Attractions Parks and gardens Barnsbury

Here children can stretch, bound and challenge themselves in a safe setting. This supervised adventure playground in Islington includes football and basketball pitches, an amphitheatre and the chance to join arts and crafts sessions, and in the main park there’s a water play feature for clean, wet fun on warmer days. There’s a lunch club during school holidays for a small charge, but open access to the playground is free.

Free

Ages 6-13

Harness up to scale a landmark with Up at the O2

Attractions Sightseeing Greenwich Peninsula

This is not for faint-hearted kids: a climb over the roof of The O2. Start by emptying pockets of anything that might fall onto pedestrians below, harness up, clip yourself to a central handrail and head up to the 52m summit. It’s steep at the beginning and end of the climb, but with a chance to walk around at the top and facilities for wheelchair users, it’s a fabulous experience.

From £28

10+ (under-18s must be accompanied by an adult)

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Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park play area
© David Poultney / LLDC

Take command of a treehouse at the Olympic Park's Tumbling Bay Playground

Sport and fitness Parks and gardens Olympic Park

With oodles of traffic-free pathways, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is a brilliant place for running around and bike rides. The Tumbling Bay adventure playground is a real highlight, with sand pits, wobbly bridges, rock pools and tall treehouses. There are also swings and slides. Note to parents with a penchant for a cuppa and a cake – it’s next door to the Timber Lodge café.

Free

All ages

Fly down a zip wire at Coram's Fields playground

Attractions Parks and gardens Bloomsbury

This Zone 1 park is a kid-friendly joy – adults don’t get in unless accompanied by a child. Under the dappled shade of the park’s huge trees, toddlers frolic in the sandpits and paddling pool and kids clamber in the playground and swoosh down the aerial slide, while the pens of goats, chickens, rabbits and birds await the attention of curious animal lovers. There are games pitches available free of charge to under-16s, too.

Free

All ages

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Go paintballing at Bunker 51

Things to do Games and hobbies Charlton

Many live-action adventures like this are located further out of London but Bunker 51 is in Docklands and decked out like an underground nuclear shelter. The lighting and props (discarded canisters of toxic waste, abandoned 4x4s and signposts to the missile bay) help to crank up the fear factor and remind you that this is war! Though happily, only in paintball (or lasertag) form.

From £15 per person (laser tag from £6.25 per person)

Age 12+

See a show and play in the giant Wendy House at the Polka Theatre

Theatre Private theatres Wimbledon

The Polka’s busy programme is all about theatre created to amuse babies and toddlers, and live-action productions to make older children giggle. Other performances include book adaptations and there are workshops for young performers and kids who want to discover backstage crafts. With a café, playground, art space and garden, it’s a welcoming place to pop in even when you don’t have time to take in a show.

Prices vary

All ages

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