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Coram's Fields playground
Photo by Coram’s Fields playground

99 best things to do in London with kids

Get set for family fun with our round-up of exciting events, activities and other things to do for children in London

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski
&
Laura Lee Davies
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London is a great city to be an adult, and it’s not too shabby for kids either. Our city is packed with endless activities for the young'uns, whether it be weird and wonderful soft plays to entertain a restless toddler, kids theatre for a curious five-year-old, fun playgrounds for a noisy ten-year-old or adrenalised days out to pep up a bored teenager. There are endless things to do with kids in London, to suit any budget. Many of the city's museums and galleries have special drop-in sessions where children can get creative or try hands-on activities and there’s a wealth of outdoor options, from high-concept adventure playgrounds to gorgeous open parks.

Even better, many of the greatest places for families are free to visit, stretching your budget further for those must-do attractions that aren’t. Read on to find the best things to entertain or amaze your family.

RECOMMENDED: Things to do with kids this October half term

Best things to do in London with kids

Get your little’uns raving early with the help of Big Fish Little Fish, the ‘2-4 hour party people’. This teeny-bopper disco crew host parties all over London, as well as festivals, especially for children. That’s not to say parents can’t enjoy themselves, too. The music is pleasantly un-annoying (think 90s dance, rather than that Bob the Builder single) and when you want a break from dancing there are workshops on offer, too, like synth playing, hula hooping and more. Phew.

Various venues

Commandeer a wigwam at the Diana Memorial Playground
  • Kids
  • Playgrounds
  • Kensington

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

Under-13s 

Free

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A wacky misadventure at County Hall, Shrek’s Adventure! London is a genuinely fun, new immersive experience. When your 4D bus tour ‘crash lands’ in a strangely familiar swamp, you (yes, adults as well as kids) have to work as a team to solve puzzles and get home again. On your quest you’ll meet everyone from Princess Fiona and Donkey to Puss in Boots and a host of other Shrek heroes (and villains). Great fun.

Ages six and above

  • Museums
  • Military and maritime
  • Greenwich

The NMM’s gallery especially for babies and young children is all about fun. Ahoy! features many different play zones including a beach and a ship deck, plus a game firing cannons and another that is a bit like air hockey. The fish shop is ace –rows of pretend fish, cash tills and shopping baskets. There’s also the All Hands exploration gallery for ages 6-12.

Free, but check if open as closed by the pandemic, though due to reopen some time after July 19 2021. 

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  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Trafalgar Square

Long before children can muse on Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ and remark how the impasto helps to express the texture of the seed heads, they can relate to centuries-old paintings that sing with colour and drama. That’s why the National Gallery’s ‘magic carpet’ storytelling sessions are brilliant. Every Sunday morning parents and sprouts are invited to sit in front of one of the paintings and hear stories inspired by what they see.

Ages two to five

Free, book on arrival. Has been suspended due to the pandemic but ‘new dates are coming soon’

Ride a Shetland pony across Richmond Park with Stag Lodge Stables
  • Things to do
  • Richmond Park

View the lush beauty of Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common from horseback. Situated in the former, Stag Lodge Stables provide horse rides for visitors of all ages and abilities. And if your willing rider is too frightened or small for the big horses, they can ride a more manageable (and adorable) Shetland pony (ages 3-6 only).

Ages three and above

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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.

Splash about in the Science Museum's water play area
  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • South Kensington

Let's be honest, small children don't really get that amused or inspired looking at exhibits like their parent counterparts. But no worries - the Science Museum's hands-on galleries are ready to save 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.

Ages three to six. At time of update then due to coronavirus children are restricted to 20-minute slots that must be booked in advance.

Free

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Kew

There’s many a natural wonder to be enjoyed at Kew, from the magnificent treetop walk with a bird’s-eye view over the park to the not-so-sweet, rare flowering titan arum plant (no seriously, hold your nose). But if you have younger visitors in tow, head to the huge Children’s Garden. The size of 40 tennis courts, it’s packed with hidden play areas themed around earth, air, sun and water – all the things plants need to grow. 

Ages two to 12 – at time of update, booking a 60-minute slot was essential

Not all children’s entertainment has to be corny and colourful, as Bach to Baby proves. Trained musicians perform child-friendly classical concerts in spaces all over London. Toddlers are free to get and up move about and babies are contented to sit on laps as the classical music floats around them. 

Various London locations 

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Join the stars of the show on stage at the Chickenshed Theatre
  • Theatre
  • Fringe
  • Cockfosters

Most activities in London are aimed at ages 3+, but at Chickenshed’s lively ‘Tales from the Shed’ shows, being wee is a bonus. Parents, babies and toddlers sit on the floor or on chairs to watch gentle adventures unfold in song and storytelling. Cuddly puppets and colourfully costumed actors are frequently joined by toddlers wandering into the action from the audience. In fact it’s encouraged!

Ages 0-6 

  • Museums
  • Transport
  • Covent Garden

Covent Garden’s LTM is a joyful place and it’s brand new All Aboard play area for babies and under-8s takes the hands-on experience even further. Wannabe bus drivers can get behind the wheel of a real bus, ‘repair’ a mini tube train, or ‘sail’ on the Thames Nipper, a recreation of the Thames Clipper riverboat service. There’s even a make-believe buskers spot, making for some pretty cute videos that you can play back to your kid's friends in years to come.

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  • Art
  • Cultural 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, with places to hide, treasure to seek out and the chance to fire young imaginations to create their own stories. The current exhibition is the immersive experience ‘Fairy Tales’ (until September 5 2021).

From £5

Sure, there are plenty of family-friendly restaurants around London, but the best ones go far beyond booster seats and colouring-in pads. Take the Apple Tree Children’s Café in Herne Hill, for instance, which offers full-on soft play and sensory experiences for ages 0-5, all in full sight of parents. Alongside the expected cafe fare – including coffee from Volcano Coffee Works – there’s a thoughtful child menu, also aimed at ages 0-5.  

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Join the Frogprince chorus

Sure, you may be able to uncover music classes scattered throughout London, but the Frogprince Baby Music London’s weekly tour of regular venues is something special. Colourful and playful, with a rocking musical attitude like few others, this is a much more lively session than the average, gentle nursery rhyme groups. Little ones get to interact with the musical instruments and there is a creative, developmental approach to all the activities. From Herne Hill to Hackney, Surrey Docks to Stoke Newington, you’ll find morning and afternoon sessions to drop into all year round.

Although the shark tank is one of the main draws at the Sea Life Aquarium London (you can walk through a tunnel beneath the incredible creatures), Penguin Point deserves just as much recognition. Delve into the icy Antarctic and you'll discover adorable Gentoo penguins, frolicking on land and water. Desperate for bird info? Expert guides do talks about these beautiful creatures regularly throughout the day and, if you’re there around noon or 3pm, you’ll get to see them being fed too. Pretty cool.

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Through the year, the Royal Academy runs a series of free creative activities inviting children (including those with special educational needs) to explore visual art, while Art Detectives trails gives them a chance to explore the galleries and see great works of art form their own perspective. Once a month there’s a free, drop-in Family Studios session on a Sunday (11am-3pm) which explores a theme in more depth, with hands-on crafts and other activities like music-making and dressing up. Check the website for the next date and theme: it’s been suspended during the pandemic but should be on its way back.

This zoological museum – the only one of its kind in London – seems like it's been here for a century or more. Such is the transporting effect of seeing avenues of display cases stuffed to the gunnels with animal skeletons, taxidermy specimens and creatures preserved in fluid, like a true Victorian wunderkammer. From a jar of tiny moles to a huge elephant skull, there is plenty here to draw gasps of amazement. Don't turn up too early, though; the museum opens its doors from 1pm to 5pm, Monday through Saturday.

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The Star Wars gallery at Madame Tussauds is one of the last things you see on an extensive tour through history and popular culture and what a finale. Working with Lucas Films, Tussauds have recreated scenes from them in key scenes from various Star Wars films and populated them with wax models of the heroes and villains. Meet Yoda in a musty-smelling swamp, take a selfie sitting alongside Han Solo in the canteen, and get up close to Darth Vader and Luke as they go to battle. Star Wars obsession will be delighted to know the attention to detail is spot on. 

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.

Ages four and above

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Learn to play the gamelan at the South Bank
Photo by Southbank Centre

21. Learn to play the gamelan at the South Bank

In 1987 the Southbank Centre was donated a Javanese percussion orchestra of instruments (a gamelan). Ever since, the centre has run sessions where children and adults can learn how to play the instruments. These include Dragon Babies sessions suitable for preschoolers. Family Taster workshops are also hosted at regular times through the year.

Ages three and above

This purpose-built adventure playground for kids in Islington provides hours of fun. There’s a huge, fort-like structure that can be climbed, hidden in and run around. There’s a water feature for warmer days, a fire pit for chillier ones, as well as football and basketball pitches. Plus, arts and crafts classes are held regularly. See their website before heading down to find out what’s on.

Ages six to 13 

Free

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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.

Not far from Crystal Palace Overground station is the famous park. Once upon a time this lush green space down south was a cultural haven for Victorians. Sports, music and art all took happened here, and when people weren’t attending one of those events, they were most likely marvelling a the full-scale model dinosaurs, which have been there since 1854. Thanks to a restoration project in 2002, the dinos are still going strong, even if a little out of date scientifically. Elsewhere in the park you’ll find a farm and a maze.

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This free museum has a dedicated gallery (Mudlarks) for small children, but it’s worth visiting the main galleries, for the huge model of the old London Bridge and a walk-through recreation of the docklands in Victorian times. Hear the noises, smell the scents and peer into the shadowy alleyways. Gaze through the window of the chandler’s shop and see inside an old East End boozer.

Free

A central location and impressively-stocked bar attract hoards of grown-ups to Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes in the evenings, but before 8pm the kids are welcome to take over. The retro lanes and karaoke rooms can be booked for parties or family outings and lunch can be had in the American diner-styled booths. It’s worth noting, though, that the bowling lanes don’t have bumpers.

Ages six and above

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As far as immersive children’s activities go, KidZania has got to be one of the finest in the city. Located at Westfield White City, this massive complex houses an entire mini-city built just for kids. Seriously, no grown-ups allowed! Parents and carers can look in at viewing points or even participate in certain areas (be part of an audience in a sports stadium for instance), but otherwise they leave it to the youngsters, dress-up and role-play in real-life occupations, like fire-fighting, dentistry or acting.

This unique gift shop wouldn’t be out of place on the set of Harry Potter, what with its fully-stocked shelves of ‘Impacted Earwax’ and ‘Night Terrors’. Naturally, everything is edible – and thankfully not a trace of actual earwax in sight – with sweet treats hiding behind the ominous black and white packaging. Clotted cream fudge, boiled sweets and flavoured sea salt are just some of the delicious items awaiting you, plus t-shirts and stationery.

Ages five and above

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This free-to-visit museum is a wonderful old house filled with fine art, furniture, porcelain and gold boxes. The galleries include famous masterpieces such as ‘The Laughing Cavalier’, and curiosities – the staircase decorated with gold coins was originally made for the Royal Bank of France. The Arms and Armour collection fascinates pint-sized warriors and can be explored during the regular free family activity sessions at weekends.

All ages 

Free

Dino Snores, a monthly sleepover at the Natural History Museum, is incredibly popular. It’s usually sold out a couple of months in advance, so get booking if you want to get your little ’uns in. But it’s hardly surprising when you find out what’s involved. Guided by museum team members, kids will get to explore the galleries with torches, enjoy a live science show, make their own dino tees to take home and camp in sleeping bags beneath the blue whale in the foyer.

Ages seven to 11 (adult accompaniment required). 

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Beckenham Place Park’s much-hyped £6.8m overhaul led to farcical initial scenes: its new swimming lake proved to be too popular, resulting it in being shut down for a bit while its paddling beach was removed. These days, though, it’s a good spot for affordable, well-regulated wild swimming sessions for ages eight and above, plus kayaking.

‘Lifesized Monopoly’ is exactly what the title suggests, with you playing human-sized pieces traversing the board and undertaking challenges as you land on various ‘squares’. There are multiple different boards with multiple different sets of rules – some very much aimed at adults – but families will be eyeing up the Classic Board, suitable for anyone aged over nine.

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This is a fabulous place to take children for some of the best puppet shows you’re likely to see. They offer a busy programme of productions throughout the year, and at weekends and during school holidays there are activities in the new Studios Space. Here the company offers workshops and courses for all ages and stages, looking at the craft of puppet theatre.

Ages two and above

It’s not as fancy as ZSL, but Battersea Park Children’s Zoo oozes low-key charm, is noticeably cheaper than its northern neighbour, and there’s less of a frantic worry about trying to pack every single exhibit in (you definitely will). Enjoy an afternoon of fun-sized wildlife, from armadillos to agoutis to Asian short-clawed otters.

Unusually for pandemic-era London, it doesn’t require advance booking and operates on a one-in, one-out basis when it hits capacity.

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Don’t be put off by the word ‘museum’. Yes there are archives and displays of old political cartoons and comic art going as far back as the eighteenth century, but the workshops and events celebrate all kinds of modern cartoonery too. Weekend and school holiday workshops are a chance for older children to explore different artistic styles and create comic strips, animations and models.

Ages eight to 15 

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.

All ages

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Located next to the Royal Observatory, the Peter Harrison Planetarium is a large domed cinema space showing films combining real footage captured by spacecraft with advanced CGI, providing a vivid picture of what our universe is all about. Shows include regular ‘Space Safari’ events for younger children and the ‘Meet the Neighbours’ live shows at weekends and during school holidays, which are hosted by the Observatory’s astronomers.

All ages 

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This museum near Brent Cross is on the site of the old Hendon aerodrome, so happily there is a lot of space for full-size, real-life exhibits of RAF aircraft – from WWI propeller planes to the amazing Eurofighter Typhoon. The museum is free, with activities throughout the holidays and an autism-friendly trail. The 4D cinema shows what it’s like to be in the cockpit of some of these amazing planes, thanks to state-of-the-art computer animation (cinema £5, £16 up to four people).

Free

This inspiring education centre is located in an orange pod suspended above the laboratories of the Blizard Institute in Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Kids can see scientists at work and learn more about the human body. Mainly for schools, in the holidays there are public sessions themed around the heart, teeth or senses. The ‘Snot, Sick and Scabs’ session is particularly popular. Yum.

Ages seven plus (under 14s must be accompanied by an adult)

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An active ship during World War II, HMS Belfast is an evocative day out. Explore the decks for a sense of life onboard in conflict and peacetime. Join in with such free holiday activities as Sea Legs, an interactive family exhibit in which you’re tasked with working out where the ship is supposed to be going and how best to feed its crew of 950.

Terry Deary’s ‘Horrible Histories’ franchise takes to the high seas (sort of) with this enjoyably lurid clipper trip that takes in the big sights of the Thames, with our bickering guides run us through the many awful things that have happed in and around the river over the last 1000 years or so.

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Docked at Bankside, the Golden Hinde II is actually a full-size replica of the sixteenth-century ship used to circumnavigate the world, and its interactive tours and actors bring Drake’s adventure vividly to life. Self-guided tours are available daily, but there are also regular pirate fun days and battle workshops, with dressing-up and a chance to get hands-on with sailor duties. You can even book an overnight stay.

Ages four and above

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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.

Ages eight to 16 

Get stuck in at London Zoo and stay the night. After you've nosed around the exhibits, spend the night in Land of the Lions. We're not having you on, you really can sleep there. Hire a lodge and enjoy private guided tours around different animal enclosures after hours. A two-course dinner and breakfast are included, so you won't have to worry about your rumbling stomach waking up the neighbours. Plus, tickets come with free parking, which is unheard of in Camden.

Ages 14 and above

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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.

Ages 12 and above 

Let your kids turn a passion into a potential profession with the Roundhouse creative sessions for ages 11 to 25. For free (in some cases a very small fee), the workshops and courses offer expert advice and hands-on experience for all abilities. Sessions include drop-in street-circus skills, learning how to DJ, radio and music producing workshops and more in-depth courses using the excellent studio facilities.

Ages 11-25 

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Get those cogs turning by locking your family in a room and trying to escape. It sounds borderline terrifying, but these escape rooms are hugely popular and have popped up all over London. ClueQuest is in King’s Cross and gives teams of three to five players 60 minutes to solve puzzles, riddles and find hidden clues in order to regain your freedom. Plus, since there are several missions to choose from, you can go back again and again to perfect your puzzle skills. Mission, accepted.

Ages nine and above

Since it opened in 1974 the London Dungeons has managed to stay at the absolute cutting edge of shameless luridity via a series of rides and rooms based around the more macabre elements of our city’s history. Always moving with the times, the current iteration includes an escape room: in ‘Escape Execution’ you have just one hour to bust out of the Tower of London before your head is lopped off. 

For over-12s only.

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London 2012 left us with a great legacy in the form of several cutting-edge stadia and sports facilities. Seriously, we’re spoilt for choice. You can go swimming in the Aquatics Centre, white-water rafting on the Olympic course in Lee Valley, slide down the ArcelorMittal Orbit and cycle in the VeloPark. Book in advance to avoid any disappointment, but then you'll be able to take full advantage of the track and BMX options. There are three graded mountain bike runs (red, blue and black, like ski runs) and you can even hire a bike if you don’t have your own wheels.

There are few places in London where you can go really fast. A good thing too, in general, given the levels of traffic everywhere. But when it comes to seeing London from the river, you can swap a genteel cruise for a speedy romp in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat). From the London Eye Millennium Pier the tour starts as a fairly regular river tour, but once you’re past Tower Bridge things speed up, scooting all the way down to Docklands. Basically, this is the whitest your knuckles will ever get while travelling down old Father Thames. It's perfect for sightseeing with a slightly breakneck, James Bond vibe.

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Galleries are pretty savvy at cultivating the next generation of art lovers, with free drop-in activities, family-friendly tours and holiday workshops. Dulwich Picture Gallery is among the best, with Practical Art courses throughout the year. Sessions are planned by age range, so under-10s and teens get the right challenges for their abilities and interests. From sculpture to figure drawing, it’s a great south London resource for budding artists.

Ages six and above

There have been treetop adventure centres in forests around the country for a few years, but when Go Ape opened in Battersea in 2015, it brought the thrill and daring of zipwiring and high-level assault courses to Zone 1. The adventure starts on the ground with a safety briefing before you put your harness on. Then off you go, working your way through three layers of challenges heading up to the canopy, crossing tricky obstacle rope walls and wooden bridges to reach the zipwires. It’s hard work, but an exhilarating experience for kids and adults with a head for heights.

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Build an army camp
Photo by James McCauley

55. Build an army camp

Having undergone a major update a few years back, the National Army Museum is a free-to-visit, bright and airy space with dazzling gallery experiences and lots of activities and learning spaces for families. There’s also an immersive play session for toddlers and under-8s called Play Base. These one-hour sessions (£6.25 per child and accompanying adult) include challenges that reflect army life in a fun way – an assault course, a ‘command liaison vehicle’, the cookhouse, quartermaster store and a chance to build dens and hone survival skills ‘in the field’.

God's Own Junkyard showcases neon artist Chris Bracey's personal collection of work in a salvage yard in Walthamstow. It contains everything from his signage for Soho sex clubs in the '60s to his work for the movie industry, including pieces that were used in 'Captain America', 'Eyes Wide Shut', 'Byzantium' and more. Once you're done being dazzled, you can grab drinks and snacks at the yard's own Rolling Scones Cafe (lolz).

Free

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Rarely does the weather warm up enough to jump into London’s outdoor lidos without flinching, but when it does everyone wants a piece of the action. Thankfully, there are plenty of lidos scattered all over the capital, including right in the centre. The easily-reached Serpentine Lido has a dedicated children’s play area with a paddling pool, and a sun terrace.

All ages (two adults to each under-16 swimming in the lake) 

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Get hands-on with some sweet treats at this café with branches in Notting Hill and Clapham. Not only can you enjoy a bicky with your tea, you can decorate it too. At the Biscuiteers Boutique they specialise in biscuit art and host classes for all ages, as well as a Little Biscuiteers School of Icing. At the latter you can leave your youngsters to it in an hour-long lesson (£36), or simply drop in and leave them to play with icing decoration (£15) while you relax with a cuppa and a nibble. There’s also a 

With its excellent playground, fun water splash area and frequent funfairs, Brockwell Park is a day out for kids in its own right. And if you go on a Sunday between March and October it’s extra special thanks to the delightful Brockwell Park Miniature Railway. It’s been plying its trade since 2003, and a return still only costs £1.

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This iconic free museum in south-east London has plenty of fascinating exhibits to gaze at and (in some cases) grapple with, but there’s also a great little aquarium here you can explore for a small charge. It includes a Fijian Reef, a Tropical Rainforest, a Mangrove swamp and a UK rock pool display, stocked with aquatic creatures native to those environments. The moon jellyfish are particularly magical.

Time was that King’s Cross and St Pancras were surrounded by soot-covered warehouses, all gradually falling out of use and being turned into ad hoc nightclubs. Now, though, the vast piazza spaces look positively Continental, with Granary Square’s rows of pop-up fountains and Lewis Cubitt Park offering great, architecturally designed spaces to run around. Even in winter, it’s worth taking a towel – kids can’t resist running through the spouting water jets that rise up from the ground. And while you’re here, seek out Handyside Gardens, a pocket park nearby with a charming play area especially for children.

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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

In two acres of wilderness just north of St Pancras, Camley Street Natural Park is like a corner of countryside in Zone 1. Created from an old coal yard and sitting alongside the Regent’s Canal, it’s a wonderful space for seeking out birds and butterflies, croaking amphibians and even bats, then reporting back on your wildlife sightings, which helps the work of the reserve.

Free.

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The BFI’s vast National Archive is available to access via its digital library at viewing stations in the Mediatheque room at BFI Southbank. For film lovers, students and families it’s a chance to search for and watch films, documentaries and a vast collection of homegrown and international animations. Cuddle up on the soft seats in a viewing station, put your headphones on and enjoy.

Free

Moored at Little Venice most of the year, guests board this ‘theatre’ via the back steps into a tiny foyer. Adults and children are then carefully arranged on rows of benches to ensure smaller guests can see the stage, before the lights go down. Productions are usually inspired by fairy tales and fables, and prove a fascinating hit with even the youngest audience members. Wonderfully lo-fi family magic. (Moored at Richmond in summer.)

Ages three and above 

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We might live in a digital age, but kids and grown-ups alike are still fascinated by the kind of mechanical curiosities that used to amuse Edwardians in old coin-operated machines. Taking that tradition and giving it a humorous, twenty-first-century spin, engineer and cartoonist Tim Hunkin’s gallery of jolly mechanical scenes in Holborn includes an ‘Alien Probe’ and the ticklishly good ‘Autofrisk’. This is what science lessons should be like.

Free

Seven books and nine films down the line, the world has lost none of its appetite for all things Harry Potter-related. Which is why Warner Bros are keeping the Hogwarts magic alive with their special exhibition, ‘The Making of Harry Potter.’ The props, sets and costumes have been lovingly maintained and fans will be in heaven here. Step into the iconic locations: the Great Hall at Hogwarts, Diagon Alley and, of course, Platform 9¾. You can also get your chops around a flagon of butterbeer (don’t worry, it’s kid-friendly), and if you fancy taking a souvenir home, you can purchase a wand.

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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

Richmond Park’s wild landscape is ideal for families. Venture beyond the gates of the Isabella Plantation (near the south side of the park), and you’ll find yourself in a scented, colourful world of flowers and bushes. Choose your pathway into the woods and find the pretty oasis of Thomson’s Pond. Picnic under the weeping willow then try to negotiate the stepping-stones and the series of bridges over the stream without getting shoes and socks wet.

Free

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Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit is a London 2012 landmark that keeps on evolving. During the Olympics and ever since the grounds reopened as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, it’s served as a huge tower to enjoy great views. But with the opening of the slide that now coils all around it like a supersized, 178-metre-long helter-skelter, it’s also become one of the coolest places in town for adrenalin thrills. Sliders must be over eight years old and at least 1.3 metres tall to face the breathtaking 40-second scoot to the ground.

With incredible views (without the crowded masses that gather in long queues at the London Eye or The Shard), the Emirates Airline offers a unique perspective on the city. Hop onboard and get ready for some seriously good sightseeing, all for way less than the cost of London's more famous sky-high attractions. Whether you start at the Greenwich end (next to the O2) or Royal Victoria on the north bank, you're in for a scenic treat – especially if you ride at dusk and glimpse all the twinkling lights in the skyline. It runs daily until 9pm (summer) and 8pm (winter).

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This modern theatre at London Bridge focuses on drama for children and young people. Throughout the year there are visiting and homegrown productions to suit all ages, including for under-fives, as well as thought-provoking leftfield work that unaccompanied adults will dig. There are free drop-in toddler sessions on Saturdays and teenagers can apply to join the Unicorn Young Company.

This park has ponds, play areas, a café and a wonderful small zoo of enclosures which offer a quick fix of wildlife. Head here to hear the laughing kookaburras, spot a ring-tailed coati in the bushes and watch the ring-tailed lemurs up to their gymnastic tricks in the branches. Especially good with little ones who don’t have the stamina to make a pricey visit to the big zoo worthwhile.

Free

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Recreated in the style of a theatre from 400 years ago, the Globe’s seating includes ‘groundling’ tickets where the audience stands. Its outdoor setting can be a dynamic way to engage young people in classic theatre. Children and families are welcome to performances, but the tour and exhibition are the best way to introduce kids to Shakespeare, plus there are various family-friendly workshops sprinkled throughout the year.

Ages three-plus

The Fashion & Textile Museum has regularly changing exhibitions that are fascinating for adults and older children interested in classic and modern design. 

On the first Saturday of every month you can join Saturday Sketching sessions (free with main museum entry). Perfect for budding young stylists, you can tour the galleries at your own pace, find something that inspires you and draw your notes using the sketchbooks and pencils supplied.

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These days many parents will probably only dimly remember the original ‘The Crystal Maze’ from their own childhoods. But though he makes a taped appearance in ‘The Crystal Maze Live’, you don’t need to be nostalgic for the Richard O’Brien era to enjoy this version of the classic game show in which you and your team forage for crystals in a number of timed, themed challenges. It’s open to children aged nine or over, though they must be accompanied by adults.

With many artefacts that are thousands of years old, the British Museum can be a bit mind-bending for children, but free daily activities focus on the highlights kids find especially cool. Pick up activity backpacks from the Families Desk with trail challenges devised by age suitability. Get the kids to dress up, play games, sketch objects and build things.

Ages two to 12

Free

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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

If you know your London, you’ll appreciate that it’s not just the buildings that made the city but its remarkable outdoor spaces. It does a body good to get truly wild from time to time – so head out to the urban oasis of lakes, ponds and meadows of the Wetland Centre. Observe the ducks and otters, take in the serene scenery and let the kids get free-range in the adventure playground.

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Did you know that the stunning swimming pool complex designed by Zaha Hadid for the 2012 Olympics  is open to the public? Yes it is! There are Aqua Splash sessions with a 25-metre inflatable obstacle course suitable for kids 5+, Extreme Aqua Splash 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.

The boating lake and playground at Ally Pally are located behind the main building on the ice-rink side of the park. The boating lake has been spruced up in recent years and as well as the traditional swan-shaped pedalo vessels, you can rent pedal boats in the shape of a VW car or a dragon, too. Expect to queue on sunny days when school’s out.

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With digital surround sound and a screen almost as high as five double-decker buses, this is a thrilling cinema experience for older kids and teens, especially when there’s a showing of a new Hollywood movie created with the latest Imax 3D technology. Screenings also include all-action short films about nature and space. Put your 3D specs on and get ready to duck.

Ages three and above

On summer days Stoke Newington’s biggest green space is filled with locals sunbathing and improvising games of football and table tennis, but throughout the year toddlers and parents roam the playground, saying a cautious ‘hello’ to the deer, goats and chickens in the animal enclosure, and chatting to the cockatiels, budgies, finches, lovebirds and parakeets in the aviary. There’s also a weekday One O’Clock Club held here.

Free

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London’s city farms are one of our greatest treasures. Vauxhall City Farm is one of the loveliest, with a host of farmyard creatures to meet, including Stinker and Jemima the ferrets. If you dare, get a closer look. But watch out – they are inquisitive and love to crawl into the nearest interesting looking holes, including running up your trousers or down your sleeves!

Free

The London Film Museum has a habit of going all-out: after spending several years solely devoted to James Bond, it’s now turned into a temple to Harry Potter. It’s essentially a very fancy exhibition of photographs from the films, with plenty of interactive bits where you can dress as a wizard and get a cool photo of yourself. Plus: bottled butterbeer!

All ages 

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Next time the kids beg for a 99 Flake cone, wow them with a trip to the fabulously fun Chin Chin Labs in Camden Market. Flavours vary weekly and might include ingredients to suit adult tastes (blue cheese, Guinness, tobacco) but there are also sweet treats for all. The ice cream is frozen in front of you in a cloud of liquid nitrogen-generated steam, and you can adorn your tubs with all kinds of strange sprinkles and sauces.

London has some amazing children’s bookshops with activities, author visits and excellently stocked shelves. Pickled Pepper Books in Crouch End is one of the most charming, with a spacious area for adults to chill out while their kids browse or potter, and lots of activities in the holidays and through term time. For babies and toddlers there’s a French singing group (mais oui!) and older children can join messy science sessions, illustration workshops and other one-off events.

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Even younger children can get a lot from a trip to the Tower because so much of the original castle still stands, including its Medieval White Tower. Join one of the free Yeoman Warder tours inside the castle walls to hear fascinating tales about Traitors’ Gate, beheadings and the Crown Jewels. Make sure, too, that you seek out the ravens. There are seven of them kept at the Tower, fed on raw meat and bird biscuits soaked in blood. Ask almost any of the Yeoman Warders and they can probably show you a scar on their hands where they’ve suffered a nasty peck.

Peep through the keyhole and see how we used to live
at the Museum of the Home, which also makes use of its gardens in order to take you step by step through what the typical London home looked like at different periods from 1600 to the present day. That might sound dry, but it’s the everyday nature of the exhibitions which fascinate children because they can relate to it. There are free craft and play activities at weekends and through the school holidays. 

Free

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As all good wizards know, the Hogwarts Express sets off from King’s Cross platform somewhere between 9 and 10. For years there was just a discreet sign in homage to it, but now there’s a regular, good-humoured queue waiting to pose for a free photograph with a luggage trolley stuck halfway into the wall, plus the obligatory merch shop. A must-visit for all wannabe Harrys or Hermiones.

In the grand County Hall on the South Bank, a vast aquarium of sharks, turtles, sea dragons and penguins are waiting to be gawped at. Part of the Sea Life chain, it’s a smoothly run, busy operation with several themed zones devoted to all kinds of aquatic environments, including a Thames walk. One of the highlights has to be the ‘Frozen Planet: Face to Face’ virtual reality part of your visit, where you can look through special headsets and see just what the BBC’s intrepid film crews see when they are filming in the Arctic.

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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.

Ages ten and above

Surrounded by some of London’s most popular sightseeing attractions (Buckingham Palace, Westminster and Trafalgar Square), St James’s Park often gets overlooked, but it’s one of the loveliest green spaces to let the kids run about in. Duck Island, at the east end of the park’s lake, is perfect for birdwatchers. There have been pelicans here since the 1660s, and every day you can watch these curious feathered creatures being fed fresh fish at 2.30pm.

Free

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Hampton Court is so many different days out in one place. For families, there’s a chance to borrow dress-up clothes from the costumes box at the entrance so you can move around the Palace kitchens, dining hall and bedrooms and feel really part of the royal story. But it’s the grounds that really hold the greatest pleasures for kids. Happily, there’s a café here too, because the kids will be off playing for hours.

Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine there was an abandoned postal railway system running underneath London? If the answer’s ‘yes’, you’ve probably already ridden the 100-year-old Mail Rail, the jewel in the crown of the London Postal Museum. If the answer’s no then boy is there a subterranean treat in store for you underneath the street of Clerkenwell.

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In the RSC’s hugely successful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s fantasy, a fine cast of young actors bring Tim Minchin’s smart, funny songs to life, as a little girl with supernatural powers shows us how bright children can survive stupid adults. Dahl’s gruesome humour is reflected in cartoon violence that is here magically recreated in a dynamic and colourful style. Happily, without harm to a single real pigtail…

Ages six and above

Ever wanted to throw yourself about on a trampoline but were too scared you’d fall off the edge or, even worse, get caught in that gap around the frame? Then get yourself to Oxygen Freejumping, where even the walls are bouncy! In a vast warehouse space in west London, Oxygen is a great place to let off steam or host a lively birthday party. There are 150 interconnected trampolines and you can leap in any direction or choose to take on an obstacle course. Oxygen has special morning sessions for little ones, too.

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Mudlark!
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99. Mudlark!

Is there anything more quintessentially London than trawling the banks – one might even say beaches! – of the River Thames looking for miscellaneous tat that’s been washed up? There is not! Our eighteenth and nineteenth-century forbears actually made a living out of it; these days it’s more of a fun family day out. If you actually want to take stuff you find home with you, you’ll need a permit: it’s £96 for three years.

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