Free things to do with the kids in London

Entertaining little ones in London doesn't have to break the bank. Here’s our guide to the best child-friendly free stuff to do in the capital
Science Museum, London, 17 December 2014
© Benjamin Ealovega Science Museum
By Things To Do Editors |
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Trying to keep the kids busy whilst on a budget? You’re in the right city. Whether it’s half-term, the summer holidays, the Christmas break or a quiet weekend afternoon, you’ll find tons of fun, unusual and exciting things to do in London with children that won’t cost you a penny. Let the kids explore lush corners of London’s parks, get hands on in interactive museum exhibitions, feed animals at a city farm, captain an eight metre-high ship, explore tree houses and treetop walkways, and even scout giant dinosaur sculptures, all for absolutely nothing
 

Explore a child-friendly free museum

Things to do

Horniman Museum

icon-location-pin Forest Hill

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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Museums, Transport

London Transport Museum

icon-location-pin Covent Garden

This much-loved museum does a sterling job of presenting a fascinating and entertaining history of transport in the capital, with vehicles to explore along the way. There's a family play zone for children aged 0-7 featuring mini-vehicles to climb into, and kids can repair a little tube train, sail the 'Thames Nipper', play in the lost property office and try musical instruments on busking spots. The Baby DLR features an interactive wall, and visitors of all ages can sit in the driver's cab of a red bus and guide a Northern Line simulator through tunnels, so big kids will have plenty of fun, too.

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Museums, Natural history

Natural History Museum

icon-location-pin Brompton

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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Museums, Military and maritime

National Maritime Museum

icon-location-pin Greenwich

Free to visit, the National Maritime Museum is also great for kids as well as adults thanks to the AHOY! children's gallery. Suitable for 0-7-years-old, children can engage with a range of play scenes and activities, such as stoking the boiler of a steamship, playing with others in an interactive boatyard, and even working in a fish shop. They can enjoy a bit of Polar exploring or be a pirate for a while, alimbing aboard an eight-metre-high version of the HMS Rawalpindi's mast.

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Mathematics Rooms at Science Museum
Jody_Kingzett
Museums, Science and technology

Science Museum

icon-location-pin Brompton

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. 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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Museums, Childhood

V&A Museum of Childhood

icon-location-pin Bethnal Green

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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Find more amazing free museums in London

Discover the fun of the farm

Hackney City Farm
© Andrew Brackenbury
Attractions, Zoos and aquariums

Hackney City Farm

icon-location-pin Bethnal Green

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. 

Things to do

Mudchute Park and Farm

icon-location-pin Cubitt Town

These 32 acres on the Isle of Dogs make up one of London’s biggest farms. The farm itself is compact, with some animals just wandering about in the fields, plus a petting zoo and duck pond. Some of the best residents include a Manx Loaghtan named Juliet and a turkey who enjoys hearing ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’. The alpacas, Clause and Columbus, have better manners than their long-faced llama cousins, who have a tendency to spit. Farm events include crafting and exercise boot camps (for humans) and agility classes (for dogs). 

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Things to do

Kentish Town City Farm

icon-location-pin Kentish Town

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. 

Attractions, Farms

Spitalfields City Farm

icon-location-pin Bethnal Green

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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Attractions, Farms

Vauxhall City Farm

icon-location-pin Vauxhall

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. 

See more city farms in London

Spend time in the great outdoors

Attractions, Zoos and aquariums

Battersea Park

icon-location-pin Battersea

The park's adventure playground is superb, with plenty of original and imaginatively-built features. The climbing structures, slides and high climbing nets present unusual challenges for children aged 5+, and there's a separate area for younger kids too.

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Brockwell Park

icon-location-pin Herne Hill

The playground in Brockwell Park is a favourite, with its aerial slide, massive sandpit and sections for different age groups; nearby are the duck ponds and the huge new paddling pool. A revamp is due to continue anytime soon.

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AT_camleystreetnaturalpark_CREDIT_Jonathan Perugia.jpg
© Jonathan Perugia
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Camley Street Natural Park

icon-location-pin King's Cross

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.

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Coram's Fields

icon-location-pin Bloomsbury

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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Crystal Palace Park dinosaur
© Chris Waywell
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Crystal Palace Park

icon-location-pin Crystal Palace

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.

Kids, Playgrounds

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground

icon-location-pin Knightsbridge

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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finsbury park boating lake
© Stephen McKay
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Finsbury Park

icon-location-pin Brownswood Park

The children's playground here will keep kids amused for hours. There are fast slides going into the sandpit and really tricky climbing equipment to challenge older children, plus lots for toddlers to enjoy. Kids of all ages also love the enormous wooden structure adjacent to the playground.

Glamis Adventure Playground
© Glamis Adventure Playground
Kids, Playgrounds

Glamis Adventure Playground

icon-location-pin Shadwell

The idea behind this community project was to create a space where children can take controlled risks while they are playing – and Glamis Adventure Playground must be one of the few playgrounds in the country where children are actively encouraged to build a bonfire. There’s an amazing climbing structure, as well as swings and slides, and a vegetable garden to get grubby in.

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AT_CanadaGoose_Credit_ElanFleisher_TOpic.jpg
© Elan Fleisher
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park

icon-location-pin Greenwich Peninsula

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.

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Highbury Fields

icon-location-pin Highbury

The children's playground at Highbury Fields in Islington is popular, combining old-fashioned thrills (such as a circular train requiring Flintstones-style propulsion, and an excitingly long, steep slide) with more recent additions, such as the flying fox and giant, web-like climbing frames.

Find more things to do with kids outside
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