Explore a child-friendly free museum
Housed in a set of 18th-century almshouses, the Geffrye Museum offers a vivid physical history of the English interior. There are free art, design, craft and baking workshops on offer for children and young people aged 2-16 every day of the October, February and summer half-terms, and on selected days during the Easter and Summer Holidays. There are also family-friendly audio tours and other activities – such as book-swaps – available during half-terms and at weekends. And if the weather's good, don't forget to bring a picnic to enjoy in the gloriously green gardens.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Discover the fun of the farm
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Spend time in the great outdoors
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.