Central London for families: Best days out around the city
London is a great place for a family day out at any time of year. The capital is home to world-class museums and attractions and hosts a multitude of festivals and celebrations. We love visiting London, and often go there for day trips during the school holidays. Here are some of our favourite family days out around the city.
Parked in the middle of Covent Garden, the London Transport Museum is full of hands-on exhibits. It shows the development of public transport in the capital, from sedan chairs right up to the Emirates Air Line cable car. Kids get in for free and are issued a card on arrival to follow a ‘stamper trail’ around the museum. The gift shop has some very cool merchandise, and you can check out the shops, cafes and street entertainers in vibrant Covent Garden while you're there. We’ve yet to know a child who can resist the flamboyant street performers or a tasty milkshake while walking around.
This palace has been a royal residence since 1689 and is the current London home of the Cambridges. Half of the palace is open to the public to visit, and it hosts some great interactive exhibitions. On a trip there with eight kids we had a fun time learning to dance like debutantes by following footprints on the floor. There are some beautiful outfits on display, such as Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, and you can also see the dolls house that she played with as a child. Kids go free, there’s a family trail and, on certain dates, family activities on offer. The Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground in nearby Kensington Gardens is an excellent place to let off steam.
3. HMS Belfast
HMS Belfast is a former WWII warship which is now permanently moored on the Thames as a museum ship. There’s a family audio tour to help you explore the ship’s nine decks and to imagine what life was like for the sailors who lived on board. It’s fascinating to see the different areas of the ship - and exciting to climb up and sit in the captain’s chair on the bridge and pretend that you’re in charge. If you go, see if you can spot the ship’s cat amongst the hammocks in the sailors’ sleeping quarters. The Queen's Walk, London, SE1 2JH www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast
The Shard is Western Europe’s tallest building, and at 310 metres high, the View from The Shard is London’s highest viewing platform. The viewing area has some brilliant interactive telescopes, which give you information about points of interest as you’re looking at them. Ticket entry is timed, but (although there’s nowhere to sit down apart from the floor) you can stay as long as you like once you’re inside.
The museum tells the story of life and the earth, and is home to more than 80 million specimens, spanning millions of years. If there’s a queue to get in, the exterior of the Victorian museum building is fascinating to look at - it’s decorated with marvellous terracotta animals and plants. Inside, there are entire galleries of dinosaurs, mammals and insects to explore, as well as exhibitions about rocks and minerals, volcanoes, earthquakes and more. Our favourite section is the room where you experience a simulated earthquake in a Japanese supermarket. Entry to the museum is free.
6. Muggle Tours
For Harry Potter fans, Muggle Tours are a brilliant way to see some London highlights. The walking tours start by London Bridge, and take in areas which were used as Harry Potter filming locations or which inspired author J.K. Rowling. The tour guides share intriguing background details about the famous books and films, as well as information about London’s history - and they also perform some magic tricks along the way. We really enjoyed this tour and would definitely go again. Tours last around two and a half hours.
Showcasing scientific, medical and technological achievements from around the world, the museum has more than 15,000 objects on display, from steam engines to space ships, computers to fighter planes. The Apollo 10 command capsule is a highlight: it went around the moon in 1969 and is astonishing to see today, because it looks so small. There are some excellent interactive exhibits at the museum, particularly in the Wellcome Wing. Entry to the museum is free.
Actually a castle of 22 towers, the Tower of London is home to the Crown Jewels and is guarded by Beefeaters (officially known as Yeoman Warders). This royal palace was founded in 1066 and for hundreds of years it was used as a prison for those who had committed treason. Today you can tour the Tower by yourself or with one of the Beefeaters (although we found ours a bit too shouty when we went!). We particularly like the Royal Menagerie exhibition about the exotic animals which lived at the Tower over the centuries. If you go, look out for the resident colony of ravens. EC3N 4AB
I wish that animals could all live in their natural habitats and didn’t need the protection of conservation charities and zoos - but they can’t and they do. London Zoo is run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) charity, which works for the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. There are more than 16,000 animals at the zoo, from gorillas, giraffes and tigers to ants, butterflies and komodo dragons, and we love seeing them them up close and learning about them. My kids particularly enjoy watching the zoo’s resident meerkats.
This place houses more than 700 unusual artefacts from around the world, inspired by the travels and adventures of American cartoonist Robert Ripley. If you’d like to see exhibits such as a stuffed five-legged lamb, a knitted Ferrari, or works of art reproduced in toast, this is the place to come. My highlight is a section of the Berlin Wall, and my son loves the nearby digital graffiti wall where you can create your own art.
There are many, many more marvellous things to do in London with kids - this is just a small selection.