Things to do in London when you're young
August 7, 2019 12:02 AM   Subscribe

My two kids (5 and 8) and I will be house-sitting in London this weekend coming. Any recommendations for cheapish / low queuing stuff to do?

As a starting point the London Eye has been suggested (a possibility), and the 5 y.o. would like to see the queen (probably not).

What have you personally found to be popular with young ones?
posted by Kiwi to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Transport Museum is usually a hit with kids; if the weather is up to it then the Princess Diana playground is also good (and free). If the Eye trip doesn’t work out then you could try the Dangleway (“Emirates Air Line”, ie the cable car in Greenwich) which is cheaper and not far from the Maritime Museum and Cutty Sark. The Science/NH museums are great for kids but will probably be busy at the weekend; same goes for the Horniman museum out East.
posted by doop at 12:23 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]

The Tower has a lot of neat things for little people including a kids program and actors in historical costumes but is not free and likely to be busy. It would probably be as close to the queen as you can get though with being a historic palace, the site where a bunch of queens lost their heads and where the crown jewels live.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:34 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

Greenwich is not a bad destination for a day out with kids - there's the park which has deer, and a big play area + Cutty Sark is impressive from the outside without paying to go in. You also have two good transport options - DLR, which will take you through the skyscraper landscape of Docklands (impressiveness factor may depend on how used the kids are to tall buildings and elevated railways), or boat ride on the Thames.
posted by crocomancer at 1:45 AM on August 7

*Horniman is South.

How about the V&A Children's Museum (free) in Bethnal Green? It's a little off the beaten track so could be quieter.

Queen: take a walk past Buckingham Palace, wave and then go pelican spotting in St James' park.
posted by teststrip at 1:53 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

Brass rubbing. There's a place in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields (it's through the gift shop, or it was).

Five might be a little young for producing something that isn't comical, depending on their motor skills/patience, but that doesn't really matter. My brother and I thought brass rubbing was super cool at about that age, but we did grow up in a house with a full-size brass rubbing hanging in the hallway (which we're both attached to--I think my mom has tried to ditch it when moving and we've insisted she keep it, though I think it's rolled up in a closet now).
posted by hoyland at 2:53 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

I second the Transport Museum-- every kid I've ever taken there has loved it. At some times of day it may have a queue to get tickets although it tends to move reasonably quickly.

I also second the Princess Diana Playground, which is one of the best playgrounds in the world. It is free but when it gets crowded, there can be a queue to get in. On the plus side, if the queue is too long, you can just play in Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens. If you do go to the Diana playground, come prepared for wet/sandy play-- bring a change of clothes and maybe some sand toys.

Another possibility: the Tate Modern. It's free to get in, and there's a huge main hall that kids seem to love running around. There are also a various kid-friendly activities associated with various exhibits.

And just in general-- pretty much any of London's parks are lovely to wander around, with plenty of birds to feed. (But please bring something appropriate to feed them.)
posted by yankeefog at 4:58 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

This weekend is warm. If you're on the South Bank, the kids will love the Appearing Rooms fountain, which has become a regular summer thing. Best to take a change of clothes.

Plenty of other things to do on the South Bank too, if the tide's out there's even a small beach at Gabriel's Wharf. And there's a food market behind the Royal Festival Hall. Be warned, London Eye is expensive and involves queuing.

My favourite thing with our children are the museums around South Kensington: Science Museum, Natural History Museum and V&A Museum are all within a block of each other, and all are free entry (donation optional) and wonderful. NHM usually has a queue on weekends of about 20mins and the dinosaurs always has a massive queue, so ignore that. The Investigate centre in the basement of the NHM is hands-on with artifacts, microscopes provided, and also free - we often spend hours there.

From there it's possible to walk to aforementioned Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park in about half an hour. (It sometimes has a queue to get in.) Or closer is the Diana Memorial Fountain, which is also fun for kids (take a change of clothes.)
posted by snarfois at 5:59 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

The London Eye is neither cheap nor low-queueing.

Some things that are include Kew Gardens and the nearby Musical Museum. You can easily spend an entire day there for the cost of tube tickets, lunch and, if you visit the museum, £22.00 for the three of you.
posted by ubiquity at 7:23 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

2nding Greenwich. The Maritime Museum kept our young visitors amused for a couple of hours. You can get a Thames Clipper out there.

I like the Aquarium but it’s not cheap and the queues can be bad. Tower also requires a little forward planning but is doable and family tickets are quite reasonable. Was surprised by how into the Crown Jewels the kids were. Who knew?
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 11:33 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

I like the river bus from Westminster Pier (by Big Ben) to the Tower of London. It's priced like transportation and provides good entertainment as the captain always points out the sites over the speaker system as you go. Then you can do the Tower, if in the mood.

I also like Forbidden Planet, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue (if the kids like comic books, sci-fi).

Going to Trafalgar Square and then strolling to Buckingham Palace is always nice. You can pop into the park there along the Mall on the way, feed the ducks.

The London Eye is kind of crap and expensive.
posted by w0mbat at 11:47 AM on August 7

My kid really likes Harry Potter, so Platform 9 3/4 (which has a great gift shop) at Kings Cross station was one of her faves.
She also liked wandering Primrose Hill, where they filmed the Paddington movies.
posted by w0mbat at 11:52 AM on August 7

Super cheap and easy is just riding the regular double decker bus, especially if you can snag the front seats with the giant windows, though anywhere on the second level is always enjoyable with kids. £1.50 for adult and kids are free. London Eye will have huge queues, but other fun attractions are always on the South Bank for free (jugglers, dancers, etc.) plus a carousel (a few quid) and other stuff in summer usually. Lots of kid-friendly restaurants, looking for glass/screws/bones/etc on the shores of the Thames, and the Tate Modern is a bit of a walk further down. As above, the Tate Modern has a huge hall that kids like playing in and awesome modern art installations that are fun for little ones to look at. (And grown-ups, too). Greenwich is also fun and you can take the river boat there, but it is quite a walk up the hill to the museum, may be a bit much for te 5 year old? And then you’re just in Greenwich, which can be a bit busy and touristy, but nice if you like maritime stuff. Tower of London is also cool but expensive, though you can walk around it and across the bridge for free.

Kew is very pretty and has a new kids garden, but I believe the admission price is fairly high. It’s also a bit of a tube ride west, so might feel far depending on where you’re staying.

British Museum is also always a hit, especially the mummies, but is a bit isolated in Bloomsbury/Fitzrovia.

Other popular but not particularly London-y things would be to go to the LEGO store and M&M store in Leicester Square for treats and then wander to the National Gallery and National Portrait gallery (those these are often less of a draw for little ones, depending on your kiddos).

If your kid really wants to see the queen, you can go to Hamley’s (The giant toy store on Regent Street) and take a picture with Her Majesty’s likeness in Lego...
posted by stillmoving at 12:04 PM on August 7

I don't know -- I didn't love the Transport Museum with my kids. There's not enough to climb on (rather than just look at) and it was packed when I went. And it's not cheap -- though the ticket lasts a year (which is no good if you're just visiting.)

The V&A is not off the beaten path, but they have lovely, not-crowded art sessions for kids on Sundays. It is my favorite museum for kids. It's free, too. (I really dislike the Museum of History and the Museum of Science-- perhaps I am weird, but they are so crowded and overwhelming that we all come out exhausted.) My kids also had a blast at the Portrait Gallery, where they give you these little packs of paper and crayons to sketch the portraits. (My daughter thought hers was going on the wall, too!) In general, I've found that museums people think of for adults actually have lovely, low-key things for kids to do, and museums for kids are aggravating and overly crowded.

Might I also suggest the Postal Museum? There is an amazing ride on the Mail Train that used to run under London -- highly underrated museum.

There's an app called Hoop that gives details of what's going on for kids on any given day in London as well.
posted by heavenknows at 3:37 PM on August 7

Thanks for the advice everyone.

We kept it simple and wandered around Trafalgar Square (lots of buskers to look at) and then the guards outside Buckingham Palace. Seemed to tick the boxes, and a mere sighting of the London Eye from afar seemed to satisfy as well.

Its interesting looking at the place through kids' eyes. Just the general stuff like the tube, long escalators etc. seemed fascinating. We'll do it again soon, hopefully taking some of the the galleries.
posted by Kiwi at 5:31 AM on August 12

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