London has a reputation for being an expensive city to visit and yet you can keep the budget under control by focusing on the many free activities available for your family in the city. In South Kensington you can take your pick from the big three museums; the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. They’re all family-friendly and free, and you can combine half a day exploring one of them with another activities, such as a walk in nearby Hyde Park or shopping in Knightsbridge.
London Attractions with Kids: Free Family-Friendly Museums
Best for hands-on activities to suit all ages, from toddlers to teens.
When you walk into the spacious entrance of the Science museum, the first impressions are of space, light and colour. Beside the information desk are touch screens to help plan your visit. On every floor you can find hands on activity areas designed for different age groups and in between plenty of larger exhibits like cars, boats, planes and even a space capsule.
For toddlers there’s The Garden in the basement for fun with water play, climbing and exploring areas, and on the ground Floor, the Pattern Pod is an enclosed area for 5-8 year olds to explore all aspects of pattern and touch. Both have buggy parking areas, cafes and picnic areas nearby, and there are ‘Explainers’ in Orange T-shirts to help you. Launchpad is ideal for 8-14 year olds with two large areas full of hands-on activities to explore how things work and I saw groups of teenagers enjoying the galleries demonstrating how energy affects our lives.
I love the fact that you are allowed to have a picnic in any uncarpeted area throughout the museum, and there are many seating areas near interesting exhibits, for those who can barely sit still long enough to eat their lunch. Pick up a free museum map which indicates the hands-on activity areas. You’ll find several cafes spread throughout the building with high chairs and kids lunch-boxes at £4.75 and there is a large picnic area in the basement as well as other seating throughout the museum. Baby Changing is available in most toilets. Access is easy for pushchairs with ramps and lifts.
Beautiful Victorian building and plenty to keep the young naturalist happy for hours, with excellent childrens’ guides and resources.
The Natural History museum has an imposing frontage with gardens that are used for a popular skating rink in winter. As you enter the full-height entrance hall you’ll be greeted by the huge Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton, and his friends the T-rex and Triceratops are on display in the gallery nearby. At the information desk you can buy discovery guides for £1 on different topics like Primates, Mammals and Minerals to help children get the most out of these galleries. Explorer backpacks on different themes are also available free for younger children containing objects and activity sheets, complete with binoculars and a mini pith helmet to equip the young naturalist.
Younger children will enjoy the activities about the way we’re made in the Human Biology Gallery, the nearby large mammals dominated by the Blue Whale suspended from the ceiling, and the hands-on activities in the Creepy Crawlies Gallery. Older children and teenagers should head for the Red Zone through the Earth Hall into a noisy, bubbling world of volcanoes and the earth being created. In the basement, you can check out the Investigate hands-on science centre for 7-14 year olds, where you can explore the world in more depth using the computers and microscopes.
The free museum map shows the different areas divided into zones by colour and visit planners are on hand to help you get the most from your visit. On the ground floor is a cafe for drinks and cakes, and another self-service restaurant which has kids lunch-boxes from £4.50, as well as child-size portions of hot dishes, with high chairs and milk-warming available. There’s also a large picnic area in the basement. There are unisex baby changing facilities around the museum marked on the map. The side entrance on Cromwell Rd has no steps and is more suitable for buggies. The museum is in a Victorian building with plenty of steps, but most of the galleries are on the ground floor and lifts will take you to the other floors.
Focused on Arts, Crafts, Textiles and Fashion with beautiful objects and sculpture from different eras and parts of the world. It’s less obviously hands-on that the other two museums, but they still make a big effort to keep children interested. Best café of the three museums for food selection, value and beautiful surroundings and great for fashion.
Several family trails can be picked up from the information desk like the new Picnic Party trail inviting families to plan the perfect picnic through South Asia, the Middle East and East Asia and the Silver and Tudor trails will take you into the Silver galleries and the British Galleries which are packed with puzzles, drawings and observation games. There are a few hands-on exhibits which are marked on the museum map and weekends are full of activities on different themes, such as the Emperor’s Party and the Antique Detective, suitable for children aged 5-12. For younger children, there are activity sheets on similar themes, so that all ages can have fun together. In the central courtyard, there’s an outdoor cafe and a shallow pool with water jets, where your kids will have fun dabbling. Check out the Family Events Newsletter for one-off activities and events.
If you have a budding fashionista this is the perfect place, with the permanent fashion galleries and frequent fashion and clothing exhibitions. It’s my favourite to visit with my teenage daughter, but perhaps not so much to keep the tinies involved.
Pick up a free museum map with information on facilities. Baby Changing is available in most toilets, there is an indoor lunch room or the central grassy courtyard for picnics, the café serves children’s meals and has high chairs. As the museum was built over 100 years ago, some routes around the museum have steps not ideal for buggies, and these are marked on the museum map.
Heather Cowper lives with her family in Bristol, England. She caught the travel bug as a child from family camping holidays in Europe and since then has devoted her energy to packing as many holidays as possible in between day job and family life. Heather blogs about the interesting things she sees on her travels around Europe, the World and on her doorstep at Heather on her travels.com.
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