London is such a lovely place for a family city break year-round. And as you can just as easily wake up to a beautiful sun-painted day in London in mid-January as in mid-June, winter is as good a time as any to visit. If you come in winter you’ll expect it to be cold and maybe rainy — those sunny days are a bonus. Fortunately, regardless of weather, there are many family-friendly things to do in London in winter.
Because the weather here is so unpredictable, there are plenty of things to do with children in London, rain or shine. South Kensington tube station is the first place I’d head if it looks like a storm is brewing. This station is linked to an underground walkway that will take you practically to the door of the Science, Natural History and Victoria & Albert museums, which are all among our favorite museums in London. Should the weather improve later in the day, you’ll be well located to play at Hyde Park, enjoy its Winter Wonderland at Christmas, or even pop into one of London’s famous department stores, Harrods.
When a museum website has a “Plan Your Visit” page that’s divided up by age groups, from 3 years old on, you know that the whole family is in for a treat. I’m going to tease you by passing you on to the very informative website for the specifics, but you could easily spend the whole day here and still not have seen or done everything you wanted to do.
If dinosaurs are popular in your house, this place will be right up your street. Some of the animatronic dinosaurs can be pretty scary, so you might want to prep the little ones first. For slightly older kids there’s the earthquake zone, where you can really feel the earth move, and the museum’s hands-on science centre, where over-7s can handle some of the animal, plant and geological treasures in the museum’s collections. During the festive period around Christmas, you’ll find a lovely ice rink (one of several ice skating rinks around central London in the winter) in front of the museum to enjoy.
Like the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert museum (or the V&A, as it’s known), is housed in a beautiful building — the sort that makes you crane your neck up and drop your mouth open. And inside it’s just as awe-inspiring. This treasure trove of art and design used to be all about staring at the contents of glass cabinets, but they have done a lot of work recently on bringing these artifacts to life and getting children and young people interested in what’s on offer. You can borrow a backpack to imagine that you are a time traveller or an Indian emperor; become a design detective at the drop-in design centre; or take the Tudor or Silver Trail. Great stuff, but best for kids over 5.
If you’re all museumed out, consider a show. Many central London theatres put on family or child-oriented shows regularly. For a list of the latest productions, visit the Official London Theatre website. The Unicorn is a purpose-built children’s theatre centre by London Bridge which has a great, ever-changing selection of shows.
At the Sealife London Aquarium, kids can walk through the tank of sharks, help feed the rays and meet the dwarf crocodiles. If you don’t book in advance, be prepared for a long wait in the booking hall, however.
Just opposite the aquarium on London’s Southbank Centre is the London Eye. Board a pod to see London as a tiny toy-town world. Again it’s worth booking in advance online. During Christmas, there’s a fun Christmas market along this stretch of the Thames. Pick up a mulled wine to sip as you watch the kids enjoy the carousel and street performers.
Once you’ve seen the city from above, you can admire it from the river with a London Eye River Cruise. In just 40 minutes you get to see Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, perfect for little people’s short attention spans. Or you could travel down the river like a local on the London Transport River Boat service, which has a stop by the London Eye. This will take you down to London Docklands and Greenwich, two more must-sees.
If you’re lucky enough to be in London before or around Christmas, you’re in for a treat, as the main areas for Christmas shopping will be strung up with thousands of sparkling Christmas lights. Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Covent Garden are all favorite stops. Give the kids a bit of spending money to enjoy at Hamleys, the famous London toy store.
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