21 different things to do in London for toddlers
By Helen Wright
As a mum who lives in London with two kids under four, I’m almost constantly searching for things to do in London for toddlers. If you’re planning on exploring for the first time with little ones, it makes sense to have a plan for your visit. However, don’t worry for a second there will be nothing to do in London with toddlers, the city is a literal wonderland for kids and I often think that it’s children under five who enjoy it the most.
I love London and falling in love with the city again through the eyes of my children, Finn (4), and Isobel (1), has been one of the greatest joys of parenting. Exploring with them has made me realise there are curious and exciting things hidden in plain sight almost everywhere you go. From big buses to flashing lights, sounds and smells, people and places; there really are so many things to do in London for toddlers and – the best bit – if you don’t want to splash the cash, you can probably keep them entertained all week hardly spending any money!
What is there to do in London for toddlers?
Any guidebook will direct you to the major London family attractions but it’s hard to tell what’s worth paying (or battling the crowds) for. I’m sure the zoo or aquarium will be fun, but if you want a real experience of London with kids, head to attractions that are unique to this city and you wont be disappointed.
On this list, I have put together 21 of my favourite free (or free-ish) things to do in London for toddlers and you might be surprised to find how much fun you can have while spending very little. At the end, I have listed attractions that do have an entry fee, with a little bit on why I think these are the best places to go in London with toddlers.
Most importantly, despite the city being busy and hectic, the places suggested here I have always found safe and stress-free when visiting with kids. You will never be short of somewhere to use the toilet or change a nappy, find some food and drink or just sit down and have a rest. Plus, virtually all of London’s pubs welcome kids during the day, so if the mini members of the family want some down time (or, even better, a nap) you might even get the opportunity to enjoy a British pint! Enjoy!
21 free things to do in London for toddlers
Play on the Public Transport
Tubes and buses and trains OH MY! I’ve yet to find a toddler who isn’t fascinated by fun and colourful vehicles, and London’s extensive transport network has them in abundance. However, instead of seeing them parked in a museum, big red buses are a way of life here in London and you can pretty much take one to anywhere you want to go.
Even though the buses pass by our street 24-hours a day, Finn never gets bored of riding the double decker buses. He loves to sit upstairs at the front, pretending to drive – which also happens to be the seat with the best view of the city too. Buses in London are all accessible, so you can board the bus without taking your baby or toddler out of the pram. However, only two pushchairs are allowed on each bus at a time and if a wheelchair-user requests to board the bus, you do have to disembark to make space for them, as less-abled users have priority. If this happens, you can ask the driver for a ‘transfer ticket’ so you don’t have to pay again on the bus behind. TIP: You must tap on to the bus with your card or Oyster card, but you don’t have to tap again when you get off.
Bus stops in London are actually really easy to use. The bus stop tells you the direction the bus will be going and lists the places it will stop on route. Bus stops are organised into little clusters, so most buses that serve that bus stop will be going in the same direction.
For almost all pubic transport in London (bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail services*, Emirates Air Line and River Bus – but not National Rail) you can use a contactless payment card or device. The best way to travel around London used to be with a one-day-travelcard, but now it is officially cheaper and more convenient to use contactless, which is spending-capped at the maximum price for the services you use. How this works and other ticket options are fully explained at tfl.gov.uk/fares
‘DRIVING’ THE DLR – FREE FUN IN LONDON FOR TODDLERS
The other fun transport option you can pretend to ‘drive’ in London is the DLR (Docklands Light Railway). This is primarily a commuter service taking you through inner-city residential areas of London and the financial area around Canary Wharf, but it also serves London City Airport. You can board the DLR in Central London (at Tower Bridge and Bank) and it’s so much fun to ride because the electronic, driverless trains allow you to literally sit where a driver would be, if there was one.
A word of caution, we’ve never had any issues playing trains on the DLR, but unless you are familiar with London, I wouldn’t recommend getting off and exploring many of the areas along the line as they aren’t particularly tourist-friendly. There are a few exceptions (such as the Cutty Sark and Royal Victoria), but the fun of the DLR is riding it up and down, so your little one won’t want to get off anyway.
Emirates Air Line Cable Car
A fun and cheap way to see London from the sky is on the Emirates Air Line. These enclosed cable cars cross the River Thames from Royal Victoria Dock to North Greenwich (home of the O2). You can buy an individual fare (£4.50 adults, £2.30 kids) one way or pay with an Oyster card with a £1 discount.
Be aware that, for this fun thing to do in London with toddlers, you would be visiting just to ride the cable car. There isn’t really much to do on either side of the Air Line, but on the Greenwich side, there are multiple restaurants and shops as well as a playground and open spaces for burning off energy. From here, North Greenwich tube station will take you back into town on the London Underground Jubilee Line.
Using tHE TUBE in London with toddlers
Using the tube in London with toddlers is a quick and efficient way to get around town and fit in as much as possible during your visit. If you’ve never been on the London Underground with kids before, it’s normal to feel apprehensive, but travelling on the Tube is actually a lot of fun with young children.
It goes without saying but it’s easier to travel by Tube if you don’t have a pushchair. It can get busy and many stations or interchanges don’t have accessible platforms with ramps and lifts, so you may encounter stairs and, almost certainly, escalators. However, we know that if you want to stay out all day with toddlers in London, you will need somewhere for little legs to rest or nap. Roughly plan your journey in advance if you can. Look on the London Underground map for the wheelchair symbol which indicates step-free access from platform to street and the Mumderground App is also a helpful resource for travelling on the tube with a buggy.
I travel with my pushchair on the tube a lot and I suggest investing in a lightweight pram that you can lift by yourself. Smaller, narrow prams work best on the tube as they take up less space when it’s busy and are often more agile. We use the GB Pocket, find out more about it on our post about essential items for travelling with kids (opens in a new tab). Travel with a backpack and leave space for extra things you might pick up along the way. A pram with loads of bags and toys hanging off of it is less easy to manoeuvre and adds a higher risk of tipping backwards. Remember, your toddler won’t need extra toys to keep their attention, there will be plenty going on around them to keep them entertained.
In my experience, someone will offer to help carry your pushchair up the stairs 99% of the time on the Underground and, sorry to the guys, but 75% of the time it will be a woman… There have been small flights of stairs (8-10 steps) where I’ve had to carry them and that’s why a lightweight pram is best for toddlers in London. However, on the escalator, I always take them out of the pushchair and hold on to them. I think this is the safest way. I feel better if I know I have a hold of them.
Back Carriers, like the Phil and Ted’s Parade Carrier are also ideal for exploring London with toddlers and travelling on the tube. I definitely don’t recommend toddler reins which can be a hazard to other people and get easily tangled up. Plus, during busy times, having your little one walking between lots of frantic adult legs is not a good idea.
Places to go in London for toddlers
Horse Guards Parade / Buckingham Palace
If you are looking for a totally London experience, it doesn’t get more British than Changing the Guard at Horse Guards Parade and Buckingham Palace. The showcase features all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men (okay, not all of them) in full pomp performing one of the oldest and most famous royal ceremonies.
The event, which is free, is not usually too crowded and minimal fences mean toddlers get a really good view of the action without you having to hold them. The ceremonies aren’t usually overcrowded so there is a space for social distancing. There are two Guard Changes to choose from; one is outside Buckingham Palace at 11am (daily during April – July and alternate days thereafter). The other is at Horse Guards Arch at Horse Guards Parade by Whitehall at 11am (10am on Sundays). Check the weather – neither ceremony takes place when it’s raining. Dates and schedules can be found at royalparks.org.uk
The Barbican is an arts and performing arts space in the City of London, best known for its classical music concertos. It may seem an unlikely place to go with toddlers in London, but I actually spend a lot of time there with mine. As well as the concert hall, the centre hosts modern art exhibitions and they are often very toddler friendly. From light and sound instillations to a retro toy exhibit, the Barbican is a low-key (and not too serious/snobby) place to introduce younger children to artistic works.
There is also a morning sensory soft play and a rooftop forest in the conservatory, which is the perfect place to let their imagination run wild (and play hide and seek). Even if the conservatory is closed (it closes to the public for private events), once, Finn and I spent two hours there just running around the halls, going up and down in the lifts and exploring the Barbican High Walk – a series of above ground walkways (pedways) that were integral to the original design of the Barbican and serve as safe and fun places to explore with under-5s. The Barbican was built in the 70s and is one of the city’s best examples of Brutalist architecture. You may think this is uninteresting to your toddler – but try taking them into the cool ‘spaceship’ toilets and watch their reaction.
The centre’s casual restaurant (Barbican Kitchen) has indoor and outdoor seating, buffet style and a-la-carte choices. Plus, at specified times, kids eat free! The outdoor space is wonderful in the summer, but make sure you don’t leave without having a delicious ice cream from the dessert bar. *Important: they also serve wine.
The Tate Modern
Like The Barbican, the Tate Modern is a modern art space that allows for the noise and energy of toddlers. The main atrium itself is the perfect space for children to explore with a long, colourful ramp and toweringly high industrial ceilings. There is usually an open, tangible exhibit on in the main space designed for visitors of all ages. The gallery recently had a whole room of different swings, so that was a hit with Finn and his cousins!
There are also child-friendly smaller exhibits, but kids aren’t really supposed to run around too wildly in those. Sometimes I go just to browse the excellent gift shop, which has a brilliant choice of children’s books, toys and gifts. Outside, crossing the Millennium Bridge (which connects the Tate Modern to St Paul’s) is also popular with my kids and you can take in great views of the city and Tower Bridge from there.
Bridges and boats
Entertaining toddlers in London is so easy to do without spending much money. Of course, along the River Thames there is a huge choice of paid-for attractions, such as The London Eye, London Aquarium and the Tower of London, but the under-fives are equally entertained wandering the riverside and absorbing the everyday surroundings.
The London skyline looks incredible from the water. One way to enjoy it without spending too much on a guided tour (and with the option to disembark if your toddler gets bored) is the Thames Clipper River Bus. The Clipper acts as a commuter service along the Thames from Battersea Power Station to North Greenwich and serves many of London’s major points. There is a café and bar on board and you can sit inside or outside. thamesclippers.com
The Thames isn’t the only scenic waterway in London. You can also enjoy a stroll along the Regent’s Canal which runs through Paddington, Little Venice, Camden, St Pancras and Angel, Islington. Along the canal you will encounter playgrounds, shops, cafes and pubs, galleries, dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, paddle-boarders, street performers and pop-up markets. In fact, exploring the canal offers an authentic look at life for London’s residents (and their children). Be careful along the canal, apart from the obvious hazard of your toddler falling in the water, you’ll find yourself dodging bikes, skateboarders and small crowds during busy periods. Don’t be put off; the canal is generally very family friendly (we walk it every day) and it’s worth noting that if anyone does fall in, it’s likely they will be able to stand up because the water is only around 3ft deep).
Another way to enjoy the water is on one of the many narrow boats that cruise the Regent’s Canal. In my experience, short and sweet tours (30 mins max) work best in London with toddlers, as there isn’t much room inside the boats and you are asked to stay seated inside. We often do the cruise from St Pancras to Angel via the Islington tunnel and Finn loves it.
Granary Square is a relatively new area of London, but it is growing in popularity and it’s easy to see why. The huge open-plan space sits along the Regent’s Canal behind King’s Cross and offers something for everyone. Expect local food markets, street performers, pop-up art installations and families and friends having picnics, riding bikes and enjoying life.
The main attraction for toddlers is the dancing floor fountains at Granary Square. They can run, jump, play and dodge the zany water jets, as parents sit around the edge staying dry and enjoying a coffee or glass of fizz from one of the nearby bars. We love it here and even in winter, the atmosphere is always buzzing. Of course, summer is the best with toddlers essentially entertained all day while you soak up the sun. Nearby is a huge choice of fast food, street food, sit-down restaurants and pubs to keep everyone fed and watered too.
While you’re in the area, it’s also worth having a walk through the light tunnel which joins Kings Cross and St Pancras stations to the social area of Granary Square. The curved tunnel features a wall of LED lights and will definitely capture the attention of your mini explorers.
Platform 9 3/4
There is so much to do in this area and another quirky little thing to check out is the ‘magic’ wall leading to platform 9 ¾, made famous in the Harry Potter books and films. Inside King’s Cross station is a mock up photo wall featuring a luggage cart disappearing into the wall where the Hogwarts Express is waiting to whisk you to Hogsmeade. Potter fans can pose for the perfect Muggle selfie as they travel ‘through’ the wall. If you’re in the area early, hit this spot first because it is not unusual to see a line of people waiting to get their picture.
If you’re not used to city life and think it might be overwhelming for your toddler, a wander around London’s residential areas will be undercover a surprising amount of green spaces, such as playgrounds, urban gardens and community gardens and allotments where the public are welcome to enter and enjoy. On writing this post, I searched for a resource that might list all the gardens but I couldn’t find one. I guess the magic of them being ‘secret’ is getting to discover them yourself. Trust me, they’re there.
Speaking of gardens, I wanted to pop in a quick mention for the Sky Garden, a rooftop, indoor conservatory on the 43rd floor of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building, which is nicknamed after its quirky shape. The garden and viewing gallery are both free to visit and offer panoramic views over London from the open atrium. It’s quite spectacular and exciting for both adults and little ones to see London’s skyline from above. There is a slightly spendy café and bar at the top and plenty of space to sit and enjoy the view with a drink and a slice of cake. There is no charge to enter but tickets still have be booked in advance at skygarden.london/
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The area that was once home to the 2020 Olympics has been redeveloped into an epic outdoor space to be enjoyed by all ages. If you are looking for things to do in London with toddlers, this area is definitely worth a consideration. As well as the massive Westfield Stratford Shopping Centre (which has excellent baby and child facilities, such as huge baby changing and nursing rooms, microwaves to heat milk and a varied choice of dining options), the clever surrounding areas of the Olympic Park are an exciting place to go exploring.
There are two major playgrounds in the park; Tumbling Bay Playground and the Pleasure Gardens. Tumbling Bay is cleverly woven into the nature of the park and has water features, rock pools, sand pits, tree houses and wobbly bridges, alongside the traditional slides, swings and rockers. The Pleasure Gardens playground has a giant red climbing wall (although maybe too advanced for toddlers), oversized slides, swings and a huge sand pit.
Both playgrounds are perfect for combining with a visit to Westfield (or the Discover Children’s Story Centre below) and if you do decide to go for a ‘drive’ on the DLR (above), which conveniently stops at Stratford International Station.
Street art spotting in London with toddlers
When the weather is nice, another uniquely London activity is a wander around the city’s cooler areas, looking out for colourful street art. Technically, urban street art is ‘illegal’ but the artistic works have become such a part of London’s identity, they are celebrated as a part of the city’s personality. Finn is quite taken by the drawings and rainbow colours and he gets excited spotting smaller, lower down ones that I haven’t seen.
The best area to see an abundance of striking street art without too much walking for little legs is East London, and in particular, Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Hackney. But you will also see some expressive art in Camden and along the South Bank. The closest Tube stations to Shoreditch and Brick Lane are Liverpool Street and Shoreditch High Street.
I think exposing children to urban street art is fantastic for encouraging creativity and imagination. It might not be something they learn about in nursery or in the area where you live, plus it also passes on the message that art doesn’t have to be neat and tidy, confined to frames and quiet galleries (or over nanny’s mantle piece). If you’re really organised you could pack some chalk and encourage them to paint their own mural on the ground and see if the graffiti art has inspired their artistic expression.
In practical terms, these areas are packed with cafes, street food and fast food options, so you won’t be short of somewhere to sit and have lunch – and you can bet it will be pretty tasty too. It can get busy though, so keep eyes on your toddler at all time. You don’t want them to get lost in a sea of hipster legs.
The Science Museum
One of the better known and more popular tourist attractions to visit in London with toddlers, but deemed worthy of this list because it offers so much. Like the Natural History Museum (which is also fantastic, especially if your little ones love dinosaurs like mine do), the Science Museum is free to enter and absolutely brilliant.
I have chosen the Science Museum because many parents think this attraction is better for older kids, but Finn has loved it there since he was 18-months old. He is fascinated by the permanent Modern World, Space and Flight exhibits with moving planets, giant planes and vehicles to explore and flashing gadgets that make noise and move – basically all the things he isn’t allowed to play with at home! There are also two areas which are ideal for toddlers; the Pattern Pod (a multi-sensory, interactive area following patterns and shapes) and The Garden (an indoor, crazy space, perfect for crawling and toddling, incorporating soft play, toys and water features as well as live performances. When it’s raining, the Science Museum is our go-to to spend the whole day playing and I have as much fun as they do!
Top tip: If your toddler does nap in the buggy, use the time to wander the more sophisticated exhibitions. I recommended; ‘The Secret Life of the Home,’ which is ace and the fascinating Medicine gallery, that is creepy but mind-bending.
More things to do in London for toddlers (that won’t blow the budget)
Aside from the cost of your travel, everything I’ve covered so far will keep your toddler busy in London while spending hardly any cash! Pretty handy, hey? If you are finding this post helpful for planning your trip, give us a follow on social media! Your support on Facebook and Instagram helps keep our blog up and running.
There are so many things to do when visiting London with toddlers, however not all of them are worth the mammoth admission charge required. The five places below are attractions that have a reasonable entry fee. We love them and my children never seem to get bored going, no matter how many times we go.
The Mail Rail
This new attraction in London has a good dose of history and adventure, ideal for toddlers. The one hundred-year-old Post Office railway, transported mail under the streets of London from 1927 to 2003. Now, it’s a modern, interactive museum which tells the story of mail and the importance of the postal service (bear with me here) before a ride on a miniature train through the original tunnels.
Despite, what seems like a dull theme for a museum, the Postal Museum is so much fun. I learned a lot myself, and toddlers love the moving exhibits, vehicles and activities. There is also a small soft play, free of charge. Plus, the train is actually very exciting. However, the train carriages are really small, so if you don’t like confined spaces, it might not be for you. Adults, £25, Children 3-15 yrs, £9, Under 3s, Free. postalmuseum.org
Discover Children’s Centre, Stratford
This is our favourite place in London for toddlers. Located at Stratford, close to Westfield and the Olympic Park (and easily assessable by Tube, Overground and bus), the Discover Children’s Centre is really wonderful. The attraction celebrates children’s books, bringing them to life in an interactive setting.
The pop-up exhibits change seasonally, but are always well appointed and colourful. Kids from eight months to 7 love it. The first time we went, it was an exhibition of The Tiger Who Came To Tea (Finn’s favourite). He was absolutely thrilled to meet the tiger. After a live storytelling, the kids are invited into the storyzone, where they can play in mocked up rooms, designed around their favourite books.
Upstairs there is an indoor sensory playground, an outdoor playground and a great little bookshop. Allow 2-3 hours for your visit and enjoy as much as possible. Entry for ages 2+, £6.50, One-year-olds, £1. Under 1s, free. discover.org.uk
Hamley’s Toy Shop – the dream destination in London for toddlers
OK, so this is a free and fun place to go in London with toddlers if you don’t buy them anything… I wanted to include it because, sometimes (usually if it’s raining), we go for a ride on the bus and end up at Hamley’s Toy Shop on Regent Street to go for a little play. More than a toyshop, historic Hamley’s is seven floors of kid paradise, including an entire Lego floor.
There are usually performers, magicians or staff on each floor demonstrating the gadgets and toys. There are life-sized models of toddler favourites, such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig and Star Wars. Toys are available to play with and there are some fun, interactive elements too. We can kill hours playing at Hamley’s, but be warned, it’s rare we come away without buying something…
London Transport Museum
This museum gets our vote for two reasons – it’s uniquely London and kids go free! As you probably guessed, my kids love transport and so this was going to be a winner with them anyway, but the museum is brilliantly curated with some top features for toddlers. My favourite is the Tube train driver simulator (you’re never too old to get excited about driving a train!). There is also an interactive soft play, lots of shiny buses, trams and trains to look at, scheduled touch and feel sessions, and sing and story time with in-house educators. For children with heightened needs, they also do SEN sessions at the London Transport Museum, with the sounds turned down low.
Adult entry, £18.50. Kids under 16 Free. ltmuseum.co.uk
Epping Ongar Railway
This one is on the edge on London, at the end of the Central Line but a fun ride out on the Tube takes you back in time – literally. This heritage railway is the closest of its kind to central London and has working wartime buses, steam trains and classic diesels. A bright red Routemaster picks you up at Epping Station and takes you on a ride back to wartime England. This is a good choice if you have extra time and want a little break from the intense city environment, and of course, if your kids love trains! Adult, £13, Children, £7, Family ticket £38 eorailway.co.uk
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