When it comes to visiting London as a family for the first time, it really helps to know the layout of the city and how to make it work for you.
A city of many parts, London broadly divides into four main areas, each with a distinct personality and style. To the West and South-West are the affluent neighbourhoods of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster. The North encompasses the canals and the parklands, as well as Kings Cross St Pancras.
Finally, if you're travelling to London with kids, it's always worth considering staying further afield than Zone 1 - while you might find yourself a little further from the action, you often get larger houses, more space, and a vibrant neighbourhood feel.
This beautiful part of London is a mecca for museums that will engage and delight the little ones. With the Science, Natural History and Victoria & Albert museums all within walking distance of each other, there really is something for everyone.
You’ll find yourself immersed in a world of wonder with the cutting edge exhibits and state of the art technologies on show, whilst enjoying watching your baby-Einsteins, mini-Attenboroughs, and budding Frida Kahlos grow.
Take a break from moulding minds and have a picnic in Hyde Park - the kids can let off some steam and have a paddle in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain (which also happens to be the perfect place to relax your toes after stomping around multiple museums!)
Through the park, you’ll find the Serpentine Gallery for a quick cultural fix and Kensington Palace and gardens where you can explore and complete the family trails - meeting characters from history decked in your very own crown. You can continue through to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, where you’ll come across a huge wooden ship stranded on a beach, alongside sculptures and an adventure playground for your little pirates to conquer.
Another great place for kids in London is Notting Hill. On weekends Portobello market is thronging with people and it is the place to shop til you drop (with loads of great kids boutiques too).
With beautiful green spaces, like Regent’s Park and Hampstead Heath as well as Camden Market on your doorstep, basing your stay up North ain't a bad choice. For the animal lovers in the family, head to London Zoo where the kids can learn about a wonderful array of exotic creatures, habitats and conservation programmes.
There are plenty of activities and shows throughout the day for entertainment including penguin beach and who can resist the monkey house?! And for those tikes that are super keen, you can even be a junior zookeeper for the day, what more can we say?
London Zoo is situated within Regent’s Park and a close walk away from vibrant Camden market, which is great for older kids. Let them wander through the endless stalls, and quirky boutiques and allow them to find their own sense of style - the younger kids will still have fun meandering through the cobbled streets chasing after them!
For a break from walking, grab the waterbus that leaves from Regent’s canal and travels along the green and leafy fringes between Camden, Little Venice and Paddington.
For more gorgeous greenery and a little history head over to Hampstead Heath and Kenwood House. Parliament Hill also has breathtaking views of London and a refurbished playground so if that doesn’t shut the kids up then we don’t know what will! Nestled on the heath is Kenwood House and Gardens. You can start your visit with a selfie in the Orangery: the dedicated family zone with fancy dress options, so you can transform into Kenwood’s most famous residents. Mac Kenwood’s trail is a wonderful way to uncover the many secrets about Kenwood’s house and estate too.
East is East
For great coffee, food your kids will eat, entertainment and a hint of heady nostalgia, head over to East London. One for the cool kids, you can hang out with the Hackney hipsters. Begin by heading to the Museum of Childhood near Bethnal Green station, home to a wonderful collection of children's toys, dolls houses, games and costumes, then make your way to Hackney City Farm to have a gander at sheep, pigs, donkeys and more.
What better way to teach kids to eat their veg than getting into gardening at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden? Overflowing with wildlife-friendly trees and shrubs, including hazel, hawthorn and birch alongside butterfly bushes, bracken and other plants it’s crazy to think this was once a derelict building site. With a sandpit and cafe serving hot drinks, delicious cakes and locally brewed beers there are treats for kids and adults alike.
Keep heading east and you’ll find leafy Victoria Park where you can cut them loose and let them roam free, with over 86 hectares of open space, this is the largest park in East London. Take a pedalo on the lake, run around the splash playground or explore the Japanese pagoda wherever they go it’s a kids’ paradise. With two cafes, the Pavillion and the Park cafe plus Victoria Park Village nearby you’ll be spoilt for food options. Our tip, head to the People’s Park Tavern for a great child-friendly pub that’s essentially a nursery for the East End’s older hipster gen that took the plunge and chose to procreate (they also just have a great beer selection).
A little further afield is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park - inspiring the next generation of Olympians. Let them take a dip in the Aquatics centre where you can feel the legacy of 2012 dripping off the walls. With shallow practice pools for toddlers and babies and the magnificent competition pool for the older kids, where they can have a go at the aqua splash inflatable obstacle course, again there really is something for everybody. Head on over to the velodrome and let them improve their cycling skills with one of the many youth sessions on offer or let them scramble up the climbing wall within the pleasure gardens play area.
You can visit the iconic Southbank, walk with dinosaurs and check out some very overstuffed animals when you head south of the river for your families’ fix of fun. Head southeast on the DLR a.ka. the "roller coaster train” or try the cable car for great views from East London over the river to Greenwich. When you’re there, make the trek through the beautiful park and up the hill to the Greenwich Observatory, where your little ones can reach for the stars with a dose of astrophysics and photography.
The south bank of the river Thames manages to pack world-class attractions that are guaranteed to entertain all ages. Some of the main top attractions include Sea Life London Aquarium, the London Eye and for something a little scarier, the London Dungeons. If you get the chance, try taking a tour of the globe theatre for an insight into Shakespearean London, and for older kids it’s worth watching a play there too. For something a little different (and lighter on the pocket), head to the Tate modern on Bankside. Packed full of free exhibitions and with new installations in the Turbine Hall, you (and the kids) will never get bored.
Further south down the river, you’ll come across Battersea Park - a great place for older kids, you can try embarking on a treetop adventure at Go Ape or play a little mini golf. There’s a mini zoo here too to entertain the littluns so they’re not left out.
In deepest South London, you can check out some magnificent beasts in the form of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs. A great day out, these dinos are located within Crystal Palace park which is situated very close to the station. Whilst in the depths of South London it would be foolish not to make a trip to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill. Situated on top of the hill, the views over London in the museum gardens is breathtaking. The museum is notorious for the poorly stuffed taxidermy, including a plump and portly walrus. Aside from this, it really is a cabinet of curiosities featuring mummies, aquariums and music to name but a few. Hailed as one of the 10 coolest museums in the world by the New York Times, it’s one not to miss.
Places to stay in South West London
Wherever you choose to stay with your family in London, you really are sure to be entertained. And which so much kid-friendly stuff to do on every corner,
you can take your chances whatever area you do end up, just remember, when you’re bored, top-up your oyster card and move on to the next place.
Hop on the underground west all the way to Zone 4, come out and you’ll enter into the oasis that is Kew. The Royal Botanical Gardens truly are a sight for sore eyes and a tropical and mystical treat for the kids. Explore a rainforest in the iconic Palm house, brave the heights of the treetop walkway and really get to know the diversity of plant life. There is the kew explorer land train that takes you all over the gardens too.
Once you’ve had your fill, head over to Richmond park. Here it really feels like you’re a million miles away from London town with rolling hills of green and to cap it all off, very friendly deer. A great place for lunch is Petersham Nurseries, where you can dine in picturesque surroundings filled with bougainvillea and jasmine either in the cafe or teahouse.
Still out west, is the sprawling and spectacular Hampton Court Palace, where you are transported back to Tudor times. Take a tour of the kitchens to experience Tudor feasting at it’s finest, learn how pies came about and discover the hidden stories of Henry VIII. Roam around the magical gardens and come face to face with mysterious mythical beasts and every child’s (and adult’s) dream - a secret grotto.