You might think that London is not a very child-friendly city but you’d be wrong. You may also think of London as an expensive city. Wrong again!
Don’t let a tight budget restrict your family fun. These wonderful London experiences are all yours for free!
1. Explore The Walkie Talkie’s Sky Garden
Looking like something curvy and top-heavy that’s straight out of ‘LazyTown’, the Walkie Talkie is a City office building that has a Sky Garden on its top floors, which, happily, is open to the public. Take in a huge concourse of lush, exotic plants, plus restaurants and a terrace for amazing views. Sky Garden is free to visit but you must book your 90-minute time slot at least three days in advance.
Free, pre-booking required
2. Learn a Victorian lesson at The Ragged School Museum
This museum in east London brings to life what school was like 150 years ago. And it’s not about how rich kids were tutored, but Dr Barnardo’s ‘ragged school’ – which offered free basic education for less privileged children. There are fascinating exhibits and on the first Sunday of each month children and adults can dress up and experience a Victorian class for themselves. Open every Wednesday and Thursday, and the first Sunday of each month.
Free, but there is a £2 donation for class
3. Meet the ring-tailed lemurs at Golders Hill Park Zoo
This park has ponds, play areas, a café and a wonderful small zoo of enclosures which offer a quick fix of wildlife. Head here to hear the laughing kookaburras, spot a ring-tailed coati in the bushes and watch the ring-tailed lemurs up to their gymnastic tricks in the branches. Especially good with little ones who don’t have the stamina to make a pricey visit to the big zoo worthwhile.
4. Get creative at the Cass Arts Saturday workshops
These sessions every Saturday morning (10am-noon) at Cass Arts branches in Hampstead and Islington are a lovely way to inspire ideas and nurture budding artists. A free activity table is set out with a range of materials, inviting kids to let their imaginations run wild. Children must be accompanied by an adult, but sessions are drop-in and all materials are supplied free.
5. Feed the cows at Mudchute Farm
An unexpected patch of countryside on the Isle of Dogs, Mudchute Park and Farm is a laidback and friendly day out, with the chance to get close to all kinds of animals. Join the regular crafting workshops and feed the beasts (the cows particularly love elderflowers), then feed your own little ones at the Mudchute Kitchen.
6. Listen to stories on a magic carpet at the National Gallery
Long before children can muse on Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ and remark how the impasto helps to express the texture of the seed heads, they can relate to centuries-old paintings that sing with colour and drama. That’s why the National Gallery’s ‘magic carpet’ storytelling sessions are brilliant. Every Sunday morning parents and sprouts are invited to sit in front of one of the paintings and hear stories inspired by what they see.
Free, book on arrival
7. Splash about in the Science Museum’s water play area
For small children, it’s the doing not the looking that amuses and inspires. As a result, this busy museum’s hands-on galleries win the day. The Garden is a free play zone where young’uns can don aprons and play with waterways and boats, jump around exploring light and shadows and discover the science of sound through all kinds of fun activities.
8. Walk in someone else’s shoes at the Museum of Childhood
The V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green has been a dedicated temple to the history of growing up in Britain for over 150 years, but it’s not all antique dolls in glass cases. There are hands-on exhibits and games everywhere you look. Children can join organised activity sessions and dress up in Victorian costume or theatrical attire.
9. Settle in for storytime at The Alligator’s Mouth
Richmond’s bright new children’s bookshop encourages all ages to linger as long as they like, browsing the shelves. Well supported by the children’s literature world, you can expect big names like Michael Rosen and Jacqueline Wilson to make personal appearances here. There are also free events like the weekly after-school storytime and creative workshops for older children (ages 7-12) too.
10. Cycle between the trees in Epping Forest
The largest green space within the M25, Epping Forest is as breathtaking an escape today as it was when it served as a royal hunting ground in Tudor times. The City of London website has a brilliant cycling map with nine wooded and waymarked trails. For easier rides head towards Leyton and for Wanstead Flats, for steeper, denser challenges get yourself to High Beach and Loughton.