Most North Americans wouldn’t consider a trip to London a “budget vacation”. Lodging and airfare to Great Britain’s capital city can certainly eat up a significant portion of a family’s vacation budget. Luckily there are plenty of free things to do in London!
Believe it or not, a good percentage of London’s museums and attractions are actually free to visit. Start watching for airfare bargains and begin planning your trip across the pond. Here are 20 free things to do in London with kids.
20 Free Things to do in London on a Family Vacation
Free Things to do in London: History Museums
The British Museum is one of the world’s premier museums. It houses a large Egyptian mummy collection, the famed Rosetta Stone and countless other priceless treasures. The museum offers a children’s audio tour and various programs directed towards families.
It is free for all ages but advanced, timed reservations are currently required.
The Museum of the Home (Geffrye Museum)
Surprisingly kid-friendly, the Museum of the Home allows families to essentially time travel through the history of the English interior. There are crafts and activities for kids on the first Saturday of the month, as well as several family days throughout the summer.
The museum is free but there is a charge for adults to enter the restored almshouse (kids under 16 are still free).
Museum of London
The Museum of London is the world’s largest urban history museum. It takes families through the history of London, from prehistoric times to Roman rule to the 21st Century.
Kids will love the prehistoric animals, stepping inside a life-sized Saxon home, checking out toys in the Victorian storefront, and trying on firefighting helmets just like those used to fight the Great London Fire. It is free for all ages.
Here is a great guide to visiting London with tweens.
Natural History Museum
Natural history museums seem to grab the attention of everyone who visits them and London’s is no exception. Dinosaurs are always popular, as is the ascent through the center of Earth through a special escalator.
The Darwin Centre, with its hands-on science lab for 7-14 year-olds, shouldn’t be missed. Special behind-the-scenes tours can be booked ahead of time and are free of charge, as is admission to all.
Imperial War Museum London
Guns, planes, and tanks fill the main galleries of this museum which focuses on conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth.
The exhibition, “A Family in Wartime,” is of special interest, telling the story of how everyday life changed for families during World War II. The powerful Holocaust Exhibition is recommended for teens and older. Free admission for all ages at the Imperial War Museums.
If you are a budget traveler you might be planning a backpacking trip around Europe. Here is a great backpacking Europe packing list to help you on your way.
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Free Things to do in London: Boats, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
London Transport Museum
Located in popular Covent Garden, the London Transport Museum is free and very popular with children under 17.
There are more than 80 vehicles inside, including the famed red London bus and the first Underground train. There are also plenty of exhibits and an interactive area for the kids to play on.
HMS Belfast is Europe’s largest preserved World War II warship. It has nine decks to explore, a free audio tour, and plenty of hands-on activities to keep kids engaged. It is free for children under 16.
Museum of London Docklands
This is a much-loved museum on the history of the River Thames. It includes exhibits on pirates, a World War II bomb shelter, Sailortown, as well as hands-on fun in the Mudlarks Children’s Gallery. It is free for all ages.
National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is dedicated to British maritime history. It engages children with activities such as loading a cargo ship, firing a cannon, and steering a ship away from pirates and into port at the Children’s Gallery. Admission is free for all ages.
Discover more tips on visiting London on a budget on Trekaroo.
Free in Things to do in London: Kid-Friendly Learning & Science Museum
The Horniman Museum is considered by many to be the most kid-friendly museum in all of London.
Families will fall in love with several interactive exhibits, including the Hands on Base Gallery where thousands of objects such as masks, instruments, and endangered animals are available to touch, play, wear, and discover.
The grounds are also beautiful and ripe for exploration, including the animal walk which is home to all sorts of domesticated animals. Free for all ages.
Bank of England Museum
Teach your kids the value of money and have fun at the same time. The Bank of England Museum offers several exciting activities for kids while telling the story of the Bank of England, which was founded in 1694. Admission is free and includes an activity sheet.
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum has galleries and exhibits dedicated to fashion, jewelry, and furniture, both ancient and modern. Be sure to pick up a free kid’s activity backpack containing puzzles, stories, and games geared to help explore the museum. Free admission for all ages.
Young V & A
This museum in the East End features a collection of childhood objects and toys from the 16th Century to present day.
Here, kids get an idea of how play and learning have changed through the generations. Activity stations are filled with things to enjoy like LEGOs, board games, a sandpit, crafts, and even rocking horses.
Science Museum of London
Dozens of exhibits keep brains of both the young and old engaged at London’s Science Museum. It is home to some iconic items such as Watson and Crick’s DNA double helix model, the first jet engine, and Puffing Billy, the oldest surviving steam locomotive. Admission is free for all ages.
Free Cultural & Outdoor Activities in London
Hamleys on Regent Street
Regent Street in Central London is the place to go to see all of the city’s most famous shops. No kid should leave London without stepping foot inside Hamley’s, one of the world’s oldest and largest toy stores.
While entry is free, I can’t guarantee you will get out of there without purchasing a souvenir or two!
See the Views from Sky Garden
Image courtesy of Sky Garden
Entry to the top of the Shard, the tallest building in London, starts at 32£, which can add up for families with multiple kids in tow.
Instead, visit the newly opened Sky Garden, London’s highest public garden boasting 360-degree views from atop its 525-feet-high lush greenspace, which is completely free to visit. In addition to the gardens and views, there are also live musical events and multipe restaurant spaces to enjoy.
Note: Free timed tickets are recommended as there is a limited capacity at Sky Garden.
Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard
While entry into the palace is not free, watching the changing of the guard is. This event will be a true highlight for any kid visiting the royal residence.
It typically takes place at 11:30am, every other day. Check the palace website for up to date information. Arrive 30 minutes early to secure prime viewing.
St. James Park
After watching the changing of the guard, head across the street to St. James Park for a picnic and time to get the wiggles out.
Head towards the central lake for the pelican feeding which takes place around 2:30pm daily. Be sure to snap a picture-perfect shot of Buckingham Palace from the bridge over the lake.
Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park
Separated by the Serpentine, London’s oldest boating lake, these two green areas are ideal for families.
Kensington Gardens is home to a famous statue of Peter Pan as well as the Princess of Wales Memorial Playground which features a massive wooden pirate ship. Hyde Park is a great place for picnics, peddle boating, playing football, or strolling the meandering pathways.
This park is more than just the home of the London Zoo. It also plays host to various festivals, has enchanting rose gardens, a boating lake, and several playgrounds. The timber treehouse area at Hanover Gate is a favorite among children.
Visit a City Farm
London has many city farms including Hackney City Farm which is known for its award-winning cafe and cute farm animals. Vauxhall City Farm has donkey rides and milking demonstrations. Mudchute Park and Farm is the largest urban farm in the London area and has a tea shop, horseback riding, and farm animals.
Still, want more free things to do in London? The British Library (the world’s largest!), Royal Airforce Museum, National Gallery, and Wellcome Collection- featuring a strange collection of unusual items related to medical histories such as shrunken heads and ancient remedies- are all free to visit.