Free museums, secret passages and great food – it’s no wonder families love London.
The British capital has a fascinating and gory history and a charming mix of tradition and technology. The Shard, Britains tallest building, was opened in 2013. From the 72nd floor you get a million dollar view of London. A mere mile away is the modern day site of where Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim was found 130 years ago.
Inspired by their Germany family, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert began many of the Christmas traditions we have today including:
Christmas trees and decorations
Presents under the tree
Ice Skating at Frogmore House
Fittingly, it snowed during Queen Victoria’s funeral procession in 1901.
London, with its Dickensian spirit, is the perfect place to spend Winter and Christmas. Ice-skate, indulge in feasts and let yourself be charmed at a magical time of year. Find out which London winter kids activities are for you with this handy guide.
Parks worth visiting
Don’t let the cold put you off getting some fresh air. Kew Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden which your children will love to run around. With greenhouses, a pagoda and even a treetop walk, it’s a great chance for everyone to get close to nature.
If you go between November 22 and January 5 take advantage of ‘Kew at Christmas’. It’s a nighttime experience with a moonlit wood and a fire grotto. Let the kids visit Santa’s grotto’s and enjoy great food and handmade gift stalls. The winter wonderland walk is a good way to run off energy.
Near Kew is Richmond Park, the scene of the internet-famous Fenton video. You can see London’s largest deer herds, stroll through the largest of London’s eight royal parks [it is as big as the other seven combined] and pick the perfect picnic place.
For those of you haven’t seen the Fenton video here it is. There is mild cursing but it is child-friendly.
Hampstead Heath is a great getaway spot. You can spend all morning walking and then have one of Britain’s best pub lunches at the Spaniards Inn. If you go, you must order the baked camembert. It’s the perfect starter for a family meal.
This pub is packed with history. Poets Lord Byron and John Keats ate here regularly. The poem Ode to a Nightingale was written in its’ garden.
Bram Stoker was another patron. Some of the inspiration for Dracula reportedly came from the pub’s ghost stories. St. John-at-Hampstead’s graveyard is said to have been the location of the fictional Lucy Westenra tomb in the popular novel.
Get the tube to Hampstead and it’s a short walk to the Heath.
If you only have one day in London, you must see the sprawling grounds of Hyde Park. Take kids to the Diana Memorial Playground if the weather is fair. You can also enjoy the Winter Wonderland. This free-to-enter family event includes festive activities such as skating, an observation wheel, circus shows, and a huge Christmas market. The rides and hot food will have the kids in paroxysms of joy.
Bring a ball or frisbee to the park. If any of your friends have dogs ask if you can borrow them. Unless you know Fenton’s owner.
Some of the best museums in London are actually free. Or a gold coin donation entry. There is a lot to do in London for free. The Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum are all walking distance from High Street Kensington Tube station. Find out all about them here.
The museums are huge. You could spend the whole day exploring one or split the day and delve into a couple. Whether your interests lie in dinosaurs and the prehistoric world, the discovery of science and space or the Victorian period these museums are a great visit.
The British Museum, located near Tottenham Court Road, has fantastic exhibits. Kids will love seeing Mummies, swords and old Roman coins.
If you visit the Sherlock Holmes museum plan ahead. You have to buy your tickets from another shop and the queues can get very long if you don’t get there first thing.
Don’t want to be in the crowded tourist attractions? You can visit one of the many smaller, less frequented museums. These include:
The Old Operating Theatre, which is Europe’s oldest still in operation.
The Canal Museum which is London’s only inland waterways focused museum.
The Chocolate Museum, again London’s only one.
They are great places to visit although they have entry fees.
The Tate Modern has a guide for children on weekends and during school holidays. It also has a monthly 8-14’s Studio Colour workshop. Under 12’s get into exhibitions free too. At the top of the Tate Modern is an environmentally friendly cafe with great hot chocolate and coffee. The view from the top floor is, unlike the Shard, free and just as good.
The British Library, home to the Magna Carta, runs regular free events for younger readers to go and enjoy.
For families with older children (10+) escape rooms are a great way to challenge yourself as a team whilst also having fun. London has many different escape room setups. They’re all different but the concept is the same; you get locked into a room and work together using clues and solving puzzles to get out, all while working against the clock.
Here are two to start with:
Pick from two rooms at HintHunt.
For a variety, suitable for all ages, check out clueQuest.
NAMCO funscape has an escape room as well as an arcade full of all the classics – bowling, dodgems, ping pong and pool. Families will love the traditional arcade games such as Pacman, race cars simulators and shooting games. It’s near Waterloo station, as is the London Aquarium and London Dungeons.
Olde London Town
London Dungeon is not a museum, its an experience. You can learn about beheadings, walk the same streets as Jack the Ripper and solve the mystery of the two princes. Older children may want to visit The Clink instead. It isn’t suitable for younger kids, but the gruesome history of Britain’s most fearsome prison will get your kids into history.
The Globe Theatre which has both burned and closed down was rebuilt in 1997. On the 6th of December, it is doing its’ free annual showcase, called A Concert For Winter. Schools from the area will be performing on the famous stage.
Many London institutions describe themselves as the world’s first. Hamleys is both the world’s oldest and largest toy shop. Go there for the fizzing lights, bubbles and the knowledgeable staff.
Greenwich is the place where time began. It makes for a nice side trip- you can enjoy the sights of Blackheath, allegedly South London’s finest suburb and check out Cutty Sark. Cutty Sark is a fully restored ship which kids will love exploring.
To get there the exciting way, go to Island gardens station on London’s famous DLR and walk down Douglas Path to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. You’ll recognise it from television and movies; parts of Dorian Gray were filmed there.
Palaces and castles
Buckingham Palace is where the Queen lives. Go along and see if the flags are up. If they are, the Queen is watching telly inside. Near Hyde Park, Buckingham attracts more than 480,000 visitors a year. That’s double the entire population of the Northern Territory.
The Tower of London has the world’s longest exhibition and you can find it in the armoury. Walk around the tower, look at the moat and enjoy living like a king for a day. You can also check out the crown jewels.
Hampden Court is in the South of London and it comes with a hedge maze. It is also haunted; watch out for the Screaming Queen and the Grey Lady when you visit.
Borough Market, open six days a week and next to London Bridge Tube station, will delight your senses from smell to taste to sight. A market has been on the site since 1014 but it has lost none of its magic in the 1000 years it has existed.
Bargain hunters should go late in the day when stalls put their prices down and haggling rituals ensue. In winter you must try the hot apple juice.
There’s also venison, a world-class selection of cheese and wine that you won’t find on supermarket shelves. Some of England’s finest have visited from Kings and Queens to William Shakespeare.
If you have a large group why not head down to The Medieval Banquet a stone’s throw from the Tower of London. The evening consists of two hours of live entertainment, a four-course meal and plenty of dressing up opportunities. Why not have a Christmas feast with the kids?
In London, High Tea is more than tradition, more than a gimmick – it’s an art form. Why not head to the Langham and visit the Palm Court where, it is claimed, High Tea was invented more than 150 years ago.
If you don’t mind splashing out the child-friendly staff and teddy bears will make for a memorable afternoon.
For travellers who want an authentic London experience head to Green Lanes in Haringey. Albanian, Kurdish, Greek, Cypriot and a smorgasbord of other European immigrants flocked here in the 20th century.
The result is the best Halloumi in London for prices that won’t make you baulk. Enjoy beautifully cooked lamb, a living breathing high street and a restaurant choice where you can’t go wrong. Everyone has a different restaurant they like on Green Lanes so go find the one that suits you.
Brick Lane is the place to go for Indian food. The touts calling out for you visit their curry houses, the diverse smells and fantastic array of free table snacks in the restaurants will enchant your kids. Brick Lane also has a famous sweet shop on Brick Lane. Oh and don’t forget to grab an Onion Bhaji. Brick Lane is India’s global competition.
If you want traditional British pie and mash there are several Manze shops still around. The recipes have gone down through the Manze family and braver kids may want to risk the jellied eels.
You also can’t go wrong with great British pub food and there’s a charming local around every corner.
Spitalfields sells retro clothes, great vinyl and some funky food too. In London nowhere can you find a better place to kill an afternoon browsing through Janis Joplin records and wondering if you can pull off double denim.
Camden Market is Rock n Roll’s last bastion. When all else falls to pop and techno Camden will still be standing strong. More suitable for teenagers, you can take kids but you do so at your own risk. Amy Winehouse, the Rolling Stones and a host of other music giants have shared a history with Camden.
Portobello Road will bring out your inner posh. The self-styled largest antique market in the world sells everything from priceless pieces of artwork to cheap trinkets. It’s the perfect place to pick up gifts for Granny.
Pop up markets are everywhere in London but are impossible to plan for. If you’re lucky you’ll just run into them. Walthamstow Winterland is open from December 1-8.
Get the Tube to Tottenham Court Road and explore the famous Denmark Street. If you can strum it, tune it, play it or blow into it they sell it. Check out their Fenders, workshops, the collection of unique instruments and quiz the staff on obscure instruments.
After that take a stroll around the area and nip into the bookshops. Or, if you’re a large group, split in half. Send the music lovers one way and avid readers another.
After you get your fill of books and music, wander along Oxford Street. Take in the lights, the street atmosphere and pick up a hot chocolate to keep the cold out.
Selfridges is a big yellow building, in fact, it’s flagship store is the second largest shop in Britain. It turned 110 this year. It revolutionised the window display.
Harrods‘ sale advertisements famously come with the tagline ‘there’s only one sale’. Go along and watch London’s elite blow more in a shopping spree than you make in a year. Enjoy the fantastic displays, array of goods and the old-fashioned shopping atmosphere.
Fortnum and Mason is another upmarket option. The self-proclaimed inventors of the Scotch Egg, they have been in business since 1707. Get one of their famous Christmas Hampers starting from 15 pounds but going up to 6000.
Covent Garden Piazza has old-fashioned toy shops, lots of great shops and there are usually performers in the square. You can also visit M&Ms World which is at nearby Leicester Square. Head to Jamon Jamon, a restaurant that specialises in Mediterranean food nearby.
The Theatre scene beyond the West End
Obviously, you should go to the West End and do the show experience once. But after that save your cash and check out these gems…
Chickenshed Theatre is a critically acclaimed Theatre based in Enfield, North London. A Christmas Carol, their latest production, tickets are on sale from 10 pounds. You can see quality theatre costs for a fraction of the price of the West End.
The Park theatre is 30 seconds walk from Finsbury Park Tube station. Peter Pan is on in December. Tickets again go from just 10 pounds.
Richmond Theatre is worth a visit but look ahead. It is a bigger theatre, seating 840, and puts on a huge range of shows from the Lion King to the Cursed Child.
The Bush Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush is conveniently located next to Earl’s Court. It has storied past and has risen from being an 80-seater above a pub to a renowned theatre and local landmark. It often has kids events on such as Stand Up for Kids. Check ahead of time and prepare to be delighted.
The Tower of London, mentioned above, has an excellent skating rink, situated in its moat.
Somerset House has a rink with a party atmosphere situated in the heart of a gorgeous building.
Hampden Court and Alexandra Palace and The Natural History Museum all have great winter ice skating rinks.
Discover Children’s Centre is a hidden treasure in the heart of Stratford. An indoor play space for children between the ages of 0-11, it focuses on children’s fiction books. It allows children to use their imagination whilst also encouraging them to read more.
They have a two-floor play space, an outdoor space and an exhibition space. Usually, there’s a specific theme around an author or book series such as Dr Seuss. Their current exhibition until 31st December 2018 is author Julia Donaldson’s books. Her works include The Gruffalo, Stickman and Room on the Broom.
St Martins in the Fields comes alive in the Winter. Every Christmas tradition and experience is available for the whole family to enjoy at the ancient church. It has been there since 1222 and you feel the weight of history, of its importance. Kids will love singing along vigorously during the carolling.
As you pass King’s Cross don’t forget to check out the Harry Potter statue nearby. Afterwards get on the train and go to Euston station. From there a train runs all the way to Harry Potter World tour at Warner Studios.
The London Eye always has a long queue but the view is worth it.
You can also knock out several attractions if you walk from Southbank to Nelson’s column. You can check out Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Number 10, Churchills War Rooms then walk up to Trafalgar Square.
London has hosted the Olympics three times, in 1908, 1948 and 2012. England invented many sports rugby, tennis soccer and cricket.
If you’re a cricket family check out Lords and The Oval.
Is Rugby your sport? Twickenham regularly has games during the winter. ‘Rugger’ is after all one of the few sports you can play in London in winter.
Soccer – where do you start? London is home to six Premiership sides – Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Fulham.
What can kids do? Apart from watching a match, you can also do tours of each of the famous sports stadiums.
Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham and Wembley all offer stadium tours. The fully-guided tours take you behind-the-scenes and into the dressing rooms, dugouts, press rooms and the Player’s Tunnel.
Love Rugby? Twickenham stadium offers tours through the most exclusive parts of the stadium with a rugby expert. Climb to the top of the stand, run through the player’s tunnel or delve into history in the museum.
Wimbledon’s award-winning tour takes tennis-loving families through the interactive museum with a virtual reality experience. You can get up close to the Championship Trophies and feel the fabrics from tennis fashions of the past before testing your own skills on the Batak wall.
But where should I stay?
Park Plaza County Hall is a funky option with free stays and complimentary breakfasts for children under 12. This hotel has ping pong, lounge rooms great views. You can’t the location. It’s in the heart of London, at Waterloo. This is a great option for large families, multiple families or multi-generational groups. December weekend prices range from less than 300 pounds to 450 pounds. You can get a Penthouse suite which is top of the range and accommodates large families. Two of the four Penthouse Suites offer a 94m2 private terrace.
If you want to stay long-term you can look at the mini-loft crashpads available in Shoreditch. These are close to the city centre and make for a great home-away-from-home. With a working kitchen, free wi-fi and two double beds there are loads of great features. Prices go from $859 for a weekend for a family of five. If you’re travelling with three kids two will have to share while one can take the sofa bed.
Claridge’s is called London’s first hotel. It dates back to at least 1854, though some claim 1812 is its actual construction date. This opulent Mayfair hotel is, ironically, next door to a McDonalds. For the luxury traveller, this is a great option.
For a family of four doing a weekend in December, prices range from 1,440 to 4,560. That’s per night. In pounds. At least dinner at Maccas will save you some money. Spencer Tracey has said, “I would rather go to Claridges than heaven when I die.”
Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Yul Brynner, Alfred Hitchcock, Joan Collins, Mick Jagger, Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey – this seemingly random list of names has one thing in common: Claridges.
Lastly, if you think we skipped London’s famous black cabs we didn’t. We hid two of them inside the article. Look again!