Water + sunshine = happy children at the Southbank Centre © Howard Pugh / Getty Images
Spring and Summer
Play in fountains
London has public fountains all over the place, and they’re great to cool off in on hot summer days, while giving the little ones a chance to tear around and have fun. The best option is Appearing Rooms at the Southbank Centre. Other good spots include the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court at Somerset House, the John Madejski Garden Fountains in the V&A and the fountains at Granary Square.
A day in Regent’s Park
Regent’s Park is so huge and varied, it’s like its own little world. Once Henry VIII's hunting grounds, it's now the setting for three fabulous playgrounds, summertime entertainers, and a variety of wildlife including hedgehogs and herons. In spring you can get lost in the stunning rose gardens, take a pedalo onto the boating lake and visit the animals at ZSL London Zoo.
Water action of a different kind on the lake in Regent's Park © Fintastique / Getty Images
Take to the Thames
Look out for some of London’s most famous buildings on a clipper cruise on the Thames. Hop on at Westminster and travel all the way to Greenwich and back, passing (and sometimes sailing under) iconic structures like Big Ben, the London Eye, the Oxo Tower, Tate Modern, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. This is a fantastic (not to mention cheap) way to see the city, and children love it.
Meander over the Millennium Bridge
The kids will probably recognise the Millennium Bridge from the Harry Potter films. But even if not, it’s still pretty fun as far as bridges go. The pedestrian-only walkway can be a little nerve-wracking if you don’t like heights – especially if the tide’s low – but does present some really good photo opportunities whichever way you look. It links Tate Modern on the south side of the river with St Paul’s Cathedral on the north – the latter has a nice garden full of tame squirrels to make friends with.
A stroll over the Millennium Bridge takes you from St Paul's Cathedral to Tate Modern © Richard Newstead / Getty Images
Skaters and street performers on the South Bank
As well as being home to some wonderful water features, the pedestrianised South Bank is also the beating cultural heart of London and a great place to take kids, especially when the weather is nice. They’ll love watching the activity in the skate park in the undercroft of the Southbank Centre and the various street performers who always set up shop along the river. The views up and down the river aren't bad either so settle down on a bench, sample international snacks and goodies, slurp ice lollies and watch the Thames idle by.
Autumn and Winter
Here be monsters
Well, dinosaurs, technically, but it can be hard to tell the difference when faced with some of the larger Jurassic skeletons and animatronic recreations at the Natural History Museum. Once the kids have had their fill of palaeontology, there are plenty more weird, wonderful and downright enormous creatures to check out, including sabre-toothed cats and mammoths. The main hall is dominated by the remains of a 25-metre-long blue whale. During the festive season, an ice skating rink outside adds to the fun.
The dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum might be realistic but they're also completely harmless - and awesome © Feargus Cooney / Getty Images
Baby boogie nights
When it comes to quintessential activities for families in London, raves historically haven’t featured much, but Big Fish Little Fish have turned that oversight on its head. Live DJs play the dulcet tones of acid house for nostalgic parents and novice offspring alike. Glows stick are optional.
Be entranced by puppets
Tiny, charming Little Angel Theatre in Islington puts on marionette (aka puppet) performances, creating truly delightful shows. The suspended characters spin spellbinding stories that have the adults clapping and laughing as much as the kids. The venue also puts on workshops to add an educational twist. The Puppet Theatre Barge, moored permanently in Little Venice, is another great spot for marionette shows.
Travel through space and time
Stir young ones' imaginations by reaching for the stars at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Head into the Astronomy Centre and learn about the universe, lay your hands upon a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite (if the kids need context, remind them that’s about the same age as Planet Earth itself) or watch a show at London's only planetarium. Outside, get them to straddle the Meridian Line, putting one foot in the eastern hemisphere and the other in the western, before bringing out their inner seadog down the hill in the National Maritime Museum, where you can see Nelson’s uniform from the Battle of Trafalgar, complete with the hole from the bullet that killed him.
Visit the Royal Observatory and figure out what's unusual about the clock outside © David Williams / Getty Images
Meet the greats
Central London's National Portrait Gallery has proven a big hit with children thanks to its comprehensive collection of the greats and not-so-greats of British history that help bring the past to life. See life-size paintings of famous names, from prime ministers to princes to pop bands. This is yet another free world-class attraction in London, and boasts over 1000 paintings, photos and sketches. Family-oriented activities will help pique the interest of pint-size Picassos.
This article was first published in August 2010 and updated by Will Jones in February 2018.