When we were teens, the Trocadero's seemingly-infinite arcade games were enough to keep us happy, but that's no longer an option for modern London adolescents. So where are the best places to take teenagers for a day out in London? Whether you're a parent or grandparent yourself, or have teenage nieces/nephews/godchildren coming to visit, here are some ideas for entertainment that toes the line between not-too-childish, but not-too-grown-up, and which won't be met by sarcastic eye rolls.
It's worth checking out which exhibitions are currently on at the big museums too — for example, V&A regularly offers shows to delight budding fashion fans, and Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the new Science Gallery are great for the curious minded.
1. Skating and bowling at Queens, Bayswater
An ideal place for hiding out on rainy days, Queens offers bowling, ice skating and a plethora of arcade games, all under one neon-filled roof.
Alas, the ice karting is for over 18s only, but curling sessions run on Wednesday-Saturday evening, if regular ice skating isn't quite hitting the spot. There's a Meat Liquor on site, providing nourishment in the form of burgers, fries and milkshakes — and vegan options too.
2. Watch ice hockey
If you're looking for things to do during the winter season (October-March), how about watching a game of ice hockey? Most matches take place on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and the basic rules of the game are easy enough for beginners to pick up. Expect to pay around a tenner for a ticket.
3. Discover God's Own Junkyard, Walthamstow
If regular art galleries have been written off as 'booooring' by your teen, take them to God's Own Junkyard, and watch them change their mind. The neon gallery is the most colourful place in London, a whole warehouse filled with psychedelic signs. If they're on social media, it's a chance for them to rack up plenty of likes, and the on-site Rolling Scones Cafe serves cakes and drinks to keep them sweet.
4. Walk around the Science Museum
Not a particularly maverick suggestion, but the Science Museum is a good option for an scientifically-minded teen — the planes suspended from the ceiling on the the top floor are always a winner, and the third floor Shake Bar and ground floor diner are bound to go down well too.
5. Take afternoon tea
A London staple, but no longer reserved for the wealthy, there are plenty of afternoon tea options (too many, some might say) for all tastes. Our picks for teenagers would be the Potion Room afternoon tea at Soho's Cutter & Squidge, where they can don wizard robes and mix their own potions, or the B Bakery afternoon tea bus tour which takes you round the sights of London as you tuck in. Particularly likely to appeal to teens who don't live in London, and may be thrilled to see in real life the sights and buildings they recognised from TV and film.
6. Walk through Chislehurst Caves
They may not know who Jimi Hendrix is, but Doctor Who, fake gold, and a fascinating war history are all part of the deal when visiting these 22 miles of manmade caves beneath south London. Access is by guided tour only, lasting about an hour and visiting approximately a mile of the tunnels.
A word of warning: It gets dark, echoey and a bit chilly down there, so avoid this one with younger teens, or particularly sensitive guests, or your lovely day out may end in tears.
7. Visit Wildlife Photographer at Natural History Museum
Usually on display from October round to July/August, Wildlife Photographer of the Year at Natural History Museum is one of our favourite London exhibitions every year. Budding photographers and animal lovers will particularly enjoy it, but anyone who can appreciate a cute animal snap will find something to like.
The photojournalism section of the exhibition does, by its very nature, often contain images that some may find distressing, so plan ahead and skip this section if your teen may find this problematic.
8. Visit London Zoo
A classic, but with good reason. Lions, tigers, penguins, gorillas, giraffes, pygmy hippos and other cute animals are bound to win over visitors of any age. For a special occasion, why not book them in to meet the giraffes, meerkats, penguins or monkeys up close?
For extra cool points, arrive or leave by boat.
9. Go shopping in London
If your teen is a bit of a shopaholic, Oxford Street is probably their mecca, with the Westfields a close second. Nothing wrong with that, but if you've done your fair share of stints in Oxford Circus Topshop, steer them in the direction of something a little more unique.
London's home to plenty of markets, from the rough-and-ready Camden Market to the more arty Spitalfields, and the vintage shops around the Brick Lane area.
If they're insistent that it's high street chains they want, might we point you in the direction of Southside Wandsworth. It's an indoor shopping centre a few minutes walk from Wandsworth Town station, and is home to all the teen staples (Accessorize, Claire's Debenhams, Boots, H&M, JD, New Look, Primark...) but we've always found it to be far less busy than other London shopping centres.
10. Climb to the top of Severndroog Castle
It's a bit of a trek out of central London, but Severndroog Castle is somewhere most people haven't heard of, let alone been. It's actually a folly, and you couldn't spend more than an hour or two here, but on a clear day, the platform at the top offers views over seven counties. There's a tearoom on the ground floor, serving light snacks and drinks.
11. Explore London's street art
Leake Street Tunnel underneath Waterloo station is the place to head for street art. More often than not, artists will be working on new pieces as you wander through the covered thoroughfare, and many are happy to stop and chat — be warned though, it you hang around too long, the spray can fumes start going to your head.
If that piques their interest, book onto a street art tour for a more thorough look at street art and graffiti, including information about specific artists. Workshops are also available for the artily-inclined.
While you're in the area, check out...
12. House of Vans
Also located in the tunnels underneath Waterloo, House of Vans is something of a teen hangout. The indoor skate park runs regular skate and BMX sessions on its ramps, and also puts on live music, film nights and other events, many of them free.
13. Magic your way out of an escape room
The stereotype of teens locking themselves away in their room rumbles on, so why not do it for them? London's not short of escape rooms, but some are adults-only.
Not the case at Breakin' Escape Rooms in Islington. There's no specified age limit, but under 16s must have an adult taking part with them. Once they hit 16 though, they can go it alone. Teams of 3-6 people compete to solve puzzles on various themes, including Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, and a New York bank heist.
Similarly, ClueQuest isn't recommended for under 9s, but anyone over that age can take part (under 16s need to have at least one adult per team). Again, there's a choice of spy missions, aimed at between 4 and 24 players at a time.
14. Climb Up at the O2
Anyone aged 8+ and over 1.2m high can take part in Up at the O2 (although 9-18 year olds need accompanying adults), a guided group climb over the top of the venue's canopy. As a day out, it combines good views of London with a chance to burn off some energy, and there's an opportunity to stop at the top and get those all-important selfies.
Daylight, sunset and twilight (after sunset) climbs are all available too.
15. Go rock climbing
The Castle in Stoke Newington is our go-to climbing centre in London, especially if it's a cool vibe you're after. The building isn't an actual castle, but a former Victorian water pumping station. Under 18s can't climb alone unfortunately — they have to be with an adult or instructor — but the venue runs regular young people's climbing activities including family sessions and a youth club.
Of course, this isn't your only option for bouldering or rope climbing in London — take a look at our guide to the best climbing centres in the capital.
16. Go Ape at Battersea Park
Lively members of the family can take to the high ropes at Go Ape's Battersea Park course, while others watch from the park below.
Take the treetop challenge and earn daredevil status, manoeuvring among trees more than 13m off the ground around a 730m long course, including a 50m long zip wire. The tamer treetop adventure stays a more palatable 6m off the ground, with shorter crossings and zip wires, ideal for anyone who's not quite convinced by this Tarzan malarkey.
Anyone under 13 needs an adult up in the trees with them. 13-15 year olds can be supervised from the ground, and 16+ year olds don't need an adult present. There are other London locations at Alexandra Palace and Cockfosters.
17. Ride a speedboat on the Thames
If a regular sightseeing boat trip has been written off as too tame, ramp things up a notch for your teenage charges by hurtling down the river on a speedboat. Thames Rockets offer a few different routes, passing landmarks including the London Eye, Tower Bridge, The Shard and Canary Wharf. The only ride that's off-limits to under-18s is the Thames Lates events, due to alcohol being served on board.
18. Get springy at at trampolining park
As recently as 2015, London's first indoor trampolining park opened in Acton. These days, they're everywhere. Oxygen Freejumping has three London locations, FlipOut has three more, and Jump London dominates in Dagenham. But for our money, ZAPSpace in Stratford is the one to head to, as it offers dodgeball courts, a slam dunk zone, a drop slide and plenty of other teen-friendly activities along with the trampolining.
Above the age of 11, they don't need an adult supervising them — and there's a cafe and bar on site for parents to slink off to if you're dismissed for cramping their style.
19. Find Harry Potter's London
For any teen who grew up with J.K. Rowling's book, there's a wealth of things to do in London beyond trekking all the way out to the Studio Tours. We've rounded up all the filming locations in London, but the obvious one is Platform 9 and 3/4 at King's Cross station. A luggage trolley is embedded in the wall, with professional photographers on hand to take your photo (although you're welcome to take your own, for free). Next door, a Harry Potter shop sells all manner of Hogwarts merch.
20. London musicals for teenagers
A London staple, musicals are a good choice for teens, especially if they haven't had much theatre-going experience before. The Lion King, Aladdin, Matilda and School of Rock are all teen-friendly... and then of course there's the Harry Potter play.
Also watch out for Kids Week, an annual event where free and massively-reduced theatre tickets are available for under 16s, when they go with a full-paying adult. Tickets usually go on sale in June (and sell-out fast) for the August performances.
21. Starspotting at Madame Tussauds
It's a bit of a classic tourist trap, but bear with us. Madame Tussauds is increasingly moulding its waxworks to attract a teenage audience, with musicians Dua Lipa and Miley Cyrus, and YouTubers Zoella and Alfie Deyes among the recent additions — think of the selfie points to be earned within those hallowed Baker Street walls.
22. Try circus arts and trapeze
Tucked away in the former Shoreditch Electric Light Station is the National Centre for Circus Arts, which offers degrees, diplomas and other qualifications. Don't worry though, no-one needs to run away and join the circus forever — day-long taster sessions are available. Youth Experience Days are aimed at 8-16 year olds, and teach them skills including trapeze, highwire and diabolo.
If interest is purely in trapeze, check out Gorilla Circus, a flying trapeze school which pops up in Regent's Park every summer. One-off introductory sessions are available, as are longer courses taking place over a few weeks, and so far they've taught people aged between eight and 78, so teenagers aren't a problem.
23. Check what's on at Prince Charles Cinema
This independent cinema is a beacon among the huge chain multiplexes of nearby Leicester Square, and it's not somewhere you're likely to find the latest releases. Special events include sing-along screenings of Disney films, classic rom-coms, cult-favourite horror movies and all-nighter showings of franchises including Marvel's superheroes and Lord of the Rings. Take a look at what's coming up.
24. Sport stadium tours
If your teens support a London sports team, or are into a particular sport more generally, see whether the venue offers tours.
Twickenham, Lord's, Wembley and Wimbledon are just some of the venues that invite fans of their respective sports to go behind the scenes on non-event days, often with a chance to go into players' changing rooms and tunnels. West Ham, Arsenal and Chelsea are among the specific clubs allowing fans inside.
25. Ride the slide at ArcelorMittal Orbit
There's still a child inside every teenager, and sometimes a 178m long slide is exactly what's needed to bring out a smile. Take a lift to the top of the Olympic Park's ArcelorMittal Orbit, spend some time admiring the view, then whizz back down to earth in the tunnel slide. Wheeee!
26. Enjoy views from the Sky Garden
It's free, it's memorable, it's Instagram-friendly, and if they want to go off and wander at their own pace, you know they won't get too far away. Free tickets need to be booked in advance — tickets go on sale on a Monday, three weeks in advance, and usually all sell out.
Found anything else that teens love in London? Let us know in the comments — parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles everywhere will be very grateful.