This article is sponsored by Royal Museums Greenwich.
October half term 2023 runs Saturday 21-Sunday 29 October for most London schools. We've selected some family-friendly events and things to do in London — however old your kids are and whatever your budget.
October half term events in London
BEAR HUNT: Kew Gardens unveils an interactive trail themed on much-loved children's book, We're Going On A Bear Hunt. Young explorers and their families will face obstacles including swishy swashy grass, thick oozy mud, a big dark forest and a swirling whirling snowstorm, as they explore the lake and arboretum. 21-29 October
HALLOWEEN AT LONDON ZOO: Things get extra-spooky at London Zoo this October half term, as Boo at the Zoo returns. The Halloween events include a trip to the extinct species graveyard, pumpkin decorating, dancing at the bubble boogie, plus crafts and animals talks. 21-31 October
WEIRD WEATHER: The Puddle At The End Of The World is a show for 6-12 year olds, taking place at the Royal Albert Hall, exploring themes of weird weather, extraordinary extinctions and freaky flooding, through the story of a family whose home has disappeared under rising sea levels. 24 October
JACQUELINE WILSON: Children's author Jacqueline Wilson takes part in London Literature Festival at Southbank Centre, with an event introducing her new book, The Best Sleepover in the World. It's a sequel to 2001 book Sleepovers — which we ourselves read as kids! 26 October. There are a few other London Literature Festival events for families, including Jeffrey Boakye, author of Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs, introducing his new book, Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer — the story of a boy growing up in a 1990s London housing estate (27 October).
Family-friendly exhibitions in October half term
BRICK DINOS: The Lego-centric Brick Dinos exhibition is back at Horniman Museum, with creatures from the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods recreated in plastic bricks by artist Warren Elsmore. New for this time round is a Polacanthus model, displayed alongside the raptor-like Masiakasaurus; a life-sized flying pterosaur; and the swamp-dwelling, crocodile-like Sarcosuchus. There are also hands-on activities such as a digging for fossils. Until 29 October
TITANOSAUR: It's great being a dinosaur fan in London right now — in addition to the above, Natural History Museum's exhibition Titanosaur: Life as the Biggest Dinosaur explores the world of titanosaur Patagotitan mayorum — one of the largest known creatures to have ever stalked our planet. Get up close to the colossal creature, and learn how it survived on our planet. Until January 2024
BBC EARTH: The immersive BBC Earth Experience continues in Earl's Court. Voiced by David Attenborough, it's open to all ages (under-3s go free). It's a walk-through take on 2019 TV show, Seven Worlds, One Planet. Until January 2024
JAPAN AT YOUNG V&A: The new Young V&A opens its first exhibition, a child and family-friendly exploration of Japanese culture. Japan: Myths to Manga focuses on the influence of folklore on Japan’s art and design, including Hokusai, Pokémon, Studio Ghibli and robots. Activities including manga-making and Taiko drumming accompany the exhibition. 14 October 2023-11 August 2024
POWER OF MUSIC: Science Museum opens hands-on (and loud!) new exhibition Turn It Up: The Power Of Music just in time for half term. It explores how music drives us to create, perform, feel and share, through interactive exhibits including a musical playground, and tuneful building blocks, which allow you to experiment with instruments, pitch and tempo. 19 October 2023-6 May 2024
WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY: The Wildlife Photographer of the Year show at Natural History Museum is great for curious older kids and teenagers. It showcases photos of the natural world taken all over the planet, interspersed with videos and quotes from the photographers. October 2023-summer 2024
All aboard Cutty Sark for a magical half term experience
Is there anything kids like more than exploring a classic ship, peeping through portholes and clambering between decks? The remarkable Cutty Sark in Greenwich has all that and much more — make it your first port of call this half term.
This historic Victorian tea clipper is brought to life by a cast of colourful characters, including the fearless Captain Woodget and the ship's cook, who share stories of life on board the fastest ship of its time. A free family trail and interactive games explore these themes in a child-friendly way. More adventurous visitors with a head for heights can even book onto the Cutty Sark Rig Climb experience. See London from high on the masts, and then zip back down to the deck!
All visitors get to see the ship from the opposite angle, down beneath the hull. This unique space is home to an unforgettable collection of ships' figureheads — one of the most instagrammable spots in London.
Treat the family to unforgettable experience and drop anchor at Cutty Sark this half term.
Family-friendly London shows in October half term
MUSICALS: A few of London's long-running musicals are great for family theatre trips, including The Lion King, Frozen and Matilda. Older kids and teenagers might enjoy Mamma Mia!, Wicked, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
ACORN WOOD: Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Tales from Acorn Wood stories are brought to life on stage for the first time at Artsdepot in North Finchley, using puppetry and lively songs. Aimed at age 1+. 21-25 October
Free things to do in London in October half term
PLAYGROUNDS: If the weather's playing nice, few things bring a smile to young children's faces like a playground — and they're usually free, so it's a win for parents and carers too. Check out our map of playgrounds in central London — there are more than you might think, and many are handily located near tourist attractions, so little 'uns can burn off excess energy on a day out.
FILM STATUES: If you find yourself in central London, and need something free to entertain the family, head to Leicester Square and let them hunt out these bronze sculptures of film stars. Sure, you might have to explain Gene Kelly or Laurel & Hardy to younger members of the family, but Paddington, Bugs Bunny and Mary Poppins will instantly charm them.
MUSEUMS: Plenty of London's museums are free entry all year round, and while you may have to pay for temporary exhibitions, there's generally plenty to entertain all ages in the permanent collections. Try Science Museum for aeroplanes and space, Natural History Museum for animals, and Museum of London Docklands for the Mudlarks interactive gallery. Check booking requirements before you go, and be aware that you may have to queue during school holidays.
FREE MAZE: Ever been to the Brent Lodge Park Millennium Maze? The labyrinth is constructed of 2,000 yew trees, has been around for more than two decades, and is free to visit. It's a 10-minute walk from Hanwell station on the Elizabeth line, and there's a free playground and Hanwell Zoo (small entry fee) right next door.
AUTUMN WALKS: Gather your tribe, boot up and go on a walk part one of London's magnificent displays of autumn foliage. From Royal Parks to a central London riverside stroll, here are seven places to see gorgeous autumn leaves in the capital.
TELLING YOUR STORY: In addition to those mentioned towards the top of this article, London Literature Festival offers some free events, including Telling Your Story, a family-friendly day of live readings, performances, storytelling, music and workshops celebrating diversity in children's literature. Age 5+. FREE, 21 October
CROYDON GIRAFFE TRAIL: 30 giraffe sculptures, designed and painted by various artists, are dotted around Croydon, and make for a great art trail for the whole family to follow. There are also 30 smaller giraffes, designed by local schools and community groups, installed in local shops and the like. FREE, until 27 October
SCULPTURE IN THE CITY: While older kids and teenagers might appreciate the art, little ones can have just as much fun seeking out the installations for this year's Sculpture in the City. It consists of a number of artworks on display in the Square Mile. FREE, until 2024
Family-friendly activities in London in October half term
SWIMMING: A kiddie favourite, London has plenty of options for swimming, whatever the weather. From an Olympic venue to local leisure centres, these are some of London's best indoor pools (we also have our pick of London's outdoor pools and lidos — depending how the weather's looking.)
ICE SKATING: London also has year-round ice rinks, including one slap bang in the middle of the Central line — so no need to wait for the festive season to get your fill of twirls and whirls. That said, if you do want to get festive, the Canary Wharf ice rink opens from 21 October, and it's undercover, so no need to fret about the weather.
DAY TRIPS: Fancy getting out of London for a day or two? Take a gander at out Beyond London section for inspiration. Particularly child-friendly is a visit to the real-life Hundred Acre Wood, as featured in AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh books. Wellington Country Park is also an excellent bet for energetic kids. Otherwise, wear them out by sending them searching for the dozens of frogs hidden down this back street, or the entire solar system within sight of the M25.
AUTISTIC KIDS: Looking for things to do over half term with autistic children? Check out our new guide, which includes museums, theatres, sensory rooms and more.
TEENAGERS: Older kids and teenagers can be trickier to entertain, but have a read of our things to do in London with teenagers, covering everything from museums and exhibitions to shopping trips, a little-known neon art gallery, street art, and more adventurous days out.
HANWELL ZOO: Older Londoners will know it as 'the Bunny Park', but these days it's called Hanwell Zoo, and is home to species such as llamas, meerkats, lemurs and flamingos. Entry is under a fiver per person, and it's right next to the free Brent Millennium Maze.