Looking for things to do in London in the summer holidays? We've got you covered, from family days out in the capital to free, family-friendly activities if you're on a budget, and even some day drips out of London that the kids will love.
Family days out in London
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 for summer 2023 — 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, and one that's just reopened — so no need to wait for the festive season to get your fill of twirls and whirls.
BOATING: Few things excite kids more than boats, especially if you tell them they can have a go at rowing/pedalling themselves. With that in mind, pick one of our favourite boating lakes in London, chock full of swans, dragons and other fantastical vessels waiting to be hired out. Not up for doing the work yourselves? Kick back on one of London's best boat trips and let someone else do the work while you watch the scenery roll by.
BEACHES: Craving the sand between your toes? Head to one of London's urban beaches, which pop up across the capital complete with sand, water features, deckchairs, funfair rides and all manner of entertainment. They're not all family-friendly, but there are options if you've got little ones to entertain.
OUTDOOR CINEMA: Kids still singing about Bruno? Take them to a family-friendly screening at one of London's outdoor cinemas (some of which are free!) and replace their Encanto obsession with something else.
CRAZY GOLF: Tee off among dinosaurs, whales, dragons and jungle creatures at London's many family-friendly places to play crazy golf.
AUTISTIC KIDS: Looking for things to do in the school holidays with autistic children? Check out our new guide, which includes museums, theatres, sensory rooms and more.
Summer holiday events in London
VISIT BUCKINGHAM PALACE: Kids interested in all things Royal after the recent coronation? Take them inside Buckingham Palace at the annual opening of the State Rooms. It's open to all ages, though probably has more of interest for older kids and teenagers (and it's not cheap, so waiting until they're older might be better...). 14 July-24 September 2023
SUMMER OF FUN: Animal-themed games and vet roleplay activities are part of the Summer of Fun at London Zoo. Kids can test their stealth and agility in a game of Sleeping Tiger, learn whose tail is whose at a game of Animal Tail Hoopla, and use their detective skills in a game of Poo-Dunnit. 22 July-3 September
UP IN THE AIR: North London's RAF Museum has Horrible Histories themed activities this summer. Solve puzzles, and take part in craft and STEM activities to work our a secret message before time runs out — all the while learning about the history of aviation, surrounded by iconic aircraft. Designed for ages 5+. 22 July-3 September
SUMMER OF INVENTION: Mini railways, stamps, sorting machines and robot technology all feature in the Summer of Invention at the Postal Museum. Arts, crafts, games, interactive shows and a chance to handle some museum objects feature in the programme of events, taking place Thursday-Saturday, 27 July-26 August
Family-friendly exhibitions in the summer holidays
POWER UP: Science Museum opens its brand new interactive gallery, Power Up, just in time for the summer holidays. It's home to 160 consoles where you can play video games dating back over the last 50 years, including Pong, Pacman, Minecraft and MarioKart. Play single or multiplayer, depending how competitive you're feeling. Age 5+. From 27 July
BRICK DINOS: The Lego-centric Brick Dinos exhibition is back at Horniman Museum, with creatures from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods recreated in the tiny 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, plus 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 anticipated exhibition, Titanosaur: Life as the Biggest Dinosaur has opened its doors, exploring 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 lived. Until January 2024
BBC EARTH: The immersive BBC Earth Experience is up and running in Earl's Court. Voiced by David Attenborough, it's open to all ages (under-3s go free) and is a walk-through take on 2019 TV show, Seven Worlds, One Planet. Extended until January 2024
Family-friendly London theatre shows in the summer holidays
THE LION KING: Needs no introduction really, does it? Stunning puppetry, catchy tunes, and the ever-popular story of Simba set in the Seringeti. A sprinkle of Disney magic here in London. Currently booking until October 2023
FROZEN THE MUSICAL: Let It Go? Pah, if you've not taken the kids to see Frozen The Musical yet, they'll never let it go. Treat them to seeing Anna, Elsa and the rest of the gang in action on the stage at Theatre Royal Drury Lane — singing along very likely. Currently booking until October 2023
MATILDA: The Royal Shakespeare Company worked its magic on Roald Dahl's book, resulting in the excellent Matilda The Musical. It's the story of an extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny. Currently booking until May 2024
HARRY POTTER: Recommended for ages 10+, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play in two parts, set 19 years after the Hogwarts books end. We won't give too much away, but this show has won an absolute wealth of awards. Just be aware that it's a bit dark and scary in parts, so might not sit well with some kids. Currently booking until March 2024
Free things to do in London in the summer holidays
PLAYGROUNDS: If the weather's playing nice, few things bring a smile to 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 located handily near tourist attractions so you can burn off some excess energy on a day out.
MORPH ART TRAIL: 56 large sculptures of beloved TV character Morph have appeared across London, mainly centred around the City and South Bank. It's a free art trail which anyone can follow (it's step-free, for accessibility), with each Morph decorated by different artists and school groups. When the event ends, they'll be sold off to raise money for children's disability charity Whizz Kidz. FREE, 19 June-20 August
TUSK GORILLA TRAIL: In addition to the Morphs, a trail of 15 life-sized gorilla sculptures comes to Covent Garden just in time for the summer holidays. The likes of Ronnie Wood and Rankin designed pieces on the Tusk Gorilla Trail, which is free to follow — though donations to conservation charity Tusk are appreciated. FREE, 14 July-October 2023
FAMILY FILM CLUB: Paddington, Inside Out and Matilda the Musical are among the family-friendly films beings shown at free screenings in Canary Wharf. Family Film Club takes place on selected Saturdays in Canada Square Park — get there in plenty of time to bag your spot in front of the large open-air screen, and don't forget to take snacks along too! FREE, until 19 August
ROMAN LONDINIUM: London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE and London’s Roman Amphitheatre team up to transport visitors back to Roman Londinium. The Roman London Family Quest links these two Roman City sites, with family activities and quests for visitors to complete as they go. FREE, 25-56 August
NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL: On first glance, the crowds and noise of Notting Hill Carnival don't seem all that family-friendly. But don't forget that the Sunday is normally family day, with a children's carnival and parade, before things really ramp up on bank holiday Monday. Though it's the calmer day of Carnival, it can still be a fairly intense experience, with crowds, lots of noise, and often queues for toilets, food and drink, so may not be suitable for all kiddies, particularly younger ones. FREE, 27 August
GDIF: Greenwich+Docklands International Festival is back towards the end of the school holidays, with two weeks of free outdoor theatre and performing arts. Though the programme isn't specifically designed for kids, there are usually plenty of family-friendly events to enjoy — this year they include a regatta of 12 glowing swans, and an aerial performance at the top of Greenwich Park. FREE, 25 August-10 September
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 — why not combine it with hunting out the Morph sculptures (above) in the area? FREE, until 2024
MINI GOLF: If you find yourself in Canary Wharf, perhaps to visit the excellent Museum of London Docklands, or for Family Film Club (above), don't forget about the colourful and completely free minigolf course in Montgomery Square. There's no charge and no booking — just turn up and find one of the event stewards for your clubs and balls. FREE
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 the 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.
Family-friendly day trips from London
Fancy getting out of London for a day or two? Take a look at our Beyond London section for inspiration. Particularly family-friendly ideas include:.
- SEASIDE: A classic day trip for all ages, find yourself a classic seaside resort or beach near London to visit in either Kent, Sussex or Essex.
- WINNIE THE POOH: A visit to the real-life Hundred Acre Wood, in East Sussex as featured in AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh books
- SLIDES, GOATS, AND A MINI RAILWAY: Find them all at Wellington Country Park, an excellent bet for energetic kids, located near Reading;
- CASTLES: we've got them by the countyful, in Kent, Sussex and Essex. Hever Castle is a particular favourite with families.
- PYO FRUIT: Somehow, it always tastes so much better when you pick it yourself. Strawberry season tails off by the time the summer holidays come around, but have a look at our guide to PYO farms near London to see what else is ready for picking, and when.
- SUNFLOWER FARMS: Alternatively, take the whole family for a day of sunflower bothering at one of these dazzling sunflower farms near London.