Things to do with kids in London
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.
SWIMMING: Another kiddie favourite, London has plenty of options for swimming, whatever the weather (it may be the summer holidays, but this is England...). From an Olympic venue to local leisure centres, these are some of London's best indoor pools. If the weather's on your side, try one of London's outdoor pools and lidos —you'll probably need to book in advance if it's sunny.
ICE SKATING: Stick with us. The seasonal ice rinks are long gone, but London has year-round ice rinks too, including one slap bang in the middle of the Central line (well, not literally).
PLAYGROUNDS: Need somewhere for the bairns to let off steam? We've mapped all of the playgrounds we know of in central London, and many of them have been tried and tested by our own Mini Londonists.
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.
Things to do with older kids and teenagers
VISIT BUCKINGHAM PALACE: Kids interested in all things Royal after the recent Jubilee? 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...) — but the website does have some colouring activities to keep younger visitors amused too. 22 July-2 October 2022
SISTER ACT: Beverley Knight and Jennifer Saunders are among the impressive cast of the new musical Sister Act, launching at the Eventim Apollo this month. Sadly, since the production was delayed by Covid, Whoopi Goldberg herself is no longer scheduled to appear, but we're still promised a feel-good show about a witness to a murder who hides from society by entering a convent and becoming a nun. No under-3s admitted. From 19 July
YOUTH TAKEOVER DAY: Young people from Greenwich and beyond are invited to take part in a day of interactive and creative workshops by Royal Parks. Graffiti, parkour, street dance and stilt-walking are among the skills being taught, followed by a concert showcasing young artists from the local area. 13 August
FOOTBALL: Got a budding Lionel Messi or Megan Rapinoe on your hands? Design Museum's Football: Designing The Beautiful Game is open to ages 6+, with colourful displays of football shirts and banners to draw the eye of younger visitors, though the detail about the design of football kits, boots and other aspects of the game will appeal more to teenagers. Until 29 August 2022
GREASE:... is the word at the Dominion Theatre, as Danny, Sandy and co are back in the West End for a limited time. There's a recommended age of 7+ for this version of the musical, with no admission to anyone under 5. Until 29 October 2022
BEATRIX POTTER: Following Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland, the V&A Museum continues its foray into children's literature with an exhibition about writer and illustrator Beatrix Potter, suitable for older children and teenagers. The woman who brought us Peter Rabbit and friends took her inspiration from her work as a conservationist. Find out more and see her drawings and sketches. Until January 2023
Family-friendly days out
SUPERBLOOM: History + photo opportunities is what you'll find at Superbloom, the wildflower meadow that's taken over the Tower of London moat. It was planted for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee but will remain in situ all summer, and the various ticketing options include the opportunity to combine your Superbloom visit with a trip to the Tower itself. Kids still not convinced? Tell them they can slide down into the moat on a giant slide — that should do the trick. Until 18 September 2022
HOBBLEDOWN HEATH: New family attraction Hobbledown Heath in Hounslow opens just in time for the summer holidays. It has indoor and outdoor adventure play areas, over 70 farm and zoo animals, towers to climb, underground tunnels to explore and aerial walkways to scale. From 11 July
SMELLY BRUNEL: The Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe has a special immersive trail exploring the stinky history of the Thames Tunnel (but in a pleasant way!). "Sniff out clues to discover what cargoes were brought to the Docks, and what happened to the tunnel when it was finished. Can you identify the precious cargo from olfactory abilities alone?". Suitable for ages 7-11 (but younger and older siblings are welcome). Included in entry to the Museum. A Family ticket for £10 admits up to 2 adults and 4 children. All summer
FESTIVAL 14:A brand-new arts festival comes to Canary Wharf, featuring music, theatre, comedy, dance and family activities. Festival14 is headlined by acts including the House Gospel Choir and London legends Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, though kids will be more interested in the storytelling, the house of bugs, the puppet theatre on a bus, and other family-friendly events. Many (though not all) events are free.21-24 July
DEAR ZOO: The Postal Museum celebrates the 40th anniversary of bestselling children's book Dear Zoo with a programme of summer holiday activities, all included in your museum ticket price. They range from a family trail where you can seek out the animal characters, to storytelling sessions, craft workshops and, on 11 August, a very special chance to meet Dear Zoo author Rod Campbell. Browse the full programme. 22 July-31 August
KALEIDOSCOPE: Happy Mondays, the Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show and comedians Dom Joly and Ed Byrne are all on the eclectic line-up at Kaleidoscope Festival. The one-day event takes over Alexandra Palace with live music, DJ sets, comedy and spoken word performances — so that's the grown-ups sorted. As for the kids, magicians, games and workshops for families are part of the fun too — all with incredible views over London. 23 July
BBC PROMS: While the BBC Proms aren't often considered family-friendly events — and rightly so — the CBeebies Prom is a great way to introduce your little ones to the world of Promming. Prom 12 takes a relaxed approach to noise and movement while the show is going on, meaning the whole family can relax and watch the musical tale of an underwater adventure. 23 July
SUMMER OF COLOUR: Taking your cheeky monkeys to London Zoo in the holidays? It's hosting a Summer of Colour, encouraging families to discover the technicolour beauty of nature through craft activities, face painting, art installations, fancy dress opportunities, and talks from ZSL's animal experts. 23 July-31 August
MEDIEVAL SEASON: Throughout the summer it's Medieval Season at Eltham Palace, with jester workshops a chance to have a go at archery, and other activities, which vary week to week. That takes place 23 July-4 September, with a legendary joust on the weekend of 14-15 August.
BABY DISCO DANCE HALL: DJ Monski Mouse and her dancers make an appearance at Underbelly Festival in Cavendish Square, for Baby Disco Dance Hall. The afternoon disco dancing session is aimed at 0-5 year olds and their families — we're promised "thumping nursery rhymes" to get everyone grooving. 30 July
LONDON E-PRIX: For the final weekend of July, all-electric vehicles take over the area around Royal Docks and ExCel for the London E-Prix. The track partially goes inside the ExCel Centre itself, as well as using the local roads, and there's a fan village, live music and kids' area for spectators. 30-31 July
SUMMER CYCLE: Get on your bike at Kew Gardens, which has one Summer Cycle event remaining this year. Tour the botanical gardens on two wheels at a leisurely pace over the course of an evening, with live music and pop-up food and drink stalls. Note you must bring your own bike, or you won't be allowed in. 4 August
THE SECRET GARDEN: The Garden Museum's summer exhibition centre on beloved children's book The Secret Garden. Step into the immersive show, with interactive trails for kids, and see how different artists have illustrated the story since it was first published. A good one for the school holidays, we reckon, as kids go free and events run alongside it such as family cooking workshops and arty Sundays. 6 July-4 September
THE OBLITERATION ROOM: Artist Yayoi Kusama never fails to present beautiful, fascinating exhibitions, and The Obliteration Room will be no exception. It begins as a completely white apartment, with visitors helping to transform it using colourful dots in the form of stickers, which are handed to you on arrival — that's right parents, no paint! 23 July-29 August
CATS AND DOGS: Horniman Museum's family-friendly exhibition Cats and Dogs is still ongoing. It offers an insight into the creatures we share our homes with, looking at the scientific, social and cultural role that cats and dogs play in our world, and offering a chance to experience what it's like to be a canine or feline. Until 20 October
DIPPY: Roll out the red carpet, one of London's most famous residents is back. Natural History Museum's diplodocus skeleton replica — known as Dippy to its mates — is back at the South Ken institution after a lengthy UK tour. It's only here for a few months, and you'll have to book (free) tickets to the Dippy Returns exhibition if you want in on the action. Until January 2023
Family-friendly theatre shows
THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE: Take the whole family along to see this new production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and see CS Lewis' Narnia brought to life on stage. Eastenders actress Samantha Womack plays the White Witch. 18 July-8 January 2023
CHORES: Underbelly Festival isn't just for adults. Take the family along to see Chores, a comedy acrobatic show about other kids doing their chores, which is inspired by slapstick legends Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin (good luck explaining who they are to your little ones...). 23-26 July
THE JUNGLE BOOK: Mowgli, Bagheera, Akela, Baloo and the rest of Rudyard Kipling's well-known characters appear in this reinterpretation of The Jungle Book, performed al fresco at Kew Gardens. It's open to all ages, and is a 70-minute performance without an interval. 23 July-21 August
AMAZING BUBBLE MAN: Head to Underbelly Festival Cavendish Square for a performance by the Amazing Bubble Man, who combines art, magic and science to show just how much fun bubbles can be. A 60-minute show, open to all ages, with elements of audience participation. 27-29 July
LIFE OF PI: Pi is a 16-year old boy, stranded on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a tiger after a cargo ship sinks in the Pacific Ocean. It's based on a 2001 novel, which was turned into a popular film in 2012, and now it's on the West End stage. Currently booking until October 2022
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 February 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 March 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 2023
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 May 2023
Free and cheap things to do
TAIL TRAIL: Both Museum of London and Museum of London Docklands host Tail Trail, a free gallery trail suitable for ages 3+, where visitors can use the exhibits to help Riley Ratcliffe complete her family tree. 2 July-4 September 2022
RIVER STAGE: For four weekends, National Theatre's River Stage returns to South Bank, offering free, open-air performances and activities. The weekends of 22-24 July and 12-14 August are looking like your best bet for family shows, including theatre, dance, music and more. 15 July-14 August
URBAN ELEPHANT: There's a new, free festival happening in Elephant & Castle. Urban Elephant brings together street theatre, circus, dance and art by both renowned professional street theatre performers and local community art groups. It takes place at various places around the area, including Castle Square, Elephant Park and Walworth Square. 29-31 July
GDIF:Rainbow foam, ballet performances by a disabled dancer, and a 32ft high rotating zoetrope are on the programme at this year's Greenwich + Docklands International Festival. Though not everything on the programme is designed with families in mind, there's plenty that is — and it's all free! 26 August-11 September 2022
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. 28 August
SUMMER LIGHTS: Like a winter lights trail, but without the cold, dark nights. Summer Lights makes use of natural sunlight, showing off 11 new installations and six permanent artworks at their best, dotted around the Canary Wharf area (where there's also free mini golf!). Until 20 August
FAMILY FILM CLUB: Encanto, The Incredibles and Shark Tale are among the child-friendly films shown at Family Film Club, a series of free, open-air film screenings in Canada Square Park and Union Square in Canary Wharf. No need to book, just turn up (in plenty of time for good seats), kick back, end enjoy the film. Until 27 August
CHIMPANZEE TRAIL: Visitors are encouraged to hug and interact with these wonderful chimpanzee sculptures, which you'll find down by the river near London Bridge. There are 28 sculptures to find, so that'll keep the kids busy for a while. Until 21 October 2022
SCULPTURE IN THE CITY: All sorts of weird and wonderful creations have land in the Square Mile for Sculpture in the City, including rainbow flowers, human snails, and neon writing. The free, open-air art trail has works by 19 different artists, and there's a map available online to help you track them down. Until Spring 2023
Family 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:.
- 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.