Things To Do With Kids On A Rainy Day In London

By Londonist Last edited 35 months ago

Last Updated 18 June 2021

Things To Do With Kids On A Rainy Day In London

Kids: always looking for something to do aren't they. Usually they're like wind-up cars, just set them off running around a local park, till they tire themselves out. Except rain makes that tricky. Here are some top rainy day picks by Daisy de Plume, mother of two, and expert in occupying little 'uns' time.

The RAF Museum, Colindale

A museum that gets forgotten due to its location on the fringes of London; however the RAF Museum is actually easily accessible from the centre of town (a 30-minute direct ride on the Northern line from King's Cross to Colindale).

With hangars housing over a 100 years of aviation history, the kids love feeling small among the saucy Spitfires, and ginormous Lancaster. The freedom to run about such a huge space, along with interactive ladders to climb and helicopter seats to investigate, make it a kiddie-dream. The museum has a great worksheet where we learned that the Martin-Baker ejector seat, designed in 1944, had saved more than 6,400 lives, by 1995.

The British Museum, Bloomsbury

What better way to while away your day from the rain than at the British Museum. Drum up some competition among your family, by splitting up (one adult per team) to clobber each other over who finds more treasure.

Search for Greek Olympians, 8th century BC Mesopotamian graffiti of the Royal Game of Ur, some Chinese cherubs playing hobbyhorse on a Ming ewer, and pose with the Lewis Chessmen Rook (also known as the Beserker). Norse legend has it that the Berserkers would whip themselves into a frenzy before descending into battle — that's where the modern term berserk comes from. And with all this stuff going on,

Wigmore Hall, Marylebone

Wigmore Hall hits a high note with its fantastic kiddie concert series — from workshops for under-fives, in their carpeted downstairs room, to a truly impressive hour-long Saturday concert series for kids aged six and up.

Our favorite is the Barbican Piano Trio, who play pieces ranging from Schubert and Schumann to Beethoven and Saint Saëns. Innovative and interactive, the trio stop between pieces to highlight melody, tune. They even get kids up on the stage to divide up into teams behind the cellist, violinist and pianist as they raise signs when certain notes are hit. They finish off with a wonderful bang: having the audience count to the beat, and scream 'boom' for the missing (drum) cannon of the Battle of Prague.

Mail Rail, Clerkenwell

Photo: The Postal Museum

Dodge the droplets of rain by going underground with Mail Rail. The museum and ride is the perfect activity to invite the grandparents to. With over a 1,000 tonnes of cast iron track laid, the postal railway ran 22 hours a day and carried four million letters a day. The tunnels served other purposes as well, housing the Parthenon sculptures, Rosetta Stone and over 600 paintings in 1918 when London had good cause to fear the German Zeppelin and bi-plane bombing raids.

Used by the Royal Post from 1927, it's the fastest way one could cross London: 14 minutes to cross 10 kilometers. Mail Rail opened to public in 2017 (a section of it, anyway). Your journey begins with a captivating film narrated by the personable Ray Middlesworth — maintenance engineer for 30 years. He tells the story of the first railway (from 1863-1874 it was a pneumatic underground railway), crossing the world wars, and up through till it was finally closed in 2003. Once you're done, stop off at Exmouth Market for a hot-chocolate after.

Note: it's very popular, so you might have to hazard a guess when it's going to rain, and book ahead.

Banqueting House, Whitehall

Catch the kids' attention with a bloody king-beheading. Before visiting Banqueting House, I have fun spinning King Charles I's beheading into as grisly a tale as possible. My eldest Storsh, is used to my antics and loves paintings of St John the Baptist's head resting in a silver platter, as well of course as stories of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette's heads tumbling down into Place de la Concorde. So to colour Inigo Jones's gorgeous classical hall before our visit, I give it my grisly best.

The Banqueting House has a great film downstairs to introduce the story of the building, before you ascend the grand stairs to the sumptuous chambers. Storsh loves the audio guide describing Rubens' divine ceiling, as well as the well-thought out kiddie-corner where you can handle 17th century relics found when excavating the basement. Top this off with their collection of fabulous costumes.

Treasure Hunt at the V&A, South Kensington

Toddling on over to the V&A, you can pit boys against girls (parents included) for a THATMuse treasure hunt celebrating travel. Globe-trotting across galleries, teams go traipsing after travel-treasure such as Chinese Silk Road camels from the Tang Dynasty to crusading for chalices and crosses, gallivanting after Grand Tour busts. St Christopher and St James (patron saints of travel and pilgrims, respectively) are balanced by fabulous travel gear from the V&A's famed fashion and textiles department.

Family fun prevails as you stay dry from the wet weather while racking up your museum trivia on all things travel.

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Ahoy! The NMM can't get more kid-friendly. Out in Greenwich — where you can take the hydrofoil, another rainy-day pleasure — the Ahoy! children's gallery has plenty of interactive treats for free-kid-fun. From throwing them into a new profession, that of fish-mongers, to climbing a ship-deck and my boys' favourite, firing a cannon. An enormous map of the world where they can stand on various spots across the globe, as well as a fun app-based trail make it a great spot for all ages. Read the Usborne story of Nelson on the way out there.

The Idol at Abbey Leisure Centre, Barking

Image: Emil Charlaff

This isn't just any soft-play centre, The Idol was designed by Turner-nominated multi-media artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, and inspired by sci-fi. There are cyborgs AND a two-storey robot where kids can romp up, down and around, with nods to the Egyptians and Greek mythology. Let the kids go bouncing in this 21,000 m² of free-play.

Bear & Wolf Cafe, Tufnell Park

Bear & Wolf has communal tables and kiddie room with soft play for tots. It's perfect for stashing the babies away while you have your moment actually being an adult with a friend over a delicious café au lait and croissant. Up in Tufnell Park, there's an adorable children's clothing store just across the road too.

Ride the entirety of a bus route

Track the bus route on a map of London at home and then take the bus for the entire length of it to see where it goes. Depending on how involved you want to get, you can look up landmarks or bits of history that you're passing along the way, so to study a random route of London.

Dim sum, Chinatown

Imperial China has three floors of dim-sum-delight, with lovely red lanterns making this a festive place for Sunday lunch. Kids can take a break from the table, to go out to their oblong courtyard and stand on the arched mini-bridge over a wonderful little creek with mammoth fish swimming about.

Another family fave is Dumplings' Legend, again for the break between courses where the boys love to watch chefs expertly roll their dumplings, dim sum and spring rolls. The latter can be a bit pricey, with somewhat huffy service, but the upstairs fish-tank, treasure box and all, keep us coming back. A last favorite for people-watching is Gerard's Corner, the food's good, the service consistently pleasant and the tables are elevated above the street corner so you can watch the chaos of the rain in the centre of Chinatown.

Charles Dickens Museum cafe, Holborn

Not the cafe, but Dickens' actual dining room. You can look at it, but don't crack open the sarnies here

Take the kids for tea at the Charles Dickens Museum, the café sits next to a precious garden, with drizzling fountain in place. Before or after your visit to the museum, stop by their gift shop to pick up a children's version of Great Expectations or A Christmas Carol to read them a chapter or two over tea. How better to introduce them to the master storyteller, than in his house?

Fountain fun, King's Cross

Pull up those wellies, put on that yellow slicker and celebrate the rain. If it's warm enough, the fountains at Central St Martin's, are a great place for kids to go frolicking. The delight at being allowed to get wet is something our family has only just discovered upon moving to London, peculiar and lovely to the English.

To reboot, there's an enormous hangar-sized open air, covered space outside Waitrose, which has tables, chairs and plenty of other families re-fueling on quick homemade picnics.

Pub lunch

The best quality and cheapest kid-menu meal we know of is at the gastro-pub, The Union Tavern on Lloyd Baker Street on the edge of Islington. Kid-friendly it has a great menu with a starter only costing one pound more than if you just order a main.

There's lovely woodwork and beveled glass, soaring ceilings in their 19th Century building (though a pub's been there since the 1740s) — moreover the service can't get better. With a two course lunch costing £6.95 and a set dinner at £11.95, you really can't beat it.

Another great rainy-day pub is next to Kew Garden's station pub. Tap on the Line has a really pleasant room with glass ceiling so you can hear the pitter pat of the raindrops coming down as you dig into your Fish 'n' Chips. We mainly come for my youngest Balthazar's entertainment — he loves watching everyone alight from their train as there's only a wall of glass separating the platform from the pub.

Celebrate the wet

Photo by Storsh

Slickers and wellies in place, grab your camera and have the kids find beauty in the rain. It rains so much here, that we're really forced to celebrate it, no? Since you'll be wet anyway, toddle on toward Camden Town for a canal walk to watch the rain splashing the many water fowl inhabiting the canals. Then head to the wonderful Gasholder Park, otherwise known as that cool mirrored structure at the King's Cross part of the canal. Storsh loves taking selfies with his brother as they look skyward at themselves in the mirrored ceiling. Storsh also takes plenty of lovely droplets-on-a-leaf, tuning into his artistic side.

British Library

The British Library on a distinctly non rainy day

Besides their temporary exhibitions, the British Library has a fantastic kid's treasure trail. It gets families up to George III's 85,000 book-tower, down to the printing press and over to the library's Listening Project — Balthazar, loves the interactive cubby-hole seats, not to mention mimicking the sound of whales singing. Don't leave without paying tribute to the Magna Carta, and if you happen to be there for upcoming family readings, all the better.

By Daisy de Plume

See also: Free things to do with kids in London