The National Gallery
The National Gallery is the second most popular gallery in the UK with works by famous artists such as Van Gogh, Constable, Monet, da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Art galleries and kids do not always paint a pretty picture, but children are well catered for with Magic Carpet Storytelling for under 5s – paintings brought alive in interactive stories every Sunday. For older children there are art workshops and activities, and for everyone there are Walk and Talk tours. There’s even a gallery of artwork by kids – ‘Mini Masterpieces’, so your budding Freud can be inspired.
For opening times and location, visit The National Gallery website
National Portrait Gallery
The Gallery was founded in 1856 to collect portraits of famous British men and women. Today there are over 160,000 portraits from the 16th Century to the present day. Aside from tiring your kids out as they wander the impressive corridors and clamber the stairs, there are year-round sessions targeted at kids including Family Tour and Draw sessions led by artists and storytellers, making portraits in clay, t-shirt design and workshops to make your own ‘Flick Books’. All sessions are suitable for either over 3s or over 5s, and are free.
For opening times and location, visit the National Portrait Gallery website
At the heart of London, this is one of the city’s most vibrant open spaces. It’s totally pedestrianised and is a great people-watching destination. Kids will love the famous Nelson’s Column, and a hunt for probably the smallest police box ever built – originally a lamp, built in 1826. In 1926, Scotland Yard installed a telephone line and light which the police could use to call for assistance. The infamous pigeons are no more, but the fountains attract people for a splash. There’s even a licensed cafe, and there are often special free events held in the square too.
For the location, visit on Trafalgar Square website
Right in the heart of London’s bookshop zone, Foyles is the largest bookshop inEurope, with over 200,000 titles in stock. It’s a bit of a cheat including it in the ‘Free’ things to do section, but if you’re happy to just let the kids browse, then it counts. They’ll be fully absorbed in the children’s section with more or less every book imaginable for babies and beyond. Foyles regularly attracts famous children’s authors – recent visitors have included Julia Donaldson and Anthony Horowitz. The children’s department is also home to a tank of piranha fish.
For opening times and location, visit the Foyles website
No experience in Westminster would be complete without a trip to Buckingham Palace. Tours of the state rooms do cost money, but for a free display of sheer pomp and ceremony go see the Changing the Guard ceremony outside the main gates. This is where one member of the Queen’s Guards exchanges duty with the old guard. Both guards are dressed in traditional red tunics and bearskin hats, and the ceremony is set to music. Stand outside Buckingham Palace at 10.45 and again at 11.40 to watch the mounted Guards ride out of the palace and down The Mall.
For opening times and location, visit the Royal website
Tate Britain houses the Tate collection of British art from 1500 to the present day, featuring artists such as Turner, Constable and Gainsborough. It offers a range of activities for children and adults to explore together. These include any-time activities for families with children, plus drop-in and ticketed special activities for weekends and school holidays. Your kids will love the art workshops, for example ‘Musical Pictures’ – free family art/music workshops with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
For opening times and location, visit the Tate Britain website
Hyde Park is one of London’s largest parks – over 350 acres of lakes, trees, paths, grass and flowers. It’s a great space to feed the ducks in The Serpentine, kick a football on the grass, or have a picnic while watching people swim in The Lido. There are three playgrounds in the park and you can all cool your toes in the Diana Memorial Fountain. The park stretches all the way from Knightsbridge in the south to Bayswater in the north and it’s a great way to forget you’re in London for a couple of hours.
For the location, visit the Royal Parks website for more information about Hyde Park
The main attraction of Kensington Gardens with kids is the absolutely fabulous Diana Memorial Playground. This children’s wonderland opened in 2000, in memory of the late Princess. Located next to herKensingtonPalacehome, the playground features a huge wooden pirate ship, tunnels, sandpits, slides and climbing frames. Get there early before it gets busy – especially on the weekends, grab yourself a coffee at the cafe, and let the kids run wild.
Leicester Square and China Town
Busy Leicester Square lies between Piccadilly and Covent Garden, and it’s one of the city’s hubs, home to a collection of cinemas where blockbuster films première, a small green and numerous restaurants and bars. China Town is in London’s vibrant Soho area, directly to the north of Leicester Square -it’s home to an enormous collection of mainly Chinese restaurants, shops,bars and events. Take your kids star-spotting outside The Odeon, with an ogle at the street artists int the Square.Finish off by walking throught he famous Chinese Arch at the eastern end of Gerrard Street.
The world-famous Covent Garden includes a large piazza, indoor and outdoor markets, theatre, shops and restaurants. However the main draw with kids is the free entertainment laid on for the tourists at the West Piazza, outside St Paul’s Church and at the North Hall of the Market Building. Be dazzled by street performers including jugglers, acrobats and dancers. All performers are highly talented as they have to audition for a spot. In December the Christmas choirs and lights are also truly magical. You can even pet a reindeer or two!
Visit the Covent Garden website