Favourite Five: Free (or cheap) places to visit with kids in London
Updated: Jan 24, 2019
1. Paddington Trail
If your kids love the Paddington movies, then they're in for a treat, as they can see many of the film's locations in real life. Your first stop must be Platform 1 at Paddington railway station, where the Brown family first discovered the little bear from Peru. You can enter both the station and the platform without a ticket, and you will see the statue of Paddington halfway down on the left-hand side. You may find there is a queue of people waiting to take photos - this famous bear certainly attracts attention!
Walk back up the platform and you'll spot the Paddington gift shop in the top corner of the station. Be warned, it's geared towards tourists and is not cheap. But they do sell small items such as bookmarks and magnets if you (or the kids!) want a little souvenir to take home.
From there, it's up to you - you can find Mr Gruber's antiques store by hopping on the tube to Portobello Road, spot the Browns' house in Primrose Hill, or visit the Natural History Museum where Nicole Kidman tried to capture Paddington in the first film. A full Paddington Bear itinerary can be found on the Visit London website.
2. Tower Bridge Exhibition
This feels like a bit of a hidden gem. We've visited twice as a family and loved it both times. It's so reasonably priced too, at £22 for a family of four (top tip: Tesco Clubcard vouchers can be used for entry!) You can also buy a joint family ticket for both Tower Bridge and The Monument - ask for this at the first venue you visit, and it will save you money compared to buying separate admission tickets.
There is always a queue outside, but don't be put off as it moves fairly quickly. You will need to pass through security, before ascending in the lift to the North Tower (or they often allow people to climb the steps if you're feeling fit!) This is a self-guided tour so you can move through as slowly or as quickly as you want to (always a bonus with kids!) But I'd recommend trying to see as much as possible, including the films which are really interesting.
The highlight of the exhibition, aside from the amazing views, is the glass floor. If you're scared of heights then this may not be for you, but it really is incredible to be able to stand above the Thames, and watch the boats and traffic pass directly beneath you.
Once you've explored both sides of the bridge, you exit and walk along Tower Bridge Road to the Engine Rooms, which are also included in the admission price.
This is a smaller exhibit, but just as interesting, especially if your kids love all things mechanical. There are several interactive displays which will keep them engaged for ages. Finally, you exit through the gift shop, which actually has some lovely items, related to both the bridge and to London.
3. Sky Garden
Have your kids ever fancied going to the top of the Walkie Talkie? Well now you can take them, and tickets are FREE! You'll have access to three storeys of gorgeous landscaped gardens, as well as wonderful 360 degree views of the city. You need to book on-line in advance to guarantee entry, although there are an unknown number of walk-in spaces held back each day too.
There is a nice cafe at the top (it's not too pricey considering the location!), along with public toilets. Be aware that passing through security takes a while (all bags and belongings are scanned airport-style) but once you're in, you can stay for as long as you like (officially it states 1 hour from time of entry but no-one checks how long you've been there!) Tickets are released roughly one week in advance so keep your eye on the website (booking link above).
4. Diana, Princess of Wales' Memorial Playground
This is a fabulous place for the little ones, right next to Kensington Palace. It's totally secure too, as it's gated and no-one without kids under 12 can enter. The centre-piece is the giant Pirate Ship which is surrounded by sand, but there's lots more to explore, with a fabulous sensory trail and lots of places to play hide-and-seek!
It can get really busy, so it's best to get there as early as you can especially in the summer (opening time is 10am with different closing times depending on the season). You can find more details here.
There's a nice cafe right next to the park, and plenty of picnic benches for you to sit down and rest your feet whilst the kids run around.
Allow a good hour if not longer, as this is one place that the kids won't want to leave!
5. Emirates Air Line
This is another hidden gem, which is such fun for everyone! Emirates Air Line is a cable car which crosses the River Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks. You can catch the tube to North Greenwich and when you exit by the O2 arena, you will see signs for the Air Line.
Cabins arrive every 30 seconds and flights are approximately 10 minutes each way. Return tickets cost from £5.00 for children (aged 5-15) when you book on-line in advance.
It really is a unique way to see London, and as it's run by Emirates, everything is very clean and efficient. The recorded commentary is an added bonus, and providing it's not too busy, the staff are really good at letting you have a cable car to yourselves. When you disembark, there is plenty to see and do around the area, including lots of family-friendly restaurants and a cinema at the O2.