The summer holidays are well underway and if you’re starting to tear your hair out do not fret – we’ve got the best selection of free and affordable activities that you can take your little ones to, whatever their age. Whether your mini-me is the outdoorsy type, or they prefer staying in, we’ve created a round up of the best London has to offer for the perfect staycation whatever the English summer has to throw at us.
As soon as the sun makes even a tiny appearance, a brief cameo in these precious summer days, everyone wants one thing – water. Although even if the sun isn’t shining, London’s lidos and open water ponds are a great place to while away the hours with the whole family. Bonus – swimming is incredibly tiring, meaning you’ll have a peaceful house when you get back!
For a classic take on the infamous London lido, start with Tooting Bec, London Fields or Brockwell Park. These three have a great mix of family-friendly fun and great cafés for parents or older teens if they get bored of the water.
If you’ve spent a day in the city and the weather has reached fever pitch, you can cool down in the somewhat hidden gem that is the Oasis Sports Centre. Tucked away in between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn, this 27m heated pool is surrounded by a sun terrace and adjacent indoor heated pool, meaning even when the sun goes in you can carry on tiring out your little ones. A once ‘hidden secret’ of London swimming, it’s now popular knowledge that this little slice of paradise exists, so go early or late in the day to avoid disappointment – and be prepared to do more splashing than swimming.
For slightly older children, why not try one of London’s wild swimming spots? For a brand new natural swimming experience, try the recently opened Beckenham Place Park Swimming Lake, which has been brought back to its former glory after lying unused. First created in 1800, this lagoon has a brand new café, beach area, jetty and paddling pool that is perfect for all ages. The entry fee is a very modest £3 so you can easily spend the day there with a picnic for a purse-friendly summer activity.
The Serpentine Lido offers spectacular Royal Park views during your splash around. The water isn’t chlorinated or heated, and you may end up swimming alongside swans, ducks and other London wildlife but that only adds to the fun. There’s a gated family area with paddling pool so you don’t have to worry about little ones and it’s under £5 entry for adults so a reasonable day out for all.
Finally, one of London’s most classic outdoor swimming experiences has to be Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds. Whatever the weather, whatever the time of year or season, you can relax in this lush green expanse of open-water paddling, swimming and relaxing. As it used to be a dammed-off clay pit, the water is usually pretty chilly all year round so be prepared for a bracing swim!
Despite London recently being named as a ‘National Park City’, the Capital lacks the diversity of flora and fauna of the Great British countryside. However do not fear, there are plenty of free city farms to take your little ones to. They make a great fun day out and offer an interesting and hands-on way to show your children animals they may have only read about in books.
Mudchute Park and Farm
Just next to the dizzying heights of Canary Wharf is Mudchute Park and Farm, a 32-acre green space on the Isle of Dogs. Alongside a whole host of classic farmyard favourites, you can take part in adult and child horse riding lessons, art workshops, a summer dog show and see a selection of rare breed animals. As one of the largest inner-city farms in Europe, you’ll need a whole day to enjoy meeting the donkeys, pigs, sheep, aviary birds, turkeys, chickens and more.
Kentish Town City Farm
Across the other side of London you’ll find Kentish Town City Farm – a community charity that specialises in helping city people connect with animals, nature and the environment. The farm is made up of animal pasture areas, a wildlife pond, riding area, community area and a therapeutic riding school to people with special needs. In the onsite farm kitchen, families can learn how to cook nutritious meals using fresh ingredients from the surrounding green space, offering not only a great summer day out but one that imparts a skill set for life.
Vauxhall City Farm
Back down in south London, and close to our Nine Elms office, Vauxhall City Farm can be found only moments from the busy station. Horses, alpacas, sheep, pigs, chickens and smaller furry friends can all be found on this quaint site. The riding school offers children the option to ‘own a pony’ during school holidays so they learn about the responsibilities of owning an animal as well as enjoying the fun stuff. It has a lovely onsite café that is perfect if the weather turns, so make sure you stay for lunch.
Hounslow Urban Farm
For a slightly more exotic city farm, take a trip to Hounslow, where across 22 acres you’ll meet a complete menagerie of animals! You can still interact with cows, chickens, pigs (both big and small) sheep and alpacas but what makes this city farm a bit different is the variety of reptiles. Thai Water Dragons, Sudan Plated Lizards, Eastern Kingsnakes, Bull Snakes and a Saharan Uromastyx (us neither but they’re quite cute?)
Mario Kart on the big screen
For families with young gamers, Merchant Square in Paddington is bringing Mario Sports and Mario Kart to the biggest multi-player gaming screen in London every Monday and Friday until 9th September.
From 12-2pm take control of one of the four controllers and settle down for an exciting game on the Rainbow Road, Yoshi Valley or in Luigi’s Mansion. Merchant Square will be keeping a leader board of the best team scores throughout the summer, so feel free to go back and beat your score until you’re on top of the table!
The event is completely free for all the family, making it a great activity for pre or post-lunch, or to while away a few hours.
The words ‘Canary Wharf’ might not trigger images of ‘free’ or ‘family’, however this urban jungle offers a great summer programme of free weekly films.
The last four family-friendly screenings take place on 20th, 24th, 27th and 31st August respectively, and offer titles including Little Shop of Horrors, Edward Scissorhands, Night at the Museum and Jurassic Park.
Settle down at Canada Square Park from 6pm ready for the film starting at 7pm. Bring an evening picnic, blankets, pillows and cushions and anything else you can pack and enjoy a night at the big screen in the heart of London’s financial district.
London has an abundance of green space that is perfect for families of all ages. Grab a selection of snacks, your picnic blanket, some wet weather gear (it is England after all) and a sense of adventure and get yourself down to one of the Capital’s fun and free parks.
Holland Park might be in one of London’s most exclusive residential areas, however the park is most definitely open to all. Kids will love the adventure playground where they can have a go on the giant see-saw, climbing wall and zip wire, and the vast expanse of green. That said, the real star of this West London oasis is the Kyoto Garden where you’ll find stone lanterns, Japanese maple trees, tiered waterfalls and koi carp.
On the same side of London you’ll find the Diana Memorial Playground located in Kensington Gardens. This vast playground has been inspired by the stories of Peter Pan which you can see in the teepees, a giant pirate ship with water and a sandpit, extensive plantings and huge musical instruments. Aimed at toddlers to 8 year-olds, the playground is free however it can get very busy so go there early to avoid missing out.
Crystal Palace Park
Across the other side of London is a Victorian park that ticks all the boxes for a jam-packed family day out. Crystal Palace Park is located in south-east London, only moments from the train station. Once the sight of the Crystal Palace, the park is now home to a skate park, boating lake, museum and one of the country’s largest mazes. Take a walk up the Italian terraces (the last remnants of the Crystal Palace after the fire in 1936) flanked by a pair of giant sphinxes and look out over the stunning view. On a clear day you can spot rolling hills and the Dartford Crossing. However, the real stars of this park lie in the grassy wetlands at the bottom of the hill. The infamous stone dinosaurs have been in the park since 1854 and were admired by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Over 30 palaeontological statues of dinosaurs, mammals, crocodilians, amphibians and a giant ground sloth are just some of the sculptures on offer. Rather interestingly they are the first attempt anywhere in the world to model extinct animals as full-scale, three-dimensional, active creatures from fossil remains. Despite only four of the statues bearing any sort of resemblance to their prehistoric cousins, they are a captivating glimpse at how evidence at the time was used to create scientific models of our oldest ancestors. Finish your day in Capel Manor Farm, only a short walk up the hill from the dinosaurs. This mini farm has all the usual farm animals along with reptiles, snakes, meerkats and guinea pigs. It’s a teaching college so be prepared for students learning hands-on skills like goat clipping and sheep shearing whilst you’re there, but this only adds to the fun.
If you try any of our suggestions please do send us a Tweet or a picture here!