Family-friendly museums in London
I can’t be everywhere to discover new things to do with my kids, no matter how much I wish I could. I’ve asked a few friends to jump in with what they love to do in their cities. Gretta Schifano from MumsDoTravel.com is sharing her favorite (mostly free) museums in London.
One of the best things about visiting the world-class museums in London is that many of them are free (although a donation is appreciated). This is great news for families with children who can’t handle spending hours in museums. If your kids have had enough after half an hour you can leave without feeling you’ve wasted money. You can even go back to the same museum any time to see something you might have missed.
Another great thing about London museums and galleries is that they often have a good café on site. So when your kids are tired and hungry you can stop for a snack and then maybe see a little more of the museum before you leave. Taking advantage of museum cafés is also an excellent way of supporting the museums financially.
I live near to London and often take my children (now 16 and 11 years old) to museums at weekends and during the school holidays. Here are five of the best family-friendly museums we enjoy when visiting in London.
London Transport Museum
The London Transport Museum is an excellent place for kids. The museum shows the history of transport in London from sedan chairs to horse-drawn carriages to red double-decker buses and underground trains. There are lots of hands-on exhibits and there are often craft workshops and story time sessions on offer. The building itself, once a Victorian flower market, is lovely and it’s in the heart of vibrant Covent Garden with its street entertainers, cafés, shops and theatres.
Cost: Free for children aged 17 and under, £15 for adults (including unlimited admission for 12 months).
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum explains life on Earth and the planet Earth itself through a vast range of exhibits, some of which were collected by naturalist Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century. It’s in a vast, beautiful Victorian building, which is richly decorated with sculptures of animals and plants. The museum is very child-friendly and has an impressive collection of dinosaur skeletons: a cast of a huge Diplodicus skeleton (discovered in Wyoming in 1898) is a star attraction in the central hall. My son particularly likes the Earthquake Room which has a moving floor and real footage from a supermarket during an earthquake.
The Science Museum, in another gorgeous Victorian building close to the Natural History Museum, has a massive collection of scientific and technological discoveries. There are all sorts of amazing things to see, from Babbage’s Difference Engine (the first automatic calculator, dating from 1832) to Stephenson’s Rocket (built in 1829, the first modern steam locomotive) to the Apollo 10 space capsule, which orbited the moon in 1969. Kids especially enjoy the hands-on galleries and the interactive exhibits in the ‘Who Am I?’ exhibition.
Tate Modern is an art gallery for the United Kingdom’s national collection of modern and contemporary art. My kids have enjoyed seeing iconic works there such as The Snail by Matisse and Whaam! by Roy Lichstenstein. We’ve found that if we look around one floor of art works and then go for hot chocolate at the Espresso bar then everyone’s happy. The gallery is in a converted power station on the banks of the River Thames in a pedestrianised area called the Southbank, which is full of things to see and do. So when you’ve had enough of Tate Modern you can walk along the river to places like the London Eye and the London Aquarium looking out for street performers on the way.
We haven’t actually been here yet, but it’s somewhere which I think my 11-year-old son would especially enjoy. HMS Belfast is a warship launched just before World War II and served the British navy until 1965. It’s now a museum ship moored on the River Thames. You can explore places inside the ship, such as the gun turret, the engine room and the operations room to see what it was like during the war. You can also learn about life on board for the crew by seeing where they slept, ate and relaxed.
Cost: Free to under-16s, £15.50 for adults.
Gretta Schifano is a British journalist who blogs about family travel at Mums do travel. Gretta has lived and worked in Italy and Spain and is now based in rural south-east England near London. She lives with her British-Italian husband, their adoptive and birth children, dog and cat. Gretta previously worked as a BBC radio producer.