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Outdoor London for the kids

“There are some activities that simply have to be done on a trip to London: seeing Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard is one such item, as is strolling across Tower Bridge and watching it open from the bank of the Thames River. Here are our tips on how to see it all – and keep the kids entertained!

Summer in the United Kingdom can be rather brief, and we are running out of time, so we decided to take a look at some of the ‘must-do’ outdoor items available for when the sun is shining. Narrowing our list down to only five activities proved harder than expected, so in the end we applied the following criteria: activities had to be outdoors (the best way to burn off the extra energy), they had to be packed with fun that will keep the youngsters entertained (obviously) and finally they had to be easy on the budget (this one was for the parents). So without further ado – drum roll please – here are our top five outdoor children’s activities in London.

If there’s one thing London has in abundance its parks, from the humble village green to great sprawling forests. Technically the entire city is classified as a forest due to its 8.4million trees, and wherever you find yourself in London you are guaranteed to be close to a park. One of our favourite parks is Richmond Park in South-West London, as it’s nice and big (plenty of space for the youngsters to burn off some steam on bike or on foot) and has the added attraction of over 600 deer (cute and friendly animals that will definitely be a draw-card). There are too many parks in London to mention them all, but there are a few with some unique attractions: Battersea Park in Central London has a children’s zoo and boats that can be rented on the lake, Clapham Common has tennis courts and a skate park, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has fountains and a climbing wall, St James’s Park the Horse Guard Parade and Wimbledon Park has a lake with swans. Best of all, parks have free entrance (although items like the zoo and boats do have a charge).

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Swans at Wimbledon Park.

There’s no doubt parents will want to see some of the iconic London sights, but keeping the children and their extremely short attention spans entertained is the hard part. A boat ride down the Thames may be just the solution as it offers very good views of most of the sights (without endless waiting in queues or the entrance fees). The water bus offers a cost-effective way to see a lot of the attractions such as Westminster Abbey and the London Eye, and the children will love being out on the water.  For a faster-paced option, Thames Rockets’ by London RIB Voyages offers a 50-minute action packed boat ride that takes in the sights of 35 famous London landmarks. The excitement of racing down the Thames on a speedboat will have the children enthralled, and the knowledgeable and witty guides will have everyone enjoying the sights and learning some cool new facts at the same time.

3 Our guide Rory from Thames Rockets
Seeing London from the river with Thames Rockets

Animals always get the children interested, and for a bustling city London has a surprising amount of options. The younger children will probably be best suited to some of the animal farms, where they will be able to see all of the typical farm animals as well as a few unique additions. Vauxhall City Farm and Deen City Farm had us mesmerised with their alpacas, while the pony rides at Kentish Town City Farm are also very popular (entrance is free to all of these farms mentioned, although you can pay to get a food bag to feed to the animals). For the older children London Zoo and London Aquarium offer an exciting (although more expensive) alternative, and there are enough animals to see and learn about to fill up an entire day.

1 Alpacas at Vauxhall City Farm
Alpacas at Vauxhall City Farm

There are some activities that simply have to be done on a trip to London. Seeing Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard is one such item, as is strolling across Tower Bridge and watching it open from the bank of the Thames River (it opens three times a day). Harry Potter fans will probably want to visit King’s Cross to push a trolley through Platform 9 ¾ (there’s even a trolley conveniently embedded in the wall for some great photo taking opportunities) while parents wanting to improve their children’s geography grades will do well to plan a trip to the Prime Meridian Line (otherwise known as the Greenwich line, at exactly zero longitude). Covent Garden’s is also worth a trip to enjoy all the free shows that happen in the area, with many talented singers, comedians and acrobats performing street shows.

Yes, yes, we know that technically this one is not outdoors, but the museums in London are simply too good to be left off the list. Museums are not normally known for keeping children entertained or for being easy on the pocket, but the Natural History Museum in north east London somehow manages to break both these stereotypes. Not only is entrance free, but the museum has an extremely large collection of items on display and is nicely split up into four sections between dinosaurs, mammals and fish in the blue zone, earth in the red zone, birds and creepy crawlies in the green zone and finally the wildlife garden in the orange zone. There are many different types of displays such as videos, audio’s and even some very lifelike robotic models (for example the full-size model of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, complete with sound and moving body parts, is guaranteed to have both children and parents captivated).  Other free museums that are also worth visiting include the British Museum with its Egyptian mummies, the Science Museum with its space rockets and the Museum of London Docklands. Bear in mind the museums can get busy in the afternoons, so it’s worth going earlier in the day to avoid the buzzkill of waiting in queues.

2 Sealife at Natural History Museum
Sealife at Natural History Museum

So there we have our top five activities. There’s nothing better than a good summer’s day in Britain, so parents be sure to make the most of it.  If you looking for something off the coast of England read “Summer the Wight way” for some more child friendly holiday ideas.  If you are quick enough there is still time to win a weekend away for two on the Isle of Wight.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
For more tips on planning a great day out take a look at the official visitors guide to London at visitlondon.com

Sam Bradley

Sam Bradley is a travel and adventure enthusiast with a passion for scuba diving, paragliding and skydiving. He has travelled to four continents, lived in the Peruvian jungle for six months and tour guided through most of Southern Africa. He is married to Cristie and is a committed Christian, and is currently living in London along with a whole bunch of South Africans.

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