5 top London museums for kids
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated. It was originally published in March 2019.
Many of London’s 200-plus museums have exhibits and interactive activities that are child-friendly. Also, many of London’s museums are free, which makes them a reasonable day out when exploring the city. Here are five of my favourites, many of which are located near great point redemption hotels for families.
So, if you plan to visit London on miles and points, consider adding these museums to your plan. It’s worth noting that given the coronavirus pandemic, some museums have instituted additional measures for the public. Check with each individual museum to find out what you need to do before visiting.
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1. Postal Museum
The Postal Museum doesn’t normally make standard tourist lists but is surprisingly fascinating. The museum is in the old mail depot and includes a 15-minute train ride along the old mail route in hidden underground tunnels. The tiny two-foot narrow-gauge train is perfect for children and thrilling for adults to see a part of London reserved for underground tube workers. The Postal Museum also has a play space called “Sorted!” The space is light and airy and reminds me of the best children’s museums I’ve ever been to. The ticketed entry means that the numbers are capped at 20 and there’s always space to play. It’s a mini-town with a sorting station and trolleys to drive the mail.
My son loved it so much that we held his third birthday party there and he has requested it again.
Location: Clerkenwell in central London. The train ticket also gets you into the museum on the other side of the road adjacent to the kid-friendly café. The train commentary talks about The Blitz bombing campaign during World War II, which can be a bit scary for really young children. There are plenty of eateries around, too. When travelling around London with your children, any black cab driver will know it as Mount Pleasant, the name of the old mail depot.
Cost: £9 for the play area and train ride for children, £16 for adults booked online, in advance. All mail rail tickets include admission to the exhibit.
Hours: Daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, however, the Postal Museum is currently temporarily closed due to COVID-19 though expected to reopen later this year.
2. London Transport Museum
At least once a month, in pre-COVID times, my boys and I visited the London Transport Museum during normal times. Normally a museum covering 200 years of transportation history would not appeal to me, but it’s great for kids and adults. It has amazing play areas for kids aged to 7 called All Aboard (think buses and taxis that kids pretend to drive) and interactive areas for lots of simulation driving games for older children. It is free for ages 17 and under, and while the adult ticket is expensive for London (£18.50), it is valid for an entire year, although it is nontransferable and the museum strictly checks ID. If you’re staying at a London hotel near the Covent Garden area, it could be worth stopping in more than once during your visit, especially on a rainy day.
The museum’s family programme normally includes a sing and storytime on Tuesdays during the British school year and an extensive programme of tours, storytelling and crafts during the school holidays.
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Location: Covent Garden Piazza (southeast corner), central London.
Cost: 17 and under free, £18.50 for adults booked online.
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Following a COVID-19 shutdown, the depot reopens 19 August, with the museum reopening 7 September.
3. Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is tough to beat — free entry for all, a full-size Tyrannosaurus Rex as the showpiece, plenty of open and airy space and kid-friendly eateries, all housed in a gorgeous Gothic building created in the vision of the founder as a “cathedral to nature”. Try the dinosaur-centred kid-centric café T. Rex Grill (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and the Darwin area that allows older children to delve deeper into natural science. It’s ideal to go to the Science Museum around the corner first and then the Natural History for lunch and an afternoon of exploration.
The museum is always trying new ways to reach more visitors, such as late-night hours and its programme “Dawnosaurs”, which is a morning event for children on the autism spectrum to enjoy the museum with their families and siblings before it opens — note that this feature is currently only online.
Location: South Kensington, south-west London.
Cost: Free but there is a charge for some temporary exhibitions.
Hours: Open daily. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
4. Science Museum
Sometimes overshadowed by its nearby neighbour the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum takes the prize as the most child-friendly museum for all ages. The basement (go through the Space exhibit and then down the lifts) is home to “The Garden”, an interactive space for children aged 3 to 6, where I’ve brought my children from just a few months old. It has a water station (with raincoats), a small climbing frame and a sensory area with instruments and plenty of interactive bits for little ones. You often need to arrive early to avoid queues, but as it opens at 10 a.m, it is not usually too difficult for families to make it. The Garden is currently closed for staffing reasons until further notice.
Older children love exploring the museum with Treasure Hunters, the Science Museum’s app, where you snap photos of places in the museum and challenge other visitors. Other sections of the museum host an IMAX movie theatre and interactive experiment exhibits.
Hyde Park is around the corner and a welcome place to run around outside after attending the South Kensington museums.
Location: South Kensington, south-west London.
Cost: Free for permanent exhibitions, IMAX and special exhibits are extra.
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last entry 5:15 p.m). Following a COVID-19 shutdown, the museum reopens on 19 August.
5. V&A Museum of Childhood
Over in east London, you’ll find the V&A Museum of Childhood. While seeing toys and technology from the 80s and 90s made me feel nostalgic and then old, I still love this museum. As it is essentially a museum full of toys that you cannot play with, the museum has added many interactive features to make it more hands-on. Clear display cases mean that I can see my children most of the time and the café in the middle has lunch boxes and coffee to refuel everyone.
The museum is a nice change of pace from the more central museums and a great addition to your day when visiting east London.
Location: Bethnal Green, east London.
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. with last entry at 5:30 p.m. The museum is currently temporarily closed due to COVID-19 though expects to reopen later this year.
London is a wonderful destination for families as there are endless things to do. You can combine education and entertainment in the same activity with a visit to some of these unique museum experiences. It’s a great idea when the weather turns inclement!
Featured photo by James Jones photography
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