London with kids: Making the most of free attractions

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. | Photo by Jaroslav Moravcik.
The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. | Photo by Jaroslav Moravcik.

London with kids: Making the most of free attractions

by Lynn Beha
Stripes Europe

Many of London’s top attractions can be intimidating and pricey for a family with small children. The good news? London has some fantastic free museums that the whole family can enjoy. You can stand under a diplodocus skeleton at the Natural History Museum or take in Van Gogh’s iconic Sunflowers painting in the National Gallery. From seeing a real mummy at the British Museum to reading handwritten originals by Beethoven, Shakespeare, and John Lennon at the British Library, these activities are all free.

Britain’s national treasures have been accessible since The British Museum opened its doors to the public in 1759. People from all countries have visited the world’s first national museum for free to view objects encompassing the global history and culture of humanity. Over the past 260 years, the collection has expanded monumentally, and more museums have been built to accommodate the evolving demands of millions of visitors. 

Know before you go

A little planning can go a long way toward making the most of your trip. Each museum has all the practical information you need on its website. You can see its location, what facilities are available, where toilets are, what child-friendly activities are on during your visit and limitations on bags or strollers. The on-site cafes usually have healthy, child-friendly options, or you might find an area where you can picnic if you bring your own food. While admission to the museums are free, there are often special paid exhibits that cost a fee.

Ask for children’s activity bags or trails

Many museums offer bags or booklets with activities designed to keep children engaged in their visit, or kid-friendly audio guides. Do these as a family and learn with your children as they take you on their scavenger hunt.

Hit the highlights

Take a little time before your visit to have a look at each museum’s website for its highlights. See if there’s anything related to what your kiddos are learning in school. Ask them to look with you to see if there’s anything that catches their interest. Check the museum’s map ahead of time to see where these exhibits are located and make a list to target them on your visit.

Follow their lead

Allow your children time to look at the things that interest them. Ask them questions about what they are seeing, what they know about it and what has caught their curiosity. You may discover something interesting you wouldn’t otherwise notice!

Don’t fear the docents

The people working at the museum aren’t just there to call out tourists with selfie sticks. They can be a wealth of knowledge. Encourage your children to ask them questions. A docent may be able to lead you to new discoveries, or even to secret rooms with interesting treasures that aren’t normally open.

Remember: it’s free!

If your visit isn’t going well, you can just cut it short. London is a vibrant city. No doubt there is something interesting to see or do just outside the front entrance!

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