Wondering how on earth you’re going to keep the kids occupied over the summer holidays? Well, fear not – here’s my pick of 50 places to take you children in or near London over the 2019 summer. That’s more than one per day during the school holidays! I’ve selected the best exhibitions, events, and activities, all with a cultural twist. We’ve either enjoyed visiting these places ourselves, or they are so high on our wish list that they’re worthy of inclusion.
With a mixture of paid for and free activities, there’s something for every budget. Plus I’ve grouped them into types, so you can easily scan to see which appeals most to your kids. Grab a cuppa and your calendar – here’s your summer holidays sorted!
- Hidden within the walls of Westminster Abbey, the 900 year old College Gardens hosts hands-on family activities on Queen Victoria, Makers & Materials, and Knight Schools. Enjoy the sneaky Abbey views. Tuesdays and Thursdays between 30 July-22 August 2019. FREE, booking required. All the family events are listed in my review here.
- Featuring the work of 20 artists, Frieze Sculpture Park is the largest free exhibition of outdoor art in London. It’s a great excuse to pack a picnic, and take a stroll around the beautiful Regent’s Park, stopping at one of their four playgrounds. Until 6 October 2019. FREE, just turn up. Download the family guide here.
- Whilst kids run, bounce, slide, dig sand and climb in the huge, new Children’s Garden at Kew Gardens, they’ll be learning everything that a plant needs to grow, surrounded by 18,500 plants and over 100 trees. Save enough energy to find the luminous glass Chihuly sculptures after. Paid, booking recommended.
- Inspired by the myths, legends, stories and objects of Hampton Court Palace, The Magic Garden is an enchanting outdoor play area which lets your children’s imagination run wild. Mythical beasts, tall Tudor towers and a secret grotto make this more than your playground. Finish with a beguiling wander through the historic maze. Paid.
- Spread a little love in the Geffrye Museum gardens this summer! Hands-on art, craft and digital activities, family tours and trails celebrate acts of kindness. Thursdays and Fridays from 15-30 August 2019. FREE, first-come, first-served. More information is on this flyer.
Enjoy a day jam-packed with fun, free, family-friendly activities.
- Celebrate the power of play at the Museum of Childhood’s biggest party of the year. From baby sensory to video games making workshops, there’s something for all ages at the Festival of Play. Create giant indoor play structures, make musical instruments, map games around the world, and test virtual reality play. 20 – 21 July 2019. FREE, drop-in.
- To mark 50 years since the moon landings, the Science Museum is throwing an Apollo 11 Family Festival. Join in iwth hands-on activities led by space scientists and enthusiasts. Dress as an astronaut, find out what happened to all the Moon rocks, discover how your body changes in space and much more! FREE, drop-in.
- It’s all about the airbourne with the Family Festival of Flight at the RAF Museum in Hendon. Watch birds of prey flying displays and hot air balloon demonstrations, take part in interactive science shows, and create your own spitfire art. 3 – 4 August 2019. FREE, drop-in.
- Be tickled pink at the ColourFest Family Festival at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Inspired by Yinka Ilori’s bold Pavilion, take part in rainbow storytelling, printmaking, drawing, building, and an art making trail through the gardens. 4 August 2019. FREE, booking required.
- Join in with a heady mix of food, space and global culture at the National Maritime Museum’s Grubs Up: Surviving Sea and Space Family Festival. Take part in a Haka workshop led by the Maori community, learn about astronaut’s diets or take a moment of peace with family yoga. 17 August 2019, all ages. FREE, just turn up.
- Animals top the bill at Smithfield Street Party: A Beastly Adventure. See aerialist shows, waggle along in dance workshops, handle mini-beasts, learn parkour or chill out in the Tall Tails Tents. Plus music, craft stalls, fun-fair rides, dog shows, and lots of surprises. 25 August 2019. FREE, just turn up.
- If you only do one thing, make it Olafur Elliasson: In Real Life at Tate Modern. This beguiling exhibition explores sensory perception, nature and the climate emergency. Highlights include giant kaleidoscopes, indoor rain, a 39 metre rainbow fog tunnel, and a table groaning with Japanese construction toys. Great for all ages. Paid, booking recommended.
- Join Feminist Library in a day of ‘craftivism’ activities at the Living Colour Family Day at the Barbican, making zines and poetry. Inspired by the abstract painter Lee Krasner, there’s also collage, large-scale drawing, costume-making and a giant 3D abstract installation. 21 July 2019. FREE, just turn up.
- Big ideas, made very accessible – think copies of Assyrian statues, destroyed by ISIS, now remade with food packaging. The Family Day: Michael Rakowitz at the Whitechapel Gallery will get you thinking about culture, identity and the everyday. 10 August 2019, all ages. FREE, booking required.
- Combine a visit to see this year’s Serpentine Pavilion with the Family Weekend. We love their imaginative activities that work for all ages. Help create a temporary studio exploring the idea of the commons – the cultural and natural resources that can be used by all. 10 and 11 August 2019. FREE, just turn up.
- Don’t miss the chance to see Anish Kapoor’s polished mirror sculptures at the dazzlingly restored Pitzhanger Manor. Visit on a Tuesday to take part in The Studio family art sessions. The Kapoor exhibition closes 20 August 2019, Studio sessions run Tuesdays 30 July – 27 August 2019. Paid, drop in.
CULTURE SPLASHESPack the swimsuits or a change of clothes for these ones!
- No summer visit to the South Kensington Museums should be complete without a wade in the John Madejski Garden at the V&A. Read how to make the best out of your visit to the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and the V&A here. Daily, FREE.
- The Museum of Water and Steam are promising a boatload of Water Fun. with paddling pools and splash zone, boats of the world trail and make and take boat making. There’s daily storytelling and train rides every weekend and Wednesday, plus kids go free all summer! 20 July – 1 September 2019. Paid. Here’s our review.
- With 1,080 choreographed jets, there’s plenty of splash for everyone in the Granary Square fountains (daily). Carry on the water theme in the nearby House of Illustration, making coral reef headdresses to take home in their Family Workshop: Interactive Summer Watercolours. 31 August 2019, ages 5-12. Paid, booking required.
- Danish artist Jeppe Heine’s water sculpture Appearing Rooms is so popular that it’s become an annual summer highlight on the South Bank. The unpredictable grid like fountains create little ‘rooms’ to trap you – unless you’re ready for a soaking! You’ll find it just outside the Royal Festival Hall. Daily, FREE.
- The tiny triangle of fountains outside the Design Museum is enough for little ones to cool off in. Inside, join in with Summer Create and Make, using simple paper-making techniques to make a windmill shaped spinning animation. 29 July – 30 August 2019, except bank holiday Monday, ages 5-12. FREE, drop-in.
- Take a trip back to Tudor times with a family tour of St John’s Gate with Henry VIII at the Museum of the Order of St John with time for dress up and selfies at the end – power posing optional. This encounter with royalty really helped brush up my history! Wednesdays 24 July – 28 August 2019. Paid, booking required.
Could you be one of the few to escape the Tower of London? Tower Escape transports you back to the dark days of Elizabeth I and James I. Pick up a family trail and meet prisoners, gather clues, and devise your own escape plan. Until 31 August 2019. Paid, just turn up.
- Make your own gold-bar shaped moneybox and take a children’s trail through 325 years of banking history at the Bank of England Museum. Where else can you try to lift a bar of real gold with your hands? 22 July – 30 August 2019, closed weekends and bank holidays. FREE, just turn up. More info here.
- Experience London in AD 240 during the Roman London family quest. Discover London’s Roman Amphitheatre, pay your respects at the Temple of Mithras and relax at Billingsgate Roman House and Baths by the river. 8 August 2019. FREE, booking required.
- Horrible Histories fans will love the Spanish Flu exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum. One hundred years ago, this deadly virus killed at least 50 million people, and this small display tells its story in an engaging way, engaging way. Until 19 January 2020. Paid. Here’s my review.
Take a Family Yoga Class in an out-of-this world location – under Luke Jerram’s Moon at the Natural History Museum. Explore gentle yoga through stories, easy breathing and meditation, then enjoy exclusive museum access before the crowds descend. Thursdays 1-29 August 2019. Ages 5-11. Paid, booking required.
- Get fighting fit with the Summer Mission at the National Army Museum. Be put through your paces on a family bootcamp, practice your aim with robots, nerf guns and parachutes or take on the climbing wall. Collect stickers in your mission handbook each week to win a prize. Various dates 24 July – 31 August 2019. FREE and paid.
Play Traditional Lawn Games in the beautiful gardens of Gunnersbury Museum. Thursdays 8 – 29 August 2019. FREE, just turn up.
- Enjoy a retelling of The Tiger Who Came to Tea followed by free play in the Mog inspired play space. The 40 minute session flies by, but there’s still the rest of the Discover story centre and its garden to enjoy. Museum Girl has asked to go back! Until September 2019. Paid, booking recommended.
- Explore the famous author’s home on a Family Friendly Tour of the Charles Dickens Museum. Handle objects, read a dramatic scene in our Drawing Room and dress up like a Victorian for a family portrait taken next to the man himself. Wednesdays and Thursdays in August, ages 4+. Paid, booking required.
Summon the ghost of the bard in Shakespeare for Families at the Pitzhanger Manor. In this fun, fast-paced show by Big Wheel Theatre Company you’ll meet the characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on a talk show, get involved in games and reenact your own version of Hamlet. 23 August 2019, ages 6-11. FREE, booking recommended.
BEST FOR TEENS
- This post-exam treat was a massive hit with Museum Teen – a Charing Cross Hidden London Walking Tour. Wander abandoned platforms, now film sets, peek through ventilation shafts, and walk underneath Trafalgar Square. Finish with afternoon tea with views of the square. Selected dates until 4 August 2019, ages 14+. Paid, booking required.
Psst: Use code MuseumMum10 for a 10% discount when you book the Charing Cross Hidden London Walking Tour and Afternoon Tea via this link.
- Introduce your film buffs to the genius of Stanley Kubrick at the Design Museum. This excellent exhibition meticulously details his creative process from storyteller to director to editor, and features over 700 rare objects, letters and photographs, interviews and clips from his iconic films. Until 15 September. Paid, booking recommended.
- Find out the science behind magic at Smoke and Mirrors at the Wellcome Collection. This entertaining exhibition explores whether our senses can be hacked, via spirit photography, magic props and psychology experiments. Time your visit with a live performance, six times a week. Daily except Mondays until 15 September 2019. FREE.
- The V&A Museum’s late events are cool enough to impress even the most critical of teens. At July’s Friday Late: Pick of the Litter take part in a therapy pig session, experience performances for pets, try an animal-dating app and question the evolution of digital pets. Evening of 26 July 2019. FREE, entry on a first come, first served basis.
- The robots are coming! Inspired by the Barbican’s latest exhibition on artificial intelligence, the AI: More than Human family day will debunk myths through activity-packed tours and a clay workshop that brings human touch to the subject. Create tools and machinery to help make a large-scale AI-themed sculpture. 27 July 2019. FREE.
- Delve into the secretive world of intelligence at Top Secret! at the Science Museum. This family exhibition tells the story of GCHQ, from the trenches of the First World War to today’s cyber security with unseen objects and an interactive puzzle zone. Until February 2020. FREE, booking required.
- Take part in a top secret mission in the interactive family adventure My Grandad: The Spy at the National Archives. Solve clues, break codes and keep undercover to help Tanya find out the truth about her grandad. Produced by BAFTA Award winning interactive theatre makers Coney. Selected dates until 3 August 2019. Ages 7+. FREE, booking required.
- Head to the London Transport Museum for six weeks of STEM inspired family fun. Design and create new clothing for all your transport needs then test how durable they against water, heat, light and wind. You can also become a fraud detective, and code a sequence of events. Until 1 September 2019. Paid.
TOO GOOD TO LEAVE OUTThis lot are harder to categorise, but well worth a visit!
- Take a whistle stop world tour of natural and man-made wonders across time, all recreated in LEGO. Half a million bricks recreate 50 wonders in Brick Wonders at the Horniman Museum, with LEGO graffiti walls and plenty of brick play areas. Until 27 October 2019. Paid, booking recommended. Read my full review here.
- And one more for LEGO fans – a literal tonne of white bricks will take over Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Olafur Eliasson: The Cubic Structural Evolution Project invites you to build a vision of a future city, modifying and expanding the models of other visitors. 26 July – 18 August 2019. FREE, just turn up.
- More theatre than museum exhibition, Beasts of London tells the long history of animals in our city through famous voices, digital and immersive sets. Paid, booking recommended. In Beastly Family digital treasure hunt games guide you through family friendly spaces in the City. FREE, just turn up.
- The British Summer comes to the Postal Museum with Punch and Judy storytelling, BBQ food and seaside inspired crafts like Shrimp shrinkies, and flip-up postcard making. Special launch event 20 July 2019, various dates until 31 August 2019. Paid. Read my latest review.
- Make a comic story using your own photos in this Make a Manga Comic digital workshop at the British Museum. You’ll learn about the secret design language and storytelling techniques of manga. Bring ID to take part. 28 July 2019. Free, just turn up, ages 5+.
- We’re already planning a return to the beautiful Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent. Visit the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, explore the award-winning gardens, get soaked in the water maze, run riot in the castle-style playgrounds, cheer on live jousting, or relax in the Italian terrace overlooking the lake. A full day out, and then some. Paid.
- Have a phizz whizzing time with James’s Peachy Summer at the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire. Book one of their wonderful workshops inspired by James and the Giant Peach, take a peachy trail through the three interactive galleries, and craft bugs to decorate their peach. Paid, ages 5+.
- Forget Exhibition Road – this summer we’ll be heading to the family-friendly Museum of Natural History Oxford. Touch specimens, take a family trail, see the fascinating First Animals exhibition, play board games with scientists, and get crafty in Rock, Paper, Scissors, Trilobite. Various dates in August, see the events calendar for more info. FREE, drop-in.
- Since it first opened, we’ve been regular visitors to the award-winning Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. For its 10th birthday the art gallery has been given a rainbow makeover as artist Lothar Götz has covered its outside walls in 15 vibrant shades of paint. Diagonal is now the largest mural in the UK. Until 31 May 2020. FREE.
- Land ahoy! Horrible Histories Pirates: The Exhibition brings the stories of putrid pirates to life at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Follow a bossy pirate parrot and his ratty shipmate on a hilarious journey as you discover wicked weapons, terrible tactics and prisoner punishment. Includes over thirty interactive experiences. Paid.
I hope this list helps you enjoy your best summer holidays in London yet with the kids! If you’ve found it useful, please take a second to share it with your friends, family and followers. Sharing not only helps others with their school holiday plans – it also lets me know it’s worth producing guides like this in the future.
If you make it somewhere on this list, please let me know how you get on as I love seeing what you get up to. Either comment below, or tag me @museummum on Instagram or @museum_mum on Twitter. I’ll be posting our summer adventures on my Instagram Stories.
Disclosure: I have visited many of these attractions for free, in return for an honest review.
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