What’s on October half term in London: Museum Mum picks

Wondering what’s on this October half term in London? I’ve handpicked a list of the best half term offerings from London’s museums and cultural destinations this October.

With London’s museums going the extra mile to entertain families this October half term, there is so much to choose from – new exhibitions, trails and events – from the subterranean to the spooky; the mysterious to the majestical. Many of these are London’s smaller, lesser known museums – perfect for avoiding crowds. My outdoor suggestions make the most of these beautiful autumnal days, whilst there’s plenty for wet days too. There’s even a couple of day trips, if you fancy escaping the big smoke.

 

What’s On During Half Term: Half Term Activities, Events & Things to Do

1. Hidden London at London Transport Museum

Visit an ‘abandoned’ Tube station underworld to discover the secrets of London’s disused underground spaces – from Churchill’s wartime shelter to Clapham’s salad farms. This immersive exhibition conveys the excitement (and grime!) of visiting these abandoned spaces, combining detailed sets with historic objects. Have a go at being an underground wartime Telephone Exchange Operator, and watch clips of movies filmed in disused stations and tunnels.

Until: January 2021

Best for: All ages

October half term activities: Take part in 10 playful activities in the Where’s Wally? The Big Museum Hunt (19-27 October).

Tips: Kids go free. Save your ticket – it’s valid for re-entry a whole year (and their charming Christmas Grotto is queue-free). There are currently some slightly disruptive works on the cafe next to the soft play area.

Find out more: https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hidden-london

Read our Christmas review here: https://museummum.com/2018/12/09/london-transport-museum-christmas-visit/

 

2. What to look for in the garden: A Ladybird books exhibition at The Garden Museum

If you’re looking to escape the crowds, I think the Garden Museum is your best bet! And this October half term you can catch their small display, packed with beautiful original artwork loaned from Penguin Books and activities for children. There’s a ‘find the detail’ trail, Ladybird books to read, a little garden sniff test and dressing up. Afterwards, find the ladybird stickers hidden in the galleries and climb their 133 tower steps for amazing London views.

Until: 27 October 2019

Best for: Multi-generational families

October half term activities: As I type, there’s still tickets left for their Building Bugs family workshop (26 October).

Tips: Horseferry Playground is a few minutes walk just over the river, with great views of the Houses of Parliament, a sandpit, water pump, swings, and climbing equipment.

Find out more: https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/what-to-look-for-in-the-garden-a-ladybird-books-exhibition/

 

3.  Brick Wonders at Horniman Museum

Great Barrier Reef model made from LEGO

See 50 historic, natural and modern wonders of the world, all made out of LEGO! From an ancient Egyptian pyramid to Old London Bridge, and the modern wonders of the the internet to the natural beauty of Aurora Australis, travel across time and explore the world in miniature.  Get creative with their LEGO graffiti wall, LEGO and DUPLO play stations, and craft and reading areas. Our favourite models were the giant aquarium and the detailed mini Horniman Museum, complete with a walrus with a croissant moustache!

Until: 27 October 2019

Best for: LEGO fans of all ages

October half term activities: Find all the ingredients for a witches spell in Hands on Base (21-25 October) or make your own Einstein slime to take take home (21-24 October).

Tips: Book ahead for Brick Wonders, and expect to wait up to 45 minutes to enter at busy times. For a whole day out, add the aquarium and butterfly house to your ticket.

Find out more: https://www.horniman.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/brick-wonders#image-0

 

4.  Chihuly: Reflections on nature at Kew Gardens

This is your last chance to catch the dazzling glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly, in thirteen locations across the gardens. Grab the free kids trail – its beautifully illustrated map is simple enough to let children lead the way. My absolute favourite was the waterlily house with Ethereal White Persian Pond, glass waterlily type forms which were more flying than floating. I bet they will look even more stunning, set against the gold and rust autumnal leaves.

Until: 27 October 2019

Best for: Nature lovers

October half term activities: Kew’s mini fringe festival Autumn Antics features comedy workshops, storytelling and performances (19 October-3 November 2019).

Tips: Set a calendar reminder – bookable slots for the 90 minutes in the Children’s Garden at Kew are released every Monday for the week ahead. The playground is free with paid entrance.

Find out more: https://www.kew.org/kew-gardens/whats-on/chihuly-at-kew-reflections-on-nature

 

5. Olafur Eliasson: In real life at Tate Modern

This exhibition is a rare beast – one which may even be better with kids! Serious subjects like sensory perception, nature and the climate emergency are explored in imaginative, fun and interactive artworks. Play hide and seek in the fog corridor, make dancing rainbow shadows, find the indoor rainbow and play with construction toys in the expanded studio. So fun the museum kids wanted to come back the very next day!

Until: 5 January 2020

Best for: Sensory seekers of all ages

October half term activities: Play with earth, water, air and light in the creative studio (19-20 and 22-27 October 2019).

Tips: Book here for the Family Early Hours, 9am-10am, 24 October 2019 (also 31 October and 7 November 2019).

Find out more: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/olafur-eliasson

 

6. The Postal Museum and Mail Rail

You get three in one with a visit to the Postal Museum: a unique underground train ride, a family friendly museum with lots of hands-on activities, and one of the best themed play areas in a London museum. Begin with a ride on the tiny Mail Rail, the Post Office’s own underground railway. At the Postal Museum learn the fascinating story of the postal service, with plenty of hands-on and digital interactives nestled amongst bright vehicles and unusual letterboxes. Finish up with a 45 minute play session in Sorted!, where children move, sort and deliver the mail with chutes, slides and dressing up.

Best for: It’s a great all rounder; Sorted! is aimed at under 8s.

October half term activities: To tie in with their Great Train Robbery exhibition, the week is packed with mini detective themed activities, including sensory storytelling (21 October 2019), designing an Inspector Gadget style contraption (22 October 2019) and a whole day of The Great Brain Robbery activities and book readings (23 October 2019).

Tips: Keep your ticket for unlimited return visits to the Postal Museum for a whole year. Don’t be late for Sorted! as it’s a strict 45 minute timeslot.

Find out more: https://www.postalmuseum.org/

Read the full review of Mail Rail and Sorted! here and of the Postal Museum here https://museummum.com/2017/08/04/review-the-postal-museum/ and Mail Rail

 

7. Family Day: Abbey Birthday at Westminster Abbey

As big birthdays go, this one is hard to beat! This October half term, Westminster Abbey celebrates a whopping 750 years with a special family day. Meet medieval re-enactors in the Cloisters, build your own sacred space, try brass-rubbing and take part in a family-friendly Eucharist.  We’ve always found the Abbey team so welcoming, and it’s a great way to see inside one of London’s greatest treasures. I do hope there will be cake.

Best for: London lovers, aged 5+

October half term activities: Unfortunately the free family tours of Westminster Abbey are now sold out – I gave them a shout out on my Instagram stories last week, so do follow me for a heads up of upcoming family friendly museum events.

Tips: Book online for half-price adult tickets (£11) and children go FREE.

Find out more: https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-events/family/2019/october/family-day-abbey-birthday

Read our review of visiting Westminster Abbey with kids here https://museummum.com/2017/02/25/14-tips-for-visiting-westminster-abbey-with-young-kids/

 

8. Antony Gormley at the Royal Academy of Arts

I feel like Antony Gormley needs little introduction (Angel of the North, anyone?) and this show at the Royal Academy has enough drama and interactivity to work for families. Clamber through the giant squiggle of kilometres of metal, or don a hard hat to enter the stomach of a nearly pitch black iron maze. The monumental large scale installations are impressive, like the 6 tonne steel mesh cloud of Matrix III hanging menacingly over our heads, or the room filled with sea water and clay. Keep an eye out for the cast of Gormley’s six day old daughter, crouched in the main courtyard.

Until: 3 December 2019

Best for: Art lovers

October half term activities: Inspired by Gormley, use your body as an art tool in the free Family Studio (27 October 2019).

Tips: If you have boisterous children (like mine!) note there are low artworks with no barriers which aren’t suitable for little hands (or feet) to explore. Bring an extra pair of hands or whizz through the first two and last rooms.

Find out more: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/antony-gormley

 

9. Beasts of London at the Museum of London

With its heady mix of immersive sets, digital projections and famous voices, this exhibition is pure theatre. Discover the story of London’s animals from prehistory to today, told in nine ‘episodes’. The animal characters tell their own stories, and you’ll probably recognise some, such as Kate Moss as the fox, or Joe Pasquale as the dormouse. The sets are amazing – my favourite is the apothecary which tells the story of the plague, with Brian Blessed (aka Grandpa Pig) perfectly cast as the booming voice of Bacterium!

Until: 5 January 2020

Best for: Theatre lovers, best for ages 8+ (although 5 year old Museum Girl was engaged for almost all of it).

October half term activities: Stage your own beastly production (19-27 October 2019), join a VR tea party (22 October 2019), create trailers with Moth Physical Theatre (22-26 October 2019), follow a time-travelling dormouse in an interactive music and theatre performance (22-26 October 2019) or enjoy backstage tales in interactive storytelling (19-27 October 2019).

Tips: This worked for music-loving Museum Teen too, who was impressed with the sets and scores.

Find out more: https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/beastsoflondon

 

10. Museum of Water and Steam

Set in the historic buildings of former Kew Bridge Waterworks, this small museum tells the story of London’s water supply. there are hands-on galleries, working steam engines, historic ‘monster’ engines, splash play and a miniature steam train, with a family trail to guide you through. The  cafe serves tasty homemade food, with a big train play table to keep the kids occupied whilst you enjoy your lunch. Another good option to avoid the crowds of the bigger museums.

Best for: Ages 3+

October half term activities: It’s Spooky Cats themed this half term, with cat stories, crafts, hidden cats and the Splash Cat trail. Raid the dressing up box as children in costume get in FREE.

Tips: The train only operates certain days so check their calendar for dates.

Find out more: https://waterandsteam.org.uk/events/spooky-cats-at-the-london-museum-of-water-steam/

Read our review of the Museum of Water and Steam here https://museummum.com/2019/05/11/museum-of-water-and-steam-with-kids/

 

11. Hever Castle

I think we’ve found our new favourite castle! Hever Castle may be only 30 miles from London but it feels centuries away. Have a nosy around the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, and pack a picnic for the 125 acres of the award winning gardens. The Italian gardens and their Loggia terrace overlooking the vast lake feel like you’re on a European Grand Tour, and the castle play structure is epic.

Best for: Wannabe knights and princesses

October half term activities: Find the hidden bats inside the castle, listen to the spooky storytelling, make a Halloween craft, follow the scarecrow scavenger hunt around the grounds. There’s prizes for the best fancy dress costumes. Freakish facepainting and biscuit decorating workshops available for small additional charge (19-31 October 2019).

Tips: If you don’t think your children may be too young for the inside of the Castle, consider a gardens only ticket.

Find out more: https://www.hevercastle.co.uk/whats-on/halloween-half-term-fun/

 

12. Roald Dahl Museum

This museum is almost as bonkers as Dahl’s books – where else can you sniff chocolate scented doors? The three small galleries take you through Dahl’s life and writings in a joyous, hands-on way. Dress up like an RAF pilot, see the hut he wrote in, make stop frame animations, whisper made up words into a sound jar, take a trail, and enjoy storytelling and craft workshops.

Best for: Book worms

October half term activities: Based on The Witches, the wondercrump Bits of a Witch Trail takes you on a hunt for all the bits of her magical accessories (12 October-10 November 2019). Craft workshops include create a clay critter (19 October 2019)

Tips: Pick up the museum’s country trail for a walk through woods and corn fields, or the village trail to see where Dahl borrowed his library books.

Find out more:

 

13. Spanish Flu at the Florence Nightingale Museum

I hold a scratchcard featuring 'Mary' in front of the exhibition opening

Want to know what’s scarier than Halloween? History! Yet the Spanish Flu exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum manages to take a serious subject and make it accessible for families. Learn all about this deadly virus, which killed at least 50 million people around the world 100 years ago. Despite its tiny footprint, this award winning display is packed with lively and engaging interactives, scratch cards, objects, projections, audio and animation.

Until: 19 January 2020

Best for: Horrible Histories fans

October half term activities: Meet the Florence Nightingale and her pet owl (19, 21, 23, 25 and 26 October 2019), let the Lady with the Lamp tell you a story (22 and 24 October 2019), and meet the greatest Black Briton, Mary Seacole (20 October 2019). 

Tips: Combine with the Garden Museum above for a full day out on the south side of the Thames.

Find out more: https://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/3682-2/?v=79cba1185463

Read the full review here: https://museummum.com/2018/11/08/spanish-flu-at-the-florence-nightingale-museum/

 

14. National Trust Pumpkin Trails

Combine a visit to some of London’s finest historic houses with some seasonal pumpkin fun. The National Trust are running a number of events – at the Halloween Pumpkin Festival at Osterley Park and House (19-27 October 2019) you can follow a trail to find your own pumpkin to carve, with a stop for hot drinks and to toast marshmallows. There’s also pumpkin carving at Rainham Hall (25-27 October 2019) and a Pumpkin Carving Fest at Morden Hall Park (19-23 October 2019). Best bit is you won’t have to clear up the mess afterwards!

 

I hope this list helps you enjoy your October half term. 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 half term plans – it also lets me know it’s worth producing guides like this in the future.

I love seeing what you get up to – let me know if you make it to a museum this October half term. Either comment below, or tag me @museummum on Instagram or @museum_mum on Twitter. I’ll be posting our Bordeaux adventures on my Instagram Stories.

 

Disclosure: I have been gifted free entry to many of these museums for free, for review purposes. I work at the Museum of London, although can’t take any credit for Beasts of London.

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