Wondering how on earth you’re going to keep the kids busy during the summer holidays? After 16 weeks of at-home learning, the summer break is much needed – for this reluctant teacher at least! But we still need to keep them occupied. And it’s harder this summer to know what to do, with many go-to places closed and family events cancelled.
But the good news is that things are reopening. So I’ve selected the best activities and days out for London families to do over the 2020 summer holidays, all with a cultural twist. There’s 50 activities – that’s more than one per day during the school holidays! We’ve either enjoyed these ourselves, or they are so high on our own wish list they’re worth sharing.
There’s at home activities as well as places to visit all over London and the South East, be it by foot, bike, car or public transport. A mixture of free and paid for activities means there’s something for every budget. Some you can book now, others nearer the time and a few you can just turn up. Each one has a clickable link to take you straight to all the info you need, from opening hours to booking.
Grab a cuppa and your calendar – here’s your summer holidays sorted!
- Book ahead in these listings means you MUST book before visiting.
- Numbers will be strictly limited so book as soon as you can.
- Things are changing very quickly. Check the place is still open before you leave.
- Don’t go if any of your household have had coronavirus symptoms in the last 14 days.
- Follow social distancing guidelines during your visit.
- Some museums ask adults to wear a mask during their visit, if you can.
- Expect a different experience – many interactives will be closed, and one way routes are in place.
LONDON ICONS REOPEN
For those who can travel safe this summer, now is a great time to play tourist in your own city. The collapse of the tourist trade and limited entry numbers mean privileged access to London’s most iconic destinations.
1. Tower of London
See the crown jewels without the crowds this summer, meet the legendary Yeoman Warders and ravens and more at London’s famous fortress, palace and prison. Paid, book ahead.
2. Tower Bridge
Download their Family Trail App to transform your mobile device into a working wrench and tighten the bolts of a shaky engine, shovel coal into the boiler to power the iconic bridge and more! Family Trail booklet also available. Paid, booking recommended.
Tip: Visit for a quid if you live in Tower Hamlets, the City or Southwark.
3. Buckingham Palace and Royal Mews
See where the Queen lives and keeps her mares. MG loved meeting royal horses and seeing the opulent historic carriages at the Royal Mews. And after 25 years in London, it’s probably time for me to tick Buck Pal off the list. From 23 July 2020. Paid, book ahead.
Read more about our visit to a Royal Mews family day.
4. Cutty Sark
Clamber onto one of the world’s most famous ships. Take a family trail, explore the decks and walk under the copper clad hull. And until 31 August, get a FREE child ticket with every paying adult. From 20 July 2020. Paid, book ahead.
5. Natural History Museum
Dinosaurs… need I say more? Although I think the real star is Hintz Hall and Hope, the giant blue whale skeleton. Creepy crawlies, glittering gems, an earthquake simulator and tons of animals – the NHM London is always a hit with kids. From 5 August 2020. FREE, book ahead.
6. The Science Museum
Another perennial kids favourite. The hands-on science Wonderlab is a highlight for curious kids – and for a limited time, you get an annual pass for the same price as a single ticket. They recently added the world’s largest medicine galleries. From 18 August 2020. FREE (general admission); paid (Wonderlab), book ahead.
There’s more to come!
Many places have yet to share their reopening plans – I’ll share information on London museum reopenings over on my Instagram stories and Twitter. I’m hoping for British Museum tickets to indulge Museum Girl’s Ancient Egypt fascination with a trip to the mummies.
Stop press: The Museum of London is reopening on 6 August 2020! Book your visit here.
London’s galleries are reopening – but if you’re not quite ready, there’s plenty of ways to get an outdoors art fix this summer.
7. Tate Modern
Filled with sharks and ships, I’ll use Kara Walker’s giant fountain to start the difficult conversation around the slave trade with the Museum Kids. You can see the epic work on all one-way routes through Tate Modern. FREE, book ahead.
At home: Learn about what other kids thought when they saw Walker’s Fons Americanus over on Tate Kids.
8. Tate Britain
Remind your child of classroom life with a visit to Steve McQueen’s Year 3 project, where portraits of 76,000 London school children fill the majestic Duveen gallery. The Museum Kids loved looking for familiar faces. Included in all one-way routes through Tate Britain. FREE, book ahead.
Read about out Year 3 project visit here.
9. Mole Catcher Trail at Hampton Court Palace
Follow the mole catcher family trail through Hampton Court Palace gardens. Help Tobias Gibbons, molecatcher to Elizabeth I, find the Tudor people and animals that have escaped from the palace paintings into the gardens. Paid, book ahead.
Tip: From 17 July 2020, you can take a one-way route inside the Palace.
10. The Line at Greenwich Peninsula
Find Alex Chinneck’s upended pylon, Richard Wilson’s slice of a ship, Antony Gormley’s line cloud, Joanna Rajkowksa’s giant chirping blackbird egg and more. FREE, just turn up. Read more here.
Tip: Combine with a trip on the Emirates Air Line.
11. Southbank Everyday Heroes
Feel humbled on a stroll along the Southbank with the Everyday Heroes outdoor exhibition, celebrating key workers who kept the country going through our covid-19 crisis. August to November 2020, exact dates TBC. FREE, just turn up.
12. Notes from Stranger’s Trail at Kings Cross
Notes to Strangers street artist Andy Leek brings his much needed cheery optimism to Kings Cross. ‘This Much’ takes the form of outstretched arms with messages of hope and love between them and even glow at night. Until 30 September 2020. FREE, just turn up. Info here.
Tip: The virtual ‘Pools’ by artist Stephan Zirwes are a playful/cruel nod to the closed fountains. There’s also a 2D maze, a giant word search and hopscotch paths.
13. Harlow Sculpture Trail
The world’s first ‘sculpture town’, Harlow has over 100 sculptures – my highlight was a Barbara Hepworth but MG was taken with this donkey. Follow a suggested route, or make your own like we did, combining canal walks and park play with serious art and some obscure housing estates. FREE, just turn up.
Read about our Harlow Sculpture Town visit here.
14. Henry Moore Studios and Gardens in Hertfordshire
Take a trail through gardens, meadows and sheep fields to find 21 sculptures at Henry Moore Studios and Gardens. Experience the artist’s iconic work in the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside with a visit to his former home. Paid, book ahead.
15. Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall in Norfolk
See 24 works by perception bending artist Anish Kapoor in the vast grounds of the palatial Houghton Hall. Kapoor’s Sky Mirror alone looks worth the miles, and they have their own sculpture collection housed in the largest walled garden in Britain. Paid, book ahead.
Read Cultural Wednesday’s review here.
Glorious gardens and parks
From vast botanical gardens to local parks, there’s plenty of heritage gardens to enjoy a socially distanced day out. Follow a family trail, bring a bike or -even – enjoy some water play. How 2019.
16. Kew Gardens
Travel the natural world in a day from the tropical Palm House, the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse, to Temperate House, the deserts of the Princess of Wales Conservatory and the mountain conditions of the Davies Alpine House. Despite numerous visits we’ve never seen it all. Paid, book ahead.
Tip: Keep an eye on their social media to hear when the fantastic Children’s Garden will reopen.
17. Wakehurst in Sussex
Wakehurst is the bigger, wilder cousin of Kew, with plants from all over the planet packed into its 500 acres. A 3.4 mile circular walk took us to wildflower meadows, lakeside dells, rocky valleys, pine forests and manicured formal gardens. Paid, book ahead.
Read about our post-lockdown visit to Wakehurst here.
18. Eltham Palace Summer Explorer Quest
Follow the trail through the award-winning palace gardens, find question boards and crack the clues to claim your adventurer’s certificate. Take a picnic and take it slow, with plenty of places to enjoy the quiet. From 18 July 2020. Paid, book ahead.
19. Hope Trail at Marble Hill House
‘When the dark clouds come, keep going’. The wise words and beautiful illustrations of Charlie Mackesy make up the Hope Trail at Marble Hill House. Discover twelve uplifting prints hidden amongst the house’s 66 acres. FREE, just turn up.
Tip: For a children’s worksheet, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
20. Cycling at Osterley House and Gardens
Get a taste of the country estate in urban Hounslow. Last time we brought our bikes and cycled the 1.5 miles around the estate – the traffic-free tarmac roads make for great family riding. The woodland cycle skills area is a hit with kids. Paid, book ahead.
21. Gunnersbury Park activity trails and playgrounds
Gunnersbury Park new digital out and about activity trail takes you to five sites, from Horseshoe Pond to the Wildflower Meadow, with creative activities to do, including some at home. Their two playgrounds and boating lake have reopened too. FREE, just turn up.
22. Lavender at Ham House
Even in the midst of winter we were wowed by the 17th century gardens of Ham House in Richmond. In summer the spectacular Cherry Garden is at its best, filled with over 1,000 English lavender plants. The maze-like ‘Wilderness’ is a great for a run around. Paid, book ahead.
23. Pitzhanger Manor in Walpole Park
Play with enforced perspective – pretend to pick up Pitzhanger in their photography competition to win a gift shop bundle. There’s also a scavenger hunt in the works – I’ll share here as soon it’s released. FREE, just turn up.
24. Museum of Water and Steam
Whilst the museum is closed, you can picnic in their community garden, scoot along the historic coal yard trail, or play in the Splash Zone. Paper crafts and other self-guided activities are also available. FREE, just turn up.
Read about our pre-pandemic visit to the Museum of Water and Steam.
25. Local lifesavers
- Chiswick House and Gardens 65 acres of gardens, from classical vistas to ponds, fountains and an 18th century wilderness. FREE, just turn up.
- Dulwich Picture Gallery Three acres of green space, the Walking the dog sculpture by Peter Randall-Page, a cafe and shop. FREE, just turn up.
- Horniman Museum and Gardens 16 acres of gardens, including the sound garden, meadow field, pre-historic gardens and knockout views of the London skyline. FREE, just turn up.
- Kenwood 112 acres of glorious parkland with ancient woodland, sculptures, sham bridge, cafe and shop. FREE, just turn up.
Castles and Country Estates
The vast grounds of historic castles and homes are great places to soak up a bit of history, whilst enjoying the great outdoors.
26. Hever Castle
A fantastic family day out. The castle-themed playgrounds and water maze have reopened with reduced entry numbers. Explore the award-winning gardens, row on the lake, and pretend you’re abroad in the Italianate Gardens. Live jousting returns in August. Paid, book ahead.
Read about our post-lockdown visit to Hever Castle here.
27. Scotney Castle
These beautiful 14th century moated ruins are picture perfect. The short one-way route round the picturesque gardens is ideal for little legs. Extend your visit with a ramble across the wooded estate to find the oast houses. Paid, book ahead.
Read about our post-lockdown visit to Scotney castle here.
28. Hadleigh Castle and Country Park
The knockout views over the Essex marshes make these romantic royal ruins well worth a picnic stop. Bring your bikes – nearby Hadleigh Country Park has brilliant cycle and BMX tracks for kids. FREE, just turn up.
Read more about our recent trip to Hadleigh Castle here.
Sniff lemonade roses, jump a waterfall, get chased by black swans, have ice creams in the orchard, watch koi carp, walk in the woods and picnic near the lake. And I haven’t even mentioned the incredible views and Winston Churchill connection. Paid, book ahead.
Read about our post-lockdown visit to Chartwell here.
30. Polesden Lacey
This party pad was made to welcome. Roll down the lawn with stunning views of the Surrey Hills, balance on wooden stepping stones and swing under the trees, enjoy the beautiful planting in the walled garden and smell the rose garden. Paid, book ahead.
Read about our June visit to Polesden Lacey here.
31. Summer Quest and Meet the Servants at Audley End
Discover what life was like at a Victorian country house. Take the garden trail quest, meet the servants outside the service wing (weekends only) and stop by the horses in the stable yard. There’s also vast Capability Brown grounds, a huge kitchen garden and woodland to explore. Paid, book ahead.
There’s only one thing in my mind that can make a beach day better – a sprinkle of culture. Here’s my selection this summer.
32. Dance Diagonal at Towner Gallery, Eastboune
There’s more time to see Britain’s cheeriest exterior as Lothar Gotz radical rainbow mural Dance Diagonal at the award-winning Towner Gallery is extended until 31 May 2021. FREE, just turn up.
Read our tips for an Eastbourne day trip here.
33. Brighton Pavilion
Feast your eyes on the OTT 19th century playboy prince party palace. I can’t wait to take the kids on a dragon hunt through the opulent interiors. Opening late July-early August, exact dates TBC. Paid, book ahead.
34. Turner Contemporary, Margate
Slap bang on Margate seafront is this small, welcoming gallery with cracking exhibitions. We Will Walk – Art and Resistance in the American South reveals a little-known history shaped by the Civil Rights period in the 1950s and 60s. 22 July – 6 September 2020. FREE, book ahead.
Here’s four more recommendations I just couldn’t leave out.
35. Rainham concrete barges and pirate trail
A bonkers combination of rusting World War 2 barges and a pirate pun trail right next to the Thames. Expect Horrible History-style ‘stupid death’ gravestones, pirate way markers and a tattered Jolly Roger. There’s even a hidden ‘beach’ with views of the QE2 bridge. FREE, just turn up.
Read about our visit and how to find it here.
36. RAF Museum playground
The RAF Museum’s fantastic military themed playground will reopen in the coming days, as soon as their shipment of sanitiser arrives. Oh, and there’s 100 years of RAF history across 3 hangars (6 from 20 July) if that isn’t enough reason to visit. FREE, book ahead.
Tip: Call to check the playground is open before booking.
37. Permian Monsters at the Horniman Museum
Meet the great grand-daddies of dinosaurs with moving animatronics, and be freaked out by nightmare models of giant millipedes. Afterwards say hi to the walrus, shop at the farmers market (Sundays only), and wave at the aquarium fish. Paid, book ahead (tickets on sale 20 July 2020).
Read how our pre-pandemic visit went here.
38. Bletchley Park
The secret home of the Second World War codebreakers, this place really brought the story to life. Expect engaging displays, atmospheric huts and a manor house. Grab a puzzle themed family trail or children’s multimedia guide at the entrance. Paid, book ahead.
Tip: Under 12s go free, and they’ve just launched a single parent family ticket too.
AT HOME ANTICS
Just because you’re not going out, doesn’t mean you have to miss out. One bonus of lockdown has been the sheer range of fantastic online resources created by cultural places. I previously listed some of my favourites in this post, but more have since been released. So here’s a quick list of some fun at-home activities – I’ll share more as I see them on my Twitter and Instagram stories.
39. Drawing money competition with the Bank of England Museum.
40. Multi-sensory show at home with Barbican.
41. Miniature books with the British Library
42. Tower of London den with Culture Mile.
43. Biscuithenge with English Heritage.
45. Colour in moquette with London Transport Museum.
46. Tune into Nature virtual Family Festival with the Natural History Museum, 27 July – 9 August.
47. Virtual Planetarium Show with Royal Museums Greenwich. Various dates in July.
48. Virtual family rave with the Horniman Museum, 17 July.
49. Theatre skills with Royal Opera House.
50. Pollock chocolate painting with Tate Kids.
And here’s some extras because you’re still reading:
- Around the World in a Day with the British Museum
- Museum of Fundon with the Museum of London
- Kitchen Science with the Science Museum
Share your summer
I hope this list helps your family enjoy the holidays. If you’ve found this guide useful, please take a second to share it. Pop it in a parenting WhatsApp group, share to your Facebook or give me a mention on your Instagram stories. Sharing helps others with their summer plans AND lets me know you want more guides like this in the future.
And if you make it somewhere on this list, please tag me @museummum on Instagram, @museum_mum on Twitter or comment below. I love seeing how you get on. You can follow along with our own summer adventures over on my Instagram Stories.
- Even more fun at-home museum resources for families
- Get your adult culture fix: See London’s Lockdown exhibitions from home
Disclosure: I have visited many of these attractions for free, in return for an honest review.
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