2021 Update: Click here for February 2021 half term activities
Temperatures are dropping, the coronacoaster keeps rolling … but we still need to entertain the kids this half term, whatever the circumstances. The good news is that London’s cultural destinations are a great option for families, with extra safety and hygiene measures to keep you safe, as well as extra activities to keep you sane.
Our socially distanced days out have given us a much-needed taste of normality the last few months. But with many hands-on activities and play areas out of bounds, it helps to know which places are still enjoyable for children – before you get there! So I’m using our experience of visiting dozens of museums post-lockdown to put together this list of the best October 2020 half term activities for London families. I’ve focused on places with trails, activities and immersive elements, as, in my experience, these work best for kids. There’s FREE and paid for activities, taking place both indoors and outside, and some at home resources too. (Psst: you’ll find more at home museum activities here.)
You’ll need to book ahead – the most popular places will sell out soon. So grab your calendar and let’s crack on. Here’s my pick of the best things to do in (and near) London with kids this October 2020 half term:
Join the search for the elusive Wally for a free bookmark and a chance to win family prizes. Where’s Wally? Spooky Museum Hunt take places in over 75 UK museums. London venues include Cartoon Museum, the Cutty Sark, Florence Nightingale Museum, Horniman Museum, Museum of London Docklands, Museum of Water and Steam, the Postal Museum, and the V&A. The Museum Kids were eagerly scouring showcases for him during our sneak preview at Hastings Museum. 9 October – 30 November 2020; check individual listings for exact dates. FREE trail, normal entrance charges apply.
Set off on a Gruffalo Adventure around Kew Gardens or Wakehurst, as you look for the characters hiding in their deep, dark woods. Follow footprints, marks and feathers and figure out clues. Discover the secret world of plants and animals, what marks they leave behind, and how their lives are interconnected. 17 October – 1 November 2020. Free with paid entry.
See more photos and films from our Gruffalo Adventure Trail visit here.
Track down Billy Brown from London Town amongst the historic trains and buses at London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, or at their Museum Depot in Acton. Discover who Billy was, a popular character from the 1940s, and how he used his playful rhymes to encourage passengers to be on their best behaviour on public transport. 17 October – 1 November 2020.
Read all about our pre-pandemic visit to London Transport Museum Depot here.
At home: Billy Brown activities.
Choose from one of two FREE digital family trails at the Museum of London. Take part in a top secret Family Mission (7 October 2020-3 November 2020, ages 5+), or become a Story Sleuth to discover the lives of Black Londoners (24 October-1 November 2020, ages 7+).
At home: Museum of Fundon.
How did an acorn eventually become a symbol of the sea? And where might bugs play hide-and-seek? Find out Strawberry Hill are making a happy home for creatures and plants in Horace’s Hidden Garden Tour, a guided family trail. 27 and 28 October 2020; paid.
Gather your little monsters for a ghoulishly good day out at Spooky Audley End. Follow the trail to solve creepy clues and gather round to listen to spooky stories. Wear your scariest outfits for a chance to win their daily frighteningly fun fancy dress competition (24 October – 1 November 2020; paid). Hear tales of strange and silly goings on in a Spooky Woodland Walk with ghost-hunting storytellers (29 – 31 October 2020; paid. Ages 5 to 12).
At Home: Make your own beastly mask.
Halloween meets pandemic for spooky workshops 2020 style at Foundling Museum, inspired by The Covid Letters exhibition. Make your own face mask using Boris Johnson’s letter to the nation, and customise a fabric face mask in Skeleton Face Masks (28 October 2020; paid. Ages 5-13). Or dim the museum lights and light up Halloween with your own hand-made Spooky Lantern. (30 October 2020; paid. Ages 5-13).
Make your own broomstick, take a ride to discover mysterious plants, and plant your own garlic to take home and keep you well protected on Chelsea Physic Garden‘s Broomstick Ride (25 and 29 October 2020; paid. Ages 4+). Alternatively, help Professor Bella Donna Sneeze Wart, a Herbalist searching for the antidote for a poison, eaten by her poor cat Basil Fuzzy-butt the 3rd of Chelsea. On this Spooky Family Tour you’ll hear spooky stories and speak to ghost cats, and note down your findings (28-30 October 2020; paid)
Follow a pumpkin trail around Hever Castle grounds, vote for your favourite pumpkin, and come dressed in your spookiest outfit to join in with their Halloween Half Term fun. The spectacular fort playground and gorgeous gardens are always a treat. 24 October – 1 November 2020.
Read about our post-lockdown visit to Hever Castle here.
At home: Enter their pumpkin competition by sharing your carving masterpiece on Instagram with the hashtag #HalloweenatHever by 30 October 2020.
Meet spiders, slugs and a witch with a very special hat in the The Magic Garden: A minibeast story for Halloween at Gunnersbury Park and Museum. Expect lots of props, singing, movement and joining in! Plus decorate a mini pumpkin to take home. 29 October 2020; paid. Ages 7 and under.
Twelve mischievous monsters are on the loose at Honeywood Museum. Explore the museum, including their childhood room, as you follow the clues and track down the cheeky creatures in their Monster Mayhem Treasure Hunt. 24, 30 and 31 October 2020; paid. Ages 4-10.
The Whitehall Historic House witch has misplaced what she needs for a petrifying new potion. Follow the devilishly tricky clues to track down all of the gruesome ingredients in the What’s in the Witches’ Cauldron Treasure Hunt, whilst you explore this 500 year old year old building. 24, 29 and 31 October 2020; paid. Ages 4-10.
Discover the ghostly goings on in the remains of Richmond Palace and make your own stained glass windows in Museum of Richmond‘s Richmond Palace themed family workshops. 27 – 30 October 2020; paid. Ages 5-11.
Wonderlab at the Science Museum is the best fun families can have with their masks on. Spread across seven different zones, there’s plenty of opportunity to get hands on with real scientific phenomena. Play with forces on giant slides, see lightning strike before your eyes, or watch live science shows. Wednesdays to Sundays, paid.
Read about our post-lockdown visit here.
At home: Kitchen Science or games and apps.
There has never been a better time to visit Natural History Museum. Their reduced visitor numbers made it such a joyous, uplifting experience we’ve been twice since they reopened in August (and have our third and fourth trips booked too!) Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 opens 16 October 2020 and Time Out reports their popular ice rink returns from 23 October. FREE entry (ice rink and special exhibitions paid).
Read about our post-lockdown trip to the museum here.
At Westminster Abbey the stones tell a story, and their Building History Family Day lets them speak. Hear tremendous tales, follow a historic trail, make crafts and take home an activity pack. Find out what it took to build the abbey we know today and be inspired by people of the past. 30 October 2020; paid (kids go FREE). Ages 5+.
At home: Family building history online tour, 28 October 2020.
Kids go FREE at St Pauls Cathedral this October half term (17-31 October 2020; paid). Discover the hidden stories of figures like Florence Nightingale, prison reformer John Howard, and activist Canon John Collins. Free family multimedia guides are filled with interactive activities, or take the Inspiring Stories trail. Guided tours run 26-31 October 2020 at 11am and 2pm (best ages 11+).
Whoospy whiffling news! Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is offering private guided ‘bubble’ tours to explore your favourite stories and characters. Feel like a VIP on the cheap as tours cost the same as standard entry. See what you’d look like in Roald Dahl’s school uniform, measure yourself against his characters, fly like the Roly-Poly Bird, chant like an Oompa-Loompa and explore early drafts of favourite books. 26-30 October 2020; paid.
At home: Museum at home.
Take an interactive family tour around Charles Dickens Museum. Learn from an expert guide all about Dickens, his family, and Victorian life, as you explore his former home. Listen to the sounds of historic London, act out the ‘More?! ‘ scene from Oliver Twist, pull faces in mirrors to create characters, and handle mystery things with gloved hands to work out who the Dickens might have used them. 26 October, 30 October and 1 November 2020; paid. Ages 5+.
Read about our private tour of Dickens Museum here
Make and launch paper aeroplanes at Tower Bridge. Discover the wild exploits of Frank McClean and others who have flown through the iconic bridge, and have a go at making your own paper aeroplane to recreate the stunt. Brave the glass walkway and complete the Family Trail booklet. 24-31 October 2020; paid. Best ages 6-10.
Read about our post-lockdown visit to Tower Bridge here.
There’s in person AND online family activities at Foundling Museum, including making banging t-shirts with House of Banger. 27-30 October 2020; paid.
Take your pick from National Army Museum‘s half term activities. Code your robot to complete an important mission across enemy territory in the robot coding challenge (27-31 October 2020; FREE). Explore the stranger side of First World War science, in the 30-minute bird brains and bullet proof vests family show (27-29 October 2020; FREE). And At Ease, their sensory friendly early opening, takes place on 31 October 2020.
Royal Museums Greenwich has an array of family events. Bring your toddlers aboard Cutty Sark to hear about James Robson’s search for tea in a reading of new children’s book At Sea Without Tea (28 October, paid). Make a claymation pageant filled with symbols of royal power at Queen’s House in pomp, pagentry and plasticine animation workshop (28 October 2020; paid. Ages 6-13). And join illustrator Becky Thorns at the National Maritime Museum to create wonderful deep-sea creatures, inspired by her book The World of Whales (1 November 2020; FREE).
Click here to read about our post-lockdown trip to Cutty Sark.
At home: Sailor experience workshops, 26-30 October 2020, Out of This World Mars, 27 & 28 October 2020.
Take part in exciting undercover activities at IWM London‘s half term spy school. Crack codes, master the art of disguise, and look out for undercover agents around the museum in Spies and Disguise. 24 and 25 October 2020; FREE. It’s also a great chance to see the chilling, enormous atrium artwork ‘A History of Bombs’ by Ai Weiwei. Book here.
Read about our post-lockdown visit to IWM London here.
It’s your last chance to catch Among the Trees at Hayward Gallery. Behind the pretty installations, impressive videos and sculptures lies thoughtful curation. It conveys the beauty and mystery of trees, whilst raising questions about the climate emergency, urbanisation, deforestation and the eviction of indigenous forest-dwellers.
Click here to read about my pre-pandemic child-free visit to Among the Trees.
At home: Virtual tour
Meet the great grand-daddies of dinosaurs at the Permian Monsters exhibition at the Horniman Museum. The moving animatronics are nowhere as frightening as the nightmare models of giant millipedes. (Until 31 January 2021; paid). Whilst you’re there, catch the family-friendly character storytelling of British-Jamaican nurse and natural healer Mary Seacole in the Horniman Gardens (26-30 October 2020; FREE).
Read how our pre-pandemic visit to Permian Monsters went here.
An eye-popping installation by Alice in Hackneyland marks three centuries of the Baroque entertainment room at Orleans House. Octagon 300 showcases a lavish Florescent Banquet, an opulent reimagining of the lavish feast served to Queen Caroline. Small details capture children’s imagination, from tiny horses to bugs and spilt tea. Play with Baroque alters perspective to shrink whichever member of your bubble you think deserves it most. Finish up with a Halloween biscuit in the Courtyard Cafe. 13 October 2020 – 21 March 2021; FREE, just turn up.
Here’s more about our visit to Octagon 300.
Dance the blues away in the noisy, energetic and exciting Electronic: From Kraftwerk to the Chemical Brothers at the Design Museum. Museum Girl loved the gyrating square and plugging her headphones in to hear more music. It was even cool enough for the teen. Until 14 February 2021; paid.
I do hope this list helps you enjoy your October half term. Let me know in the comments below if I’ve missed any corkers.
I’m not paid to create these guides, so can I ask a (free) favour? If you’ve found it useful, please take a second to share it with your friends, family and followers. Pop it in your parenting WhatsApp groups, post on Facebook, share to your Instagram stories – heck, even just tell someone in the playground. Sharing helps others with their half term plans AND lets me know you want to see more guides in the future. WIN, WIN.
I love seeing what you get up to, so please do 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 own half term adventures over on my Instagram Stories.
Disclosure: Just like a journalist, I have been gifted free entry to many of these museums for review purposes. I work at the Museum of London, although can’t take any credit for their half-term activities, and this blog is not associated with them.
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