London on a warm summer day is tough to beat! Just because you have a trip planned in August doesn’t guarantee that the temperature will hit 80°F at any point during your visit. But if it does, count yourself lucky, and don’t miss these fun summer activities for kids in London:
Take a stroll on the Southbank
You can do it either from West to East, or East to West. We usually started at the Eye, and headed East – but the advantage of going the other way is that you get the view of Big Ben and Parliament as you’re approaching the Eye. Our kids loved climbing at the playground at Jubilee Gardens. You’ll get some great pictures of them with the Eye towering in the background. Then move on (if they don’t want to leave, try the bribe of a cone of soft serve ice cream with flake! – works every time!).
Enjoy the street performers. There are some great magicians, and some really talented musicians (they call them buskers). Great for kids and adults alike. If the kids need to go potty, make sure that you have some change – there are public bathrooms, but they have a small fee. The upside is that they are clean, and they have Union Jack toilet seats.
If it’s time for lunch or dinner during the weekend, eat at the Southbank Centre Food Market . Delicious! But kinda tough to find. To get there, turn right (if you’re heading away from the Eye) after you pass the Southbank Centre, and take the small street/alley between Southbank Centre and Queen Elizabeth Hall. The Food Market is around the back of the building, along Belvedere St.
Back on the Southbank, continue east and spend a few minutes watching the skaters in a covered skate park – then continue on to browse some of the shops and galleries. We typically stopped after the OXO tower, and made our way across Blackfriars Bridge to the tube station there. But if you have the energy you can keep going all the way to Tower Bridge (there are a few places where you’ll have to walk inland a bit) – it’s about a 2.5 mile walk. This is one of our favorite summer activities for kids in London.
Have fish and chips (and a pint) in a beer garden!
Many pubs are family friendly, and if they have a beer garden then even more so! Our favorite was the Duke of Kent in West London. You probably won’t make it out there if you’re staying in Central London – and so it might be tough to find a pub with a playground! But there are several pubs with great beer gardens – some with a grassy area to play, and others along the river. If you have two or three kids, one fish and chips will usually be enough for them to share! And don’t forget the sticky toffee pudding for dessert..or as the Brits say, “for pudding”!
Need help finding a good pub in your neighborhood? Just email me and I’m happy to help! This is one of the most enjoyable summer activities for kids in London in which you can really sample the local flavor.
For a city with weather that doesn’t always make you want to be outside, it’s amazing that London is full of incredible playgrounds! Playgrounds offer some of the best summer activities for kids in London. So if you’re there on a nice summer day with kids, there’s no reason not to spend a solid chunk of your day relaxing with a coffee while your kids monkey around. I’ve already mentioned the log playground at Jubilee Gardens. Some other favorites are:
- Regent’s park playground, near Hanover Gate
- Battersea Park has a really cool “adventure playground” – which means it has big climbing structures for older kids (7-13 year olds). And often a zip line! For younger kids, I’d recommend the playground (and Zoo) at the Battersea Park Children’s Zoo. You have to pay to get in, but our kids really loved this place. If you have 4-8 year olds, this spot is perfect for a sunny afternoon.
- Ravenscourt Park has an amazing playground. It’s West of Central London, in the adorably posh village of Chiswick. If you want to get a feel for where local families live, you could definitely spend an afternoon wandering Chiswick high street, and the park and playground.
- And of course, the mother of all playgrounds… Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park. Full of pirate ships and teepees, for kids who are 4-9 years old, you can’t beat it. The only challenge is that it can get pretty crowded on nice summer days. If possible, better to go on a weekday. The playground is gated, and opens at 10AM. If you’re there in the afternoon on a sunny Saturday, expect a line. It’s roughly one in / one out – but it moves pretty fast. And there’s ice cream and coffee right next to where the line forms, so it’s not such an unpleasant wait. More on this great spot in our writeup of Lupo and the Secret of Windsor Castle.
- The playground at Hampstead Heath, near Parliament Hill, provides a wonderful playspace for younger kids. If you’re in North London – near Camden or Kentish Town, it’s definitely worth checking out. In addition to the playground, our kids loved running up (and rolling down) Parliament Hill. From the top, you’ll get fantastic views of Central London to the South.
To see these playgrounds (and more) on a map – check out my custom Google Map for Families with Kids. Check out all of the “layers” on the left side that you can turn on or off to see different sights on the map.
Take the Riverbus to Greenwich
Greenwich is a good place to spend a few hours, and taking the Riverbus there is part of the fun – making it one of the best summer activities for kids in London. Check routes and times here. You want the black line, which you can board from the dock near the Eye, or several other docks on the north side of the river. The ride will take about a half hour, and it’s a great trip past the Tower of London, and under Tower Bridge. You could do the Eye first thing in the morning, walk along the Southbank, and then cross at Blackfriars bridge and take the riverbus from there. The National Maritime Museum captures the story of Britain’s Naval History. Our kids loved the tablet-based game played on the Great Map. There’s always lots for kids to do, and often some of the special exhibits are targeted at children. The Cutty Sark ship gives visitors the chance to experience what life must have been like on the high seas, complete with lots of pirate history. The museum is free – but some of the exhibits have a fee. And on a warm summer day, you’ll enjoy the beautiful and sprawling Greenwich Park, and the Royal Observatory – where you’ll find the Prime Meridian and can get your picture with one foot in each hemisphere. You can even check out the deer!
But without a doubt, our favorite thing to do on a warm summer day in the UK is…
Go Punting in Oxford!
If you’re visiting London in July or August, plan a day to go punting in Oxford or Cambridge This is a fantastic family activity, and if you get good weather, it might be the highlight of your trip. The two towns are each home to the two preeminent universities in the UK (collectively they are rather annoyingly referred to as “Oxbridge”), and they do have a lot in common. Both feel somewhat like Hogwarts, with the gothic architecture, and long list of prominent alumni. But for our family, it was the punting that really made the trip. Punting is like canoeing, in a flat-bottomed boat that you push along a shallow bottom with a long pole, that’s also used for steering. You can get a guide/pilot to drive the boat for you, but where’s the fun in that?! We found that getting the self-guided punt, and learning to steer it, was a blast! It does take some getting used to, and you get a bit wet in the process, but it’s truly fun for the whole family. Here’s a video that shows you how to do it – although I’d be willing to wager that your first effort will be somewhat less graceful. Ours resulted in a series of zig zagging crashes into either side of the river. But before long you’ll get the hang of it – and your family will enjoy laughing at your struggles along the way! Don’t get me wrong – there is much more to see in Oxford and Cambridge than just the punting, but for our family, it was the punting that we all really enjoyed the most. Be aware though that this is primarily a summer activity. You can do it in spring and autumn, but it will likely be chilly.
In Cambridge, be sure to get your punt directly from Scudmore’s – not from the other vendors and touts at the train station who will try to sell you a ride at higher prices. You can either do the “Backs” along the colleges, or you can do the Grantchester route, which is through scenic meadows, and will allow you to stop for a picnic, or even at a stream-side pub for lunch! If you do the backs, you might choose to get the guided boat, which will be driven by a charming 20-something guy or girl who will regale you with stories of cheeky British college hijinks. But if you want to learn to steer the boat yourself, do the self-guided punt towards Grantchester, and make a day of it!
In Oxford get your punt from the Magdalen Bridge Boat House. There’s a Sainsbury’s Local just on the other side of the bridge where you can buy your Pimm’s and strawberries. The selection of food is rather limited – so stop at Pret on your way through town and pick up a picnic lunch. The boathouse is about a 20 minute walk from the train station – or you can take a bus from London that will drop you in the center of town.
Whichever way you go, bring along some Pimm’s (don’t forget a bag of ice – here’s a recipe for Pimm’s Cup – it’s pretty simple). If you want to do it
right, chop the cucumbers, strawberries and mint in advance and bring it with you – and then buy Pimms and Sprite (what they call “lemonade” is Sprite/7-Up to Americans) when you get there, or as an alternative some champagne and strawberries will do just fine. A sunny day on the water with a cold cup of Pimm’s, the kids feeding ducks… a summer day doesn’t get better, or more British, than this!
We loved both towns, but the self-guided punting in Oxford was our favorite!
These are just 5 great summer activities for kids in London. I hope that this has been helpful. What’s your favorite thing to do in London with kids? Let me know if the comments!