26 Nov London with kids on a budget
London is a fantastic city to visit with kids but it can also be expensive. We spent 3 days in London with kids and were lucky that most of the things they wanted to do were low cost or free so, here are our tips for planning your family trip to London on a budget.
Things to do in London with kids on a budget
There are so many things to do with kids in London that even when travelling on a budget you will have plenty to see and do. This is a list of the things we actually did in London with kids on a budget.
Natural History Museum
After watching David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive, the kids declared they wanted to go to London to visit it in person. They also love the shows Andy’s Prehistoric (and Dinosaur) Adventures which feature the museum. When we told them we had booked a family trip to London, this was at the top of their list.
London’s Natural History Museum is housed in a beautiful building. Although “Dippy” the Diplodocus was missing, the kids enjoyed seeing the giant blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. The four-year-old loved seeing Andy’s clock and the seven-year-old had an excellent day of reading and learning. We spent half a day at the museum which is free to enter.
Kensington Gardens & Princess Diana Memorial Playground
We strolled through Kensington Gardens and were excited to see squirrels running around as it’s not something we witness in our Australian gardens. After viewing ducks and swans at the pond, we passed by Kensington Palace and onto the playground.
Built to honour the memory of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, this playground allows children to play imaginatively. The main feature is a large pirate ship surrounded by sand and smaller boats. There are also cubby houses, teepees and a wooden play structure. The playground is completely fenced and you have to buzz at the gate to gain access.
St. James Park
Tower Bridge is a famous London landmark and was at the top of our things to see during our family trip to London. From a distance, the bridge is a striking image on the River Thames. Although we were in London on a budget, we chose to pay the entrance fee for Tower Bridge and it was worth it.
A lift takes you to the two walkways at the top of the bridge. A glass section allows you to look down over Tower Bridge and The River Thames. There are many photos and information about the history of the bridge. Tickets also allow you to view the engine rooms which display the old steam engines. During our visit, Tower Bridge was celebrating its 125th year and had a birthday area set up where kids could design their own bridge and decorate a paper crown. You can view prices and buy tickets here.
This bridge offers great views of other landmarks in London. From here you can look out across the river to see The London Eye. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament can also be seen from the bridge. At the time of our visit both of these were undergoing restoration and the whole area was quite chaotic with construction work and tourists.
A large public square in Central London, named to commemorate the battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory. Nelson’s Column, built to honour Admiral Nelson stands tall in the centre of the Square. It is guarded by four large lion statues. There are also fountains and other statues. Stairs from the square lead up to The National Gallery. Many rallies and demonstrations are held at Trafalgar Square and during our visit, a protest march was being held against Brexit.
Hamley’s Toy Store
One of the oldest and largest toy stores in the world. Hamley’s was founded in 1760 and moved to its current place on Regent Street in 1881. The toy store is spread across multiple levels with a different theme on each one. A great sales scheme by the store is having staff around demonstrating toys. They got us with a guy just inside the entrance at the front throwing a plane and having it return to him. The kids chose to buy a two-pack for £10, after throwing them in the hotel room, the foam planes didn’t even make it home. We did bring home a wonderful storybook though with scenes from London.
Ride on a London bus
Those big red, double-decker buses are an icon of London and the kids put a ride on one on their to-do list. Our budget tip: don’t think you need to pay for a bus tour. The buses are part of the public transport system so, just hop on one and go for a ride! We tapped on with our oyster cards.
Paddington bear London locations
Our kids love the Paddington books and movies so visiting some Paddington locations in London was lots of fun. First stop was Paddington station where you will find a Paddington statue, a special book-shaped bench seat and a dedicated Paddington store. The kids posed for photos and spent their spending money on a cute little Paddington bear toy.
We had plans to visit ‘Paddington’s house’ but ran out of daylight hours. Chalcot Crescent in Primrose Hill is where you will find the colourful houses that appear in the movie.
Exiting Paddington Station at Grand Union Canal, we followed the canal to London’s Little Venice where filming for Paddington 2 took place. The canals of London actually stretch a long way through the city and boat rides are also available.
Family budget tips for London transport
An Oyster card is an electronic plastic ticket that you load with cash and tap on when taking public transport in London. There are two versions, Oyster card and Visitor Oyster card. They work the same way and have the same daily caps.
A Visitor Oyster card can not be purchased in London. You must purchase it online and have it delivered to your home address. It costs £5 plus postage which is non-refundable. With a Visitor Oyster card, you will receive special offers and discounts for London attractions.
A regular Oyster card can be purchased in London and a £5 deposit is refundable. They can be registered and you can check your balance through an app. We purchased our Oyster cards on arrival at Heathrow Airport and returned them for a refund at Paddington Station.
Kids under 11 travel free without the need for a ticket on public transport within London although, the line to our accommodation required a ticket for our seven-year-old.
Budget transport from Heathrow Airport
The Heathrow Express will get you into London city in a short 15 minutes but it is also expensive. Travelling off-peak and booking in advance can save you money. As we were staying outside of London we would have still needed onward transport. We chose to take the subway from Heathrow and transfer onto our next train. The Piccadilly Line starts at Heathrow Airport so getting on with luggage is no problem. As we were already in London at the end of our trip, we took the Heathrow Express from Paddington Station to the airport.
Where to stay in London with kids on a budget
We chose to stay in an Airbnb for our family trip to London. We jumped on sale flights which meant we didn’t have the advantage of booking accommodation in advance. With limited choice, we chose a lovely apartment outside of London. The downside of this meant we had to pay for transport in and out of the city. The upside was saving money by preparing all our own meals, being able to wash our clothes and having bedrooms to sleep in.