We love living in the country. Ok, maybe that’s a slight embellishment as we actually live in a semi-rural location, but “we love living in a semi-rural location” doesn’t quite have the same ring about it. For us, we have the best of both worlds. For instance, we’re just a few minutes stroll – or make that 45 minutes with a walking Toddler – from a 5,000 acre National Trust estate but are still just a half an hour train journey from London.
We moved from London to Hertfordshire after living in the Capital for around five years. Although we came close to buying a property in North London, in retrospect, the deal falling through was the best thing that could have happened. We always knew that we wanted to move out of London to start a family, so it just meant that we did this a few years earlier than we originally planned. Since then, we haven’t looked back.
Even though there’s loads of family-friendly things to do where we live, sometimes you just can’t beat a trip to London. When living there, it felt like the missus and I did and saw a lot, but now that we’ve got a kid, we’re able to do it all again through Toddler L’s eyes.
Having a child can be pricey, so where possible, we try to make the most of free attractions or annual memberships as a way of keeping are outgoings as low as possible. With so much on offer in London, there’s always something you can do or see to keep the toddler entertained without hurting your wallet. Here’s five of our favourite free things to do in London with a toddler:
Parks And Open Spaces
Although we don’t travel to London for the green spaces – as we have the equivalent on our doorstep already – we do like to stop off at a park if we can. The Capital has a huge amount of open space and we find that visiting them allows Toddler L to blow off a bit of steam as she plays and explores with Mother Nature.
London has eight Royal Parks, including Hyde Park, Green Park, St James’ Park and Greenwich Park, where we have spent time as a family. It’s not just the Royal Parks though – there’s plenty of Council parks, garden squares and other open spaces, including Hampstead Heath, Clapham Common and Alexandra Palace – the latter being a particular favourite with the views over London, the boating lake and deer enclosure.
Particularly in Summer, it’s nice to chill out on the grass with your picnic – or Tesco meal deal – and let the sprog entertain herself with leaves, sticks and acres of space to explore. As she gets older, I can picture us playing chase, kicking a football, throwing a frisbee and flying a kite – some good, old family activities that cost nothing to do.
There are so many museums in London covering everything from art to crime to fashion to natural history. Even better, all of the National Museums in the UK – of which many are in the Capital – are free admission, meaning that you can keep your toddler entertained for hours and hours at no cost to yourself.
Since she started walking a few months ago, Toddler L hates to sit still and much prefers to climb, explore and run around. This is where a museum is perfect – there’s plenty to look at and so much space to let her wander around until her little legs can take no more.
Our favourites with the sprog include the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the National Maritime Museum because they have interactive elements. As she gets older and begins to take more in, I imagine we’ll also visit the likes of the Tate Modern and the British Museum.
Toddler L is a big fan of looking at people. Although it may be considered rude and a bit creepy if she was older, the fact that she’s 17 months old automatically makes it cute instead. When we’re out, she’ll often stop dead in her tracks to blatantly stare at whoever’s around her in order to suss out what they’re doing and / or get some attention.
With a population of 8.6 million, there’s not many better places to go to people watch than London. Wherever you go, you’re always guaranteed to encounter people who will entertain – be it someone in a suit running late for a meeting, a group of tourists who have lost their umbrella-carrying guide or a carefully arranged formation of chuggers trying to get you to donate.
Obviously people watching is a free activity, but if you want to ramp it up, then try the Tube or a bus. For the cost of a few quid – and as long as you avoid rush hour – you can spend hours touring London from a comfy seat as a conveyor belt of people are paraded in front of your inquisitive kid.
*Not technically free, but it is for us…
Being someone who isn’t the biggest fan of animals, I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my dad life at the zoo. We have an annual pass to nearby Whipsnade Zoo, which my folks buy us each Xmas, but sometimes like to mix it up with a visit to London Zoo. As both are under the care of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), it means that our membership is valid at both places – as an extra bonus, it also allows us to park for free at London Zoo, which makes a very cheap day out to the Capital.
Over the past few months, we’ve noticed that Toddler L is becoming really interested in animals. She’s always been obsessed with the dog, but now new favourite hobby involves quacking at ducks – be it real life actual ducks, Duck from Sarah and Duck or any other bird which she thinks is a duck. Naturally, this makes the penguin enclosure one of her favourite stops. With hundreds of species, thousands of animals and plenty of space to wander, London Zoo is always a big hit with the sprog.
It’s not a trip with a kid to the Capital if you don’t stop at the world’s oldest toy store. Hamleys is located on Regent Street, is set over seven differently categorised floors – although it feels like 87 – and is filled with thousands and thousands of toys.
It’s not just a toy shop with a ‘you can look but don’t touch’ mentality though. There’s plenty of actual toys for kids to play with and staff demonstrating the latest bit of kit, which means that your little ones can be entertained for ages. Having been a couple of times with a walking toddler, we very rarely get higher than floor 3 as she’s so mesmerised with what’s around her.
Be warned though. There’s no such thing as a quick visit to Hamleys. Instead, a 15 minute pop in is more than likely going to last three hours with numerous tantrums along the way!
Have you done any of the above activities with your kids? What are your favourite things to do in London that don’t cost a fortune? Let me know below!