London’s Top 10 Hidden Gems for Families
Keeping kids entertained is no easy task. What’s more, it becomes even more difficult when you are faced with hordes of tourists also trying to make the most of London. In this guide, we will explore some of London’s lesser-known attractions and activities to keep the whole family happy while dodging the typical tourist traps. What’s so great about a giant clock or a 400ft Ferris wheel anyway?!
Many of these activities will take you out of the city centre. This allows you to explore some of the more secluded areas of London that are waiting to be enjoyed. Don’t be scared – all the routes have great public transport connections, and you can comfortably be back in the city centre before you know it.
1. Olympic Park
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Originally the focal point for the 2012 Olympic games, this area is now a large recreational area. It plays host to Tumbling Bay Playground, which is a step above your typical playground with rock pools, sandpits, tall treehouses, and wobbly bridges, as well as the usual slides and swings. Parents will also enjoy the nearby café. Nearby, there is an outdoor rock-climbing wall, which older kids will also love. As the park is so flat, it makes an ideal cycling opportunity. Access to bike rentals is straightforward and can be done with a contactless card. For slightly older kids, there is also the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the UK’s largest sculpture and the world’s longest tunnel slide. Be sure to book in advance! If you need to grab some food, or if you must shop, then Westfield Shopping Centre is also a short walk away.
2. The Horniman Museum
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The Horniman is a museum and gardens located in Forest Hill (South-East London). What makes it stand out among the 100s of other museums in London is that it has clearly been designed for kids from the ground up. There is a general theme of anthropology, natural history, and worldwide musical instruments, which make for a winning combination for children. As well as the exhibits, the aquarium and butterfly house are sure to be a hit with the family (small surcharge). The museum itself is free to enter and also has many free events on serious topics (e.g., climate change) or musical performances. Despite some of the topics, it still manages to engage kids by adding colour, noise and interaction. Don’t miss out!
3. Eltham Palace
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Originally a medieval palace before becoming a Tudor residence, Eltham Palace was eventually bought by eccentric millionaires in the 1930s. They converted it into a ‘modern’ home with 1930s art deco styling throughout. While adults will feel as though they have walked onto the set of Poirot, children will love the eccentric touches that the owners made to the place. Mah Jong (their pet lemur – of course!) has his own room on the top floor, as well as a series of tunnels allowing him to freely roam the house. After visiting, Greenwich is a very short ride by public transport. It makes for the perfect place to grab a bite to eat from the market or take a stroll along the riverside.
4. Castle Cinema
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I know…I know…you haven’t come to London to sit in front of a screen. However, this place is a little bit different. In the age of multiplex cinemas, Castle Cinema is a crowdfunded, small and beautifully designed independent cinema. It shows a range of films from arthouse releases to the latest blockbusters. The ambience has to be seen to be believed and might well save your skin if you are stuck for what to do on a rainy British summer’s day.
5. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
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London is a hugely diverse and multicultural city. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that its home to the largest Hindu temple outside of India. The temple regularly makes the top 50 on Tripadvisor’s ‘Things to Do’, but by no means would you call it a tourist attraction. If you ask most Londoners, they probably won’t have heard of it.
You don’t have to be religious to attend, as the temple welcomes all who want to learn more about the religion and marvel at the masterpiece of traditional Hindu design, which is made from over 5000 tonnes of marble. If you want to feel as though you have left London, while teaching the kids about different cultures and values, then this might be one hidden gem worth discovering.
6. Puppet Barge
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Nestled in Little Venice (which makes a great stroll before or after) is the Puppet Barge. Through its 3 generations of owners, this puppet show has been delighting children and adults alike with its storytelling and musical performances. Typically focusing on traditional tales, the show is currently performing ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’ which is suitable for children aged 3+.
7. Notting Hill
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Made famous through cinema, including the film by the same name, Notting Hill has lots to offer families. Adults can feel like they have walked onto a living film set, as they walk by rows of brightly coloured terrace houses or sample one its many independent book shops (Hugh Grant is unlikely to be running it). Kids will enjoy sifting through the delights of Portabello Market (it’s pretty easy to find – just look for Portabello Street) which has 1000s of weird and wonderful collectables, along with a couple of tasty treats to keep the little ones happy.
8. Cereal Killer Café
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Please don’t judge this one by the name, which is more of a forced pun than anything else. This café exclusively serves cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What makes it special is its ridiculous array of cereals from around the world. If you had some obscure cereal while on holiday as a child, chances are they have it here! It offers great novelty value and kids will love the vast array of colours, choice, and cereal characters, which brighten up any breakfast.
9. Roman Amphitheatre
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Recently unearthed in 1988 while excavating for a new art gallery in Guildhall, this Roman amphitheatre once held gladiator combat and wild animal fights to audiences of over 6000 spectators. What makes this discovery even more amazing is that it was found right in the heart of the City centre. Children can let their imagination run away with them with stories of armour-clad heroes battling. While older children and adults will appreciate the historical context of Roman London.
10. Draughts - Hackney
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Draughts is a board-game café designed for adults and kids alike. Boasting 1000s of board games from around the world there is sure to be something to suit all families out there. Entry grants you access to all of the games on offer for a set time period. This means you can explore a range of games and find a new family favourite. While this is primarily an indoor activity, there is an outdoor terrace to enjoy al fresco gaming, as well as a variety of food and drinks on offer. This tends to attract more serious gamers in the evenings and space is more difficult to find, so we’d suggest this makes a great rainy-day activity.
We hope we have inspired you to explore some of the lesser-known parts of London. The city offers plenty of opportunities outside of the square mile in the centre, and many of these hidden gem attractions (in our humble opinion) are worthy competition to the usual tourist hotspots.
As with all activities, do make sure you give enough time for any potential travel delays. Passengers should be back at Hammersmith Bus Station (Stop D) at least 15 minutes prior to the pre-booked departure time. Unfortunately, the coach is not able to wait if you are running late.
All information was correct at the time of writing. However, please always check venues prior to travel in case of any changes due to COVID-19 or otherwise.