The best museums are so much fun that your children won’t want to leave at the end of the day. They’re the sort of places where playing is encouraged and where there are lots of interactive exhibits that children can touch and enjoy.
In this list of London’s top ten, there really is something for everyone, whether you fancy shooting down a pirate ship, repairing a mini Tube train or playing in a giant sandpit. Even better, most of the museums on this list are free.
The British Museum
My kids love going to the British Museum. The mummies in the Ancient Egypt section are a particular favourite. There’s so much to explore whether you’re into the Aztecs and the Incas, the Vikings or Ancient Greece. It’s best to pick just one area to visit each time you go or it’s just too much to take in.
On our last trip we went round the Roman Britain rooms with an activity backpack filled with artefacts, dressing up clothes and things to do. It made our visit even more enjoyable than usual. You can pick up backpacks, art materials and activity worksheets for specific areas from the Families Desk. Children can also take part in object handling sessions, digital and film-making workshops.
The British Museum is open daily; admission is free.
London Transport Museum
A visit to the London Transport Museum became even more fun this year with the opening of the All Aboard family play zone. Children up to 7 can repair a mini Tube train, fly a cable car and sit in the driver’s seat of a bus. There are lots of activities for older children too as there’s lots of real buses and trains to play on, historical outfits to dress up in and the chance to drive Tube train simulators.
The museum tells the history of London and its transport and you’ll see everything from rowing boats and paddle steamers to double decker buses, horse-drawn carriages and electric trams. There are activities in the Family Station at weekends and holidays.
London Transport Museum is open daily. Adults, £16; children, free.
The Clink Prison Museum
Children can handle real torture devices at the world’s most notorious medieval prison at this museum in Southwark, on the original site of The Clink Prison, which dates back to 1144. You’ll find out about a day in the life of a medieval prisoner and hear tales of some of the gruesome prisoners. If you’re feeling brave, it’s a great place to spot ghosts: the prison is reputed to be one of the UK’s most haunted locations and is renowned for its ghostly sightings…
The Clink Prison Museum is open daily. Adults, £7.50; children, £5.50.
V & A Museum of Childhood
This museum is every child’s dream whether they’re into dolls’ houses, Star Wars figures, Lego or electric train sets. Here in Bethnal Green, you’ll find one of the world’s best collections of toys both old and new so you’ll see everything from robots and rocking horses to computer games, puppet theatres and chemistry sets.
There are hundreds of toys on display but also plenty of toys to play with and things to do. There are lots of interactive areas with touch screen games and activity stations with Lego, board games, Punch and Judy stalls and a giant sandpit. There’s also a brilliant Sensory Pod and daily art and craft sessions.
The V & A Museum of Childhood is open daily; admission is free.
The Science Museum
This is the place to come if you want to see the Apollo 10 command module and Stephenson’s Rocket. There is so much for children to do here, from morphing your face to see what it will look like when you’re older to investigating climate change and dressing up as a WWII fighter pilot.
The Launchpad Gallery is one of the world’s leading hands-on science centres and kids can learn all about physics with interactive exhibits, demonstrations and shows like the Science of Explosion. Staff are on hand to answer questions and share their enthusiasm. Younger children will love the Pattern Pod, a multi-sensory area for 5 to 8 year olds. The regular Sleepovers are a big draw: children stay all night at the museum and take part in science shows and hands-on workshops.
The Science Museum is open daily; admission is free.
National Maritime Museum
You can fire a cannon, shoot down a pirate ship and steer a ship into port in the fantastic All Hands children’s gallery at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. There are regular family events at the museum and a Great Map, a multi sensory giant world atlas where children and their parents can play a magical interactive game and set sail for themselves.
There’s plenty to occupy the under 7s too. In Ahoy! they can stoke the boiler of a steamship, catch a fish for dinner and work together in the interactive boatyard. Christmas events at the museum include activities to show how Christmas was celebrated through the ages.
National Maritime Museum is open daily; admission is free.
Bank of England Museum
Don’t miss the chance to hold a genuine bar of gold at the Bank of England Museum – it’s heavier than you’d think! Children can board the aptly named ‘Monetary Policy Boat’ and do the interactive game to discover what the Bank does to keep the economy on a steady course.
You can also take a virtual tour of the Bank of England’s vaults, look at bank notes dating back from the 17th century and hear the tales of the Bank’s ghostly nun. There are activity sheets for families.
Bank of England Museum is open on weekdays; admission is free.
Royal Air Force Museum
Can you imagine what it’s like to take part in a WW1 dogfight or ride in a tornado jet? At the RAF Museum in Hendon you can do just that on one of their amazing flight simulators. In the children’s interactive science gallery you can take the controls of a helicopter and test your reaction times and vision to see if you could become a pilot.
The museum is a must-see for any child who dreams of flying as it houses over 100 historic aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancasters as well as the English Electric Lightning, the first British plane to reach twice the speed of sound, and the incredible Eurofighter Typhoon.
Royal Air Force Museum is open daily. Admission is free; simulators cost £3 each.
Natural History Museum
There is so much to thrill children here whether they’re into dinosaurs and furry frogs or cursed amethysts and duck-billed platypuses. You can feel the earth move in the Earthquake Machine, play detective games around the museum and visit the growing fox cubs in the Wildlife Garden. The hands-on Science Centre is a great place for children to examine specimens from the natural world for themselves, using microscopes and other scientific tools.
The museum hosts regular Sleepovers for children too. Over Christmas and New Year, don’t miss the ice rink which is open until January 3rd.
Natural History Museum is open daily; admission is free.
Horniman Museum and Gardens
There are costumes to try on, musical instruments to play and stuffed animals to investigate at this treasure trove of a museum in Forest Hill. The collections of objects from all over the world include a torture chair, African and Mexican masks and over 1,300 musical instruments. There are activity packs and trails for most of the rooms and interactive sound tables for you to listen to music and try making some of your own. There’s also an aquarium and a Nature Base with real harvest mice and a bee hive.
Children will love following the oldest nature trail in London around the 16-acre gardens and the Animal Walk where they can get up close with alpacas, chickens and guinea pigs.
Horniman Museum is open daily; admission is free. Entrance to the Aquarium costs £3.50 for adults, £1.50 for children.