Toddlers are tricky little tikes. They’re eager to do anything and everything, but when planning a day out for them you still need to cater for naptime, changing facilities and enough space for them to run around without driving everyone else within waddling distance totally mad.
While some places just aren’t designed for visitors as little as pre-schoolers, others actively encourage their presence. We’ve rounded up our favourite toddler-friendly destinations for days out this summer. Most of the paid-for attractions offer free entry for kids under two (sometimes three), too, so you can enjoy a fun-filled day trip without breaking the bank.
A day trip to these historic museums in west London offers a plethora of activities to keep toddlers occupied all day. Both are free to enter and the beautiful architecture of the buildings means the high ceilings and wide corridors are a source of excitement in themselves for any new walker! There are lifts for buggy access, or rooms to leave your buggy in, in both museums, and baby changing facilities on every floor. And there’s a subway leading straight to the entrances from South Kensington Tube station meaning you can avoid crossing the busy London roads with your pushchair!
- Top Tip: Entry to both museums is free, so go during the week in term time or expect very long queues. The Natural History Museum has a great ‘Toddler Tuesday’ event where little ones can roam the exhibits dressed in animal costumes supplied by the museum!
This free museum in Bethnal Green is a haven for the nostalgia driven parents craving a glimpse of their own, now long-forgotten childhood. Home to one of the world’s finest collections of children’s toys, doll’s houses, games and costumes, the Museum of Childhood has been amassing childhood-related objects since 1872 and continues to do so. There’s loads of hand-on stuff for London toddlers dotted and even a Sensory Pod which will appeal to tiny babies too. Bubble filled columns encourage squeals of delight from the youngest of visitors, and there’s a dazzling mini maze which creates the illusion of a kaleidoscope of colour and movement as you move through it. Little ones can either sit or stand right up close to get touchy-feely with exhibits and explore surfaces textured surfaces.
- Top Tip: Get the most out of your visit with your children by using the free Family Backpacks and trails on offer as you walk in, to explore the Collection.
Located less than an hour’s drive from London is Legoland. A surefire crowd-pleaser for the whole family, but also a great destination during term-time for pre-schoolers. Little kids love Lego – there’s something about building up all their Duplo blocks just to dismantle them again that guarantees any parent at least time for a cup of tea most days. So imagine their delight when they wander round a whole land made of Lego. While this theme park is aimed at slightly older children, unlike others it offers an array of enticing entertainment for toddlers too. There’s a Duplo train which hurtles round its track like the Ninky Nonk on speed, as well as other train rides and big wheels from which you can survey the whole park. There’s a great model village for them to run around, and it’s very buggy-friendly. It’s built on ahill but there’s a train to take you up and down if the pushchair gets too much!
- Top tip: Grab a free map at the entrance and study it closely – there are very few signs directing visitors to changing facilities, or advising whether toddlers can go on particular rides, but the free map illustrates both well.
The great thing about this museum found in the heart of Covent Garden is that once you’ve bought you ticket you can return as many times as you like within a year, and kids go free anyway, so it’s a great go-to for London toddlers! With so many money-bleeding days out around this is a real attraction when you have a toddler to constantly entertain. There are plenty of exhibits for little ones to climb on, and interactive learning stations, as well as seasonal special events.
- Top Tip: Take comfy shoes for your toddler because there’s lots of walking involved and buggies need to be left at the entrance in the buggy park.
If you’re after a bit of the country in the heart of the city, head straight to this urban oasis built in a former railway goods depot. Home to many rare breeds of animals, you can stop by and visit characters such as Bayleaf the donkey and Bentley the goat, or pick your own veg during the growing season. Squatters started Spitalfields City Farm in the 1960s as a collection of allotments, then added a cluster of sheep and ducks. The farm has grown and changed, but the original duck pond is still in place. And the ethic remains the same – the farm often engages with local residents with projects like free cookery classes and a young farmers’ club.
But if it’s bigger animals your London toddlers are after, nothing beats a trip to the zoo. ZSL London Zoo is a great destination during the week when all the big kids are at school and is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with all your toddler’s favourite animals without the pain of the never-ending queues and crowds which come with weekend visits. Pre-schoolers will especially enjoy the Monkey Trail – a walk through greenery where the zoo’s little monkeys can entertain yours. There’s also a good size playground for when a little climb and slide is in order. Special events are held throughout the year and there is always the opportunity to meet and greet a few of the furry inhabitants. Children under the age of 3 go free, and it’s cheaper to book ahead online for paying visitors.
- Top tip: Take a picnic. The restaurant gets extremely busy and is very pricey for very average food, even by London standards.
A Peter Pan themed wonderland for your little wonder, located in the middle of Kensington Gardens. A huge pirate ship is the centrepiece, surrounded by a sandy ‘beach’. There’s a sensory trail, loads of toys, teepees to hide in and sculptures for kids to clamber over too. The nearest Tube is Queensway, entry is free, and there’s also a little café and baby-changing facilities on site.
- Top tip: Take plenty of wet wipes! What with the sand and soil, little ones get mucky quickly and the toilets frequently run out of paper and sinks get grubbier as the day goes on. Unless you’re a real glutton for punishment, avoid it totally on the sunniest day of the school holidays!
For those who fancy travelling a bit further afield for a day out, Chessington World of Adventures is perfect for toddlers. With around 18 rides that cater for little ones the highlight this year is certainly the brand new Gruffalo River Ride. Chessington is also home to a zoo and animal-mad toddlers will love the ZUFARI: Ride into Africa! tour which gets them close and personal to a whole host of African animals which roam alongside your off-road safari vehicle, although height restrictions do apply so those under a metre aren’t allowed on, no matter how much you try to charm the sullen student on the gate.
- Top tip: Make time to visit the Amazu Tree Top Adventure – a high rise adventure trail which has real life monkeys running around as you make your way through the branches!