Last week I found myself frantically searching for free things to do with kids in Westminster on the train to London. We were on our way to stay at the Conrad London St James to test their new VIP family package, which I’ve written about for Mini Travellers – I’ll add a link here once it’s live.
Visiting central London with kids can be expensive, and we really just wanted to do some sightseeing without paying entry fees. Luckily Westminster is wall-to-wall with famous sights you can see for free – from Big Ben to Westminster Abbey – and we had a brilliant time without spending a penny (OK, we did buy drinks, snacks, and paid 50p to spend a penny in the loos at Embankment. But you know what I mean).
If you’re looking for free family things to do in Westminster, here’s what I found useful, and what our kids loved doing when we visited. Our children are 7 and 9 so we were able to walk between all the must-see sights in Westminster with minimal moaning, and there really is something incredible to see around every corner.
Top free things to do with kids in Westminster
1. See the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
The Changing of the Guard, which is basically a formal ceremony where the Queen’s Guard soldiers swap shifts, takes place at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks. I was a bit wary about taking the kids because I was expecting the crowds to be huge, so we found a quieter spot along The Mall and had plenty of space plus a great view of the soldiers as they marched past.
There are all sorts of things going on at different times, and we found this guide to watching the Changing of the Guard really helpful. We got there around 10.30 and the St. James’s Palace detachment of the Old Guard marched past us at about 10:45 accompanied by a regimental band, which was brilliant to watch. The crowd then follows the parade down to Buckingham Palace, but by then our kids were bored and we were happy to have seen a bit of the action, so we set off in the other direction to get some photos under the giant Union Jack flags along The Mall.
2. Get a photo next to Big Ben
We arrived at Westminster pier on the Uber Boat from London Bridge, which was an experience in itself for the kids (a single ticket from London Bridge to Westminster pier cost us £23.10 for two kids and two adults). That puts you bang on the doorstep of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, and on a gloriously sunny day it was a real sight to behold.
It’s a bit of a crush when you first get off at the pier and walk up onto Westminster Bridge, but if you cross over onto the grass at New Palace Yard you can get a great shot with Big Ben in the background minus the crowds. Plus, you’ve got the House of Commons, Westminster Abbey, and lots of statues on Parliament Square Garden, so there’s plenty for kids to look at.
3. Play in St James’ Park
St James’ Park is a beautiful space, and we spent the morning there after catching the start of the Changing of the Guard. We found a small playground at the Buckingham Palace end, which the kids loved – although it was very busy, and well suited to younger kids up to the age of about 10.
There’s also a pretty lake, and our kids enjoyed watching the resident pelican colony on a little island at one end. We enjoyed looking at all the flags along Horse Guards Road, which takes you around the edge of the park, past Horse Guards Parade and onto The Mall next to Admiralty Arch.
4. Walk up The Mall from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square
Once you’ve made it to Admiralty Arch, you’re footsteps from one of the best people-watching spots in London: Trafalgar Square. Our youngest has never been, and although it took us a while to convince her she couldn’t paddle in the fountains, she absolutely loved it.
Walk just across the road and you’ll be at Embankment within five minutes, which is where we hopped on the Tube. There’s a toilet next to the Tube station, which is always a godsend with kids – just make sure you’ve got some spare 50ps.
5. Visit the National Gallery (or just chill on the steps)
You can visit the National Gallery for free with kids of any age, and it’s worth looking out for their child-friendly tours. In all honesty though there’s so much going on just outside the gallery – it’s buzzing with buskers and pavement artists – that we just stopped and watched the world go by with an ice-cream.
You get a prime view of Trafalgar Square from here, and our kids are so nosey that they were happy to relax for a bit before we set off home. We feel like we barely scratched the surface on our visit, but if you’re looking for a cheap day out in London with kids, Westminster is a great place to start.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Westminster? We stayed at the Conrad London St James hotel and LOVED it. I’ll link our review on the Mini Travellers blog when it’s published, but the hotel’s Family Adventure package is fantastic and includes things like a bespoke Build-A-Bear for kids, £100 towards food in the next-door pub, and a free Kids’ Pass. To find out more, visit www.conradhotels.com/london.