Best Things to do With Kids in Kensington
Kensington is a great location for families with world-famous museums in the South Kensington cultural quarter and plenty of green space in the royal parks. Full of inspiration and entertainment, here are some of the best things to do with children in Kensington.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Known by most children as 'the dinosaur museum', the Natural History Museum is a stunning Romanesque revival building with so much to discover inside. As well as those dinosaurs, do go to the Red Zone to find out about earthquakes and volcanoes. And visit the Darwin Centre's Cocoon where you can see scientists at work. One of the UK's most popular visitor attractions, the Museum's collections are vast: 80 million plants, animals, fossils plus rocks and minerals spanning 4.6 billion years of history.
The Museum has three entrances. The main entrance is on Cromwell Road, the side entrance is on Exhibition Road and is a great alternative when you see long lines at the front of the building, and the Queen's Gate entrance is opened during school holidays when it's busy.
Another major, and free, museum in South Kensington, the Science Museum is wonderfully interactive. From space travel and computing to medicine and steam trains, they have it all. There are 15,000 objects on display so make sure you get off the ground floor to see more (and it's, generally, less busy on the higher floors). Book for the Wonderlab gallery as that's where kids can see science shows, try experiments and have fun at the same time. A day pass means you can revisit throughout the whole day. There are family trails and the Treasure Hunters app lets you set challenges and design your own tour of the Museum. And the IMAX cinema reopens in summer 2020. You'll find it hard to leave without visiting the ground floor shop too.
VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM (V&A)
Of the three South Kensington museums, the V&A is the one you may think is less suited to kids as it's about decorative arts and design. But it's very welcoming to families with lots of free activities, gallery backpacks to borrow, trails and hands-on discovery areas. The Imagination Station has free things to do during school holidays from digital fashion design to mosaic and collage. There is so much to see as the Museum has over 2.3 million objects that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. The V&A has some of the world's finest and most comprehensive collections of jewellery, ironwork, costumes, sculpture, ceramics, silver, glass and printmaking. It's a lovely place to sketch with children as the galleries always lead to unexpected discoveries.
CREATIVE QUARTER FAMILY TRAIL
The Mayor of London's Office has put together free London Curriculum Family Explorer Trails. The idea is that all of London is a classroom but you don't need to tell the kids this is about learning as the trails are also really good fun.
The South Kensington Creative Quarter Trail takes you to the museums, parks and landmarks while encouraging you to look more closely to find answers and solve puzzles.
Bring your prince or princess as kids go free at Kensington Palace. A royal palace since the 17th century, this was the birthplace of Queen Victoria and it is still home to some royals including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) and their children. You can wander through the rooms where Queen Victoria spent her childhood and see the sumptuous King's State Apartments used by William III. You can see royal clothing and jewellery on display as well as paintings and furniture.
Visitors can dress up for photo opportunities and there are always free holiday activities. And the free Digital Missions app has games and interactive adventures to enjoy as you explore.
DIANA MEMORIAL PLAYGROUND
One of the best free play areas in London, the Diana Memorial Playground is close to Kensington Palace (as Princess Diana lived there). There is a Peter Pan theme and the centrepiece is a huge wooden pirate ship surrounded by sand. There are teepees, swings, slides, climbing areas, treehouses, a sensory trail, water play and more. You'll soon see why people stay all day (there is a cafe here too). This does mean there can be a wait to enter as they operate a queuing system once the playground reaches capacity. The whole area is enclosed and there is security on the gate to ensure no adult enters without a child and no child leaves without an adult.
One of London's royal parks, Kensington Gardens is a lovely space to run around to use up children's boundless energy. You can pop in and ask questions at the allotment, and do look for the Peter Pan statue which was commissioned by the famous author J.M. Barrie who lived nearby. Use the Talking Statues app and you can hear more. There's also a Step Outside Guidebook of the area (it includes stickers). It is not a history book but an excuse for a day out with interesting things to find along the way.
Another royal park, Hyde Park has lots of space for running around too. There's even horse riding available. Kids will enjoy the Discovery Days on during school holidays for free nature-inspired activities for families. Or why not go looking for local wildlife? From insects and bugs to birds on the water, there's more than you might expect in the heart of a capital city. And you may well see flocks of green ring-necked parakeets. You'll know when they are around as you'll hear the squawks first!
ROYAL ALBERT HALL
A beautiful concert hall, opposite the Albert Memorial, the Royal Albert Hall was built as the practical part of Queen Victoria's memorial to her husband. The Grade I listed building was opened in 1871 and hosts the Proms – a classical music festival held every summer. So many famous names have performed here including Eric Clapton, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and even Muhammed Ali and Winston Churchill. There are fabulous Films in Concert too where you can watch a family movie accompanied by a live orchestra. Even if there isn't a performance on that appeals, do consider a tour as you get to see the auditorium and behind the scenes as well as hearing interesting stories about the building.
Located within Kensington Gardens, the Serpentine Galleries are two galleries connected by a bridge over the Serpentine lake. The original Serpentine Gallery and the newer Serpentine Sackler Gallery (opened in 2013) both have free contemporary art exhibitions. The exhibitions are not aimed at families but you can check online what's on. Over the years there have been some big names exhibited here including Andy Warhol, Anish Kapoor and Damien Hirst. The shop is excellent, especially for art books.
A great time to visit is for the annual summer Pavilion – a temporary summer structure designed each year by an international architect – which always welcomes families.
BOATING ON THE SERPENTINE
From April to October, there are rowing boats and pedalos available to hire on the Serpentine lake. You can get a pedalo for four people so families can go out on the water together (with two pedalling and up to three littles ones admiring the view). Be warned, half an hour of this can be tiring so if you have bigger kids, let them go on a children's pedalo for 20 minutes instead of you doing all the work.
Not a royal park but in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Holland Park is large and even has free-roaming peacocks. Most stay in the Kyoto Garden – a tranquil and peaceful Japanese garden for reflection and relaxation. On the estate of the ruined Jacobean Holland House, you can go on woodland walks and kids love the wonderful Holland Park Adventure Playground that reopened in 2019 after refurbishment. There are sports facilities and a giant open-air chessboard for families and friends to compete. Holland Park is also the base of the borough's Ecology Service. The Ecology Centre runs events and activities throughout the year, including a wildlife club for children.
LEIGHTON HOUSE MUSEUM
Close to Holland Park, Leighton House Museum is the former home of the Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896). It is the only purpose-built studio-house open to the public in the UK. From the outside you think it's just a 'normal house' but once inside you'll see what all the fuss is about. The Arab Hall in this 'private palace of art'
has a golden dome and walls lined with more than 1,000 stunning Islamic tiles. And upstairs, his painting studio has paintings and sculpture by Leighton and his contemporaries.
Housed in the former Commonwealth Institute, the Design Museum covers product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design. It's a fantastic Modernist building and there are some free areas to see including the permanent 'Designer Maker User' area. Free activities are available for families and older children can get involved with the Sunday workshops. The pay-for temporary exhibitions are usually well worth seeing too.
JAPAN HOUSE LONDON
Amazing design is also featured further along High Street Kensington at Japan House London. A new 'cultural home of Japan in London', it's a modern gallery hosting free exhibitions and events. The teens especially will appreciate the matcha teas at the cafe and the cute crafts in the shop.
INSTITUT FRANCAIS ROYAUME-UNI
Institut Francais Royaume-Uni is the French Cultural Institute, representing all things French in the UK. Ciné Lumiére has plenty of family films and there are French classes, art workshops and baby sessions too. There's also a large French library including an area dedicated to French children's literature.
ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY
The UK's learned society and professional body for geography, supporting geography and geographers across the world, the Royal Geographical Society has some excellent exhibitions and lectures that may appeal to older children.
WHERE TO STAY
Feel like a resident of one of the nicest neighbourhoods in London at Fraser Suites Queens Gate London. Families will love the modern serviced two-bedroom apartments with a well-equipped kitchen so you don't have to eat out every night. The wifi is good and there's even a washer/dryer so you don't have to worry if the kids' clothes get mucky. Breakfast is available in the dining room every day and the gym is available 24/7. Babysitting can be arranged and the Magenta lobby bar has amazing cocktails. And the excellent location means you are only a few minutes walk from the South Kensington museums so you can head back to relax between visits.
Written by Laura Porter - Travel writer for Frasers Hospitality