Money money money! London can indeed be pricey, and like anywhere especially if children are involved! Even so, what I love about the city is not least the free access to many of our main museums, but that there are many affordable indoor options for little ones too. If you’re looking for ways to enjoy London on a budget with an under 5, read on!
Squish Space. Barbican. Free.
The spaces for Squish Space go super quickly, so you have to get on quick! Tickets are released a week in advance, every Wednesday at 10am, although their website does say although not guaranteed, they do have some capacity for walk ins. For March (although all sold out now of course) they have slots available M-T, but it seems to change up a bit with different days available, so do check! It’s simple, but effective, and we didn’t get the greatest photos as were trying to avoid other kids in them. The drawbacks would be that the doors are open, so if you have a bolter like Sonny, you may spend a good deal of your time chasing them in the rather nice anyway expansive seating area outside. At least it’s carpeted in case of falls! There’s also a lovely cafe on site nearby too. We love that it’s free for small ones in London! Website: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2022/event/squish-space
Toddler Time, Greenwich. £5.00 per child or free for members (PR- Invite)
This is on every Wednesday, with 2 slots morning and afternoon. We found it a lovely intimate session, enjoyed the mix of story telling, singing, and free time for play, and mama loved how it is set right underneath the infamous Cutty Sark! It was a mission for us to get to being North Londoners, but totally worth it and should we have paid, we’d have found it great value for money. We also spoke to some really lovely other mums there, I walked away feeling so content and Sonny, as below, with a big smile! It’s sort of enclosed: though there are stairs that a now older Sonny would be all over, so one to note if you have a child that likes to escape! Website: https://www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/cutty-sark/cutty-sark-toddler-time
Pattern Pod at the Science Museum, South Ken. Free.
This is a sensory delight! It describes itself as a multisensory delight for under 8’s. We went on a week day and a non holiday day, where it was fairly quiet which was great: I’d say weekends would be rather horrendous and best avoided (obvious statement), unless going super off peak hours. We DIDN’T get to try the Science Museum’s Garden however, due to Sonny’s nap at the time. Their website advise that the garden is best for children 3-6 years, but I’d still wager Sonny (approaching 2) would have fun there! Check it out and book your free timed slot at: Website: https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/
Coram Fields Stay and Play, Kings Cross– Pay what you can.
The lovely and historic setting of Coram Fields is so enjoyable to visit. Firstly, it has an expansive outdoor space for the kids with the sand pit you see below and other playgrounds area that you can spend happily all day in and totally enclosed if case of runners! Then the Monday-Friday morning drop in also has its own outdoor space, a ball pit, and lots of lovely books and role play toys for the kids. Coram Fields is a charity, so it’s free for the Stay and Play drop in, but they DO rely on donations. Next door is the Foundling Museum, which gives more of a historical overview of the Coram Fields area, and how its founder Thomas Coram set up the Foundling Childrens home (though we haven’t visited this to give feedback on how it would be for a super small one).
Uniqlo Tate Modern sessions, Blackfriars. Free.
We loved the creative free play session, but I personally had a bit of a ‘mare chasing Sonny up and down the Turbine Hall as the doors are open for the play session right at the back of the hall here, so if you’ve a bolter, it isn’t the best (though tbh I wonder what the staff’s reaction may have been if I had asked them if we could kindly close the doors). Well, I can’t blame Sonny: the Turbine Hall IS super cool and a boys got to stretch his legs! As you’d likely know, the area of the Tate Modern is just so beautiful, so we love getting off the overground at Blackfriars and walking along, always some form of entertainment on the Southbank and the beautiful Paul’s Cathedral across the waters is just joy in itself. Their Wednesday sessions are specifically for under 5’s which I find helpful, but they also have Saturday and Sunday sessions available. You just book a normal entry ticket and pop along to the room at the back left of the Turbine Hall Website: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/uniqlo-tate-play/make-studio-celebrate
Old School Rooms, Clapton. Pay what you can.
We really liked it here! I did get a bit overwhelmed on arrival, because it was SUPER busy and I hadn’t expected it: they were very clear on their Instagram re booking in order to monitor numbers, but on the day we visited it was definitely a bit over crowded. I’m not sure if they had a surge in numbers, following @bablands.london promoting them the week before we went (probably the case!). Super lovely staff, free tea/coffee and snacks for the children (how kind is that), an enclosed space mostly, apart from the entrance which meant we were running out to their toilets a fair bit, but luckily there was enough enticement in the main hall to pull Sonny back in! We would def return! It’s on every Wednesday, 9.30-11.30am, tickets released via Eventbrite every Monday. Act quickly as they go quickly! Check out for further details their Website: https://theroundchapel.org.uk/projects/playgroup/
Vauxhall City Farm, Vauxhall. Entry by donation.
Yes it’s super small, but so much of the animals/pets are at the child’s height and view point and therefore more interesting perhaps for this younger age group (I’m thinking around Sonny’s age, nearly 2- went when he was a lot smaller and therefore less engaged). They have horses across the road, but within the main tiny farm are animals like chicken, alpacas, goats, guinea pigs and chinchillas! Entry is drop in Tues-Sunday. Website: https://www.vauxhallcityfarm.org/
Sky Garden. Fenchurch St: Free.
Sonny’s been here twice already, both times when he hasn’t been walking so I think it would be SUPER fun to take him back now he is! They have 1 million steps to tire the boy out, lots of people to watch and generally a really lovely atmosphere. If you’re going solo though, the only thing is, if you have a child like Sonny who won’t stay in the pram and wants/needs to walk, there isn’t a cloakroom so it could be a bit of a challenge (I’m thinking ahead!) pushing the pram and trying to escort tiny toddler by the hand/reins especially if they want to spend an hour on the stairs!! Website: https://skygarden.london/
Make Play Do- St Mary’s, Hornsey Rise. Free but heavily reliant on donations (and currently crowdfunding to be able to continue regular Thursday sessions).
When Sonny and I attended last year, the event was at Finsbury Park on a weekend, and we aren’t able to make Thursdays due to nursery so haven’t been to the new location, but this event is unstructured, child led play (as is their ethos), at its finest! The idea of doing this at home with Sonny makes me feel rather queasy I’ll be honest (paints/messy play combos) so letting him be at one in mud and nature and enjoy all the simple materials gathered and carefully thought of to entice and inspire the kids was so lovely. You see parents playing and making things really carefully and closely with their children and it’s beautiful! We highly recommend. Website: make-do-play.weebly.com
So so many wonderful cheap and affordable play options here! Have you been to any of these with your toddler/younger child? And where would you add?! We love getting about and making it as affordable as we can and really value how much London offers: hope this list gives you some further inspo for planning your days! Let us know.