10 Ways to Keep Tweens Happy in London on a Budget

Last summer we headed to London with our young boys for a short-break of a couple of days en-route to Devon and a visit to the Grandparents.

Like on any trip away we knew we’d need to eat, find accommodation, to pay for travel there and in and around London, and we also wanted to take in a few attractions – paid for and free - as well as have a really good time. Our budget was less than £500 for a three-day trip.

This is how we did it and kept our tweens happy!

10 Ways to Keep Tweens Happy in London on a Budget

London is not only the capital city of England and the United Kingdom but it is also a big and diverse city. It has some of the most exciting sights, attractions and activities in the world to see. In one family visit we knew we wouldn't see everything, and with a child that doesn't like heights (yet) that rules a fair few things out for this trip. That said, we had three fun filled days and nights and even fitted in a trip to Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door in Dorset on the final leg of the journey to Devon.

1. Booked a hotel with a swimming pool

As we planned to drive to London and would require car parking we stayed at the Holiday Inn at Wembley where not only is there plenty of parking available, but at this hotel kids under 17 also stay and eat free, when sharing their parents’ room. The Tube station is only a 10-minute walk away to take you directly into central London – it’s just 2 stops from Baker Street. Under 11s travel free on the underground when with parents so me and hubby just bought all-day travel cards (£12) each day.

We had booked the hotel room on an advance saver rate of £104.95 for Dinner Bed & Breakfast for a family of four per night. I thought it might be a limited menu to choose from for dinner, but no, it was a full three-course meal for us all each night and a full breakfast every morning. There was plenty of choice on the menu for vegetarians, too. I actually worked out that the food alone would have cost more than we paid for DBB and accommodation. This deal is still available – highly recommended – it was great!

We also took packed lunches with us on our trip to enjoy on our days out in London. Just packed up the food and bottles of water into a back pack and off we went. It meant we didn’t have to waste time looking for places to eat and also saved lots of money too as well as time. 

The hotel also has a health club which is free to use and also very welcome for soothing sore limbs after full days walking around the UK's capital city.

2. Visited Madame Tussauds

The boys were very keen to visit Madame Tussauds. I wasn’t so sure but I’m pleased to say it has improved greatly since I visited as a child. We bought the special cereals packs to gain a buy one get one free offer so we ended up only paying half-price for entry. You can use this offer online so your tickets and time slot are already booked before arriving. Some offers are only redeemable on the day, which means you also miss out on the online discount.

We booked the first slot of the day, and by doing so beat the queues, and only paid the standard entry fee. At that time on a morning VIP entry would have only saved us 5 minutes but when we left the queues were so long so probably worth paying extra if you are going later.

Inside there are the traditional wax works where you can rub shoulders with the stars. The boys didn’t recognise them all but the ones they did they enjoyed posing with for photos. Mo Farah and Usain Bolt were their favourites. I even had breakfast at Tiffany’s!

Then we entered the newer parts of the attraction – the Spirit of London Ride was impressive. You sit in a black cab and get taken on a ride fairground style through the history of London. It was surprisingly really good. The Sherlock Holmes Experience was a little scary for my youngest (he was 7 at the time) but is a really interesting live, theatrical, walkthrough adventure. The Marvel area was fantastic as was the 4D ride – the best I’ve been on and the best bit was Star Wars. It had only just opened and my boys and hubby got to pose with their favourite characters and pretend to fly the Millennium Falcon!

Dubious before we booked, this was actually a great day out. Filled half a day and that was without having to deal with large queues. The cost was approx. £55 but we added on extras of a bus tour and river boat tour making the total approx. £120 for a family of four.

3. Went on a 2 Day Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

The Hop On and Hop Off Bus Tours are very popular and a great way to see London. There are 50+ stops and three separate tour routes around popular attractions and landmarks. 

We also ate our picnic on the top deck of the bus meaning we had a lovely comfortable seat in the sunshine and were able to continue sightseeing as we ate. As you embark you can pick up free rain macs and earphones – thank fully we didn’t need the Mac's as it was glorious sunshine, however, the earphones were great. The boys listened to so much running commentary about London, its history and landmarks, that I now think they know more than me.

While purchasing our tickets online for Madame Tussauds we were offered an add-on deal for a 48-hour hop-on and hop-off bus tour with The Big Bus Company. I quickly checked it out online-and decided it would be a great deal. Don’t make the mistake I did and think you can use the bus before your booked time at Madame Tussauds – you can’t – you collect your tickets on entry to the attraction but are then valid for a further 48 hours. (Guest Services at Madame Tussauds were very helpful in correcting my mistake in advance once I’d realised!)

You do get stuck in traffic, that’s London, but at least you have a great view as you travel across the city.

4. Queued for the Natural History Museum

Yes there is a big queue at popular times but the Natural History Museum is one of the things I remember about my childhood trips to London, so this was somewhere we definitely wanted to take the boys. It is on the hop on hop off bus route and we started our second day in London here. It’s even bigger and better than I remember.

Home to over 80 million natural history specimens ranging from spiders and giant squid to dinosaur bones, mosses and meteorites it is divided into four coloured zones we discovered some of the most popular attractions, as well as a few hidden treasures. Last year the large Diplodocus cast still dominated the vaulted central hall – I’d like to see the Blue Whale though that has replaced the Diplodocus.

Overall I think the dinosaur gallery with the roaring T.rex was the favourites of us all, but the boys found the fossils really interesting as well as space. It was very busy, it was a weekday in the school holidays, the queue was very long but my boys passed the time playing scissors, paper, stone, and then thoroughly enjoyed themselves inside this wonderful free museum.

5. Ran around Wembley Stadium

My boys love football. And as we were staying right next to Wembley Stadium we had the opportunity to see it every day. If you are staying further afield it’s still a great landmark to tick off. The boys had a great time running up and down the ramps and steps, pretending to score and we didn’t even go inside.

The stadium is huge – it has a circumference of 1km and you could fit 25,000 double-decker buses inside. The arch which we could see from our hotel room is 133m high. The new stadium opened 10 years ago - hope fully Newcastle United will make it to another cup final soon and we’ll go and see a real game. Mind you Tottenham Hotspur are playing their home games there this season so you never know.

6. Cruised along the River Thames

Included in the bus tour add-on of our Madame Tussauds tickets was a return river cruise up the River Thames from Westminster to Greenwich and back. We would have had time to get off and explore Greenwich fully but we were running out of time but the journey itself was great and we say so many landmarks from the river including Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, The Shard, St Pauls Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe, London Eye and Tate Modern as well the Cutty Sark and a glimpse of the Millennium Dome.

Everything looks so different from the river and there was also a really interesting on board commentary as well as the opportunity to have a well-needed sit-down and refreshments.

7. Stood under Big Ben

Having a son called Ben there was no way we weren’t going to make a special trip to see Big Ben. Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster on Elizabeth Tower. The Houses of Parliament's iconic clock tower is also one of London's most famous landmarks. Elizabeth Tower is over 96 metres tall, the clock hands are 4.2 metres long. A special light above the clock faces is illuminated when Parliament is in session. We had lots of fun taking pictures of Ben with Ben and I’m glad we did as well as it will be covered up and silent for the next few years.

8. Joined the Crowds at Buckingham Palace

Whether you are a royalist or not Buckingham Palace is a very grand building. The Queen's official London residence has a whopping 775 rooms. It is one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world today. The lavishly decorated State Rooms of the Palace are open to visitors during the summer months, and you can visit all year round to see the famous Changing The Guard.

We didn’t go inside but we did join the crowds of people just ambling around taking in the splendour of the building and watched the Queens Horseguards protect the palace. 

9. Found film Locations

Having a day ticket for the tube meant we could get around London for no extra cost so we took a detour on the way home to take in Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station. At 8 pm at night I couldn’t believe how big the queue was to see it, so we didn’t wait to have our own picture taken with it but we did get close enough for the boys to say they’ve been. The bus tour took us to Paddington Station as well and as well as his outing to Buckingham Palace, Paddington enjoyed his visit there too.

10. Walked from Hyde Park to Parliament Square

It’s good to get above ground and off the buses when in London. I have been to London so many times on business trips and a few times on child-free breaks but hadn’t realised just how many green areas the city has. We got off the Hop on & Hop Off bus at Marble Arch and ambled our way back down to Parliament Square through Hyde Park, Hyde Park Corner, past Wellington Arch, Green Park, past Buckingham Palace and through St James’s Park, seeing pelicans, squirrels, sun bathers, boaters on the lake and enjoyed an ice cream on the way too. We had some great views along the way too.

London's Hyde Park is one of the greatest city parks in the world. Covering 142 hectares (350 acres) and with over 4,000 trees, a large lake, a meadow and ornamental flower gardens, and a spectacular children’s playground. It is home to a number of fascinating buildings and monuments, such as The Serpentine Bridge, the Joy of Life fountain and the famous Archiles statue as well as the Diana Memorial Fountain. If you’re out and about on Sunday, head to Speaker’s Corner to hear London’s most vocal orators share their opinions with the world.

From there we headed down through St James’s Park which with its royal, political and literary associations, is at the heart of London and covers 23 hectares (58 acres). It's also home to the Mall, with many ceremonial parades and events of national celebration.

There are so many things to do for a family in London that I'm sure we'll be back again sometime soon to check out some of the places that Dais Like These enjoyed too. Or if your kids are a bit younger try some of the 5 awesome things to do in London with a toddler suggested by Battelmum. Where do you suggest we go next time?



  1. These are great suggestions. I can't believe how many I haven't done myself, despite visiting London quite a few times!

  2. I've never actually been to London I don't think! Despite it only being about an hour away! These are some fab suggestions!

  3. Fab post i want to take my toddler to see more of London.

  4. Madame Tussauds is amazing for all generations I think as there are so many people to recognise. It didn't have those new buts when we went, so I'll have to go back. The black cab ride sounds impressive.

    When I was a teenager my Dad would take me to Camden Market to see all the stalls and have some food.

  5. Wow, this looks like the perfect way to spend a weekend! You seems to have crammed many adventures into your weekend too. Love the photos.

  6. Great suggestions. My advice would be to use your contactless debit card from Tube/ bus travel because you pay the same amount as with an Oyster card but without having to pay for the card. The fares each day are automatically capped at the Oyster travel card price which is a couple of pounds cheaper than the paper travel card and if for some reason you don't take enough journeys to hit the cap you save even more money.
    It's definitely worth taking advantage of the free museums and playgrounds throughout London. Sometimes walking just outside the tourist areas you find much quieter and cheaper places eg Southbank/ London Eye area is very busy and expensive, but if you go through the graffiti tunnel (Leake Street) to Lower Marsh there are some great places to eat including a cheap, but tasty greasy spoon. A short walk away in Archbishops Park (opposite st Thomas's Hospital) there is a playground and plenty of space to run around.

  7. Brilliant suggestions and great pics, love that you can have "breakfast" with Audrey Hepburn