London's a great town for the family. Packed with public museums and galleries (many are free) to expand their minds, and wide-open spaces for play, the city has year-round options for fun with the kids. But in the summer, many of London's attractions create programs specifically for the young ones, and the summer of 2014 is no different. So from free theater in the West End and War Horse puppets at the BBC Proms, to coming face to face with scary Jack the Ripper, your kids are guaranteed to be entertained in London.
1. A magical experience with butterflies
Step inside the heated domed enclosure for the "Sensational Butterflies" experience at the Natural History Museum, filled with hundreds of free-flying creatures. You’ll see rare species, many of which are from outside Europe, and watch them feed and even let them rest on your hand or nose. Kids can learn about the life cycle of the butterfly, from caterpillars to the winged beauties in myriad colours and patterns.
2. Creating their own masterpieces
Take home a unique souvenir at the National Portrait Gallery’s workshops and drawing sessions. Each Sunday at 11 am and 2 pm, the gallery encourages children to create their very own masterpiece. Kids can gain inspiration from the world-class artists on the gallery’s walls, which include Rubens, Caravaggio and Van Gogh, and get a hands-on experience from artists that drop-in to the sessions on the day.
3. Fly high with Harry Potter
Harry Potter isn't just a film franchise. Harry has his own video game, university course and a dedicated studio tour. At Warner Bros Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter, kids of all ages can relive the magic of the Harry Potter films, from walking through the set of the Great Hall, to drinking the (non-alcoholic) butterbeer. This summer’s exhibition "Bludgers, Board Games and Broomsticks" lets you view costumes and props used in Quidditch, to learn about the technology which helped Harry and Ron fly, and even test out the effects yourself.
4. Head to a festival
Dubbed "the big bash for little people," Lollibop returns to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, scene of London 2012 Olympics. The live stage hosts musical performances from lovable kids’ characters, including The Mr Men & Little Miss Party Roadshow. The festival is aimed at children under 10, and there is a special "3-Foot and Under and Itsy Bitsy" zone that offers baby massages, mini discos and storytelling.
5. Free theater in August
It can be hard getting children to be excited about theater, but Kids Week in the West End's theaters aims to change that, and be lighter on your purse. Participating shows, where children can get a free ticket when accompanied by an adult paying full price, include some of London’s biggest: The Lion King, Wicked and Matilda The Musical. Look out also for workshops, and free performances in Leicester Square.
6. Release their inner James Bond
Pssst! We have a top-secret mission for you. Your brief is to disguise yourself as an ordinary family and learn spying skills at "Horrible Histories: Spies" exhibit (which runs until Jan. 4, 2015), at the Imperial War Museum. Based on Terry Deary’s best-selling book, this interactive experience reveals the gadgets and secrets of fighters during World War II. You can get the chance to experiment with invisible ink, cracking codes and devious disguises. And, as it all takes place in the recently refurbished Imperial War Museum, it’s a great chance to gaze up at the huge jets, planes and rockets in its new atrium.
7. Head up to the Gallery at the BBC Prom Concerts
Classical music doesn’t just have to be for grown ups. This famous annual music festival takes place at the Royal Albert Hall throughout the summer. And you don’t have to sit still in your seat. Take advantage of £5 on the night tickets to stand, sit or even lie down in the upstairs gallery and take in the sounds. Even if you don’t have a clear view of the stage, the ambience is unbeatable. Take in a classical performance or novelty performances including War Horse Prom, with life-sized puppets (Aug. 3), and Americana (Sept. 9).
8. Believe it (or not) at Ripley's
The world’s tallest man, real dinosaur eggs and a life-size knitted Ferrari are just some of the 700 bizarre artifacts at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Some of the original, older exhibits were collected by American amateur anthropologist Robert Ripley on his travels. The museum also boasts interactive experiences, from dodging lasers in the city’s largest "LaseRace," to the head-spinning vortex of a black hole.
9. Meet London's infamous characters
London was once a city where traitors were hung, drawn and quartered. At the London Bridge Experience, come face to face with some of the city’s most terrifying moments as actors bring to life the stories and characters, including Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd. Generally, this isn’t for the faint hearted, but the Guardian Angels Tour is actually well-recommended for younger visitors, as they’ll protect young ones from the scarier characters.
10. See British comic book heroes
If you thought that comics were an American invention, think again. At "Comics Unmasked: Art And Anarchy in the UK" at the British Library (through Aug. 19), you can leaf through the pages of some of the most iconic names in the industry, from Grant Morrison’s Batman to Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta. It’s a rare chance to celebrate British comic book creators, and go on an adventure with characters you’ll remember from years ago.