Things to do in Westminster: tasty grub and quality pubs in London's surprisingly green centre
Westminster is the heart of London - vast, diverse and hectic with hidden corners of calm. There's an almost overwhelming choice of things to do - from parks and gardens for children to stretch their legs in, to museums and galleries that run loads of free family workshops. Our Local editors pick out some of the must-visit spots for a family day out - whether you're a lifelong Londoner or a first-time visitor to the capital.
Despite being in the bustling centre of London, there are plenty of outdoor activities on offer in Westminster, like trails and treasure hunts. The best part is that all these free family activities are on all year round – not just in the school holidays! To find current and upcoming activities and events, see What's On in Westminster.
First things first: is it possible to explore Westminster on a budget?
A family day out in central London can be pricey, but it doesn't have to be. Plan ahead and you can take advantage of the huge number of free events, and if you choose to pack a picnic, you can have an amazing day trip on a shoestring.
A particular favourite destination is The Look Out, tucked away in a clump of greenery in the middle of Hyde Park. The centre runs free Discovery Days where children can learn about the nature around them with seasonal workshops, arts and crafts, pond dipping and nature trails.
If you're looking for something indoors, there's the often-overlooked Museum of London, a hair's breadth away from Saint Paul's Cathedral. Here, you can walk through an evocative reconstruction of the history of London - a real winner with kids, and there's a picnic area in the museum too.
If the sun does come out, where should we head for some outdoor activities?
Not all fun stuff in the city is confined by four walls. Go rowing on the Serpentine, or pedal-boating in Regents Park. If your kids are on a mission to get soaked, there's the Diana Memorial Fountain in Kensington Gardens and the fantastic water jet fountains at Somerset House. Close to Covent Garden and the Strand, it's far enough away from the hordes of shoppers and a great place for children to run around (and get wet), while parents relax with a drink (alcohol optional) in the corner terrace cafe. Don't forget to pack towels and swimming costumes, and maybe wait until the warmer months!
After all that running around, it's time to grab a snack (and a seat). Where do you suggest?
This is central London, so the choice for food is endless. There's plenty of good suggestions for tried-and-tested restaurants dotted across town in our Going Out listings, plus there's always a spot for tranquil picnic hideaways.
If you find yourself in Trafalgar Square, the Cafe in the Crypt under St Martin in the Fields is huge and lively - always a blessing if your kids can be a bit noisy. Choose from tea and cake, chips, and sandwiches, or something a bit more grown up.
Wander down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace and you'll find the lovely Inn the Park, nestled in St James's Park. This can be full to bursting at peak hours, so timing is everything, but it's a very pleasant place to take a break. Being in the park gives you that feeling of being a tourist and a local at the same time - you can take in London traditions like the Lions at Trafalgar Square and Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, as well as homely pursuits like feeding the ducks, playing in the park playground or having a picnic.
Where should we head if we want to do some sightseeing?
If you've been walking for a while and could do with a break - let's face it, the list of attractions on offer is long - rest your legs by hopping on a Thames Clipper from the pier at Westminster Bridge. This is a cheaper option than getting on a tourist guide boat, and will take you along the river to the Tower of London - a really fun touristy day out for locals and visitors alike.
If you jump off at the Tower and walk across Tower Bridge, you'll have fantastic views of London as you stroll along the Thames, passing the HMS Belfast, Borough Market, The Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern.
You can either continue along the South Bank to the Golden Jubilee Bridge, which will lead you up to Trafalgar Square, or walk on to Westminster Bridge, which will bring you back to your starting point. When the tide's low, there's even some sand on the river banks! The Thames foreshore has a long history as a holiday destination, so if you have a bucket and spade on you, all the better.
Time to spend some money - where do you recommend?
The back streets of Covent Garden, away from the bustling piazza, are a fab place to wander.
Head for Neal Street, Endell Street, the Seven Dials and all the roads in between and you'll find everything from high street fashion to quirky antique shops, alternative therapy rooms and the fabulous Neal's Yard Dairy.
And where can we go for a grown-up night out, while the kids are tucked up?
If you've got an evening without the kids, it has to be Soho. It's always buzzing, and has a fun night-on-the-town atmosphere about it. There are still loads of traditional London pubs around Old Compton Street - the French House, The Dog and Duck and The Three Greyhounds are just a few.
Soho is host to night clubs, the iconic Ronnie Scott's, restaurants and champagne bars galore and the institution that is Bar Italia for late-night coffee. Cafes, bars and restaurants all spill out on to the street continental-style, so this is also a great place for a spot of people watching.
About the Westminster Local editors
Emma and Kate have five children between them and have spent decades (too many to count) living in and around the city centre.
"I was born in London and love the city and all it has to offer," says Kate. "Since I've had kids, I'm constantly impressed by just how much there is here to keep them occupied and stimulated."
"We very much wanted to create a site that gave locals and visitors a really comprehensive guide to what's on for families in central London," adds Emma. "We hope to continue unearthing gems that we can add to the site, as well as highlighting the huge wealth of free family activities and events there are across Westminster."
Last updated: over 1 year ago