Locally, go to Regents Park for playgrounds, summer theatre, a boating lake, and wonderful gardens. Walk the canal towpath to the famous London Zoo and, just beyond it, to Camden Market, a giant upscale flea market and shopping area--funky jewelry, second hand books, antique toys, leather jackets,vintage clothes, etc--and lots of ethnic food. Teens
love it. So do adults. if you don't want to walk, there's a water taxi. Near Little Venice you can visit a floating art gallery and puppet theatre. You can also feed the local ducks and swans. Also local is Paddington Recreation Park, with a gym, two playgrounds, a track, 12 tennis courts, and loads of room for children to run. We go there to play with the local dogs when we miss our own. Lord's Cricket Club is also a short walk away.
We consider all of London 'our area' because public transportation is so good. London's many theatres, galleries, and museums are within easy reach. Some of our favorites are the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert (new directors--wonderful special exhibitions), the Museum of Natural History (adults as well as children) Tate Modern (go to St Paul's tube station and walk across the Millennium Bridge for great views), Tate Britain, the Jewish Museum, Somerset House, and the Theatre Museum. Don't forget the National Gallery (free) and the National Portrait Gallery, with a lot more than portraits. There's even a cartoon museum. Something for everyone.
We love London theatre. The National Theatre (south Bank) is world class. The West End is like Broadway. Also try the off-West End theatres and the unique 'fringe' theatres scattered all over London. A website 'London Theatre.com' lists what's on and what's opening and closing soon, with reviews. It's good to look at that before you come to London and get tickets ahead of time for popular shows. If you are a 'senior,' ask for 'concessions' on any tickets. (Seniors are called OAP's--Old Age Pensioners!)
If you are a music lover, as we are, London is full of music, in large places like Festival Hall, in modest local churches, and everything in-between. You'll find classical music, country, jazz, and a lot of African and Asian music that you won't find easily in the US. There's opera in the original language and in English and wonderful dance of all kinds at Sadler's Wells and other venues.
There are lots of festivals in London, no matter what time of year--film festivals, craft festivals, ethnic festivals, and, in summer, street parties and outdoor events of all kinds. We love the food, the music, and the photo ops. Many are in neighborhood parks. Get on a bus or tube and seek them out. You'll meet nice people and see different parts of London. Websites 'Time Out.com' and 'Visit London.com' list these events.
I'm not a big palace person, but the Royal Stables are fun to visit. The Tower of London is great if you are a history buff. If not, and you're rushed, it might not be worth your time. Parliament, and St Paul's are well worth your time. Take a boat down the Thames to Greenwich, with its hands- on nautical museum, the prime meridian (we're all on Greenwich time'), and street market. Don't miss the giant ferris wheel, the London Eye (try for a sunny day) on the South Bank. Like gardens? Go to Kew.
Walk London! The books in our apartment have suggestions for walks in London and nearby countryside. There are organized 2 hour tours, 'London Walks,' often led by unemployed actors, organized around themes-- a Jewish East End walk, a Dickens Walk, a Shakespeare walk, a Harry Potter walk, a Churchill War Rooms walk (our favorite). Shakespeare fan or not, go to the reconstructed Globe theatre on the South Bank. Even if you don't see a play, don't miss the tour and adjacent exhibition. You can record a part in a famous play and compare your rendition of Hamlet to that of Lawrence Olivier.
There's so much to do in London that if you have a week or less, stay in town. If you are here for longer, there are many day trips by train or bus. You can go to Oxford or Cambridge (more beautiful and less frenetic), York (great cathedral, Viking remains), Avebury (like Stone Henge only you can get closer), and Stratford-on-Avon. Our favorite outing is Churchill's summer home, Chartwell--great house, gardens, and historical documents.
If London is part of a longer trip, (2 weeks +) go further. Take a train, then rent a car at your destination. Our favorite 3-4 day trip is south and west to Devon and Cornwall (charming inns, thatched roofs, fishing villages, wild horses, beautiful cliff walks by the sea). Or go north to the Lake District for rugged hills and challenging hiking.
There are endless things to do in and around London. You probably have plans. But if you want, Bob and I will be happy to talk with you about what would be especially interesting and fun for you and your family or group.