London’s top nursery and preschools

For many children, the long journey that is education does not only start when they enter school. It begins at home, and for many children some time between 5 months and 3 years, it continues in nurseries or pre-schools. The best of these can offer an enjoyable and smooth transition from toddlerhood to the Reception classes at primary school.

Many of the prep schools featured London Pre-Prep have a nursery class for 3 to 4 year-olds attached to them – I will not go into details on these again, but you can find a list of top schools that start at the nursery level at the end of this article. Instead, I want highlight several of the most popular pre-school choices in Central London that I have often heard recommended by other parents. If your child is attending a warm and loving nursery that you do not see listed here, please feel free to share this information with other parents by leaving a comment below. The nurseries below are all oversubscribed, so make sure you also read our advice on “getting a place at a top nursery school!”

    • Broadhurst School (Hampstead): a small pre-preparatory school for children aged 2 to 5. The youngest children attend 3 hours per day, the older children 6 hours per day. This nursery is known to provide children with excellent preparation for the tough North London 4+ and 5+ assessments at top prep schools.
    • Chelsea Pre-Prep and Nursery (Chelsea): is an outstanding rated pre-school offering early education for children aged 2.5 to 6. It is located in St Andrew’s Church Hall in a small side street running parallel to King’s Road.  The impressive list of fun activities offered to children includes Chelsea Ballet School and Little Kickers sports lessons, music and drama, French and animal care
    • Hopes and Dreams Montessori Nursery School (Angel) – a lovely and oversubscribed Montessori School near Angel tube station in East London. It has an outstanding Ofsted rating and offers a varied curriculum with excursions, Spanish, French and ballet and sports. There is even a small garden for children to play. The late opening till 7pm proves popular with working parents.
    • Marmalade Cat (Battersea) – this Montessori nursery school in Battersea is getting raving reviews from parents, children are happy and nurtured while also getting prepared for tough 4+ assessments in the area.
    • the Minors Nursery School and Rolfe’s Nursery School (Notting Hill) – these are both part of the Alpha Plus Group and are a popular choice for parents who like to see their children to continue on to Pembridge Hall and Wetherby
    • Ringrose Kindergarten Chelsea – an academically oriented kindergarten for children aged 2 1/2 to 5. Located in the St Luke’s Church Hall in Chelsea. Describe themselves very much as a “school” rather than a “playgroup”.
    • Strawberry Fields Nursery (Notting Hill) – I have heard great things about this nursery from Notting Hill parents and it has a glowing Ofsted review. It is very popular so do make sure to visit the nursery in person and register early
    • Tadpoles Nursery (Chelsea): another popular nursery with an outstanding Ofsted rating and a glowing report. Its founder Claire Dimpfl was inspired by Maria Montessori’s methods when she opened Tadpoles in 1993: “My wish is for every child to be ready to become independent learners, to explore and to be excited to learn and be happy and comfortable”

While these are great pre-schools, as they generally run from around 9am to 3pm, they may not be the best option for working parents looking for full day care. Full-time nurseries that also offer a varied pre-school curriculum and extracurricular activities are:

  • Bright Horizons – a large chain of nurseries across the UK (and the US, for that matter) that owns several daycare nurseries with an outstanding rating across London. Readers have recommended the branches in Regents Park and near London Bridge, but there are many more across London that you can search here.
  • The Little Tug Boats Nursery is an extremely popular family-run nursery for children aged 3 months to 5 years in Fulham. Parents with children at the nursery rave about the caring staff as well as the excellent learning progress of the older children. Unusually for London nurseries, they have a beautiful garden, too. It’s important to get on the waiting list early to secure a place.
  • Little Unicorn Nursery is a group of nurseries located in Canary Wharf and is hence very popular with City professionals.
  • Pippa Poppins – another very popular and well regarded group of nurseries with three sites in Fulham. It prides itself in being structured and preparing children well for assessments while offering lots of free play and outdoor excursions. They offer morning and afternoon as well as full day sessions.

Prep schools that have nursery class are:

45 comments… add one

  • Julia August 22, 2012, 11:47 PM

    My daughter goes to Busy Bees ( Wandsworth bridge) and I have been very impressed by nursery. The staff are really friendly and caring and it is a real pleasure picking up and dropping my daughter off there. They have a lot of activities, french lessons every week . Also very impressive menu all prepared in house. I would really recommend it to everyone.

    Reply
    • HBRS October 12, 2012, 12:01 PM

      I called to enquire about registration for my newborn and found the registrar at Thomas’ Kensington extremely rude without any apparent reason. Definitely not what I expected from such a reputable institution!

      Reply
  • Sam April 25, 2013, 8:50 AM

    Hi there – in terms of registering your child for nurseries and schools. Is it generally earlier the better. ie can you put your child on before birth. Our daughter is now 7m old and wondering if we have left it too late for nurser/school registration.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • London Preprep April 28, 2013, 7:19 AM

      HI Sam – that depends a bit on when you want her to start. If you go back to work at 7 months then obviously putting their name down at 7m it’s too late- but if you have a year or two more that’s fine with most nurseries. But with very popular one is to get their name down straight after birth. Some nurseries do have an “unborn waiting list” and then you phone after birth to move them to the proper waiting list. It depends on the nursery.

      Reply
  • Peejay April 28, 2013, 11:03 PM

    Hi , I’m interested on your opinion of Asquith Day Nurseries especially the one in Hendon,NW4 (Hendon Day Nursery). Do the nurseries serve as a proper foundation for entry into pre-prep schools at 3+. My 19month old son is registered with Grimsdell (Mill Hill School foundation) 3+ and Arnold House 5+, and I am trying to be cautious to ensure he gets a well grounded foundation before being assessed at 3+. Do you recommend any other nurseries in North London?

    Reply
    • London Preprep May 1, 2013, 6:38 PM

      Hi – I do not know specifically about this nursery. Try asking on the mumsnet forum! The North London nursery best known for 4+/5+ preparation is Broadhurst but it requires very early registration!

      Reply
  • Renju May 17, 2013, 12:26 PM

    Hi could anyone suggest me gud primary schools at Ilford or nearby areas?im new to London . Thank you

    Reply
  • Rhi May 21, 2013, 10:27 PM

    Hi, I’m curious…you’ve mentioned Mulberry House, Broadhurst, St Johns Wood per-prep in the north London nursery/ pre-prep context. Any opinion on Hampstead Hill School? That’s from 2-7 as well.

    Reply
    • London Preprep September 3, 2013, 9:34 PM

      Hi Rhi – it’s supposed to be brilliant! You need to sign up early as well!

      Reply
  • angy May 24, 2013, 5:52 PM

    Hi, could someone recommend a good nursery or pre-prep in brixton or south west london.

    Reply
  • Manish June 21, 2013, 3:40 PM

    Talking of good nurseries, My daughter attended the Little Unicorn Nursey at Bank Street in Canary Wharf, since she turned two. It was an absolute pleasure to see my daughter blossom there. Very positive developmental changes we saw, excellent caring staff that we interacted with. often heard other parents saying that its a very homely setting. Our full points to them.

    Have also heard of Muddy Boots Nursery inside the mudchute park,Isle of Dogs. Did visit them, quite impressive setting, and an equally impressive OFSTED rating.however they are usually having a huge waitlist.

    Reply
    • London Preprep June 21, 2013, 4:44 PM

      Manish – thanks so much for your comment! In fact, I also have friends with two kids at Little Unicorn and they also love it! Sounds like a great place!

      Reply
  • Sam July 29, 2013, 1:32 PM

    Hi There – I have noticed when reviewing prep school exit results that there does not seem to be many leaving to go to grammar schools. The majority are continuing onto other independent schools. I have also read the prep work required for entry to Tiffin for instance is sigifnicantly more challenging than gaining entry to an independent at 11+ and therefore tutoring is more likely to yield better results than being at a prep school. Is there any weight to this argument or will your child still stand a better chance of gaining entry to selective grammar schools if they are at a prep school without tutoring?

    Reply
  • Liz August 4, 2013, 11:56 PM

    Hi, I’m looking for a good nursery and pre prep school for my daughter in the e14 or se1 area. Can you recommend any?

    Reply
  • Andrea August 5, 2013, 8:50 PM

    Hi there!
    We are a British-Brazilian family moving over to London early next year.
    We have started emailing some nurseries, but as we are not there yet, scheduling a visit is not feasible until around November.
    We found a nursery called The Square School in Notting Hill – any reviews on that one? They have an outstanding Ofsted report.
    Thanks for the site, the advice has been so good especially for us with no idea of how the system operates there (we lived in London before but without kids – very different reality!!)
    Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Thais October 3, 2013, 3:12 PM

      I am in the exact same situation here Andrea, Italian-Brazilian family moving to London with a 2.5 year old. We have been living in São Paulo for the past 2 years but we were in London before that. I narrowed down to 2 neighborhoods I would like to live and now focusing on the nurseries in that area. I started looking at pre prep but even though we can narrow down to some I think it takes time and we have to be there to visit. Keep us posted!

      Reply
  • Meredith August 31, 2013, 3:09 PM

    My daughter (2) goes to Bright Horizons in Regents Park, and we have been extremely pleased with them. And she loves it, as well. They offer 8:00-18:00 M-F, plus half day too.

    Reply
  • Bukie September 21, 2013, 2:57 PM

    Does anyone have any thoughts about eaton house the vale nursery school.

    Reply
  • Lucy September 30, 2013, 6:19 PM

    Does anyone have any recommendations for good nurseries around Canary Wharf or London Bridge?

    Reply
  • Bikram Dasgupta October 20, 2013, 12:56 PM

    We are very keen to tieup/collaborate with a branded pre/prep school in United Kingdom.Kindly help us, in identifying a branded Pre/Prep School of repute to talk/discuss, collaboration.
    Thanks,
    Warm Regards,
    Bikram Dasgupta

    Reply
  • Ginny November 18, 2013, 1:54 AM

    We just found out that we are moving to London (South Kensington) at the beginning of the year. Do we have any hope of getting our 2 year old into a nursery? Thank you!

    Reply
  • Vanessa November 22, 2013, 2:25 PM

    I live in Haringey but I am willing to travel for my son to go to a good nursery. Do you happen to know the closest nursery to Haringey?
    Thank you!!

    Reply
    • London Preprep November 30, 2013, 12:03 PM

      Hi Vanessa – check out the Active Learning nurseries? Fortis Green nursery is highly rated and there are the Montessori Children’s House as well. Lots of options.

      Reply
  • Lu January 10, 2014, 6:39 PM

    Hello

    I am a Chinese mom of one-year-and-half boy and moving to work in London. Recently I have been doing reseach on nurseries for my little one. But I read an article reporting that nurseries create anti-social, upset toddlers, and come across “Too Much Too Soon” campaign emphasing the importance of play and games at early age. So may I ask the top nurseries in your list, are they good because of academic aspects?

    Ideally I would like my baby to go to a nursery where he can be happy, have fun and healthy organic food. Maybe that is what every mum wants.

    Regards

    Lu

    Reply
    • London Preprep January 10, 2014, 10:18 PM

      Dear Lu, thanks for your comment! I think the recent campaign referred to harmful effects of formal schooling at an early age, not so much to harmful effects of early nursery provision. Nurseries here very much focus on learning through play and know about the importance of free play. The list here provides a range of different styles, some recognised for their “academic” quality (usually meaning they are good at preparing kids for 4+ assessments), others for their outdoor space or pastoral care, many of these have outstanding Ofsted ratings which encompasses social and emotional well-being of the children as well as their intellectual development. Healthy food is actually not so easy to find in my experience, even when they claim it’s organic I have noticed many nurseries give young babies healthy veggie purees but then the toddlers get an awful amount of processed food (chicken mcnuggets, tuna bake etc) so you really need to visit and see for yourself!

      Reply
  • Nayana Sethi February 7, 2014, 1:58 AM

    I had recommend Colfes school and also its nursey, after a huge search we zeroed in on this school in the South East. well located for people in Blackheath, Greenwich, Canary Wharf, Lewisham, Lee etc. usually there is a waitlist, so plan ahead. It’s a delight to see our child transforming and the kind of knowledge imparted, methods followed and the attention to details by teachers is amazing. Its been a pleasant journey for us and our child. Wish I had studied in such a school.

    Reply
  • Andrea February 13, 2014, 12:12 PM

    Dear Pre Prep,
    I just wanted to add to the comments that we are extremely pleased with Little Unicorn Day Nurseries in Canary Wharf. Very commited, loving staff, all very well trained. Hugely supported me and my son with his many and sincere food allergies. They know all about avoiding food allergies, but also what to do in an emergency. Very personal and individual approach. Also sports lessions and french.

    Reply
  • Mon February 18, 2014, 7:16 PM

    Hi, I came across this page while researching for a nursery in London. The list you have provided are all for 2yrs and above. Could you kindly recommend a day nursery for children aged 1-2? Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • London Preprep February 24, 2014, 6:30 PM

      Dear Mon – please scroll to the bottom section of the page that describes daycare nurseries. Where in London are you based?

      Reply
  • Sarah March 1, 2014, 5:49 AM

    Hello! We (French-Spanish family) just moved from Paris to London. We live at Imperial Wharf and would love to receive some feedback on the Bright Horizon nursery at Imperial Wharf. We have an 8 monther… Thank you!

    Reply
  • Bea March 13, 2014, 6:15 PM

    Hello – many of the nurseries in this article have specific term dates. Can you recommend any nurseries in the Fulham, South Kensington area which do not have term dates ? i.e. are open all year bar the obvious bank holiday etc. We are moving back to London with our 2 year old daughter in 2 months and would struggle to cover 10 weeks holiday a year for her !!
    Thanks
    Bea

    Reply
    • London Preprep March 15, 2014, 10:17 PM

      Hi Bea – if you scroll down there are suggestions for daycare type nurseries at the bottom. In SW6 that would be Active Learning, Tugboats, Bobby’s PLayhouse, Pippa Poppins (they run term time but have holiday clubs), Peques and a few others…

      Reply
  • Julia March 27, 2014, 8:27 AM

    Hi,
    I am looking for a full time nursery close to Earls Court/Gloucester Road/Kensington Highstreet Area and was wondering if you could recommend good nurseries with extended hours.
    Many thanks!
    Julia

    Reply
  • AP April 1, 2014, 11:28 AM

    Hello,

    We are moving to Richmond soon and have a 20 month old. Having gone through the list here and a few othere places I still havent really been able to identify good nurseries in that Area – any recommendations ?

    Reply
  • Kiko April 2, 2014, 6:29 PM

    Does anybody have any experience with One World Montessori Nursery in Brook Green, Hammersmith? They are rated Outstanding, but little info on what the main schools are it feeds into.

    Many thanks

    Reply
    • Anonymous June 6, 2014, 12:09 AM

      I have had three children at One World. What a fantastic start to education . The private prep schools they have moved on to are very disappointing after such a wonderful experience

      Reply
      • London Preprep June 6, 2014, 9:02 AM

        thanks for your comment. would love to hear which private prep school you moved them on to! could you send me a private message?

  • Sharanjit Dhesi April 3, 2014, 10:33 AM

    Hi, which are good pre prep schools around west london (I live in Ealing).. fee paying please? thank you

    Reply
  • sophie June 20, 2014, 12:45 PM

    Hi,
    What about the Ladbroke Montessori nursery school? Is it good a good one?
    thank you very much for your help

    Reply
  • Busy Bee Nursery School in Redan Street, W14 June 29, 2014, 4:41 PM

    Please do read our testimonials and OFSTED link,
    Thank You

    Reply
  • Bee July 8, 2014, 4:59 PM

    Hi

    We are looking for nurseries in the Honor Oak area for our 19month old daughter. We would be extremly grateful for any suggestions.

    Many thanks

    Reply
  • Ed July 10, 2014, 12:11 PM

    Hi, my niece and nephews went to Dawmouse in Fulham about 7 years ago, and my sister raved about it. We now have a baby girl and live in the area, and were thinking of putting her down for it. Any feedback on it? Many thanks – v helpful website!!

    Reply

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