The longer I live here, the more I love London. There are endless, wonderful places to visit and now I have a child, I have discovered so many more. Here is a list of some pretty marvellous things to do with your children whether you are a visitor or a resident…
Its open!! Hurrah – at last we can jump badly off the board that Tom Daley swan dives from, we can pedal around the velodrome, get very wet on the white water rafting track. I can’t wait. London Walks has begun to take groups around the whole place, which is a very good way to orientate yourselves as its still a bit of a jumbly mess to get around. The queen parachuting in is an optional extra… Meet at West Ham tube at 10.45 every Thursday and Saturday – London Walks or book a time at the swimming pool.
Syon House and park are just across the river from Kew and combining the two would make a wonderful days outing. Syon House was the location for The Madness of King George 111 and defines the word sumptuous. Each room is more gorgeous than the last and when your children have had enough of the adults marvelling at the silk tapestries, take them on the miniature steam train around the stunning garden to the Aquatic Experience. Here they concentrate on the deadly beasts that live around water – the crocodiles, snakes and piranhas. When they tire of fearsome creatures, they can visit an enormous indoor playground or get involved in the programme of re-enactments and demonstrations. Highly recommended by my children.
The Southbank Centre is great at any time of the year, but for families the highlight must be the Imagine Festival in the February half term. Children were invited to take over the show this year (2014) and were there behind the scenes learning about lighting and sound and there in the forefront directing orchestras and selling programmes. There were poets and singers and orchestras and plays and a million interactive displays to get involved in – my favourite was ‘Grandpa Joe’s Bed’ where the children got on to an enormous bed to listen to stories. Back to Front day was great as well, when the kids came dressed up back to front – trousers on the wrong way round coats butttoned up backwards. If you have children under 10 its worth coming to London at this time just for this festival.
This is a brilliant day out with your kids (unless you suffer from vertigo!) Take the DLR to the Royal Docks, (make sure you sit up front where you can pretend you are driving the train) and have a cup of tea in the Crystal – a futuristic building next to the cable car station, which focuses on sustainable development. There are lots of interactive displays for the kids to get involved in and some fabulous food. Take the cable car over to Greenwich admiring the wonderful views over London and the site of jet-skiers flying across the water. Its an exciting ride and when you get to the other side you can visit the Millennium Dome (or climb over it) and the rest of the Greenwich peninsular.
London theatre is not only for the adults. There are many wonderful shows for children throughout London, from the Gruffalo to War Horse, Horrible Histories to Wicked as well of course, as the mass of pantomimes that flood the capital over Christmas. Come in August and kids go free. Some of the best shows are put on by the better known West End theatres, but there are also many dedicated children’s only playhouses. Some of the best children’s theatres are: Little Angel in Islington, which is a puppet theatre for little to big kids; the Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge; The Little Theatre Barge moored somewhere near Little Venice in the summer months; The very wonderful, Polka Theatre in Wimbledon; Chickenshed Theatre in Southgate, which encourages children’s involvement and The Arts Depot in (wonderfully named) Tally Ho Corner in North London, which although not a child’s only theatre, has a very comprehensive children’s section.
There are of course, a huge number of cinemas showing kids films all over London. Some encourage singing along – Sing a long a Sound of Music anyone? The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square is the granddaddy of these, but recently there has been a new craze for cinema events. Secret Cinema and Future Cinema create amazing, theatrical extravaganzas, where the audience are sent a secret address and come along dressed in the part to get involved in foam fights at the Bugsy Malone showing, or make weird sweet mixtures at the Charlie and the Chocolate event. Check their websites as most of the events are for adults, but they do some very fabulous children’s ones as well.
London is of course, very well known for its parks and gardens, but it also harbours some wonderful woods for many hours of fun in the leaves. Highgate Wood and nearby Queens Wood are easy to get to on the Northern Line and have a great playground and cafes as well as 70 acres of squirrel stalking, bird spotting ancient woodland. They are both part of the original Forest of Middlesex, which used to cover most of modern London and if you are very lucky, you might find a flint or a pipe from when the Romano-Britons harvested wood here. Or take a train east to the 7,000 acres of Epping Forest, for years a royal forest, where only kings could hunt until it was given to the people in 1878. Neolithic man once looked for game in these woods and if you visit the visitor centre, you can see the finds that have been made here. Visit Queen Elizabeth ‘s hunting lodge or hire a pony or mountain bike for an explore. You can even camp here in the summer months.
There are many wonderful kids programmes in London’s museums. From sleepovers in the Natural History Museum to reporters club in the British Museum, London museums go all out to entertain their youngest visitors. Check their websites before you go to checkout their events and trails. Even some museums you might think are not suitable for children have great kids programmes – like the Design Museum who have some very innovative ideas. They are hosting a ‘Design a London Travelcard’ competition at the moment, but try to always have a family-friendly component to most of their exhibitions.
Skateboard and BMX Parks
As one of the legacies of London 2012, money was invested into doing up many of the capital’s aging skate and bike parks. New and improved parks can be found especially in the east end and attract large numbers of hip and talented folk. Most of these parks are situated in some of the best parks: Victoria Park, Clissold Park, Finsbury Park, BaySixty6 in Westbourne Park and of course the famous Southbank skatepark.