London for Kids
It may seem that the words "kids" and "holiday" are mutually exclusive but it need not necessarily be so; in London there are a myriad of ways of keeping them happy, distracted and even sometimes encouraging them to learn something new. What child could fail to be fascinated by the Egyptian mummies or Bleaden Man in the British Museum, or put up with going round Keats' house in Hampstead with the promise of flying a kite on Parliament Hill afterwards? Or turn their nose up at the real live sharks at the Aquarium or the giant blue whale skeleton in the Natural History Museum (not to mention the dinosaurs....)? If your child has an scientific bent then the new Wellcome wing of the Science Museum is fun. It's also useful for answering those awkward questions kids sometimes ask as it's really up to the minute (they can have an exhibit up and running in 24 hours on a hot new topic) on what's going on both in science and in the news. Also worth mentioning that kids go free on London Transport - with an Oyster Card. See the TFL WEBSITE If at any time you think your kids might have to be unaccompanied in London, on the tube etc, there is a guide for kids at the tfl site.
London Attractions: Click here
However a little thought before you go will go a long way. Our top tip, if you are traveling as a family, is to stay in an apartment, not a hotel (unless you can afford a suite). It will save you money, it will come equipped for the everyday things you need to do, and not for a businessman and his laptop. Many apartment owners will be able to arrange a babysitter so you can get at least one night out - and the kids have a living-room to go to if they wake at 6am and you want to lie in til 10. You can also arrange evenings to be a bit more hospitable. Buy the Mary Poppins DVD and tell the kids you're going to see some of the places in the video the next day. Order a takeaway or delivery meal, or cook yourself. We can 100% recommend the Judges House (see our hotels page) - it's run by a friend of ours and we've seen how it works and it's a model for holiday apartments. You might even get a small discount if you mention the site. If you don't stay there try to find something similar, there's an agency which deserves mention - we get no kickbacks from either the Judges House or the agency, we just think they do a good job.
Museums and Galleries. Most of the glut of museums and attractions mentioned elsewhere on this site will appeal to children and adults alike; some however have gone further than the usual exhibitions and have extra activities usually during the summer holidays. Check times and availability beforehand. There is free admission for children at the Imperial War Museum, HMS Belfast, National Maritime Museum, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Theatre Museum, Museum of London and Wellington Museum - and many more are following suit in 2001. One astounding thing is the skill the Galleries' guides have - they can enrapture a group of children in a painting for hours, we've often witnessed well-behaved groups sat around a picture, spellbound, that otherwise would be running round, bored and noisy. If you wish to weave such magic yourself, tools are available at the Museum of London or you could point a child who's interested in nature here.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington. 0207 942 2530 Saturdays - The Activity Backpacks (suitable for ages 5-11) include puzzles, games, quizzes. Sundays - The Family Activity Cart (ages 3-12) includes trails, drawing and making activities (see our museums page) and their own website
The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington Not only does the Science Museum have 7 floors of hands-on displays covering every scientific area, events, workshops and tours it also runs Children's Science Nights (ages 8-11) where the museum is shut to the public but open to a group with various activities going on (sleeping probably NOT being one of them - be prepared for a cranky 10 year old the day after!) Sleeping bags needed - but can be bought very cheaply in town. See our museums page or their website
The Golden Hinde, Cathedral St, London SE1 0207 4030123 A reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake's ship with crew in full costume - this is somewhere you can actually leave the kids - for an entire four hours - safe in the knowledge that not only are they having fun they're also learning all about the Tudor era (might be handy when you go to Hampton Court) The workshops include such intriguing delights as loading cannons, weighing anchor and sailing the high seas (in theory only you'll be relieved to hear). If this all sounds too good to leave to the kids they also do overnight (4pm till 10 am ) adventures for the entire family (from 2 years old upwards) where you can dress up in the outfits, learn the songs and eat the food of Drakes' sailors. All for £30 per person per night - cheaper than a good old English Bed and Breakfast and the food is probably from the same era. Website This features on our Walk One
City Farm There are two - one in Shoreditch east of the station of the same name, and another in Hackney, (well it's actually in Tower Hamlets, but what's in a name) Hackney City Farm has a good restaurant which won the 'Best Family Restaurant' section in the awards in 2005. Nearby Spitalfields market has a lot to interest kids (open at weekends, best on a Sunday). This is a good area for 'the whole family' a phrase which usually strikes fear in our breast but here is quite accurate.
For hardcore enthusiasts a SUNDAY circuit of: Liverpool St station - train to London Fields, walk back south to Broadway Market (good french delicatessan/cafe, good brunchy pubs and restaurants). Then continue south through Hackney City Farm (restaurant there won best family restaurant of the year 2005..) to Colombia road, along Colombia road then South to Brick Lane, Hugenot district, Spitalfields market and back to Liverpool Street station - see an AtoZ map or go HERE for mapping it out - you may need to expand the map both south and north to get the whole route.
Tate Britain, Millbank. Sunday Afternoons - The Art Trolley (ages 3- 11) Various activities to help children discover art. Website See also our Art page.
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, has quiz sheets available at the information desk for all ages. Website See also our Art page
The Courtauld Institute, Somerset House, The Strand. First Saturday of the month 11 am (free plus one adult) Kids Drop-In with making, drawing, workshop based activities encouraging children to be interested in art. Website See also our Art page
London International Gallery of Children's Art, 255 Finchley Road, NW3 (Tel: 0207 435 0903 ) Probably only for those children who particularly enjoy art there are regular exhibitions and workshops.
Splashing out Hamleys, billed as "The biggest toyshop in the world". Regents Street. Only for those with large wallets or strong wills, Hamleys is the Harrods of toyshops; with every imaginable toy, hands on displays and demonstrations on 5 floors it will keep children of every age occupied for longer than you can bear; a possible trade-in for dragging them round Selfridges earlier on in the day. Website
Days Out Legoland Windsor. Tell the children you're going to see things done with Lego they won't believe (its one of Britain's favourite children's attractions - and fairly popular with their parents by all accounts) On the way sneak in a quick look around Windsor Castle and Great Park. Website
Syon Park , Brentford, Middlesex. along with Snakes and Ladders, a fantastic indoor (for those unavoidable rainy days) and outdoor adventure playground where the kids can let off steam while the grown- ups wander around yet another royal palace - this time the home and gardens of the Duke of Northumberland Website
Alton Towers A two hour train trip out of London, this is one of the top attractions in the country ( not just for kids)- a kind of Stately Disneyworld, with enough to stop an adult dying of boredom (it started off as a Stately Home, owned by an impecunious gent who didn't want to sell out to the National Trust or one of the other charities designed to keep grand old houses afloat after their aristocratic owners sunk). Costly and sometimes brash, a visit here will probably buy off your children for the rest of your holiday. You can get a combined train/admission ticket to save on the huge admission fee. It's also popular with parties of adults who go for the thrill-rides. Website.
Another Alternative, just outside London is Chessington - still expensive and less grand but more practical than Alton Towers.
A trip to Disney World Paris isn't out of the question now that Paris is only 3 hours away by train - again there's a combined entry/train ticket which should save you money. The workers are less sickenly ingratiating than their Floridan counterparts and it's fun watching Parisians trying to be polite (it's not in their genes). Official Website .
Eating Out The English are renowned for not having the most child friendly restaurants in Europe - probably dating back to the days when children ate separate meals prepared by nanny and only met up with their parents washed, scrubbed and ready for bed. However it may not be necessary to resort to the ubiquitous fast food joints for every meal - most London restaurants claim to be child friendly and offer kids portions; be aware that that doesn't necessarily mean they will welcome you with open arms however - especially if you change Junior's nappy on the dining table....Again we refer you to Harden's Guides and suggest you check when booking; those in the following list say they actively encourage children (but don't necessarily provide the best food...)
Bank 1 Kingsway, 0207 379 9797 Provides colouring books, puzzles etc Deals, branches in Hammersmith, Chelsea and Oxford Circus 0207 287 1001 Offers weekend entertainment and facepainting. Dome, Heath St, Hampstead, 0207 431 0339 Offers crayons, balloons etc Luna Nova, 22 Short's Gardens Covent Garden.0207 836 4110 Outstandingly child friendly - kids can even make their own pizza...... Maxwells, 8-9 James St, Covent Garden 0207 836 0303 Offer balloons crayons etc The Rainforest Café, 20 Shaftesbury Ave, 0207 434 3111 Themed restaurant offering educational programme. Wok Wok, Islington, Clapham,Kensington and Soho, 0207 437 7080 Another star - Sunday entertainment and educational colouring sheets. Smolensky's Balloon 105 Strand and 1 Dover St On weekend lunchtimes - among the best places to bring children.
Activities Electronic pastimes: Segaworld in the Trocadero - a monstrous whirl of noise and colour that should keep kids of all ages busy, though can prove vertiginous for adults, and costly.
Playgrounds: Coram's Fields is an area given over to children (adults not allowed to enter without a child) in the heart of Bloomsbury (Tube: Russell Square) with animals, play areas etc. There's a Child Psychology Institute which faces the Area if they get too boisterous... The new 'Diana Memorial' children's playground is in Kensington Gardens, close to the famous statue of Peter Pan, inspired by the books of Barry - it really is excellent and very popular with children - for ages 2-12 (Tube: Notting Hill Gate on the Central and Circle lines.)
Petting zoos:Apart from the famous London Zoo which is great for kids there are a couple of other low-key attractions: Battersea Park Zoo - Small zoo with domestic and non-domestic animals including monkeys, otters, pot-bellied pigs, birds and reptile house. Animal contact area - also does pony rides.
Farms: Spitalfields farm - Weaver St E1/Vauxhall City Farm - 24 St Oswald's Place/Hackney City Farm - 1a Goldsmith's Row Hackney E2 (this latter can be combined with a visit to Colombia Road Flower Market on a Sunday, as it's very close by)
Theatre: Polka Children's theatre would be one of our top choices, should our nieces and nephews descend on us for the day. Website. Even better is the state-of-the-art Unicorn theatre on Tooley Street SE1 just down from the London Dungeon and near HMS Belfast - an adult sized theatre for kids.
Planning your trip to London There's one hell of a lot to do in London some basic planning will avoid unnecessary trapsing around on foot or irritating waiting for public transport. It's best to plan a day out so as to maximise the number of things you can see - and to go for variety. Below are a few mornings, afternoons and whole days out we've arranged for visitors - time permitting, we can offer advice by Email if there's anything you particularly want to see.