We are leaving London soon. Our kids are Londoners. This is their home and I hope it’ll always be a place they hold dear in their hearts. It’s an amazing city with more to offer than most people can see in a lifetime, let alone a couple of weeks. However, before we go, there are a few things we need to ensure we do one last time. And because we’re Londoners, this is the real deal if you’re looking for awesome, non-touristy unmissable London activities for kids.
Parks and Playgrounds.
Obviously this city is extremely green. We can barely walk without falling in to another wonderful park. We have ten playgrounds within walking distance of our house in South London. That’s ten within a distance I expect my five year old to walk and my three year old to scoot without whining at me. One of these is stunning enough that it makes my list of ‘unmissable London activities’.
1.Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park. In my opinion, this is hands down the best playground in town. The playground itself is entirely wood and is extremely imaginatively designed. It is gated and even has its own security. It also never gets too crowded as they only let in a set number at any time. One of the park’s cafes has a window in to the playground so you can grab an overpriced coffee or ice cream while your little darlings run wild, safe in the knowledge that (probably) the very worst they can do is get soaking wet in the water play area.
2. Coram’s Fields. This is an entire seven acre park dedicated only to children. It has various play areas for different age groups. It even has a little farm on site. The coffee is good. Again, this is a gated park and no one is allowed in without a child. My kids consider consider coming here to be a real treat.
3. Brockwell Park. This is an enormous park in Herne Hill in South London. The park itself is just beautiful with its rolling hills and stunning views of the city. It boasts a lido (I’ve never been but it is extremely popular in the summer), a huge and really well equipped playground with enough to entertain even the biggest playground aficionado! Down towards the end of the park there is a duck pond and a huge water play area for summer fun. There are two cafes on site, one by the lido and one in the middle of the park, up on the hill. Herne Hill also has some great restaurants and cafes if nothing in the park takes your fancy. In summer a little train runs up and down one side of the park.
I assume most people visiting London already know that the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum are a must. We go pretty regularly but to be honest, they don’t make my list of places we MUST revisit before leaving town. Why? Well, they’re just too busy I guess and I’m realistic about how much time we have available to us. Instead, I offer up:
4. The Horniman Museum, South London’s best kept cultural secret. I blinking well love this museum. It has everything you could ever want:
big dead animals
things kids can touch
amazing gardens with a small city farm and musical instruments
kid friendly exhibitions
a music room full of instruments for kids to play
and a great cafe
It even has a park with yet another good playground opposite. All in all, it’s the perfect museum for small kids.
5. The V & A Museum of Childhood. We have only been here twice and each time we’ve had a fabulous day. I’d have thought the fact that so many toys were in cases would make it rubbish for kids but it really doesn’t. They love looking at all the old toys and there is enough for them to play with that they don’t feel they’re missing out on anything. The whole museum is a pleasure, especially because it’s pretty open plan, making it almost impossible to lose anyone small for too long.
6. Can’t leave London without chucking a bit more culture at my little darlings! So I think we’ll take them to Pudding Lane and The Monument. I’ve never climbed it and nor have the kids. The Monument, in case you aren’t aware, is a great big…monument (! to the Great Fire of London). My kids have been reading about the fire with us recently and I think it’s a good way to say good bye to our city, by going to check out something tall from which we can see a lot of it and talk about how we should never set fire to shit.
7. We have been promising to take them to HMS Belfast for months. I can’t think of anything more dull, personally, but our five year old is so keen that we’ll have to give in soon. We can tie it in with a visit to number 8…
8. The amazing Unicorn Theatre at London Bridge. Nothing there will ever disappoint. It is seriously the best kids’ theatre in town. What’s more, just outside is a recently renewed area with lovely restaurants,space for kids to run and amazing views of Tower Bridge and The Tower of London.
9. It’s touristy to be sure but we head to Covent Garden for one reason: the three year old loves to watch the classical buskers. Last week when she put money in the hat, the ensemble followed her back to where we were sitting and performed a piece just for her. It was incredible and I know she was over the moon.
10. A trip on the Emirates Airline (more realistically known to locals as a totally unnecessary cable car). This is always a winner with the kids. We tend to do a return trip just to hang out and see the views. Can be tied in with a boat trip on the river, a visit to the Millennium Dome, a visit to the excellent Maritime Museum and even the Cutty Sark. See: culture, innit. This can even be tied in with number 11…
Good, mindless, fun
11. Riding, and driving, the DLR (Docklands Light Railway). Who doesn’t love a driverless train? If you’re lucky, the front seats will be free and you’ll be able to shove the kids in to have a pretend drive, something all local kids love to do. If this doesn’t float your monorail then you could always head over to the Transport Museum in Covent Garden. It’s expensive (17.50 GBP) but you only pay for adults and the ticket lasts all year. It’s pretty hands on and has some good play areas so you can properly exhaust the kids out here. I even learned something last time we went*.
And for a final blast of super fun…
12. The good old South Bank. Almost without fail there will be something going on down there that needs to be checked out. We live pretty near by so will undoubtedly head down there before we leave. You don’t need to spend a fortune on the overpriced aquarium or the stupidly busy (but fairly fun) London Eye to enjoy yourself there. The all wooden playground is lovely, the street performers are always good for entertainment and the Southbank Centre regularly puts on incredible festivals. There is also a fairly regular food market on the non river side of the SBC. Even the benches there are fun!
13. If you’re in London in the summer then march your kids straight down to Somerset House to enjoy the fountains in the courtyard. Don’t forget the swimming stuff. While everyone else is up on the South Bank crowding in to their super busy fountains, you’ll be sitting back and feeling smug while your kids basically have Somerset House to themselves.
So that’s my list of favourite places in London. I recently stumbled upon this different list of activities for kids in London that I also really liked. What do you love best for kids in this incredible city?
* I learned that advertising on buses began as a way of protecting a woman’s modesty. As women climbed up the outside stairs to the top deck, unpleasant men would stand around and try to see up women’s skirts. The solution was to board up the sides of the stairs and then some canny individual realised there was money to be made… the rest, as they say, is history.