Monday, 01 February 2016
Planning a trip to the capital with your intrepid tots - and want to have some proper fun? Cathy Winston reveals 36 top adventures
GO: The Grant Museum Of Zoology
If your pre-schoolers are fascinated rather than freaked out by skeletons, there are 68,000 different specimens from across the animal kingdom to see here. Free entry.
DO: Granary Square fountains
Forget all those posh restaurants in this redeveloped section of King’s Cross: kids will love watching the 1,080 choreographed fountains which are illuminated after dark, or splashing around in them on sunny days.
SEE: Little Angel Theatre
See favourite stories come to life at Islington’s Little Angel puppet theatre, including Wow! Said the Owl and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, with special performances for younger children and family workshops too.
EAT: The Boathouse Café
Family-friendly food gets a twist at this café by Regent’s Park’s boating lake. Try harissa chicken flatbread pizza and carrot muffins on the large waterside terrace area, with the children’s lake and pedalos nearby.
SHOP: After Noah
Tucked in among the vintage furniture you’ll find equally retro kids’ toys – everything from cuddly animals to wooden trains, traditional games, puppets and musical instruments.
WALK: Camley Street Natural Park
A short walk from King’s Cross station, these two acres of wild green space on the banks of the Regent’s Canal were created from an old coal yard to become a haven for wildlife.
PLAY: Coram’s Fields
One of London’s strictest and most unusual entry policies comes into force here: if you don’t have a child in tow, you can’t come into this seven-acre park, which includes a small farm and playground. Open all year round.
PET: Freightliners farm
While the railway goods vans which originally housed the animals in this Islington small city farm have gone, there are still chickens, sheep, cows, pigs, goats and more to meet.
TRAVEL: Alexandra Palace Park
There’s always something to discover at Ally Pally, but when the weather’s bad it’s hard to beat the Little Dinosaurs indoor play centre, with gardens if the sun ventures out. Take the train from King’s Cross or Moorgate.
GO: Battersea Park Children’s Zoo
Lemurs, monkeys, even a bearded dragon! This small zoo might not be the most high-profile in London, but it’s ideal for younger children, with a play area, too.
DO: The Golden Hinde II
Pretend you’re a 16th-century explorer-slash-pirate aboard this replica of the ship which Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world. It’s now docked on Bankside, where you can go on a family-friendly interactive tour.
SEE: Unicorn Theatre
With theatre designed for children only, there’s something even young toddlers will love, including sets where they can join in and play, plus regular workshops. And shows are helpfully categorised from XS (under 4s) to L (over 13s).
EAT: Tate Modern
As well as all the incredible art exhibitions, the award-winning, family-friendly Tate café on Level 1 of Tate Modern has a fab kids’ menu, high chairs, crayons and activity packs, while under-12s even eat free at lunchtimes with a paying adult.
SHOP: Tales on Moon Lane
Bookworm staff at this celebrated children’s bookshop compile lists of recommendations for kids of all ages, plus there’s a festival of events during school holidays.
WALK: Myatt’s Fields Park
After a multi-million-pound revamp, this listed Victorian park has a wildlife area, playground, café and children’s zone, The Mulberry Centre, with bookable activities for kids.
PLAY: Tooting Bec Lido
South London is home to the second-largest swimming pool in the UK, with a paddling pool for under-fives and the fresh-water lido.
PET: Vauxhall City Farm
A slice of the countryside in Zone 1, this city farm has ferrets and an alpaca, plus rabbits, pigs and horses. On selected dates there are also kids’ clubs to learn all about gardening.
TRAVEL: Horniman Museum
One of the capital’s best museums for kids – including a natural history section, aquarium, art gallery and animal walk – the majority is free to visit. Less than 15 minutes from London Bridge on the train, and far fewer crowds than in central London, too.
GO: Ragged School Museum
Once the largest free school in London, it’s still free to enter. Check out the authentic Victorian classroom and kitchen, and join in with extra activities during the holidays.
DO: Discover Children’s Story Centre
Story time just got more fun at Stratford’s children’s museum. On the indoor Story Trail, find a secret cave, giant and dress-up activities, while the outdoor area includes a spaceship, a pirate ship and oversized musical instruments.
SEE: Museum of Childhood
Wallow in a bit of nostalgia as you spot some of the toys you once played with as a kid, along with arts and crafts, storytelling, trails and even an indoor sandpit. Entry is free.
EAT: Tom’s Kitchen
Celebrity chef Tom Aikens’s eatery at Canary Wharf offers a kids’ menu featuring classics such as egg and soldiers and mini burgers. And there’s a playroom to keep little ones occupied while you tuck into your pollock and chips.
SHOP: The Toy Box
A kids’ paradise at Victoria Park, with big-name toys alongside quirky smaller brands, stuffed animals, trains and much more.
WALK: Geffrye Museum gardens
Named as one of the UK’s most family-friendly museums – spare some time to go in and see its 11 period rooms, from 1600 to the present. But for a great little oasis in the city, step into the Geffrye’s gardens. It’s free to enter, and the front gardens are open all year round.
PLAY: Victoria Park
One of London’s oldest public parks, this got a facelift before the Olympics, with a new adventure playground designed to encourage creative play. There are also two cafés, special park trails and the usual swings and slides in more than 80 hectares of green space.
PET: Spitalfields City Farm
Meet Bayleaf the donkey and his stable of friends, with donkey rides during special events and a small wildlife garden to discover.
TRAVEL: Emirates Air Line
With incredible views over the city and river, London’s only cable car takes just ten minutes to ride between North Greenwich and Royal Victoria, making it ideal for toddler-length attention spans.
This vast indoor play centre in Chelsea has carousel rides, mega slides, a climbing wall, dodgems, soft play and special toddler sessions.
DO: Fulham Palace and the Bishop’s Park
The historic home of the Bishops of London is unexpectedly child-friendly, with Palace Explorers sessions for two- to four-year-olds (make sure you book), while the lovely riverside Bishop’s Park is just next door.
SEE: Elfin Oak, Kensington Gardens
The Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground tempts plenty of families into Kensington Gardens, but step away and you can find the 900-year-old Elfin Oak with fairies, elves and small animals carved into it.
EAT: Fait Maison The Tea House
With healthy children’s meals – as well as yummy cakes and Italian ice cream – on the menu, this café on the edge of Ravenscourt Park also has an enclosed outdoor play area so the kids can safely run off that sugar rush.
SHOP: Hope and Greenwood
Move over Willy Wonka! This treat of a shop in Covent Garden sells traditional penny sweets and rhubarb-and- custards, chocolate, fudge, liquorice and a lot more – including (thankfully) some sugar-free varieties.
WALK: The Pawprint Trail
Go on an adventure around the Paddington area, with three short trails to find four of the Paddington Bear statues dotted around the station, nearby gardens and canals.
PLAY: Oxygen Freejumping
London’s first trampoline park in North Acton, with more than 14,500 square feet of walls for kids to bounce off. There are weekend Family Bounce sessions, and Little O’s for under-fives.
PET: WWT London Wetland Centre
Spy otters and a host of birds, and explore the beautiful gardens and wild paths. There’s also a gift shop, lakeside café, adventure playground, Discovery Centre – and all just a ten-minute bus ride from Hammersmith.
TRAVEL: The London Museum of Water & Steam
Brentford plays home to the world’s largest collection of working Cornish engines. There’s also the Splash Zone with water play features, and a steam train which runs at weekends.
Illustrations: Lauren Radley