Top Ten London With Kids

by Max Clarke

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Having now accepted our status as dedicated, if frazzled and rapidly aging, parents, my partner and I are devoting time to planning some activities for wet weekends and hyper half-terms joined by nephews and nieces.

In our former, almost forgotten, ‘couple’ life we lived in London. Those days (as I like to remember them) were filled with friends, posh restaurants, cocktails, super-cool bars, exhibitions, theatre, and lazy Sundays reading the papers. I did watch too much Sex and the City though. In reality, much of my spare time was spent attempting to crawl out of bed in my tiny flat in one of the most unfashionable parts of outer East London. My most cultural achievement was to make it to the corner shop for some bread and Heat magazine before lunchtime.

However, I thought London was the best city in the world then (New York a close second) and I still do. Our lives may have changed forever but our capital can still keep us entertained with little H tottering along too. It is a fantastic place for young children and these are my top ten activities if you ever find yourself in the big smoke with little people.

1. Tiny tots love vehicles so even your journey can be fun. Riding on a train, London bus or taxi, taking the tube or DLR (where you can pretend to be the driver) or just watching the traffic or trains will entertain many little ones. You probably won’t find it quite as fascinating.

2. If your little tinker is getting really serious about transportation, the newly-reopened London Transport Museum in Covent Garden may be ideal. Exploring the link between transport and the growth of modern London, there are many regular features that will appeal to children, such as costumed characters, and special activities during school holidays like building a bus. ‘London’s Transport in Miniature’ will be running on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 March 2008 at The Museum Depot at Acton, demonstrations of steam and electric train collections on the Museum’s miniature railway.

3. The London Aquarium on the South Bank of the Thames has nearly 400 species on display in over 2 million liters of water. Seeing anything from sharks and stingrays to moray eels and piranhas, your little fish are sure to enjoy the multi-sensory journey which includes a pool where they can stroke a range of friendly creatures and regular talks and feeding sessions. Captain Pugwash and his crew are in residence every day from Saturday 9 February to Sunday 24 February.

4. Still lurking on the South Bank, the Tate Modern has a lot to offer families with children. The building itself is a brilliant place for older children to explore. Every weekend the ‘Start’ team are on hand to provide exciting games to play in the galleries, mainly for the over fives. They will be running special activities during half-term week. ‘What Can the Matter Be?’ is a talk and demonstration uncovering some of the secrets behind the gallery’s collection to be held on Saturday 23 February.

5. Escaping the hustle and bustle of the South Bank with your brood for half an hour may well appeal. The London Eye (on the South Bank opposite the Houses of Parliament) is an exciting experience whatever your age. Although it does only travel at 0.6 miles per hour – twice as fast as a tortoise sprinting, according to their website – so it’s not for speed freaks. The views are outstanding and on a clear day you can see around 40km from the top, that’s as far as Windsor Castle. The capsule’s are quite cool too.

6. Two of the best free attractions in London have to be the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum in South Kensington. At the Natural History Museum, Harry and the Dinosaurs will leap into real life for your tot after seeing the big softy Diplodocus and super-sensing T.Rex (who’s a bit scary for very little ones). The life-size model of a blue whale is awesome and there are fun activities planned every day (including talks, behind-the-scenes tours, Explorer backpacks and a science discovery centre). Ice Station Antarctica is a temporary interactive exhibition running until 20 April (extra charge applies).

The Science Museum’s Launchpad gallery has been updated recently and is aimed at ‘curious and creative 8-14 year olds’ who want to explore the world of physics. It’s packed full of exhibits, shows and demos. The Garden and Pattern Pod are two interactive galleries designed for younger children. There are numerous daily activities and events and also an IMAX 3D cinema making this an inspiring day out for everyone.

7. I might be biased as I lived there for a while, but Greenwich is one of the most beautiful areas of London and ideal for a family trip to the capital. It has everything you’ll need for the day from the wide open spaces of the park, the Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum, OLd Royal Naval College and university buildings, to high street shops and restaurants, independent boutiques and bistros, a lively market and riverside walks. An unexpected highlight for our funny little man is the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, where you walk under the River Thames.

8. Wicked, The Lion King, The Sound of Music, Dirty Dancing, Billy Elliot…you can’t go wrong with one of these, or many other, West End shows.

9. London is full of green spaces and parks – ideal for letting energetic monsters let off steam. You might even get the chance to lie down for a while. Hyde, St James’, Green and Regent’s parks are all easily accessible.

10. Nestled within Regent’s Park is London Zoo which recently won a number of awards at the Visit London Awards, including the ‘Kids Love London’ award. There’s so much to see here including the new £5.3m enclosure Gorilla Kingdom, the Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo, Butterfly Paradise, Meet the Monkeys and Clore Rainforest Lookout.

We’re lucky enough to live within an hour’s drive of London so I’m hopeful that H will grow up feeling part of this wonderful city. Kids really do love it.

About the author: Max Clarke is a first-time parent and part-time copywriter for a travel services company. She is looking forward to many happy travels with her partner and their little boy.