By Anton Constantinou
London is the place to be as a parent. A cosmopolitan playground overrun with great attractions, top schools, beautiful open spaces and incredible shops.
From London Zoo to Madame Tussauds, the possibilities for enjoying it with children are endless. Not a week goes by without some new tot-friendly activity popping up, be it a theatre show or an exhibition.
However, when all is said and done, getting about in London can be difficult. Prams and busy streets don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, and the tube isn’t always the most welcoming place.
Our parents’ guide to London tells you everything you need to know about the city, including where to go, what to do, and tips on how to defuse those tantrums.
1. Be Creative
If your kids are young, don’t try to fit in too much, or plan things involving excessive walking or public transport. If you’re covering a wide area, try and incorporate the transport into the fun. A good game to play with children on the tube is spot the mouse, or spot the landmark if you’re travelling on a double decker bus. Watch as your children pick out red telephone boxes, black cabs and street performers.
2. To Buggy or Not Buggy
Think twice before taking a pram. Not all tube stations have elevators, and it can be a pain getting on a packed bus with a buggy. However, if your children are very young, then the benefits of taking one may outweigh the hassle. Then again, you can always just carry your little one in a baby sling (assuming they’re a baby, that is).
3. Play Teacher
Integrating what you’re doing with their school topics is a good way to cover off half-term homework tasks, giving you some much needed R&R in the evenings. For example, if they’re studying Ancient Egypt, take them to the British Museum. There you’ll find the largest treasure trove of Egyptian artefacts outside Egypt. Likewise, if dinosaurs are on the agenda, you can show them some amazing prehistoric fossils at the Natural History Museum. For a full list of children-friendly museums in London, click here.
4. Pack Nibbles
Wherever you go, be sure to take snacks and drinks. The last thing you want is to be held up by unplanned stops at random cafes because the kids are getting “hangry”. If you decide to eat out, we’ve a great article on where to go for everything from mini burgers to gluten-free goodies.
5. Visit a Farm
Forget urban fox sightings. Treat your little ones to a day with cows, pigs, and chickens on an urban farm. That’s right – even in a city like London there’s still room for the odd barn or two. Popular sites include Hackney City Farm – located between Columbia Road and Broadway Market – Deen City Farm and Mudchute Park and Farm. Many offer hands-on activities and workshops for children – just be sure to give them a bath after.
6. Let the Mimes Do the Talking
If there’s one place you need to go, it’s Covent Garden. London’s main theatre and entertainment area is a hotbed for street performers that children simply go mad for. We’re talking Spikey the Juggler, Beano the Clown and AJ James the Escapologist. Similar street performers can be found in Trafalgar Square or along the Southbank.
7. Be Prepared for Those Little Accidents
Depending on the age of your children, you may need to find a loo or baby changing room in a hurry. But, unless you’re close to a restaurant or shop, that may not be possible. Luckily, The City of London has this useful tool that maps out toilets in the capital.
8. Don’t Run for the Tube
Picture the scene: you’re rushing for your train, kids in hand, and the doors are about to close. You make it on but your children don’t – every parent’s worst nightmare, right? Do the sensible thing and wait patiently on the platform. Most Underground trains usually come along every couple of minutes, so you shouldn’t be hanging around too long.
9. Take Them to the Theatre
What better way to entertain your children than with a show at a top London venue. Theatre productions can be hugely inspiring on young minds, particularly if your little ones have aspirations for a future on the big stage. Whether it’s a play you’re after or a pantomime, London has you sorted. Click here for a list of the city’s top theatre shows for children.
10. Appease Those Teens
If, like many parents in London, you have teenagers, then it’s important that you get on a level with them. Fortunately, London is full of great activities for you to do together. If they’re into shopping, take them somewhere trendy like Camden Town or Carnaby Street. If art is their thing, pay a visit to a quirky gallery such as Graffik or House of Vans – situated underneath Waterloo station. Other stuff to do with teens include lunch at Sky Garden – a rooftop restaurant located in the Shard – or a West End musical.