From museums and art galleries to famous landmarks and landscaped parks - London really does have so much to offer.
I grew up in a very small farming town in Zimbabwe, my early childhood of building forts and dens in the bush, camping outdoors and weekend safaris with my parents couldn’t be more different from the life my own children have now.
But we live in one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the world and I see no reason why my kids can’t have the same sense of fun and adventure when they look back on their own childhoods, as I do on mine.
In pursuit of these adventures I have been asking friends, family and pretty much every parent I meet what exciting and quirky things they do with their children in London. And I have been utterly inspired by the awesome ideas people have come up with. I had no idea that you could canoe on the canals through the Olympic Park, or that there was a centre solely dedicated to celebrating children’s stories in Stratford, or that you can liven up your walk around London with spy missions and treasure trails.
I have an ever growing list of fun and awesome things to do and see in this wonderful city and so I thought I would share some of it with you.
Visit Hampton Court Palace
Yes Buckingham Palace is pretty impressive and watching the changing of the guards around the corner at the Horse Guards Parade is an exciting thing to do, but Hampton Court Palace on the outskirts of London is top of my list for places to get your royal fix. The home of Henry VIII is a brilliant day out with your children. Not only is there the historical palace to explore but in spring the gorgeous 60-acre gardens are a-bloom with daffodils, tulips and cherry blossom (see photos above). There is the thrill of getting lost in the (very child-friendly) maze and the fantastic magic garden playground is an excellent place for kids to run off some of their energy. Oh and if you visit between the 6th and 22nd of April, you can join in their Lindt golden bunny easter egg hunt.
Richmond Park, a walk along the Thames and a visit to Petersham Nurseries
It’s no secret that Richmond Park is one of my favourite places in London. I absolutely adore the fields and woods leading to Pen Ponds (especially around sunset) where you can often see deer grazing or having a cooling wade in the water when the sun is out. And if you visit in spring and summer you absolutely must go into the Isabella Plantation. The 40-acre woodland garden (planted in the 1830s) feels like something out of a fairytale with it’s streams and ponds, edged with evergreen azaleas which are in their peak in April and May. It’s the perfect place for a picnic and your children will have great fun exploring all the secret pathways.
If you fancy a good walk, you can head to the Thames from the Richmond Gate entrance to the park and enjoy a pint with a view at one of the many pubs that line the waterway. Or take a gentle stroll to the gorgeously quaint Petersham Nurseries where you can enjoy tea or a lovely lunch.
The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Story Centre in Stratford
I spent my university days in east London and feel a twinge of nostalgia every time I visit the Olympic Park. I was working as a journalist in 2012 and have vivid memories of attending events at the park, I was completely swept up in the excitement and wonder of the games (along with the rest of the nation). It’s a lot quieter now, but the is still a lovely atmosphere around and it is an absolutely brilliant place to visit with children. There are playgrounds and walking trails and guided tours. Or if you fancy seeing it all from a different angle you can hire canoes from Moo Canoes and have a leisurely paddle through the park and the surrounding canals that wend their way through East London.
If you managed to make it through the massive Westfield Shopping mall in one piece you can make your way to the absolutely brilliant Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford for children aged up to 11. With author talks, book signings as well as fantastic interactive exhibitions and creative spaces to play both indoors and outdoors. The perfect place to expand little imaginations and foster a life-long love of reading.
Lets face it, there is such a wealth of museums in London, it would take years to properly appreciate them all. While the Natural History Museum and Science Museum are firm favourites, they can often be extremely busy and crowded as they are usually the first places people think to visit when they arrive in London.
If you venture to Bethnal Green the Museum of Childhood has a brilliant exhibition on fictional pirates and their influence on popular culture, with a large scale pirate ship to explore. If you want to visit, you’ll have to be quick because the exhibition ends on the 22nd April.
Speaking of immersive experiences, the Ragged School Museum has a victorian classroom where you can participate in a historical lesson. And no visit to the Postal Museum should go without a ride on the Mail Rail. This Easter they are also doing a special screening of Wallace and Gromit in the Mail Rail depot as well as Shaun the Sheep model making and other activities.
I have it on good authority that the National Army Museum has the best soft play and children’s area (and is often fairly quiet during the week) while the British Museum does excellent activity backpacks for children of all ages.
Walking trails, spy missions and treasure hunts
There is so much to see in London, but simply walking around and taking in the sights is not something my children find thrilling. Which is why Mark Rowland’s History of London walks for children aged 9 to 13 is such a brilliant experience. Aimed at bringing historical events such as The Great Plague, The Great Fire of London, Victorian London and The Blitz to life, it’s great for people of all ages.
Or if you prefer to take things at your own pace, the brilliant London Treasure Trails website has a number of trails and spy missions which you can download and discover at your leisure. My favourite has to be the North Greenwich trail, not only is this one of my favourite parts of London because there is so much to do there (visit the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum and the Greenwich Observatory) the trail itself includes the Emirates cable car which is such a fun way to see some of the sights of London.
These are just a few highlights from a long list of activities that we have explored. But I always LOVE hearing about new and exciting things to do. So if you have any suggestions, please pop them in the comments section below. And keep an eye on my blog, I’m definitely going to be doing more exploring with my little adventurers over the Easter holidays.