My London: the family travellers

As told to Ianthe Butt

Photography by Diana Ellis-Hill

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From Harrods’ rainbow-coloured sweet counter to the toy wonderland of Hamleys, food and family experts Michaela and Emi Chiappa share their best places to visit in London with the kids in tow.

1. The Natural History Museum

People say kids don’t appreciate architecture but it’s not true. Our kids are always in awe of big buildings and this one is stunning. Inside, there’s so much to fuel kids’ imaginations, from the exciting dinosaur exhibits to the butterfly house. They can play with microscopes and get hands-on with lots of tactile activities. Plus it’s brilliantly geared up for pushchairs with oodles of space, and best of all, it’s free.

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2. Princi

The Natural History Museum’s grassy grounds are a great picnic spot. Stop in Soho first and pick up some provisions from Princi, an Italian deli that serves Parma ham and melted cheese focaccia sandwiches, pizzas and other nibbles. Kids will enjoy having a selection of tasty things to choose from and it’s much cheaper than going to a restaurant.

  • The grand main entrance of the Natural History Museum © Hemis/Alamy.

    Monkey business

    Look out for the carved monkeys that adorn three of the arches of the Central Hall. There are 78 in total, and were a part of Alfred Waterhouse’s original designs for the museum in 1865.

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3. Trafalgar Square

Looking up at Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square makes you feel like you’re in the heart of London. It’s got a real sense of place and a great history. Perch at the edge of one of the giant fountains or simply marvel at the giant bronze lions (which our kids think are super cool).

4. Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

It’s quite a spectacle seeing the guards with their big bearskin hats and red uniforms go through this ritual of changing over their palace protection duties, with live music being played as they march around. It’s a good time to tell stories about kings and queens, which kids are bound to enjoy. Plus it’s free and not far from Hyde Park if it gets too busy. Check online before you go for dates and times.

  • Kids will be in toy heaven at Hamleys.

    Toy story

    Did you know that Hamleys is the oldest toy shop in the world? It was originally opened by Cornishman William Hamley in 1760 as Noah’s Ark in Holborn, but was later renamed in honour of its founder.

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  • Covent Garden’s street performers will keep the little ones entertained © Cathy Topping/Alamy.

    Did you know… ?

    Covent Garden gets its name from the French word couvent – which means a religious building such as a nunnery or monastery. By the 13th century, most of the area belonged to Westminster Abbey, which included a walled vegetable garden tended to by the monks.

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  • The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace © ZRyzner/Getty Images.

    Top tip…

    The ceremony usual beings at 11:00 sharp, so be sure to arrive no later than 10:30 to get a good spot to watch the proceedings. Be sure to check the online calendar for confirmed dates before visiting.

    London with kids

5. Hyde Park

London is a wonderful place to enjoy the great outdoors and Hyde Park has it all. It’s a huge, green outdoor playground for kids to scamper around and completely let loose rather than being cooped up indoors. Seek out the Diana Memorial, which is a pretty place to sit and cool off your toes.

6. Hamleys

Planes hanging from the ceiling, trains and teddies in every colour, flying objects and bubbles whizzing through the air – you just can’t take everything in at Hamleys toy shop. There are entertainers demonstrating how all the toys work and kids will love it – they just might be so excited they can’t sleep for a week afterwards.

  • Emi and Michaela love The Lion King musical © Disney.

    Did you know… ?

    The Lion King has played in 13 countries around the world. The show first debuted at London’s Lyceum Theatre in 1999 and is still running today.

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7. The V&A Museum of Childhood

A great museum for rainy days, our kids spent ages staring at the miniature dolls’ houses at this little place in Bethnal Green. It’s small, so you won’t spend hours here, but there are interactive displays and they often have fun rhyme and story sessions too. The area itself is quite up-and-coming, so there are lots of independent boutiques nearby, as well as a park just opposite.

8. See a West End Show

As teenagers, the highlight of our year was an annual trip to London, which our great-aunt treated us to. We’d always go shopping and then see a musical. The one to take the family to is The Lion King – the music and animal costumes are spectacular. Try and get a ticket to see some theatre even if it’s last minute. There’s never really a bad seat, even if you’re right up in ‘the gods’ at the back.

Visiting the Harrods’ sweet counter feels like a Willy Wonka wonderland, with pillars of rainbow-coloured jellybeans and candy canes strung up high

9. Harrods

Visiting the Harrods’ sweet counter when we were younger felt like a Willy Wonka wonderland, with pillars of rainbow-coloured jellybeans and candy canes strung up high. While we’re not ones to encourage kids to eat sweets (they don’t need any encouragement), a visit there is a must. Our great-aunt used to buy us ten candy canes each; we’d spend hours agonising over which ones to choose and make them last a whole year.

10. Covent Garden

From magicians and living statues – which look like they’re floating in the air – to comedians and twirling dancers, there are always street artists performing in Covent Garden. Kids will be entertained for hours, and you might even be able to sneak a cheeky glass of wine at one of the many nearby bars.

The Chiappas are Welsh-Italian cookbook authors and presenters who specialise in food for the family. Follow them @thechiappas

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