London for families

By Jane Anderson

Title photography by Andrew Lee / Horniman Museum.

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Whether you’re taking the family on a quick city break or a longer trip, London is an exhilarating destination to explore with your little ones. From the soaring heights of the London Eye to the depths to venturing into space at the Science Museum, discover the capital’s must-see sights with the kids in tow.

1. Ready, steady, royal

Head to the Diana Playground, with its huge wooden pirate ship made for climbing. There’s a sensory trail, giant musical instruments, wind chimes, sand pits and lots of play structures too. While you’re at the Gardens, why not stop off at the allotment and visit the resident chickens.

Diana Memorial Playground | The Royal Parks

2. Get into the groove

If you’re a post-rave generation parent, you’ll relate to Big Fish Little Fish family dance parties. Kids aged up to eight adore the multi-sensory dance floors, featuring glitter cannons and giant balloons, with chill-out craft tables and cake stall on the side.

3. Cruise control

Offering a twist on traditional river cruises, Thames Rockets’ 12-seater speedboats have hand-picked actors and stand-up comics as guides, and once you’re past Tower Bridge it’s time to hold on tight as families are zipped through the Docklands.

4. Political masterminds

If your family is fired up by recent politics, a tour of the Family visits with children - UK Parliament is a must – the audio tour gets you up close to the despatch box and the inner workings of British politics. A new kid’s afternoon tea is also available, served with river views.

5. Weird science

Bringing maths, space travel and innovation to life, the Science Museum is one of London’s coolest places for kids to explore. They can even experience what it’s like to fly the RAF’s newest frontline Typhoon jet.

6. Bethnal Green for a sneak peek

Head out east to the Young V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green for a sneak peek Head out east to the play before iPads and Xboxes.

Here you’ll find three big galleries called Imagine, Play and Design to spark young imaginations including space, design and play. There are sometimes exhibitions from Manga to Hello Kitty which may carry an entrance charge, but there's always something to do.

  • Kids will love the magic of the Diana Memorial Playground © The Royal Parks.

    Playground paradise

    Located next to her Kensington Palace home, this wonderful playground is a free for kids to explore, play and dash about.

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  • Take to the sky for a bird’s-eye view of the city from the London Eye © Alamy.

    Did you know…?

    The London Eye’s 32 capsules represent the capital’s 32 boroughs. But despite this, they are numbered one to 33 for superstitious reasons – for good luck, there is no capsule 13.

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  • Discover what playtime was like before technology at Bethnal Green’s Young V&A.

    See it for yourself

    Admission to the museum is free. Open daily from 10:00 to 17:45 (last entry at 17:30). Nearest tube: Bethnal Green.

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7. Anthropological adventures

The Horniman Museum and Gardens is a south London gem that gets to the nitty gritty of life on earth, from comparing bird skulls to ancient musical instruments from every corner of the globe.

8. Battleship

Discovering how you look after a war ship is just one of the highlights of visiting HMS Belfast on the River Thames, one of only three surviving bombardment vessels from D-Day.

9. Monkey business

Go Ape Battersea is a treetop climbing adventure in the heart of London’s Battersea Park, with challenges for all of your very own little monkeys. With extra high trees, this is one of the most challenging courses in the country.

10. Take the plunge

Take on one tall, twisty sculpture come slide, the ArcelorMittal Orbit.

Head to one of the UK’s tallest sculptures to see London from new heights. Explore the base of Anish Kapoor’s red lattice tower before taking the lifts 80m up to the viewing platform before taking one of the world’s tallest and longest slide – not one for the faint hearted. On the way down, there’s an array of concave mirrors and a soundscape if you choose the stairs. Book in advance to avoid queues.

ArcelorMittal Orbit | Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London

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11. Magic tricks

Discovering Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station never fails to thrill Harry Potter fans. Have your picture taken with the boy wizard’s dimension-busting trolley, before heading to the Harry Potter shop.

12. The high life

At 135m high, the London Eye is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. Families can see up to 40km in all directions – that’s as far as Windsor Castle on a clear day.

13. Curtain call

The Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge is the go-to venue for innovative children’s theatre. From humble beginnings as a touring company in 1947, its patrons today include actor Jude Law.

14. Right on time

Take your kids to the Peter Harrison Planetarium at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich and they can stand astride two hemispheres on the Prime Meridian Line at Royal Observatory Greenwich.

15. Due south

The Southbank Centre is a cornucopia of family fun, from predicting the next move of Jeppe Hein’s interactive fountains to concerts at the Royal Festival Hall.

  • Hampton Court Palace’s legendary maze © Peter Fields/Alamy.

    Fit for a king

    The palace’s other highlights in include the astronomical clock (designed in 1540), which shows the hours, days of the week, high tides, moon phases and signs of the Zodiac; and The Great Hall, where plays of William Shakespeare were performed in the early 17 century.

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16. Maze runner

Get lost in Hampton Court Palace’s legendary maze, commissioned by King William III in the 1700s. Covering a third of an acre, it’s the UK’s oldest hedge maze.

17. Laugh out loud

Families can’t fail to be wowed by Matilda the Musical. The pure comedy genius of Tim Minchin compliments Roald Dahl’s classic tale on stage at the Cambridge Theatre.

18. Medicine man

Beneath a giant filigree skull, the steps up to the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret in London Bridge will transport you back to early 19th century London for a sometimes gruesome look at early medicine and surgery (reopens in July 2017).

19. Ice ice baby

Gorge on delicious ice cream frozen with liquid nitrogen at Camden - Chin Chin Labs in Camden Market. The fab flavours include griddled peach, watermelon and dill, and beetroot choc chip.

20. Gold standard

Kids can hold a genuine gold bar at the Bank of England Museum and discover the lengths the bank goes to when it comes to security features on banknotes. Ironically, this is all free of charge.

Where to stay

Park Plaza Westminster Bridge

Take a break in the heart of the action – with Big Ben, the London Eye and London Dungeons on your doorstep, there is plenty to keep the whole family on the go. This contemporary four star hotel offers a selection of studio rooms ideal for family holidays.

Book a stay at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge

Resident Kensington

Situated in a privileged part of London’s Kensington and Chelsea, The Resident Kensington is an affordable luxury that includes stylish contemporary rooms, a personalised service and is close to many of London’s key museums and can fit in two roll out beds in its deluxe rooms.

Rosewood London

Make your family trip an opulent retreat at this five star hotel. Situated perfectly for short walks to London’s top landmarks, days out with the whole clan are made easy. Your little ones will love their personalised amenities, selection of games and activities.

Book a stay at the Rosewood London