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, the interactive fun at the Science Museum, to the depths of the Sea Life Aquarium, discover the capital’s must-see sights with the kids in tow.

1. Ready, steady, royal

A stunning property for adults, and a royal playground for kids: Kensington Palace Gardens are a haven of family activity. Head there on the last Sunday of the month, where activity packs filled with exciting tasks are handed out to kids looking to create their own royal adventure.

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.

2. 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.

If your kids aren’t content with just visiting ZSL London Zoo, book them up for the ‘Keeper for a Day’ experience where they can work with Galapagos tortoises, meerkats and giraffes

4. Political masterminds

If your family is fired up by recent politics, a tour of the Houses of 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.

4. 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.

5. Bethnal Green for a sneak peek

Head out east to the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green for a sneak peek into the way kids used to play before iPads and Xboxes. There’s even a sandpit beach for watching Punch and Judy.

  • Kids can play zookeepers for the day at ZSL London Zoo, working with meerkats and a whole host of other animals © Erin Smallwood/Getty Images.

    Bear necessities

    Winnie-the-Pooh was inspired by a female black bear called Winnie that lived at ZSL London Zoo from 1914 to 1934. Author A. A. Milne chose the name after visiting the zoo with his son, Christopher Robin.

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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 V&A Museum of Childhood.

    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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6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Go wild

If your kids aren’t content with just visiting ZSL London Zoo book them up for the ‘Keeper for a Day’ experience where they work with Galapagos tortoises, meerkats and giraffes. And yes, that does include mucking out.

10. Take the plunge

Explore the deep at the Sea Life London Aquarium, where VIP experiences include feeding the sharks and climbing into the tanks to snorkel with them.

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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 Coca-Cola 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 Chin Chin Labs in Camden Market. The fab flavours include griddled peach, watermelon and dill, and beetroot choc chip.

21. 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

Dolphin House Serviced Apartments

Savour a home away from home, with a stay at a luxurious apartment in central London. Perfect for families, there is a kitchen for all your cooking needs, as well as a lounge for movie nights in. There’s also an indoor pool, squash courts and riverside tennis courts to keep everyone active.

Book a stay at the Dolphin House Serviced Apartments

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