Kids have got it pretty sweet in London. Not only do the recurring gripes of sweaty commutes and extortionate rent not apply, there's also the fact that some of the city's best activities are designed specifically with children in mind. Here's our guide to the ten essential things no family trip to London would be complete without.
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Like kids, some animals get a bad rep – and pigs suffer more than most. Dirty and smelly they are not – they’re among the cleanest, most intelligent species on the planet. Hang out with them at Hackney City Farm, home to Britain’s only red breed of pig – if you’re nice they might even help with your homework.
Ideal age 2 and up.
Fly a kite
Okay, so it doesn’t involve a touch screen, but flying a kite in a blustery London park is one of the city’s simplest and most fun all-ages activities. The Kite Society has lots of useful tips. The windiest spots to head for include Blackheath, Greenwich Park, Primrose Hill, Clapham Common, Battersea Park and Hampstead Heath – just make sure you don’t get blown off the top of Parliament Hill.
Ideal age 3 and up.
If fairytales have taught us anything, it’s that most magical kingdoms are far, far away. But this multi-sensory playing experience, which offers everything from Caramel artisan Papa Bubble making sweets to live dance routines from ‘Fame’ types, is slap bang in the heart of London. Harrods’ Toy Kingdom, complete with a big top, candy store, enchanted forest and alien space pods, is full to the brim with toys that you can play with, from fairies to helicopters and a massive soft-toy department to throw yourself into. You don’t have to pay to play – and only the severest parent would come away empty-handed.
Ideal age 6 and up.
The ‘novelty’ of riding on the tube wears off quickly when you’ve grown up in London. But what if you could drive the train yourself? No, TfL aren’t so short-staffed they’ve resorted to hiring kids – but the London Transport Museum has an awesome simulator that lets you take the controls of a virtual tube train. Or ride in the front of the rollercoaster-like DLR and pretend you’re driving it. Everyone else does.
Ideal age 7 and up.
Providing a cornucopia of facilities to delight its young patrons, the Bloomsbury-located Coram’s Fields is one of the most child-friendly open spaces in central London. The children's park on this beautiful walled garden site is simply the best for miles around. There's an enormous sandpit and all sorts of toddler climbing frames, see saws and swings on the east side. There’s also an city farm and an adventure playground for the older kids with a zip wire, tunnel slide and lots of climbing equipment made out of natural materials.
Ideal age 1 and up.
Some years ago a group of Japanese tourists enjoyed a night under the big top of Billy Smart’s Circus, having mistaken it for the Millennium Dome. It would be hard to make such a mistake these days as the dome, now known as The O2, is one of London’s most popular venues. With the added attraction that you can now strap yourself into a harness and climb over its vast 53 metre-high roof like Spider-Man.
Ideal age 10 and up.
Splashing about in the Serpentine is one for the brave (or wetsuited). One of London's prettiest expanses of water, the lake has a dedicated swimming section from May to September – although the water is not heated. The gated family area with a (chlorinated) paddling pool, sandpit and swings means parents can relax while their children play. There's a private sunbathing area and sun loungers for hire and a kiosk within the lido grounds makes it possible to order from the popular Lido Café next door.
Ideal age 7 and up.
We can all be monsters sometimes. So where do London’s coolest monsters indulge their dark side? At Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, where you can stock up on vile treats like impacted earwax fudge, zombie mints and salt made from tears shed while chopping onions. As an added bonus, these are the kind of sweets you probably won’t catch your mum nicking at midnight.
Ideal age 7 and up.
Visiting a museum by day is great. But imagine bedding down – and waking up! – next to T-Rex’s ginormous skeleton. The Natural History Museum’s Dino Snores events allow kids to do just this. (And the British Museum, Science Museum and the Golden Hinde all do fantastic sleepovers too.) If you’re off to Dino Snores, watch ‘Jurassic Park’, coming out in 3D in summer 2013, the night before.
Ideal age 7-11.
Whether you’re a budding David Attenborough or you just really, really like elephants, ZSL London Zoo offers you an opportunity that doesn’t come along every day. Get togged up in the right gear (you get to take it home with you) and follow in the footsteps of a real-life zookeeper, trying your hand at anything from feeding the giraffe to cleaning up llama poo. It’s not cheap, but it makes for a fantastic day out – just don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards.
Ideal age 11-15.