London is huge. I mean, it’s galactically flipping enormous. You need to get your tiny mind around this as young as possible, to know that there is endless wonder in this city. The best way to do this is with Up at The O2, who’ll help you clamber over the mighty venue. It’s pretty steep for little legs, but no pain, no gain, kids. Oh, and you’re clipped on, so you won’t slide off into the river or anything. Once on top, gaze at the towers of the City, the Thames rolling towards its estuary, the hills rising to the north and south and London stretching westwards, for ever.
Ages 9-plus and a minimum of 1.2m tall. From £30.
Don’t believe the haters, science is awesome. Look at Dr Frankenstein, Bunsen Honeydew and that bloke in ‘Despicable Me’. The Science Museum’s Wonderlab is the perfect place to get hands-on and disrespectful with the forces of nature. Get involved with explosive demonstrations, test friction on their indoor slides and watch a lighting bolt strike from a giant Tesla coil. They’ll call you insane, but one day you’ll rule the world.
Ages six-plus. From £6.
Piracy – though illegal under international law – is a perennially popular career path for youngbloods. They also like tents. The Diana Memorial Playground offers both, with a giant wooden landlocked pirate ship and some tipis, and tons of other stuff to clamber around. More sophisticated kids could do a kind of historical mash-up involving the native peoples of North America and a lot of bloodthirsty cutthroats from Devon. Yar!
Ages 0-12. Free.
The London 2012 Olympics showcased our city to the world, and inspired a whole new generation of athletes. Young swimmers must try the pools in the breathtaking London Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park. It’s a cathedral to water sports, with 50-metre pools and amazing diving facilities. What you really want to check out, though, is Extreme Aqua Splash, a 40-metre assault course, where you get to clamber over stuff, leap about shrieking and all the other things they don’t let you do in normal swimming pools. #legacy.
Extreme Aqua Splash is recommended for kids over eight who are competent at swimming 100m. £4.95-£7.50.
Okay, your first gig will be Katy Perry in a big shed somewhere, accompanied by your dad looking bored. But your first proper gig should be at Rough Trade East. Shows have no age restrictions and some are at lunchtime, so be anti-cool and go in yer school uniform. Seeing four deafening spotty herberts flail around a shop is your passport to a hipster future, my child.
Various dates, times and prices, including free shows.
If you’re the kind of kid who frets at night that there’s a monster in the corner of the room, get over yourself at Dino Snores sleepovers at the Natural History Museum. They guarantee that there will be several monsters in the room, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of prehistory’s nastiest pieces of work. The chills continue with torchlight trails, and bedtime is a very civilised midnight. Not that you’ll be sleeping very much...
Ages seven-11. £120 (for one adult and one child).
The ancient Egyptians were a strange lot. They worshipped jackals, wrote in pictures and built enormous pyramids out in the desert, just because they could. Strangest of all, though, was the way they preserved dead people. The British Museum’s mummy collection is a creepy treat for kids: human bodies, thousands of years old, wrapped in bandages and put in boxes. If that doesn’t freak you out enough, they pulled out their internal organs with hooks and put them in little jars. Erk.
Let off steam at a family rave
You’re never too young to go raving: the lurid clothes, the daft dances, the repetitive beats – any toddler will feel right at home. Big Fish Little Fish are club events for the most junior of bass junkies, plus they have great facilities, play areas and craft sessions for when cargo-panted mums and dads get all tired and fractious.
Various venues and dates. See www.bigfishlittlefishevents.co.uk for details. Ages 0-8. Prices vary.
Catch the Hogwarts Express
If you’ve been bitten by the wizardy Potter bug, you absolutely can’t miss the famous Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross. A place of Instagram pilgrimage, it features a luggage trolley comically disappearing into a wall, and a gaggle of aspiring Hogwartians selfieing away. Tip: don’t actually try and run through the wall. You’ll end up in A&E, which is a place for Muggles, if ever there was one.
King’s Cross station, N1 9AL. Free.
Feed the monkeys, see how tall you are next to a giraffe and shovel up tons of shit! If you’re a kid who loves animals, you should definitely be pestering a parent to make you a Junior Keeper at London Zoo. It’s pretty ace, and like a proper job, except you only have to do it for a day. Instead of FOR EVER.
Ages 11-15. £170 per child.
There are a lot of weird things about ‘The Idol’. It’s a soft play space in Barking: so far, so normcore. But it’s also the brainchild of Turner Prize nominee and eccentric art lady Marvin Gaye Chetwynd: a monochrome installation of slides, bumpers and ladders that looks like something out of ‘The Addams Family’. Fave user comment from the Time Out site: ‘Psychologists should contact these people’. Sold!
Ages 0-12. £1.50-£5.80.
Staying up all night is great, and staying up all night in a cinema is super-great. The Prince Charles Cinema is famous for its brilliant programme, singalongs (‘Moana’, ‘Frozen’) and most of all for its all-nighters. There are fantastic ones for (older) kids, like all eight Harry Potter films, back-to-back. Take many snacks.
Various dates, times and prices.
Every kid wants to be a footballer. What they should want to be is a cricketer. Cricket is the best game in the world because: 1) It only happens if the weather’s nice. 2) There are tea breaks. 3) Most of both teams can sit/lie down for a lot of the match. 4) The clothes are cool. The best place on God’s earth to see cricket is Lord’s. And at the Nursery Ground they hold free children’s activities. Go on the last day of a Test match (often a school day, but hey: it’s what He would want).
Good old Carsten Höller. The German artist took one look at Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture-tower thingy and said what everyone else was just thinking: ‘That would be so much better if it had a massive slide right from the top.’ Then he went and did it. The world’s tallest and longest (178m) slide is a mind-bending experience and will probably be the best 40 seconds of your life until you hit 16 or so.
Ages eight-plus. From £10.50.
Forget swimming with dolphins and other placid sea creatures. Kids know that sharks are what you want, and at Sea Life London Aquarium, you can actually get in the water and snorkel with the razor-toothed brutes. Both sharks and kids are machines designed to eat unrelentingly and at all costs, so they have a natural affinity, and this is an amazing experience.
No min age: children must be at least 1.3m tall. £130.
There are loads of secret places in London left over from wars and things. You can’t get into most of them, but that’s not the case with Bunker 51, a nuclear shelter that’s been turned into a LaserTag and paintball arena, with a chilling military vibe. First good thing: kids as young as eight can go paintballing here. Second good thing: if a nuclear apocalypse happens during your day out, you’ll be safe as houses.
Ages six-plus for laser tag. Ages eight-plus for junior paintball. Ages 12-plus for regular paintball. £6.50-£75.
Billing itself ‘The biggest, fastest city zip wire in the world’, Zip World London is an exhilarating-slash-petrifying plummet from a 100-foot-high tower adjacent to Lambeth Palace. If you’re eight and over, you can hurtle earthwards while admiring some of London’s best-known landmarks and possibly soiling yourself. It’s only here till October, so get cracking.
Ages eight-plus. £16.50-£22.50.
More essential London fun for kids
This enormous indoor play centre is a cut above the competition, thanks to its towering wooden climbing frame, the Orb. Unusually, parents are allowed to explore alongside their children, zooming down the ‘black hole’ slide, getting lost in the labyrinth or dodging cannon fire in Thunderball City. Crazy golf, a climbing wall and cavern maze, mini go-karts and a multi-sensory play area for toddlers round off a very full family day out.
Venue says: “Don't miss our fantastic new Climbing Zone, featuring a beanstalk and medieval castle (included in your admission fee).”