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Walthamstow fountain
Photo by Jenna Selby

15 new things to do with the kids in London over the summer holidays

These fun London attractions and activities are perfect for entertaining little ’uns

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Written by
Andrzej Lukowski
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Meet 50 lifesized dinosaurs

Summer in London isn’t summer in London without some sort of massive dinosaur-based experience to satisfy your little ones’ alarmingly intense prehistoric-lizard needs. Jurassic Encounter is this year’s offering, and will bring a veritable mesozoic menagerie to north London, with 50 lifesized animatronic dinos on display, ranging from the obvious – T.rex, duh – to the downright obscure: lufengosaurus, anybody? We’re also promised VR, ride-on dinosaurs and that classic playground staple, the fossil sandpit. But really this is about giving your sprogs IRL dinosaur content for an hour or two, for which they’ll probably be modestly grateful.

Grovelands Park. Southgate tube. Jul 24-Aug 10. £13.50, £11.50 child, £12.50 concs.

Enjoy a hysterically OTT new go-kart experience

Let’s face it, there haven’t been many new London attractions to get excited about over the last year, so brace yourselves for this: a go-kart track with augmented reality is opening in London and, quite frankly, it sounds wild. It’s called Chaos Karts and comes from the brains behind the hugely popular ‘Crystal Maze’. But what exactly is an augmented reality go-kart track? Well, you sit in a real kart and drive around a track that’s projected on to the ground. Like in a video game. Your real kart will interact with the virtual track and you can use ‘power-ups’ and ‘weapons’ to battle with your fellow racers. They can send ‘challenges’ your way, too. Does this make for better go-karting? Over-13s can find out for when the track opens next month.

Fleet St Hill. Bethnal Green tube. From Aug 14. £33-£55.

Play a ridiculously big game of Monopoly

Yes, really: it’s a gigantic Monopoly board, allowing you and a group of fellow players to live out your dreams of rampant landlordism in the flesh. In Monopoly Lifesized – which is taking up residence in the old Paperchase building on Tottenham Court Road – you take on the roles of the pieces travelling across one of four different giant Monopoly boards: Classic, City (which offers a more up-to-date version of London), Junior and Vault (which is ‘set behind the scenes of Mr Monopoly’s bank’). There are also sub-games triggered by landing on the different squares. It’s pricy, but then we are talking about a game celebrating the power of unchecked capitalism. If you’re happy to pony up, it should be a proper laugh.

213-215 Tottenham Court Rd. Goodge St tube. From Aug 14. £25-£73.

Track down some giant Lego wetland beasts

If you’re umming and ahhing over whether a trip to the London Wetland Centre is a fun day out for little ones or just an afternoon splashing about in a bog, then um and ah no more. The LWC’s spectacular Lego animal sculptures are back for the summer, pepping up nature’s soggy bounty with 14 enormous brick versions of the actual flora of UK’s wetlands. Gaze in awe at a huge Lego otter, spoonbill, frog and more – and for long-term fans, a mystery new animal has been added for 2021.

London Wetland Centre. Barnes rail. Until Sep 5. £13.40, £8.95 child, £12.50 concs.

London, wetland centre,  lego
London Wetland Centre

Travel around the world without leaving London Zoo

You may not be able to visit many foreign counties at the moment, but London Zoo will be doing its darndest to make up for that with its new summer hols theme Travel the World. Kids will get special passports that they can get stamped around the zoo as they meet animals from different parts of the planet. And ZSL will be seriously upping its food game with stalls selling South American barbecue, East Asian ‘catsu’ curry and Indian tapas. Plus, there are some new exhibits: check out the giant tortoise house and the coral reef tank.

London Zoo. Camden Town tube. Jul 24-Aug 31. £26-£35, £16.90-£22.75 child.

Deface the Tate

If you’re the kind of parent who avoids museums and galleries in case your semi-feral offspring destroy everything, then boy does Tate Modern have the project for you. This summer, everyone is invited to turn the floor of the massive Turbine Hall into a giant work of art. Mega Please Draw Freely will see visitors scribble, doodle and generally deface the vast surface using art materials provided by the gallery. The project is the brainchild of artist Ei Arakawa, inspired by the radical postwar Japanese artistic group Gutai, who wanted to effect social change through painting, performance and children’s games.

Tate Modern. Blackfriars tube. Jul 24-Aug 29. Free.

Go down the rabbit hole at KidZania

KidZania – the miniature city where children are in charge – is a pretty solid school hols bet as it stands. But it’s been given some extra oomph this summer with Wonderland, a new immersive experience based on Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Children are invited to piece together the clues to the location of the rabbit hole, which they can then step down into and take on a series of Wonderland-based jobs, like designing iced biscuits for the Queen or performing silver service at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Afterwards, families can sit down together to watch an exclusive recorded performance of Carroll’s story, created by West End professionals.

Westfield London. Shepherd’s Bush tube. Selected dates until Aug 31. £31. £45 child.

Finally catch up with those ‘Fantastic Beasts’

The Natural History Museum’s JK Rowling tie-in exhibition ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ had ‘hit’ written all over it – the only problem is that it was forced to close the week after it opened (when London went into Tier 4 – remember that?). It reopened in the spring, but visitor numbers have been kept low due to social distancing. With restrictions now lifted, there are loads more tickets available so you can finally catch up with the nifty interactive exhibits for the Niffler and his imaginary chums – plus the equally fascinating real-life strange creatures that are thrown into the mix.

Natural History Museum. South Kensington tube. Until Jan 3. £22, £13.25 child, £17.50 concs.

From Weds 9th of December
Photograph: Trustees of the Natural History museumFantastic Beasts, The Natural History Museum

Roar back into the West End

Family-friendly theatre has been one of the last things to come back since the pandemic shut things down: kids and the sort of strict social-distancing that theatre productions were following last year don’t really mix. But, at last, this summer is really, really busy: there are all sorts of kids’ shows, from ‘Horrible Histories’ on a boat to old West End mainstays like ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’. The Kids Week scheme is back, allowing a child to go free with a full-playing adult to more than 30 shows during August. And the big returnee is Disney’s ‘The Lion King’. The spectacular puppet-driven production of the 1994 cartoon film classic will be roaring back from the end of this month.

‘The Lion King’. Lyceum Theatre. Covent Garden tube. From Jul 29. £20-£95.

Gawp as the Northern Lights glow over Greenwich

Older kids – and pretty much all adults – will thrill to ‘Borealis’, the stunning free centrepiece of this year’s Greenwich + Docklands International Festival. It will see a recreation of the Northern Lights projected on to the sky above Greenwich (and then Woolwich) for two-and-a-half hours every night. There’s other cool stuff for families in the GDIF programme, too, notably the much-loved Greenwich Fair, which fills the streets of SE10 with all sorts of family-friendly mischief and mayhem.

‘Borealis’ runs Aug 27-Sep 5 (Greenwich) and Sep 9-11 (Woolwich). Free.

Borealis, GDIF 2021
Photo by David Solm‘Borealis’

Go Wonderground to find the Gruffalo

Remember the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre? Possibly not. It got bulldozed seven years ago, but this summer it’s being transformed into the London Wonderground, the pop-up comedy, cabaret and kids festival that’s more commonly been found on the South Bank in recent years, but looks right at home here. There’s a frankly dazzling array of stuff happening there, though the jewel in the kids’ crown is surely Julia Donaldson – that’s the Julia Donaldson – with a revue-style show bringing to life such beloved creations at the Gruffalo.

Empress Place. West Brompton tube. Until Sep 26. Free entry, show prices vary.

Meet a dragon at the theatre

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has boasted quite a few dinosaur-based kids’ shows over the years – including ‘Dinosaur World Live’, which you can catch at the London Wonderground this summer. But this year at the OAT, the team behind that show go one better with ‘Dragons and Mythical Beasts’, a compendium of fantastical animals from mythology, brought to live as dazzling giant puppets. Expect audience interaction and a general tone of pleasant silliness alongside the raw spectacle.

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Baker St tube. Aug 13-Sep 5. £17-£21.

Dance through Waltham Forest’s hyper tricked-out new fountain

Denizens of Waltham Forest will be aware that there’s been a lot of work going on in the centre of the borough. Now, hot on the heels of the reopening of the Town Hall, comes the unveiling of Fellowship Square just outside: a public space that will play host to a lively year-round programme of arts and culture. From a family perspective, the very cool thing is that it has a ridiculously state-of-the-art fountain, lit up in a spectrum of colours, with 144 individual jets that can be programmed to respond to music. Great for little ’uns to tear around in on a hot day. For parents and bigger kids, there’ll be vibrant displays there every night this summer.

Waltham Forest Town Hall. Walthamstow Central tube. Free.

Make a horrifying visit to a Victorian dentist

Brave children aged over 12 – and let’s face it, brave adults too – can take on the London Dungeon’s horrifying-sounding summer show, ‘The Dentist’. If you’re one of those people nervous about getting their teeth seen to in 2021, then just imagine how it was 150 years ago. ‘The Dentist’ recreates the days when rotten-toothed Londoners had their blackened pegs wrenched out by backstreet dentists with no anaesthetic. Gut-wrenching sound design, special effects and actors join forces for a show that’ll persuade even the biggest sugar-fiend to brush twice a day, for ever.

London Dungeon. London Bridge tube. Jul 24-Aug 31. Entry included with standard ticket, from £27.

Dare to challenge the Hercules

Are ‘assault course’ and ‘for the whole family’ mutually exclusive concepts? You can find out for yourself this summer at the Royal Air Force Museum, which is about to open a new 1km, 18-obstacle assault course called the Hercules, which boasts such joys as rope swings, ninja walls, monkey bars and cargo nets. It’s the temporary centrepiece of the museum’s summer-long ActiveFest, which offers a raft of activities – some of them blessedly gentler than the Hercules – designed to keep the entire family fit.

RAF Museum. Colindale tube. Jul 24-Aug 15. Hercules entry £7, £5 child.

Need more ideas? Here are 101 things to do in London with kids.

And if you’re feeling peckish, take the kids out for a Little Wizard’s Afternoon Tea.

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