Kids love to keep busy, and on the South Bank, there are always things to amuse them, even if you’re just walking from one attraction to another. County Hall bustles with fun, even away from the London Eye, its main attraction. There’s the brand new London Dungeon, plus the SEA LIFE London Aquarium and plenty of wacky buskers to give little ones the giggles. There are also plenty of food stalls and family-friendly cafés for when you need to refuel.
Hot chocolate at Caffe Vergnano 1882
Give the children a chance to sample a little grown-up café culture with a delicious hot chocolate at Caffe Vergnano, tucked under Hungerford Bridge, facing the Royal Festival Hall. For the grown-ups, this excellent coffee house prides itself on its Italian drinks, and if you’re hungry as well, there are some tempting sweet treats too.
Children love getting close to nature and here they can see some of the world’s most incredible creatures simply by taking a stroll through Shark Walk and exploring the Shark Reef Encounter. There are diving displays, touch pools and a chance to help feed the fish, as well as a route through an icy landscape to see the Gentoo penguins.
For a fun and free diversion, swing by the Mediatheque at the BFI. Here you can pick lots of different films, from short stories and documentaries to whole movies, out of a vast library of things to watch – even kids’ TV shows. In school holidays, it’s worth booking ahead, but it’s still a treat that costs nothing to enjoy.
In front of the Royal Festival Hall, there’s a row of great restaurants overlooking the Thames. Giraffe has opened its biggest restaurant along here and it always bustles because its wide-ranging menu and friendly welcome makes it an award-winning favourite for family dining. Whether little ones go for pastas and burgers or salmon fillets, it’s all well-prepared so you know they’re eating well.
For kids aged 10-plus and adults who love a gory story and a fright, The London Dungeon is a twisted treat. Having just moved to a huge new location at County Hall, minutes from the London Eye, this museum is devoted to the nastiest bits of London’s history. It’s a lively place to visit, with interactive exhibits, costumed actors and performances – all bringing the bad and the ugly to life.
Get a different point of view on the capital’s great landmarks as you move past them in a most unusual tour bus – a customised amphibious vehicle that actually saw World War II action during the D-Day landings. The tour starts from the London Eye and takes in the Houses of Parliament, The Ritz and Buckingham Palace, before splashing into the Thames for a short cruise to see the sights from the water.
A short stroll east from the South Bank brings you to Bankside – in Shakespeare’s time the equivalent of today’s West End. Around here you can see the Globe theatre and Tate Modern, but also this full-size recreation of the ship that made Sir Francis Drake an Elizabethan hero. It’s an inspiring visit, especially on days when there are costumed events. They even do overnight family sleepovers.