Any child who loves to paint and draw – that’s just about all of them, isn’t it? – will love the activities on offer at the National Gallery inTrafalgar Square. Free Family Sundays operate throughout the year, with opportunities to try out all sorts of art and sculpture, Magic Carpet storytelling sessions and Family Walk and Talk tours around the Gallery. During the school holidays, a range of two hour workshops take place for 5-11-year olds, including explorations of art and sound in the Rhythms Abound session. If the kids get restless,Trafalgar Squareis right outside.
London Sea Life Aquarium
A fantastic day out for all ages, this Aquarium houses over 500 species of marine life, including 40 sharks. There are opportunities to watch feeding time and diving displays, plus lots of interactive features. The new Gentoo penguin display is sure to be a big hit as you journey through the icy landscape, experiencing the birds’ world close-up, including freezing touch pools and viewing the scenery through snow goggles. Save the best for last and take the Shark Walk, where four species of shark swim beneath your feet as you cross the suspended glass platform. If you book online in advance, a ticket for a family of four costs £54.
Probably best known to Londoners for its winter ice-rink, Somerset House also has a host of activities on offer, all of which are free! For example, every Saturday during the school holidays, families are invited to turn up between 11am and 4pm for enriching learning activities that promise to keep the kids entertained. Activities include learning the basics of simple animation, drawing a 3D map ofLondonand constructing a tropical paradise from waste materials. If you’re coming in the summer, be sure to pack a change of clothes, as the kids are bound to want to play in the courtyard fountains. The fountains shoot high into the air in an orchestrated sequence, with the added benefit of coloured lighting at night. They are switched on at different times each day, depending on what else is going on, so it’s best to check the website for details.
London Brass Rubbing Centre
A great place to spend a rainy day is the London Brass Rubbing Centre. It’s based in St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square, and incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff are on hand to provide help to the totally inexperienced and experts alike. It’s suitable for all ages, and the replica brasses include medieval knights in armour, St George and the dragon and William Shakespeare. All the specialist papers and metallic waxes are provided, and prices start from £4.50. The church also hosts art exhibitions, which are well worth a look, and has an excellent café.
Tate Britain sells itself as the home of British art from 1500 to the present day, but it’s also so much more than that. There are numerous activities for families, all of which are free, although some do need to be booked in advance. Things on offer include Musical Pictures, a series of music workshops for children aged 3-10 and their parents, where together with musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, you will use music, songs and sounds to explore the artworks in the gallery. Kids can also unleash their creativity with a visit to the Art Trolley, where they can explore paper-based activities in the galleries, or join in the many activities organised under the Big & Small umbrella, Tate Britain’s Early Years Family programme.
Days out for small children don’t get much better than a visit to the park – andHyde Parkis a park and then some. Where once Henry VIII thundered across the grass on horseback, hunting deer and wild boar, there is now a host of gentler activities. The park is home to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, plus numerous other attractions, such as the boating lake andLido, and the Serpentine Gallery, which hosts regular family events. The park also has three playgrounds and facilities for tennis, cycling and swimming.
St James’s Park / Number 24 bus
If you would like to see Londonfrom the top of a double decker bus, but don’t want to pay for the official tour, a great alternative is the 24 bus. Get on it at Tottenham Court Road and you’ll pass throughCharing Cross Road,Trafalgar SquareandWhitehall, seeing many famousLondonlandmarks, includingDowning Street, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Get off onVictoria Streetand it’s a short walk to one ofLondon’s most beautiful parks. St James’s park is the oldest royal park in the capital, and features a large lake that is a wildlife sanctuary for ducks, geese and swans. There are even pelicans – and a highlight of any visit with children would be watching them being fed, which takes place at 2.30pm every day.
The Wallace Collection
The Wallace Collection is one of London’s many hidden gems. It’s a national museum that displays the wonderful works of art from a private collection that was bequeathed to the nation in 1897. Entry is free and there is a range of family activities, from drop-in art workshops for all ages, to fabulous holiday art classes for older children. There are also Special Day Events held four times a year at weekends, and families can drop in at any time to try on armour in the Conservation Gallery or pick up a free kids’ trail to follow.
The river Thames winds its way through the heart of the capital and throughout history has been key to the city’s wealth and prosperity. You can see many of theLondon’s most famous landmarks by taking a trip along the river on one of several boats that ply between Westminster Pier, Tower Pier andGreenwich. The cheapest way for a family to travel with operator City Cruises is with a Family Red Rover ticket, allowing two adults and three children to hop on and hop off as they wish for a whole day for £33.50.
Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace
What’s not to like about such very British pomp and pageantry? Children from around 5 upwards will love the sight of soldiers in red coats and bearskin hats carrying out this ancient ritual to the music of the Guards band. It’s held on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, and takes place at 11.30am every day during the summer months, and alternate days for the rest of the year. After the ceremony, St James’s Park is on the doorstep for a run around, or to really make a day of it, you could visit the Royal Mews. Entry costs £21.25 for a family of 5, and you can see the beautiful and ornate carriages and cars that are used for State occasions. It’s often also possible to see the working horses that are stabled there.