40 baby and toddler-friendly things to do in London
Most Wednesdays, tiny man and I meet up with his bestie Oli and his mama - and we're always after exciting things to do with a baby/toddler in London.
After another Whatsapping session debating various London activities, I decided to write down the fab places we've been to, and the ones we're aiming for next. They're all baby-friendly (for when you want to go out and have fun and baby's coming too), and most are baby-focused (but beyond soft play).
They're all fairly close to NW London, within an hour's travel, because that's where ROOW lives. So, enough chat... Bookmark it, share it, but most of all visit them - and let me know what I've missed...
1. If your tiny one is half the fan of aeroplanes that mine is, don't miss Hendon's RAF museum. It's free (parking is £3 or free on the road) and has huge hangars of plane history, including gliders and war jets, statues and films. Tiny man loved running around and seeing all the planes even before we reached the kids' area. It's retro - but very hands-on, lots of buttons to press and planes to ride, and even a glider to hang from. 2. Stroll the Southbank. The Southbank Centre itself has storytelling, music and other events, the whole bank is full of buskers, street food, NO STAIRS (buggy bliss), and colours and there's always something to do - plus loads of chain restaurants that don't shudder at the sight of your over-burdened City not-so- Mini rolling in.
3. Kenwood - there are ducks in the pond and huge grassy expanses to explore outside, whilst the house has a kids' room, and music/art classes dotted throughout the week too.
4. St Albans - visit the Verulamium park with its lake, splash park, playground, and history - then cross over the road to gorge on waffles at The Waffle House. Perfect afternoon out.
5. Golders Hill Park - there are animals (deer, birds, lemurs), there's a sand pit, there's a playground, there's delicious gelato, there are rolling hills for scrambling around, there's a beautiful garden, there's a duck pond, and it's just a short walk up from Golders Green station.. And it's all free.
6. It's closed until later this year, but when it reopens check out The Discover Children's Story Centre, with big indoor and outdoor playgrounds, storytelling rooms, crafty groups and lots of space.
7. We love a City farm: tiny man loves oinking at the pigs, and seeing the chickens, horses and more at Kentish Town, and the ones in Spitalfields and Hackney are on our list too. All free.
8. The Geffrye Museum in Hoxton is a museum of houses: it's all on one level, so buggy-friendly, really interesting insight into how we've been living over the past centuries, dollshouse-loving toddlers will like it and there's a delicious cafe too. Plus hipsterville shopping is there ready for nap-time.
9. Bethnal Green's Museum of Childhood - there's a small sensory area for babies, some hands-on playing parts for kids although a fair amount is behind glass cases so older toddlers may enjoy a bit more.
10. The Science Museum is a nightmare to get to on the Tube from the northern line, but worth it - the Garden bit in the basement has a long water splashing activity, big blocks to play with, concave mirrors, noisy activities and more. The rest of the museum is great for a toddling one to explore, and the hanging planes are a hit with my tiny man. By contrast, I find the National History Museum too school group-packed for much babe fun.
11. Hit up some galleries - might not seem baby-friendly but for tiny ones when you the mama want to enjoy yourself, the Royal Academy, Hayward Gallery andTate Modern all have wide, buggy-friendly spaces and lots of things for babies to stare at. And for toddlers, the Tates are great space-wise for a wander and have activities for older kids too.
12. Baby Cinema was the highlight of my week when tiny man was, er, tiny. Until about 9m it was a dreamy few hours: watching the latest films whilst having a baby sleepy-cuddle on you (when tiny) or play on your lap when bigger. It's definitely easiest when they're small... I love the Phoenix (£7) in east Finchley, and the Everyman chain's dotted around London (£13 but that does include tasty cake and drink delivered to your seat by waiters). Great parent and baby cinema screenings at the Barbican too. Useful weekly listings here:Babes About Town. For older kids, lots of the chains do cheap toddler movie screenings. 13. Take a boat trip: for a big'un, take the Thames Clipper to Greenwich and it's really easy to wheel a buggy on and off. Plenty of places to park them next to a seat too.
14. Or a smaller one, we loved the swan boats and pedaloes (bonus: great work out) at Ally Pally. It's about £3 a person and young kids are free: must be over one to go on a boat. They have tiny lifejackets.
15. Also in Ally Pally is Little Dinosaurs soft-play: it's a good one for younger tots as there's a spacious baby area and go before 3pm and the rest is fairly empty too so they can traverse bigger obstacles with you. Soft-play wise, we've also enjoyed Clown Town behind Tesco Colney Hatch.
16. Book in advance to enjoy Sky Garden in the City - it's free and has lovely views (just have to book a time slot in advance). Great cafe and tons of space for rattling around.
17. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has loads of space to explore, little cafes, the Tumbling Bay Playground and flowery grassy land to relax.
18. Coram’s Fields is super-central - just near Euston - but a gloriously green pocket with farm animals, lots of different play areas and often organised activities.
19. We were disappointed with the £million-a-ticket and too-busy-to-move London Aquarium. For a cheaper hit, Forest Hill's Horniman Museum has an aquarium as well as lots of child-friendly exhibits. For a realllly cheaper hit, we sometimes visit the local pet shop or Pets at Home to see fish, guinea pigs, etc.
20. Spend a day at Kew Gardens. We're members (which is good value if you're going more than twice a year, and means you can beat the crowds and arrive at 8am). There are the obviously awesome acres of beautiful borders, the lakes, the ducks, the trees and the flowers, and tots all love the indoor soft play (with weird rubber bouncing 'sand' which is no-mess and epic) and the play area. Just don't lose your car key there like I did..
21. Watch street performers in Covent Garden ... then get one of London's best ice creams at Morelli's Gelato.
22. Get on the front carriage of the Docklands Light Railway and let your tot 'be the driver'. On the weekend, Canary Wharf's shops and restaurants are fairly empty so have lots of room for a tot-takeover.
23. Sunny day? Put the tot in Crocs and take a spare pair of clothes to the lit-up dancing fountains at Granary Square in King’s Cross. Then visit..
25. Take the number 9 bus (one of the few old-fashioned Routemasters still in service) for a cheapo sightseeing tour of Trafalgar Square, Knightsbridge and Kensington, or the no. 11 does King's Road, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Shoreditch, if you last that long.
26. Get off that no. 9 at Kensington Gardens and visit the Princess Diana memorial playground - there's a secure entrance (you must have a kid with you), a huge Peter Pan pirates ship, lots of swings, lots of shade, enormous sandpit, water fountains, splash puddles, all free; try to shield the kids' eyes as you pass the pricey carousel. Walk down to Ken High St after and toddlers will love seeing the food piled up and gorging on the freebies at Whole Foods Market
31. Broomfield Park: it has one of London's biggest adventure playgrounds (and a smaller one that's more tot-friendly), plus conservatory with bananas growing, crazy golf (not such a crazy one), lake and model boating pond. There's the nearby Baskervilles Tea shop, too, with delicious cakes and a room just for baby classes if you time your visit right (sometimes need to prebook).
32. Go to a ceramics cafe. Yes, breakable pots + tots sounds crazy, but if they're in a calm mood (and you go at a quiet time) it can be great. And a handprint plate / paint-sploshed vase makes a great present for dads, grandparents, etc.
33. Go train or plane-spotting. Sure, it's pretty boring for you.. But lots of toddlers love nothing more than sitting at Kings Cross / under the flight path (Syon Park in west London and Kew are good for this) and watching their fave mode of transport trundle by.
34. Or for a more in-depth version of the above, try driving a train and more at the ltmuseum.co.uk
35. Swim. Of my local pools, Spires in Bushey is rated for being warm, Borehamwood's Venue has a baby pool, or find a friend with a guest pass for a gym with a baby pool... :)
36. Meet dinosaurs (aka models of them built by the Victorians) in Crystal Palace Park. There's a children’s farm, playground and maze too.
37. Watch pelicans being fed every afternoon (usually around 2:30) at St James's Park. There are also owls, woodpeckers and bats, if you're keen-eyed.
38. Enjoy trees-a-plenty at Highgate Woods - also a great (big) playground and easygoing cafe.