run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Monday 27 January 2020

Winter Things to Do in London with Toddlers and Kids

Summers in London are great - endless places to go, city beaches and parks to play in, fruits to pick, playgrounds to explore. 

But Winter? It's trickier but there's still a lot of fun to have - I really hate soft play so always try to think of other places to fall back on. Here's a list of a load of great, often indoor London places to go when the weather's not all that warm...
They're all within an hour's travel from NW London, cos that's ROOW HQ and I'm not *that* adventurous. So, enough chat... Bookmark it, share it, but most of all visit them - and let me know what I've missed...
* Do the Docklands area: frankly my toddler would 'drive' the driver-less DLR all day if he could. But on top of that, nearby there's the excellent Museum of London, Docklands which has a fantastic kids area (Mudlarks) with water play, building blocks, climbing area and loads more. It's free but gets busy, so book a half-hour slot in advance on the website. On a dry day, take a Clipper boat on the Thames too - so much fun and not too pricey.

* 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. We take my toddler's London book (Usborne's is amazing) and tick off everything we've seen. 
* Or 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.

* Ikea. I know it sounds bonkers, but my kids love playing in their kids' toy bit (despite the fact that we have half the toys at home anyway..!), touring the mini rooms, and picking out plants. Plus the kids' meals are pretty decent and a mess-free dinner for you...!
* If your tiny one is half a fan of aeroplanes , or just likes running around in a big space, hit up Hendon's RAF museum. It's free (parking is £3 but phew the machines take cards), has been recently redone, with a huge hangars of jets, ride-ons, dressing-up area, and if the weather is OK, a really great playground full of planes and a mini-museum. 

* Stroll the Southbank if it's dry. There are lots of places to pop in to warm up - the Southbank Centre, Tate, National Theatre often have storytelling, music and other events - but even if not, the whole bank is full of buskers, street food, NO STAIRS (buggy bliss), and colours - plus loads of chain restaurants that don't shudder at the sight of your over-burdened City not-so- Mini rolling in.

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... :)
The Discover Children's Story Centrewith big indoor and outdoor playgrounds, storytelling rooms, crafty groups and amazing exhibitions, centred around kids' authors.
* 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.
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 tot fun, even during the week.
* Hit up some galleries - we had a lot of fun at the Tate Modern (big spaces, weird exhibits that tots can interpret just as easily as us (aka not easily!), and kids activities during the holidays; the Royal Academy, Hayward Gallery and Tate Modern also all have wide, buggy-friendly spaces and lots of things for kids to stare at. 
* Take a boat trip: wrap up if it's chilly, then 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* Crazy golf - Dinosaur Safari adventure golf has little clubs for tots and moving dinosaurs all around the holes. Win, win. (Except if the moving 'saurs scare them..)

* Garden centres - at Crews Hill, there's soft play, aquatic centres (£1 to feed fish), bird and reptile rooms to look around at the various garden centres. In Stanmore, Squire's also often puts on cheap and fun kids' activities, so worth checking them out. 

* Make a "Mini Masterpiece" at Dulwich Picture Gallery - once a month on Tuesdays, for babies aged six-to-18 months. Preceeded by tour of the Sir John Soames-designed gallery.
Broomfield Park has one of London's biggest adventure playgrounds (and a smaller one that's more tot-friendly), plus if it's rainy, a conservatory with bananas growing, crazy golf (albeit not such a crazy course), lake and model boating pond - and the amazing nearby Baskervilles Tea shop, with delicious cakes, babycinnos, and a room just for baby classes if you time your visit right (usually need to prebook).
* 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.
* Go train or plane-spotting. Sure, it's pretty boring for you.. But my toddlers love nothing more than sitting at Elstree Aerodrome (where the cafe is also surprisingly good), Kings Cross station or under the flight path (Syon Park in west London and Kew Gardens are good for this) and watching their fave mode of transport trundle by.
* Or for a more in-depth version of the above, try driving a train and more at the
* Visit one of London's huge toy shops (like Hamleys) - toddler is obviously the ideal age: they're distractable so won't notice you're not buying *everything* (or anything).

* Visit a local children's hub - we love Kidz Escape (Finchley), Tomato Tutors (East Finchley), Newstead Children's Centre (er, Finchley again), Arts Depot (guess where..) - they all have loads of classes on (check schedules) whilst Kidz Escape also has tots' crazy golf and disco.

* Go jumping: we all love the Flip Out tots sessions, Mini Flippers - it's only about £5 for a morning trip to this trampolining centre in Staples Corner, but better than that, when the schools are open, it's always really quiet so you don't have to be scared of big kids knocking over your little ones. And you're almost guaranteed a nap time after..

* Visit the flicks: our local cinema, the Phoenix, runs brilliant toddler film sessions on Tuesdays; there's a half-hour activity first (toys, playdo etc), then a short film/show - the likes of The Gruffalo, or an episode of Sarah & Duck etc. Tickets include popcorn and the kids love it.

* Go out for a treat. Places we love to go to / bribe the kids with include Creams ice cream/wafflesChin Chin LabsThe Waffle House, and any ice cream parlour, ever, no matter what the weather.

Anything I've missed? Get in touch or comment below. 


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