run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Best parks for kids and families in NW London, Barnet and beyond

Summer holidays are here - and this post is just a great big mental dump of all the parks and open spaces that we've enjoyed over the past few years that you might too. 

If you're looking for some outdoors ideas that don't cost money (beyond the inevitable ice cream invoice you'll be hit with by the toddler) - save this post, share it with friends, and breathe in all that fresh (ish, it's still London) air...

* Cassiobury Park - huge playground, splash park, stream/flooded area where kids can 'fish' and paddle / trample around in wellies, a very cute miniature train ride, plus you can walk along the canal, there's a cafe, and generally lots to see and do. 

* Verulanium, St. Albans - big park with playgrounds, splash park, central lake, mini golf, paid attractions, a nice park cafe and you're right next to the Waffle House, whose banoffee waffle is basically the main reason we go.

* Mill Hill Park: WHOLE lot of different playground areas for all ages, excellent cafe, and the wonderful Arrandene Open Space across Daws Lane if your kids need more land to run free/build dens etc. We love a trip to this park *even though* it always seems to involve torrential rain whenever we get there. (Not a micro climate, just bad planning on our part..)

Cedar Park Cheshunt - a great extra if you're spending the day at our favourites, Forty Hall Estate, Myddleton House or Capel Manor. Or you're a member at Birch, where we also love taking the kids to hang out). 

* Monken Hadley Common - near Trent Park, a nature-filled retreat with tons of wildlife, trees and dens to explore.

* Lordship Rec - near enough to the Spurs stadium to hear the crowd roar during a match, so watch out for traffic. But parking is free on the weekends and my kids love this big park, especially its model cycling road with roundabouts, traffic signs, zebra crossings and junctions. There’s also a few great playgrounds AND a fab co-op-run cafe (strong recommend for the lemon/raspberry cake and chocolate brownie. They are woodlands too, a large duck-filled lake and even a nice big paddling pool. 

* Friary Park - well-maintained park with a standard playground AND - crucially - an excellent cafe (it's often/always about the cafe for us..) run by the guys behind Mill Hill Park cafe too.

* Trent Park - vast, dens a-plenty, playgrounds and small animal sanctuary too.

* Victoria Park Finchley - my go-to for an after-nursery trip: it has two new, great playgrounds and a modest cafe selling ice cream and, I'm told, excellent basic cheese toasties. Lots of trees with dens inside too and easy free parking.

* Highgate woods - vast playground divided up by age group, woods, REALLY excellent cafe (have the falafal with all the salads), big verdant grassy areas, wooded walks with lots of shade on hot days, and always lots of dogs. Can combine with a walk through to Cherry Tree Woods in East Finchley.

* Kenwood and Hampstead Heath - huge; top views; access to lots of cafes and dogs named things like Aristotle and Pimpernickle, but note only one (that we've found) playground in across the heath estate.

* Firs Farm wetlands - lovely volunteer-run nature reserve with trails, pond dipping, tadpoles, fun displays/models at various points in the year.

* Long Lane Pasture, N3 / Finchley Central - a small wild pasture just behind the A406. It doesn't take very long to explore, but it's packed with little ponds, beehives, wildflowers, blackberries, a very climbable tree, and my kids love combining a visit here with a trip to see the fire engines at Finchley Fire Station, opposite. 

* Broomfield Park - big Palmers Green park with wetland, orchard, adventure playground, model boating pond, a little mini golf, lots of space to run around, and and the lovely Baskerville Tea Room (which also hosts great baby classes) opposite on of the gates.

* Grovelands Park - big park with the usual playground and cafe, a big moving dinosaur exhibition on at the mo (which you have to pay for) - Jurassic Encounter.

 * Golders Hill - wallabies, donkeys, animals - premium gelato and a big cafe too. Vast space to run around; manicured show garden area, climbable trees; tennis courts. A butterfly house that I've not seen open for a good few years. Band stand that I used to try to run up as a kid, and now my kids do, #ifeelold, and then back for more gelato.

* Swan Lane open space - cute playground, nice cafe, good picnic spot, easy parking.

* Darlands Nature Reserve, Totteridge - get lost in these winding paths surrounded by wild-looking fields and lakes. Then gawp over the houses you pass on the way. Not one for a Yoyo buggy, you'll need a robust 4x4 of the baby-propelling world. A nice walk is from Finchley Nurseries up to Darlands and back.

* Canons Park - big playground, lovely lawn areas, and a central walled show garden area that's always closed whenever we've been.

* Bigwood, Littlewood (Hampstead Garden Suburb) - nice for a wander in not-enormous but fun to explore woods, with lots of dens. Of go for the undulating triple park bonanza here; park on one of the roads around Norice Lea and enter Lyttleton Playing Fields; you'll find a capacious playground, lots of room to run around, a stream, good bridge for Pooh Sticks, and small (Kosher, if that's your bag) cafe. When you want to explore further, cross Kingsley Way to enter the small, recently-jazzed up Fletchers Park with nice planting, and walk through to cross Northway road and enter Northway Gardens. You'll pass Toulous Cafe (which used to be public loos, geddit?) where you'll find nice sarnies and sweet potato chips (currently closed), see beautiful, volunteer-planted rose gardens, a gushing stream, tennis courts and another playground at the tip,  which is perfect for toddlers. If you've still got energy to burn, exit the park near the playground, cross Oakwood Road and enter Bigwood, some not-so-big woods with lots of nooks to explore.

* Musical woods in The Grove (see no. 8 here)

* Oxhey Woods sculptor trail - we always enjoy a trip here, although watch out as parking can be a bit stressful as the car parks aren't big.

* Avenue House/Stephens House - newish playground with sandpit, cafe, outdoor gyms, lovely flowers, big pond, we're regulars. 

* Bentley priory in Stanmore  - nature reserve and can you spot the deer?

* Aldenham - I get annoyed at paying for all the individual things but love the (now slightly rundown, albeit free) 100 Aker Wood area and Rhubarb cafe. Playgrounds are great too.

* Forty Hall, Myddleton House - between these two institutions (a drive away in Enfield) you'll find animals, lakes, gardens and cafes.

* Woodberry Wetlands - read all about it here

* Gobions woods - big 36 acre nature reserve near Potters Bar. Lots of bluebells and fungi during their respective seasons.

* Paddington Recreation Ground - actually in Maida Vale and this is hands-down the best playground in London WITH AN EXCELLENT PIZZA RESTAURANT next to the playground gates.

 * Stationers' Park, Crouch End - big playground, tunnel slides, and you can walk to the bajillion excellent eateries of Crouch End, what's not to like?

* Ally Pally: swan boats and pedaloes (bonus: great work out) on the boating lake, playground with sandpit (the addition of sand adds an extra hour to the average playground session, I find, and about 1.5 billion grains of sand to my car). Few nice cafes, including one inside the garden centre.



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