By: Fiona Moriarty, Hipmunk
London offers such a wealth of attractions that it can seem overwhelming to whittle down the choices for a trip. And of course, even the best-made plans may be foiled by the city's notoriously fickle weather. Add in some potentially picky kids, and the UK capital can seem like a traveling family's nightmare. But London's amazing selection of family-friendly activities far outweighs its occasionally gloomy weather. Here are some of the best family activities to enjoy in London, rain or shine!
A bird's eye view of the city is a great way to kick off any visit to London, especially with the visibility of a clear day. It holds the title of Europe's largest ferris wheel, and families can enjoy its breathtaking views in large pods that hold up to 25 people. The pods have seating, but guests are also free to stand up and roam around to experience the view from every angle. The London Eye is also close to the Strand Palace, a beautiful and centrally located place from which to base your visit.
One of the most enchanting spots for children in London is the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, the site for which was personally chosen by its author J.M. Barrie. Nearby is the Peter Pan-inspired Diana Memorial Playground, built to the memory of the late Princess of Wales. The park includes an enormous pirate ship in a sandy lot, lush plant life, play features for kids with disabilities, and plenty of seating for accompanying adults. Bring a picnic lunch to the park to make the best of a sunny day in the city. Lines can get long at peak times, so the adjacent Thistle Hyde Park is a great accommodation option to use as a home base.
3. Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace
For a diversion that's both iconic and free of charge, head to Buckingham Palace to witness the famous Changing the Guard. Both kids and adults will love the pageantry and pomp, and the ceremony is relatively short, lasting about 45 minutes. For added entertainment, download the Changing the Guard app, which offers answers to kids' frequently asked questions, as well as in depth details about the ceremony and its history. To rub shoulders with the Queen, the lovely Grange Wellington Hotel is a great alternative to pricier options in this neighborhood.
Coram's Fields offers an expansive outdoor experience in central London. The park offers a huge range of activities: kids can visit the duck pond or city farm, climb the playgrounds, dig in the sand pit, or zoom around on a zip line or aerial slide. Adults will appreciate the excellent coffee at Pistachios in the Park, which also offers cakes and healthy snacks. The park is a registered charity and entrance is free of charge. And if you're looking for a child-friendly hotel option in Bloomsbury, Hotel Russell offers childcare and free internet service.
In operation since 1984, Hackney City Farm is an educational and enjoyable treat for both children and adults. Animals like sheep, chickens, rabbits, bees, and donkeys can be viewed in the grazing area, and the farm also features a butterfly house and a vegetable garden. Farm staff aim to educate kids on caring for plant and animal life in an environmentally conscious way, and to this end offer a variety of classes in subjects such as pottery, animal grooming, and beekeeping. One of the biggest draws at Hackney City Farm is the on-site restaurant Frizzante. Its Italian agriturismo-inspired menu and friendly atmosphere have made it a popular stop for families in the area. Staying at the nearby Re London Shoreditch will also put you conveniently close to the Tower of London and London Bridge.
Part of the fantastic Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Childhood features a large collection of historic children's toys and games. Interspersed with the exhibits are interactive features for kids to get involved with and even sometimes handle the objects, such as antique dollhouses and figurines. The museum also offers classes in arts, storytelling, and crocheting. The gorgeous 130 Queen's Gate Apartments are a great hotel alternative in the area.
For a manageable but exciting alternative to the huge London museums, bring the family to the Wallace Collection, a museum displaying the collection of Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace. Kids will love trying on knights' armor at the Conservation Gallery or following a trail of Warrior Kings, and adult art-lovers will appreciate the many fine works of art, including pieces by Rembrandt and Poussin. Entrance is free of charge, and the museum also houses a lovely little cafe. For accommodation nearby, it's hard to beat the beautiful Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes London.
This hilarious and charming shop is a must-see for every kid with an active imagination. It's operated as part of the Ministry of Stories, an initiative founded by Nick Hornby to encourage writing and creativity in kids and young adults. The store itself provides a writing space where workshops are offered and sells products such as Impacted Earwax, Fang Floss, and Flayed Skin in apothecary-style packaging. Stay at the Ace Hotel London Shoreditch for a cool and contemporary lodging option in the neighborhood.
Rainy days can be frustrating for active families, but the London Aquatics Centre is a great way to get moving indoors. Formerly used for the 2012 Olympics, it features top notch facilities and equipment. Kids can swim in either lane or lap pools, go diving, take swim lessons, or try the Aqua Splash obstacle course. Admission is under 5 pounds, and it makes for a day of energetic family fun. The Westbridge Hotel is a great option in the Stratford area and will give you easy access to the Olympic Stadium as well.
10. Children's Theatre
A trip to London wouldn't be complete without experiencing some of the city's vibrant theatre scene. There are plenty of theatres and shows geared specifically toward kids, but the musical Matilda, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, is a great option that's sure to excite the whole family. Based on the classic children's novel by British author Roald Dahl, the musical's catchy songs and fiery performances have propelled it to many awards, among which was Best New Musical at the 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards. Stay at The Montague On The Gardens near Trafalgar Square to be close to the theater and many other London attractions.