Family London: Unforgettable experiences for all ages in the capital
New book Family London reveals the best family experiences in London
LEE VALLEY WHITE WATER CENTRE
Alongside the twisted form of Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit, one of the best toys left behind after the London 2012 Summer Olympics may be this giant, artificial riverbed.
For adrenaline-loving over-14s, the temptation to hop in a group raft and take on the sodden dips and turns of the full course will prove strong. But be warned, a day here can be just as exhausting as it is exhilarating.
There’s a thorough safety briefing, an icy dip to prove your proficiency in the water and a kindly drill sergeant of an instructor bellowing orders throughout.
Those after something easier (or under-14s) can make a splash in the smaller Legacy Loop area on a Hydrospeed board or in a Hot Dog canoe and even younger ones can stomp around in the sand in the designated beach area.
● 0300 003 0616/gowhitewater.co.uk
Family London: Fun Days Out with Children from Tots to Teens by Jimi Famurewa
With fantastic free parks littering the capital, a green space needs to be special to justify charging an entry fee. Kew – blessed with botanical gardens, a teetering Chinese pagoda and much, much more – delivers in spades and offers value with free entry for under-4s and an appealing membership deal.
It’s a dauntingly huge 300-acre site but youngsters should be coaxed to the Climbers & Creepers indoor play area and the treetop walkway (be warned that prams have to be left on the forest floor).
Then there’s the Hive – a relatively recent addition that uses a buzzing, flickering 18-yard-high installation set amid wildflowers to explore the importance of British bees.
Not even the regular rumble of Heathrow-bound aeroplanes can spoil a day here.
● 0208 332 5655/kew.org
DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES PLAYGROUND
Built in the shadow of her Kensington Palace apartments, this child-friendly tribute to the late Princess of Wales is worthy of its reputation as the grandaddy of London playgrounds.
Brave the occasional queue at the gate and a commendably detailed and beautifully designed dreamworld awaits.
There’s a fitting Neverland theme to the under-12s enclosure (author JM Barrie used Kensington Gardens as a constant setting for his Peter Pan tales) and a beached pirate ship is the ever-mobbed centrepiece to hidden areas encompassing teepees, a treehouse, a sea monster, water play, a sunken treasure chest and untold other sensory delights.
It’s inclusively designed for children with special needs and inaccessible to unaccompanied adults.
● 0300 061 2000/royalparks.org.uk
CLIP N’ CLIMB
Aspirant mountaineers who have conquered all their local climbing frames will get a kick out of this classy facility inside an ordinary-looking West London warehouse.
Clip n’ Climb is a world of riotous colour dominated by 20 pop art wall challenges of varying difficulty – including a face-to-face incline for competitive races and the Leap of Faith trapeze slide – plus three special attractions that carry an extra cost.
Sessions (which always include a reassuringly thorough safety briefing) last 55 minutes and include harnesses to ease any jitters.
Clip n’ Climb is a world of riotous colour dominated by 20 pop art wall challenges
It’s suitable for anyone over the age of four but it’s particularly good for adrenaline junkie older children and, let’s be honest, parents who can’t resist having a go.
● 020 7736 2271/clipnclimbchelsea. co.uk
A longtime favourite of stag and hen parties, this national chain of treetop adventure centres also provide a smart pick for families with a taste for (reassuringly harnessed) daredevilry.
In fact this Battersea branch is the highest in the country, making up for a lack of forest-roaming space with a tightly packed circuit of wobbly walkways, “flying carpets” and zip lines.
Entry is far from cheap but it’s a thrilling afternoon out – particularly on blustery days.
Helpfully, there are three tiers of difficulty depending on the bravery of your children and if anyone loses their nerve, there’s mini golf and pizzas on the bottom floor.
● 0333 433 0983/goape.co.uk
HORNIMAN MUSEUM AND GARDENS
Perhaps best known for the overstuffed walrus that stands proud in the main hall, this South-east London palace of anthropology, natural history and more is a veritable fantasia for families.
In fact, with its sprawling gardens, 1,300 musical instruments, taxidermy, working beehive, adjacent farm and basement aquarium, the term “museum” does it a disservice.
The museum boasts sprawling gardens, 1,300 musical instruments, taxidermy and a working beehive
The Horniman may be relatively small but it packs a breathless amount in – there’s even a handling collection of masks and curios that fly in the face of the usual “do not touch” signs – and it knows its young, energetic audience incredibly well.
The cafe isn’t bad either. Embrace the bedlam and expect a few pleading requests for a return trip.
● 020 8699 1872/horniman.ac.uk
WOODLANDS FARM TRUST
Some city farms, for better or worse, feel like slick operations hemmed in by dual carriageways and railway lines.
But this working 89-acre site, a short drive from Greenwich, gives the young and welly-booted a feel of life on a real working farm.
Fringed by a thicket of trees and entered through a swing gate, it’s a secret rural treasure that has pigs (including a Gloucester Old Spot called Rosie), sheep, cattle, roaming ducks and a dipping pond for mini-beast hunting excursions.
Also, there’s a carved wooden play tractor, a rustic cafe open at weekends and during school holidays (it’s cash only and there are perilously prominent ice cream signs) and the whole thing has an appealingly rough-edged feel.
● 020 8319 8900/thewoodlandsfarmtrust.org
V&A MAKE IT WORKSHOPS
The Victoria & Albert Museum’s sprawling mass of artistically significant artefacts may be more suited to older children but its regular family experience sessions are classy affairs, run with patience, enthusiasm and an inclusive spirit.
Communal art days for those with kids litter the capital and normally carry hefty price tags but a ticket or two won’t set you back too much here.
A working artist will take you and kids aged five to 12 through the creation of a themed work, ranging from decorative boxes for secrets to enjoyably messy clay-sculpting and teetering architectural challenges.
Workshops can fill up quickly, though during school holidays the free drop-in Imagination Station gives you a similar feel with the benefit of flexibility should you need to occupy the terminally cabin-feverish on a stormy day.
● 020 7942 2000/vam.ac.uk
WARNER BROS. STUDIO TOUR LONDON – THE MAKING OF HARRY POTTER
The ever-crowded but dinky Platform 9¾ exhibit in King’s Cross station will only sate a Hogwarts obsessive for so long.
For a real hit of Pottermania your best bet is this attraction just outside Watford: the production hub for the Harry Potter films that has been cannily turned into a vault of memorabilia, immaculate sets and movie-making insight.
See Dumbledore’s study on the Warner Bros Studio Tour
Tickets are set to allotted time slots and are somewhat pricey (£35 for an adult and a whopping £27 for over-5s), but it’s an expertly curated day out brimming with magic touches that will send muggles into raptures.
Wander into the Great Hall at Hogwarts, stroll down the magical Diagon Alley and slurp a syrupy cup of butterbeer.
Warning: you will be begged for a gift shop wand.
● 0345 084 0900/wbstudiotour.co.uk
THAMES RIB EXPERIENCE
Many an unprepared tourist has been taken aback by the neck-whipping speed of a trip on the Thames Clipper but, frankly, that’s like a pedalo ride compared to this high velocity spin up the river.
Ribs (rigid-inflatable boats) are those spy-worthy dinghies capable of up to 40mph and here, after donning a life jacket, you clamber into the boat for a breathless tour of London.
It’s not cheap (adult tickets for the 20-minute tour around Tower Bridge are £24.50) but each trip is run with real wit – the James Bond theme blares out as you pass a 007 location.
Nothing tops clinging on tight as the capital’s iconic landmarks fly by.
● 020 3613 2347/thamesribexperience.com
Asked to name a beach in the capital, most Londoners would probably go for one of the muddy banks lapped by the murky waters of the Thames.
This West London expanse of imported sand by a freshwater lake is a more preferable answer.
The Ruislip Lido Railway is popular with families
Surrounded by a dense forest and peppered with all manner of other sunny day treats (playground, decent gastropub, splash park), it’s also worth visiting for a ride on the Ruislip Lido Railway: a volunteerrun service of miniature diesel and locomotive trains that is so popular with families it’s normal to find an open-top carriage crammed with buggies on a sunny Saturday.
Beware: the shallow water and grimy silt underfoot make proper swimming a tricky prospect. l 01895 250 111/hillingdon.gov.uk
l Extracted from Family London: Fun Days Out with Children from Tots to Teens by Jimi Famurewa. Published by Frances Lincoln in paperback, £9.99. Photography ©Camille Mack 2017.