Getting out with the kids and enjoying all that London has to offer on a fine summer’s day can be a rewarding day for adults and children alike. There are animals in the city farms, wildlife ponds, lush trees, shrubs and manicured gardens. On the other hand, being far from home on a fine day suddenly turned cold and wet day can miserable, especially with very small children.
Fear not! In London you can easily plan a weather-proof day summer day. Head to the farm, the ecology centre, the park and if the weather turns foul, head indoors and spend time soaking up some culture at one of the near-by museums.
Kensington Gardens and The Natural History Museum
Kensington Gardens in the midst summer is heaven. Let the kids run and tumble in the growing heath or dally in the dizzying delight of drifting dandelion seeds, look for exotic fowl on the Serpentine, check out the Peter Pan Statue or head over to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground with its swings, sand and massive pirate ship.
If you need to warm up, head over to the Natural History Museum and continue investigating wildlife in the Cocoon at the Darwin Centre, the Wildlife Garden or the Investigate room.
The Darwin Centre is a new addition to the museum that houses millions of specimens collected from around the world. Take the kids for an educational walk down the Cocoon where they can look at preserved Scarab Beetles, Luna Moths, and Tarantulas. Evan small children can enjoy looking the exotic collections while having a little run down the ramps. There is a great interactive area where you pack for a field outing. It is brilliantly put together.
After the Cocoon, if the weather cooperates, take the kids into the Wildlife Garden and have a wander around the nature path. Look for moorhens in the wildlife pond, along with wrens and robins in the marsh areas, but do not miss the bee tree. There is a bee hive that is set inside a tree with a window to see the bees at work in their hive, absolutely amazing.
For children ages 3+, the investigate room is the perfect place to learn a love for science. There are specimen trays filled with shells, animal skins, bones, preserved bugs, pine cones, tortoise shells. Further, there are microscopes and measuring instruments to really investigate the specimens. An attentive staff will guide older children through an investigation while the adult chases the toddler around. The Investigate room is open from 2:30 term time as schools have usually booked the room prior to that, and is open from 11:00 during school holidays.
Coram’s Fields and the Foundling and British Museums:
Right in the heart of London is a massive playground where adults are only allowed to enter with children so kids are able to really run far and free. Coram’s Fields boast penned sheep, hen, ducks and goats for children to look at. After taking in the wonders of animals, have a play in the sandbox, or in one of the four climbing frames. There is a high-quality Austrian bakery and sandwich stand in the playground that does amazing coffee.
Should you need to head inside, the Foundling Museum is just around the corner; entry free is £7.50 per adult. While you will learn a lot about the first orphanage and art museum in London, and on weekends they have good activities for older children, the museum is not really pitched for toddlers.
A good alternative for young children is the near-by British Museum. There is no entry fee, and you can seek shelter wandering around the Greek temples and Egyptian tombs. On weekends and school holidays they have amazing activities for the older children, but they do offer fun activities for the under five’s, too. Check the web site for details.
Vauxhall City Farm and Tate Britain
Slightly off the beaten path, a short walk from Vauxhall Station is a hidden gem, the Vauxhall City Farm. This free city farm is open Wednesdays through Sundays 10:30 – 4:00 and his home to over 80 animals. Unique to many city farms, there is a pen filled with rabbits and chickens; children are allowed to play and handle the animals in here. This can be a very messy, but it really is such a pure right of childhood to be able to chase a chicken or a rabbit around a barn yard and then hold them (usually accomplished with a great deal of adult assistance). Further, the farm has alpacas, turkey, cows, goats and horses. There is a small vegetable garden to play in, too.
Should you need to get out of the rain, just over the river (15 minute walk with a pushchair, toddler pace much longer) is Tate Britain with its sentimental Pre-Raphaelites. Again, there is little at the museum actually pitched to toddlers, but the galleries are large and there is plenty to see. On the weekends and during school holidays there is an art cart available. The café has, among other things, child portions of fruit and veggies, great cakes and coffees.
Ranelagh Gardens and the National Army Museum
Just off the Embankment is the Chelsea Hospital grounds, an amazing expanse of gardens that are open to the public. The Ranelagh Gardens are completely fenced in and are comprised of hills, brambles, trails and a tiny shelter in case of sudden rain. There are no climbing frames, and the toilets are a bit of a walk, but it is such a special area to take small children to have an old fashioned romp running up and down hills, playing hide and seek in the woods or just plain old woodland exploration.
Next to the Chelsea Hospital Ground is the National Army Museum (new Kid Zone to open 18th July). Should you need a break from the weather, head this way and enjoy the galleries and exhibits. If you are lucky, the Kid Zone may be open. They have timed entries from 10:00 and 11:30 am, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30; on weekends this schedule changes with pre-booked parties. This is the best indoor climbing frame play area in London. Not only is the entry free, the space is immaculately kept with family toilets. In the event that you have missed the entry, continue through the museum. The museum is fascinating and there are very toddler-friendly interactive play areas.