London with Kids – a Local’s Guide

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Out-and-About-London

Throughout 2014 we’ll be celebrating the little known places around the UK that help to make a great family day out. Today we’re heading to London with Tots100’s very own Victoria Wallop, who can give us an insider’s view into the best (and lesser known) places to visit in the capital with kids.

A guide to London…

London is packed to the gunnels with hidden gems, so I’ve decided to concentrate on one of my favourite areas of East London, which includes Spitalfields, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. All these places are within walking distance of one another, or you can hop on a bus if you have little legs!

The Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is one of my favourite London museums, part of the Victoria and Albert Museum it’s brilliant for adults AND children. I love the historical displays including the beautiful Georgian Doll’s Houses and toys of my childhood, my children love the many, many things they can play with.  They also have fab temporary exhibitions, there’s one about Jacqueline Wilson coming up, which we shall be visiting as my daughter is a big fan!

Directing armies at the Museum of Childhood
Directing armies at the Museum of Childhood

The Geffrye Museum is one of London’s hidden gems. It’s a museum of middle class front rooms from Stuart times to the present day – small and perfectly formed. They put on lots of activities for children at weekends and in the holidays and the domestic nature of the rooms means that it’s accessible to children. Christmas is possibly the best time of year to visit, as they decorate each room according to the period, with paper chains in the 1960’s room, a magnificent tree and early Christmas cards in the Victorian room and dust sheets over the furniture in the Cromwell era room, when Christmas was banned.

Brick Lane is a fascinating street, which has been home to immigrants for hundreds of years. The street signs are in Bangladeshi, reflecting its current occupants. The Mosque half way down the street used to be a Synagogue and before that it was a Huguenot Church. There are great Bangladeshi supermarkets, but for food shopping, the highlight is the 24 hour Brick Lane Beigel Bake. Not only do the bagels taste completely different to anything you’ve ever bought from a supermarket, but you can also watch them being made at the back of the shop, so it’s educational too.  Brick Lane is, of course, a great place to get a curry!

If you have older kids, visit Dennis Severs House.  You need to pre-book and it’s open limited hours but it’s one of my very favourite things to do in London.  It’s a stunningly restored Spitalfields Huguenot silk weaver’s house, but it’s not really a museum, more like stepping into a series of gorgeous paintings.  Particularly lovely are the evening candlelit tours which run throughout the winter.

Candlelit dresser in the Dennis Severs House
Candlelit dresser in the Dennis Severs House

East London is brilliant for shopping too, with lots of independent shops and fashion market stalls in and around Spitalfields, and some fab little fashion, jewellery, vintage and graphic design shops on Brick Lane. Sunday is the busiest shopping day with a market on Brick Lane, with lots of delicious food stalls and random bric-a-brac, but there’s something going on every day. And if you do manage to come on a Sunday, Columbia Road Flower Market is well worth visiting. It’s a proper, old-fashioned London market with traders calling out their wares and bargains to be had.

To finish off, visit A Gold on Brushfield Street, the most perfect corner shop you’ll find anywhere this side of the 1950’s. It’s housed in a Georgian building in the shadow of a huge city bank and is an ideal place to buy sugar mice. And next door, you can get some of the best hot chocolate in London in a tiny, cramped, charming chocolate shop.  After all that walking, you’ll have earned it!

Everyone one could need in a shop at A Gold
Everything one could need in a shop at A Gold

 Have you got any tips for lesser-known places to visit in London? 

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Discussion4 Comments

  1. The Museum of Childhood is ace but it’s a pig to get to, especially with pushchairs, unless you’re on the Liverpool St line. If you’re not and if you aim for central London by coming in at one of the other terminus stations, you can do loads of things from Kings Cross/St Pancreas/Euston without needing to get on a tube or bus- it’s all close enough for 4 or 5 year olds to walk.

    UCL’s Petrie Museum is a great little museum with tons of Egyptian stuff. It manages to be out of the way despite being right in Bloomsbury.

    The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is a goulish delight of pickled innards that will amaze and disgust kids at equal turn. This is just off Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

    Just down the road from Great Ormond St Hospital is the Dickens Museum. Not suitable for really little kids or pushchairs but it is an interesting visit none the less.

    We always take our kids down to China Town (Soho) for Chinese New Year as they do displays with traditional Chinese dragons etc but it’s well worth a walk anyway as the restaurant window displays are fascinating for kids and adults alike. If you’re feeling brave, the food pretty fabulous in a lot of them too, although I have to admit to not having visited any in a number of years now (we usually take the kids to the Wagamamas behind the British Museum as it’s a bit more tot friendly).

    We always end up diving in Forbidden Planet, the countries biggest sci-fi and fantasy comic/book/collectables store too. I’ve been going there for over 20 years, and the kids love having a look at all the Doctor Who stuff. Even if I get pestered to buy things 😉

    And that’s without touching on the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, or any of the other “big” national assets in the area. There are tons more I could name but this comments already in danger of being longer than the original post 😀

  2. Really enjoyed this post as you’ve covered one of my favourite areas. I’d have to add Spitalfields City Farm which is sort of a must if you’re in Shoreditch, lovely farmer’s markets, playground, fun events (check out the annual Goat Race in April for a real taste of East London quirkiness/trendy beards!).

    Whitechapel Gallery has brilliant family activity days and occasionally does viewings just for parents with babies and toddlers.

    Also Rich Mix up the road from Brick Lane is a fabulous space that does loads of mostly FREE family events. And of course further down at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club you’ll find the super cool Disco Loco that throws boogies for anyone from ages 6 months up.

    I love Alex @Daddacool’s suggestions too, UCL also has Grant Museum of Zoology if your kids are into fossils, skeletons and strange things in jars. Another good one is the Wellcome Collection that has really unique exhibitions and a very chilled-out cafe where the little ones can mill about.

    And yes definitely check out China Town, most of the restaurants are very welcoming to children and we only eat in the ones that are packed with local Chinese folk. The boys love their dim sum. Although be prepared to fork out, China Town’s a tourist trap!

    Did I mention South Bank Centre, our favourite spot and unmissable if you’re coming to London? I could bang on too, there really is so much to do in this city. We’re spoilt for choice!

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