5 Ways to Love London With Kids Who Aren’t Into History
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London is so rich with history that it’s difficult to find an area without imposing monuments or buildings, where there hasn’t been an important event or significant person living there. Despite this, there’s plenty to do without focusing on London’s past and cheeky ways to sneak in a bit of learning. So, if your family vacation goals are winning not whinging, choose from these five themes to enjoy London if your kids aren’t into history.
1. Animal Attractions
London is home to several renowned sights for animal lovers. Find the right fit depending on your kids ages, interests and how much time you have. The Museum of Natural History (nearest tube: South Kensington) boasts 80 million items on display, though is most famous for the dinosaur exhibit, which takes you on a trail of the beasts through the ages with enormous T-Rex, Triceratops, a Scolosaurus and more. Last year, 5.2 million people visited the museum. Avoid long waits by arriving at 9:45am for the 10am opening, as the queue will snake around the block by midday.
Choose from two zoos: the London Zoo (nearest tube: Camden Town), which is the world’s oldest scientific zoo and also the oldest aquarium. You’ll see lions, tigers, bears, reptiles, birds and marine life, all set in scenic Regents Park. For younger kids, an intimate option is the Battersea Zoo (nearest tube: Sloane Square) with smaller animals — meerkats, otters, lemurs —plus interactive feeding areas, lots of play parks and exhibits aimed at children ages up to 8 years.
A serene option on the Thames in Barnes is the London Wetland Centre (nearest tube: Hammersmith) for pretty walks among wetlands and gardens, perfect for birdwatching and learning about local animals and insects.
2. Houses of Horror
Scaring your kids could be a fun way to distract them from the history they are learning, and London’s gruesome past is worth exploring.
Technically a top historical sight, Tower of London (nearest tube: Tower Hill) can be scary, as it was basically the go-to destination for executions. Two wives of Henry VIII were among the 400 killed there, and the torture chambers are mind-blowing with spiked planks and human stretching machines. You can skip the heavy history but don’t miss the spectacular Crown Jewels. Go early in the day and buy your tickets ahead online to avoid long queues.
The Clink Prison (nearest tube: London Bridge) dates back to 1144. Here, you can try the weapons and some of the torture devices while you learn about the torment and misfortune of the inmates.
The Clink can be done in about an hour, so if you fancy more gore, head to the nearby London Dungeons (nearest tube: London Bridge), which is part live theatre and part theme park with immersive sets and two coaster-style rides to finish. Best for kids 12+.
A bit tamer, but still ghoulish is the London Ghost Bus (nearest tube: Embankment), which is a 75-minute humorous tour through London’s haunted past, suitable for ages 5+. Advance booking a must.
3. Parks with Purpose
Did you know London has more than 3,000 parks? While most public parks have fantastic playgrounds, if you want to take it to the next level, ropes courses, the world’s longest tunnel slide, Olympic swimming and cycling venues await.
Get a glimpse of London from 13.5 meters up as you zip along the ropes course at Go Ape Battersea Park (nearest tube: Sloane Square). Choose from the Tree Top Adventure for bigger kids and adults, which takes about 90 minutes depending on your ability, or there’s a Tree Top Challenge for smaller kids (minimum height is 1 meter). Wear trainers and bring gloves if you have sensitive hands, and it’s most important book ahead online to save up to 20%.
You might remember the Arcelor Mittal Orbit (nearest tube: Stratford), the twisting red steel sculpture designed by Anish Kapoor, which took centre stage in the 2012 Olympics. It’s now home to the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide — 178 meters — designed by Carsten Höller. At the top viewing platform, 79 meters up, you can enjoy views of the Olympic park and London in the distance, then you whoosh down at speeds up to 24/km an hour.
Book ahead online, as the slide sells out on weekends and school holidays. The ride takes 40 seconds, so definitely book a second go for an extra £5.The Orbit sits in the Queen Elizabeth Park, which has a fantastic playground. You can also make a day of sporting by booking in swimming at the London Aquatics Centre or try cycling at the Olympic velodome, BMX or mountain biking courses.
For outdoor pursuits in central London, Hyde Park offers the best variety. In the warmer months, you can swim in the Serpentine (the large lake in the centre), rent a rowboat or pedalo, or let your kids splash in the nearby Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. This is not to be confused with the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, a nautical-themed wonderland with a giant pirate ship, gangplanks, and sand pits.
4. Stick to Science
From the massive Science Museum on Exhibition Road to smaller, more specialized museums, most of which are free, there’s plenty to ignite your family’s nerdy passions.
The Science Museum (nearest tube: South Kensington) is a firm favorite with my kids. With live shows, an IMAX theatre and rotating exhibits, you can easily spend a full day. For smaller kids, the Wonderlab on the top floor is the most fun with over 50 interactive displays.
The Wellcome Collection (nearest tube: Euston Station) is a small but engaging museum focused on health and the human body. Better for ages 10 and up, there’s always something interesting on.
Smack in the centre of Mayfair is the The Faraday Museum at the Royal Institution (nearest tube: Green Park). The Royal Institution has been exploring science for the last 200 years, and at the compact Faraday Museum you’ll find three floors dedicated to the instruments of science and experimentation. From magnetics to nanotechnology, you can also discover the 14 Nobel prize winners who’ve worked at the Royal Institution.
5. Take in Some Theatre
Whether you have babies, teens or any age in between, there’s a live show in London to inspire a love for theatre.
According to Visit London, there are a dozen theaters in London just for children. Our personal favourites from over the years include the Puppet Theatre Barge and Little Angel Theatre for beautiful puppet shows, the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon for comedy and drama best for kids up to age 13 and the super cool Unicorn Theatre for engaging comedy and drama, which can be good for teens.
Look to bag a bargain on tickets at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square.
In London, there’s plenty to do with kids who aren’t into history, and you’ve also got the opportunity to sneak a bit of London’s past without making it the purpose of your outing.
Featured photo by Sol de Zuasnabar Brebbia / Getty Images.
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