Top family days out in and around London

I’ve spent the last few days as a single mum as the hubster’s been away in Paris on business. The boys are now 6 and 9 years old, so being the only carer isn’t the scary prospect it used to be, but the weekends loom large when we have no plans. This weekend was a case in point.

My Facebook friends answered my Saturday morning appeal with many great suggestions for kids’ activities, from climbing and golf, to having a ‘duvet day’. We ended up with a veritable smorgasbord of entertainment, starting with soft play at the local indoor play area. Bumping into school friends there was a big bonus as, with a pal to run around with, my 9 year old was happy to stay longer than the usual 10 minutes. We had lunch at child-friendly Giraffe, followed by a stroll around Spitalfields Market. Saturdays at Spitalfields are busy with vintage clothes stalls, jewellery and eclectic, hand made gifts. One of my friends has a stall there selling Wild Nature organic skincare and makeup so we had a play with her products before wending our way through the stalls and back to the car via Brick Lane – an achingly cool part of East London where you’re clearly not a local if you don’t have a beard. We finished the day back home with Men in Black on TV and a large bowl of popcorn.

On a sunny day, nothing beats a trip to the park or a bike ride around Alexandra Palace, my favourite spot in London.

Top family days out in and around London

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There are lots of obvious touristy places to take kids, like the South Bank, London Eye and the London Aquarium. But if you’re struggling to come up with new places to visit, here are a few of my favourite days out, in London and within an hour’s drive.

Knebworth House, Hertfordshire

This is not your average National Trust stately home. This one has a dinosaur trail, a maze, a climbing fort and the most amazing slides. We were entertained for hours during one Spring Saturday, and we didn’t even go into the House itself. A family ticket costs £34.

Top family days out in and around London

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Aldenham Country Park, Hertfordshire

Aldenham has everything from a petting zoo and milking demonstrations to monkey nets and pony rides. It’s a great big open space with a lake and woods to explore and paths for cycling. Parking the car costs £4.50 and the grounds are yours to enjoy for free. Activities cost between £3 and £10 each and you can book online in advance to save 10%.

Clip n Climb climbing centre, Chelsea, South London

Just off the King’s Road in Chelsea is a modern, air conditioned climbing centre, where kids from 4 and up can safely take on 22 different themed climbing walls, and daredevils experience a vertical drop slide and the ‘Leap of Faith’. The instructors keep the training simple and fun with a 30 minute induction and parents can watch their adventurers from the comfort of the cafe – which, being in the middle of Chelsea is a classy affair with home made cakes and decent coffee. Prices start from £9 for off-peak times. You need to book ahead: gone are the days when we could book online and start our climbing session a couple of hours later.

The RAF museum, Hendon, North London

The Royal Air Force Museum has an impressive collection of aircraft, charting the history of aviation from the early daredevil aviators, through wartime to present day. There are over 100 aircraft on display, as well as uniforms, films and an interactive area for kids where they can test their reaction times, take the controls of a helicopter and take on hands-on experiments. Unfortunately, whenever we’ve visited several of the interactive exhibits have been out of order. We keep returning though, as the sheer scale of the place is impressive and keeps the kids entertained. Plus it’s all free.

Willows Farm, Hertfordshire

Willows Farm is a great day out for kids up to around 10 years old. My 6 year old is obsessed with their mini-tractor track, complete with ride on tractors, mini-petrol pumps, roundabouts and tunnels. There are small carousels and fairground rides, bouncy castles and trampolines, shows, animals, an adventure playground and a huge indoor play area. You can pick your own pumpkins in November and during the summer get lost in the maize maze (see what they did there?). This is not a cheap day out, but there are often discounts available online. Prices vary depending on the season, but you can expect to pay around £15 per person. All the activities are included in the ticket price.

Chessington World of Adventures, Surrey

Chessington has a great mix of rides for smaller kids as well as the more daring older siblings. We went on an ‘inset day’ (teacher training day when the school was closed) immediately after the half term, thinking smugly that we’d have the park to ourselves. We were wrong, it was packed. Arrive early, you need to be there as soon as the park opens and head straight for the rides furthest from the entrance to beat the queues. We were there for over 4 hours and only went on 4 rides because the queues were so long. Plus there isn’t a vegetable within a 5 mile radius, so the kids ate crap all day. Having said all of that, the kids LOVE Chessington. The rides are such a thrill for young ones and the staff are incredibly helpful and lovely, so overall it’s worth the ticket price. For the best deals, book well in advance. The cheapest tickets I could find were £27 – plus you have to pay for parking.

Gambado, 3 locations in & around London (Watford, Chelsea, Beckenham)

Watford is our nearest Gambado, a huge warehouse of fun stuff for kids, including a huge play frame with tunnels and slides, dodgems which are small and safe enough for even little ones to drive on their own, a climbing wall and carousel. My boys are getting a little old for Gambado now, but many a rainy Saturday afternoon has been whiled away here drinking coffee and reading a book while they run themselves ragged. Prices vary so check the website, but it’s usually around £15 to £20 for a family of 4 and all the activities are included.

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London Transport Museum, Covent Garden

Sounds nerdy, but the London Transport Museum is incredibly well designed for adults and kids of all ages. Kids are given an activity card which they need to get ‘stamped’ in each gallery, which keeps them focused. Most of the train carriages, buses, trams and taxis can be boarded, at least partially and there are loads of interactive exhibits, buttons to press and games to play. I usually hate having to pass through the gift shop to leave a museum, but the London Transport Museum shop is full of unusual gifts, retro posters and even furniture. I’ve spent a fortune in there – most of it for me, rather than the boys! The other big attraction of the LTM is its location – right in the heart of Covent Garden’s busy market square. So a day out to the museum usually includes stopping to watch the street entertainers and a yummy lunch overlooking the Piazza. Adult tickets cost £16, kids go free, and your tickets are valid for 12 months so you can return as often as you like.

As you can see only a couple of these suggestions really work during rainy days. I’d love to hear from you if you have other great wet weather places to visit in and around London. Leave your comments below and I’ll do a follow up post once we’ve visited some of your suggested attractions.

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Top picks of family friendly days out, in and around London. From stately homes to theme parks, these days out will keep the kids entertained