1/6 Sky high attractions
Big Bus Tour: Stop 18
Renzo Piano’s magnificent 1,000 foot structure dominates the London skyline and offers eagle-eye views of the city from the 72nd floor. For a real treat, consider spending a night or two at the new Shangri-La Hotel, which is located between the 34th and 52nd floor.
Price: Tickets to the viewing gallery – The View from the Shard – cost from £24.95 for adults; £18.95 for children.
Open: Daily from 10am to 7pm (10pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday).
Info: 0844 499 7111; theviewfromtheshard.com
Tube: London Bridge
EDF Energy London Eye
Big Bus Tour: Stop 13, 14 & 22
Take a spin in Europe’s tallest ferris wheel, the most popular paid attraction in the UK and one that has given London a brand icon to rival Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. The 32 bubble-like pods take 30 minutes to complete their journey, which will give you a whole new perspective on the city.
Price: Tickets cost from £26.55 per person.
Open: Daily 10am to 8.30pm
Info: 0871 781 3000; londoneye.com
Emirates Air Line
While it may not yet be the anticipated commercial success as far as commuting is concerned, the cable car that straddles the Thames, linking Greenwich with the Royal Victoria Docks (also convenient for the ExCeL exhibition space), some 300 feet above the river, could easily pass as a theme park ride.
Price: Tickets cost £4.30 for adults or £3.20 with an Oyster card (the cable car is officially part of the London Transport network).
Open: Daily from 7am to 9pm weekdays (8am Saturday, 9am Sunday).
Info: 0343 222 1234; emiratesairline.co.uk
Tube: North Greenwich or DLR Royal Victoria
2/6 Adventure activities in London
Big Tree Climbing
The Great Big Tree Climbing Company, set up by two tree surgeons to show the pleasurable side of their daily routines, arranges events as well as children’s parties at various locations in the UK including London (in Alexandra Park, for example). Open to all ages (‘from three to 100’) and all levels of fitness, participants squirrel their way up to heights of 100 feet kitted out with proper ropes and safety harnesses.
Price: Ticket costs vary, from ££15 per child.
Info: 0800 055 6760; bigtreeclimbing.co.uk
A bigger splash
Incongruous as it may seem, 14-year-olds and above can go white water rafting just a few yards beyond the M25. The action takes place at the same Lee Valley venue where Team GB won both gold and silver medals in the canoe slalom in the recent Olympic Games.
Price: The exhilarating, 300m grade 4 white-water course costs from £49.
Info: 0845 677 0600;
Station: Waltham Cross
Hike over the O2
Originally known as the Millennium Dome, this flying saucer of a structure is best known as a performance venue, hosting everything from championship tennis to rock concerts.
But the newest action takes place on the roof, with an epic 90-minute guided (and fully harnessed) walk with 360-degree views from the summit.
Price: Tickets cost from £26 for adults and children. Children must be at least 10 years old, minimum height 1.2m. One adult must accompany every two under-18s.
Open: From 10am to between 6pm and 10pm, depending on the season.
Info: 020 8463 2000; theo2.co.uk
Tube: North Greenwich
Thames Rib Experience
Big Bus Tour: Stop 20 & 21
Accompanied by the theme music from James Bond, you’ll zip along the Thames at gut-busting speeds on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat, ie one with a solid bottom). Guaranteed to blow out the cobwebs, the boats carry 12 passengers who are provided with weather-proof gear. Options range from a 20-minute jaunt to a 75-minute trip travelling from Embankment Pier as far as the Thames Barrier.
Price: Tickets cost from £23 for adults; £20 for children.
Open: Daily from 10am to 7pm.
Info: 020 3245 1177; thamesribexperience.com
As the temperatures, hopefully, creep up with the approach of summer, so does the appeal of outdoor swimming, especially for Londoners deprived of a proper beach. You’ll find them at Brockwell Park, Parliament Hill, the Serpentine, Tooting Bec and London Fields.
Several stadiums offer tours that include the players’ tunnel onto the pitch, the subs benches, the trophy room and the changing rooms. Take your pick from Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs or Fulham, among others, or go on a Wembley tour.
The Thames Path
Combine exercise and sightseeing, with a hike along the Thames Path, a 184-mile National Trail that traces the river from the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier.
4/6 Royal Palaces
Big Bus Tour: Stop 25 & 26
With its iconic busby-hatted guards standing sentinel outside, Buckingham Palace (above) is part of the national psyche. So what fun that you can actually go inside! The neo-classical palace has been home and office to every monarch since Queen Victoria.
Access to the 19 State Rooms are, as you’d expect, dependent on when there are official functions. But the paintings in the Queen’s Gallery and the coaches and official limos in the Royal Mews
are widely open to view.
Price: Tickets cost from £19.75 for adults; £11.25 for children. Opening times vary (State Rooms are mostly open throughout August and September when the Queen is at Sandringham).
Info: 020 7766 7300; royalcollection.org.uk
Tube: Green Park, Hyde Park Corner or Victoria
Hampton Court Palace
Apart from its undeniably handsome looks, Hampton Court Palace taps a rich seam of English history. Built by Thomas Wolsey but ‘acquired’ by Henry VIII, the latter’s State Apartments, including the Great Hall, are the main draw.
Children,however, may be more inspired by the sight of pies and other royal feastings in the Tudor kitchen, the famous Hampton Court maze and the Haunted Galerry where the ghost of Catherine Howard, executed by Henry, is believed to roam with her head tucked under her arm.
Price: Tickets cost £18.20 for adults; £9.10 for children.
Open: Daily from 10am to 6pm.
Info: 0844 482 7777; hrp.org.uk/hamptoncourtpalace
Train: Hampton Court, or, better still, go by boat from Westminster just as Henry and others would have done.
Big Bus Tour: Stop 38
The recently restored State Apartments have new displays on George II and his wife Queen Caroline, focusing on the decade after his accession in 1727 and their lively court. Visitors will also be able to watch an actress playing the part of the Queen getting dressed!
Special events include an open-air cinema showing various films in August: 6 August (Back To The Future), 7 August (Breakfast At Tiffany’s) and 8 August (The Great Gatsby)
Price: Tickets cost £16.50; £12.50 for children.
Special event: On 15 June, families can learn to ‘Cook for the King’ (£15 per child). Tickets cost £16.50 for adults; children are free.
Open: Daily from 10am to 6pm.
Info: 0844 482 7777; hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace
Tube: High Street Kensington or Queensway
Tower of London
Big Bus Tour: Stop 19
The seemingly impregnable fortress gets heavily invaded by tourists, so go early and out of season if you can, especially if you want to inspect the Crown Jewels. Consider taking a tour guided by a Yeoman Warder (a ‘Beefeater’) who will bring alive some of the horrible histories, taking in Traitors’ Gate, the place where the little princes were incarcerated, and the vicious weapons in Royal Armouries.
The medieval lavatories are always a big hit, as are such surprising facts such as the Tower being where the Kray twins and Rudolph Hess were imprisoned, and that the last public execution there took place in 1941.
Price: Tickets cost ££22 for adults; £11 for children.
Open: Daily from 9am to 5.30 pm (10am Sundays and Mondays). The 60-minute tours are included in the price of a ticket.
Info: 0844 482 7777; hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon
Tube: Tower Hill
5/6 Animal magic in London
ZSL London Zoo
Big Bus Tour: Stop 5
The zoo has come a long way since cages and bars, both in terms of creating natural habitats (the newest being Tiger Territory) and its role in research and breeding programmes for endangered species. Newest arrivals include pygmy hippos Thug and Nicky and the Sumatran tiger triplets. Plan your visit around regular events such as daily feedings and talks by keepers.
Price: Standard tickets cost from £24 for adults; £17.50 for children.
Open: Daily from 10am to 6pm.
Info: 0844 225 1826; zsl.org/londonzoo
Tube: Camden Town
Sea Life London Aquarium
Big Bus Tour: Stop 13, 14 & 22
This is one of the largest collections of marine life in Europe, with some 500 diff erent species splashing about in two million litres of water.
There are 40 sharks alone, plus rays, piranhas, jellyfi sh, turtles, seahorses and penguins in the new ‘Ice Adventure’ zone. Check the website for times of feedings and diving displays.
Price: Tickets cost from £18.36 for adults; £13.52 for children.
Open: Daily from 10am to 7pm.
Info: 0871 663 1678; visitsealife.com/London
Spitalfields City Farm
Come and meet Bayleaf the donkey and Bramble the goat, get involved in activities or just observe the workings of the farmyard, which is run entirely by volunteers. Admission
is free; donations are welcome.
Open: Daily, except Mondays, from 10am to 4.30pm.
Info: 020 7247 8762; spitalfieldscityfarm.org
Tube: Whitechapel or Bethnal Green
WWT Wetland Centre
A 43-acre urban oasis for 150 species of birds, plus butterflies, bats, dragonflies and pond life, the centre was created on land reclaimed from a disused reservoir. Watch Joanna Lumley’s website introduction and you’ll definitely want to go.
Price: Tickets cost £12.35 for adults; £6.90 for children. Open daily from 9.30am to 6pm (5pm in winter).
Info: 020 8409 4400; wwt.org.uk/wetlandcentres/london
DID YOU KNOW?
During the war, some of the valuable animals in London Zoo, including two pandas and three elephants, were evacuated to zoos outside the capital.
6/6 Arts for kids in London
London is well endowed with children’s theatres, with drama, comedy and musical performances for all ages.
Polka Theatre: Among the best is the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, which also has an exhibition space, playground and cafe.
Unicorn Theatre: The purpose-built Unicorn Theatre for children has two stages plus rehearsal rooms at London Bridge.
Little Angel Theatre: You should also consider seeing one of the year-round marionette shows and/or workshops at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington.
Udderbelly: Underbelly began life at the Edinburgh Festival in 2000 and has grown ever since. Throughout the summer in Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank, within the iconic giant purple upside-down cow, you can see cabaret, comedy, circus, children’s shows and dance in this wonderful festival of live entertainment.
The Lyceum Theatre: Here is the production of The Lion King, with music from Elton John, has African rhythms and fabulous costumes.
Theatre Royal: Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, directed by Sam Mendes, at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Cambridge Theatre: The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theatre
Lyric Theatre: From 2 July 2014, The Tiger Who Came To Tea comes to the Lyric Theatre, promising lots of magic, singalongs and ‘clumsy chaos’.
There’s no shortage of cinemas in London. In addition to the main chains are several independent picture houses that offer more than mere movies. For such in-house comforts as leather armchairs and places to put your food and drink, we recommend either the plush, 45-seater Aubin in Shoreditch or the Electric on Portobello Road, one of London’s oldest.
Nearby is Notting Hill’s Gate Picturehouse with a gorgeous Edwardian interior. The Lexi in northwest London is unusual in that all its profits go to charity. Two others to consider are the five-screen Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton and the Prince Charles
just off Leicester Square, which is famous for its ‘singalong to musicals’ nights.
Although the promise of an art gallery is not always an instant turn-on for children, you’ll find some of the capital’s major collections organise special events to inspire younger visitors.
Every Sunday at The National Gallery, for example, there are free art workshops for children aged five to 11, and drawing sessions at 11am and 2pm.
At Tate Britain, every weekend there’s a ‘Families Welcome’ area where young visitors are introduced to artist-designed activities, designed to encourage understanding of art and architecture as they make their way through the galleries.
The City of London Festival (22 June to 17 July) brings a huge number of family events to London, including the annual Festival Children’s Parade on 27 June.