Family Vacation in London: Places to Visit and Things to Do with Kids in London, UK
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Visit the oldest zoo in the world, go to Hogwarts, work at an ice cream factory, meet Jack the Ripper in a dark alley, ride a double-decker or an aqua bus, take a walk inside the caves, go up the royal enclosure at the Wembley Stadium, and a lot more ideas for a family vacation in London - in this review.
Entertainment for Family with Kids in London
At KidZania Theme Park in Westfield, children form 4 to 12 can learn about 60 different professions, such as: pilots, doctors, puppet theatre actors, ice cream factory engineers, and more. Every kid earns toy money for his work: they are called ‘kidzos’ and can be spent for further ‘education’, shopping or entertainment at the park. A child can eat a burger or drink a smoothie, make a henna tattoo or get a face painting, ride the sightseeing train and visit the activity room or the climbing wall.
For adventurous journey - visit DreamWork's Tours Shrek’s Adventure! London attraction. Shrek’s Adventure consists of 10 interactive shows. Here kids visit the ogre’s house at the swamp and the Poison Apple pub, reach the magical mirror labyrinth, look into the fortune-teller’s crystal ball and prepare the arcanum with the Gingerbread Man. One part of the road is passed on foot, the other one - by 4D bus with the Donkey, Shrek’s best friend. The attraction is suitable for visitors from 6 years old and up, and the sightseeing tour takes about 1.5 hours.
In the London Dungeon it is possible to meet Jack the Ripper in the mirror labyrinth and get a haircut by Sweeney Todd. During a 1.5-hour sightseeing tour, it is possible to learn the history of Queen Mary Tudor’s reign, the 1665 Great Plague of London, Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot and other gloomy historical events and city legends. All characters - from fictional to real historical figures - are played by professional actors, and theatrical performances are generously flavored with dark humor. For example, visitors can feel the real smell of gutters in the streets of ‘Victorian England’, and at the end of the tour, all visitors are ‘sentenced to the rope’ and fall ‘under the scaffold’.
Gloomy historical plays with relevant sounds and smells are also staged at another horror attraction, The London Bridge Experience & Tombs. In the basement halls, visitors are met by a Roman legionnaire, a medieval hangman, Jack the Ripper and other characters telling stories about the most horrific events in London. The London Tombs with the ‘tree root maze’ are full of zombies, mad scientists and clowns from horror movies. Children from 5 to 15 are admitted to all of the attractions only under adult supervision.
To ride a zip line above King Henry IV’s hunting lands is possible while visiting the high-altitude rope park Go Ape! Trent park in Northern London. Passing all the routes takes from 2 to 4 hours; at the height of up to 16 metres there are monkey bridges, ladders and rope crossings between the tree crowns. Go Ape! Trent park is opened from February to November; adults and kids at least 140 cm tall are admitted.
The Discover Children’s Story interactive centre welcomes visitors in any weather. At the roofed Story Trail, kids find themselves in a secret cave, search for the giant’s hidden legs, make puppets from spoons, slide down the Magic Tower, learn to dance polka and try on unusual dresses and suits. In the outdoors Story Garden, there are several playgrounds shaped as monsters, a space and a pirates’ ship. Here, children can play giant musical instruments and hear magic stories at the Story Lane. Temporary interactive exhibitions dedicated to fairy tale writers and their books are also held at the centre.
Visitors can skate or play bowling at Queen’s Ice & Bowl entertainment complex. Skating sessions are held every day, while borders for kids can be installed at 12 bowling lanes if needed. Within the complex, there are also a karaoke bar and an activity room with shooting games, race simulators and arcade video games.
About 30 attractions are opened in summer for Thorpe park’s visitors. At this park, it is possible to ride a roller-coaster or slide down water slides, fly at the carousels and drive the Angry Birds cars at the motor-racing track. There are also a water play town for small kids and an outdoors swimming pool where the entire family can swim and sunbathe.
Sightseeing tours for adults and children from 3 years old are held in the Chislehurst caves, where visitors can hear the ghost legends and facts from the history of this place. Birthday parties and celebrations for kids from 8 years old and up can be held at the Cave Cafe, there are also ‘cave night’ programs for teenagers and adults.
75-minute tours are held at the Wembley Stadium, telling visitors various stories about world football championships and Olympic games which were held here. During the tour, kids and adults can see the stadium layers, changing rooms, conference halls and halls of honour with English national team’s trophies. Visitors pass through a tunnel to the field and then go up the Royal Box enclosure where winners are awarded after competitions.
Those who have already taken a ride on one of London’s red double-deckers might also enjoy going on the London Duck Tours amphibious bus. Passengers older than 3 can see the main city sights and go in the river on a yellow ‘floating’ bus. There are also thematic programs: schoolchildren from 7 years old can take part in Pirate Adventures and ‘spying’ excursions such as the James Bond Tour and the Code Breaker Challenge.
The popular musicals in London are also a worthy family attraction. For example, the Lion King is played at the Lyceum Theatre, Cats are played at the London Palladium, and the Wicked - at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Musical shows based on Roald Dahl’s books are also good to visit with kids: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical is played at the Drury Lane, and Matilda is played at the Cambridge Theatre. For Christmas, the Elf musical at the Dominion Theatre is a good holiday choice.
Suburban Attractions and Family Entertainment in London
Fans of the Harry Potter adventures should visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour center in Leavesden, one of London’s suburbs. The museum is opened at the location where all the eight movies were shot. Visitors can enter Dumbledore’s cabinet, sit at dining tables of each of Hogwarts’ faculties, visit Hagrid’s hut, taste creamy beer and chocolate frogs in Hogsmeade village. On the tour, guests get to see suits, decorations, scenery, and take action at such interactive exhibits as the “broom ride” or “Mrs Wisley’s knitting needles”. At the souvenir store, it is possible to buy sweets, magic wands, Time-Turners and other magic items.
The Legoland Windsor Theme Park is located not far from the Heathrow airport. Park visitors turn into firemen and pirates, slide down water slides and row boats, take driving lessons, pass through green labyrinths, drive electric vehicles and go ballooning. Figures made of Lego bricks are set all over the park - from giant dragons and dinosaurs to architectural miniatures in Miniland.
Even small kids can drive bulldozers, tractors and excavators at the Diggerland Kent Theme Park in Chatham (23 km from London). There is cart racing, treasure digging, carousels riding, and sitting in the cabins of various special transport vehicles. Lunches at Diggerland are offered at the ‘workers’ canteen’.
Another thematic complex in Chatham is the Dickens’ World. During a 1.5-hour tour, kids and adults enter the Victorian atmosphere of Charles Dickens’ books, riding a boat together with High Hopes characters, visiting Scrooge’s ghost house from A Christmas Carol and studying together with Nicholas Nickleby. Plays and musicals based on books by Dickens are also played here, at the Britannia Theatre.
To see the stone walls of Stonehenge, families have to travel to Wiltshire. Tourists can rent audio guides containing legends about Merlin, Druids and ancient Romans, together with versions of the huge stone circles’ origin. It is possible to take a tourist bus from London to here, individual travellers can take a bus or a train from towns which are closest to Stonehenge. It is also possible to walk 3 kilometres from Amesbury or take a bus from Salisbury. In summer and on holidays, entrance tickets to the complex should be bought beforehand and online at english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/prices-and-opening-times.
The London Zoo and Aquarium, Contact Zoos in the Centre of London
The ZSL London Zoo is the oldest zoo in the world. It is located in the centre of the city, at Regent’s park. Here, visitors can look at penguins swimming in a pool with transparent walls and a sandy beach, see gorillas and their cubs at Gorilla Kingdom, hear stories about giant tortoises and watch animal and bird shows. For kids, there is also the Animal Adventure playground where they can climb towers and see trees dwellers, the underground hole dwellers, and pet lamas, donkeys, sheep and goats at the contact zone.
To see sharks, jellyfish, seahorses, giant crabs and clown fish families go to the Sea Life Aquarium London. Its thematic zones present 350 species of fish and other living organisms from rivers and oceans. Visitors find themselves at the Ray Lagoon, the Antarctic, the Rainforests of the World, the Seadragon Kingdom, and the Atlantic Depths with octopuses. It is also possible to feed turtles and sharks or take tours with marine biologists for extra fees.
The London Wetland Centre natural complex allows visitors to take a look at otters, ducks and waterfowls in their natural context. Children can ride trolleys, climb walls, crawl down tunnels, and splash in the water area at the outdoor playground. At the Discovery Centre educational complex, visitors can learn facts about swamps in different places of the world - from peat lands to mangroves. It is also possible to play with virtual dragonflies at a digital pond. Near the pond, visitors can see the water dwellers using a turning camera, children are also given nets for frogs and water insects.
The Hackney City Farm is opened all year round. Goats, sheep, donkeys, piglets, hens and geese are brought here from the country farm; besides the paddocks and the pasture, there are also a garden and a butterfly pavilion here. Arts and crafts workshops are held here for visitors, together with educational programs for schoolchildren. Entrance to the farm is free, but visitors can leave any possible donation or buy fresh products, such as honey or eggs.
Another city farm, the Surrey Docks Farm in the centre of London also works throughout the year. Visitors can learn how the fruits and vegetables are grown, how honey is collected from the hive, how birds and animals are bred (kids can also feed and pet some of them). There are also a smithery, a crafts’ room, and a farm produce store. Visitors don’t need to buy entrance tickets, but all visitor are requested to make a donation.
A city farm with goats, rabbits and poultry is opened at the Coram’s Fields Children’s Centre. It has playgrounds with slides and swings, in summer, kids can also play in the sandbox. All the entertainment, arts, sports and educational programs at Coram's Fields are free, nor is there an entrance fee for kids or accompaning adults.
Entrance to the Vauxhall City Farm is also free, though donations are welcome. The farm offers entertainment programs for the entire family, such as King Lear plays with sheep playing the main parts, horse rides for kids, sensory lessons, where visitors go blindfold to guess which animals they pet and which plants they smell. Animal feeders with apples and carrots for ponies, and bread for ducks are set near the paddocks.
London Viewpoints and Observation Platforms
It is possible to get a bird’s eye view of the city from a cabin of the London Eye Observation Wheel. 32 capsule-shaped cabins take the full circle in 30 minutes. Cabins can hold up to 25 people, but it is also possible to ride alone or even hold a private party at the height of 135 metres, eying the Thames and the city centre.
The highest viewpoint in London is located at The Shard skyscraper at 244 meters high. At the panorama gallery, there are telescopes with sensory screens where visitors can get information about the 200 most famous sights in 10 languages.
The best view on the Eastern part of London opens from the ArcelorMittal Orbit viewpoint at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. This 115-meter tower is considered the highest sculpture in Great Britain. There is also a 178-metre tunnel slide where visitors can slide down from the height of 76 metres.
The view on the Southern shore of the Thames, the Tate Modern Gallery and the Globus Theatre opens from the Golden Gallery, under the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Visitors need to climb up 530 stairs, and a few tiers down there is the Whisper Gallery, where the softest sounds can be heard from 32 metres away.
The Tower Bridge Glass Floor 360 visitors can walk 42 meters above ground. At the pedestrian galleries connecting the towers, there is a museum of old mechanisms, which were earlier used to raise the bridge.
See also our review of the places to see with kids in London for free, as well as our review of the best of London’s museums and parks for visiting children. Events for kids from all over the world are gathered in our What’s On? section.
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