I recently had a day to fill while ShireMum was at school dealing with exam results so I decided to take Tilly into London with half a plan of what we’d do. The summer holidays offer much in the way of activities but they can lead to queues at popular destinations. I wasn’t at all sure this would prove a friendly environment for my sensitive three-year-old daughter but she’s always asking me to go into London so I decided to try it out.
Diana Memorial PlaygroundMy half a plan involved getting to the Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park for opening time in expectation of queues and crowds on what was a hot and sunny day in the school summer holidays.
We’d visited the playground last year when Tilly was two when we stuck to a corner of it so I was keen to explore the full playground this time.
The centrepiece is the pirate ship, where children have to walk on tricky looking ropes with hand supports to reach. There’s a mast to scale for older children and areas around the deck to explore for younger ones.
I was surprised that after just a few minutes Tilly wanted to get off the ship although she had another couple more goes.
Our main error was not having been prepared for sand and water play. A swimming costume plus a bucket and spade would definitely allow children to make most of the area.
There are plenty of other areas to explore in the playground with the music area proving popular with us, especially the musical squares that Tilly loved jumping on to make sounds. There are some fun climbing frames although one has a slide that emerges in the adjacent area, needing supervising grown-ups to be eagle-eyed.
There was no sign of crowd management being needed by the time we left, after 11am. I was a little disappointed that Tilly hadn’t wanted to spend longer at the playground but again that may be fixed next time with play in the sand area.
There are a couple of rides outside the playground costing £2.50 each. I indulged Tilly in the carousel, which she was fine on despite the height of the horses and the speed of the ride. There’s a cafe accessible both inside and outside the playground. Pricing is typical for a popular central London location but a coffee and an ice cream don’t break the bank.
Natural History Museum
From the playground I saw that the Natural History Museum and its dinosaurs were but a 20 minute walk away. A realise now what madness it was to consider this. Huge queues along half of Exhibition Road was quite enough to rule out standing around for ages in the heat. Although Tilly played up I knew we could visit again in term-time when all would be quiet. We had also visited the new dinosaur room earlier in the year and Tilly was rather scared of the animatronic T-Rex, so no big loss on balance. Although I suggested neighbouring museums (both the Science Museum and the V&A are adjacent), Tilly was flagging so we hopped on a bus back to the West End.
River trip on the ThamesDespite having lived and worked in London for many years the river boat services are something I’ve seldom used and on arriving at Westminster Pier it was pretty unclear what we had to go to simply get a boat to Bankside, with three kiosks all adorned with masses of different excursions and the like. On checking subsequently, it seems that Oyster can be used and that the MBNA Clipper services is the official one although the other operators stop at the various piers along the river. We paid £6, which is pricey compared to the bus or the tube, but taking the boat is all about the experience for Tilly and she loved it.
For those with more time, summer-time services run to much more distance destinations on the Thames such as Greenwich and Hampton Court.
Tate Modern and South Bank
I decided Bankside would be a good stopping point for our boat trip as we could see some sights and wander back along the South Bank to see what was going on, as there’s always something.
Tate Modern had some children-orientated activities on, so we decided to try them out.The Tate Modern turbine hall may not be an official play space but Tilly had great fun. It is huge! We wrapped up our day with a walk down the South Bank. There’s all manner of food options and probably more activities too but for us it was time to head to Waterloo station and home.
I still take a pushchair with Tilly so I avoid the tube as much as possible, although the TfL journey checker can advise on step free options for travel. Buses are a frequent and cheap way of getting around and there’s much more to see also.
I used the Hoop app for the first time to get an idea of age-appropriate activities nearby. I found it pretty useful and it directed me to the Tate Modern activities.