London babies and kids

August 5, 2012

The 12 best places for kids in London – from toddlers to tweens

I get asked a lot of questions about the best places to go in London. And one question that keeps cropping up time and again is where to take kids. I visited London and travelled around the UK several times throughout my childhood – when I was two years old and when I was 10. In these snaps from our family album you can see that (a) I look rather pleased with myself in my natty pinstripe shirt with bow tie in front of the Tower of London; and (b) the duckpond in St James’s Park proved to be a popular destination for toddlers and tweens alike.

There are the obvious tourist attractions such as The Tower of London (can’t miss the Crown Jewels and Henry VIII’s plus-sized armour), The London Eye and Madame Tussaud’s (it’s ridiculously expensive and tacky but I remember loving it when I was 10-years-old), but there are loads of other things on offer in London that offer a real point of difference for kids than any other destination. I’m not sure if I was a particularly nerdy child (this is a real possibility) but I adored visiting museums, and was particularly fascinated by archaeological discoveries. And London has no shortage of world-class museums and galleries. Best of all? They’re free.

So with the London 2012 Olympics in full swing, I thought it would be a good time to take you on a little tour of London for kids, Wee Birdy style.

1. Need to let the kids run wild after a morning at the museum? Head to the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens for one of London’s best playgrounds. There is an enormous wooden pirate ship to explore, as well as tee-pees, sandpits and sculptures. Don’t miss the darling Peter Pan statue further along the garden path. Check the website for opening hours, which vary throughout the year. Image via Playground Adventure UK.

2. For a museum that the whole family will enjoy, check out the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. You’ll rediscover your old childhood favourites and there is always a schedule of events and activities for kids. Admission is free.

3. Got a late-tween/teen girl who loves to paint her nails? If you’re OK with manicures (go on, Mum, you’re on holiday!) make a beeline for London’s legendary Wah Nails for the coolest nail art in London – and let her choose the design of her dreams. Wah Nails has a concession located in Topshop’s flagship store at Oxford Circus, so she can go shopping for mad accessories after her nails are done. Bookings are recommended.

4. Afternoon tea is a British institution, but sometimes kids get bored in the more traditional London hotels. For a family-friendly afternoon tea, head to the Mercer Street Hotel in Covent Garden where kids can enjoy the Stupendous Afternoon Tea. Inspired by the Roald Dahl children’s classic Matilda (the musical version is currently playing in the Cambridge Theatre opposite the hotel) the tea includes Ludicrously Lovely lemon-loaf cake and Tremendously Terrific trifle. Prices are £13.75 per child and £29.50 per adult, and every child takes home a complimentary copy of Matilda. Bookings are essential.

5. Older girls will love a more sophisticated afternoon tea with a playful twist, like Prêt-à-Portea at the Berkeley, which includes exquisite cakes and biscuits inspired by the latest fashion collections. Meanwhile, the Sanderson has launched a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea (pictured, above) that takes guests on a fantastical food adventure, including blueberry lollipops that turn your tongue from hot to cold and hazelnut praline ice cream lollipops that explode after a single bite. Fabulous. Bookings are essential for both afternoon teas.

6. Keep it simple and head to St James’s Park for a picnic and some squirrel-sighting. The grey squirrels may be one of the UK’s biggest pests, but you could almost forgive them for keeping young ones fascinated while they scamper around and chase each other. There is also the popular duck pond and you can play ‘spot the species’ thanks to the handy bird identification charts. The cafe near the duck pond, Inn the Park, is also very family-friendly and you can either eat in or get takeaway. The park makes a good pit-stop to break up some serious sight-seeing, as it’s right in the middle of the Buckingham Palace//Westminster/Trafalgar Square triangle.

7.  Go treasure-hunting on the shores of the Thames! This is one that’s strictly for older kids and tweens, as it involves negotiating broken glass and jagged rocks. Just make sure you go at low tide and take the right precautions (wellies, antiseptic wash and rubber gloves are essential as Weil’s Disease is a real threat). Read more about mudlarking on the Thames – including how to declare treasure (!) – here. One of my favourite spots is the little beach right in front of the Tate Modern on South Bank. Over 10,000 years of history gets washed up on the shores of the Thames, and you can easily find Tudor roof tiles, Elizabethan clay pipes and Roman oyster shells. It’s best to go with a tour group, so you know what you’re looking for. London Walks does a good Thames beachcombing tour. Image via My 5 Boys.

8. Bounce on Stonehenge. In the middle of London. Really. The brainchild of artist Jeremy Deller, this life-size inflatable replica of Stonehenge, named ‘Sacrilege’, is touring around London during July and August 2012. Under 12s must be accompanied by an adult. For all locations and dates, check Time Out London.

9. It’s hot, tempers are frayed and you’re knackered – nothing a good ice-cream can’t fix. For a real retro treat, take the kids to The Parlour Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason for a Knickerbocker Glory (pictured above), which they’ve been serving to Londoners since 1955. The £12 ice treat boasts vanilla bean ice-cream, strawberries and 12-year old balsamic vinegar, as well as frosted strawberry and shortbread ice-cream with raspberries, pineapple chunks and raspberry coulis.

10. Get your Hogwarts on and head to Warner Bros. Studio for the Making of Harry Potter tour. Located around 20 miles north-west of London, it’s easily accessible via public transport. See all the original sets and learn how some of the Harry Potter (film) magic was created. Want more Harry Potter? Check out this free self-guided tour to the film locations around London. Kids will love discovering the real-life Potter landmarks, and you could also squeeze in a bit of real-life London history. Win-win.



11. If your daughter is interested in fashion and accessories, include these must-visit London shops in your itinerary: Lazy Oaf (pictured above, for pop-tastic graphic tees and playful accessories); Tatty Devine (for the most original and fun perspex jewellery – think giant watermelon necklaces, bow rings and cat bangles); Urban Outfitters (for cool clothes and awesome gifts); and Topshop‘s flagship store at Oxford Circus (it’s the biggest fashion store in Europe and has an entire floor dedicated to accessories). Image via Time Out London.

12. Take the kids to The British Museum and make a beeline for Rooms 62, 63 and 64. These rooms, located on the third floor, are home to the museum’s extensive mummy collection, and the exhibits are guaranteed to interest the most jaded of tiny tourists. Don’t miss the mummified animals – especially the cats. Kids are fascinated by them. (I also liked the peat bog man.)

Want more tips for kids? I heartily recommend An Uncle’s Guide to London by Herb Lester (pictured above) and checking out Time Out London‘s weekly listings for kids, as well as their book London for Children.

Have you seen Wee Birdy’s Facebook page? I’ll be posting more amusing photos featuring questionable ’80s fashion from the Wee Birdy family album this week. Come over and say hello.

N.B. All details are correct at time of publication. Some exhibitions and events  included in this post are temporary or for a limited time only. Please double-check all details, (especially opening and closing times) with each exhibition or event at the time of your visit, as I’d hate to hear about disappointed little ones.

What are your best tips for kids in London? 


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October 13, 2011

Shopping in London: Ben Pentreath

‘Ben Pentreath’ could very well be a byword for all things splendid and in very good taste, because his eponymous shop, in London’s Bloomsbury, is a veritable treasure chest of the most covetable things for your home.

The shop was a wee favourite of mine when I worked at Time Out London, and whenever I was on a present-buying mission I would make a beeline to Rugby Street. In fact, Ben Pentreath could quite possibly be one of my favourite shops – in the world. And as you well know, I’ve been to a few.

Mr Pentreath, an architect and interior designer, along with shop manager, Bridie Hall, have filled the shelves of their store with an immaculate and eclectic collection of glassware, linen, candles, vases, lights and books, as well as a lovely selection of prints, furniture, children’s toys and other ‘curiosities’.

By applying their designers’ eyes to wares from all over the world, they have carefully chosen what they consider to be the very best in terms of quality and design from each category. To that end, glassware is La Rochere, striped linen napkins are from French Catalan company Le Toiles du Soleil, and baskets (made to traditionally winnow grain) are from Zimbabwe. And you can’t miss the striking display of creamy Hunslet tableware from Leeds – the solid pared-down design was inspired by eighteenth century servants’ crockery.

The shop’s fondness for Victorian-style curiosities, such as crocodile skulls, and unusual shells and botany prints, makes it the perfect showcase for Peter Hone’s architectural plaster casts. The overall effect is reminiscent of Sir John Soan’s house (an absolute London must-visit), but unlike the museum, you can buy everything on site.

Many of the items are exceptionally good value, and you’d get quite a bit of change from 20 quid. Take, for instance the brightly coloured felt German coasters, £15 for a set of six, mercury glass candlestick, £9, and glass urchin plate, £8.50.

Children are also beautifully catered for with imaginative and timeless treasures, such as bottles of invisible ink for £4 (great stocking stuffer), paper doll dress-ups, £4.50 and a classic tin trumpet, £5.50.

One you’re done extricating yourself from such splendid-ness, make sure you stop by Suzannah Hunter further down Rugby Street for handmade leather bags, as well as Darkroom (incredible design-led fashion, homewares and accessories) and Persephone Books around the corner on Lamb’s Conduit Street.

Best buys include John Derrian red letter glass plates, £38, Hunslet footed mugs, £13.50, large blue glass vases (rather like vintage Holmegaard, only much cheaper), £45 and the London Night and Day vintage book, £35.

Ben Pentreath
17 Rugby Street
London WC1N 3QT
Tel. 020 7430 2526
Nearest tubes: Russell Square and Holborn
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 11am-6pm

Ben Pentreath is on Facebook and he also has a rather fine blog.

Refuel at Cigala, pick up some mini fruit tarts at Sfizio (their mini fruit tarts are divine), and if you’re in the mood for fish & chips, head to The Fryer’s Delight (a classic chippy and a Wee Birdy favourite).

{Photography by Wee Birdy}


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March 18, 2010

Wee find: Merci Liberty collection

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Oh, how I wish I was in London right now. I've got loads of things to tell you since arriving back in Sydney (I'm just starting to thaw out after Britain's coldest winter in 30 years), but right now I've got my eye on – where else? – lovely, lovely Liberty. Right on the back of the rather clever Liberty for Target collection comes the sublime limited edition Merci Liberty collection for spring.

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Designed by Parisian concept store Merci's creative director, Marie France Cohen, the super-pretty collection features a bouquet of Liberty's most iconic floral prints. With an emphasis on what Merci does best (homewares and children's ware), stand-out pieces include the old-school mini suitcase covered in Liberty print, long print aprons, as well as reasonably priced cushions from £20. 

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Stationery nerds will rejoice in the sublime range of printed tapes, notebooks and assorted papery delights (I really love the old-school brown envelopes with a posy of Liberty florals peeking out from the lining).

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Tell me – have you picked up anything from the Liberty for Target collection? Have you had a peek at the new Merci collection? Go on, give me my London fix.
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p.s. I snuck in a wee trip to Paris (and a visit to Merci) during my last week in London, so a shop tour will be coming soon!

Liberty
Great Marlborough Street
London W1B 5AH
Tel. 0207 734 1234
Nearest tube: Oxford Circus
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.


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November 11, 2009

Wee find: Nathalie Lete puppet theatre

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Here's the latest in French artist Nathalie Lete's painterly goodness: a children's puppet theatre from Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop. I'm just re-discovering this marvellous Covent Garden-based independent toy boutique, which also has a brilliant new online shop and blog.

It's so easy to forget about some Londons' speciality shops, particularly if they're located in the touristy part of town. Pollock's is a real little gem, with all sorts of traditional toys for kids and puppet theatres for less than a tenner. Nice antidote to all the mass-produced, high street tat around.

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I'm also a little bit in love with this miniature puppet theatre (below), which at £6.50 is a very good buy AND (wonders of all wonders) it fits in the palm of your hand! Super-sweet.

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Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop
44 The Market
Covent Garden
London WC2E 8RF
Tel. 020 73797866
Nearest tube: Covent Garden
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.

Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday 10.30-6pm
Sunday 11am-4pm


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August 25, 2009

Shopping in London: V&A shop

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Over the past couple of years I’ve posted quite a lot about my favourite bits and pieces from various London museums and galleries, but I’ve never delved into any great detail about the actual shops themselves. So naturally, that’s about to change…

It’s a given that any gallery-goer’s journey will end in the designated shop space – in fact their presence (and the promise of a toy dinosaur) has been used as the proverbial dangling carrot to get many a child through the tedium of an exhibition itself. But some of the world’s greatest and most-loved museums and galleries (New York’s MoMA, London’s Tate Modern, Design Museum and the V&A) have evolved in such a way that their shops are a retail (and tourist) destination in their own right.

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I must confess that I’ve been guilty, on more than one occasion, of making a specific gift-buying dash to the V&A shop, without so much as a peep in at any of the permanent collection galleries (I know, shameful behaviour!). But that’s because the V&A, in particular, offers up an expertly-edited line-up of gifts, accessories, books and children’s toys – all perfect candidates for being packaged up and sent away to friends and family far away.

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There's also a dedicated bookshop, with subjects spanning the worlds of design, art, fashion, textiles, jewellery, photography and architecture. And they always have an extensive range of the most gorgeous cards:

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The website is also an excellent source for all manner of design-led products and accessories, and autumn/winter’s new collection has just arrived online. I’m loving the cherry brooch by Francoise Montague, squirrel ring box by Jonathan Adler, and chirpy cicada brooch.

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There's also a really lovely selection of luxe hairbands and headpieces, like this little pleated beauty

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The shop is also particularly good when it comes to accessing a clever range of kids’ toys, games and activities, starting at pocket-money prices. I’m particularly fond of the vintage-style wind-up tin toys, like this circus elephant, and these Clifford Richards cat and fairy notebooks.

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The V&A also have a brilliant prints service, where you can order any print from their vast collection in the size, format and paper of your choice.

Also keep an eye out for pieces from the Cherry on a Cake collection, a brilliant line of limited edition designer collaborations, making them perfect (read: non-crap) souvenirs for tourists and London newcomers alike. Inspired by the museum’s extensive collections, you can take your pick from a stunning Grayson Perry doll (at a super-cool £4000, wow) or a Concise Book of Patterns necklace by Comfort Station. Art and history has never been so wearable.

The V&A Shop
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
London SW7 2RL
Tel. 020 7942 2687
Nearest tube: South Kensington
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.

Opening hours:

Monday to Sunday 10am-5.30pm

Late night every Friday until 9.45pm


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July 29, 2009

Shopping in London: Courverture & the Garbstore

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Courverture & the Garbstore is a rather charming concept store on Notting Hill’s Kensington Park Road, offering a carefully edited selection of womenswear, menswear, homewares, gifts, toys and childrenswear over three enticing levels. Open since April 2008, it brings together Emily Dyson's shop Couverture with Ian Paley’s cult men’s brand the Garbstore.

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I was immediately drawn to the back of the store, where rows of super-cute childrenswear labels hang next to shelves of Japanese and Scandinavian wooden toys and beautifully designed treasures. There’s also a rack of fanciable dressing-up clothes sourced from around the world. The kids’ dressing room is also quite at treat, decorated with a vibrant vintage wallpaper.

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It’s worth taking the time to explore the racks of clothes up the front of the store, which feature New York designers such as Lyell, Rachel Comey, as well as denim from Jean Shop. There’s also netural cotton jersey pieces by Dutch label Humanoid, knitwear by former Paul & Joe designer April May, and streamlined designs by Indress (think of a grown-up A.P.C.). There’s also a good selection of (Wee Birdy favourite) Belle by Sigerson Morrison shoes.

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Head upstairs and you’ll find a light and bright level of more womenswear, as well as hand-picked vintage items and homewares. A cabinet of vintage Sasha dolls – still in their pristine boxes – sits next to Scholten & Baijings’ brightly woven Dutch table linen. It’s all been expertly edited, and although the pieces have been sourced from around the world, they all share a similar mid-century/Scandi aesthetic. Keep an eye out for the magnificent vintage patchwork quilts, as well as Spanish ceramics and Japanese glassware. I love the hand-stitched cushions and throws by Parisian homewares brand Caravane, which use reissued vintage fabrics and have an almost hand-painted feel to them.

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Moving downstairs to the basement Garbstore, you’ll find vintage-inspired and Japanese brands exclusive to the UK, such as Bedwin & the Heartbreakers, General Research, Naval Research and Mountain Research. There’s also a wall of Garbstore’s own-brand denim jeans, which boasts 19 different classic styles that were inspired by ‘40s and ‘50s cuts. Look out for Australian’s Rittenhouse t-shirts, as well as Han Kjobenhavn sunglasses. I also found a good selection of vintage tie pins and clips from from £5 (especially hard-to-find clips for skinny ties!). And don’t miss the line-up of vintage Action Men, with prices starting at £45.

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Now is a particularly good time to visit, with a store-wide sale on both current and last season’s stock. Or plan a trip on Saturday, when they’ll make further discounts of up to 70 per cent.

UPDATE: Just got news of some of the discounted goodies to expect in store: Belle by Sigerson Morrison ankle strap sandal for £199 (from £299), Rachel Comey chartreuse skirt for £139 (was £349), Ann-Sofie Back crepe fitted blazer for £225 (from £559) and Michelle Lowe-Holder printed silk blazer for £90 (was £229).

Couverture & The Garbstore
188 Kensington Park Road,
London W11 2ES
Tel. 020 7229 2178
Nearest Tubes: Notting Hill Gate and Ladbroke Grove
Click here for a Wee Birdy map

Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday: 10am-6pm
Sunday: 12 noon-5pm (December only)

Click here for more Wee Birdy shop reviews in Notting Hill.


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