London lifestyle & travels with kids and babies
London in the summer spoils with pop ups, summer opera, markets and events, rooftop bars, outdoor cinemas and festivals. 20 years in and we are still in awe: the city comes alive and buzzing: picnics and bubbles in the royal parks, outdoor theatre, crusing or rowing on Thames or the canals, and always an abundance of new things popping up. Over 200 years ago Samuel Johnson stated: ‘You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ So here are our favourite London summer dayouts and hidden gems of 2022, in no particular order.
1 . For blue skies and hot days, it’s difficult to beat a picnic and kids play by Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park and/ or splashing by V&A. Officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in July 2004 and designed by American architect Kathryn Gustafson, the oval stone fountains aim to reflect Diana’s life and inclusive personality.
Water pumped from deep below, flows from the highest point down the two sides of the gently sloping oval. The sides are intended to show Diana’s happy times as well as the turmoil: on one side the granite stream bed descends smoothly causing gentle ripples; on the other side there are steps, rills and curves, surface turbulence as well as tranquil pools at the bottom.
Pair it Serpentine Galleries next door (free & no booking required) for icecream and marveling at the summer pavillion and V&A for further splash and exhibitions.! 2022 charms with the Back Chapel designed by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates: contemplation and convening, Africa meets Eastern European churches, within the grounds of Serpentine in Kensington Gardens.
And V&A spoils in the summer of 2022 : Fashioning Masculinities (fashion lovers, teens and men I reckon) , Beatrix Potter Drawn to Nature (young and grown up kids + nature lovers), Africa Fashion (the exhibition I enjoyed the most!) – a feast (free for V&A members, no booking required) in addition to the usual glorious displays.
2. The City and its fascinating, constantly evolving architectural landscape. Back in 2004, I witnessed the finishing touches of Gherkin from my office. It felt so visionary and brave, blending gracefully with City’s hundreds years old architecture. 18 years after, there are few other skyscrapers equally bold and architecturally standing out. On the opposite side of Shard, there’s the Walkie Talkie with its highly distinctive top-heavy form, hosting the stunning Sky Garden.
Excitement was such an understatement when it came to our kids, even when we got 20 Fenchurch street ground floor and airport style security controls. Book in for free and soak in stunning views from 35th and 36th floor. We loved the Sky Garden; Guardian’s architecture critics did not do any justice by calling it ‘meagre pair of rockeries, in a space designed with all the finesse of a departure lounge’ ; the space and views are truly spectacular and the green plants and trees are absolutely wonderful.
We also tested the cocktails, juices for kids and nibbles: all yum. And for a perfect day out combining old and new in the City, Tower of London is next door to Sky Garden. Our dedicated article and visit in here, our kids love it and so do the grown-ups. St Katharine’s docks are also close by for a further complex intertwining old locks and canals, a variety of boats and sailing yachts, new boutique shops, historic pubs and newer cute restaurants. And if one needs more culture and/or museum, head to Museum of London by St Paul’s.
3. Besides gorgeous rooftops, City’s best views are from cruising on the Thames. For a different day out suggestion, pick a clipper or a hop on hop off boat operator, to navigate smoothly your way around Big Ben, SouthBank, Tate Modern, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf and Greenwich. Few years ago, we’ve been invited to a VIP afternoon sailing on Thames and hopping around the busy Southbank – we loved it and wrote about in here.
Southbank has been spoiling us all for many years with summer events and family fun. This neighbourhood is filled with great cultural pursuits and public attractions, from sweeping panoramas from the London Eye, paradigm-challenging performances at the National Theatre or South Bank Centre, riverside gathering spaces, wry street art and skateboard-friendly underpasses.
Next door there’s also the Aquarium, which makes a fun visit with kids on rainy days.
4. We also catch regularly boats from BatterseaPower station, the new development will spoil you with river cafes and restaurants: aperols at Megan’s, oysters at Wright Brothers, an Indian feast at Cinnamon Kitchen, one cool coaling jetty with ocasional markets and cinema, floating graciously. And to wrap up the day, a walk and play by the Peace Pagoda and beautiful Battersea Park.
5. Holland Park and the Design Museum. Japanese gardens, 2 playgrounds, summer opera and performances and an Ecology centre to mention just a few. This makes a perfectly relaxed summer day, grab your picnic, friends and blanket. There will be peacocks and squirrels to feed, opera rehearsals in the day for a free taster, little art gallery next to the gelato corner and the sandpit playground. The Ecology centre is next to the big playground and has fun summer camps for little people eager to get closer and more knowledgeable when it comes to nature.
Wrap up the day in Notting Hill, vintage shopping on Portobello and great restaurants, from easy Australian Granger & Co to more sophistated Asian bites at E&O that get very social and buzzy in the evening; to Honest Burger or Osteria Basilico.
6. Kensington Palace & Hyde Park playgrounds: combine Italian gardens, arty Serpentine Sackler galleries and one cool restaurant designed by Zaha Hadid: Magazine, to keep all family happy and entertained. Grayson Perry exhibited in the past and I cant help myself to post a picture with him – apart from great art, he ‘s got a wicked sense of humour and fashion. By far one of my favourites contemporary artists ! As usual the Serpentine pavilion is a visual delight and fun to play around & within for kids (see the insta shot above). No doubt so much art will prompt an urge to head for another playground, luckily Diana memorial and memorial fountains are also next door. Or if you’re rather after history and royal grounds, Kensington palace – our dedicated article in here. Few playgrounds around Hyde Park as well: the well known beautiful Diana Memorial (closest to Notting Hill) ; by Italian Gardens one for younger kids (we reckon perfect for 1-6 years and less crowds); by One Hyde Park an exciting and adventurous play space (that gets crowded though at weekends).
7. Mayfair, Marleybone high street and Regents Park. This glamorous side of town hosts the Wallace Collection that the boys love for their arm exhibitions; I felt in love with it over Manolo Blahnik few years ago and was so ready to move in .
For lunch in Mayfair, we adore Mercato for casual quick options, from Asian to meat and pizza or simply chilled summer evenings on their rooftop.
8. Feed the pelicans in St James park, take your pics with the Horse Guards and Buckingham, spend an arty afternoon at National Galleries.
Next door there’s also vibrant Covent Garden; for lunch in here we love Sticks & Sushi; for special occassions Sushi Samba and for festive afternoon treats Charlie and chocolate factory tea at One Aldwych. London also spoils with West End shows: amidst our favourites for grown-ups the iconic Book of Mormons and Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard play based in old Jewish quarter of Vienna. Kids have been spoilt at Haymarket Royal Theatre: Peter Rabbit live delighted with beautifully handcrafted puppets, enchanting songs and a sprinkle of magic. We were be invited on the red carpet: grown ups in awe with Haymarket setting and transported by fluffy nostalgia, the kids mesmerized by Beatrix Potter stories.
9. Other signature things to do in London in the summer? Picnicking and indulging into bubbles in royal park is a quintesential English habbit; our highlights over the years must have been spending the afternoon at Buckingham gardens with friends. Book tickets way in advance, all very topical and Jubilee themed!
Pair it with Big Ben, Westminster and playground by Thames; pubs or an easy river cafe at Victoria Tower Garden South and of course for really itchy feet in the morning, Tate Britain is nearby.
10. Hot summer days in London are rare and very precious, but if heat troubles you we warmly recommend Go Boat-ing. We tested both picnic and bubbles at leisure with boating by Little Venice canals and Kingston waterways, very cool, literally as well!
For Little Venice one can pair it with a hike on Primrose Hill and soaking more London views; for Kingston one may be tempted by stunning Kew Gardens. Alternative to Go boating, for brave souls, kayaking and SUP are also options, as well as speed boats.
11. More of South Kensington: this time the Lido Gardens combined with National History or Science Museums: one could easily spend a couple of days in here, favourite parts have been the volcanoes and the dramatic entrance via the planet’s core (and Exhibition road) and of course the dinosaurs. They could easily ask to go every afternoon, so good that we live at a reasonable distance. Should the queues to National History Museum be too long; the Science Museum is next door and the WonderLab opened in is fab, fascinating and a bit quieter. Getting an annual membership is money very well spent plus a nice way to support this London institution.
The Lido is a little gem with a sandy playground, lots of green space and access to swim in the lake. Still on my TBD list the immersion in the lake but this is a glorious summer & easy week day out when the sun shines. And summer in London can’t wrap up without a Royal Albert Hall Proms, in the past they also featured Proms sessions for the whole family . A dedicated article for more Kensington and Chelsea for kids in here – enjoy!
Family daysout in London in summer: Diana memorial fountains
12. What other must does on our London in the summer list? Summer festivals are making a come back with vengence, hurray! BST Hyde Park spoilt us seriously in 2022 and historically with kids we adored ONBlackheath: dancing and singing for 2 days with fab Jamiraquai and Grace Jones, Rag N’ Bone Man, UB40, Morcheeba and Soul II Soul. The kids had also an extensive playground and list of activities: the 3 years old adored Mister Maker with his shapes and music; the 5 years old loved the sound of experiments to explosive stage performances of the Science Museum plus the Flying Seagull Project with music and dance lessons, circus shows and clown doctoring! The food was as ecletic as London, from most drool inducing Portuguese street snacks, to Northern Thailand, juicy salted beef, taste Tibet, Zoe’s Ghana kitchen and Happy Maki to name just a few!
We feel incredibly lucky to be part of this great jiving melting-pot aka London! For our latest culture treats in London, check our monthly CulturedKids wrap ups. For our favourite sushi bars and fine dining, head to our dedicated article in here; whilst cool afternoon tea treats are in here. Happy summer holidays all!