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.’ Here are our favourites and hidden gems, in no particular order.
1. 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 3 years old loved it and so did 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, head to Museum of London by St Paul’s; their amazing Beasts were one of the best summer exhibition historically: shocking but heart warming, great food for thought in a brilliant presentation.
2. 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. Last summer 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 perfect visit for kids as little as 2 years old and rainy summer days. Of course with age the educational parts increasing, but this is fun day out for all ages and perfect should weather get tricky.
To start or finish your Thames cruise we warmly recommend 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 evening a walk by the Peace Pagoda and beautiful Battersea Park.
3. 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 free summer day, so 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.
4. Hyde Park: combine Italian gardens, arty Serpentine and Serpentine Sackler galleries and one cool restaurant – Magazine to keep all family happy and entertained. Grayson Perry exhibited for free 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 Nottng 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).
5. Mayfair, Marleybone high street and Regents Park. This glamorous side of town hosts the Wallace Collection that the boys love for the arm collection; I fell in love with it over Manolo Blahnik summer exhibition 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.
6. 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 delighted to be invited on glorious red carpet, grown ups in awe with Haymarket setting and transported by fluffy nostalgia, the kids mesmerized by the stories.
7. 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 with friends. Book tickets way in advance
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.
8. 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!
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.
9. More of Hyde Park & South Kensington: this time the Lido combined with one of the gorgeous free South Kensington museum. For years the kids favourite museum has been National History: 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 2016 is fab, fascinating and quieter. Getting an annual membership of £14 is money very well spent plus a nice way to support this London institution.
The third free fantastic museum of South Kensington is V&A. We visit often in summer for the paddling pool and amazing workshops for kids; summer holidays in here never disappoint.
The Lido is a little gem with a sandy playground, paddling pool, 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 .
Family daysout in London in summer: Diana memorial fountains
What other must dos on our London in the summer list? Summer festivals are a must and in 2019 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: our 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!