With cold weather properly settled in, plenty of parents with young kids like ours research ideas for indoor entertainment. And with the 3 South Kensington museums so busy at weekend and school holidays, parents are rightly looking and asking around for alternative options. Have no fear, this city has so many treats, it’s difficult to exhaust even in few winter seasons. Here are our latest favourite 12 museums for kids in London and not in South Ken!
1. London canal museum. Little known, cosy and charming, Canal museum has a fascinating history. 200 years ago used to be one of London ice houses set up by a Swiss Italian. Carlo Gatti earned his fortune around Kings Cross with a grand restaurant and later on, ice and icecream. The basement contained 2 huge storage rooms for ice coming all the way from Norway, 1st floor was the horses stables and 2nd floor Carlo Gatti’s residences.
There are boats, barges, locks to play with – our kids found it particularly entertaining. We spent a morning with friends and their kids listening stories of the canals, their people and trade. We then headed for lunch at Camino nearby, yum delicious Spanish tapas.
My 4 years old asked me to go back after lunch for more – whilst the museum is rather on the small side, there’s plenty of interactive gadgets and even a kids corner with puzzles, drawings and books. London Canal Museum team on the day was lovely and keen to share the history and knowledge. When our 4 years old was asked about his favourite museums, he was quick to confess that London canal museum is his favourite right after Natural History Museum!
In summer and Halloween, London Canal Museum also runs boat trips, witches and spooky fun included.
2. National Army Museum of Chelsea. Brand new and renovated at perfection, including a very nice softplay area and a cafe with home made dishes, wine and beer – all the ideal ingredients for good play dates!
Nice contemporary design, Scandi furniture and lots of material for thought.
Lots of trails, interactive play including marching, driving a tank, playing as changing guard with bearskin, red coat and sentry box included, designing outfits, deciding rations, as well as treasures like the horse rode by Napoleon, the sword of Lawrence of Arabia, and the service uniform worn by HM Queen Elizabeth II.
Very exciting to have NAM in Chelsea – 3 well spent years of renovations!
3. British Museum needs little introduction. That comes at a high price of course, this is the 2nd most visited museum worldwide, right after Louvre. Couple of weeks ago we went on a rainy Saturday, it was rather packed by 11am. Pick the rear entrance for no queues and head to the family desks for the backpacks.
For parents with kids age groups similar to ours (18 months & 4 years old), there’s the African adventure and Little feet – Alfred the Explorer backpacks.
A very exciting family events calendar as well, best to check directly on British Museum website the relevant workshops.
4. Royal Airforce Museum for the love of airports & flying. Interactive, fun and huge, keeps our kids very entertained and happy. The Battle of Britain Hall is usually our first stop, with little men going into the very planes that fought for supremacy over the Channel.
Marine craft collection outside also fascinating but less interactive. The Milestones of Flight also great to run around and magic : from the early pioneer days – up to our times of flying and jet engines.
The Aeronauts Interactive Centre is the icing on the cake: a hands on flight centre with lots and lots of exhibits to help discover how aircrafts fly. Helicopters, gliders, planes and so much more.
5. Design Museum for an arty designery break and gorgeous Holland Park next door. A favourite of ours, where me and my 4 years old son test on regular basis chairs, cups, outfits and various ideas at the Designer, Maker , User.
There’s also a family room for a lego break or a bit of reading – architecture in plain terms for the kids. Former Commonwealth Institute building and renovated for almost 5 years, Design Museum has also regular (and some free) exhibition – lots of food for thought and very topical.
6. V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. The mission of the museum says it all “To enable everyone, especially the young, to explore and enjoy the designed world, in particular objects made for and by children.” There are extensive collections of toys, childhood equipment and costumes, and stages a programme of temporary exhibitions.
Renovated twice in the last 12 years, the museum is a true celebration of children and play.
7. Horniman museum in Forest Hill hosts anthropology, natural history, musical instruments and a large collection of taxidermied animals.
The gardens are huge and delightful, there’s a conservatory, a bandstand, ornamental garden, enclosure for small animals, nature trail and even a sound garden with large musical instruments for playing.
9. National Gallery next door in Trafalgar square. Another popular/ read crowded – right after Louvre and the British Museum.
The main collection is free of charge, there are regular workshops and family friendly trails as well as a favourite of ours and our eldest – Magic carpet.
10. Tate Modern does the trick. One of our most memorable days out – read all about and why in here. The Turbine Hall has been invaded by playfully subversive artists and their swings. A must see by April 2018.
11. Cutty Sark. The world’s sole surviving tea clipper and fastest ship of her time treated us with tales, warm staff and all sorts of distractions, including wooden but vocal pigs, pianos to be shipped to Sydney, tea boxes & crates, bells to be rang.
The views from the lowest floor/ coffee shop level are really awesome as the 19th-century sailing ship has been raised over three metres allowing one to walk directly underneath!
And in case you exhausted all of the above, there are over 200 museums in London (in addition to the 12 brill museums for kids in London listed in here)! Happy museum wanderings all!
Disclosure: Many thanks to London Canal Museum, Cutty Sark, Transport Museum, National Army Museum (softplay area) and Postal Museum for the press passes. Views, photos & super excited kids – my own.