If you’re heading to London in winter, don’t fear about the weather – embrace it. When I took my children aged nine and seven to London last year, they had the time of their lives. There’s plenty to do and cold weather enhances that winter wonderland magic.
It’s an activity that conjures magical winter scenes. In recent years, London has embraced ice skating with seasonal rinks popping up around the city. The Natural History Museum in South Kensington boasts a festive rink with thousands of twinkling fairy lights and a giant Christmas tree, while in the heart of London there’s the chance to skate in the beautiful, neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House. It’s a great way to get the blood circulating and keep warm.
Follow it up with a hot chocolate and afternoon tea.
Natural History Museum
Before you don your skates for the outdoor rink, the Natural History Museum itself is well worth a visit. It’s geared for families with a special science lab for children up to 14 years, hundreds of dinosaur specimens, and themed children’s trails. There’s a volcanoes and earthquakes section which even has an earthquake simulator. The fabulous Earth Hall on the ground floor has a giant globe representing Earth, towering walls and a celestial map, which really puts our place on Earth into context for little ones.
If you’re still in the mood for more museum action, the fabulous Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) is over the road and the Science Museum is just next door.
Take in London from the air, with a bird’s-eye view of all that magnificent history from a capsule on the London Eye – the giant Ferris wheel on the River Thames. You’ll be 135 metres above London and the 30-minute ride allows you to see as far as 40 kilometres away (depending on the weather). It’s a stunning way to see the sights of London.
The Eye is centrally located on London’s South Bank and there are plenty of child-friendly restaurants and cafes, and other activities for kids, along the foreshore.
Get there early to avoid the crowds.
A Bus Tour and Thames River Cruise combo
Many tour operators combine an open-top bus tour with a river cruise for a relaxed and flexible way to see London with kids. Being able to get on and off the bus, and having the pass over more than one day, is perfect if kids get tired and you have to postpone for another day.
It’s really informative, with a constant stream of information you can listen to over headphones, giving parents and children a g sense of historical London.It might be tad chilly in winter on top of the bus or outdoors on the cruise, but it’s worth it so rug up with winter clothes.
The river cruise offers a relaxing vantage point to take in all the sights, including the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the Tower of London, and London’s bridges.
Harry Potter Museum
Harry Potter fanatics will love this any time of year, but this winter it will be particularly festive because the Hogwarts castle museum model is set to be blanketed in snow and there’ll be coloured lights, vapours and Christmas trees (from mid-November, 2014, until the end of January, 2015).
The Harry Potter Museum can be found at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, north of London – about an hour and a half by train from the city. Here you can go behind the scenes at the studio where much of the action was filmed.
Kids can explore The Great Hall, Hagrid’s Hut, The Wand Room, Gryffindor Common Room and Dumbledore’s Office. They can learn about the special effects and see, feel and hear the authentic sounds and props that create a ‘Potteresque’ ambience. “Expelliarmus!”
The British Museum
The British Museum is one of the world’s great museums and is a wonderful and fun introduction to ancient history for kids. It’s home to many antiquities from the ancient world. Even better, it’s all free, like most museums in the UK. Kids particularly love the Egyptology section – just steer clear of the school tours if it’s term time.
And remember that large museums can quickly exhaust little kids and their parents, so get a map, make a plan, and prioritise what you really want to see. If you have the time, return another day.
Tower of London
The Tower of London is an entertaining introduction to British history in all its gory glory. It’s full of atmosphere and well preserved, with some sections almost 1000 years old. You could almost feel you’re back in Medieval England, even though you’re in the heart of one of the world’s major cities.
The Tower of London guided tours can be highly informative and kids will love hearing the tales of intrigue and terror. It’s a little bit creepy, with some high-ranking royalty having been executed here, including Henry VIII wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. The glorious Crown Jewels are also housed in the Tower of London, but be warned, there’s always a queue to see them so, once again, get there early.