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A toddler-approved guide to summer in London

From West End plays bringing literary magic to life to immersive art shows, London is a city as compelling for toddlers as for the adults accompanying them

From a transport museum and gorgeous parks to theatre productions for kids, London offers a host of experiences for toddlers as well as the adults accompanying them.
From a transport museum and gorgeous parks to theatre productions for kids, London offers a host of experiences for toddlers as well as the adults accompanying them. (Unsplash)

When Samuel Johnson made his far-too-often quoted statement about London (“when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford”), it’s unlikely he knew then that London would, over time, evolve into a city as compelling for toddlers as for the adults shepherding them. From West End plays bringing literary magic to life, to immersive art exhibits, here is Jr's guide to toddler-approved things to do in London this summer. 

Theatrical thrills 

The West End, London’s theatre district, is synonymous with family-friendly shows from the long-running Lion King to Matilda and Wicked. Most plays and musicals are suitable only for children of at least seven years and above, but a timely string of summer productions are entrancing for even the most fidgety two- or three-year-old. Our top pick this summer is The Tiger Who Came To Tea, a theatrical reimagining of Judith Kerr’s timeless picture book about an anthropomorphised  tiger who invites himself over to tea at little Sophie’s house. The surreal story is enlivened with songs, comical moments galore and interactive audience participation.

Also read: Time-travelling in London via its pubs

Farmyard fun 

Nestled in Hertfordshire, Willows Activity Farm is a family-oriented farm helping you swap screen time for wholesome fun and outdoorsy adventures. Try everything from tractor rides and geese obstacle races to bottle-feeding lambs and handling baby animals. There are also a number of enticing playgrounds, including one inspired by the enchanting world of Peter Rabbit. 

Immersive art exhibits

Immersive art exhibitions for children are an emerging trend, reflecting the Instagram and TikTok effect. The great thing about immersive art is that it has a much wider appeal, captivating the attention of young children too, by both introducing them to art and encouraging interactions with the works. Immersive exhibits are a welcome change for parents who struggle to keep their kids from getting too close to masterpieces at “don’t touch” galleries. 

Frameless in Marble Arch frees art of frames in a colossal 30,000 square feet multi-dimensional space. Over forty artworks from artists as different as Munch and Monet, entrance viewers through animated projections and music. It is not surprising to see babies crawling all over the surreal works projected onto a mirrored floor, whilst tots twist and run between the works covering every spare inch of surface. Over in King’s Cross, David Hockney: Bigger & Closer at The Lightroom also draws in three-year olds with a larger-than-life exhibition of the iconic works of one of the greatest contemporary artists of our time. 

Magnificent Museums

London’s many museums offer toddlers an introduction into a broad range of subjects from history to transport. At The London Transport Museum, children can don a uniform and drive a bus or even sail a Thames nipper, as they discover different modes of transport. The All Aboard Playzone is a highlight, with mini vehicles galore and opportunities to dress up for interactive role play. The free-to-visit Royal Airforce Museum (RAF) is a must for those fascinated with airplanes. Not only can the kids experience RAF’s innovative technologies, they can also participate in interactive games, including a Flight Simulator. Then of course, there is the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, neighbouring each other in South Kensington. The former proves that learning can be fun through a series of immersive activities, running the gamut from astronomy to chemistry and medicine. It can be particularly challenging to tear toddlers away from The Wonderlab at The Science Museum, which is not unlike an interactive science playground. As for the Natural History Museum, toddlers could spend the best part of a day wandering through a volcano and discovering the world of dinosaurs and other fascinating creatures.

Parks, wildlife and recreation

The London Zoo ought not to be missed. Giraffes, zebras, tigers, lions, hippos and penguins are just a few of the 2,000 animals comfortably at home in the heart of London’s Regent Park. There’s even a petting zoo, play area (complete with water play) and toddler-friendly dining options to round off the visit. 

At the end of the day, there is nothing like the simple pleasure of stumbling upon one of London’s many play areas, open to all. Our favourites include the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens and the adventurous play ground in Holland Park.

Also read: 24 hours in Scotland's silver city, Aberdeen 

Ayushi Gupta-Mehra is an economist, F&B consultant, self-taught cook and founder of The Foodie Diaries. Follow her adventures on Instagram @The_FoodieDiaries and @Mummylogues

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