Bloomin' London

By Stu Lancaster 2019-11-22 16:03:07

Theatre and more in a trip back to the basics

When taking a vacation with small children away from Shanghai, it is questionable that many would choose London. But if you plan your trip wisely, it is possible to have a fantastic week in London that is both inexpensive, educational, and fun for the whole family.

What makes London distinct compared to Shanghai is the copiousness of parks and their accessibility in summer. These parks are perfect in the warm weather and your children can run to their heart’s content. Regents Park is a ginormous park that provides an abundance of options. There is the open-air theatre that currently shows Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is fantastic but suitable only for teenagers and upwards.

The child-appropriate activities in Regents Park are more than just the picnic and theatre options, there is a playground, and the most (child) attractive feature is London Zoo. If your child is under three years old, then they will get free access otherwise it goes up to 25 pounds a ticket. This ticket goes to the welfare and conservation of the animals in the park, and you can see that they are exceptionally well looked after. There are interactive displays all over the zoo that make it a good day out. It is certainly smaller than the Shanghai Zoo, but has a large aquarium and most importantly, my son loved it! This counteracted the pain of the ticket price. Then after the education of the zoo, we took a beautiful walk along the canal. This is a lovely stroll, and you may need to sidestep a few tramps, but for me, the canal is one of the hidden wonders of London. You can walk to Camden Town in about half an hour and look at all the barges floating by in serene contrast to the city traffic above.



In my opinion, the best thing about London regardless of the season is the theatre and the arts it offers. There is theatre that caters to all ages, and there is also great children's theatre options. For very young children we chose the Unicorn Theatre which is hidden away behind London Bridge and offers a wide range of child-friendly activities. We watched the Aesop Fables, and this one-hour performance incorporated a lot of these classics, but was translated into a very palatable and easy to understand interpretation. There was a large button, and the actors would take off and then land in another fable with each tale having a clear moral, like the importance of sharing. The tickets for the Aesop fables were 15 pounds each. For London Theatre this actually represents decent value for the family. Conveniently, there is a great outdoor space nearby called the Vinegar Yard that offers delicious bites at a reasonable price.

If you are based in the north of London, then why not consider the Little Angel Theatre that has a beautiful space suitable for small groups of children. While you wait there is a sandpit and play area, and then there was a brilliant, captivating performance of Punch and Judy. It was great for children as they interact with the policeman as he goes around the room attempting to decipher who was the culprit that stole his sausages. Following the performance, we made our own puppets with the performers, and the children were chuffed to make crocodiles. Their future performances are equally fantastic like 'The Slightly Annoying Elephant' by David Walliams.



If it rains (sadly this a given), then there is no better place for a child than the National History Museum. There are life-sized dinosaur statues that move and huge skeleton life-sized versions. There are countless exhibitions scattered around the museum, and there are a lot of inquiry-based activities to do to engage children with history. Also next door you have the Science Museum where you can experience a real-life earthquake and explore the universe among a host of other mind enriching activities. Another slightly more expensive drizzly day option, would be the London Aquarium, once again children under three years old are free.

If you wish to explore the west of London, then there is the beauty of Richmond. There are some of the best restaurants and coffee shops overlooking the river. We had a wonderful steak at Gauchos which offer a tremendous selection of Argentinian beef. Or if craving a quaint English tea, next door there is the Petersham Nurseries where you can drink amongst the foliage while overlooking the much cleaner river Thames. Along the Thames, there is a puppet show canal boat, if you have not overdosed on puppets, but we had! Or the free option of a walk into the fields and watching the cows graze (or if you're lucky a deer). Although it may not sound spectacular, this was my son's preferred activity.

The great thing about London in the summer is the multitude of free activities that are on offer. There is the South Bank which has a children's playground and a fantastic water fountain maze (all free). But be warned to bring a change of clothes as it is likely that you and your child will get soaked as the fountains change direction sporadically.

All in all, London is a city which caters for everyone, and I had previously not made an effort to look for children's activities but this time with the correct prep everyone can be satisfied. We all have to come back to Shanghai replenished in our own individual ways, ready for a great year ahead.