We live close to London, so we’re lucky to have it on our doorstep whenever we’re stuck for something to do. From lunches in Chinatown, to cycling practice in Regent’s park, via an hour (or several) in Hamley’s. Our children are so lucky to have this city available to explore. And yet more often than not we go to the usual places, the obvious sites, missing the many hidden jewels that London for kids has to offer. So this holiday we decided to explore some of the secrets of London for kids.

London for kids: Stratford

This week we visited The Discover Children’s Story Centre, in Stratford, East London. Not so tricky to get to, especially now that Westfield’s and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium are also on the map there. Not a full day out, but a really interesting couple of hours for children from 0-11. With the aim of kick-starting children’s imaginations, spurring on their love of writing and firing their imaginations, the centre is filled with the tactile, the auditory, the visual, and the sheer playfulness of creating a story.

The Journey into Space is especially sweet, with a brilliant member of staff leading children on a sensory adventure to extra-terrestrial adventure. I’d have to say that the centre is best for younger children – say 3-6, but even GG caught herself losing herself to her imagination. There are lots of lovely things to do and look at in the centre, but what caught my eye especially were the blank sheet’s of paper – wishes. Kids had written their wishes and taped them to the notice board. I found it cute, funny, and poignant, in equal measure:

The Bug’s and GG’s wishes are in here too. One of them surprised me; the other was less of a shock. See if you can guess which are theirs – hint: we don’t have 10 rooms in our house! I was sad to see a note that read “I wish… I was skinny.” Not what you want to see from a child 🙁 But then this is a place which encourages children to give free rein to their feelings and their desires, to express with words what goes on in their heads. I hope that the person visiting with that child took some learning from that small sentence.

We spent a good hour pressing buttons, recording our own stories, making cool noises, and exploring rickety bridges, before hunger got the better of us and we headed over to the Westfield shopping centre.

I swear you could spend a week in Westfields without getting bored. Shops we’d never seen before, every single restaurant on the high street, a cinema and street food to tempt even the most seasoned diner – as well as kids. Coupled with a ride on the high-speed Bullet train from St Pancras, this turns a trip to the Discover centre into a fairly epic day out!

If you’re interested in discovering more hidden gems in London for kids, you might like to try some more of our favourites:

Camden Lock: on a Sunday, there is no charge to park on the streets near Regent’s park. We’ve cycled the broad paths in the park, and of course, visited London Zoo. However one of our favourite things is the walk along the canal to Camden Lock. It is surprisingly good for children, who have even been encouraged to try some of the very cool street food on offer there.

Geocaching: since our Center Parcs holiday we have dabbled in geocaching, and there are plenty of caches in London. Yet more ways to explore the city and discover places we didn’t know about.

Museums: of course we’ve done the biggies – the Natural History and the Science museums, but the British museum is also full of fascinating history, especially for children studying at Key Stage 2, covering Greek and Roman civilisations. Not to mention the Toy Museum for younger children, and the National Portrait gallery – all free, so no need to maximise your time there, simply do as much as the kids have the interest for, them move on.

Princess Diana Memorial Playground: we’ve yet to make it here, but every year it’s on our list. Unaccompanied adults are not allowed, so this seems like one of the safest places for play in the city. Add to that the memorial walk and water feature which you’re not allowed to paddle in, and it’s a must for a hot summer’s day 😉

So, we’ve got a busy summer coming up. What hidden gems have you discovered in London for kids?

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