Planning the ultimate family trip is all about finding the right balance. Too many big-ticket sights in a day, and kids can get tired out, while even the most iconic of museums can be ruined by a never-ending queue. A smart way to see the sights – and avoid too much time on the Tube – is to spend some time discovering what’s on the doorstep of your hotel. From offbeat cafés to dizzying views, you might make some unexpected finds.
Set between graffiti-scrawled Shoreditch and leafy Islington, the Thistle City Barbican hotel has family rooms and an impressive indoor pool. Twenty minutes’ walk away, the Museum of London brings the city’s history to life: time-travel back to a Victorian street, or check out the Olympic cauldron. Further east, you can wander Brick Lane and Columbia Road’s colourful markets; head north for Upper Street’s boutiques, toy shops and cafés. From cult breakfast spots to canal-side strolls, here’s where to head with the whole family.
Retro breakfast cereals are the staple at this buzzy Brick Lane café, whose menu is the stuff of childhood dreams. Think Coco Pops ice-cream, milkshakes made with Frosties, and sugar-hit bowls of cereal, liberally laced with cookie dough, marshmallows and flavoured milks. It’s a fun way to kick-start the day – just don’t tell the grandparents.
Islington locals are a discerning bunch when it comes to their morning croissant, and this tiny backstreet bakery is their favoured spot. It’s known for its buttery puff-pastry and creative viennoiseries, topped with bacon and maple syrup, perhaps, or peach with ginger custard. Note-perfect matcha lattes are served in hand-thrown mugs, or available to take away if you fancy a stroll by the canal.
If you feel like a change of pace, there’s no better place for a stroll than the towpath of Regent’s Canal. Follow it up with a classic pub lunch on the Narrowboat’s sunny balcony, where the menu runs from upscale burgers to vegan fish and chips. Feeling brave? Cross City Road Lock to the small concrete island in the centre, where you can watch the barges come and go, shaded by the weeping willows.
This quiet corner of the city could have faded into obscurity: a modest patch of green, where workers from the nearby post office used to eat their packed lunches. Instead, it’s become famous for the Watts memorial, unveiled in 1900, whose green-and-white tiles remember ordinary people who gave their lives to save others. A tranquil spot to sit and reflect, in the heart of the city.
This handsome old house on Folgate Street is a one-of-a-kind time capsule. Half museum, half work of art, it was created by the artist Dennis Severs, who imagined it was inhabited by a family of Huguenot silk-weavers. Visitors are asked to explore the antiques-filled rooms in silence, while subtle smells, sounds and flickering candlelight add to the eerie atmosphere.
Brazilian, Japanese and Peruvian cuisine meet at this high-flying address, set on the 39th floor of the Heron Tower. Two panoramic lifts whisk you up to the sleek, glass-walled restaurant, with its striking bamboo ceiling and showstopping terrace. The fusion menu has something for everyone, from maki rolls to crunchy taquitos – and while it comes at a price, the wraparound views are unforgettable.
Designed by artists India Harvey and Lisa Marie Bengtsson, this boundary-pushing play-space is free for under-fives and their families. It offers kids a multi-sensory adventure, with a room full of giant cushions, tactile surfaces and neon-bright mesh fabric. In situ until 31 March 2020, it’s gone down a storm with visiting toddlers. Just avoid peak hours; late mornings can get busy.
On Sundays, Columbia Road is transformed into an open-air flower market, and buckets of blooms line the narrow street. It feels like a slice of the old East End, as stallholders shout out cut-price deals and banter with passing shoppers. The side-streets are full of bijou boutiques, cafés and old-school pubs, while buskers keep the crowds entertained (and occasionally get them dancing).
For a stress-free stay and fun for all ages, head over to the South Bank.
Get into the festive family spirit this winter with fun in London for your tout petits
Some fun activities for families if you're coming to London with your kids.