School’s Out for Summer
Come the school holidays, many parents face the same challenge: how to entertain the kids.
If you work in the Northbank area, the good news is there’s no need to stray very far from the office, or even to spend a king’s ransom. Everything you need to keep the young ones fed, watered and completely enthralled is right on your doorstep. Holly Kyte offers a round-up of the best child-friendly treats the Northbank has to offer
The Hunterian Museum
Satisfy their fascination with all things grotesque with a trip to the Hunterian Museum, a place dedicated to the very messy history of medicine and surgery. Founded on the collection of a pioneering 18th-century anatomist, the Hunterian is a vast cabinet of curiosities. Its thousands of gruesome specimens, terrifying surgical instruments and skeletons both animal and human will delight even the most macabre of kids. The museum has family trails, worksheets and drawing materials available all year round, as well as special exhibitions and one-off family activities hosted by real pathologists. There’s much to learn here, and plenty to make your skin crawl.
The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons, 35–43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 5pm
Your kids might not possess the magic powers of Harry Potter, but they can at least become the next Dynamo with a visit to Davenports Magic. A family-run magic emporium since 1898, this is the place to come, whether beginner or professional, for all the paraphernalia, books, DVDs and tuition you could ever need to become a great magician. The shop even has a magic studio where both children and adults can attend their very own version of Hogwarts: interactive magic classes that will teach you all the tricks of the trade, including presentation, misdirection and sleight of hand. Day tickets for the children’s magic workshop cost £30.
Davenports Magic, 7 Charing Cross Underground Arcade, the Strand
London commuters and visitors alike are all too used to getting around by Tube or bus; taking a Thames Clipper, however, is much more of a novelty, and certainly more picturesque. As London’s main artery, the Thames is a fascinating waterway, integral to the city’s history and offering some of the best views of its sights. Kids in particular will love the adventure of hopping on a boat at Embankment Pier opposite the London Eye and gliding along the river, past St Paul’s, the Tower and Canary Wharf, all the way to Greenwich. Enjoy unlimited day travel with the Family River Roamer ticket and see London from a whole new perspective.
A full stomach usually means a happy child, so a trip to TGI Friday is a must. An American institution since 1965, this restaurant’s remit is fun. The staff put as much effort into being welcoming and entertaining as they do into the diner-style meals. Their dedicated kids’ menu is stuffed with goodies no child could turn down – the Little League offerings of fish fingers or chicken burgers promise to cram one of their five-a-day in too, while the Major League gets serious with BBQ Ribs, Meat Feast Pizza and a Monster Burger. Add in the Sweet Shop Sundae for dessert and this is the stuff young dreams are made of.
TGI Friday, 6 Bedford Street
Whether you have a little princess, a budding theatrical or a kid who just loves playing around with face paints, a shopping spree at Charles H Fox is in order. This professional make-up centre specialises in products for the theatre, TV, film and fashion, and has everything a top-notch make-up artist might need, from eye, lip and nail colours right through to air-brushing equipment, special effects, fake beards and blood, coloured hair sprays and kits for replicating bruises and gory injuries. You don’t have to be a professional to enjoy this place, though – be it for fancy dress or just for fun, this is a creative playground for kids of all ages.
Charles H Fox, 22 Tavistock Street
The Landseer Lions
You’ve not had the complete London experience until you’ve scrambled onto the back of one of Trafalgar Square’s ‘Landseer Lions’ and posed for the camera. Named after their creator, Sir Edward Landseer, and cast in bronze melted down from the cannons of the fleets defeated in the Battle of Trafalgar, these four stately beasts have sat sentinel at the foot of Nelson’s Column since 1867. Despite an inauspicious start (Landseer delivered them nearly a decade late and wildly over budget), they’ve been affectionately clambered over by visitors of all ages ever since and, legend has it, they will spring to life the day Big Ben chimes thirteen…
Create a masterpiece the easy way by joining brass-rubbing sessions at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Armed with just a piece of paper and a wax crayon, kids and adults can make their own creative copies of gallant medieval knights, royal damsels and dragon-slaying saints. Mindful of the damage that repeated brass rubbing was inflicting on its monuments, St Martin’s has created over 100 replicas of beautiful decorative brasses to choose from, taken from church’s all over the country. Prices start at £4.50 and include materials and a tutorial on the ultimate homemade souvenir.
St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square
They say the best things in life are free, and the simple, childish pleasure of running through the fountains at Somerset House is perhaps one of those things. On a sunny summer’s day the grand courtyard of the Strand’s most elegant building – “a dignified courtyard with a mischievous streak” – is filled with the sound of splashing and giggling as kids dart in and out of the timed water jets that erupt from the ground in a choreographed dance. During the spring and summer months the fountains are on daily from 10am to 11pm, and an evening visit is particularly worthwhile, as the fountains then zing with gorgeous coloured lights.
Somerset House, the Strand
Primrose Bakery started out specialising in cakes for children’s parties, but as their scrumptious cupcakes were just as popular with adults, they now have two shops and several cookbooks to their name. Their impressive range includes every flavour you can think of, from salted caramel to chocolate and marshmallow, as well the more grown-up offerings of Earl Grey, quinoa, pumpkin or orange blossom. They even have vegan and gluten-free options, and their mini cupcakes are ideal for kids. Prices start at £1.25 per cake; sit in their cute candy-coloured café or take away and scoff as you go.
Primrose Bakery, 42 Tavistock Street
Get in the holiday spirit with a family trip to Mad World Fancy Dress. Shopping at this costume superstore is like rummaging through the world’s biggest dressing-up box. It has more than 35,000 outfits for hire, ranging from 18th-century gowns to military uniforms, but also a dazzling array of accessories, including one of the UK’s largest stocks of authentic Venetian masks. Prices begin at around £21 and you have ornate eye masks, plumed carnival masks, characters such as Shakespeare and – a particular kids’ favourite – a range of beautifully handcrafted animal masks to choose from. Who needs an invite to a masquerade ball? Any excuse will do.
Mad World Fancy Dress, Charing Cross Underground, 441 the Strand
National Portrait Gallery
Nurture your child’s creative side with a trip to the National Portrait Gallery. This cathedral to the world’s greatest works of art is much more child-friendly than you might think. Aside from numerous themed trails and tours, the gallery also offers hands-on workshops run by artists, specifically designed to entertain kids during the holidays. Sundays see Magic Carpet Storytelling for the under-fives and drawing sessions for five- to 11-year-olds, covering topics like perspective, optical illusion and pointillism. Pencils and paper are available every day to encourage everyone to get sketching in these inspiring surroundings.
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square