My Favourite Things for half-term fun
With half-term virtually upon us and a two and four year old to entertain, I've been finalising plans for next week and thought I'd share my recommended family days out. So, in the words of Maria Von Trapp (an icon when it comes to entertaining children) and, in no particular order, "these are a few of my favourite things?...
This is an all-time favourite and, although we live in London, the 45 minute journey to Beaconsfield is well worth the drive. Handily located just off the M40 or 25 minutes on the train from Marylebone (station is a 5 minute walk), this really is such a lovely place to visit.
It has a real old fashioned charm and, whenever we go, I always feel like I'm walking into an Enid Blyton book. Taking a picnic is a must (even in October as they even have a handy wet-weather-picnic-shed for you to eat in). Not only can you spend hours looking at the models but they have an excellent playground with a pirate ship that my son adores. At weekends, the train that takes you on a short journey is brilliant fun too.
My son is fireman-obsessed so one of our most popular activities is to make some cupcakes (red and orange icing naturally), dress him in his fireman outfit and go along to our local fire station. We've done this a few times and the fire fighters are always so friendly and kind to him. They let him sit in the engine and, on his birthday, he even got to have a go with the water hose! So, if you have a local fire station, then why not pop along? Take some cakes with you though!
We live about twenty minutes walk from ZSL London and have a season ticket. It really is the best thing we ever bought. My children have gone weekly since they were about three weeks old. The zoo is quite simply brilliant and, if you live close to it, please please please consider getting a season ticket. If you don't live close to it then it is a fantastic day out. I'd advise getting there early as the queues seem to start at about midday - you'll see it in a very different light to when it is busy. ZSL London is a traditional zoo but its sister zoo Whipsnade has more of a safari park feel and is just off the M1. Again, a brilliant place for a day out and, in the summer, they have a lovely BBQ which makes for a great lunch. In winter-time, we "welly-up" and spends lots of time in the puddles too.
We adore Hyde Park. A walk or scoot around the Serpentine is one of the most pleasant days out and, wow, do they sleep well afterwards! There's a really nice cafe where you can sight right next to the lake and get so close to the swans that it feels hard to believe that you are in the centre of London. But, best of all is the Princess Diana Playground. A really cleverly devised playground built around a huge wooden pirate ship with a sensory trail, Teepee, beach and much more.
I am a sucker for both these shops. As a huge fan of Roald Dahl's Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, going to Hamleys and Harrods' Toy Department is a bit like entering Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. We don't go there to buy toys but to browse and there are always exciting activities going on, especially over half term. It's well worth checking their websites to see what's happening.
Just before I had my daughter, my husband and I did the longest walk along the South Bank in the hope that she might hurry up a bit and, since then, it has become a firm family favourite. We often do this at weekends so we can park the car for free on Waterloo Bridge and then walk past the National Theatre down to The Golden Hinde stopping for lunch on the way. My son loves counting the boats and bridges and it really is a visual feast. We don't really do anything specific - just walk and look. It's an amazing route.
Both my children really enjoy the water garden at the Science Museum and will happily spend all day (if I let them) wearing the little water aprons and playing with the boats and funnels etc. The basement area is perfect for under fives but the whole place is fantastic for kids of all ages. It's a proper full day out if you have older kids too. The Natural History Museum next door is also wonderful but we never feel like braving the queues, especially at half term.
This is a marvellous place to take children. I took mine recently and they were so excited by the Lions, Nelson's Column and the Olympic Clock. There's always something exciting happening there and you really are in the heart of London which is a treat in itself. If you are there, I do recommend a quick visit to the National Portrait Gallery. It may not be the most obvious place to take young kids but it works really well if you play our favourite game: in every room you go into, ask your children to choose a painting and they must then make up a story about it. The scary ones are the best!
I love taking my children to the Ice Cream Parlour on the second floor. Knickerbocker Glories and Coca Cola Ice Cream Floats - what more can I say? The shop is running a half-term Halloween Experience too. I do sometimes wonder if my visits here are more for me than the kids. Whatever...I don't see them complaining!
If you fancy a day down on the farm, Odds Farm near High Wycombe (just off M40) is a great place to visit. Not just a farm, it has loads of other activities and an excellent playground both indoor and outdoor. Odds Farm is definitely a full day out. However, if you are looking for more of an authentic farming experience for just an hour or so, try Hackney City Farm. It has a real uncommercial feel to it - not to mention the best pasta this side of Umbria(!)
I'm sure that there are hundreds of excellent places that I haven't mentioned - these are just my favourites. Some are free, some are quite expensive, but they are all tried and tested by me and my family and I recommend them as well worth the money. So, if you do try them out or have your own favourite places to share, please let me know your thoughts via the comments. Happy half-term!