With some inside guidance, the West End is an extremely pleasant and child friendly destination for families, especially those with under 5’s in tow. Museums, playgrounds and outdoor areas and some great family-friendly places to eat that are somewhat well suited for pushchairs and noisy children make The West End a great place to take little ones for the day. Here is just a few of the temptations that call...
The National Gallery: While there are no exhibits in this museum particularly pitched to little ones, there is The Magic Carpet Ride for the Under 5’s. Every Sunday, at 10:30 and 11:30, in the education wing (which is the opposite side of the entrance on Trafalgar Square) a docent gathers families for a prompt start to the activity. After in introduction and discussion of the rules, the group walks through the galleries and sits in front of a work of art to listen to a story about the picture and sing a song. It is priceless and FREE!!
If you are not able to catch The Magic Carpet Ride, the museum is still good to take children to as there is so much to look at and the main galleries have amazing leather sofas to sit on. There are lifts to get around step-free and wonderful family toilets and changing facilities. The café is cafeteria style and difficult to get the pushchair next to a table when it is busy.
National Portrait Gallery: This museum is far less child friendly than the National Gallery. There are some steps to contend with, but there are lifts to the galleries. The portraits are fascinating; the most interesting part is not just the beauty, it’s the historical explanations that are given. For this reason, I suggest a divide and conquer if you have a second set of hands, one person goes alone here and the other takes the children near-by.
The Transport Museum: The Mecca for all children in the West End. You pay £10 per adult to enter. The museum is spread over there floors and has different models of the various means of transport through the ages for children to climb into and explore. If you take two children here alone, one of them either has to be steady enough to climb around on their own, or the other needs to stay in their push chair at times as there are double-decker busses to explore. There are two children’s play areas, one with dress up with a model bus to drive and the other is for even younger children. It is a treat for boys and girls alike, and a wonderful place to spend a few hours. The museum has picnic areas, a restaurant and family-friendly toilets.
Trafalgar Square: This wonderful square with its majestic views is a very hectic place for small children. It is great fun pointing out that Lord Nelson is depicted with his missing arm, splashing their hands in the fountains, or going up and down the steps …but the place is generally heaving with people who are not looking at knee level for who may be running around. The coffee shop is step-free in the square with toilets.
Covent Garden Market: This is a fun place to wander around, and The Transport Museum is located at the end of it. The Market is filled with street performers and during the holidays opera singers. There are lots of shops and places to eat and drink.
The Royal Opera House, at the end of the market, on the side opposite The Transport Museum. If you go through the entrance there and ask for the coffee shop, you will be escorted to a lift, and then you walk around the upper stalls of the opera house (the doors are closed, but it still feels grand) and you will come upon a large area with a coffee and snack stand that is amazingly affordable! Further, you have views of the entrance to the Opera House and over the market, with lots of room for toddlers to run about and parked pushchairs (unless they are having an event), but this is my favourite insiders secret to the West End.
St. James’s Park: Just off Trafalgar Square, through the Admiralty Arch is a manicured idyll that is St. James’s Park. The playground is about a 15 minute brisk walk from Trafalgar Square, at the very opposite end of the park, near the Wellington Barracks. It is a real treat. Inside there are baby and big kid swings, a climbing frame and slide, picnic tables and an enormous sand-pit that has a fun stone bridge going over the middle. There are only locked children’s toilets in the playground, if a carer needs to use the toilet, they should remember to bring their child with them. Right next to the playground is a snack stand serving basic coffee, sweets and sandwiches.
The Phoenix Gardens: 21 Stacey Street, WC2H 8DG. A basic playground with swings, slides and a roundabout, but it may be the perfect reward after touring The National Gallery on the way to Covent Garden
Drury Lane Playground, WC2. A basic playground with swings and slides and there are some steps to contend with.
My Favourite Child-Friendly Places to Eat in the West End
Wagamama, Covent Garden: inexpensive, fairly nutritious, delicious noodle dishes, loads of high chairs and seats. The place is big and noisy so your kids wont disrupt anyone’s meal. One draw back, it is located in the basement and the lift is flimsy and temperamental. It is really difficult to get a pushchair up the stairs as the queue begins for the dinner hour.
Belgo: Great food, moule, fritte and great beer .. CHILDREN EAT FREE!!! Loads of high chairs, huge space that is really noisy and the place is step-free if the lift is working. If its not, they will help you out.
The Rainforest Cafe: a favourite with the British Mummy Bloggers, good food and loads of rainforest ambiance to keep the little ones occupied.
This post was written by Laura Vogel, a former primary school teacher and full-time mother of two who is enjoying every minute of her life in London discovering the city with her children on her extended maternity leave.
Photo credit: Joey-O