So, you’re planning on visiting London sometime soon and, of all the areas of the capital in which you could stay, are considering making the Victoria district (blessed, of course, with its excellent transport connections) your base. In which case then, given you’ll also have the rest of the family in tow, what among the myriad of family-friendly attractions nearby should you make a beeline for…?
ZSL London Zoo
(Outer Circle, Regent’s Park NW1 4RY/ open 10am-6pm daily)
One of the largest and most respected zoos on the planet, this haven for animal lovers is home to 760 different species spread across its 36 acres; all of it, in fact, located in a corner of the fabulous Regent’s Park. Offering a terrific opportunity then to espy vibrant, noisy, fun-filled, fascinating, intriguing and – in some cases – enormously cute creatures, London Zoo’s also the place to visit to learn more about conservation efforts in the wild; indeed, it’s involved in many such programmes throughout the world. Don’t forget to check out its highlights – the penguins, big cats, gorillas, kangaroos, giraffes, exotic birds and short-clawed otters.
The London Dungeon
(Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road SE1 7PB/ open 10am-5pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 11am-5pm Thursday; 10am-6pm Saturday and Sunday)
Young ones are always up for a bit of a scare – so long as it’s on their terms and of the ghoulish, eerie nature – and, don’t doubt it, this place is ideal for it. It’s also great because it serves up, in a highly lively way, several doses of London history; detailing as it does some of the darkest, most gruesome episodes of the city’s long history (the likes of the Black Plague, Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd and so on) via the talents of performers and outstanding design and special effects. Moreover, owing to its location slap-bang in the centre of town on the hallowed riverside stretch that’s the South Bank, it’s also really easy to get to – just a hop on and off the Tube from hotels near Pimlico London, for instance.
Sealife London Aquarium
(County Hall, Riverside Building, Westminster Bridge Road SE1 7PB/ open 10am-7/8pm Monday-Sunday)
Yes, to be found in the same building as The London Dungeon, this enormously popular attraction is simply perfect for anyone – young or old – who’s fascinated by the creatures of ‘the deep’. You’ll find everything from sharks to piranhas, sea horses to sea scorpions and stingrays to octopi in here, along with a 25-metre-long whale skeleton, which is – yes, really – entwined with a walkway-tunnel, enabling you to discover an array of exotic creatures like tropical fish and vibrantly-coloured coral.
An unimpeachable attraction for families and within very easy reach of hotels near Victoria Station London – again, thanks to the fantastic Central London transport solution that’s the Tube – Kensington Gardens is the charming, charismatic, even rather magical stretch of green that stands between Kensington Palace to the west and Hyde Park to the east. It was laid out in the early 18th Century and nowadays is full of colour and things to see and do – vivid flower-filled pathways, fountains and wildfowl adorn the place and let’s not forget the enchanting Peter Pan statue (which, being somewhat hidden away, requires a little hunting to find its location, making the eventual discovery all the more worthwhile) nor the simply fantastic Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, which boasts a supreme Peter Pan-themed pirate-ship-cum-giant-climbing-frame.
Natural History Museum
(Cromwell Road SW7 5BD)
Finally, to sate the sightseeing desires of young little tykes, there truly are few venues in the capital – or, frankly, anywhere for that matter – to rival this extraordinary and supreme example of a family-friendly visitor attraction constantly firing on all cylinders. You could describe this place as a real treasure trove of wonders; full to bursting, as it is, with a fascinating, vast array of preserved animal specimens (10,000 of them).
That said, while it may be a prime site that’s respected worldwide for its dedication to cataloguing and storing current and historic examples of flora and fauna, what makes it so popular with kids of all ages is that this great monolithic Victorian institution’s anything but conservative and staid. Like so many museums in London it’s excellent at switching on – and keeping switched on – young minds, not least thanks to its fantastic section that focuses on dinosaurs and prehistoric Earth, which features magnificent moving life-size models of the like velociraptors. And should you be planning a visit to the UK capital around Christmas time then a trip to this place’ll be doubly worthwhile because the gardens outside are transformed into an awesome ice-skating rink, complete with refreshment stalls and, naturally, an enchanting view of the museum’s utterly exquisite exterior amidst all the colourfully illuminated trees. What more could you ask for!