After the excesses of Christmas, entertaining children in January needs to be cheap and easy so here are my top picks of free days out in London for kids, which don't require a huge amount of energy or planning, won't be overly crowded and are fun whatever the weather.
First up is the Museum of London Docklands. Because it's tucked away in the east end of London, this gem of a museum is not on everyone's radar, but for those in the know, it's a brilliant place for energetic toddlers and enquiring minds. Its designated children's Mudlarks Gallery encourages little ones to explore the life of London using touch, sound and smell - they seem to have covered everything: water play, in the form of a mini-Thames, a soft play area with its own DLR train and older children can have fun digging for treasure or try moving and lifting cargo - in short it is brilliant and educational too.
Next up is the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich - if the weather is OK, you should plan to take all day in Greenwich as there's the Park, the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark to explore. If you can, it's definitely worth getting the DLR or the Riverboat to or from Greenwich - much more fun than the train and part of the adventure. The NMM is fantastic for children, I started taking my baby here at about six months, but because it's so interactive, it's great for all ages. There's a dedicated children's area, but it's definitely worth checking out the rest of the museum as it is all fantastic. The two cafes areas are an added bonus - one looks over Greenwich Park and the other, on the first floor has a huge area for energetic toddlers to run around.
If you get a sunny day a walk along the South Bank is a really fun (and cheap) way to spend a morning with children thanks to the legions of entertainers - jugglers, Disney characters, hip-hop dancers and story-tellers who line the river bank as it stretches along the south side of the Thames. Mid-week it doesn't tend to be overly busy and as long as the weather is OK there will be plenty of characters to keep children amused. If you start at the London Eye and walk towards the National Theatre you can stop for lunch at either Giraffe or Strada which are just outside the Royal Festival Hall.
If animals are your thing, two of London's best city farms are completely free - Surrey Docks and Mudchute Farm. Surrey Docks is a working farm so there is a real buzz about the place. Animals reared there include a herd of milking goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys, bees and donkeys. Both have superb cafes which are worth visiting in their own right - the Canadian breakfast at Mudchute Farm is probably the best I've ever had which is saying something!
Finally if you're looking for something slightly unusual or to get cultural brownie points, the Rain Room at the Barbican is awesome for adults as well as children. Using 2,500 litres of water, falling at 1,000 litres per minute, the sound of water and moisture in the air gives the impression of being in the centre of an unpredictable downpour, without getting wet. So you can let your child go crazy in a rain storm without having to change everything afterwards...be warned though, it's very popular unless you go early in the day.
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