Museums

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More information coming soon … in the meantime, here are some reviews

Science Museum

Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD 0870 870 4868 Open Daily from 10 – 6, except the 24 – 26th December free

  •  Best museum in London for the Under Fives
  • Not a great space for two children running in opposite directions
  • Picnic areas, cafes and restaurants
  • Great changing facilities and family toilets
  • stairs free, but you have to park your buggy away from the Pattern Pod and The Garden.  In the case of The Garden, it is kept in a separate, unmonitored room
  • Tube: South Kensington
  • Bus 360, 70, 414, 74, 14, C1, 49, 430, 345

 http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/                               science museum from outside

 This is one of the best museums to take your toddler to as there are two areas that are specifically toddler focused as well as other parts of the museum that are really fun for toddlers to see.

Toddler focused area include the Pattern Pod and The Garden

The Pattern Pod is located at the very rear of the museum, on the ground floor and offers a wonderful experience for small children.  The exhibit is officially designated as being for 5 – 8 year olds, but there are many interesting, hands-on things for your toddler to investigate. Dress up clothes for children to try on and play around in.  There are tiles that children can insert into a special display that projects different patterns on the ceiling, pattern puzzles and a pattern making art program plus much more.

The Garden is a real treat to take your children to, its well-hidden in the basement so ask about it if you do not find it on your own.  The first thing you notice when you walk in are small children wearing orange protective aprons playing in the most elaborate water table you have every seen.  Filled with small boats that float down a cascading canal, children are able to work different levers and pumps to direct the water and boats.  It is really great fun.

Further along is a play area that suggests a building site, with giant blocks you move around a small climbing frame using wheelbarrows, bag and pulley rope, a chute or any other imaginative ways toddlers can derive.

There is an area soft toys, an amazing multi-sensory room, puppets… I know I am missing some things, but you will have to bring your little ones and see for your self.

The picnic areas are right outside The Garden, basically a large area of steps to eat on, or you can go to any of the cafes or restaurants.

 Natural History Museum

Cromwell Road, SouthKensington, London SW7 5BD 0207 942 5000 Open Daily from 10 – 5:30, except the 24 – 26th December free

  • Good museum for the Under Fives
  • Not a great space for two children running in opposite directions
  • Cafes and picnic areas
  • Great changing facilities and family toilets
  • stairs free, if you use the lifts 
  • The buggy friendly entrance is on Exhibition Rd
  • Tube: South Kensington
  • Bus 360, 70, 414, 74, 14, C1, 49, 430, 345 

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/index.html                       natural history museum in front

This museum is a good space for little ones to have a run around on a rainy day. While not especially pitched for young toddlers, but it does have some areas that will be fun for you all to visit.

Some Highlights include:

The dinosaur exhibit is the focal point for the under fives. If you have a buggy, you need to go up a flight of stairs to enter the exhibit, or use a small lift.  You then walk along a cat walk, looking at dinosaur bones while approaching a life sized, mechanical, growling T-Rex!!  This part is great fun, but lots of children do get frightened.

 The mini-beast room is by far the best toddler room as many of the buttons and displays are within arms reach for them.  The room only has one entrance, so you can let them have a bit of a wander.

The Investigate room is by far the coolest room for the older toddlers.  This room is booked ahead by schools in the mornings during term time.  The best time to use the Investigate room is after 2:30, weekdays, during school hours.

There are dozens of specimen trays holding assortments of insects, bones, shells and animal skins.  These are wonderful treasure trays for the little ones to touch and explore.  The room has microscopes that small children can access by kneeling on the counter and looking through the lenses.  There are trays filled with pond dippings, plastic skulls, a skeleton, large fossils and live insects for children to interact with.  All over the room there are magnifying glasses, pencils and paper to record and amuse busy children.

The bird gallery is really interesting. It’s a long hall with near floor to ceiling cases of different species for birds.  As the cases are accessible for the little ones, they are able to get a close-up view of the stuffed Victorian bird collection.  There is also an amazing humming bird display.  I would not let two toddlers wander around in this room as it is basically a hallway with two doors at each end.

British Museum

Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG,

  •  3-D, art in all sizes and types of media that is really interesting for small children
  • The museum is generally busy and can be manic with a toddler running around (mornings on a weekdays are least busy)
  • Cafes, picnic areas and step-free access for pushchairs
  • Step-free changing and toilets on the first floor
  • The family events are world-class, and really worth planning a visit around
  • Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square and Goodge Street
  • Bus: 1, 7, 8, 10, 14, 19, 24, 25, 29, 38, 55, 73, 98, 134, 242, 390

http://britishmuseum.org

The British Museum is one of the best in the world and a great place to take any child to.  Further, the family activities are amazingly resourced and laid out so that children produce some beautiful artefacts.

The Greek and Egyptian galleries, in particular, have entire facades of temples and tombs, with enormous statues and carvings.  These galleries can be wonderful places to take toddlers to, or just impossible, depending on what kind of day you are having and how busy the museum is.

There are cafes and a restaurant, you can manoeuvre a pushchair through the museum.  You can discreetly bring your picnic into the rotunda and eat your own food in the tables there.

Before or after the museum, there are some great play spaces near-by.  Coram’s Fields is about a 15 minute walk away and Bedford House has daily playtimes if there is wet weather

National Army Museum, Kid’s Zone

Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4HT, 0207 730 0717, free

  • Amazing well resourced self-contained space
  • Very clean
  • Good for two children, but a bit tricky if you have two unsteady toddlers on the climbing frames
  • Step-free, buggy friendly
  • Great toilets and changing facilities
  • Lovely canteen, serving coffees and cakes
  • Tube: Sloane Square
  • bus: 11, 19, 22, 211, 137, 170

http://www.national-army-museum.ac.uk/

The Kids Zone is one of the best indoor play spaces in London AND its free.  The only drawback, the entry is limited to 30 children, so there is a slight gamble that you could show up for the timed entry and it is filled and you have to wait for someone in the session to leave early from it.  The session times are 10 – 11:20; 11:30 – 12:20; 12:30 – 1:20; 1:30 – 2:20;2:30 – 3:20; 3:30 – 4:20 with the last session beginning at 4:30 and ending at 5:20.

The Kids Zone has two enormous soft climbing frames with tunnels, slides, netting, rolled cushions, but much of it hidden, so an adult needs to accompany the little ones that are not very steady yet.

For babies, there is a great floor space of varied toys and cushions for them to play and sit on while you run off with the older ones.

The Kid’s Zone also has dress up, a play kitchen, trains, cars and books.

As a bonus, outside the museum are picnic tables for you to bring your own lunch and eat outdoors.   You are just a few blocks from Duke of York Square and the Kings Road, so you can easily mix a shopping trip in as well.

Tate Britain

Millbank, SW1P 4RG, 0207 887 8888,

  • Children love going to the Tate, but the paintings have small ropes in front that children love to tip over
  • Wonderful outdoor space for after the museum or instead of on a good day
  • The garden is not a good space for two children as the garden is separated from the road and pavement, but it is not secure and a child could easily wander off
  • Buggy friendly
  • Restaurant and snack bar
  • Tube: Pimlico
  • Bus: 2, 24, 36, 360, C10, 436, 87, 88

garens at the tateWhile the Tate is buggy friendly and a nice place to take a toddler, you have to keep your hands on them at all times.  Many paintings have small ropes and posts beneath them, at about shin height to an adult and easily tripped over.  Small children are drawn to these and make the galleries at the Tate unsuitable for an adult with two toddlers in tow.

That being said, it is a lovely time to take a small child to the Tate and admire the Pre-Raphaelites and the Beaux Arts building.

The cafeteria is slightly challenging on your own with a small child and the tray, but the space is buggy and child friendly if it is not too crowded.

Outside, the gardens at the Tate are a wonderful place to spend time with a toddler.  It is not enclosed, so you do have to keep an eye on them as they can easily wander towards Millbank Road.  There are different sized pebbles and rocks that are incredibly amusing for small hands.  Over by the Milbank entrance, there is a small pond to play near or fall into, depending on your energy level.

The Transport Museum

  •  £10 per adult, children under 16 free (last year we purchased a year-long membership for £30 but we are not sure of this years rate yet)
  • Wonderful museum that works great for the Under 5’s
  • A bit tricky with two toddlers
  • Snack, restaurants and picnic area
  • Great changing facilities and family toilets
  •  Bus: 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 23,24, 29, 87, 91, 139, 176
  • Tube: Covent Garden                    transport museum

The Transport Museum is Mecca for all children.  Spread over three floors, the museum has different models of the various means of transport through the ages for children to climb into and explore.  Especially on a rainy day, it is well-worth the admission cost.

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 or baby carrier at times as there are double-decker busses to explore.

There are two designated children’s play areas, one with dress up with a model bus to drive and the other is for even younger children with life-size model wooden boat, bus, taxi and tube car to play on in addition to a large model city with trains and buses to push along.

It is a treat for boys and girls alike, and a wonderful place to spend a few hours.  Be sure to check out the Royal Opera House next door for coffee after, See Suggested Itineraries for The West End for this and other recommendations near-by.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL 0207 942 2000 Open Daily from 10 – 5:45; Fridays until 10pm, select galleries remain open.  Closed the 24 – 26th December

  • While the museum does not have any exhibits specifically designed for the Under Fives, it is toddler friendly  
  • The V and A periodically offers sumptuously resourced and well-staffed workshops for the over 3’s that are amazing.
  • Not a great space for two children running in opposite directions
  • Cafes and outdoor picnic areas
  • Great changing facilities and family toilets
  • There are loads of ramps and lifts, but many galleries have small flights of steps 
  • The buggy friendly entrances on Cromwell and Gloucester Road
  • Tube: South Kensington
  • Bus 360, 70, 414, 74, 14, C1, 49, 430, 345 

http://www.vam.ac.uk/

The V and A is a collection of the decorative arts from around the world.  Walking through the museum, you are surrounded by the finest furnishings mankind has produced.  Even if you are not particularly interested in the subject, it is an amazing collection and worth seeing.

The museum is not a great place to take a highly active toddler.  Many of the galleries are dark and contemplative, not particularly suited for a running child.

DSC08823 What does work extremely well at the V and A is the courtyard.  Inside the courtyard, during warm weather, is a large wading pool for children to play.  The water is not very deep, but small children would naturally get completely soaked playing in it.  If the weather is cool, the pool is empty and babies and children of all ages enjoy running around in it.  Further, the courtyard has café for coffees, sandwiches and snacks and you may eat your packed lunch there.

If were coming to see an exhibit alone, I would leave the toddler in the push chair while I had a visit and then go to the courtyard for lunch and a play.  If I had someone with me, they would take the kids over the road to the Science Museum and play in the Garden while I enjoyed a child-free hour to contemplate beautiful craftsmanship, and we would meet up in the courtyard for lunch (if it’s wet, you can eat in the Science Museum).

The V and A does the most amazing workshops for the over three’s during term breaks.  We most recently enjoyed the ceramics workshops over three days in the October 2009 half-term.  My four year old rolled and decorated clay beads, threw a pot on a wheel, and decorated a plate with transfers … FOR FREE!!!  In addition to my four year old and 9 month old, my friend joined us with her four year old and 18 month old toddler and it worked well.  The babies waited patiently while the big kids did their craft and then everyone had a great run around the courtyard and ate lunch.

If you did nothing with your older child on your trip to London but a V and A workshop, you would all be pleased.

 

Museum of London, 150 London Wall EC2Y 5HN, open 7 days 10:00 am – 6:00 pm.  Tel:0 0207 001 9844, www.musuemoflondon.org.uk

  •  Extremely family friendly
  • Push chair friendly
  • Good toilets
  • Bring your own food or family friendly dining
  • Some great hands on exhibits
  • Brilliant organized activities for Under Fives
  • tube: Barbican, St. Paul’s, Moorgate
  • Bus: 4, 8, 25, 56, 100, 172, 242, 521

The Museum of London is one of the best places to take Under Fives in The City.

Located near the Barbican, the Museum of London has loads on offer for families they really make a point of helping people with little ones enjoy their visit.

While the exhibits are not pitched at toddler level, nearly every room offered a hands-on display for children to amuse themselves with.  My nearly two year old played with stone-age bowls and spoons, Roman weights, early Victorian peasant clothing, played with phones and an amazingly conceived over ground/ underground model of London transit and modern toys while my five year old looked at the displays.

There is a lunch room so that you can bring your own food; conversely there are lots of cafes and restaurants to buy food from with high chairs.  The toilets were very family friendly.

During school holidays the enormous Clore Learning Centre is open from 11:00 am for families to use.  My oldest worked on an art project while my toddler kept himself busy with toys and giant block building.

Further, there are loads of activities during the week for small children.  Check out their listings for Under Fives http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/English/VisitUs/Families/Under5s.htm

The National Gallery

  •  Free
  • Magic Carpet Ride on weekends GREAT for the 3 – 5 year olds
  • Tricky with two toddlers
  • Snack and restaurant, no picnic area
  • Great changing facilities and family toilets
  •  Bus: 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 87, 88, 159, 453
  • Tube: Charing Cross

 The National Gallery is more of a grow-ups museum as there are no exhibits in this particularly pitched to little ones.

That said, 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, literally … its 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.

The National Portrait Gallery

  •  Free
  • Story Telling for Families (3 – 5 year olds), 3rd Sunday each month 2 and 3pm
  • Tricky with two toddlers
  • Snack and restaurant, no picnic area
  • Changing facilities and family toilets
  •  Bus: 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 87, 88, 159, 453
  • Tube: Charing Cross

 The National Portrait Gallery is not the most push-chair friendly museum.  There are lifts to get you around the museum, but there are foyers where you need to descend three steps or go through an ordeal to avoid them and use the lift.

We have yet to remember when we are on the 3rd Sunday of the month to attend Story Telling for Families, but based on the National Gallery’s program for the Under 5’s, I am eager to check it out.

The Museum is really great if you have time to read all the interesting explanations for the portraits that you are looking at.  This is a great place to go during nap time..

The Portrait Gallery Restaurant has amazing views of Whitehall, but I have not been there since having children.

Chelsea Physic Gardens

  • 66 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, SW3 4HS
  • Admission £8 per adult (children free) or annual membership is £30
  • Tube: Sloane Square or South Kensington
  • Bus: 19, 22, 11, 319, 170
  • www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk

A Heavenly Idyll in Bustling Chelsea … If you don’t mind keeping your children from trampling rare species of plants and herbs gathered from around the world.

From inside the walls of the Physic Gardens, one feels a nearly sappy surge of nostalgia taking in the views of ordered rows of trees, blossoms and plants set against the red brick walls of the gardens and the Victorian mansion blocks and houses outside.  One might even confess to believing for a moment that you are feel what Chelsea may have been like during Queen Victoria’s reign.  The contrast of the grass and gravel paths, flowering shrubs, lazy willow branches to the unseen, but presence nonetheless, of chaotic traffic outside the garden makes the case for a trip to the Chelsea Physic Gardens.

Covering 3.8 acres, the Physic Gardens are not merely beautifully maintained gardens; they are a museum of living plants.  Founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries of London, The Physic Garden was originally conceived to grow and study medicinal plants.   Some of the more interesting innovations the Physic Gardens can claim include being the site of the first heated glasshouse and the oldest man-made rock garden in Europe.  The Gardens continue today to promote research, conservation and education of botany.

Before you bring the little ones along, be aware that the varied trees and plants are grown in beds that are not protected, so small children are not free to run wild.  They must be carefully watched to stay on the lawns and not wander into the beds or near the ponds, as they are strictly off-limits to children.  The volunteers who labour to keep the gardens beautiful may pause in their work to help keep an eye on your children with you, should you not appear to understand these rules.  Bearing this in mind, the Gardens really are a wonderful way to pass an afternoon with small children.

You are allowed to bring in your own picnic; and an even better treat is the cafe!  Located next to the main lawn in the middle of the gardens, there are large tables where adults may sit and enjoy hot drinks and snacks or full meals while their children wander near-by.  This main lawn is also the logical place, but not only spot, to lay down your own blanket.  Check the closing times.  In the autumn, they close at 5PM; in which case you can walk over to the Royal Hospital Gardens with your picnic, which close at sunset.

The Gardens also boast an excellent gift shop with a good variety of gifts and toys that are unique, inexpensive and imaginative.

 Saatchi Gallery

Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London SW3 4SQ, free

Open from 10 – 6pm, daily.  Last entry 5:30pm

  • Entirely step-free
  • Great family toilets and changing facilities
  • Not a great space for two children running in opposite directions
  • Nothing is specifically pitched for children
  • Good outdoor space in front of the museum
  • Tube: Sloane Square
  • Bus 11, 19, 22, 49, 211, 310, 137, 360

 http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/index.htm

While the Saatchi Gallery is not the first place I would think of to take a toddler, it is a good day out.

First, there is the proximity to Duke of York Square and the fountains just off The King’s Road.  Next, there is a lovely, expansive, relatively contained space in front of the gallery for children to run around.  The staff warmly welcomes children and kids really enjoy the experience of going to the Saatchi Gallery.

Nothing about the gallery is specifically pitched for children, but it is a really pleasant place to wander and interact with art in a more traditional, abstract way.

You can have a “park bench picnic” on the numerous benches in front of the gallery, beneath the gorgeous canopy of plane trees, or use the picnic tables at St. Luke’s Playground or in front of the National Army Museum.  Also, the gardens to the Royal Hospital and the Chelsea Physic Gardens are near-by.

The Garden Museum

Lambeth Palace Road, London, SE1 7LB, 020 7401 8865, £6 per adult and children are free

  •  Amazing, beautiful old building adjacent to Lambeth Palace
  • Wonderful outdoor garden, but children do have to stay out of the beds
  • Buggy friendly with family friendly toilets
  • Great café with loads of high chairs
  • Tube: Vauxhall, Lambeth North, Westminster or Waterloo
  • Bus: 3, 344, C10, 77, 507(Mon – Fri only)

http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/

The Garden Museum is a small, delightful oasis just over the river from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, in a building that is adjacent to Lambeth Palace.

There is something so special about this space, partly owning to its antiquity and the amazing configuration of the space, partly the sublime atmosphere of being surrounded by people who care for plants.

While there is little in the museum collection that is particularly pitched for babies or toddlers, it is a nice place to take them if only for a wander through the museum and the gardens.  If you go on the weekends or half-terms for the family events, they are brilliant for small children.

Watch the home page for family events or click on my page for listings:   http://www.london-baby.com/?page_id=545

Kensington Palace: http://www.london-baby.com/2013/05/kensington-palace-with-kids-is-it-worth-the-admission/

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