Make Do Mum (not her real name) has been a friend of mine for a long time now. I was so pleased when she said she would join in and write me a post, and what a brilliant post it is. She has written a lovely introduction so I can hand you straight over.
I was touched when Kelly asked me to join in with her tenth blogiversary celebrations. I first met Kelly when we worked together in Brighton many years ago, and tempting as it is to give you a top ten of embarrassing things she’s done over the years, the chance of her coming back with a top ten of even more embarrassing things I’ve done is too much of a risk to take, so instead I’ll share my top ten free places to take children in London.
Entertaining kids here can be expensive and stressful with the crowds and queues but the places I’ve chosen have free entry (most gratefully accept donations though), are off the radar of tourists, have cafes for much-needed caffeine (some serve alcohol too…) and, most importantly, are open spaces where little people can run around being noisy and crazy; doing what kids do best.
10 Surrey Docks Farm
A secluded riverside location with a tiny cafe and shop selling second-hand books, plants, toys and bags of feed for the very friendly goats. After visiting the animals, head out the back gate onto the Thames towpath for lovely views and a ride on the bronze animal statues.
9 Croydon Clocktower
Housing a library, cafe, cinema, museum and exhibition spaces, this is a fun venue to reach by tram. The Riesco Gallery has activities for kids and if you need some fresh air, Queen’s Gardens is less than a minute away.
8 Morden Hall Park & Deen City Farm
Two for the price of one… start at the farm; make sure you have 50p to get animal feed from the gumball machine for the hungry goats, sheep and alpacas. Then follow the river through the bullrush lined Wetlands (try not to fall in like my son did) to the picturesque, National Trust owned Morden Hall Park. There’s a water mill, adventure playground, cafe and second-hand book shop.
7 National Maritime Museum
Get there early to see the huge gates being unlocked like something from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A good place for a rainy day, there are buttons to be pressed, a lifeboat simulator and a giant world map on the first floor. You’ll find an outlet of posh bakery, Paul, tucked away here too. Behind the museum is the leg-achingly hilly Greenwich Park with the Royal Observatory – home of the Prime Meridian line – perched on top (entry to the Astronomy Centre is free).
6 Spitalfields City Farm
An excellent excuse to start with a salt beef bagel from famous Beigel Bake at the top of Brick Lane, then check out the colourful street art on a walk through Allen Gardens to the farm. As well as the farm animals there’s a bug hotel (with headphones to listen to the bugs), a treehouse and a cafe.
5 Southbank Centre
There are plenty of quirky events, many free, both inside the iconic Royal Festival Hall and alongside the river. The dance floor on the ground floor is a good space to run wild if the weather is bad and make sure you take a ride in the amazing singing lift! On a sunny day, visit the oasis that is the roof garden with its allotments, garden and cafe bar.
4 Mudchute Farm
If it wasn’t for the fact that you can see Canary Wharf looming nearby you might think you were in the countryside. A wonderfully peaceful area with plenty of animals, an equestrian centre, a cafe, nature trail and playfield complete with zip line. We seem to spend most of our time on a hill next to the sheep; there’s a crater in the middle which provides excellent rolling opportunities.
3 Coombe Woods
You can often find yourself alone here which is a welcome change from the busy city. There’s a koi carp pond, beautiful gardens, a cafe with a courtyard and resident friendly black cat. The tiny summer house is a favourite with my kids as are the huge steps that take you up into the forest.
2 Horniman Museum
A child-friendly, hands-on museum with areas devoted to music, natural history and other changing displays. For a small fee you can visit the seahorses, jellyfish and starfish in the basement aquarium. Outside are a Victorian conservatory, gardens with a small farm area, bandstand and outdoor musical instruments.
1 Crystal Palace Park
This place has it all: bizarre looking Victorian dinosaurs set round a boating lake, a proper hedge maze, a small farm with excellent Exotic Room (i.e. tarantulas, snakes and lizards), playground with prehistoric themed sandpit, lots of green space and a cafe. It’s also the site of the Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition of 1851 and although the building no longer exists you can climb the flights of steps to where it stood and see some Sphinxes!
I have asked ten bloggers to guest post for me in the run up to my 10 year anniversary at the start of July. I really hope that you enjoy these posts, and visit their blogs to say hello, or wave on Twitter. Each one of them has been a special part of my blogging life and I am so honoured to call them my friends.