It might not be forever, but school’s definitely out for the summer.
Endless months of home-schooling hell, punctuated by school bubbles bursting and Covid running riot through classrooms means these holidays feel more welcome – and more necessary – than ever. While booking a getaway is now harder than any A-Level, there’s plenty on to keep the cool kids in the city: from old favourites fizzing with refreshed energy to brand new adventures, here’s where to keep the whole family happy.
Find a thrill at London Wonderground
Relocated from its usual home on the South Bank to Earl’s Court for the summer, London Wonderground is a giant, riotous playground of fun, boasting circus acts, vintage fairground rides, a beach, piles of street food, and first-rate comedy (including a chance to catch the best of the Edinburgh Fringe).
In the Udderbelly tent – giant, purple, looks like an upside-down cow – shows change regularly from now until the end of September. Thrill-seeking kids should hunt down the 360 All Stars. Dubbed a “supercharged urban circus”, this one-hour show features world champion BMX bikers, break dancers, stunning projections and an adrenaline-pumping soundtrack provided by beatboxer BallZee. Elsewhere, the Amazing Bubble Man will be back showcasing his bubble artistry and younger audiences may enjoy Fireman Sam Live, which sees Sam, Penny, Elvis and the rest of the old gang take to the stage in an all-singing, all-dancing, all-action adventure. If Earl’s Court is out, the group behind Wonderground are hosting another festival at Cavendish Square – just off Oxford Street – with a packed schedule of performances and shows.
Until Sept 26, Earls Court, SW5, londonwonderground.co.uk
Have a Jurassic Encounter
Get up close and personal with more than 50 life-like animatronic dinosaurs at North London’s Grade II-listed Grovelands Park. Children are invited to become palaeontologists for the day by climbing inside dinosaur eggs, digging up bones in an excavation pit, dodging the spray of a Dilophosaurus and even riding on the backs of a baby Triceratops. The highlight is the ginormous, 18-metre tall Tyrannosaurus that breathes and sways its tail as it hunts for prey. School might be out but there’s also a fascinating virtual reality experience where children can learn a little about the prehistoric, triassic and cretaceous periods.
Until Aug10, Grovelands Park, N14, jurassicencounter.uk
Get lost in an impressionist fever dream
After welcoming more than seven million visitors in 65 cities around the world, London’s finally getting its go with the Van Gogh Alive experience, an immersive exhibition that dazzlingly brings the artist’s work to life. The multi-sensory experience has VR, 360-degree digital projections, trickery with lights, sounds and smell, so is set to be a feast for the eyes and (un-severed) ears.
Set to a classical score, families can enjoy more than 3000 giant projections of van Gogh’s most famous pieces, including Starry Night and Sunflowers, with them spread across walls, ceilings and even floors – it feels as if you’ve stepped inside a painting, and should delight art-lovers of any age. Don’t miss the Sunflower selfie room, a panoramic, mirrored space complete with hundreds of sunflowers sure to be the Instagram story hit of the summer.
Until Sept 26, Kensington Gardens, SW7, vangoghaliveuk.com
Live a day as the Monopoly Man
Monopoly, but make it real: aspiring property tycoons can get their landlord on in the old Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road, where a new experience dedicated to the board game is opening up. Only, the board is gone: Monopoly: Lifesized is an immersive, 4D game, where players work against the clock and through various challenges – including codebreaker, escape rooms and a muder mystery – and do their best to avoid ending up in jail.
From Aug 14, The Court, 215 Tottenham Court Road, W1, monopolylifesized.com
Race around a new crazy golf course
Granted, crazy golf and motorsport mightn’t seem natural bedfellows, but this nine-hole challenge somehow pulls it off. The Putt Club course is cool, creative, incorporating nods to race tracks, cars and bikes to make sure both would-be Lewis Hamiltons and Tiger Woods are equally thrilled. This is a decidedly family-facing affair, and they welcome kids’ parties; the course is quick enough that the littlest ones shouldn’t get bored, while keener putters can happily do another round. Speaking of rounds, adults looking after their budding golf pros can get a glass of wine from a fiver (and there’s plenty of other food and drink to go around too, including slushies pimped out with Haribo).
London Docklands, SE7, putt-club.co.uk
...or hit it for six at a new cricket-themed restaurant
Swap the golf clubs for cricket bats at Sixes, the new cricket-themed openings in Fulham and Fitzrovia. Budding Stuart Broads can get off the back foot and practice their away swing in the state-of-the-art batting nets and cricket simulators – they’re available to hire by the hour, and are suitable for all ages and abilities. Once you’re done with the nets, stay for some food: Sixes comes from the team behind Scottish restaurants Mac & Wild. For this, they’ve moved their menu south of the border with an English gastropub-inspired menu of sausage rolls, prawn cocktail cups, lemon fried chicken and a must-try Eton mess.
W1 and SW6,sixescricket.com
Graffiti the Tate Modern
Parents who might normally fear taking the little horrors to anywhere with breakables should trip over to the Tate Modern, who are calling out for kids and adults alike to channel their inner artist and scribble all over the floor of the Turbine Hall. A project by artist Ei Arakawa, UNIQLO Tate Play: Mega Please Draw Freely is hoping to create a “living artwork”, where thousands of bright sparks scribble to create something bigger than the sum of its parts.
Until Aug 29, Tate Modern, SE1, tate.org.uk
Embrace the Lion King as it finally returns
Sometimes it’s hard to top a classic. The Lion King might be all grown up as a West End favourite – it turned 21 in lockdown – but after 18 months off, its return has seen the show reinvigorated with a fresh emotional charge. It reopened only a few days ago, and is a spectacle of song, dance and puppetry that stands shoulder to shoulder with the very best of London theatre. With the Lyceum Theatre an enormous place and eight shows a week (they’re only closed Mondays; matinees are Wednesday and Saturday), tickets are often available, and go from just £20, so introducing the family to theatre needn’t be the bankrupting experience it sometimes can be.
Lyceum Theatre, WC2, thelionking.co.uk
Find your wild side at a new festival
Chessington is adding one more attraction to its existing world of adventure this summer, with a brand-new, family-focussed music festival, Wilderfest. Promising the chance to “croc n’ roll”, it’s all animal-themed; the likes of Lady Rara, Led Zebra, Hissy Elliot and DJ Sharkey will all take the mane stage, with more live music playing throughout the park. Of which, with tickets including entrance to both the zoo and all of the rides, it’s a good chance to see what else is new. The latest ride, the Croc Drop, promises the snappiest thrills: riders plunge 25 metres into the waiting jaws of a crocodile.
Until Aug 31, Chessington World of Adventures, KT9, chessington.com
Visit the Galapagos Islands (well, sort of)
Travel may be a red, amber and green mess of conflicting advice, but staycationers can now get a glimpse of the Galápagos at the London Zoo. Their newest exhibit, Giants of the Galápagos, sees a trio of 26-year-old giant tortoises Dolly, Polly and Priscilla move into a new home which has all the hallmarks of the island chain; it will be heated to 30 degrees and has two lagoons, and will feel a little like a forest. After learning about how they’ll grow to be the biggest tortoises in the world – and how all three should make it to 100 – journey to Indonesia to view the endangered Sumatran tigers in Tiger Territory before heading Into Africa to meet zebras and giraffes.
Opens mid-August, ZSL London Zoo, NW1, zsl.org
Tuck in to tea, with a dusting of fairydust
Transport little ones to the enchanting world of Neverland at Aqua Shard, with its Peter Pan Afternoon Tea. Located on the 31st floor of The Shard, kids can spot some of London’s iconic landmarks, while tucking into sweet and savoury treats inspired by characters of J.M. Barrie’s much-loved novel. Created in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (£2 from each afternoon tea will be donated to them), the food is served on a tea stand resembling Hook’s ship. The selection includes the Lost Boys sandwich filled with roast chicken and crispy bacon, and the Codfish Captain Hook cod brandade croquettes.
The sweet array features other options such as Tinker Bell cookies, a chocolate cake in the shape of a trunk – a reference to the Home Under The Ground where the Lost Boys live – and, of course, warm scones accompanied by apricot marmalade and moreish coconut clotted cream. Grown-ups won’t be disappointed by the Fairy Dust cocktail featuring mint and cucumber Ketel One botanical, apple liqueur, ginger switchel, Kaffir lime, absinthe and a sprinkling of gold dust.
Aqua Shard, SE1, aquashard.co.uk
Make an escape out of town
Fancy a little escape? Located just on the outskirts of London, the beautiful, dog-friendly Runnymede hotel is set on the banks of the River Thames is ideal for those wanting a mini getaway. Perfect for an overnight stay or longer, there’s plenty of outdoor pursuits to keep the kids occupied. Challenge each other to hit the bullseye with a fun-filled family archery session, or try some laser clay pigeon shooting to improve hand-eye coordination skills. Water lovers, meanwhile, will enjoy paddle boarding, fishing or a swim in the heated outdoor pool.
For a real moment of tranquillity, hire one of the easy-to-use riverboats and setting sail on an excursion to neighbouring Windsor, where there are plenty of attractions to keep the family happy, including Legoland and the stunning Windsor Great Park. The hotel offer a picnic for you to take on board.
Later, come back and tuck into homemade pizza and barbeque favourites from the Robata grill, which are served at the hotel’s new River Hideout.
The Runnymede on Thames hotel, TW20, runnymedehotel.com
Jump aboard a GoBoat picnic boat
Why picnic on dry land when you can tuck into your sandwiches aboard an eight-person self-driving electric boat past London Zoo or Hampton Court Palace? GoBoat is now open in three London locations - Paddington, Kingston and Canary Wharf - with each route taking in some of some of the capital’s prettiest waterways, whether it’s the bridges of Little Venice on Regent’s Canal or the wildlife of The Thames near Teddington Lock.
No boating experience is required and each boat is kitted out with a picnic table for eating and drinking as you go. Life jackets are provided for babies and buoyancy aids are provided for children.
Across London, goboat.co.uk