Fun things to do with the grandchildren in London
Millions of grandparents look after their grandchildren - for a weekend, school holiday or on a regular basis. Here are some ideas for the most grandparent-friendly places to enjoy.
There are many benefits for grandparents who get to spend tons of time with little ones: it keeps them physically and mentally active, it's a great antidote against loneliness, it's a nice way for retirees to break up their week and stay connected with their adult children. Plus, there's plenty grandparents can learn from kids, too, like, everything to do with technology...
Enjoyable as they are, kids are also exhausting - and physically demanding - and even a task like taking a grandchild to the playground isn't necessarily straightforward for a grandparent who's stepping in for a day (playgrounds can be a stress for grandparents with dodgy hips or back issues, especially if their three-year-old grandchild insists on climbing up apparatus designed for seven-year-olds). And for London excursions, everything from crowds to the length of a walk from public transport to destination to accessibility can determine the success, or failure, of a day trip.
While there's an official day to celebrate grandparents (it falls on October 6 this year), we've put together our top tips and London sights for grandparents to take their grandchildren to any day. Our advice? You don't need to go to a theme park or soft play centre to win Grandparent of the Year - save that particular pleasure for the parents.
More London's fountains. Photo: Robert Tudor
Playgrounds can be wonderful, inspiring spaces. They can also be hell on earth: constant running from one place to another, comforting tantrumming kids (often not your own), helping children across ziplines that they're years too young to be attempting to mount, supporting them on monkey bars, carrying them screaming...
Instead, one of London's lush squares might be a more interesting alternative: with restaurants, shops (essential for stocking up on anything from squeezy food pouches to getting a bib for the little one - how frustrating that your child can never bother to put a bib of theirs!), wide open spaces for kids to run around in, and then some. More London has tons of play fountains and even water benches for kids to enjoy, Granary Square has green spaces, multiple fountains, seating of all kinds and even interactive art to keep the kids occupied for an afternoon and Merchant Square has a water maze, giant chess, mini golf and more. These destinations are all a short walk from accessible-friendly Tube stations with lifts. The best bit? Kids run through jubilantly while grandparents can relax on a bench - no heaving a child onto a climbing frame necessary.
P.S. If you do find yourself in Hyde Park, why not try a playground suited to an older clientele? There's a Senior Playground with exercise equipment, specially designed with the older generation in mind.
The Natural History Museum. Photo: Javier Martinez
Consider their interests...
Choosing an activity the child will love isn't a guaranteed recipe for success, but it can't hurt - and there are plenty of free, fantastic options (accessible and easy to get to) in London. As far as museums go, the Natural History Museum and Science Museum tap into kids' interests and are easy for grandparents; the V&A Museum of Childhood has frequent workshops and crafts activities and is a fun space to revisit retro toys, and the National Maritime Museum is a must for would-be explorers. Those who have enjoyed the Katie series of books by James Mayhew with their grandchildren - where a grandmother takes her grandchild to the museum and Katie discovers different artists on each trip after falling into their paintings - may even venture to the National Gallery in the hopes of reliving some of Katie's escapades.
For any firefighter-obsessed kids, the London Fire Brigade has free open days on Saturdays in August and September, where kids can meet heroic firefighters and Fire Cadets, sit in fire engines, try on uniforms and learn about firefighting.
Westminster Abbey. Photo: Jenny Marvin
And also yours...
Introducing your grandchildren to your own passions and interests can be one of the most rewarding aspects of spending time with them. Are you a classical music buff? Great - there are baby-friendly music concerts and classes, like Bach to Baby, all over the city. Or perhaps you're a theatre or dance fan and would love to take your little one to a child-friendly ballet like The Nutcracker or their very first Christmas panto? For a special occasion like a birthday, it's never too soon to introduce them to the benefits of good table manners - and the pleasures of a simple scone - with a kid-friendly afternoon tea service, where themes run the gamut from Alice in Wonderland to all things science-inspired.
Also, if you fear your grandchild's only exposure to church occurred a few years ago when their parents panic-attended every Sunday for three months in the hopes of getting into a top C of E primary which they swiftly abandoned after realising they would be required to keep the faith for years to come - and you're hoping to remedy that - London's great churches like Westminster Abbey have a programme of family events where kids can join in with the choir for a day or come home with their own crafts, like mosaic tiles.
Gardening with the kids. Photo: Kelly Silkemma
Teach them something new
Of course, spending quality time with the grandkids isn't all about treats; it's about enjoying each other's company. Passing a passion of yours onto the grandchildren is satisfying and becomes an activity you can do together, whenever you spend time with one another, like baking, gardening, making model trains... Happily, this goes both ways: your school-age grandchildren will love nothing more than teaching you how to play Fortnite on the Nintendo Switch.
Eltham Palace. Photo: Fredrick Tubiermont
Kings and queens of the castle
If you're looking for more of a day out idea - either in London or slightly further afield - stately homes and castles are rewarding for grandparents and grandchildren alike and combine culture and history with kid-friendly activities like nature trails and jousts. In London, Buckingham Palace is open for visitors through September with a Queen Victoria exhibition and plenty of kid-friendly workshops, while English Heritage site Eltham Palace is fully accessible and combines medieval history with 1930s architecture (plus there are kids' activities, gardens and an outdoor play area). Hever Castle in Kent (the childhood home of Anne Boleyn) is a multi-generational favourite with summer jousts, characters walking around the premises to meet and greet children, a Water Maze, Italian gardens, koi to feed, a fantastic adventure playground and more. Plus, touring the castle itself doesn't require climbing hundreds of steps.