London's best under-the-radar indoor play spaces
Forget soft play at the leisure centre - we've found the coolest immersive indoor play spaces in London. The best part? Lots are hidden in your favourite museums...
Of course, there are soft play centres, and trampoline parks. Roller rinks and covered skate parks (perfect if you've got a teen who's keen). And for those who love their winter sports, you can find indoor ski tracks and snow domes year round.
For the parent who's looking for something a little different still - immersive, creative, around the corner from some very cool art or history - we've got some fantastic play spaces for you to check out. And we think you'll actually enjoy them...
Play KX at King's Cross. Photo: John Sturrock
The Crossing, Coal Drops Yard, Stable St, Kings Cross, London N1C 4DQ
Coal Drops Yard is officially our favourite destination for kids (in bad weather or good); with interactive artworks from Amalia Pica to engage with, fountains to run through, playgrounds aplenty and A TON of (car-free) outdoor and indoor space, it really is a haven for kids and their grownups.
The best discovery we've made in recent weeks is the Play KX, which is an indoor play group Fridays-Sundays from 11:30am-4pm that meets in The Crossing and is the stuff kids' dreams are made of: oversized building blocks, soft toys, dress up clothes and accessories, cardboard boxes, sacks, inflatable toys, fabrics in every colour and texture imaginable... it's a truly wonderful experience where kids can get lost in their imaginations, building dens, transforming into new characters and inviting toys to tea parties. In the summer/when the weather is fab, it's an outdoor soft play experience at Lewis Cubitt Park. Even more magical? It's free.
And yes, while you're hanging out in King's Cross, be sure to ride the Mail Rail at the Postal Museum and check out the British Library's Marvellous and Mischievous exhibition (the kids will adore the book nook).
Photo: Discover Children's Story Centre, Sorcha Bridge Photography
Discover Children's Story Centre
383-387 High St, London E15 4QZ
Often credited as the venue for getting kids obsessed by books, Discover Children's Story Centre truly has it all: interactive exhibitions, a cool children's bookshop, storytelling sessions and two floors of utterly inspiring play spaces known as Story Worlds (there's also a Story Garden outdoors).
The immersive indoor spaces will make the kids believe in magic as they hide in caves, go sailing on the high seas, travel to galaxies far away in a spaceship and take in light shows and crafts and writing stations to create their own stories. The spaces were created with illustrators Jim Field (of Oi Frog fame, among others), with new elements added by Aleksei Bitskoff in 2019. There's something for kids of all ages to enjoy. For an adult and child 2+, tickets are £13.
Photo: National Army Museum Play Base
National Army Museum Play Base
Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 4HT
An entire soft play experience, housed in a central London museum? Tell us everything.
The National Army Museum's soft play zone is designed for children 8 and under, with a variety of themed activities, from prepping food in the cookhouse to letting loose on the assault course and driving command liaison vehicles. Tickets from £4.75 for kids over 1 for a one-hour session.
Photo: AHOY! Children's Gallery at the National Maritime Museum
National Maritime Museum
Romney Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
While there's plenty to visit with the kids in Greenwich (from Cutty Sark to the NOW Gallery), the National Maritime Museum really ticks the box when you need a great venue to occupy kids of different ages.
The AHOY! children's gallery (free during weekdays, £3 on weekends and during half-term) is a soft play space for kids up to age 7, which encourages children to immerse themselves in the sailor's life: they can make repairs to the ship, prepare meals for the crew and hide away and escape from villainous pirates.
For older children, the All Hands gallery for ages 6-12 includes cannons to fire and cargo to load. You're going to want to factor in enough time to spend most of the day here.
Photo: Wonderlab at the Science Museum
The Science Museum
64 Exhibition Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD
The Science Museum doesn't just have one brilliant indoor play space for kids - it has several.
On the ground floor of the museum, you'll find the Pattern Pod, a multi-sensory zone for under-8s with touch screens, robot trails, ripples of "water" to jump across (no wellies required!) and patterns aplenty, for kids to understand and learn from.
Head downstairs to The Garden, an interactive indoor playground suited to the 3-6 set with water play areas, construction blocks and light and sound experiences.
Upstairs, you'll find the raved-about Wonderlab (day passes start at £8), which is an indoor playground to fuel all budding scientists' dreams, with friction slides, floating mist, a chemistry bar, electricity experiments and much more. There are also lots of showcases throughout the day.
Photo: Victoria & Albert museum
Victoria & Albert
Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL
We think the V&A is a wonderful museum for kids, whether you want to head over on a Saturday morning to attend a pop-up performance or watch your little ones splash in the striking outside fountain. There's also a wealth of activities for kids to do inside, particularly in the British Galleries, where you'll find plenty of hands-on zones where children can design their own coat of arms or try on hoop skirts.
The Clore Study Area in the British Galleries is also brilliant: the upper floor space has cupboards to explore and books to read, beanbags to veg out on, as well as a hilly mound to run up and down.
Photo: The Bee's Knees at Battersea Arts Centre
The Bee's Knees
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London, SW11 5TN
The Battersea Arts Centre is a real gem for the south London crowd to enjoy, and The Bee’s Knees is the jewel in its crown of kids' offerings. This indoor play space lets imaginations run wild and is designed for kids up to 5 (open play is £3 a session). There are grassy knolls to roll down, a bridge to cross, and toys and book nooks aplenty.