This is the second post in my series of London Favourites. I will be posting 1-2 times a month about fun activities and attractions for the family, as well as ideas for grown-up days/nights in London. Last month we visited the Tate Modern, and this post explores another family favourite - the Natural History Museum.
The Natural History Museum is another one of those free museums that make culture so accessible in London. And, there are DINOSAURS. Big, giant dinosaurs. Who could ask for more? We arrived at the museum at 10.15am last Sunday and there was already a long line to get in the museum. Luckily it moved quickly and we were inside within five minutes and able to enjoy the exhibits and the gorgeous building. If you are visiting on the weekends or school holidays, it is best to arrive as close as possible to when the museum opens at 10am or near closing (the museum closes at 5.50pm).
The museum is divided into four main zones. The blue zone is full of dinosaurs and large mammals; the red zone includes things such as volcanoes and geology; the green zone includes bugs and birds; the orange zone contains the Darwin Centre and the soon-to-open Wildlife Garden. Since Dubz is obsessed with 'dino-roars', we mainly stayed in the blue zone. He loved the large animatronic dinosaur, and when we left it, he said 'bye bye dino-roar, love ou'. Too cute! Dubz also enjoyed seeing the creepy crawlies in the green zone. Moozles did not like the bugs at all. But she enjoyed seeing the large mammals and learning about the dinosaurs.
The Natural History Museum has three cafes and one restaurant, but there is also a picnic area in the basement. This is where we sat at a table with our packed lunch. I would like to tell you that we are such a thrifty family and are great at saving money. But before we left we took the kids to the gift shop and let them go crazy buying dinosaur books and dinosaur toys. They didn't even have to beg. Oops.
We spent about three hours at the Natural History Museum. As we live in London, we can go back and see more with each visit (we have been before). But if you are visiting London, you could happily and busily spend an entire day there. But as it's free, you could pop in for a couple of hours and still see loads of wonderful things. There is free parking to be found on a Sunday, either single yellow lines, metered or some resident parking. But you can take the bus or the underground (nearest tube station is South Kensington, which is a 5-minute walk away).
Last Sunday we took advantage of a lovely sunny day in London and went to Kensington Gardens. Now that our youngest is two years old, we thought it would be a great time to check out the Diana Memorial Playground. The playground opens at 10am every day (closing times differ throughout the year). We arrived at 9.58am to find a herd of families waiting to be shepherded in. There is park employee who lets people in, and they only allow a certain amount of people in at a time. They also do not allow adults in unless they are accompanied by a child.
Once in, we found the playground to be busy without being overly crowded. The kids loved the big pirate ship. But the playground has more to offer. There is LOADS of sand. I definitely recommend bringing your bucket and spades. But there are also swings, a seesaw, playhouses and tents to play on/in. There were only two big kid swings but four or six baby swings (I can't quite remember). There were climbing structures and a mini-playground for the younger toddlers.
As it was very sunny, and Husband is very pale, I was relieved to see covered structures with benches to allow people to rest in the shade. And since my kids eat constantly during the hours of 9am-12pm, I was happy to find benches where we could sit and enjoy a snack, or three. There is a cafe, but it seemed a bit overpriced.
For those of you who live in London, you can of course get there via tube or bus. We chose to drive as Dubz is a bit of a handful on public transport. The beauty of going on a Sunday (or Bank Holiday) means you can park for free on a single yellow line. We parked right outside the park's closest entrance.
The kids had such a fun time. The playground is quite big, but is sectioned off making it feel more private than it is. There is paving woven around the playground so you can push your buggy/stroller around. But there are also places to park your buggy.
I think the playground would suit babies who can sit on their own up to kids of about the age of eight or nine. Babies can play in the sand or chill in their buggies while toddlers and little kids play. I saw a girl, who looked about 11 or 12, walking around with a bored expression. But it is a great place for little ones to run around, explore and release energy. Even better for Moozles, there was a carousel outside the playground so she got to have a little horse ride before we went home.
I have heard of the LolliBop Festival but I haven't been before as I have spent the last couple of years being pregnant and then dealing with a baby. So when I received a press release a few days ago, my eyes nearly fell out of my head. The line-up is ridiculous. It's like a kid's dream day. Justin Fletcher, Chris & Pui and Hook & Line (Swashbuckle) from CBeebies. There's a Scooby Doo show and a Postman Pat mini-show. LolliBop is aimed for children up to the age of 10 so I am certain that my kids will have plenty to see and do (my daughter is six and my son is two). There will also be a Lazy Town show, musical workshops from the team at Stomp!, a Bear Grylls Survival Academy (to appeal to older children) and Harry's Wizard School. What they haven't made clear is the age range for the the wizarding workshops, which include Wand Making workshops and Brooomstick training. Do you reckon that 38 might be too old? Just asking for a friend.
LolliBop is at the lovely Hatfield House, which I've been to twice for work awaydays, in Hertfordshire (north of London). You can grab the train to Hatfield from King's Cross, and Hatfield House is a five-minute walk from the train station. I prefer driving for days out with the family (as there is normally a tantrum at the end of our day), so it will take about an hour in the car from SouthWest London.
TGIS. Thank Goodness It's Spring. Although we still get out and about in the winter, it hasn't been the same. I'm Californian and I am not used to a lot of rain. And certainly not cold rain. So it has been glorious this past month with the warmer weather and less rain. If we're not in the garden, we're at a nearby park or common.
Last weekend, despite the chilly weather and the occasional hail, we went to Richmond Park. I love Richmond Park, and not just because it's a convenient five-minute drive from my house. Richmond park is huge. It has wide open space, playgrounds, duck ponds, hiking and biking trails, a golf course, a fab cafe and deer. Lots of deer. Richmond Park was originally a deer-hunting park and still has about 650 Red and Fallow deer.
Dubz, who is 22-months old, loved running around aimlessly. Moozles, who is 5 1/2, enjoyed climbing the giant tree trunks. They chased each other and played hide and seek. They also tried chasing some deer. To my horror. This visit we went to Pen Ponds so that the kids could see the ducks and the swans.But the next time we visit Richmond Park, we will stay away from the pond. Husband and I had to carry a kicking, screaming Dubz away from wading into the water to be with the ducks. No pictures were taken as our hands were truly full. All in all a fun visit, except for the last 10 minutes of screaming tantrumming craziness. But that's toddlers, right?
Let me first explain that I am not fancy. We are not a fancy family. We are not posh. We don't live a high-flying life. But yesterday we went to Harrods for a bit of shopping and a lot of ice cream. I can hear you say, 'oooh, get you'.
Husband often receives a few gifts from clients at Christmastime, but he usually gets booze. This year he also received a gift card to Harrods. So we took the kids and let them explore the toy floor. Besides loads of toys, they have giant stuffed animals and cool Lego statues. Moozles got to pick out one toy (a Princess walkie-talkie). Then we went to the Ice Cream Parlour. It was such a treat. We wouldn't normally spend £30 on just ice cream. At Christmas and birthdays, I normally ask for practical (but fun) things for the kids. Next time I'll ask for a gift certificate for a fancy department store and we can have a day out. Or maybe someone will give us a big enough gift certificate that we can buy the £30k toy car that Dubz had his eye on (bottom pic). Oooh, get us.
We normally have a zoo visit around Christmas time. Last year our son Dubz was only seven months so we gave it a miss. But this year we went back to our tradition. We decided on Whipsnade Zoo, even though London Zoo is closer. Whipsnade Zoo has elephants, and Dubz LOVES elephants.
We thought we would go to Whipsnade on the 1st January since we weren't planning to party on New Year's Eve and we thought the zoo would be quieter on New Year's Day. We were right. I'm not sure how much of it had to do with the day after NYE festivities, or the fact that it rained all day and even hailed at one point.
Despite the weather we had a fab time at Whipsnade. The elephants were in their enclosure so we got to see them up close. Walker was thrilled. We saw the baby hippo who was just born three weeks ago. Our other highlights included the chimpanzees, the turtles and spiders in the Discovery Centre and the Hullabazoo soft play centre (which I think is quite new). The soft play was extremely good. We got some respite out of the rain and had some drinks and snacks. Walker got to play in the toddler area, which was perfect for him. Moozles enjoyed the bit for the big kids. The soft play is next to the petting zoo. We were going to skip this bit as we have a few farms by our house, but we saw some sheep wandering around and had to get a closer look. Walker loves sheep too so we had to keep hold of him cause he just wanted to pet and hug them.
We're thinking about getting the ZSL annual zoo pass, which would allow us into Whipsnade and London Zoos. Does anyone else have one? I like the zoo being a special outing, and don't want to turn it into a chore of going just to get our money's worth. Then again, it would be nice to go more than once a year.
Today I went to see The Snow Gorilla at the Rose Theatre in Kingston Upon Thames. I did not go alone. I was with my five-year old daughter and about 15 of her school friends and their mums. It was magical.
I didn't know what the story was about before seeing the show, apart from the big clue in the title. And what a nice surprise to find that it was part story and part circus. The show centred around a circus, and the story took breaks to show the rehearsals. There was flamenco dancing, aerial acrobatics and juggling. There was also a clown, a contortionist and African acrobats. And of course there was a lovely talking gorilla, voiced by Brian Blessed. Brian has had quite a distinguished career but I know him as the voice of Grampy Rabbit.
In case you have never been to The Rose Theatre before, it's a lovely little theatre. Fab for family shows (we have previously seen 'Room on the Broom' and 'What the Ladybird Heard' there). There are normal seats, but in the front there is a floor sitting section, so you can bring cushions and sit/stretch out (which we did this time). I prefer normal seats, but it's nice to be on the floor when you're in a big group. There is often audience interaction at the Rose, which is nice. My daughter was so thrilled that the clown had come and sat next to us and rubbed our heads.
If you're in or not far from Kingston, try to see The Snow Gorilla. It's a fun and entertaining show. The children oohed and aahed. They enjoyed the tricks and silliness. There was a baddie and a love story. What more could you ask for?
The Snow Gorilla runs until the 5th January 2014. The show lasts for two hours (flew by), with a 20-minute intermission. Book tickets if you can.
Okay, okay, I might be going overboard with my constant usage of 'how do you like them...' in my post titles. I just can't stop myself. I will try to make this the last one, but I cannot make any guarantees.
Anyway, this half-term Husband has taken the week off and we're spending a few days with my in-laws in Leamington Spa. Today we went to Cadbury World. Oh, the smell of chocolate being made. Heavenly. I never knew I could feel intoxicated by just a smell. They gave us lots of free chocolate plus my mother-in-law bought enough from the gift shop to feed a small village. I say a small village, but the six of us won't have much trouble taking down four carrier bags of chocolate.
Growing up in America, I ate plenty of Hershey's chocolate. I enjoyed it, but didn't realise how lovely Cadburys is. It is so creamy. I still enjoy Hershey's miniatures or kisses, on the odd occasion. But dairy milk, whole nut, flake, crunchie and creme eggs. Oh my. Today I tried a wispa for the first time. Yum. I could eat chocolate every day. Oh wait, I do. Maybe that's why I'm still carrying two stone of baby weight. I am too ashamed to say how many chocolate bars I've eaten today (okay, five).
Earlier this week, my five-year old asked what we were doing for Bug Day. After some confused exchanges, she clarified that it was Insect Day. Aha! What she meant was Inset Day. Schools in the UK have five teacher training days per school year, taken on different days per different schools. At my daughter's school, the inset day is normally the Friday before half-term. So, today we went to Chessington World of Adventures to take advantage of some half-term fun but with term-time lines. A grand time was had by all, I think it might become our Autumn Bug Day tradition.
Selfies are the only way I make it in pics
Chessington looking Halloweeny
Cotton candy (that's candy floss to Brits) seemed like a good idea until I had to wash and brush the sticky tangles from Moozles' hair