The Family Travel Show

Family Travel ShowDo you ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice there is when you’re planning a family holiday? The whole world is out there to explore but how do you decide where to go and what to do?

Do you go skiing, on a safari, a cruise or a city break? And how do you decide where to stay once you’re there? Is it better to pick a large hotel with kids’ clubs and activities on tap, a campsite or a self-catering villa?

We’re hoping to find the answers to these questions and lots more at the Family Travel Show in London on October 1st and 2nd. It’s the only UK event dedicated to family holiday inspiration so it will be packed with family travel experts and holiday companies all keen to answer your questions and inspire you with lots of ideas for your next holiday.

Family Travel ShowWith exhibitors ranging from ski and safari companies to cruises and adventure travel, it’s a great opportunity to find out about lots of different kinds of holidays. There’s a big fun element at the show too, with competitions to win holidays and lots of activities to keep the children entertained.

You can dress up and have your photo taken in front of famous landmarks, try on scuba diving equipment, go on a climbing wall or find out how to build a fire without matches with London Bushcraft.

Lonely Planet Kids is offering discounts on its children’s travel books, an activity sheet competition and the chance to explore different environments using a virtual reality headset.

Children can take part in a 45-minute photography workshop too, learning the basics of how a camera works and how to take pictures of moving wildlife and landscapes.

Family Travel ShowThe Family Travel Show is taking place at Olympia in London from 1st to the 2nd October. Tickets for adults cost £10 on the door or £8 in advance. Children under 16, free. If you’d like tickets for only £6 use the code, SUITCASES. The photography workshops cost £10 per child and should be booked in advance to secure a place.

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Eleven Things to spot on the Houses of Parliament Tour

Eleven Things to Spot on the Houses of Parliament TourWhat could be more thrilling than standing in the steps of the Prime Minister, the Queen and Braveheart? A tour of the Houses of Parliament is a fantastic opportunity for children to see inside one of the world’s most iconic buildings. You’ll find out about Guy Fawkes, the man who tried to blow up the building; Charles I, the king who had his head cut off for abusing his power; and secret doors leading to even more secret toilets.

The Palace of Westminster has been a royal palace for over 1,000 years. Originally King Canute’s hunting lodge, it was the main residence for the kings of England from 1042 until 1512 when King Henry VIII moved out after a fire. The Houses of Parliament were built on the site of the medieval palace in the 19th century after another large fire. Although most of the buildings look really old they are in fact all, apart from Westminster Hall, only 150 years old.

These are the things you should look out for.

Stand on the spot where Charles I was condemned to death in Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament. It was completed by William the Conqueror’s son, William Rufus, in 1098 and it’s where the law courts used to sit. It is a real thrill to walk around here. So many of the most exciting moments of British history have happened within these walls.

For my boys and I, the biggest thrill was standing on the exact spot where King Charles I  was sentenced to death in 1649. It is also here where the Scottish ‘Braveheart’, William Walace was sentenced to death for treason in 1305 and where Sir Thomas More was condemned to death in 1535.

In more recent times, this is where Nelson Mandela addressed Parliament and where the bodies of people like Winston Churchill and King George VI were laid in state before their funerals.

We enjoyed looking at all the statues of animals and admiring the 600-year-old roof. Our guide told us that when they did some repair work up there recently they found lots of medieval tennis balls up in the rafters left over from people indulging in a spot of royal tennis after work!

Follow the processional route taken by the Queen

The Queen opens Parliament every year and the tour follows the ‘Line of Route’, the route the Queen takes for the State Opening of Parliament. She arrives in a horse drawn coach at the Sovereign’s Entrance and makes her way from there to the Robing Room, through the Royal Gallery and Tudor Room to the Lords Chamber.

We were fascinated to discover that before the State Opening, the cellars of the Palace of Westminster are searched by the Beefeaters, the Yeoman of the Guard from the Tower of London, in order to prevent another Gunpowder Plot. The Yeoman Warders search the cellars with their lanterns. This is the cellar where, in 1605, Guy Fawkes was found guarding a pile of gunpowder with which he and a group of Catholic plotters were planning to blow up the Houses of Parliament in an attempt to kill the protestant King James I.

Find the secret door in the Robing Rome

The Robing Rome, with its highly ornate ceilings and copious amounts of gold leaf, is probably the grandest dressing room you’ll ever see. There’s even a throne in here, a ‘Chair of State’, built for Queen Victoria. This is where the Queen comes to put on her state robes and the Imperial State Crown. A copy of Charles I’s death warrant is displayed in here as a stark reminder of what can happen to a monarch who attempts to interfere with Parliament.

The most thrilling thing for my boys was the discovery of a secret panel which leads to the Royal Apartments or, in other words, a toilet which only the Queen is allowed to use.

Admire the glitz of the Lords Chamber


The Queen addresses Parliament in the most lavishly decorated room of the whole palace. The Royal Throne is based on the early 14th century Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. In front of the throne there’s a big cushion like a giant beanbag where the Lord Speaker sits. It’s called a Woolsack because it’s stuffed with wool. All the benches are red here, which is the colour of the Lords as opposed to the Commons which is green. There are lots of microphones dangling down from the ceiling which my boys thought looked like the candles hanging down from the Great Hall at Hogwarts.

See if you can work out where Churchill damaged the table

A bomb fell on the House of Commons during the Second World War so the government had to move into the Lords Chamber. Winston Churchill was prime minister at the time and he used to pound on the desk during his speeches to the Commons. The table in the middle of the Lords Chamber is that same table and if you look closely you can see the mark where Churchill’s signet ring scratched the table from Churchill banging on it so much.

Look at the statues of the prime ministers in the Members’ Lobby

IMG_1428-Commons-from-Members-Lobby-with-ChurchillYou can find more bomb damage in what is now called the Churchill Arch in the Members’ Lobby outside the entrance to the Commons Chamber. There are statues here of various prominent prime ministers including Winston Churchill, Clement Atlee and Margaret Thatcher.

There’s a marked difference between the size of Churchill’s statue and that of Lloyd George. Our guide told us that Churchill deliberately commissioned his statue to tower over that of his predecessor. Apparently Lloyd George’s widow complained that he looked ridiculous so they put him on a plinth to make him look taller.







Stand in the Commons Chamber


We would have loved to have sat down on one of the famous green benches but unfortunately it’s not allowed. The Commons Chamber is the room we really wanted to see for ourselves, the room we’ve seen countless times on the television. The first thing that struck us was how much smaller it looks in real life. There are 650 members of parliament but there is only space in the chamber for 450 people on the benches.

Another interesting thing we learned was that the Queen is not allowed in this room. No British monarch has been allowed in since King Charles I stormed into the Commons – and we all know what happened to him.

Find out where the Speaker used to go to the toilet

Oh, the joys of toilet humour! The grand Speaker’s Chair is raised up so that the Speaker can see what’s going on and control the proceedings. It looks all the grander for having a canopy over the top of the chair. This is because they used to hang drapes around the chair whenever the Speaker needed to use the toilet.

There is a rule that the Speaker has to be present for the parliamentary session to carry on. Nobody wanted to interrupt the session if the Speaker needed the loo so for 600 years the poor Speaker had to draw the curtains and use a chamber pot behind the canopy whenever he had to relieve himself. This went on for centuries until it was decided that a Deputy Speaker could stand in if the Speaker had to leave the room.

See where the Suffragettes used to chain themselves in St Stephens Hall

Suffragettes regularly used to chain themselves to the statue of Lord Falkland when they were protesting about the women’s right to vote at the beginning of the 20th century. The women caused such a disturbance that they banned women from the Central Lobby for ten years from 1908 to 1918.

See who you can spot…

IMG_3672The thing about the Houses of Parliament is that you never know who you’re going to bump into. As we walked outside, a Rolls Royce pulled up and there was the King of Ghana and his entourage…

Don’t miss the Jewel Tower

Your tour ticket gives you free entry to the Jewel Tower opposite Westminster Palace. It was built in 1365 to store King Edward III’s personal treasure and was originally surrounded by a moat to make it harder to attack.

The official records of the House of Lords were kept here from 1580 to 1864 so this is the place to see copies of thrilling documents like the death warrant of King Charles I and the act of parliament that abolished slavery.

How to book a tour of the Houses of Parliament

Tours are available on Saturdays thought the year and on most weekdays during parliamentary recesses including the summer, Christmas and Easter.

There are several ways of booking a tour. You can either book a tour online or from the ticket office at the front of Portcullis House. A self-guided audio tour costs £18.50 for adults. One child is free with each paying adult, £7.50 for each additional child. There is a family version of the audio tour. The 90-minute guided tours cost £25.50, adults; £11, children. It’s best to book in advance but some tickets may be available on the day from the ticket office.

UK residents can do a guided tour free of charge by contacting their MP. All you need to do is contact your MP or a Member of the House of Lords. You can find your MP and a list of Members of the House of Lords on the UK Parliament website.

There are regular Family Guided Tours of the Houses of Parliament. Check the website for details.

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Why you should see the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy

Why you should see The Summer Exhibition at the RAThe Summer Exhibition  at the Royal Academy of Arts is one of the must-see events of a London summer. Held every year since 1769, it’s the largest and most popular open exhibition in the UK. Any living artist can submit works to be considered so you could find a piece by a complete unknown hung next to a Hockney.

Most of the works are for sale so it’s a great chance to pick up a first piece of art. Prices start at £50 and run into the tens of thousands for the most well-known artists. Over £50,000 prize money is awarded each year and past winners have included Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, David Hockney and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

I love the history of the exhibition. Artists like Gainsborough, Turner and Constable showed their works in these same galleries in the Summer Exhibitions of the past. I love the contrast between the contemporary art on the walls and the grand surroundings of 17th-century Burlington House.

Why you should see the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy

© Stephen White

There are lots of traditions associated with the Summer Exhibition. ‘Varnishing Day’ used to be the artists’ last chance to put finishing touches to their paintings. In 1832, Turner upset Constable by adding an eye-catching red buoy to his seascape, thereby upstaging his rival’s work. Nowadays the artists do a procession down the street from Burlington House to St. James’ Church, walking to the sounds of a steel band.

Another bizarre tradition is the secret Beef Tea that the Academicians are given to drink while they’re hanging the exhibition. It’s believed to be a mixture of Bovril and sherry!

The show is always curated by artists and this year is the turn of the British sculptor, Richard Wilson. He’s chosen to highlight the work of two artists working as a pair so you’ll find work by artists like Eva & Adele, Jake and Dinos Chapman and Gilbert and George.

But the most fantastic thing about the Summer Exhibition is the sheer diversity of the exhibits. It’s a celebration of contemporary art in all of its forms so there are sculptures, architectural models, paintings, videos, photos and prints. This makes it a unique place to come and see a wide variety of art.

Perhaps this is why there is such an eclectic mix of visitors to the exhibition every year. On the Sunday afternoon I went I was struck by the sheer variety of the people looking at the art. Hip 20-something couples stood next to old men in cream linen suits, children gazed at sculptures alongside middle-aged women out for the day with their friends.

It’s a great exhibition for kids because there’s so much variety that you’re always going to find something to interest, entertain and fascinate them. My 16-year-old goddaughter loved it. “The art here is so much fun!” she exclaimed as she walked around. For her, it was a far cry from the staid atmosphere of some of the art exhibitions and museums she’d visited in the past.

The fun starts in the stunning courtyard of 17th-century Burlington House. In this space, the designer and architect, Ron Arad, has set up ‘Spyre’, a 16-metre high steel oval cone which twirls like a snake above visitors’ heads. It moves constantly, its elegant acrobatic postures recording live footage of what it sees from the camera in the eye at its tip.

Why You Should See the Summer Exhibition at the RA“Normally we are looking at sculpture,” says Arad. “Now it is looking at us.”

The idea of being looked at is carried through into some of the other exhibits too. In some rooms it feels as if there are eyes everywhere, some looking at us from portraits, others gazing down from the ceiling.

Why You Should See the Summer Exhibition at the RAIn ‘The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci’, Kutlug Ataman has created a shimmering blue carpet hanging in the air – it’s made up of 10,000 LCD panels like passport photos, each with the photo of someone who the Turkish philanthropist encountered before his death.

Then there’s the sinister new sculpture by the Chapman Brothers in which the eyeless mannequins are holding their eyes in their hands.

You need to look up, down and all around you or you’ll miss something, like the figure of the girl cowering being one of the entrances. She’s hiding her face in her hands so that we can’t see her properly. Even the sculptures of dogs are positioned to look up at the art on the walls.

At the Summer Exhibition you’ll find a bit of everything. Some things appear designed to shock; others to amuse, inspire or make us think about the world in which we’re living. There’s a video of a cat licking cream, a huge tyre made out of cardboard and an iridescent tapestry woven out of beaten bottle tops.

Why You Should See the Summer Exhibition at the RAAono Fumiaki’s sculptures explore the theme of rebirth and healing after the devastating earthquake in Japan in 2011. He has gathered up household objects like books and sake bottles found at the scene and transformed them into sculptures.

The Royal Academy is running a series of creative family workshops over the school holidays inspired by the Summer Exhibition. The workshops last for two hours. Adults, £15; RA Friends, £5; children, £3. Booking is required.

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts is on until 21st August. The Royal Academy is open every day from 10am until 6pm, until 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Adults, from £12; 16 to 18-year-olds, £10; under 16s, free.

For more ideas of art activities to do with children in London, take a look at The Ten Best Art Experiences for Kids in London

You’ll probably also enjoy Lego, Bicycles and Prison Cells: Why children should see Ai Weiwei

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A Tour of Buckingham Palace

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to the public over the summer and it’s a wonderful opportunity to be shown around the Queen’s London home. The tour takes you round all the grandest rooms of the palace including the Throne Room, the Ballroom where State Banquets are held, and the lavishly decorated official drawing rooms.

This year’s tour includes entrance to an exhibition on 90 Years of Style from the Queen’s Wardrobe. It’s particularly exciting as the Queen’s wedding dress and Coronation dress will be on display together for the first time ever.

The tour takes you to nineteen of the State Rooms which the Queen uses for ceremonial occasions and entertains official visitors. You’ll see paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.

We visited Buckingham Palace last summer and we are still talking about it. Harry, my 9-year-old, kept going back to the start of the tour so that he could keep climbing up the Grand Staircase, pretending he was the Queen. The visit really fired up the boys’ imaginations and they have been holding coronations for their toys ever since. I have given up telling them that it’s “crowning”, not “coronating” – apparently coronating sound far grander.

Here’s what they thought about it. You’ll find my tips for families at the end.

EdwardBy Edward, age 11

Buckingham Palace is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Great Britain. It’s horribly busy but it’s completely worth it to visit the State Rooms. It is one of the oldest working palaces in the world and the State Rooms are so beautiful and grand.

Buckingham Palace actually started out as Buckingham House owned by the Duke of Buckingham. King George III bought the house for his wife as a private retreat. When George IV became king he began turning the house into a palace. He appointed the architect John Nash, who was later dismissed by Parliament for spending too much. The architect, Edward Blore was later employed to finish the palace for the new Queen Victoria.

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The tour of the State Rooms begins at the Grand Entrance. This entrance is reserved for foreign ambassadors and diplomats. You’ll see the Quadrangle, the courtyard in the middle of the palace, where processions form for special occasions. On a state visit, the mounted band of the Household Division also plays here to welcome the visiting Head of State and their entourage.

At the end of the Quadrangle looms the magnificence of the Grand Entrance, with its many columns and facades. Inside, it is even more magnificent with its red carpet and fireplace made from a single block of marble. Upstairs the Grand Staircase invites you up with its elegant curls. Through the Guard Chamber, which looks like the inside of a giant jewel box, you’ll find the Green Drawing Room with its green walls, green sofas and green curtains.


Continued by Harry, age 9

Buckingham Palace is an outstanding place to visit. It is so historical, whether you’re in the Ballroom or walking up the beautiful Grand Staircase. But before you go exploring let me tell you one thing. You will see loads and loads of gold! And if you’re thinking about gold doors, gold chairs and gold tables you should see the Ballroom.

When you have finished going around the beautiful Green Drawing Room you walk into the Throne Room. All the other rooms you have walked through prepare you for this moment. When you walk through the grand archway you will almost definitely be looking not at the magnificent walls but at the velvet canopy and beneath that, Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh’s official thrones.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Did you know Queen Victoria was the first monarch to make use of the Throne Room and that nearly all the official Royal Family wedding photos are taken in there?

One of my highlights was the Ballroom because when we went it was all set up for a state banquet. It was so majestic! There were hundreds of glasses and gold plates everywhere!

As you walk around you will find out lots of interesting facts about the Royal Family. For example, the Queen’s three eldest children and her grandson, Prince William, were baptised in the Music Room by the Archbishop of Canterbury with water brought from the River Jordan. And in the exquisite White Drawing Room there’s even a secret entrance behind a mirror so that the Royal Family can enter the State Rooms from their private apartments.

In the famous gardens you’ll find the Family Pavilion. This is a great place for children to play as they can dress up in clothes from the Dressing Up Box and pose in front of cardboard thrones. You can also work out the place settings for a Royal Banquet using cardboard cut-outs of cutlery, plates and glasses.


Be prepared to queue: We went on the first day of the Summer Opening and the queues were horrendous. We had a timed entrance slot on our ticket but had to queue for at least an hour before we got in. The queues might be slightly better if you go in September.

No pushchairs are allowed in the State Rooms: You will need to leave your pushchair at the security area before you start the tour. You can pick up a baby carrier or hip seat for a toddler instead.

Going to the toilet is an event in itself: There are no public toilets at the start of the tour which can be something of a problem if you’ve been queueing for an hour to get into the Palace in the first place. The public toilets are in the garden, at the end of the tour. But if you say you’re desperate, helpful staff will lift up all sorts of barriers and give you a VIP escort to some toilets halfway around the tour. Sadly, they didn’t look like the ones the Queen uses which would have been even more thrilling.

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open daily from 23rd July until 2nd October. Adults, £21.50; children, £12.30; under 5s, free; family ticket, £55.30.

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The Ten Best Art Experiences for Kids in London

How do you get your kids into art? London is a wonderful place to introduce your children to a wide range of art and artists – there are so many fantastic art galleries and museums in the UK capital, many of which are free. Children are more likely to engage with what they’re seeing if they can take part in some way and in all the places on my list, children are actively encouraged to get involved by doing art workshops, going on a family trail or listening to stories about the art.

Most of the workshops are free but do check before you go as they’re often very popular and you may need to book in advance or arrive an hour early to be sure of a space.

The National Gallery

The National Gallery is home to one of the greatest collections of paintings in the world and there are lots of activities aimed at helping families to make the most of their visit from children’s audio tours and family trails to Magic Carpet storytelling for the under 5s and hands-on art workshops for school-age children every Sunday.

On Wednesdays, there are messy play sessions for the under 5s. During school holidays, children of all ages can take part in some wonderful drop-in workshops inspired by paintings and current exhibitions. Workshops on offer this half term include making a sculpture of a horse and becoming an architect’s apprentice and building a model of the National Gallery.

The National Gallery is open daily from 10am until 6pm, until 9pm on Fridays. Entrance is free. Most of the workshops are free but it is best to arrive an hour early to book your space. Some workshops have a charge and need to be booked in advance.

Victoria and Albert Museum

The world’s greatest museum of art and design has plenty to fascinate everyone in the family and there are lots of hands-on exhibits from trying on theatre costumes to building a replica of the Crystal Palace.

It’s a great idea to pick up one of the free backpacks for kids when you arrive – you can choose from topics like Ancient China, architecture, and magic glasses – which are filled with hands-on activities and objects to help children explore the collections.

On Saturdays and school holidays there are performances of plays, music, puppets and stories. There are also Family Art Fun Trails including one designed by the author, Jacqueline Wilson, and Sunday drop-in design workshops on subjects like crazy costumes and dragon puppets.

During school holidays, there’s even more going on, with drop-in activities in the Imagination Station, free activities in the digital studio and workshops when families work together with an artist to create a piece of art.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is open daily from 10am until 5.45pm, until 10pm on Fridays. Admission is free.

Tate Modern

The vast Turbine Hall at Tate Modern has always been a great space to let children explore the art installations. The Bankside Power Station site has been a must-see for anyone interested in modern and contemporary art since it opened in 2000 and this June sees the opening of several new galleries.

There are loads of great ways to get your kids involved in art here. The Families’ Welcome Room is open every weekend and Fridays during school holidays. You’ll find family activity maps and a fantastic time travel activity which you can use to find artwork the same age as your children. Kids can use digital sketch pads to create their own masterpieces in the Bloomberg Connect Drawing Bar and make their own 3D sculptures at Liminal.

There are also free monthly drop-in workshops when children can work alongside an artist to create a joint work of art.

Tate Modern is open daily from 10am until 6pm, and until 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Entrance is free.

Dulwich Picture Gallery 

Just imagine having a sleep-over next to European masterpieces like Rembrandt, Canaletto and Gainsborough! Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London had its first sleep-over for kids last October and is planning more. There are also family trails, weekend and after-school workshops and interactive storytelling sessions once a month.

The monthly family Sundays offer free art activities from creating animations to self portraits. There are also Mini Masterpieces sessions for babies from 6 to 18 months with sensory and interactive activities (Tickets cost £12 per adult and child).

Dulwich Picture Gallery is open every day except Monday from 10am until 5pm. Adults, £5; children free.

Royal Academy of Arts

The stunning setting of Burlington House on Piccadilly plays host to some of the best art exhibitions in London from last year’s blockbuster Ai Weiwei to this spring’s exhibition on the gardens of artists like Monet and Matisse. Art Detective Trails for kids are available free for all exhibitions and there are regular free drop-in workshops for children  – upcoming themes include screen printing and making creatures out of clay.

You’ll have to book well in advance for the creative family workshops which are inspired by current exhibitions (Adults, £15; children, £5). During the popular Summer Exhibition there are Family Gallery Tours every Sunday afternoon in July.

The Royal Academy of Arts is open daily from 10am until 6pm, until 10pm on Fridays. Tickets for ‘Painting the Modern Garden’ cost from £16 for adults, free for under 16s.

National Portrait Gallery

In the National Portrait Gallery you’ll find portraits of people from pop stars to kings. My children love the Tudor Gallery which is filled with paintings of Elizabeth I and Henry VIII. At weekends and school holidays you can pick up a free sketch book at the Family Activity Base and fill it with your own drawings while you look around the gallery. There are also some really good audioguides for children with different themes depending on what they’re most interested in looking at.

The gallery has just launched monthly drop-in art sessions for children on Sundays, with creative activities for children of all ages from photography and sound to animation.

There are also free family trails and workshops in school holidays. This February half term, children can take part in activities like designing accessories, making paper costumes and creating a fashion magazine to tie in with the current Vogue exhibition.

The National Portrait Gallery is open daily from 10am until 6pm, until 9pm on Thursday and Friday nights. Entrance is free. 

Whitechapel Gallery

For over a century, the Whitechapel Gallery has been one of the best places to see contemporary art, showcasing artists like Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Sarah Lucas. It’s particularly welcome to families too – it holds regular ‘Crib Notes’ sessions for parents with babies and toddlers, opening its doors an hour before the gallery is usually open so that parents can walk around the exhibition with a curator in relative peace.

There are free activity trails and drop-in Family Days, filled with fun, creative activities. Upcoming workshops include digital art and technology. Every summer, a large section of the galleries are transformed into a space for children to have fun exploring and interacting with art.

The Whitechapel Gallery is open from 11am until 6pm every day except Monday. It opens until 9pm on Wednesdays. Entrance is free. Tickets for the Crib Notes sessions cost £8.50 including refreshments and need to be booked in advance.


Design Museum

On Family Days at this museum by Tower Bridge, the whole place is taken over with free design activities for children. There are also monthly drop-in workshops focusing on design and making activities for children aged from 5 to 11. Upcoming topics include screen printing and poster design.

The whole family can try the monthly ‘Sunday Sketch’ when adults and children can take part in a range of drawing activities with an expert illustrator. It could be anything from drawing some of the objects in the exhibition or architectural drawings. Family Trails are available to help children explore the museum and learn more about design.

The Design Museum is open daily from 10am until 5.45pm. Adults, £13.65; children, £6.85; under 6s, free.

Cartoon Museum

The Ten Best Art Experiences for Kids in London

© The Cartoon Museum

This museum in Bloomsbury is the place to come if your kids are into comics as its galleries are full of British cartoons from the 18th century to the present day including children’s classics like Dan Dare and Dennis the Menace.

The museum offers workshops for children during the school holidays. Workshops on clay animation, mini-comics and superheroes vs supervillains are all on offer this coming half term. They’re very popular so book early online. Tickets cost from £10 to £20.

The Cartoon Museum is open daily until 5.30pm; from 10.30am, Mondays to Saturdays; from 12pm on Sundays. Adults, £7; under 18s, free.

The Wallace Collection

In this historic townhouse you’ll find 18th-century French paintings, furniture and porcelain alongside Old Master paintings and world-class armoury. Children can try on armour in the Conservation Gallery or go on a ‘Warrior King’ family trail.

There are monthly drop-in art workshops with artists and illustrators. Holiday workshops might involve making pop-out furniture, Hama bead portraits or giant 3D snakes. Some are drop-in free activities and for others you’ll need to book a ticket in advance.

The Wallace Collection is open daily from 10am until 5pm. Admission is free.

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Family Fun on the Cutty Sark

©National Maritime Museum, London

Imagine you’re the captain in charge of an historic sailing ship, trying to beat the record for the fastest time back to London from Australia. You’ve got to dodge the icebergs around Cape Horn and use the compass to follow the trade winds to steer the fastest course.

Children can do all this on the Cutty Sark in Greenwich where they can have a go navigating the ship, taking the helm of the ship’s wheel and even climbing into one of the bunkbeds to try it for size.

The Cutty Sark is one of the most famous ships in the world. The Victorian tea clipper was built in 1869 as a cargo ship to bring tea back from China. It was the fastest ship of its time thanks to its long, narrow hull and large sail area.

We visited with our eldest son last weekend. Just seeing the ship from the outside is impressive enough – it has three masts and eleven miles of rigging – but we were blown away by the brilliant family-friendly activities on board and fascinated by its colourful history. This is a ship that has survived mutiny, storms and a captain who jumped overboard (the last sight of him was the sharks circling around the area where he was last seen.)

The tour starts under the ship, where you can touch the copper hull and see the world’s largest collection of figureheads. Cutty Sark’s own figurehead is Nannie, a scantily clad witch from a poem by Robert Burns about a farmer called Tam who is chased by this witch, dressed only in a ‘cutty sark’, an old Scottish name for a short nightdress.

You then take the elevator to the main deck where you’ll gaze in wonder at the masts and rigging. Its here that you can take the helm of the ship’s wheel and step into some of the cabins. There’s a real difference between the luxury of the captain’s cabin and the bunk beds used by other members of the crew. You can even climb into the beds to try it for yourself.

But if you were sailing on the Cutty Sark you were lucky if you had a bed at all. Most of the crew lived and slept on deck and worked four-hourly watches. If you fell asleep on the watch you had to sit on top of the mast – and it’s a long way up, believe me. Life would have been like this for a long time – it took eight months to sail from London to China and back again and some of the apprentices were only 14.

You can look in the galley too where all the food would have been prepared. Pea soup and salt pork was a typical weekday dinner, with potato pie as a treat at weekends. You can even see the carpenter’s workshop with all the tools laid out on the benches and try on a sailor’s hat and boots for size.

Now make your way down the stairs to the Tween Deck, a vast space which was used for storing cargo. It had to be large – 10,000 tea chests were loaded on its arrival in China, enough for 200 million cups of tea. In its time as a cargo ship, Cutty Sark carried wool, shark bones, tobacco, pianos, cocoa beans, coal and shoes as well as tea. From 1883 the ship sailed from Sydney to London with wool and this was when it sailed its fastest speeds under Captain Woodget, Cutty Sark’s longest serving captain.

Woodget was a fearless navigator. In order to go faster to Australia and catch the trade winds he travelled further south than any previous commander. This was highly dangerous as the ship frequently came into contact with icebergs. His record time for the voyage from Sydney to London was 70 days.

This space is now filled with interactive games and activities so that you can really imagine what life was like for sailors on the ship. There are so many different things to do whether you’ve got toddlers or teenagers. You can play with models of the Cutty Sark, load tea chests, learn how to tie knots or sit down on a moving bench to see what it’s like to be on a ship that’s rocking all the time.

Edward got really into the wonderful navigation game where you have to use maps and a compass to see if you can follow the trade winds from Sydney to London, using the wheel to steer faster than Captain Woodget. There’s also an amazing ship simulator which is based on the software used to train real captains. There are five interactive screens and you have to read navigational equipment, electronic charts and radars to navigate buoys in New York’s harbour or steer a P&O ferry into port in Dover.

Family Fun on the Cutty SarkBut there’s loads of other things to do as well. You can smell and touch samples of some of the ship’s cargo: tea, cocoa beans and pickles; ring the ship’s bell and unfurl the sails on the model ship.

Finally, make your way to the Lower Hold which is full of tea chests. Here we watched a short film about the Cutty Sark’s history.

The Family Explorer Trails are full of things for children to find and do as they make their way round the ship. Under 5s can borrow a backpack filled with toys and stories. There are regular family events at weekends and holidays, with stories from people dressed up as characters from the ship’s history such as the captain, the cook and even the figurehead, as well as games, activities and crafts. On Wednesday mornings, toddlers can enjoy songs, stories and playtime on board.

If you’re in central London, make the trip even more fun by getting the boat from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. It’s a 40-minute trip down the Thames.

The Cutty Sark is open daily from 10am. Tickets cost from £12.15, adults; £6.30, children; under 5s, free.

Pin It!Family Fun on the Cutty Sark

How to Have Christmas in the English Countryside

Hang a wreath on your front door.

Light the fire, bring in lots of greenery from the garden and hang up iced gingerbread biscuits all over the house.

Decorate the table with reindeer, sparkly birds, nutcrackers and bowls filled with baubles.

Cook a Christmas feast of roast gammon, roast turkey, roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, bread sauce and gravy.

Walk off all that food with a long ramble through the countryside with the dog.

Make a gingerbread house, fill sherry glasses with sweets and eat plenty of cakes and treats.

Go to the meet of the Boxing Day Hunt.

A Christmas in the English Countryside



Relax in front of the fire at the village pub. At this pub in Wiltshire, Sir Walter Raleigh once sat in the corner of the fireplace smoking tobacco from a bowl. When his servant came in and saw smoke coming out of his master’s nose, he though he was on fire and threw a jug of water over him.





Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!