With a colorful history, incredible architecture, world-class theater, and a cosmopolitan way of life, London has a firm hold atop the list of the greatest cities in Europe. But there’s another reason London is a great place to visit with young kids: playgrounds.
My brood and I spent four months in London in 2013 and we sampled most of the playgrounds the city has to offer. Without exception, the options are spacious, well-kept, safe and – most important – fun. They’ve got play structures with towers, ziplines, and other wacky inventions. Most of them also have on-site cafes, a nice touch for those of us parents who require more caffeine than the average mom or dad. Here is a rundown on our favorites of the bunch.
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, Hyde Park
Without question, this spot near Kensington Gardens is the most famous playground in all of London, if not the world. Among the best features: teepees for the little ones, tunnels, water features, and – perhaps most impressively – a life-size pirate ship on which kids can climb and hide and play. There’s also a walkway lined with a series of pipes; kids can bang the pipes like an organ and create “music.”
A guard at the front gate (yes, there’s a gate!) controls admission so there are never too many kids inside. This means that on weekends there’s often a line (or, as they say in England, a “queue”) to get in. Oddly, the playground still gets pretty crowded. One of the times we visited, we actually lost our older daughter inside for a while (we found her and a new friend playing in the bottom of the pirate ship.)
My advice: Go early, and when the place gets busy, have a picnic outside or take a walk to see Baby George at Kensington Palace nearby.
Marylebone Green Playground, Regents Park
This playground, near the southeast corner of Regents Park, was renovated in early 2013 and now is one of the city’s newest. That means the play structures are in mint condition. It also means the park’s awesomeness is still a relative secret (we stumbled upon it).
What makes this park great are its “action” structures. There’s a slide that’s taller and longer than most others in the city, and to get to the top, you have to climb 34 concrete steps. There’s a field of giant octagons on which kids (and grownups, for that matter) can climb. There’s also a section of natural climbing obstacles that includes a felled tree and giant boulders.
On our visits, my kids loved the natural stuff; they’d spend hours (literally) shimmying from branch to branch of the felled trees and hours more climbing up and down the giant rocks. These scenes only were surpassed in cuteness when our younger girl referred to herself as “a wood elf.”
Coram’s Fields, Holborn
A sign at the front gate of this wonderland states that no adults are allowed entry unless otherwise accompanied by a child. The warning is a great window into the mindset behind one of the oldest playgrounds in town. All told, the seven-acre, walled-in destination comprises three playgrounds, a youth center, a children’s center, sports fields, a farm (with goats!), and a café.
Members of our family loved Coram’s Fields for different things. My kids still talk about the treehouse, which has a number of slides from the top back down to the ground. Meanwhile, my wife and I appreciated the child-only bathrooms, all of which were equipped with changing tables and emergency diapers, just in case.
Viewfinder Tip: The weather changes quickly in London; be sure every member of your family hits the playground with appropriate rain gear.
Other playgrounds worth noting
Of course London has dozens of other playgrounds worth noting. The adventure playground in Battersea Park, for instance, received a makeover in the spring of 2013 and now is better than ever. The playground in Kew Gardens boasts a bunch of treetop suspension bridges – it’s like a playground Ewok village come to life.
We loved the playground in the St. John’s Wood Church grounds, largely because it had some of the best sight-lines we experienced in all of London. Then, of course, there was the child play area at Paddington Recreation Ground – our “home” playground and a spot we visited literally two or three times a week.
The bottom line is that, at least in London, playgrounds truly are focal points of their respective communities. That’s more than you can say about these spots in other places. And it makes them all worth your while.
What do you look for in playgrounds when you travel?