London South Bank & Westminster: Activities for families

0 Flares Filament.io 0 Flares ×

southbank for familiesLondon’s South Bank/Westminster area is full of all kinds of activities that families will enjoy. From Parliament to museums to the London Eye, there’s something for just about everyone.

We visited recently and I had a great time researching what was on offer, and what I thought my family – 9, 10, and 12-year-old girls and a very picky husband – would enjoy.

We arrived Saturday after lunch so the girls could still participate in their Saturday morning sports and stayed in London through dinner on Sunday. We parked the car at a very affordable and secure car park (£12.50/day) and walked everywhere.

Here are our suggestions of what to do:

 

The view from Westminster bridge is amazing!

The view from Westminster bridge is amazing!

 

Walk across Westminster Bridge

This wasn’t actually on my list when I researched the weekend, but I added it to the top of my list 1) because it’s free and 2) it has fabulous views and reminded me a bit of walking across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It’s not as long as the Golden Gate, and it’s unassuming, but from either direction there are fabulous views of London landmarks and when you walk across the bridge you have time to enjoy them and take pictures – rather than whizzing by on a car or bus. You can see the London Eye, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, red double-decker busses passing over and boats going under. It’s quite a sight, and no doubt you’ll be stopped by a fellow tourist and asked to take their picture with Big Ben in the background.

 

Do they ever tire of taking sleeves? This is leaving Parliament.

Do they ever tire of taking selfies? Here’s our eldest, self-indulging, as we left Parliament.

 

Tour Parliament at the Palaces of Westminster

On Saturdays and select days when parliament is not in session, you can take a tour. If you are a UK resident and are flexible with dates you can arrange a free one via your MP, or book online. We booked an audio tour which had 20 points of interest covering Westminster Hall, Central Lobby, House of Lords, and House of Commons. We opted for the family audio version, so we could all listen to the same commentary (there’s a child and adult version too). It’s a sneaky history lesson and I find it amazing that in this day and age you are still allowed to walk around the House of Commons – and stand where David Cameron does during Question Time. The girls (and picky husband) loved it.

 

Admiring the widest stone-vaulted roof in existence in the Central Lobby at the Houses of Parliament

Admiring the widest stone-vaulted roof in existence in the Central Lobby at the Houses of Parliament

 

ou have a choice of views from the City Cruises River Red Rover all day travel pass. It's only £32.40 for a family ticket and you can hop on and hop off at four piers. We went all he way to Greenwich!

You have a choice of views from the City Cruises River Red Rover all day travel pass. It’s only £32.40 for a family ticket and you can hop on and hop off at four piers. We went all he way to Greenwich!

 

Cruise the Thames

There’s something about being on a boat that makes you feel like you are on holiday. City Cruise’s River Red Rover allows you to get on an off at four key Thames locations: Westminster, London Eye, Tower of London and Greenwich. They provide commentary as you go, and on busy days it’s via a knowledgable tour guide with a sense of humour (did you know Parliament is also known as the London gas works – for all the hot air!). You also learn some lesser known facts (Big Ben is a nick name for the 13 and 1/2 ton bell – you only hear him – not see him!)

It was a sunny day and we were enjoying ourselves and ended up riding it all the way to Greenwich. There are snacks on the boat. If I did it again, I’d schedule in time to get out there and go for lunch and come back – perhaps we’ll do that when my brother and his wife visit from California. The whole thing took 2 and 1/2 hours. We really enjoyed it.

 

Our Park Plaza bear enjoying himself on a City Tours boat ride near Canary Wharf!

Our Park Plaza bear enjoying himself on a City Tours boat ride near Canary Wharf!

 

Visiting the Churchill War Rooms in London

Visiting the Churchill War Rooms in London

 

Explore the Churchill War Rooms

The last time I visited these were just called the Cabinet War Rooms, but they have recently added a Churchill Museum, hence the name change. You get to go underground and tour the original Cabinet War Rooms, the bunker that sheltered Churchill and his government during the Blitz. All the girls have studied World War II in school, and this was a great way to bring it to life. Amazingly, this was my husband’s first visit there and he was fascinated walking around the same corridors and Churchill and his government, and seeing the secret transatlantic telephone room where there was a direct line to President Roosevelt and where some of Churchill’s most famous wartime speeches were broadcast.

In the tour you have a choice half way through of visiting the Churchill Museum (a separate area). I’d skip that and just continue with the Cabinet War Rooms tour.

 

This giant ferris wheel is a London landmark. It's 32 pods hold up to 20 people each, and on a clear day you can see 30 miles.

This giant ferris wheel is a London landmark. It’s 32 pods hold up to 25 people each, and on a clear day you can see 30 miles in all directions!

 

Ride the London Eye

You can’t stay in South Bank and not ride the London Eye! Also known as the Millennium Wheel (because it was built for the Year 2000 celebrations) it’s one of the world’s tallest ferris wheels and has 32 pods for the 32 London borough. Each enclosed pod carries up to 25 people and you can walk around the capsules, or sit in the middle, which is what I did, about 14 years ago when it opened. I’m a little leery of heights, and though the views are spectacular, I found the 30 minutes at 443 ft above ground a bit challenging. The girls, however, are dying to go. In January the London Eye will be sponsored by Coca-Cola.

 

The L'Italiano menu at Park Plaza County Hall includes how made pastas and crispy pizzas (chef's own secret recipe), risotto dishes and some great mains. It's also family friendly and affordable!

The L’Italiano menu at Park Plaza County Hall includes home made pastas and crispy pizzas (chef’s own secret recipe), risotto dishes and some great mains. It’s also family friendly and affordable!

 

Where we ate: L’Italiano Restaurant

Eating in London with families can be hit and miss. How many times have you gone for the family option, where the kids love it but mum and dad are a bit disappointed? I’s hard to get the balance right, but L’Italiano does a great job of keeping kids happy plus making it interesting for the adults too.

Located on the Mezzanine level of the hotel, L’Italiano is an award-winning Italian restaurant that offers home-made pastas, thin and crispy pizzas, risotto dishes and mains. Pricing is similar to Strada/Pizza Express, but in addition to the usual margarita pizza and spaghetti Bolognese, there are some unusual pastas (such as mezzemaniche – a shorter version of penne). There’s also an extensive Italian wine list. Read my full review of L’Italiano.

 

Where we stayed: Park Plaza County Hall London

Snuggled in the heart of South Bank is Park Plaza County Hall. It’s a modern family friendly 14-story 4-star hotel located just across from Westminster and overlooking the river Thames. The higher rooms have spectacular views over London, think the London Eye staring you right in the face when you open the curtains. You are in walking distance of Big Ben, Palace of Westminster/Parliament, Westminster Abbey, London Eye. Many rooms have kitchenettes, separate living areas, baths and free Wifi.

This hotel really caters for families and considering London prices, the rooms are reasonable priced. The hotel restaurant, L’Italiano, is also child friendly and affordable. Think Strada and Pizza Express pricing, but with homemade pasta, pizza (with Chef Steffano’s secret recipe for the base) and other authentic Italian dishes. On Saturdays, kids of registered guests can take the complimentary pizza making class. For more information, read my full review of Park Plaza County Hall.

 

We were upgraded to one of the Penthouses on the 14th floor, which had a balcony with sun loungers (and views across London).

We were upgraded to one of the Penthouses on the 14th floor, which had a balcony with sun loungers (and views across London).

 

the view tktkkt tktk t

From our Penthouse suite at the top of the Park Plaza County Hall, you have spectacular view over London’s South Bank.

 

Don’t miss: Pizza making class!

On Saturdays at 3 pm the L’Italiano chefs run a pizza making class for kids. It’s free for registered guests. Just show up and put on your apron and chefs hat and discover how to shape the fluffy pizza dough into a nice base (it’s Steffano’s own recipe, and he won’t share it, I asked) then lightly cover it with a tomato base (Steffano kindly shared this: tomato, basil, olive oil and salt). The girls then made a four seasons pizza (a separate ingredient in each corner). Red peppers, ham, a spicy salami and onions. Steffano then transferred it into the VERY HOT clay pizza oven, where they only takes 3 minutes to cook! The girls loved their pizza so much they came back and ordered it for dinner.

 

On Saturdays at the Park Plaza County Hall, kids of registered guests can participate in the Pizza Making Class.

Don’t miss the pizza making class! On Saturdays at 3 pm the L’Italiano chefs run a pizza making class for kids. It’s free for registered guests. Just show up and make pizza!

 

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Aijzen in Coutny hall for a quick bite to eat.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Aijzen in County Hall for a quick bite to eat.

 

IF YOU GO:

Park Plaza County Hall London 1 Addington Street, London SE1 7RY +44 0844 415 6760 parkplazacountyhall.com Family friendly hotel in South Bank.

L’Italiano Restaurant, inside Park Plaza County Hall London, 1 Addington Street, London SE1 7RY +44 0844 415 6760 parkplaza.co.uk Real Italian food at affordable prices.

Parliament/Palace of Westminster Westminster, London SW1A 0AA parliament.uk Guided tours on Saturdays and summer.

City Cruises citycruises.com The River Red Rover all-day travel pass offers unlimited access to the river. You can hop on and hop off at any one of four piers. A real bargain at £32.40 for a family if you purchase online.

Churchill War Rooms Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AQ +44 020 7930 6961 iwm.org.uk The original Cabinet War Rooms, the bunker that sheltered Churchill and his government during the Blitz. Open daily 9.30 – 6.

London Eye Riverside Bldg, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7PB londoneye.com I don’t need to tell you what this is! London’s most famous landmark/ferris wheel.

AjiZen Japanese Canteen Riverside Building, County Hall, London SE1 7PB, England. Casual Japanese food.

Other suggestions:

  • Florence Nightingale Museum 2 Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7EW +44 020 7620 0374 florence-nightingale.co.uk
  • Sea Life London Aquarium County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7PB
    +44 0871 663 1678 visitsealife.com
  • London Dungeon Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, City of London, Greater London SE1 7PB +44 0871 423 2240 thedungeons.com
  • BFI South Bank/IMAX Theatre Belvedere Road South Bank, London +44 020 7928 3232 bfi.org.uk

 

 Our accommodation and dinner were compliments of Park Plaza County Hall. All opinions are my own and my family’s.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Filament.io 0 Flares ×
Follow:

12 Comments

  1. 25/06/2015 / 23:10

    Think my little boy would love the pizza making class. How fantastic, he could make it and I shall eat it he he. Love the Park Plaza County Hall have stayed there before. X

  2. 04/10/2014 / 07:43

    That pizza making class sounds right up my son’s street! We only live 10 minutes by train from the South Bank – we’re very lucky!

  3. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    03/10/2014 / 13:09

    We have stayed in both the Park Plaza County Hall and Park Plaza Westminster Bridge – both brilliantly located. So much to do on that side of the river.

  4. Honest Mum
    02/10/2014 / 06:16

    Such a wonderful post, love your pictures-it’s making me miss London madly though, funny as when I lived there I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now (always the way)! Loved taking Oliver on the eye as a toddler and must do the Thames cruise this summer!

  5. pennyalexander
    30/09/2014 / 06:24

    Lovely post Susanna. We loved the river cruise over the summer, mine are slightly smaller so it was a great way to rest little legs and see it all, but even as a grown up river cruises have to be the best way to see a city, well the ones that have rivers! Parking is cheaper than Nottingham 🙂

  6. 28/09/2014 / 15:33

    I love how there’s so much to do in London with the kids,and so much free. I didn’t realise that you could park there so cheapily. Thanks for sharing – it’s great to have fresh ideas.

    • 29/09/2014 / 15:05

      London is an amazing city and we are so lucky to have it in arms reach.

  7. Michelle Twin Mum
    27/09/2014 / 20:10

    Wow, it looks like a wonderful time, we alwas love the south bank, just wandering along and seeing what is going on, there is always loads of street entertainment. Mich x

    • 29/09/2014 / 15:04

      Yes, I forgot to mention the street entertainment. You always know you are in a tourist area when there are street entertainers!

  8. jennypaulin
    27/09/2014 / 18:41

    what a wonderful family day you had . I really want to take my boys to London one day when they are odler, because there are so many amazing sights and sounds. the pizza making session is brilliant! really interesting post, thank you x

    • 29/09/2014 / 15:03

      The pizza making class was a real favourite with the girls. Now they want to make it at home!