1. Disney Films at their best… British Film Institute
BFI Southbank, Belvedere Rd, SE1 8XT
Where better to see one of Disney’s classic animations than at the BFI?, where the huge state-of-the-art cinema screens are some of the largest in the country. The chairs are comfy, the site lines are excellent and the children will be literally dumb-struck at the sheer size of their favourite Disney characters prancing about on screen.
Family Fundays run each month and feature a screening of a children’s film and an activities workshop beforehand in the foyer where BFI staff guide children with a craft or film-related activity. It might be painting and drawing on a large mural; creating plasticine models, animating and filming them; or painting and making masks. There is no age limit as parents are encouraged to stay and play too!
Monthly Family Funday: Workshop 11.30am, Film 1.30pm.
Tickets: Adults £9.50, Children £6.75.
www.bfi.org.uk/southbank, 020 7928 3232
2. Feeling hungry?… The Riverfront
BFI, South Bank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XT
Sometimes the last place you want to eat is another kid’s themed restaurant with over-chirpy waiters who bend down and jiggle their rows of slightly tarnished metal badges at you. Occasionally, it’s nice to go somewhere you’d probably dine even if you didn’t have the children with you. The Riverfront is just that sort of place. It’s busy, its chic, but it’s a grown-up place that accepts children rather than a kids’ place that takes adults.
The Riverfront has two sides to it: to the left is the restaurant and the right is the bar and there is lots of outside seating, great for early evening summer dining. The décor is distinctly retro with heavy, dark wood dining tables and mismatched chairs.
There is a great selection of British ales on the list and some classic meals: mussels and chips, hearty pies and a mountain of gorgeous, peppery sausages and mash. The children’s menu is basically half adult portions. The goujons of plaice worked well and were tasty and perfectly crisp… devoured within minutes as they were served with yummy chips.
Overall: The menu could be described as featuring comfort food, cooked in a sassy, modern way and served with a professional, but friendly flare that is so rare these days.
Kid’s Menu: No, but really accommodating staff who try their best to please. Half portions at about £6.00.
Changing facilities: Yes.
High chairs: Yes.
Buggies: Plenty of space to store.
View: People strolling, jogging and skating along outside and folk browsing in the famous Waterloo second hand book stall.
www.benugo.com, 020 7401 9000
3. Is it a Bus or a Boat?… Duck Tours
York Road, SE1 7NJ
This is a bright yellow amphibian bus that takes you on a tour of London’s landmarks: Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, and Trafalgar Square. It then pauses the MI-6 building and with a rev of the engine, launches right into the water with a huge splash and a couple of shrieks from the astonished children and the more timid ladies on board!
The trip lasts just over an hour and to be honest, it’s all a bit cheesy. The bus guide insisted on us cheering and waving at the incredulous passers-by and although the launch into the river is fun it seems an expensive way to see the sites and have a boat trip.
I also felt uncomfortable not wearing seatbelts. I know this may be misplaced fear, and the website states the vehicles are exempt from regulations regarding the provision of seat belts, but it still went against all my better judgement to be on a road without a safety belt. And, no snacks or drinks allowed on board, so keeping little ones amused with a pack of raisins was out of the question too.
Overall: Nice idea, but way to expensive, and a bit embarrassing!
Tickets: Adults £21.00; Children £14.00; Family (2 adults and 2 children aged 1 to 12) £62.00.
Plus Booking Fee: £3.00 per transaction cost.
Changing facilities/Toilets: No; use London Eye facilities nearby.
www.londonducktours.co.uk, 020 7928 3132
4. For budding film stars… The London Film Museum
County Hall, Riverside Building SE1
What a find! Who would have thought that this museum would be such a laugh for little ones as well as grown-ups? Who cares if the children are too young to have seen a Superman film or watch the original Star Wars films, I challenge anyone (especially film-buff Dads) not to find it fun to have your child photographed next to Darth Vader, snuggling up on the sofa with The Simpsons or defending The Force with light sabres!
You can easily detour round the horror rooms (which are interesting for grown-ups!) and enjoy the other areas such as the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car ride which has a blue screen with all the scenery passing by. The mini cinema shows classic Charlie Chaplin films and it was interesting to see children watching the black and white screen either in hysterics or frowning at Chaplin’s antics.
Tickets: Adults £13.50; Children (age 5-15) £9.50; Under 5’s free.
Baby changing: Yes.
Buggies: Plenty of space to store bags and buggies.
Cameras: Permitted in most rooms; highly recommended.
Star Wars photo shoot: £7.00 extra for a photo on set with Star Wars’ R2D2 and C3PO. Who can resist?
www.londonfilmmuseum.com, 020 7202 7040
5. Make a weekend of it… Marriott Hotel County Hall
Belvedere Road, Southwark, SE1 8XT
There is something very special about looking down onto the River Thames from your luxurious, comfortable hotel bedroom and seeing the boats and people and seagulls outside. Do you glance over to the majestic Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, or follow the buses towards Victoria Embankment? We had to pull up a chair so the children could sit at the windows watching the world (and the London Eye!) go by. They were entranced.
Accommodation: With 2 double beds and ample space for a cot too, the County Hall is well geared-up to accommodate children in the bedrooms. The bedroom amenities are as you would expect with quality linens and furnishings, and plenty of toiletries and fluffy towels.
It is an unusual hotel inside. Sited within the old county hall buildings the corridors have a chaotic curve to them and it’s very easy to get lost trying to find your room.
The pool was lovely: drooping palm trees and marble everywhere, but it was a tad cold especially for little ones who turned a mild shade of blue despite all their enthusiasm to stay and splash around a bit more. Luckily the lure of a warm chocolate drink and a cinnamon cookie in the bedroom tempted them out.
All children under twelve stay free when using existing bedding and all children under 2 stay free and can request a cot.
The Concierge was particularly helpful. We posed a simple question about family attractions and he dug out lots of brochures and stuck mini post-it notes inside to illustrate which attractions were good for kids. He was genuinely interested in us having a good time during our stay. Unusually lovely service by him and indeed all the front of house team too.
Overall: The hotel is undoubtedly perfect for its picture postcard riverside views and excellent location. Waterloo is a few minutes walk plus outside a of buses trundle over the river into Westminster and beyond.
www.marriotthotels.co.uk, 020 7928 5200