Run, run, run, fall, stumble, cry, holler, head, heels, head, heels, run again… Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Being a toddler in the countryside is dramatically similar to being a toddler in a densely populated city like London so when the tots went to the big smoke we sought out a few contrasting parks to let them do their worst.
The first hit was Kew Gardens or, by its proper name, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It’s gone out of its way to attract families, holding lots of kiddie events and activities so if you’re organised you can tap into an attraction, but if you randomly turn up, tourist stylee, that will work out just grand too. Firstly the gardens are pretty vast, 300 acres to explore. Despite Kew being desperately civilised, and in a lovely part of the city, here your wild things can run wild.
There are picnics to be eaten, trees to climb, geese to gape at, and elegant houses before which your child can perform modern interpretive dance – as toddlers sometimes do. This kind of open space in London is not to be sniffed at.
The Royal Botanic Gardens sound and feel like a very adult space – parents can admire the plants and gardens, the landscaping, the architecture etc., yet kids are so very at home here too. For example the Palm House is considered to be the most important Victorian iron and glass structure in the world. But whilst parents admire the 16,000 panes of glass the tots explore the humid, lush, green interior – a space for real adventurers – and great for a rainy day too.
Creep downstairs to the Marine Aquarium where their wee eyes pop at the brightly lit tanks and subsea beasties. Four marine habitats have been created: coral reef; estuary and salt marsh; mangrove swamp; and rocky shoreline, all to educate and entertain.
Then you get the grand finale – in toddler terms – the cherry on the cake, the game changer, the creme de la creme – THE PLAYGROUNDS!!! Mr Toddler quite possibly wet himself when he saw them. Outdoors is the grandly titled Treehouse Towers – a tree themed outdoor play area where (apparently 300) little angels can climb, clamber, crawl and career. Then indoors is Climbers and Creepers – here “As ‘insects’, children climb inside a plant to learn about pollination. Thrills come when they learn about the dangers insects face from carnivorous plants when they trap model flies with Venus fly traps or are themselves ‘eaten’ by a giant pitcher plant”. I must admit Mr Toddler simply went nuts, and was a little young for such role play, but I love the thought that has clearly gone into each and every piece of equipment and the the focus on ‘education through fun’. For a location as iconic as Kew to be so wonderfully child friendly is to its merit. I have no photos of the play areas as, to their credit, they were absolutely swarming in happy children playing.
And if you really want gold star parent awards let your kid have an icecream from the kiosk cleverly situated next to the play park. Or if they’re small enough put the them in a forward facing buggy and eat one yourself – they’ll never know.
Practicalities and Logistics – Kew has a designated tube stop so public transport is on hand – click here for more info and other options. We had a hire car and found parking no problem (and free!) on nearby residential streets after midday – before noon parking permits were in force for residents only- and we accessed the park from Victoria Gate. This page tells you the best gate to enter depending on your circumstances. Prices are here – I was the guest of my pal who has the Kew equivalent of a season ticket so I was very lucky to get in for free, tots under three are free too. Getting to London – we flew with flybe (good kids’ baggage allowance) into London City, a delightfully small airport, and picked up a hire car there, a mere stone’s throw from the airport front door. When lugging children, buggies and luggage around small airports are definitely beautiful.