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Family things to do in London

The capital is brimming with seasonal events




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[October 2008]

London things to do

As it gets chillier and the days get shorter, those of us with young families will want to plan some exciting escapes from the house. Happily, London is brimming with events and activities to warm up those cockles and entertain the most objectionable child. Many of these events are free too.

At the beginning of November the skies across London will be illuminated by fantastic firework displays. So this year, forget the burnt bangers and cranky catherine wheels in your back garden and head to the city.

Battersea Park and Hampton Court Palace are both hosting impressive events on Saturday November 1st with small fees. Advanced booking is recommended for the Hampton Court display. On Sunday November 2nd, free displays will take place at Victoria Park in Bethnal Green and Clapham Common.

The following Saturday (November 8th) is the Alexandra Palace display, a North London tradition for over 100 years. There is a small fee on entry. Free events will take place on the same day at Blackheath and from a barge moored on the Thames between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges to accompany the annual Lord Mayor's Show procession.

A more recent winter tradition for this country, outdoor ice rinks are about to start popping up all over London in readiness for the season. Parents and kids alike get a thrill from hurtling across the ice so pull on your winter woolies and start practising that Bolero. Greenwich, Kew Gardens, the Tower of London, Hampton Court, Somerset House and Canary Wharf are just a few of the venues offering this icy delight.

With the latest James Bond film out soon, little and large 007 fanatics will love For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, at the Imperial War Museum until March 1 2009. This exhibition explores the relationship between the Bond series and the realities of the Cold War, as well as displaying some fascinating memorabilia from the films.

Take your little stargazers to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich which is running a variety of family-friendly shows this winter. Star Life, Stargazing for Beginners, Sky Tonight and Invaders of Mars are all regular events for children.

The Gruffalo stage show at the Duchess Theatre in Covent Garden will enchant fans of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's bestselling picture books. The show runs between November 26th and January 4th.

For a bit of upmarket panto, take the family to Richmond Theatre where Simon Callow is starring in Peter Pan with Bonnie Langford between December 5th and January 11th. The theatre is also holding a series of related workshops and events for families.

Shortlisted for the Visit London Best Celebration of Cultural Diversity Award 2008, Discover in Stratford, East London, is a visionary children's story making centre. Focusing on fun, imagination, literacy and interactivity, it features the Story Den, Story Trail, Story Garden and special exhibitions such as Festivals of Light on now.

The London Children's Film Festival is based at the Barbican Centre with additional screenings and activities taking place at seven other venues across the city. The festival combines films, workshops and events and runs between November 22nd and November 30th.

Old family favourites, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum can always be relied upon to entertain the troops. The Natural History even has its own ice rink and Christmas fair from November 6th until January 18th.

When you can't put off Christmas any longer, hit the West End and embrace the festive season to the max. The Oxford Street Christmas Lights will be on from November 12th until January 6th and Oxford and Regent Streets will become traffic-free on Saturday December 6th for their annual VIP (Very Important Pedestrians) Day.

Helping to ease the pain of Christmas shopping in London, there will also be VIP treats, live music and celebrity appearances throughout the day. On Sunday the traffic will return, but stores will keep the Christmas spirit alive with special Family Day games and events.

When you've escaped the shops, head over to Hyde Park which will be transformed into a Winter Wonderland between November 22nd and January 4th. Attractions include the obligatory outdoor ice rink, Giant Wheel, Bungy Dome, German Christmas Market and jolly old Santa Claus in his grotto.

Finally, for a more cultural take on Christmas visit the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, close to the City. The museum's annual Christmas Past exhibition explores the origins and meanings of many of our festive traditions through eleven authentically decorated rooms covering a 400-year period. Running from November 25th until January 4th, there is an accompanying children's and family day as well as a number of adult events. Kids' activities include a Mini Christmas Tree Workshop and Christmas Nursey Rhyme Time, both on Saturday December 6th.

So over the next few months, when you've exhausted the local park and your DVD collection, there's no reason why you can't make the most of the capital.


by Maxine Clarke