The South Bank of London is a vibrant area with attractions that appeal to the whole family–the London Eye, river cruises, the London Aquarium, theaters, musical performances, festivals, museums and dances. It’s a walkable area with street performers, al fresco diners, quirky shops, and an abundance of free entertainment. From the banks of the River Thames, the view of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey make spectacular backgrounds for those family snap shots.
Special programs for kids and families–many are even free–can be found on the South Bank Centre’s website. On our recent visit, we saw the sold out performance of Frankenstein at the National Theatre. Arrive early–5:45 pm–and hear free music during weekday performances. If a matinee is scheduled on Saturday or Sunday, the music plays before the show.
The Old Vic Theatre is 192-years-old and famous for developing some of Britain’s greatest actors including Judi Dench, Peter O’Toole, Maggie Smith, and Laurence Olivier. Currently, Kevin Spacey provides artistic direction. The theatre offers special reduced priced tickets for those age 25 and under. We snagged tickets to Cause Celebre–the intriguing story of love, obsession and betrayal.
The Official London Theatre website lists shows according to “age suitability.” Also, parents might want to review the individual theater’s website for age recommendations. Frankenstein contained full, frontal nudity and the suggested age range for Cause Celebre was 13+ with parental guidance.
If your family enjoys music, check the Royal Festival Hall for an eclectic choice of concerts. Everything from a woman who plays five toy pianos, New Orleans’ own Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Royal Philharmonic and the foot-stomping South African Gospel Singers can be seen at this venue.
The Imperial War Museum, housed in a former hospital for the insane, is filled with tanks, planes and weapons from World War I to present day conflicts. The sights, sounds and smells of a 1940’s London air raid shelter are recreated in the The Blitz Experience. The museum hosts special events for families throughout the year such as the Children’s Literature Festival which looks at the art of storytelling through drama and illustration workshops. Well-known children’s authors will lead readings.
Where to Eat
Restaurants line the South Bank and many offer al fresco dining. Strada Cucina Italiana serves freshly made kid-pleasing dishes like hand-spun pizza, chargrilled meats, and spaghetti. Giraffe’s diverse Kids Menu includes burgers, fish and chips, and chicken strips costing less than five pounds on weekdays accompanied by music from around the world. If you are hankering for Latin cuisine, Las Iguanas has ninos meals and even provides free organic baby food or will mash a banana for the “tinies.”
For dessert, stop by Le Pain Quotidien bakery and indulge in warm Belgian waffles with hot chocolate.
Where to Stay
The newly opened Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London hosted us during our weekend visit. The contemporary hotel with 1,021 guest rooms was buzzing with guests. Its South Bank location means it’s an easy walk to nearby attractions.
Our family opted for two interconnecting superior rooms. Each room has a 37-inch flat screen television. If you didn’t bring a laptop, you can pay a five pound fee and search the Internet on the TV. Complimentary Wi-Fi is offered throughout the hotel and in the guest rooms–a feature we wish more hotels would institute. Our queen-size room featured a mini fridge, complimentary waters, a safe, international electrical outlets, and a wheelchair-accessible bathroom with a roll-in shower.
Another great choice for families is to book a studio room with a separate living space furnished with a sofa bed, end tables and television. An especially nice feature is the kitchenette, which provides a microwave, crockery, glasses and cutlery for four people.
The hotel offers room service, four onsite eateries, a Fitness Center, a heated 15- meter swimming pool, and the Mandara Spa. An upgrade worth considering is the Executive Lounge with spectacular views of Big Bend. Open from 6:30 am to 8:00 pm, it serves breakfast, pastries, afternoon tea, and evening canapes with alcoholic drinks. The charge is 39 pounds a day for a double occupancy room. Additional occupants are an added charge.
Check with the helpful concierge desk for maps and information. The hotel is a 10 minute walk from the Waterloo Station where trains depart every hour to Windsor Castle–the medieval residence of Her Majesty the Queen. (Do check that the castle is open on the day you plan to travel. When dignitary visit, it is closed to the public.)
Get More Information
VisitLondon.com is the city’s official tourism website packed with helpful information.
If you are traveling beyond London, use VisitBritain.com.
SouthBankLondon.com is an up-to-the-minute guide to South Bank happenings. The “news” feature includes dining promotions such as lunch at Brasserie Joel at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge for less than 10 pounds.