Sarah’s Guide: London by Pram

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So you’ve had the baby, figured out which end is which, and completed the first few terrifying/exhilarating trips Outside-The-House without major incident (NB: a “poonami” doesn’t count as major. I have honestly dealt with three today already: one load of washing done, one to go…) and suddenly it dawns on you that this parenting malarkey may just be possible, after all. And you’re right. If you are lucky enough to live in London, or just be visiting it for a short time, there is some serious fun to be had, even with your latest cute family additions. But on the basis that forewarned is forearmed, here are some of my top tips for getting out there and actually enjoying the city.

First, it helps to bear in mind that you are never actually going to just open your front door again and saunter out of it with a small handbag. Not if your baby is coming with you, anyway. You may need any or all of the following:

– nappies, wipes, nappy sacks, portable changing mat,

– spare clothes including extra layers (probably just for the baby although a very good friend of mine took to taking a spare vest top for herself too on outings after a memorable and very un-zen-like Baby Yoga class where her little cherub’s nappy failed all over her white top…)

– drink & snacks for the baby and you

– a couple of emergency toys

– a muslin, bibs

– an umbrella (this is London after all) – choose a “super-mini-light” one as my friend calls them, so they both fit in your bag and aren’t too heavy to carry while pushing your buggy. Cath Kidston do nice but pricey ones…

– and also a raincover for your buggy. Wellies and splashsuit/coat for your child may turn a downpour into a really fun puddle splash if you’re up for it…

– suncream, sunhat & picnic blanket if it’s summer-ish (not that my son has ever deigned to wear a sunhat)

– plus the usual oyster card (London transport card), keys and phone of course and your wallet with at least £20 in for emergency taxis.

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Bear in mind that you need to know what you’re physically capable of with your buggy in terms of steps, escalators, fitting on buses, off-roading etc and plan your route/outing accordingly. Most of my Mum-buddies and I agree that buses or walking are usually the way forward. Sadly London’s tube (underground train) network is not very well-equipped with lifts yet but you may be lucky for your route of choice. Westminster, Waterloo, London Bridge, Kings Cross and Green Park (among others) all have good lifts and Victoria is in the midst of a big upgrade but it will take time.

Now after a mere hour and a half of getting ready and route-planning, you’re ready to leave the flat. So what’s London got to offer? Sites like www.ollyolly.co.uk have good listings, and there are often local facebook pages, apps or websites to keep you posted on the latest happenings but here are some ideas.

THE PARKS

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London is blessed with some of the world’s most beautiful and varied city parks. From Hyde Park and its horses, amazing playgrounds and lake, to St James’s Park with views of Buckingham Palace and the London Eye, to Regent’s Park with the zoo, to Primrose Hill, Green Park, Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park, Battersea Park and countless other smaller squares and public gardens. Many have playgrounds, almost all have cafes, and best of all, they’re free.

On a sunny day, there is nothing better to do than go to Hyde Park’s “Lido” which costs less than a fiver for the whole day and gives you access to a beautiful secluded garden, playground and… drumroll… paddling pool complete with sprayjets. My son and his buddies have spent hours and hours in there splashing around (but for this outing, add towel, swim stuff, swim nappies, picnic for child etc onto your packing list!)

A free alternative is the Princess Diana memorial water feature almost next door, but on a warm day it gets pretty busy.

There’s another Princess Di memorial feature the other side of the park: a playground nearer Lancaster Gate which includes a pirate ship and sand and water play.

SOFT PLAY

The kind of places that strike fear into the heart of the childfree, they soon become more appealing when you have an energetic toddler climbing up or colouring the walls at home. Explore whether any of your local facilities does anything along these lines in a sports hall, church, community centre etc. A few examples are:

– Music and Movement at the Latchmere Leisure Centre in Battersea (weekdays, at 9.30, 10.30 and 11.30)
– Little Venice sports centre (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 10-11.30)
– Hullabaloo in St James’s Church, West Hampstead (weekdays 9.30-5)
– Gambado’s (http://www.gambado.com/centres/indoor-play-centre-chelsea/) – I’ve never actually made it here as it’s in something of a transport blackhole but I hear it’s the full soft play experience, good and bad.

PLAYGROUPS

If you live in London, try to find out about local playgroups in your area. Never underestimate the appeal for your child of someone else’s toys, coupled with breadsticks. A few I’ve tried:

– Crawford St playgroup (Thursdays 9.30 and 11.30, Fridays 9.30 in the basement of St Mary’s Church, Crawford Street in Marylebone)
– Emmanuel Centre playgroup (Mondays 10.30-12 on Marsham Street in Westminster)
– Marsham St playgroups (various sessions throughout the week, 121 Marsham Street, Westminster)

MUSIC GROUPS

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If your child likes music, or even if they don’t, sign up to a regular music class like Pippa’s Poppets (http://www.pippaspoppets.co.uk/Home.html) or Monkey Music (http://www.monkeymusic.co.uk/), both of which have various locations. It gives you a little break from being Chief Organiser of Fun at least, even if your child isn’t the next Mozart.

Bach to Baby (http://www.bachtobaby.com/) is fairly cringe-worthy name and does involve musicians playing classical music to your budding prodigy but can be quite a fun activity with children of all ages, and they have lots of venues.

OTHER CHILD-FRIENDLY PLACES

Some surprising places are very child-friendly and some are life-savers on rainy days especially, including

– The London Transport Museum – a Mecca for toddlers. My top tip for a rainy day. Buy a year’s ticket for £16.
– Seeing the soldiers march and play music at the army barracks on Birdcage Walk
– Tate Modern and Tate Britain – free, and big open spaces
– the Science Museum – head for the the basement floor with a “Garden” room notionally for 3-6 year olds but interesting from about 1 year on
– Peter Jones/John Lewis department stores (amaaazing rooms where you can breastfeed in private, warm bottles, change nappies etc without needing to buy anything, plus lots of toys to look at and yummy cakes…)
– any Pret a Manger: free babycinos! There is nothing my son won’t do for a babycino and a croissant.
– Westfield – classy shopping malls with small play areas and good facilities, and lots of big spaces to run around in/run away from Mummy in (depending on your child)
– your local library – strangely these famously quiet places can be great for very young children, with special sessions run for different age groups.
– most National Trust properties
– many stretches of the River Thames, or better still, take the boat to Greenwich and hang out in a lovely pub or the park.
– Any bus journey, especially if there’s a building site nearby and diggers may be spotted!
– Many chain restaurants like Giraffe, Carluccio’s, Zizzi’s, Ask, Pizza Express are pretty child-friendly and often have more pram space than independent cafes.
and finally,
– your local playgrouds. You’ll develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of them: which have sandpits or water features, which have swings, which have dog mess. Just beware the post-school influx of terrifying 8 year olds. You have been warned.

-Sarah Kowenicki, brave mother of two boys
London, UK

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