The London Borough of Southwark stretches from the River Thames in the city centre to the edge of leafy Crystal Palace Park, around six miles to the south. This area is home to some world-class attractions, and is an excellent place to visit with children.
Check out our top five family hotels in Southwark here.
HMS Belfast is a former Royal Navy cruiser, and is now a museum ship moored in the Thames, close to Tower Bridge. On board you can explore nine decks of seafaring history and immerse yourself in the stories of the sailors who lived on the ship between 1938 and 1963.
You can sit in the Captain’s chair on the bridge, take the controls in the Operations Room, and wonder at how the sailors slept in their hammocks strung from ceilings. Look out for the stuffed ships’ cat in his very own hammock!
A free audio guide is included in the entry price, and there’s a welcoming café next to the ticket office, and another on board the ship.
The Golden Hinde II is a reconstruction of the Tudor galleon in which Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world in the 16th century. The ship is docked beside the Thames in Bankside, and offers self-guided tours or family-friendly interactive tours with actors in period costume.
The actors are very enthusiastic and entertaining, and participants have the chance to raise the anchor and to fire the guns. There are also various fun days at the ship, with themes such as pirates, the Tudors and Drake.
London’s highest viewing platform is at The View from The Shard, which offers 360° views across the city and beyond. At 310 metres high, The Shard is Western Europe’s tallest building. There are some brilliant interactive telescopes in the viewing area which allow you to find out about points of interest.
Audio guides are offered to you on the ground floor before you get in the lift, then headphones at the top when you get out. There’s nowhere to sit down on the viewing decks, but there’s a champagne bar and another bar which serves drinks and snacks.
If your kids are Harry Potter fans, Muggle Tours are a fun way to see some London highlights. The walking tours start just around the corner from London Bridge, and take in areas which were used as Harry Potter filming locations, or which inspired author J.K. Rowling, such as Borough Market, Westminster and Leicester Square.
The tour guides share fascinating background details about the wizarding books and films, and touch on London’s history, performing a few magic tricks along the way. The tours last around two and a half hours.
Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the original open-air Globe Theatre which burnt down in 1613. William Shakespeare wrote many of his plays for the original Globe, which stood close to the current site.
The theatre’s engaging exhibition and tour help children learn all about Shakespeare and the Globe, and at weekends there are often Elizabethan clothing and sword-fighting demonstrations. Children are welcome at all performances, and there are sometimes shows which are designed specifically for younger audiences.
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower Bridge is one of London’s most iconic attractions. The bridge was completed in 1894 and consists of two pinnacled towers which are linked by a high walkway and a roadway which lifts up to let ships pass below. The bridge is now home to the excellent interactive Tower Bridge Exhibition, where you can enjoy the views from the upper walkway, including through its sections of glass floor.
The exhibition includes access to the Victorian engine room containing the original steam engines which powered the bridge until it was electrified in 1976. If you want to see the bridge when it’s open, check out the Bridge Lift Times section of the Tower Bridge website.
Imperial War Museum
London’s Imperial War Museum was set up in 1917 and details the experiences and stories of both the soldiers and civilians, who lived through the war and conflict. The museum houses tanks, army vehicles, aircraft, artillery and bombs, as well as informative displays about rationing, air raids and censorship.
There’s even the chance to experience what life was like in the trenches with the museum’s new immersive exhibition, Trench Experience, which portrays WWI trenches in battle. The museum is free to visit and has a very good café – ideal for keeping hangry kids at bay.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dulwich Picture Gallery was England’s first purpose-built public art gallery, and was founded in 1811. Housing one of the finest collections of Old Masters in the world, including works by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Rubens, the gallery is a must for art-loving families.
There are lots of activities on offer for kids, including art and storytelling sessions on Sunday afternoons. The gallery boasts three acres of manicured gardens for kids to run around in and is the perfect location for sunny days out.
Places to eat
Southwark offers a wealth of excellent family-friendly places to eat. Buzzing Borough Market is fantastic for street food, and is home to some great eateries. Most pubs serve food, and many also have kids menus.
Some pubs are interesting places to visit in their own right – The George Inn on Borough High Street was built in 1677 and is the last remaining galleried inn in London. Look out for branches of Pizza Express, Nando’s, Wagamama and Gourmet Burger Kitchen, all of which cater well for families.
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