15 FUN THINGS TO DO WHEN IT’S COLD OUTSIDE
By Jodi Bartle
What’s a family to do when you've been inside watching Netflix for days, you've eaten every last remnant of last year’s Christmas period hoard (including the slightly stale nut selection gifted to you by, erm, who-knows-who) and your skin is flaking from the too-warm radiator heat?
You need to get outside for a bit, is what, to revel in the dark and the cold and to generally change the scene.
Yes, it is lovely to get all hygge-with-it in the early months of a new year, but needs must - there’s a whole city outside your door.
Here’s some ideas for when you’ve crawled out of your collective onesies, donned a bobble hat and are ready to embrace winter in Ye Olde London Towne.
There is so much more to John Lewis than reliable household items, excellent things on sale and a bangin’ Waitrose in the basement - there is also an atmospheric rooftop to explore year round, which is one of London’s largest.
In summer, the Rooftop hosts pop up food stalls, open air cinema screenings, live music and cocktails, and in winter, you’ll find a dinky ice skating rink, mince pies and classic Australian pies by MYPIE, Sipsmith gin workshops and winter cabins.
It’s worth popping up there for the views and a general explore; the whole space is kid-friendly with plenty of refreshing wintery air to refill your lungs after the choking bus lanes at ground level.
2. Hop on a Bus
Be like a tourist (perhaps one without a noisy shin-endangering roll-on suitcase and a very slow pace) and get on a bus. Try to get a seat at the front top level and go sightsee from two stories above.
We like the number 23, which takes you from Portobello Road, through to Marble Arch, on to Harrods (better in the sale than urban legend would have you believe), past the Royal Albert Hall and down to the Design Museum.
All these cultural riches for the price of a zone one single ticket! Try number 100 for a slice of ancient London - begin at Roman London Tower Gateway, which will take you along the old wall all along Bevis Marks to Bishopsgate (which marks the start of the Roman Road to York) and get off at the roundabout for the wonderful, free Museum of London.
Route 15 is full of classic tourist stops such as the Monument, St Pauls, Waterloo Bridge and Trafalgar Square. It’ll be the cheapest day out you’ll ever have. More info here.
Chinatown never ceases to be fun - there are so many cheap places to try for meals, and interesting little shops selling those firecrackers you just throw willy-nilly onto the pavement, and shiny envelopes for money gifts and paper fans and chopsticks of all designs.
In Jan/Feb, the area hosts Chinese New Year which is riotous and fun with displays in Trafalgar Square, music and the Chinese Dragon parade. Try to find the best dim sum or dive deep into the Chinese bakeries - Bake in Wardour Street has glowing reviews.
Cold enough for you? Get back into the warmth at the Wallace Collection in Marylebone - an internationally renowned collection of paintings, sculpture, furniture, arms, porcelain and armour, built up over the 18th and 19th centuries by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace and gifted to the British Nation in 1897.
For families, it hosts free drop-in sessions from drawing workshops, armour handling and a teen tour led by Naima Mutakabbir, the idea being that a young person takes your young people on a tour of the collection, giving a fresh persecutive on the objects. That’s how you best get your teen off a screen. Maybe.
Afterwards, go find something to eat in Marylebone - on Sundays it hosts a farmer’s market just behind the high street with very good sausages in a fresh crusty roll.
If you have kids over the age of about 10, they probably love a bit of gaming. Argh. But in the spirit of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, take them to the V&A’s Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition. It isn't free, but it is good - it gave me an insight into the positive aspects of gaming, and pointed me towards the games that are built to bring out good things in kids, rather than just exposure to gratuitous violence and digital addiction.
There was a display on diversity in gaming, and the kids could go behind the scenes to understand the artwork, design elements and the inspiration behind some of them - and I have to say, I was impressed.
There were games to try out and, as per usual, marvellously-stuffed gift shop offerings. If cost is an issue, just go to the V&A for the free tours where you can educate yourself on the beautiful objects on display and get warm for a bit.
6. Wrap up and go to the Cemetery
There is nothing quite like rambling through an old cemetery with the kids, searching out beautiful tombstones and trying to read the inscriptions to remind you that yes, you might be cold but you are still alive.
Highgate Cemetery is full of glorious architecture, twisting vines and overgrown foliage, and hosts 170,000 buried people. You can try to spot the graves of Karl Marx, George Eliot or Christina Rossetti or just wander through the subterranean Terrace Catacombs.
Find a cafe when you are done and fill up with hot chocolate all round - it’s simply mandatory.
For families who love books, or being surrounded by books, or who simply like to drop in to free creative events, the British Library is a must. There are downloadable free family trials that lead you around, helping you uncover the Library through puzzles, drawings and games, as well as family events for kids aged between 5-11 all through the year.
The Library holds manuscripts and printed material relating to children’s authors from the UK and Ireland such as Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and manuscripts for The Jungle Book and personal letters from J R R Tolkien to his grandson Michael - it is a literary treasure trove.
Just up the road a bit and behind Kings Cross/St Pancras is the canal, Coal Drops Yard and Granary Square; places full of bars, restaurants and street food vans if all that reading and making has made you hungry.
The theatre can be wonderful and it can also be prohibitively expensive, so seek out smaller venues and lesser known theatre so you and your kids can have the experience without the eye- watering cost that so often goes along with a thesp' penchant.
Britain’s first purpose-built theatre for children, the Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street, is putting on “Baby Show”, a sensory performance with images and sounds for 6 - 18 month olds in February, and “Icarus” for 8 to 12 year olds starting in late January.
What other things can you do with kids in winter?
Try the (9) Wellcome Collection, a free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health. Centrally located on Euston Road, it hosts Saturday Studio sessions for teens, explorer packs for younger kids and holds collections containing human remains and images of surgical procedures - fun for the non-squeamish.
10. The Royal Academy of Arts allows kids under 16 free access to all RA exhibitions and offers artist-led workshops, galleries and at-home art activities.
11. Clip’n’Climb in Chelsea is an all-weather space where adults and kids can try out 21 individual and climber wall challenges.
12. The Tate is always a welcome respite from the Thames chill, with a well-stocked gift shop, weekend activities and special events in the school holidays and the (13) Borough Market close by for the best roast pork rolls in the city and bagels heaving with salt beef and nose-tickling mustard.
There’s bowling and indoor ice skating at (14) Queens with an in-house branch of Meat Liquor for absurdly good burgers, and, if all else fails, the (15) Lego Store in Leicester Square has lots of hands-on play and inspiring displays and, obviously, lots of Lego to say “not until it’s your birthday” to.