Ambling distance from the pocket of semi-rural calm that is Dulwich Village, this looker of a South-East London space is relatively young in park terms (it was hewn from farmland and opened in 1890). It finds room for all the usual crowd-pleasers – a buggypacked café, busy playground, boating lake and sports pitches – but the real appeal here is its doughnut-like shape. The wide, traffic-free orbital path is a hit with local runners, as well as recumbent bikes (low-slung, pedal-powered hire trikes of varying sizes), which can regularly be seen whipping around the leafy circuit. They are a great way to amuse older children likely to roll their eyes at another set of swings and a climbing frame.
College Road, SE21 7BQ. 020 7525 2000 southwark.gov.uk West Dulwich rail.
Launched in 2015, this free sculpture trail linking the O2 in Greenwich and Stratford’s Olympic Park may not seem the most obvious option for parents. But the fact that it requires a trip on the Emirates Air Line cable car – a dangling white elephant reborn as one of the capital’s most enjoyable forms of family transportation – makes it essential. After a stunning ten-minute ride (or ‘flight’, to use their slightly heavy-handed parlance), you land in the Royal Docks and make your way past striking works like Damien Hirst’s magnified skin fleck, Sterling Ruby’s abstract cannon – which few kids can resist climbing on – and a giant twirl of trolleys by Abigail Fallis. An enlightening, alternative park in a too often forgotten corner of the capital.
Edmund Halley Way, SE10 0FR. the-line.org North Greenwich tube.
There was a time when this Bloomsbury park and playground – unexpectedly positioned smack bang in the centre of London – was a hushed secret among in-the-know parents. Survey the queue of kids waiting for a turn on its popular zip-line in the school holidays and you will sensibly assume that word has got out. But Coram’s Fields (London’s first public children’s playground, on the site of a former eighteenth-century home for unwanted babies) is still very much one to have in your parental arsenal for any West End excursions. A giant sandpit, paddling pool, sprawling play space, small city farm and café are among the myriad delights. And, for extra peace of mind, no adult can enter the park without a child.
93 Guilford Street, WC1N 1DN. 020 7837 6138 coramsfi elds.org Russell Square tube.
It may act as a kind of overgrown back garden for some of North London’s flashiest residents, but Hampstead Heath still has the power to feel like a truly peaceful and untrammelled hideaway. Bikeable or hikeable family options abound: a grand lunch at the Kenwood House café, massive playing fields, a toddler-sized hollow tree near the Mixed Bathing Pond, and the windblown lookout of Kite Hill (or Parliament Hill), which is particularly worth dragging your rabble to. The view from here certainly deserves its status as one of the finest in the capital. Plus, on snowy days, it’s a high-quality sledding spot, and in warmer months the brightly coloured playground and lido – lined with stainless steel like a giant shimmering sink – welcome crowds of grateful families.
East Heath Road, NW3 1TH. 020 7332 3322 cityoflondon.gov.uk Hampstead Heath rail and Overground.
Dubbed the Walkie Talkie (and, for a period, the ‘Walkie Scorchie’ thanks to a since-rectified habit of heating the streets below on sunny days), 20 Fenchurch Street has recovered from its difficult birth to earn its place on the London skyline. How? With its innovative, vertiginous public oasis. Free to enter (although tickets must be booked in advance online) and surprisingly child friendly (expect to see little tykes pushing the squishy log-shaped seats around), it’s a truly transcendent space with banked planters of eucalyptus, sage, towering palm trees and more sheltering hidden benches, a restaurant, a café and unmatched panoramas of the ever-changing cityscape – just as impressive in the evenings as on a clear summer’s day. Food and drink prices are suitably sky high, but there are few better places to spend an awestruck afternoon.
Philpot Lane, EC3M 8AF. 0333 772 0020 skygarden.london Monument or Cannon Street tube.
CRYSTAL PALACE PARK
With its transmitter tower, destroyed glass monolith and secret Victorian subway, this South London spot has the sort of rich history that some municipal spaces would kill for. But if you’re taking junior guests here, the sculptures of prehistoric creatures are the undeniable stars of the show. Originally revealed in 1854 (and given a much needed refurb in 2002) these looming figures were the first dinosaur recreations in the world and, although they’re now notorious for their misshapen inaccuracies, kids will get a guaranteed kick out of finding them lurking next to the evocative lake. There are real animals on offer at the nearby city farm and the brutalist sports centre in the middle of the park hosts remote controlled car races at weekends.
Ledrington Road, SE19 2GA. 0300 303 8658 cpdinosaurs.org Crystal Palace
It may look like a UFO landing site but this quartet of grassy mounds a short shuffle from Northolt station may well point to the sustainable future of man-made park spaces. Opened in 2008, these eye-catching hillocks are made from the piled rubble excavated for nearby construction projects – including the demolition of the old Wembley Stadium and the building of Westfield – and saved 60,000 lorryloads of spoil heading to landfill. So it’s green in more ways than one. Not that kids will be too fussed about all that as they dash up a spiral pathway to the summit, gaze out at the jumble of distant London landmarks, join the weekend kite fliers or scamper to the log-lined playground below.
Kensington Road, Northalt, UB5 6UR. 020 8825 5000 ealing.gov.uk Northolt tube.
There’s more to this Herne Hill expanse of green than its popular – if bracingly cold – 1930s lido. On sunny days, runners, IPA-sipping Brixtonites,dog-walkers and sprinting kids all coexist across more than 125 acres of diverse space (including a paddling pool, duck pond, nineteenth-century hall-cum-tea room and excellent community greenhouse), and that mix of visitors stops it all feeling like a giant playground. Not that there aren’t plenty of distractions for little ones. On Sundays between April and October a miniature railway offers short rides that are always a hit with preschoolers, and the Lambeth Country Fair – a giddy jamboree of live reggae, farm animals, vegetable sculptures and industrial-strength local cider – is an absolute must in the summer.
Norwood Road, SE24 9BJ. 020 7274 3088 (Brockwell Lido) brockwellpark.com Herne Hill rail.
READ: Family London - Fun Days out with children from tots to teens by Jimi Famurewa (£9.99 Frances Lincoln)