There are times when caring for an under-five can feel uncannily similar to caring for a medium-sized dog – namely those times when they’re crashing around the house like a bull in a china shop, desperate to expend some energy; or when they’re standing at the front door pleading via the medium of sad eyes to release them into the wild. But while an off-lead romp around the park will probably do it for the dog whatever the weather, it’s probably unwise to release your toddler into a field in the pissing rain.
Mercifully London is packed with cool and cosy wet-weather havens for toddlers whose keepers require something more stimulating than a day spent watching them stumble around a padded play cell but can’t cope with the anxiety that comes with unshackling them in the vicinity of breakables. The following seven rainy-day retreats are as family-friendly as it gets without being naff, open all day long and home to lovely, kid-compatible cafes, so you can stay and play all day, unstressed and unmoistened, until bedtime beckons.
- Oodles of rambling room, umpteen staircases and numerous chilled bars and cafes make the Royal Festival Hall Central London’s most family-friendly wet-weather retreat. Kids will love browsing the shop’s cute Moomin merchandise – if there’s time between stories at the Scandi-inspired Room for Children library, rides in the singing lift and the centre’s various under-5s activities, that is (Waterloo 4 min).
- A comparative paradise in a world of depressing soft play, Battersea Arts Centre’s Teletubbyland-esque indoor play space features astroturfed rolling hills, a rainbow bridge, intermittent bee/horse audio and masses of retro toys. Sessions at The Bee’s Knees cost £3 and last all day on Wednesdays, and the adjacent Scratch Bar offers a healthy kids’ menu so you’ll never have to leave (Clapham Junction 8 min).
- While its slightly edgy Bethnal Green location makes it considerably less popular than its West London parent museum, the V&A Museum of Childhood is actually a much better rainy-day haunt for people with kids thanks to its sensory pod with tactile wall, fenced-off baby area with giant musical flowers, indoor sand pit and well-stocked library area. There’s a lovely cafe and shop too (Bethnal Green 2 min).
- Arranged over three floors, Discover Children’s Story Centre is an ideal baby and toddler plopping ground for less-than-clement days. Designed to fuel imaginative play, Discover offers something for all ages, with lots of crawl space for tinies and plenty to engage older ones. It’s been designed for under-8s, so very little can go wrong, and there’s even a cafe for when everyone gets hangry (Stratford 5 min).
- Kitschy Catholic iconography and gaudy soft-play structures coexist at The Sherriff Centre, a quirky church-cum-community centre that’s home to a surprisingly great cafe serving home-made cakes and several different types of hot chocolate, a small gift shop and, oddly, a Post Office. Perfect for grim days, this holy hangout also hosts a comprehensive programme of baby classes on weekdays (West Hampstead 3 min).
- With its covered high walks, acres of free-to-use, activity- and step-filled roaming space, and Sunday conservatory, the Barbican is the ultimate non-depressing crappy-day hangout for little movers and their adults. Toddler-friendly add-ons include regular Barbican Blocks free-flow sessions, a DIY family activity trail and a toy table on the lower-ground floor of the gift shop (Barbican 5 min).
- In addition to its magical programme of shows and workshops for dinky drama queens (and kings) of all ages, Polka Theatre is home to a friendly cafe and a fun-filled foyer with toys, books, a dressing-up box and a colouring table. Ideal for less-than-lovely days, this cosy venue is open and free to kids and their carers to visit all day every day, even when they don’t have a theatre ticket (South Wimbledon 7 min).
Bab spends a wet and wanky Wednesday at The Bee’s Knees, Battersea Arts Centre.