What?: I didn’t go into this thinking “this will be a great activity for the kids”. More “I’d really like the see this and we’ll try and make it as fun for the kids as we can”, whilst fully expecting Babu to hate it and it ending up being a fairly short and expensive afternoon out in Greenwich, which is already a massive mission for us. I knew that Babu’s namesake, the goddess Athena, appeared somewhere on the ceiling, but in terms of trying to engage her that was basically all I had.
How great then when on arrival Babu immediately had an activity book and absolutely massive bag of toys thrust into her arms?! Actually the bag was so big and bursting with toys I had to leave my credit card at the front desk as a deposit to make sure we didn’t nick it. Inside the bag, which is labelled “sea explorer bag” are four smaller bags, each one themed to tie in with the themes of the Painted Hall and filled with items that have been cleverly chosen to help little ones engage with the artworks.
Expect a mini torch (the hall is dimly lit and gets pretty dark on wintry afternoons), a magnifying glass and compass, plus sensory items including a blue scarf to represent the sea, musical instruments, an anchor and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember (also two things were missing, so I guess people do genuinely nick stuff). Basically this bag contains everything you need to occupy an under-5 for an hour or two while you totally ignore them and is perfect for poor, neglected second children who never get a look in because you’re too busy fielding your eldest child’s constant questions about everything.
Ok so the bag is brilliant and I’m considering creating our own replica bag to take everywhere we go, but I also have to give a big shout out to the absolutely amazing kids’ activity book that was also enthusiastically thrust into Babu’s hands on arrival here. Now this book is likely aimed at slightly older children (I mean, there was actual maths to do in there) but Babu had a pretty good stab at it anyway and to be fair it basically provided the entire structure of our visit whilst teaching me, a – albeit pretty clueless – 33-year-old woman absolutely loads about what we were looking at.
So what were we looking at? Ships and sailors? Kings and queens? Gods and goddesses? Yup, all of those, plus lots more we wouldn’t even had noticed had the book not pointed them out to us and had us taking pictures of the ceiling, spotting scientific instruments and basically playing the biggest game of Where’s Wally on Earth. The book also had Babu thinking about what she’d use the hall for if it could be anything (a playground, obviously), designing her own superhero (named Giovanna, because really where would any of us be without Giovanna Fletcher painstakingly explaining how to play with our babies and make mum friends to us?), playing join the dots and eventually sketching her own masterpiece.
Ok so it might be designed for children but to be honest this thing was so great I’d probably be asking for it if I was visiting again on my own. That said, don’t let the magical activity book of dreams detract from the hall itself, because this place is obviously pretty damn spectacular all on its own – not to mention a great place to let babies crawl and toddlers toddle – and I’m determined that one day in the next year (tickets are valid for 12 long, glorious months) I’ll be back on my own just to lie back on one of the benches and stare at the ceiling for a couple of hours, completely undisturbed.
Where and When?: The Painted Hall is part of the Old Royal Naval Collage and can be found on King William Walk, Greenwich. It’s about a five-minute walk from Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich DLR station and is open Monday-Sunday 10am-5pm.
Best Bits: I kind of have to go with the paintings themselves here, but we thought the accompanying activities were unusually brilliant.
Worst Bits: It’s a really minor point but the lift by the entrance wasn’t working.
Facilities: Step-free access, baby changing, on-site cafe.
Cost: £12 per adult (£11 online), free for kids. Tickets are valid for 12 months when you register with a member of staff on the day of your visit.
Would We Come Back?: Definitely.
Babu investigates at the Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich