With the days getting shorter and the temperature dropping, it can be tough mustering the energy to drag the family too far from home. Get the best of both worlds by enjoying a family day out which brings the outdoors inside, and won’t leave you bouncing off the walls.
Exlpore the decks of HMS Belfast
One of only three surviving bombardment vessels from the D-Day landings, HMS Belfast is now permanently moored as a museum on the Thames. With nine decks to explore, if you don't manage to lose the kids in the maze-like layout, you can at least wear them out. Numerous steps and ladders give you a feel for life aboard a war ship. Take the free family audio tour, which really brings the boat to life, and get stuck in with family activities held most weekends and in school holidays. The cosy Walrus Cafe, serving scrummy sandwiches and cakes, is the only place you’ll feel the need to go overboard.
Recommended age: 5+. HMS Belfast, The Queen's Walk, SE1 2JH. Winter hours: (1 November-28 February) 10am-5pm, last admission 4pm. Adults £16, children £8, under 5s free. Price includes donation, family tickets available
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Be transported to tropical climes at Barbican Conservatory
You’re as good as outside inside this giant glass-roofed gem — tucked away on the third floor of the Barbican. Relax among more than 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees while the kids keep busy spotting terrapins and giant koi carp in the exotic fish ponds, or Asian finches and quails in the small aviary. Having warmed up in the cactus house, extend your stay by dropping into The Curve on the ground floor. There's always something to see at this giant arc of a gallery, dedicated to bite-sized exhibitions by contemporary artists. Like the conservatory, it's absolutely free.
All ages. Barbican Conservatory, third floor Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS. Open year-round, Sundays only 12-5pm
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Go plane-spotting at the RAF Museum
Brave the elements for the 15-minute walk from Colindale tube, and you’ll be richly rewarded with one of London’s unsung museum heroes; ready to treat you to the sights, sounds and stories of the skies. Aside from being an amazing (and generally uncrowded) space for kids of all ages to burn off energy, there's also a host of events and activities to bring this incredible collection of over 100 aircraft to life. If you think flight simulators and sitting in the cockpit of a Spitfire (pre-booking required) are the pinnacle of excitement, the The Battle of Britain light show and the 4D Cinema is sure to raise the roof. There’s an interactive gallery for youngsters, two great cafes and an indoor picnic area.
All ages. Royal Air Force Museum London, Grahame Park Way, NW9 5LL. Open daily 10am-6pm (last admission 5.30pm, some exhibits close earlier). Admission free but flight simulators cost £3 per person
Take to the ice at Alexandra Palace skating rink
Known to local families as a spectacular (and safe) sledging spot on snowy days, Ally Pally also provides an opportunity to revel in sub-zero temperatures all year round, at its indoor ice rink. Housed inside the Victorian palace and set within the grounds of one of London's most spectacular parks, it's a stunning location for family skating. There are 'scooters' available to help balance the very young (pre-booking required) and plenty of friendly ice marshals to keep you upright. OK, so you’ll still need to double-up your socks and wrap up warm, but with the promise of an on-site cafe (and bar!) serving up traditional pub grub, hot drinks and wine — plus incredible views — it’s likely to be as close as you’ll get to 'chilling' out.
Recommended age 3+. Alexandra Palace Ice Rink, Alexandra Palace Way, N22 7AY. Monday-Friday 11am-1.30pm and 2pm-5.30pm, Saturday and Sunday 10.30am-12.30pm and 2pm-4.30pm. Weekend and holidays admission: adults £9.90, children (under 15s) £8.90; all other times, adults £8.50; children (under 15s) £7.50. Discounted family tickets and online booking rates available
Enjoy daytime stargazing at the Royal Observatory
Clear skies on long winter evenings can be a great time to wrap up and marvel at the universe, but, dammit, it's cold out, after dark! Instead, save your stargazing for the daytime by visiting London's only Planetarium. As well as family-friendly daily shows providing an expert eye on what you can spot in the skies over London, the Royal Observatory galleries provide an array of hands-on exhibits to help younger visitors make sense of space and time. If that isn’t mind-boggling enough, pop into the camera obscura tucked away in the summerhouse of neighbouring Flamsteed House. Using a lens and rotating mirror, it projects a close-up, real-time and moving panorama of Greenwich and the Thames onto a circular table. So whatever the weather, it promises to bring the outside world inside.
The Royal Observatory Greenwich, SE10 9NF. Open daily 10am-5pm (last admission 4.30pm), Astronomy Galleries, all ages, admission free. The Sky Tonight live planetarium show (Recommended age 5+), daily 12.30pm (weekends and holidays only) and 2.45pm. Adults £7.50, children £5.50, concessions available