So it is a rainy Thursday in London and I need to pop into John Lewis to get a couple of things. I know a day shopping is not going to cut it with The Terrorists (or more to the point I am likely to end up jailed for shop lifting due to both Terrorists propensity to sneak things into the buggy when I’m not looking!) so I decide to exhaust them first and then whip round the shops afterwards with them strapped firmly into the buggy!
To this end we have a morning in the National Army Museum. Now I should say first off that this requires forward planning as the soft play (whilst fantastic – see below) gets booked up pretty much as soon as the tickets go on sale (a week before on-line) so this trip is planned in advance. Officially there are tickets on the door from cancellations but I prefer to book.
On arrival we spent 10 minutes in the airy reception area playing on the moving tank (luckily The Terrorists have never been in one of these moving machines when money has been inserted so have no idea how much more fun it could be if their Mummy paid the pound to make it move!). We have a coffee in the café, which is one of the nicest museum cafés around. It has a fantastic selection of hot and cold food, healthy kids options and lovely cakes with plenty of space and lots of highchairs.
The next couple of hours are spent exploring the different floors. For a child under 5 (i.e. too young to understand the really quite informative and interesting exhibits on various wars of the past) there is plenty to keep them occupied. Exhibits are child friendly and include a wall of little cupboards to open, dress up army gear, colouring in, mix and match puzzles, skittles and various buttons and other touch and feel things. There are also a number of life size models including one of a horse which The Bear makes a bee-line for every time! The museum itself is also almost always quiet (even at weekends) and it is not unknown to have a whole floor to yourself for roaming and playing hide and seek.
Our soft play (Kid Zone) slot is for 11.30 and so we head down to the basement for when it opens as you are only given an hour and we want to maximise our time. There are a limited no of tickets sold for each slot so it is never too busy and the whole place is small enough that should you want to sit to one side (or in my case, in the past, feed a breast feeding baby) you can always have your eye on what is going on and never be too far from your child. There is also always someone on the child-gated door to ensure there are no escapes. Add to this that all children are made to clean their hands with sanitising spray before they enter it always feels lovely, clean and safe (i.e. as a parent very relaxing!).
They soft play itself isn’t huge but with a couple of slides, the usual obstacle courses, a couple of rocking horses, a pretend army kitchen complete with rations, dress up and an army themed train set as well as a small baby area, it is fantastic for an hours worth of energetic play. I usually don’t see The Bear from the minute we arrive as he does mad circuits of the elevated play area and whips down each slide in turn. Bollie likes to bum shuffle round putting on hats and riding the rocking horses.
By the time we leave at 12.30 both kids are exhausted and quite happy to picnic in their buggy while I walk up to John Lewis and conduct my shopping in exhausted peace!
Top Tip – go on-line to book Kid Zone tickets exactly a week before you want to visit to get the best time slots (http://www.nam.ac.uk/kids/kids-zone ) If you don’t want to use the soft play the rest of the museum doesn’t require a ticket
Time to visit – I would say half a day unless you are really interested in the actual exhibits, which are really for adults or older children
Highlights – the soft play as well as the ‘Changing the World’ exhibition, which has some great interactive bits
Getting there –Sloane Square (Circle and District Lines) is a 10-minute walk from the Museum and Victoria overground station is a 20min walk. If you want to drive there is pay and display parking on Ormonde Gate Road which is £3.00 an hour but free Sat afternoons and Sunday
Pushchair access – everywhere is accessible with pushchairs but due to a funny layout different lifts access different floors so it can be a bit tricky to figure out how to get from one section to another. Worth getting a map when you go in
Price – the museum itself is free, but kidzone tickets are £2.50 per child (free under 6 months) for an hour of play
Food and Drink – as stated the café is lovely and very reasonably priced. Otherwise there are some great restaurants on the Kings Road, which is less, then a 10 min walk
Other attractions nearby – The Kings Road for shopping or Battersea Park is a 15 minute walk for some outdoor time
Baby facilities – there is baby change both inside and outside of the soft play and it is very clean. There are also lots of quiet places to breast feed and the café have always been very good about heating things for me
Website – http://www.nam.ac.uk/