700 days ago, my family took the hour’s journey by train up to that hallowed, slightly awe-inspiring place called the ‘Olympic Park’ to see the Paralympic Games in 2012. After weeks of watching it on TV from our town that is only 20 miles north of London, and dying to catch some of that incredible, never to be repeated, unadulterated exhilaration and optimism that oozed from Olympic Park, we finally got to get a taste.
It was indeed a really great day out, and one we’ll not forget in a hurry.
Since that wonderful, upbeat summer (and it really did feel that way, honestly, I’ve never known Londoners to be so free of cynicism and full of unadulterated joy) the London 2012 Legacy officianados have presided over turning the park into something that Londoners will enjoy as part of “a healthy, living and breathing London park”. Or rather, one that Londoners and others will not moan about as being a waste of tax payers money….
Renamed the Queen Elizabeth Park, in case you’re confused, it opened officially this April, and since then I’d heard several positive murmurings about it in the school playground as a great place to bring kids for a day out. So, always on the look out as I am for interesting, fun places to bring the kids in the holidays that don’t break the bank, I thought I’d take the kids up for the day.
I did a quick search on the net for blog posts about it from other mums, but found all but one which wasn’t aimed at families, so in the name of filling a gap in the market, here you go!
We went in mid August when the weather was typical of a British summer (neither boiling nor cold, mostly sunny but with the odd shower), and spent about 5 hours there.
In short, it’s a fantastic place to take kids of any age, particularly primary school aged if you’re looking for entertainment that is free, and especially in the summer. From the imaginative and beautifully designed play areas, to the stylish landscaped gardens, you’d be hard pushed to not come away with a smile on your face (I’m sounding like their PR machine, I’m not being paid, honest!). The whole place has a vibrant feel to it, you can tell its had money invested in making it a great new place for Londoners, anyone who likes sport and, particularly, children.
From the Children’s Trail pack that you can pick up at the Information point, to the climbing wall, brilliant pavement fountain, the musical instruments garden and the Tumbling Bay play area next to Timber Lodge cafe, this is very much a child-friendly environment, and one that isn’t out to fleece the parents at the same time, which comes as a much welcome change.
Sadly my phone died half way through the day (thanks to a shoddy new battery) – so you’ll have to imagine some of play areas and the unusual shots I was dying to take of the glorious Velodrome & Aquatic Centre roofs). But I did manage to get these of the fountains….and climbing wall (above). Note that we didn’t come prepared for the fountain!
For the bigger kids, including us adults, its a great ‘play space’ too. It’s a brilliant park for cyclists, not just for the many cycle paths across it, but for the Lee Valley Velo Park which has mountain bike trails (including black runs), BMX trails (re-modelled to make it easier for the non-Olympians amongst us), road racing circuit and also, of course, indoor track cycling. Using these facilities isn’t too expensive (£6 an hour on average, some of them only £2 depending on time of day) you can hire kit for a tenner, and also get an hour’s tuition for the same price. If you want to try your hand at being a Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton in the Velodrome, however, you’re looking at £30 an hour.
Then of course you’ve got the stunning Aquatic Centre (Olympic pool to you and me), which is a joy just to sit in, its architecture making you feel like you’re in a whale (ok, that may not sound the most appealing of experiences, but its a beautiful, graceful whale!). As well as the 50m lanes, there’s a 12 board diving pool, and a separate area with 2 children’s pools. They have giant inflatable sessions in the holidays which are good fun for birthday parties I’m told.
If you have a bit of money to spend and you want great views of London, a visit up the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower is good fun, especially if you’re nosey like me and want to see what they’re doing inside the Olympic Stadium right now. Which is this (a lot of men in hard hats moving things about:
The views down of the kids playing the fountain were an eye opener for my kids, not realising quite how ant-like they’d look:
There’s also some amazing giant concave mirrors inside the top, that are a lot of fun to mess around in front of. Seeing the Millennium Dome upside down is amusing for us, but not as funny as your kids laughing at their parents seemingly walking upside down.
That said, it’s not cheap at £15 and adult and £7 a child, or £40 for 2 adults, 2 kids). I went without the OH, so paid £29. That is still cheaper than the London Eye, and we spent a good 45 mins at the Orbit (including counting the 453 steps down), so in terms of Value for View, its better. However, I can fully understand why it wasn’t busy – there’s enough other things to do outside that are free. Reviewing the cost of the tickets would be a good idea.
Our highlights were:
- Interactive fountains that burst up from the ground at random times, sending kids of all ages into frenzied giggles. BRING CHANGE OF CLOTHES OR SWIM WEAR! I didn’t, in my ignorance of these fab fountains. If you do get caught out, there’s toilets just past the nearby restaurant where I made good use of the the high powered dryers to dry my kids clothes off!)
- Tumbling Bay play area next to Timber Lodge cafe – imaginative sand and water play area for under 10s, and an unusual climbing complex around 2 Scots Pine trees further on that the older ones will love. Watch out, though, on busy days as there’s no ‘one way system’ and kids can get stuck up one of the two trees – just keep an eye/ear out for the younger ones. The cafe was pretty small and understaffed, and for some bizarre reason, didn’t serve child friendly ice creams in a cone or High Street brand ice creams, much to my kids dismay after i’d promised them one, and had walked past kiosks selling whippy ice creams in the Pleasure Gardens.
- Going up ArcelorMittal Orbit – but that came at a price…..
- The imaginative maps and interactive kids trail pack (aimed at under 10s I reckon but still good). Make sure you head to the Information Point first to pick them up.
- If you’re coming in a wheelchair or your child is in one, its ideal. Very few steps encountered, lots of excellent paths. There’s even a path down to the canal side, but its not by the pleasure gardens and you’d have to ask someone for a better map of all the pathways.
The downsides are mainly to do with the size of the park – its a big place and if you want to venture beyond the Pleasure Gardens to the Tumbling Bay play area and cafe, as well as climb down the Orbit, expect what I call ‘London Legs’ – aching! The people running the Park would do well to let Bike Taxis to run in the park, like the ones they have in central London, which are a lot of fun. Or allow people to hire bikes for a small fee. It’s also good to be aware that its a fair hike from the Tube or Overground stations.
I’d also say that its definitely a fair weather park if bringing primary aged kids, with not much shelter on rainy days and less to enjoy if the kids can’t get wet in the fountain or Tumbling Bay playground.
Getting there was really very easy as its served well by tube, bus, Overground, and DLR. From St Albans, we took the FCC train to West Hampstead where we changed and got the Overground, which only took 20 mins to Stratford. We actually got the Overground by chance as we thought we were getting the Underground (for those of you who don’t know North London, don’t call me a complete idiot! The Jubilee Line is above ground here, and starts on the other side of the road!). When I checked with the guard, he said it was quicker than the Jubilee Line, so we hopped on it.
All in all, it got the thumbs up from us for outdoor fun, creativity, beauty, and brilliant use of public funds. We’ll be back!
Linking up with Country Kids at Coombe Mill blog