Half-term holidays are just around the corner, meaning a perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with the family. There are few places as bustling and loaded with fun family activities as London’s Waterloo Southbank. Here we round up the best attractions and activities suitable for kids of all ages, as well as a few the parents would surely love to get involved in as well.
Catch a film for free at the BFI Imax
The BFI Southbank is a four-screen cinema venue operated by the British Film Institute (BFI), and features a huge selection of classic and contemporary films. But did you know the BFI Southbank has a host of attractions for the whole family? Check their website for a schedule of their Film Fundays, where you can attend free screenings of kid-friendly content, or maybe find out if your prodigy is the next Spielberg at one of BFI Southbank’s filmmaking workshops. There are programmes for teens as well, featuring screenings, workshops, and competitions.
For some half-term family fun, we highly recommend BFI Southbank’s Mediatheque where you can call up lots of ‘weird and wonderful’ titles that have been digitised from BFI’s archive. This includes anything from full-length feature films to old cinema adverts, children’s TV programmes and documentaries – all for free, although pre-booking a spot is advisable. And if you can make it before 6 pm, the venues restaurant BFI Riverfront has an offer of one free kids’ meal and side (for kids under 10) with every adult meal.
Race down the Thames on a speedboat
For an activity that really gets the adrenaline going, head down to the London Eye pier for a speedboat ride down the Thames. It’s a truly exhilarating experience as you rocket down the river at 30 knots, taking in all the famous landmarks and zooming under iconic bridges. An experienced comedian provides all the facts and banter all the way to Canary Wharf and back. This high-speed cruise is suitable for all ages – even toddlers. And don’t worry about the weather. Wet weather kits are provided when it gets particularly rainy – although we predict you’ll get wet despite having them. Prices depend on the package you go for but a family four ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs £105 for 50 mins.
Look for precious gems on St Katherine Docks treasure trail
According to legend, a schooner went missing on its way back from Africa to London. Loaded with gold and precious stones, the schooner’s valuable cargo also disappeared. However, armed with a map and some clues you and your family could finally put this mystery to rest.
The treasure trail on St Katherine Docks and The Tower takes you on a 1.5-mile loop that can take around one and a half hours to complete, depending on your pace. It’s perfect for discovering this famous area while having some fun for the whole family at the same time. If you solve the mystery you’ll be entered into a £100 monthly draw. And if you get stuck, a text message service is on hand to give you clues. The trail starts at Tower Hill, is suitable for ages 6 and up, and costs £9.99 unless you’re getting the map posted to your address. Full prices available here.
Have a VR experience at Namco Funscape
Mario Kart in virtual reality anyone? Head down to Namco Funscape for all sorts of fun activities ranging from the coolest VR arcade games to dodgem cars, an escape room, bowling and many more amazing attractions. You can even square off against your family members for the chance to win tickets that can be exchanged for prizes. There are lots of food and drink options as well with hot and cold food available at the cafes, and licensed bars with a great selection of soft and alcoholic drinks for the grownups. The VR experience requires you to book in advance, which you can do so at their website.
Immerse yourself in an underwater adventure at SEA LIFE
There’s so much to see at SEA LIFE that you might need a full day to fit everything in. From sharks and sea turtles to penguins and alligators – there’s no shortage of creatures to observe up close and personal in their natural habitat. Many of the animals are on the endangered list as well, making a visit to SEA LIFE a great opportunity to learn more about wildlife conservation. It’s best to book online for the best prices, with family tickets on sale for £22 per person. Check their website for other great attractions, like the Shark Experience where you can snorkel with sharks or a less terrifying River Cruise package that lets you cruise down the Thames and learn about the historical landmarks that line the bank.
Land a trick at the House of Vans
The House of Vans is part skate-park, part exhibition space located in five sprawling tunnels underneath Waterloo Station. It can be accessed by leaving London's most famous graffiti tunnel - Leake Street, or via Exit 1 at Waterloo Station There is always something going on in the form of art exhibitions showcased at the gallery, to film screenings at the cinema, live music, a diner, as well as a skate park with a concrete bowl and ramp designed by pro skaters. The events are almost always free for all, although some might require booking in advance. House of Vans is open Thursday to Sunday and you can find a list of all the attractions here.
Get creative at Imagine Children’s Festival
There is no shortage of fun at the Imagine Children’s Festival, with 12 days in February dedicated to the best international performances, music, literature, dance, theatre, comedy and participation activities for children aged 0 – 11. Imagine Children’s Festival is the largest festival of its kind in the UK with more than 180 events, and half of them are free as well. Your children can also experience a historic project brought to life – the Imagine a Story Writing project. It’s a project that involves 30 schools with each chapter of a book written by a different school and the overall story will be turned into a book that’s available to buy. The Imagine Children’s Festival will be held at the Southbank Centre.
Getting to Waterloo Southbank
Getting to Waterloo Southbank couldn't be easier. London Waterloo is one of our busiest stations, with regular trains from across our network arriving there all day. Southbank is just a five minute walk from exit five.