London - The flowers are in bloom, the evenings are staying lighter for longer and the parks are filling up with eager sun-tanners in various states of public indecency.
Summer is well and truly on the way in London, which can only mean it’s Wimbledon time!
Since June 27, the eyes of the tennis world have been turned to the hallowed (and perfectly manicured to exactly 8mm) grass courts of the All England Club, where the world’s best fight it out to raise the trophy.
To get a sense of the atmosphere of the whole occasion, I signed up for a tour of the courts and museum.
Diligently arriving as requested half an hour before the tour began, I was dismayed to find that I was expected to pass the time quietly in the museum – not normally a strength of mine.
However, I was instantly engrossed by the wide array of exhibitions and activities in the museum; from items dating back to the first championships in 1877.
Of note, too, was a very entertaining game where visitors can test their reflexes against those of a professional tennis player (no scores will be revealed, but let’s just say I will be keeping my day job).
My tour was led by a likeable and entertaining Brit by the name of Keith, who blew us away with his passion and knowledge about absolutely anything related to tennis.
The tour is a leisurely stroll around the grounds and manages to include everything of interest, from sitting on centre court seats to tours of the interview rooms, broadcast centre and even the players’ areas (although not the locker rooms).
My tour group was an intimate size of about 15 people, and Keith managed to field all the strange and random questions that were fired his way.
I grew up watching Wimbledon on television, but the history and tradition of this special place can only be fully appreciated in person.
The grounds somehow managed to personify history (129 championships and still going strong), exclusivity (only 375 highly sought-after memberships) and class (the purple and green branding) all at once, and that was just while the place was empty.
Tours of Wimbledon can be booked on www.wimbledon.com and last about two hours.
The cost for the museum and tour is £24 (R463) per adult.
Meanwhile, if you are planning a visit to London during the summer and seeking, as we did, some fun activities for children, we have some suggestions.
Narrowing our list down to only five activities proved harder than expected, so in the end we applied the following criteria: activities had to be outdoors (the best way to burn off the extra energy), they had to be packed with fun that would keep the youngsters entertained (obviously) and, finally, they had to be easy on the budget (this one was for the parents).
So without further ado – drum roll please – here are our top five outdoor children’s activities in London.
1. Time to park off
If there’s one thing London has in abundance its parks, from the humble village green to great sprawling forests.
Technically, the entire city is classified as a forest due to its 8.4 million trees, and wherever you find yourself in London you are guaranteed to be close to a park.
One of our favourite parks is Richmond Park in south-west London, as it’s nice and big (plenty of space for the youngsters to burn off some steam on bike or on foot) and has the added attraction of some 600 deer (cute and friendly animals that will definitely be a drawcard).
There are too many parks in London to mention them all, but there are a few with some unique attractions: Battersea Park in Central London has a children’s zoo and boats that can be rented on the lake; Clapham Common has tennis courts and a skate park; Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has fountains and a climbing wall; and St James’s Park has pelicans and the Horse Guard Parade.
Best of all, parks have free entrance (although items like the zoo and boats do have a charge).
2. Sightseeing on the go
There’s no doubt parents will want to see some of the iconic London sights, but keeping the children and their short attention spans entertained is the hard part.
A boat ride on the Thames may be just the solution, as it offers very good views of most of the sights (without endless waiting in queues or the entrance fees).
The water bus offers a cost-effective way to see attractions, including Westminster Abbey and the London Eye, and the children will love being out on the water.
For a faster paced option, Thames Rockets, by London RIB Voyages, offers a 50-minute, action-packed boat ride that takes in the sights of 35 famous London landmarks.
The excitement of racing down the Thames on a speedboat will have the children enthralled, and the knowledgeable and witty guides will have everyone enjoying the sights and learning some cool new facts at the same time.
3. Horsing around
Animals always get the children interested, and for a bustling city London has a surprising amount of options.
The younger children will probably be best suited to some of the animal farms, where they will be able to see all of the typical farm animals as well as a few unique additions.
Vauxhall City Farm and Deen City Farm had us mesmerised with their alpacas, while the pony rides at Kentish Town City Farm are also very popular (entrance is free to all of these farms mentioned, although you can pay to get a food bag to feed to the animals).
For older children, London Zoo and London Aquarium offer an exciting (although more expensive) alternative, and there are enough animals to see to fill up an entire day.
4. Go on, be a tourist (you know you want to)
There are some activities that simply have to be done on a trip to London. Seeing Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard is one, as is strolling across Tower Bridge and watching it open from the bank of the Thames River (it opens three times a day).
Harry Potter fans will probably want to visit King’s Cross to push a trolley through Platform 9¾ (there’s even a trolley conveniently embedded in the wall for some great photo opportunities) while parents wanting to improve their children’s geography grades will do well to plan a trip to the Prime Meridian Line (otherwise known as the Greenwich line, at exactly zero longitude).
Covent Garden’s is also worth a trip to enjoy all the free shows that happen in the area, with many talented singers, comedians and acrobats performing street shows.
5. Let’s get historical
Yes, yes, we know that technically this one is not outdoors, but London museums are simply too good to be left off the list.
Museums are not normally known for keeping children entertained or for being easy on the pocket, but the Natural History Museum in north-east London breaks both these stereotypes.
Entrance is free, and the museum has a large collection of items – dinosaurs, mammals and fish in the blue zone, earth in the red zone, birds and creepy-crawlies in the green zone, and the wildlife garden in the orange zone.