The Victoria & Albert Museum of decorative arts is not the easiest venue to approach with younger children. I once dived in with my boys when the queues at the neighbouring Natural History Museum and Science Museum were too long to contemplate. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of things at the V&A of great interest to kids, but it’s one of those museums where you really need to plan your visit in advance to make the most of it, otherwise you’ll blunder around without any real idea what to focus on.
This is where a Blue Guide comes in – as offered by the nearby Capital Hotel as part of its two-night family city break. On selected dates, families staying here get to tour the V&A in the company of a Blue Badge guide, tailored for a maximum group of 10 guests. You follow either a Highlights Tour, discover the Terrible Tudors or meet the ‘not so vile’ Victorians. The trails are interactive and fun as well as educational, with stop-offs at the museum's dressing-up areas and prizes to be won. Afterwards there’s a fish-and-chip lunch back at the hotel’s bistro.
Knightsbridge may not be the obvious choice for a family weekend or short break in London,
but my boys loved ogling the parade of flash vehicles, from Ferraris to stretch Hummers,
the showrooms for sports cars costing more than the average house, and the often
ludicrous clothes on display. It was like a trip to another planet.
The Highlights tour is a definite winner. Do you know how many people could sleep in the Great Bed of Ware, for instance? One of the V&A’s greatest treasures and perhaps its most famous, this vast 16th-century carved oak four-poster is thought to have been a tourist attraction in a Hertfordshire inn and was even mentioned in Shakespeare’s 'Twelfth Night' and in Ben Jonson’s 'Epiconene'. So how many people could sleep in it? We guessed about seven at a squeeze, but see what you think…
Even better, at least in my boys' eyes, was Tipu’s Tiger. an incredible carved-wood, life-size part-automaton in the middle of mauling a man. Dating from late-18th-century India, it has weighted bellows concealed within both the tiger and his victim that simulate the growls of one and the cries of the other. Tipu himself was the Sultan of Mysore, who saw the tiger as the instrument of God, appointed to devour God’s enemies – especially the British. But who exactly is this tiger shown savaging? Take a tour and you’ll find out.
The Capital itself is a five-star boutique hotel with a discreet, old-fashioned charm. My boys were intrigued by some of the James Bond style gadgetry (bedside chests of drawers turned out to concealed panels controlling the lights) and by the pillow-like fabric wallpaper, and loved their gifts of teddy bears and mini red double-decker buses. For me, it was the brilliant staff who really make this a top place to stay.
The hotel’s chic restaurant, Outlaw’s at the Capital, is a Michelin-starred affair run by the famous Cornwall chef, best suited to those with adventurous older kids or to parents with a babysitter. With younger kids, the neighbouring sister hotel, The Levin, has an excellent basement brasserie serving international classics, from steak and chips to chicken korma, fantastic desserts including a fabulous but light version of Eton Mess made with strawberry mousse, and wine from its very own French vineyard.
Knightsbridge may not be the obvious choice for a family weekend or short break in London, but it’s brilliantly entertaining. My boys loved ogling the constant parade of flash vehicles, from Ferraris to stretch Hummers, the showrooms for sports cars costing more than the average house, and the often ludicrous clothes on display in the designer boutiques. It was like a trip to another planet. A highlight was Harrod's and its famous Toy Kingdom, just two steps from The Capital, where a scaled-down Aston Martin will set you back a mere £39,000, or a VRX racing car simulator only £75,000. After that, it was refreshing to beat a retreat to Hyde Park and neighhouring Kensington Gardens – also within a five-minute walk of The Capital – to taste some of life’s more affordable pleasures: a picnic in the sunshine and some fun in the Princess of Wales Memorial playground with its giant pirate ship.
Editor's note: The Capital no longer runs V&A tours, but regular London family package breaks include a 2nd interconnecting room for half price. The property also has serviced apartments. See more on London family breaks including things to see and do in London with kids.