Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival

The Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival 2018 is on now (until Saturday 27 January).

Here’s a post I wrote a few days ago with all the details.

And below are some photos.

As we discovered, it’s worth a visit whatever the weather because, if it’s raining, there’s a large number of installations under cover at the Crossrail station and you can always make another visit to see the rest.

If lights are your thing, don’t forget there’s only one more day to view the Lumiere festival at sites around central London (details here). There are some lovely looking things, but central London in the evening with a one-year-old and a four-year-old isn’t for me right now…

This one was my favourite…



Lights at the end of the tunnel

No 31 Intrude Amanda Parer (from

Just what we need during these post-Christmas, grey, gloomy days – light!

Tomorrow sees the start of the Canary Wharf Winter Festival which, in previous years, has been a great hit with everyone in my household from the youngest to… er… me.

It runs from Tuesday 16 to Saturday 27 January 2018 and it’s free. There are as many as 33 light sculptures (often combined with music/sound) located throughout Canary Wharf. In my experience, here’s the best way to enjoy some or all of them.

  1. First download the map here.
  2. Work out what you want to see and a route that lasts a toddler-friendly period of time

For me, that means not seeing all the sculptures. Or not in one visit anyway. I tend to look for ones that are interactive, big or interesting in another way. I’ve only had a quick glance through the programme, but here are some that stand out.

  • No 1 – Sonic light bubble. Just look at it!
  • No 10 – Pixels. Illuminated blocks you can build with.
  • No 31 – Intrude. Giant rabbits? I don’t need to know anything more. I’m there.
  • No 32 – Sunlight graffiti. Make graffiti using light – yes, okay then.

Make your way to Canary Wharf as darkness falls. (From about 5pm – it’s extra fun for toddlers to be out ‘late’).

There are a whole ton of places to eat or pick up snacks (For more info, click here).

Free swimming

You probably know this already, but children aged three and under swim for free at swimming pools throughout Tower Hamlets that Better Leisure run. Once they turn four, you’re supposed to cough up (usually £4 or so), but did you know there are still opportunities to swim for free?

I couldn’t find any mention of it on the Better Leisure website, but:

  • On Saturday, you can turn up at your local pool and swim for free as a family from 12 noon afterwards.
  • On Friday, any Tower Hamlets resident can swim for free from 9am onwards.

To get your free swim, you need a pay and play membership card, but these cost just a few pounds a year. You can wrestle with the Better website and join your local swimming pool here, or pop along and speak to staff.

  • It’s not free, but women and girls can swim at women-only sessions for a small fee (currently £1.05).

Here’s the best list I’ve been able to find about free swimming in Tower Hamlets.

Enjoy your (free) swim!

Jump. Jump. Jump.

Photo from

The four-year-old and the one-year-old may be the most frequent visitors to the new trampoline park in Stratford, Zap Space, to date, but I’m late to the party and made my debut at the weekend.

So here’s what you need to know.

If you live a hop, skip or a jump away from Stratford and have a toddler who likes to bounce on a trampoline, it’s the place for you. Make your way to Zap Space in the knowledge that you’ll come away with a tired and happy toddler.

It’s actually designed for all age groups and is open 9am-9pm every day (way past a toddler’s bedtime). It’s the mornings that are devoted to Little Zappers aged five and under. Check the timetable here.

As far as I can tell, just the downstairs is open during the Little Zappers sessions, so that’s trampolines, a foam pit and a balance bar. For younger children, there’s a small soft play which kept my one-year-old very happy indeed. Better still, at the moment at least, the baby soft play area is free (they may start to charge at busier times).

For the trampoline park, you pay on the door (or book ahead online) and you get a one hour session. If your toddler is trampoline crazy, there is a multi-pass option that helps you make savings.

There’s a counter selling food and snacks in the main area (there are tables, chairs and high chairs), but there’s also a nicer, lighter cafe (with a wider menu, I think) that you can also access from Stratford High Street. It’s called The Old Town Bistro and is also run by Zap Space.

I enjoyed our trip to Zap Space because it was a really easy way to keep two little ones entertained on a rainy day and get some energy well and truly burnt off. On the plus side, there are lots of cheerful, friendly, polite and helpful staff making sure everyone is having safe fun.

I have a few gripes based on the fact my four-year-old wasn’t that keen on the trampoline and would have preferred the climbing area. Sometimes she’s been allowed to use it, but at the weekend she wasn’t as it was included in the bit that was closed. Only one child was allowed in the foam pit at once, which was terribly safe, but not much fun.

Like I said, if your child loves the trampoline, it’s for you. If they like soft play more generally, there are better places to go.

My favourite remains the East London Gymnasium, which you can read about here.

All the information about Zap Space is here, including entry costs which is currently £8 for a Little Zappers session.

Walthamstow Wetlands – part 2

A few days ago, I wrote about a visit to the newly opened Walthamstow Wetlands. Did you know there are special activity days for children under fives and their adult companions on Mondays and Wednesdays, 10am-3pm?

There’s the promise of story-telling, crafts and wildlife activities – and it’s all free.

You can find the details here, where you’ll also find information about other sessions that the London Wildlife Trust offers at various sites.


Walthamstow Wetlands

If there’s a blue sky over London, I can’t think of a better place to be than the Walthamstow Wetlands – Europe’s largest urban wetland – which opened to the public only a few weeks ago. There’s something incredibly heartening about being encircled by huge skies, and seeing the sunlight cast reflections onto the reservoirs, rivers, channels and streams that run through the reserve.

And it’s not just for walkers, birders or fishing enthusiasts, it’s a fine place to be as a family with toddlers. The principle paths are stony, so although I’m sure they get muddy from time to time, they’re also a good bet for pushchairs and scooters. There was one section where we needed to carry the pushchair up some stairs to walk on the bund of the reservoir, but I noticed an accessible path has been constructed – it’s just not yet open.

Walthamstow Wetlands get the seal of approval from my four-year-old who passed her verdict (‘beautiful’) and is keen to return. So are the rest of us. We only walked round a small part and it will be interesting to see the whole reserve change through the seasons. On our first visit, we spotted a heron, but we’re already looking forward to next year’s ducklings, goslings and cygnets. If you have binoculars for your little one, be sure to bring them.

The old Engine House has been beautifully restored and there’s a nice-looking cafe inside as well as a viewing point and what looked like a spot to eat your own sandwiches. The cafe had a long queue when we visited, so I can’t tell you what the food tastes like, but it looked pretty appetising.

As the website advises, the car park is small. If you can, you’re better off coming by train, tube or even by bike up the Lea/Lee valley.

It’s free to visit and open 9.30am-4pm (October-March)

All the details you need to plan a visit are here.


Set sail for a mini maritime festival

This weekend – Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 – from 12 noon the Museum of London Docklands is the place to be for free songs and stories that, despite being terribly nautical, are entirely suitable for families.

Together with your toddler(s), you’ll have the chance to sing a sea shanty or two,  hear stories from the sea in your shell-like, and try your hand at craft activities including making a pirate hat.

All the details are here. Simply drop in and enjoy.