North London's Cultural Guide

Kentishtowner Awards: Best For Families 2012

Parliament Hill Lido – just one of Hampstead Heath’s many attractions

There are some who bolt for the ‘burbs when starting a family, and there are others who need little convincing as to the advantages of a central NW childhood. Attractive days out and good facilities surround us: most are within walking distance, and many are free of charge.

The majority of these have been around for aeons, but that’s no reason not to celebrate them. Old kiddie fave Pizza Express got a fair few nods yet surprisingly, hipster newcomer Pizza East garnered even more. K-Town ankle-biters obviously like their décor distressed and at the cutting edge these days.

Marine Ices performed well on the list, in all its knickerbocker glory, as did a close fourth placing for the excellent facilities at Kentish Town Sports Centre, every parent’s stalwart rainy day activity solution.

Pubs did surprising business in this category (just what does that say about out poll?), with the garden at the Lion & Unicorn proving a favourite, the child-friendly service at The Vine highlighted more than once, and even O’Reillys getting one mention, although we’re not sure quite the definition of ‘family’ that this voter had in mind.


1. Hampstead Heath

The grande dame of family days out, a trip to the Heath is timeless, healthy and totally free. Alongside the obvious potential for ball games, running around with abandon, flying kites or epic scale family picnicking, you’ll find cherished fixtures like the Olympic sized Lido (where the French team swimmers trained this summer), Kenwood House and its concerts, the sports events and toddler paddling down at the track or catch-em-if-you-can visiting attractions like this summer’s inflatable Stonehenge. Venture a little deeper to unearth discoveries such as the woods and meadows surrounding Kenwood, can be deserted even at the height of summer. The primary local source of endless natural adventure.

2. Talacre

Despite the untidy pedestrian chicanes that the luxury development currently obliterating Dalby Street have caused, this jewel in Camden’s children’s facilities continues to be as vital and popular a resource as ever. From its vastly oversubscribed world class gymnastics classes, to the crazy soft-play monkey business witnessed hourly at Treetops, Talacre is a big part of local family life for thousands. The new wood-sprung dance studio opened this year has proved a great addition, featuring special interactive sensory features to ensure disabled kids get to fully enjoy sports there too.

3. Kentish Town City Farm

Currently celebrating 40 years of feeding, mucking out and learning right in the heart of one of the country’s most deprived urban areas, KTCF is a bona fide institution. Nestled in amongst the busy railway lines, it is nonetheless an oasis of calm. Open the gate to be instantly greeted by wandering chickens or hungry pigs, and admire the pastoral grazing scenes under Victorian railway arches. The indoor classroom provides a memorable location for children’s birthday parties too. Who needs Peppa Pig merchandise when the real thing is on hand to grunt a personal welcome to gleeful partygoers?

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Tomorrow: Best Coffee

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About Kentishtowner

The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.