The Best Family Entertainment in September

Suzanne Frost

A new school year is almost upon us, but this September, there are still plenty of fun activities on offer that will soften the blow for kids who are less than keen to return to their books.

Providing a whole month’s worth of entertainment, Totally Thames festival returns to the banks of the river with a wide variety of events taking place throughout September. There are many family-oriented activities on offer, most of them free. Put on your wellies to explore the Custom House foreshore (1 September, free); hold your breath as you watch a pirate attempt to escape a water tank a la Houdini (every weekend in September, free); take a trip to the seaside on a historic paddle steamer (22, 27, 29 & 30 September, ticketed); or watch the Thames Barrier in action on the annual test closure (23 September, free).
Totally Thames Festival

For those who prefer to stay up high and dry instead, the excellent Horniman Museum could be just the ticket. Always worth a visit for its interesting collection and beautiful gardens with lovely views over London, the museum will be even more fun on 2 September, when it’s hosting a Flavours of the World festival. The closing event of the Horniman’s season-long celebration of global cultures, the festival includes carnival parades, Turkish and North African music, and pop-up dance performances. Entrance to both the festival and the museum itself are free.
Families with teenagers might consider a trip to the V&A for Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, which opens on 8 September. This new exhibition looks at the everchanging design of videogames, the technological developments behind them, and their social and cultural influences. Visitors will get to immersive themselves in interactive installations, watch clips from big blockbuster games as well as from small independent creations, and see design materials from leading game designers. Some of the materials on display contain adult themes, so discretion is advised when visiting with younger teens. Videogames runs until 24 February; adult tickets are £18, with family tickets available.
ONBlackheath Festival

If you’re planning an outing with younger family members this weekend, have a look at ONBlackheath, the South London music festival celebrating its fifth birthday this year. A decidedly family-friendly affair, the line-up includes not only ‘grownup’ acts like Paloma Faith and Squeeze, but also a host of kids’ activities. CBeebies stars Sid and Rebecca are headlining on Saturday, and there are toddler dance classes, children’s yoga, family dance and comedy shows, circus skills workshops and much more to enjoy. ONBlackheath takes place on 8 and 9 September; concession tickets are available for under-twelves and under-sixteens.
For a more historic day out, head to the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival on 16 September. At this annual event in celebration of the autumn harvest, the Pearlies get together for a proper Cockney party including maypole and Morris dancing, marching bands and, of course, plenty of dazzling outfits. There will be plenty of opportunity to marvel at their dark suits with intricate designs in hundreds of pearly buttons, as the East End royalty parade through the streets from Guildhall Yard to Saint Mary le Bow Church. Attending the festival is free, but donations of non-perishable good and toiletries for the Whitechapel Mission are much appreciated.
The Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival (c) Getty Images

Round off the month with another classic at London Open House Weekend, taking place on 22 and 23 September. More than 700 buildings are opening their doors to the general public, and there is an extensive programme of talks, tours and trails to complement the line-up. Next to returning favourites like Battersea Power Station and the BT Tower, this year visitors can check out new offerings such as the American Embassy and the renovated Royal Opera House. Families are specifically catered for in West London’s new Old Oak and Park Royal development, where you can pick up a pop out map detailing family-friendly activities, while child-friendly Valetta House and the slide staircase in Round House will also capture young visitors’ imaginations. Open House events are free, although entrance to some properties is allocated by ballot. 

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