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Things to do in London for half-term: exhibitions, films, theatre and more

 (Balloon Museum)
(Balloon Museum)

For any parent with children at school, February half-term always arrives with a mixture of alarm and outrage. How can they have time again so soon after Christmas? How are we even going to afford to feed them for a week at home? What are we going to do?

Of course the hoity-toity will already have half term trips to the riads of Marrakesh booked, but for the rest of us hoi polloi, it’s a case of scrapping the screen time rules so you can get some work in, mixing guilt and rage for you/your partner not having arranged anything, and a mid-week acceptance of defeat in which you join them on the sofa for a Star Wars marathon.

But never fear, help is at hand, with our handy guide to places and activities in London that will bring a bit of joy back to half-term for both you and the little ones…

Exhibitions

Cute

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Somerset House’s must-attend exhibition is basically a cannot fail for children, with plenty of large-eyed furry things to be squealed over (don’t let them touch them though) a games arcade, ‘sleepover room’ and a Hello Kitty disco. While the exhibition is not purely for kids, looking at the history of cute and also some darker places cute goes to, all of that will go over the kids’ heads amid the garish mayhem. An obvious half-term honeypot, so book early if you can.

Until April 24, somersethouse.org.uk

Balloon Museum

 (Balloon Museum)
(Balloon Museum)

Set in a cavernous space in Old Billingsgate, this international museum is presenting an immersive exhibition called EmotionAir, which gathers the work of twenty artists using inflatable works around the theme of emotions. Look, it’s basically a bunch of really cool massive balloons that will have everyone hyperventilating with glee. Art for joy’s sake.

Until February 18, 1 Old Billingsgate Walk, EC3R 6DX, balloonmuseum.world

When Forms Come Alive

Medyse by Jean-Luc Meduse (Jean-Luc Moulene)
Medyse by Jean-Luc Meduse (Jean-Luc Moulene)

Bit of a stretch this one, spanning 60 years of sculpture done in organic style, but heck, if the little ones get a bit freaked out by some of the outlandish and outright disturbing oddities here, that’s their own fault for having such twisted parents. Besides, you can tie it up with your visit to the Southbank centre’s Imagine Children’s Festival too (see below).

Until May 6, Hayward Gallery, SE1 8XX, southbankcentre.co.uk

Japan: Myths to Manga

 (Studio Ghibli)
(Studio Ghibli)

An excellent exhibition at the Young V&A in Bethnal Green, looking at how the landscape and myths of Japan have influenced so much of their pop culture. There’s plenty here for Studio Ghibli and One Piece fans, and this half-term they’re running a One Hundred Yokai Parade, where you candesign and draw your own Yokai (Japanese monsters) with illustrator Nanami Takeuchi.

Until 8 September, Young V&A, Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, E2 9PA, vam.ac.uk

Shows

Imagine Children’s Festival

Gaston le Dog, Michael Rosen (Viviane Schwarz)
Gaston le Dog, Michael Rosen (Viviane Schwarz)

A great mix of shows for kids, there’s something for all ages including a musical from author Tom Fletcher called ‘There’s a Monster in Your Show’, an appearance by an every-popular poet ‘An Afternoon with Michael Rosen’, and ‘A Morning with Rob Biddulph’ featuring the man behind lockdownhit, ‘Draw With Rob’. But along with the ticketed events there’s plenty of freelive music and activities going on that you can rock up at any time and beentertained.

Until 17 Feb, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX, southbankcentre.co.uk

The Three Billy Goats Gruff/Ready, Steady, Lift Off

 (unicorn)
(unicorn)

It’s kind of pointless listing My Neighbour Totoro as tickets are like gold dust (though there might be ways). You can always splurge out on Matilda tickets or Back to the Future of course, but for families with primary school age children, the Unicorn’s shows are brilliant fun, and much more affordable. This half-term they have on The Three Billy Goats Gruff for ages 3-7, and an interactive space show called Ready, Steady, Lift Off where the little ones can train for a mission in space. Like they’re not going to love that.

Unicorn theatre, 147 Tooley Street, SE1 2HZ, unicorntheatre.com

Medusa’s First Kiss

 (Little Angel Theatre)
(Little Angel Theatre)

For older children, ten-plus, this is billed as a ‘punk-rock mini musical’ that plays with Greek mythology, following new girl Medusa as she enters an American high school. Most English kids over 10 are obsessed with American high schools – since every film and TV show seems to be set there – so this is a good bet for those on the cusp or early years of secondary school.

Until April 21, Little Angel Theatre, Sebbon Street, N1 2EH, littleangeltheatre.com

Afternoon Tea

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea at One Aldwych

 (One Aldwych)
(One Aldwych)

Now this is a good one: inspired by the Roald Dahl book this is going to mean big smiles and sticky hands for your little mites. Treats include snozberry jam, chocolate swudge milkshake, and suchlike. Parents can enjoy fizzy lifting Champagne. What’s not to love?

One Aldwych, WC2B 4BZ; onealdwych.com

Peter Pan Afternoon Tea at Aqua at The Shard

 (Aqua, The Shard)
(Aqua, The Shard)

Well it's the view isn't it? It's the view and the cakes that you hope will keep them quietly content for a good ten minutes. Aqua is 31 floors up and the afternoon tea is Peter Pan-themed, meaning the tasty treats come on board a pirate ship, complete with billowing smoke. Will cause delight, and possibly arguments over who gets to eat what.

Level 31, The Shard, SE1 9SG, aquashard.co.uk

Film

Madame Web

 (Sony)
(Sony)

For the older kids (12A), this much-anticipated stand-alone origin story stars Dakota Johnson and marks Sony's Spider-Man Universe's first female lead superhero film. It has Johnson's Madame Web - a clairvoyant paramedic - discovering her powers as she hooks up with a few Spider-Women (played by Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O'Connor and Isabela Merced), and is supposed to be more of a thriller than the usual Marvel fare.

Previews on Feb 14 at BFI IMAX, Waterloo, SE1 8XR, whatson.bfi.org.uk

Migration

 (Universal)
(Universal)

Obviously any animated animals film can fill a parent with inertia, but ears will certain prick up when they learn this one is co-written by Mike ‘The White Lotus’ White. Don’t expect sex, violence and ‘evil gays’ though. This is wholesome good times about a family of ducks who go on holiday to New York.

Out now

Day trips

Four Seasons Hampshire

 (Four Seasons)
(Four Seasons)

It’s well worth a trip out to the Four Seasons in Hampshire for a stay; not just for the pleasure of the manor house splendour, but all the activities for the kiddies. Every morning and afternoon, there’s a choice of everything from a Petting Zoo, Kidz Bop Dancing, Decorating Ceramic Mugs, Birdsof Prey Displays, Archery, Underwater Treasure Hunt and a Mini Disco. On top of that there’s a pool, a kids’ club where children over 4 can be dropped off while you head for an afternoon tea or cocktail (or something more spa based for the health conscious) and Games Rooms with pool, air hockey and games consoles. Basically, it’s a dreamland for kids and adults alike. Just don’t use the Mini Disco as a chance to show ‘em how it’s really done to Gangnam Style – your children may never forgive you.

Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, Dogmersfield Park, Hook RG27 8TD, fourseasons.com/hampshire

Hever Castle

Hever Castle in spring 2016 (Peter Smith/PA)
Hever Castle in spring 2016 (Peter Smith/PA)

Anne Boleyn’s old house is always a nice day out, with its expansive grounds, boating lake, maze and water maze (where you get soaked, if thechildren have anything to do with it). Over half term, an Eco Week is running which aims to inspire new generations to live sustainably. This means, craft activities, creative workshops and Forest Friends around the grounds giving some ‘insight’ into sustainability. Yes, it’s one of those great ways to sneak in some learning…

Hever Castle, Hever, Edenbridge, TN8 7NG, hevercastle.co.uk

Hampton Court Palace

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

King Henry VIII’s little old place has a cool half-term adventure going on: Elizabeth I’s Spy Mission. Children will be taken back to 1562, where the Tudor court is abuzz with intrigue. Queen Elizabeth I has caught smallpox, with rumours of conspirators working against her and seeking to take the throne. Elizabeth’s spymaster will lead the kids around the palace and courtyards to try to solve the mystery and save the Queen. Think HorribleHistories meets The Crystal Maze, and very happy families.

Hampton Court Palace, Hampton Ct Way, Molesey KT8 9AU, hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace