Tucked away on the North side of the Thames, just a stone’s throw from Covent Garden and opposite the National Theatre, Somerset House is home to art galleries, exhibitions, a bookshop and stunning courtyard. That’s all without even mentioning the seasonal additions of summer music venues, film festivals and fountains as well as an incredibly picturesque ice-skating rink for Winter.
Built in 1547, the house started life as a palace for Duke of Somerset Edward Seymour before being demolished in 1551 to make way for the iconic building that stands there today. To learn more about the history of Somerset House, book a space on one of the free guided tours for a sneak peek behind-the-scenes in areas usually closed to the public. These hour-long tours are a great addition to a visit if your children are old enough to appreciate a little history and include information on everything from the building’s Tudor past to the many films which have used this venue as a location. Otherwise, you can just stop off for lunch at Tom’s Deli, take in an exhibition, or enjoy water fountains in summer, or ice-skating in winter.
Somerset House truly is a gem of a place and while older children will love the cultural activities on offer, it’s the courtyard which is the big attraction for families with younger kids.
The summer water-play area boasts more than 50 shooting jet fountains, perfect on a hot day as parents can sit around the perimeter of the (mostly) contained courtyard while kids run amuck in the fountains
It feels very European – a lot like an Italian piazza. The fountains are in operation almost daily throughout spring and summer, however they’re switched off on ‘event days’ so check here before you go to make sure there are no disappointed little faces upon arrival.
In November the courtyard is transformed by the installation of the ice rink and stunning Christmas Tree. Sponsored by Tiffany & Co, this is easily the most stylish skating spot in London. Penguin stabilisers can be hired for anyone a little unsteady on their skates while crew members are also on hand to make sure novice skaters of all ages are whizzing around in no time. Understandably, booking ahead is strongly recommended, especially for weekends and December evenings.
Top Tip Take your own blankets or fold-up chairs to avoid the jostle for seats on busy, sunny days. Chairs – especially those in the shade – are hot property, but there’s plenty of space around the fountains to make your own little base camp.
While You’re Here… Michelin-starred chef Tom Aiken has two eateries (three in the summer when Tom’s Terrace opens) offering a variety of options from snacks and sandwiches to three course meals, so stop here for a bite to eat before heading elsewhere.