The Imagine Children’s Festival is the largest cultural festival in the UK dedicated purely to children, and it takes place in London. Schedule a city break to the English capital, and let them spark their own imaginations with a holiday they’ll love and cherish forever.
Read on for the ultimate guide to the Imagine Children’s Festival.
What, how, where, when?
- The Imagine Children’s Festival takes place at the Southbank Centre, London, between 12 – 23 February. This coincides with the February half term holiday in the UK. Many British residents travel to London during this week, so search for special offers at London hotels early to avoid disappointment.
- Festival events include activity sessions, storytelling, and shows from best-selling authors, illustrators and celebrities. All events are pitched at ages 0-11.
- Many of the events are FREE, so this is a great family activity that you can experience on a budget. Others carry an admission fee.
- There are books available for purchase at the events, and it most instances it will be possible to get one signed and dedicated from the author and / or illustrator.
- There are numerous drop-in activities to enjoy whilst waiting for your event. Check out Soundpit, a giant sandpit from where children can use their own movements to create sound. They can also get their faces painted and sprinkled with glitter!
- Some events will accept drop-ins, but we advise advance booking or reserving your free space.
- From the Park Grand London Paddington Hotel you can take the tube to Waterloo. Board the Bakerloo Line at Paddington and alight at Waterloo station, which is where you can find the Southbank Centre.
Highlights of the festival
If this has convinced you to snap up a hotel special offer in London to check out the festival, now it’s time to pick a couple of events to take the little ones. We’ve rounded up the top 10 most exciting events and biggest names appearing at this year’s festival to help you whittle down your choices!
1) The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show (Weds 12 – Fri 14 Feb; various times, ages 0-5)
Eric Carle’s caterpillar first munched its way into our hearts 50 years ago. See him come to life in a show featuring a menagerie of 75 loveable puppets, from a line-up including bears, cats and butterflies! If all this snacking makes you peckish, reserve a table for dinner at one of the best restaurants in Paddington before the event.
2) Smriti Prasadam-Halls & Robert Starling
The Little Island (Sat 15 Feb, various times, ages 4-6) Author and illustrator duo share their inspiring picture book The Little Island. This warm picture book tells of building bridges not barriers, showing respect not resentment and of finding friendship, not fear. It will get little ones thinking deeply and they’ll be mesmerised by the live drawing from Robert Starling!
3) Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo (Sat 15 – 21 Feb; various times, ages 5+)
If you’ve never seen a dinosaur, now is your chance! This roar-some show features cute baby dinos, and the most fearsome beasts that ever walked the planet. Ideal for budding young palaeontologists.
4) Creating Magical Ideas: Cressida Cowell & Friends (Mon 17 Feb; 10:45am, ages 8-12)
Current Children’s Laureate and author of How to Train Your Dragon is joined by Liz Pichon (creator of the bestselling Tom Gates series) and Kiran Millwood Hargrave (author of The Girl of Ink & Stars). This panel will inspire young minds to become writers, illustrators, film directors and innovative thinkers.
5) Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet (Mon 17 Feb; 3:15pm, ages 8-12)
Hear from Kate Pankhurst, author, illustrator and descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst, at this creative and inspirational workshop. Kate will share tales of real-life women who devoted their lives to protecting Planet Earth, and give participants chance to have their own say – and dress up!
6) Dermot O’Leary & Nick East: Toto the Ninja Cat (Thu 20 Feb; 1pm, ages 7-9)
Join one of the UK’s most adored broadcasters, X Factor and BBC Radio 2 presenter Dermot O’Leary, to hear all about Toto the Ninja Cat. Dermot’s animal escapade series about the cat who keeps the streets of London safe is perfect for animal-loving kids.
7) Groove Baby Presents: Groove in the Woods (Fri 21 Feb; various times, ages 3-7)
Venture into the deep dark woods on a music-fuelled, storytelling, family adventure! Meet kooky characters, take a magical journey through a fairy tale forest where your little ones will learn as much as they play.
8) Cerrie Burnell & Friends: A Story of Your Own (Fri 21 Feb; 3.15pm, ages 7-11)
Former CBeebies presenter and current Writer in Residence at BookTrust takes to the stage with fellow authors Katie Tsang, Aisha Bushby and Sharna Jackson. They discuss why they became writers, the importance of representing children from all backgrounds in their books, and give some advice to those wanting to write their own book.
9) HomeBros School of Afro Dance (Sat 22 Feb; various times, ages 5+)
See local Afrobeat dancers and choreographers Unkle TC and Kurtyswift as they are joined by some of the best young dancers in London in this incredible performance. The HomeBros dancers previously appeared in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, Laurence Olivier Award-winning show Pied Piper and the 2015 X Factor final!
10) Michael Rosen: The Missing (Sun 23 Feb; 11am, ages 10+)
Writer of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and bestselling author and poet Michael Rosen makes a special appearance at the festival. The former Children’s Laureate will deliver a talk that is personal, powerful and heart-rendering – about his experience searching for relatives who were lost to the Holocaust.
That’s 10 events to get you started. Check the full schedule online for further information and to book tickets to this year’s Imagine Children’s Festival.
Complete your visit with a walk along the London Southbank to soak up the riverside ambience and browse the weekend market.