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Stunning views from the rooftop public square, an optical illusion artwork, a mobile orchard – and play fountains! International Quarter London is a new neighbourhood in Stratford, East London, nestled between Westfield Stratford City and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
With new openings, art installations and green pockets, it’s establishing itself as a welcoming place which embodies the area’s Olympic legacy. It’s an oasis of calm, even on a match day. In this post I’ll tell you more about IQL and what there is for families to do in and around the area.
Endeavour Square play fountains
The main reason I think every parent needs to know about IQL? These new fountains in Endeavour Square are a very welcome addition to the capital, especially as those outside the ArcelorMittal Orbit are regularly switched off for event days. The jets change height and sequence, providing plenty of interest for little ones. Weary parents can grab a seat overlooking the fountains on the ampitheatre-style front of the Pavilion building. We’ll be back in warmer weather with our towels.
New rooftop views
IQL has created a new, landmark building – the Pavilion. It’s a Swiss-style timber building-slash-community meeting place which houses a cafe, bistro, and a rooftop public square with stunning views.
It’s a really welcoming space, with giant beanbags to rest on, cafe style seating, and native wildflower planting. The decking has slopes as well as steps, meaning it’s fully accessible. With its different levels and heights, the kids really enjoyed exploring the space.
Best of all, the rooftop has several look out points over Stratford and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This part of London is a special place where nature, sport and culture collide and the views feel like a tribute to the Olympic legacy.
From this spot you can see green spaces and waterways of the Olympic Park. Purpose-built for the London 2012 Olympics, it’s one of Western Europe’s largest urban parks for 150 years. You can’t miss Zaha Hadid’s iconic London Aquatic Centre. Designed for Olympic swimming and diving events, it’s now a public swimming pool.
Just behind it you’ll see the unmistakable red steel structure, ArcelorMittal Orbit. Designed by Anish Kapoor, and now with added slides by Carsten Holler, it’s the UK’s largest piece of public art. To its right is the Olympic Stadium, which housed the unforgettable opening and closing Olympic ceremonies and track and field events. It’s now home to West Ham United and other big events.
You can also watch over the East Bank, where new homes are being built for V&A Museum East, Sadlers Wells Theatre, the BBC and University of the Arts London.
An added bonus for any train-loving kid (or adult!) is the multiple train lines running alongside the Pavilion. You get great views of frequent services, from mainline trains to the DLR.
The rooftop is completely free to access. Before 5pm you’re welcome to bring your own food and enjoy those views over a picnic. In the evening it transforms into a cocktail bar, run by Haugen London, with occasional live music. One for without the kids!
There’s a lift to take you from Endeavour Square to the Pavilion’s rooftop, but if you can, take the stairs. I love the way they wrap themselves round the building and encourage you to climb up and explore the space.
Labyrinth of a straight line by Troika
Back down in Endeavour Square, maze meets algorithmic art in this new public artwork. It’s designed by Troika London, a collective of London-based artists who play with shapes and perspective. The Museum Kids loved exploring this giant floor-based art work, following each twist and turn in an attempt to ‘solve’ its maze-like nature.
Labyrinth of a straight line is made of one continuous line that changes direction unexpectedly according to recursive pathfinding algorithmic rules. I love that this works creates something beautiful and tangible from something so abstract. It’s actually a closed loop with no beginning or end, but don’t tell the kids that – they’re convinced they escaped it!
Head up the Pavilion steps to see it from on high too – it looks even more 3D-like from above. And at night, small strips hidden in the artwork light up.
Keep an eye out for IQL’s mobile orchard, which will move around the site. Designed by RHS Chelsea Gold Medal winner Tom Massey, you’ll find 10 fruit trees, each in its own moveable planter. Ten more trees are due to join it very soon. It’s a nod to East London’s history as a key food growing site for London.
The trees vary from apple and cherry to loquat, quince and medlar. From blossom to fruit, they’ll change through the seasons, and are a good way to show city kids how fruit grows. In extra eco-credentials, the planters are made from recycled London rubble. Their in-built seating allowed me to take a moment to relax whilst the kids played hide and seek in the orchard. IQL have even hosted musical events under the trees – keep an eye on their event pages to hear about future plans.
The Hothouse cultivates plants which need warmer climes – including avocado, mango, pineapple and pomegranate. Peer through to see what’s growing and flowering.
This giant greenhouse-like installation by Tom Massey and Studio Weave is another nod to the area’s past. In the 1930s, there were more than 1,300 acres of greenhouses growing flowers and exotic fruits in Lee Valley.
But it also has an environmental message. If climate change continues to accelerate at its current rate, the Hothouse crops could be grown normally in the UK by 2050.
Inside IQL’s stunning Pavilion building is Haugen, a brand new alpine-inspired restaurant brought to you by the people behind The German Gymnasium. It feels a very good fit – with the Pavilion’s striking wood and glass construction, it wouldn’t look out of place on the side of a snow-topped mountain.
We dined at their ground floor cafe-bistro. The food is a taste of the continent – think German sausages and baked cheese dishes, like raclette and fondue. Museum Dad had the Berner Würtzel – smoked pork sausage on a bed of truffled potato pureé, topped with Emmentaler cheese, sauerkraut and crispy onions. I had the buttermilk chicken with raclette cheese, sandwiched in a brezel bun.
I’d head back just for the kids’ menu – at £8 it’s great value as it comes with a main with two sides and a HUGE chocolate ice cream sundae!
Staff were really friendly. When they found out it was my birthday, they brought me a little chocolate mousse with a message handwritten in chocolate sauce and dusted with edible gold flakes.
Haugen has that relaxed apres-ski vibe – especially considering we visited on a match day, it was surprisingly calm. We opted to sit outside – even on a brisk day we were so toasty with their heaters we didn’t need to reach for one of their white faux fur throws. Inside is modern yet cosy with its exposed wood, real trees and log burner.
High chairs are available on request and there’s baby change in the toilets.
Other things to do near IQL
What with play fountains, rooftop, lunch and an orchard to play hide and seek in, we had more than enough to fill an afternoon in IQL. But if you need it, there’s plenty more for families nearby.
Explore hundreds of acres of parkland at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Pick up a free maps and trails from the Information Centre on the ground floor of the Pavilion. Relive the thrill of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games with their London 2012 trail. Or observe, listen and discover bustling animal habitats, waterways, colourful flowers and plants with their Parkland and Wildlife trail. Find out more here.
There’s not one but four great play areas within walking distance. The Pleasure Gardens includes gigantic red rocks, oversized swings, a giant sand pit and a climbing wall down to the riverside. Snaking outside London Stadium, Waterworks Fountains feature 195 individually controlled jets of water. Note they operate between March and October only and are switched off on major event days. Tots will enjoy Biodiversity Playground, with its giant 12 metre long fish, frog, dragonfly, water lilies, footbridge and folded paper boats. And Tumbling Bay is surely in the running for London’s best playground. It has rock pools, gravel pits, tall treehouses, and wobbly bridges, as well as slides and swings and plenty of natural space to run around in.
Take a memorable family swim in the iconic London Aquatic Centre. The training pool is best for younger children, with shallower waters. All under 8s must be accompanied in the water by a competent adult swimmer, as must all non-swimmers under 16. Children under 3 swim for free. For over 11s, keep an eye out for their Aqua Splash sessions in their 50m competition pool, which features a large inflatable assault course.
Head to the top of ArcelorMittal Orbit for panoramic London views from their 80m high viewing platform. Over 8s can brave a ride down the world’s longest tunnel slide – definitely NOT for the faint-hearted!
Under 8s will love Discover Children’s Story Centre. Inspired by children’s literature, their exhibitions are always fun, immersive playspaces. Pictured is Museum Girl in their current exhibition, Fairy Tales. It’s a magical make-believe world filled with activities inspired by classic children’s stories, from Goldilocks and the Three Bears to Little Red Riding Hood. Their new playground is inspired by Howl’s Moving Castle and Baba Yaga’s house.
For failsafe family favourites, head over to Westfield Stratford City for bowling at All Star Lanes or a film at Vue. It doesn’t need to be expensive. On weekend mornings, Vue screens family films for only £2.49 per person. And All Star Lane’s High 5 Sunday offer allows £5 bowling after 5pm, for walk-ins only. Perfect to top and tail your IQL visit with.
I hope this post helps you have a great family day out in IQL. I’d love to see how you get on – please tag me @museummum in your adventures over on Instagram, and I’ll be sure to reshare.
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