Into London: the capital reopens
With the tourist count at an all-time low, now is the time to swerve the endless queues and enjoy London's cultural bounty.
We’ve had it on good authority that London has moved past its 28 Days Later phase and is moving more into Mary Poppins. So, less deserted streets and episodic zombie attacks and more roads you can actually walk down without being mown down by livid commuting bikers and an inexplicable tuk-tuk. Obviously, the international tourist count is at an all-time low and even residents are choosing to stay local if they can – why go central when you can go to Clapham?
Plus, between 19 and 27 September, the annual festival of architecture and the urban landscape that is Open House London is in full swing, offering loads of opportunity to reconnect with the city, take part in brilliant walking tours and nose around buildings usually closed to the public – click here to see the programme. (Also, it’s worth noting that it’s the closing days of the Heritage Open Days festival over the rest of the UK, so if you want to poke around your locale, check here to see what’s open.) But, generally speaking, now is the time to swerve the endless queues, sweaty tube descents and overflowing bins. Here’s our guide to getting the most out of our fabulous capital.
Those of you coming into Waterloo will have a full gamut of delights awaiting you. The Hayward Gallery opened on 1 August and Among The Trees (above) – a group exhibition of over 37 artists – is what’s in store, exploring our relationships with forests and woodlands (pre-booking essential). A few minutes’ walk south of Waterloo, you’ll find the Imperial War Museum London, which has a new atrium exhibition, History of Bombs, courtesy of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (as part of the museum’s Refugees season). It’s free, but again, only a pre-booked ticket will gain you entry. Fancy a stroll down the river to Bankside? We’d recommend it as Tate Modern is open, as is the extended Andy Warhol exhibition. Book here.
Peckish? Well, Udderbelly is hosting StreetEats down on the riverfront, a pop-up festival with food trucks (Jamaican-inspired Coco Labelle has pricked up our ears), drinks and entertainment, all open from midday to 9pm. The Skylon restaurant, at Royal Festival Hall, is open or stop by on the weekend as the (in)famous two-course bottomless Prosecco brunch (£48pp) is back on.
Not wildly near any of the London terminals (Victoria or Marylebone are probably the nearest), but Kensington (both South and High St) are home to some of the country’s best cultural offerings. The Design Museum off High St Ken partially opened on 31 July and is hosting the five-star-rated exhibition Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers (above). It’s about electronic music, if you hadn’t guessed and it’s popular, so book early.
A pleasant walk past multiple embassies will land you in South Ken, home of the Natural History Museum, the V&A (they’ve opened selected galleries) and the Science Museum. Pre-booked, timed entry tickets are the name of the game here so don’t just turn up as you will be sad and forced to do a loop of Hyde Park by way of an alternative. And as it’s Kensington, don’t expect anything, you know… low rent. We recommend heading to The Ivy Kensington Brasserie on High St Ken.
East London/The City
For the contingent coming in from Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, you’ll probably find yourself at London Liverpool Street and want to know what you can do in walking distance. Well, that depends on how far you’re prepared to walk. In and around the area, you have Whitechapel Gallery that is open and showing ‘Accelerate Your Escape: Gary Hume explores the Hiscox Collection’, which is the first time some of the works have been seen in public. It’s on until 3 Jan. Obviously pre-book.
The almost-impossible-to-get-into (well, it always was when we lived in town) Sky Garden in Fenchurch Street is taking bookings but you will need to be masked-up if you’re not drinking or eating. Shoreditch’s (mostly outdoor) BOXPARK is open for business as is the Brick Lane second-hand market (where I once bought the most amazing pair of Seventies leather boots) and Columbia Rd Flower Market on Sundays – although social distancing is in place so expect one-way systems and queues.
For eating, Townsend at the Whitechapel Gallery (opened in February, just before lockdown hit) is back up and running and there’s a free glass of wine for everyone who books to see the gallery exhibitions. You might also want to try Smokestak, a BBQ restaurant in Shoreditch, which is offering a starter, burger, side and gelato for £20.
Greenwich – and its incredible cultural and entertainment offer – is now all open. Turn up this weekend (with your pre-booked ticket, of course) and the Cutty Sark and Royal Observatoryare yours for the taking as are the Queen’s House Art Gallery and exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum. The museum’s shop and cafe will also be welcoming visitors. The Emirates Air Line is always worth effort (and queues will be minimal) so do make the time to float over the Thames. For food, artisan burger purveyors Honest Burger are just off the park, but if you fancy fine dining, Gordon Ramsay’s The Narrow isn’t a million miles away in Limehouse.