London has never been quieter — or easier to explore. Pre-pandemic the city was welcoming 21 million international visitors a year, but now its streets are blissfully uncrowded with fewer cars, tourists and commuters.
There’s still a buzz, though. Social distancing has brought outdoor dining to the fore, with pavement tables and rooftop bars creating an almost Mediterranean atmosphere.
Meanwhile, mandatory timed entry to cultural sights means less queuing and more space once inside. The feeling of pent-up creative energy at museums, theatres and attractions is palpable, as reopenings see a blaze of fresh shows and events. Here’s our guide to how to make the most of it…
Post-pandemic, London’s streets are quieter and its legendary cultural venues are less crowded – making for an ideal weekend getaway
CATCH A MUSICAL
London’s theatres are emerging from their dark days in a wave of new and comeback shows.
Old favourites such as The Lion King and Hairspray have returned, while the Trafalgar Theatre, recently restored to its 1930s glory, stages Jersey Boys. Discounted on-the-day tickets are available through TKTS (officiallondontheatre.com).
Shakespeare’s Globe is presenting three Midnight Matinees at just £5 a pop in the coming months
FANCY THIS? Are you a night owl? Shakespeare’s Globe is presenting three Midnight Matinees that start at 11.59pm, with tickets from £5 (shakespearesglobe.com).
STAY AT: Premier Inn London Leicester Square is steps away from several West End theatres. A family room costs from £124. Find more properties at County Hall, Southwark and Bank (premierinn.com).
ENJOY AN EXHIBITION
Van Gogh Alive, which uses large-scale projections and classical music to immerse you in the life and work of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, is being staged at a purpose-built venue in Kensington Gardens until September 26 (vangoghaliveuk.com).
French sculptor Auguste Rodin gets the blockbuster treatment at Tate Modern with more than 200 works on show until November 21 (tate.org.uk), while Harry Potter fans will enjoy the Natural History Museum’s Fantastic Beasts, which explores creatures both mythical and real (nhm.ac.uk).
Inspired by the work of J.K. Rowling, the Natural History Museum’s Fantastic Beasts exhibition takes a look at the weird and wonderful creatures of history and lore (stock image)
FANCY THIS? Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, at the V&A, celebrates the enduring appeal of Alice in Wonderland until December 31 (vam.ac.uk).
STAY AT: Close to Kensington Gardens, Citadines South Kensington London is a smart aparthotel with one-bedroom apartments sleeping four from £96. Other locations at Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and Barbican (citadines.com).
London is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites — the Palace of Westminster, the Tower of London, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and Maritime Greenwich. The last is particularly attractive in summer with its hillside park and buildings by Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren.
Home to bright and beautiful plants and flowers all year round, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Don’t miss the free-entry National Maritime Museum and the 19th-century tea clipper Cutty Sark (greenwichworldheritage.org).
FANCY THIS? Learn about Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory (rmg.co.uk).
STAY AT: Novotel London Greenwich is a well-placed four-star hotel with family rooms from £81. There are other properties at Blackfriars, Waterloo and London Bridge (novotel.com).
FUN FOR ALL
Love dodgems? Until August 22 the courtyard at Somerset House will be a colourful fusion of art, bumper cars, street food and DJs. Pre-booked packages cost from £10 and there are free rides for children on selected days (somersethouse.org.uk). Or take a spin around the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf in a self-drive, electric-powered hot tub boat (skunaboats.com).
Children visiting London Zoo in Regent’s Park can receive a ‘zoo passport’, which will get stamped as they explore
FANCY THIS? Embark on a world tour while travelling through different ‘countries’ at ZSL London Zoo. Children will have their zoo passport stamped as they enter each of the zones (zsl.org).
STAY AT: A family room at the Z Hotel Covent Garden costs from £95. There are ten more Z Hotels in the capital (thezhotels.com).
RIDE THE RIVER
The banks of the Thames come alive in summer and a cruise is the best way to admire London’s magnificent buildings and bridges.
A one-day River Roamer ticket with Uber Boat by Thames Clippers lets you hop on and off at 23 piers all the way from Putney to Woolwich (thamesclippers.com).
Or sit back and let sights such as the London Eye and St Paul’s Cathedral roll by on a leisurely Sunday lunch cruise with live jazz (bateauxlondon.com).
Soak up London’s most spectacular sights while cruising along the River Thames, with views of the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben, pictured
FANCY THIS? Turk Launches offers relaxed trips aboard heritage boats that run between Richmond, Kingston and Hampton Court (turks.co.uk).
STAY AT: Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London is a stroll away from London Eye Waterloo Pier. A Family Experience package for four costs from £259 B&B plus child treats. It has four sister properties (parkplaza.com).
Want to learn more about this mighty metropolis? Entry is free to both the Museum of London in the City and the Museum of London Docklands near Canary Wharf. The first covers the city’s history from Roman times to the 2012 Olympics, while the latter looks at its importance as a port and includes a special exhibition about the Havering Hoard, Bronze Age treasure found near the Thames in 2018, until August 22 (museumoflondon.org.uk).
The Wallace Collection is just a stone’s throw from Oxford Street – and is free to enter. It houses works by the likes of Titian and Van Dyck
ROLL UP FOR THESE SUMMER TREATS
- The Royal Albert Hall is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The 5,500-seater concert hall is open for guided tours while full capacity events resumed on July 19 (royalalberthall.com).
- Go for brunch, cocktails or dinner at a 22-seater dining table suspended 100 ft above the O2 in Greenwich (londoninthesky.co.uk).
- ‘Nero: the man behind the myth’, which casts fresh light on the notorious Roman emperor, is at the British Museum until October 24 (britishmuseum.org).
- Enjoy Summer Reunion, a free programme of arts, music and outdoor fun on the South Bank, Waterloo, until August 31 (southbankcentre.co.uk).
- Mercato Mayfair is a dynamic new food hall in a Grade-I listed church close to Oxford Street (mercatometropolitano.com).
- London Wonderground is a one-stop summer venue in Earl’s Court featuring comedy, circus and family entertainment running until September 26 (london wonderground.co.uk).
FANCY THIS? The free-entry Wallace Collection is a highly civilised museum north of Oxford Street with works by Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck, plus a charming courtyard restaurant (wallacecollection.org).
STAY AT: SACO Holborn Lamb’s Conduit Street, has one-bedroom apartments for four guests from £114. Other locations include Covent Garden, Fitzrovia and Canary Wharf (sacoapartments.com).
The Luna outdoor cinema offers screenings on selected dates at 17 venues across London including Westminster Abbey (pictured), Regent’s Park and the Royal Hospital Chelsea
A walk through London’s Royal Parks is a good way to appreciate the splendour of our capital — the seven-mile Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk takes in four of the best known (royalparks.org.uk). To see some iconic landmarks follow the 15-mile Jubilee Walkway, available in five sections with pavement markers (tfl.gov.uk), or book a Blue Badge tour (guidelondon.org.uk).
FANCY THIS? The Luna outdoor cinema offers screenings on selected dates at 17 venues across London including Westminster Abbey, Regent’s Park and the Royal Hospital Chelsea (thelunacinema.com).
STAY AT: A junior suite sleeping a family of four at Thistle London Hyde Park Lancaster Gate costs from £213. Thistle has another six London hotels (thistle.com).