Slow Guide: London
It will never be possible to completely avoid the crowds and noise that comes with a visit to this metropolis, but there are places to go and ways to get around which can avoid the worst of the hustle and bustle. London has so much to offer that a visit should be on everyone's bucket list - and with so much choice, it is also easy to travel sustainably and without having to line the pockets of multinational corporations.
If you know where to look, there are pockets of stillness on offer that will give you a calm and unique visit to London. We have a mix of itineraries, unusual places, unique experiences and ways to visit the tourist hotspots without the masses, as well as our usual guides on independently owned places to eat, stay and shop, that will make your stay in London a memorable one.
A postcard from London...
There is no city in the world quite like London. Founded by the Romans around 43AD, although there is evidence of occupation centuries before them, the city grew around the River Thames and its ports. It is now a sprawling metropolis of nearly 10 million people and gives the impression at times of a huge building site as more and more glossy tall buildings are erected to house the ever increasing population. The streets swarm with tourists and their camera phones and the major tourist attractions generate huge queues and crowds. You could be forgiven for thinking that there is nowhere to escape the noise and the people, but London is also home to over 3,000 parks which cover nearly 20% of its area and it is considered a 'green city'.
The eight Royal Parks provide everything from play areas to boating lakes and provide places to escape city life. There is even the ruins of a bombed out church which is now home to a beautiful urban garden, or you can visit the Sky Garden with its tropical foliage on the 43rd floor of a skyscraper. What makes it even better is that it is free to visit.
The skyscrapers may be taking over but there are still little, hidden areas of architectural history - not just the grandiose Tower of London or Houses of Parliament, but the homes of 17th century Hugenot immigrants
the labourer's cottages tucked down a back street, even the remains of a Roman temple underneath a towering office block. There are countless free museums on offer and it is easy to avoid the crowds and visit the smaller ones, those that even locals don't know about, to uncover the mysteries of the capital and its treasures.
London may not be the obvious choice for a slow holiday, but with some planning and an open mind, you can really take advantage of its central location with good public transport links to the rest of the country, a wealth of local providers and such a huge range of places to explore at your own speed, that you can let the noise and crowds wash over you as you take London at a slow pace.
Read on to find out more about Slow London, or use the links on the left to navigate to the sections which interest you the most.
How to get to London by Public Transport
Public transport is pretty much the only way to get to London - unless you fancy sitting in traffic jams, paying congestion charges, fighting for parking spaces and dealing with huge levels of stress. Being the capital city you can get there by train, coach, bus, cable car, boat and underground.
The city is well serviced by regular buses, both nationally and locally. National Express coaches run direct to London Victoria, Earls Court and Heathrow taking around 2 - 4 hours and costing between £10 - £18.
Train is the preferred method for many people to get to the capital. Research your tickets with Trainline, set an email reminder with them to notify you when the cheapest fares are released and then book your tickets online.
You can also check out Liftshare if you are travelling to London from somewhere within driving distance. Lots of people advertise their daily commute on the website, and you can get very cheap lifts to London this way.
Independently owned places to stay in London
Where to stay
London has more than its fair share of chain owned hotels, but there are also countless choices of quiet hotels, hostels, unique stays, guest houses and much more to suit a wide range of budgets.
You can stay in canal boats, historic hotels, a huge Sunborn yacht, a safari lodge at the zoo, or take part in sleepovers at museums and scary tombs.
If you are looking for something less dramatic, the choice ranges from grand hotels to rooms in
someone's flat, and as for location, you can get accommodation in every part of the city.
If you are going to stay in London then you may as well try for somewhere central, as the outer suburbs are far less appealing. It can also be cheaper to find somewhere to stay much further outside the city and join the commuters every day on the trains in and out. This can be very cost effective if you book your train tickets 12 weeks in advance and could save you a small fortune in accommodation costs. It all depends on where you plan on visiting during your stay, and if you only want to visit London or explore more of the UK.
How to get around London
Use the Transport for London Planner to plan your journey around the capital. It is a comprehensive website which includes all modes of transport and takes into account any repair works or planned delays. It also has a section on when the quiet times to travel in London are and gives you the quietest times for each individual station, as they can vary.
As a general rule though, travel between 9am - 4pm on weekdays and before noon on weekends. Bear in mind though that London is an easy city to walk
around - the tube maps make everywhere look far apart, but in reality, many of the stations are walkable. You will also uncover many hidden gems and surprises, which make walking, particularly in the central areas, a real delight.
You can also hire what are known as 'Boris Bikes' - bicycles which you can pick up and drop off at hundreds of locations across the city. They don't need pre-booking and cost £2 for 30 minutes of use. You can find out more about them at the TfL website. London has plenty of cycle lanes, although cycling on the roads through central London is not for the faint of heart.
Locally owned places to eat in London
Where to eat
London has every type of cuisine on offer that you can imagine, and there is really no need to eat at the chain restaurants or multinational fast food places. Nearly every street has a small café or takeaway and if you are looking for somewhere with a touch of the unique, there is no shortage of places to dine.
You can take your pick from top Michelin starred restaurants, or go off grid and eat at a 1980s vampire themed pizzeria, eat watching circus acts, enjoy some cabaret, eat on a barge, eat in the dark in an immersive
sensory experience, eat on a double decker bus, eat in a rainforest (kids love this one) or even dangling in the sky. Why not go traditional and enjoy Afternoon Tea at Fortnum & Mason, or even Breakfast at Tiffanys inside Harrods?
Wherever you choose, you really don't need to stick to the boring and ever present chain restaurants.
Places to Visit
Places to visit in London
As everyone knows, 'when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford'. Nothing has changed since Samuel Johnson uttered those words, in fact he would probably be astonished by just how much more is on offer. There is everything you could imagine in this vast city, whether you are into high culture, the arts and history or modern trends, adventures and living life on the edge. Either way, there is almost too much on offer which could overwhelm many, but plan carefully and you will be able to make the most of the city.
It is also easily possible to just do free things for a week in the city and still have to narrow down your choices, so it is the perfect place for those who are not looking to spend a fortune.
Our detailed guide to itineraries, walks, free attractions and visiting the big attractions without the crowds is coming soon.
Walking in London
Walking in London is mostly a very urban experience, but it is a worthwhile one. While most of your fellow visitors will be crammed into underground trains, you can walk around the city appreciating sights that many miss out on. London is filled with hidden alleyways, random historic buildings, green open spaces and unique shops and cafes that are easy to miss.
You can find free walking trails online, or why not try some of our self-guided themed walks? We have a day walking tour of Political London which covers everything from spies during the Cold War to Churchill's War Rooms, a walk of the Military History in the capital, or perhaps a walk of the Classical Music sites in the city is more your thing?
You could even tackle the long distance walks such as the Jubilee Walkway, the London Outer Orbital Path or the Green Chain. The Thames Path takes you from the source alongside the lifeblood of the city, or follow the Grand Union Canal Walk which was once such an important trading route for the country.
Cycling in London
Cycling is a very popular way of getting around the city with bikes everywhere, particularly in the parks. There are also some good cycle routes and trails in the outer areas which many enjoy. This article looks at nine of the best rides in London and this one gives you some of the most popular routes around the city.
Many people hire 'Boris Bikes' to get around which are very convenient as there are so many places you can borrow them from and return them to. If you don't want to use a Boris Bike then there are plenty of places where you can hire both city and off-road bikes.
If you want to join a guided cycling tour around London, try Hidden Tracks Cycling who offer bike rides for all abilities across London and beyond. In groups of up to ten people you can cycle through woodlands, maritime history and so much more - even find the quiet cycling route to Brighton.
London is home to every sport you can imagine, and it is not just for the major players in the huge stadiums. Sports fans can visit a variety of stadiums to experience football, rugby, athletics, cycling and much more, or to have behind the scenes guided tours.
For visitors wishing to partake in sports, there are countless gyms which accept temporary members as well as various courts and equipment available for hire for the casual user.
The Visit London website has details of all stadium tours you can do, all big events which are coming up and where to participate in various sports.
Unique Experiences in London
London is full of unique and unusual things to do - from eating your breakfast suspended 100 feet in the air, climb the outside of the O2 at night, spending a night in the terrifying London tombs, exploring a Hugenot house in candlelight and total silence, white water rafting, listening to the James Bond theme as you race along the Thames on a speedboat and so much more. Its not all about doing the wild and quirky though - unique experiences can be a great way of seeing the popular tourist attractions but without the crowds and are a key part of visiting a popular place as a Slow Traveller.
If you want to see the main attractions, an 'experience' can give you the best of both worlds. You can book to see the opening of the Tower of London before the crowds arrive, to go round Buckingham Palace with a glass of champagne in your hand when it is closed or to experience the treasures of various museums after dark. There is just so much on offer in the city - our guide to the best of them is coming soon.
Parks and Greens
Parks and Green Spaces in London
London has nearly 3,000 parks and green spaces of a variety of sizes, including the eight Royal Parks, and they are great places to step away from the noise and stress of the city. Many are filled with playgrounds and activities, others are places to just rest and listen to the birds. You could easily spend a day in somewhere like Hyde Park as there is so much on offer.
London is filled with Squares where you can sit in the shade of the trees and recover from a visit to the larger museums, such as the lovely Russell Square
near the British Museum, or the Embankment Gardens on the edge of the Thames. Larger gardens like Kew and Wisley do attract the crowds, but they are beautiful places filled with flora and fauna from around the world, and if you know where to look, you can find the quiet spots away from everyone else.
If you're looking for places to take the kids in London, try our guide to the best playparks near the tourist hotspots, so your kids can let off steam after a visit to a site or attraction.
Slow London for Kids
London for Kids
London has everything a kid could want in terms of activities and places to visit, but it can also be quite hectic for them. The noise, crowds and general fast pace of everything is overwhelming enough for adults at times, so kids will need a good mix of activities and rest to ensure they enjoy a trip to the capital. Fortunately, there are places to take them where they can just relax and an abundance of parks will give them the outdoor spaces they will need to balance out the chaos of places like Kidzania, Harry Potter World and a trip to Hamleys - the oldest and largest toy shop in the world. Our detailed guide to a successful trip to London with kids is coming soon.
Day trips from London
Due to its central location and excellent transport network, London makes a great base to explore further afield. The coast is easily reached, including Brighton which many people call London-by-the-Sea, but also some of the less populated coastline. The rolling hills of the South Downs, the pretty villages of the Cotswolds, the historic university towns of Oxford and Cambridge, the medieval town of Salisbury, the Roman and Georgian town of Bath; there are so many places which can be reached by a day trip from London.
There are plenty of organised tours on offer, but it is often much easier and far more relaxed to just arrange it yourself and allow time for exploration, rather than being herded around on a coach, trying to pack loads into a single day out. Our article on day trips from London is coming soon.
Shopping locally in London
As you can imagine, London has every type of shop on offer, from the vast and world famous department stores such as Harrods and Selfridges to small independent retailers selling really niche items.
London is also home to some amazing old shops which are still trading after several centuries in business; a hat shop open since 1676, wine merchants open since 1698 and a book shop trading since 1797.
Oxford Street has all of the chain stores you would expect, but why bother with that when there is so
much else on offer? Our guide to the best of the independent retailers is coming soon
Meet the Locals
Meet the locals
The best way to truly learn about and absorb a new place is to meet the locals. It isn't always easy to do, but you can greatly increase your chances by a variety of methods. Unlike other parts of the country, you are unlikely to meet anyone when using public transport - usually an eyes down approach works best in London, but there are still other methods.
Find local MeetUps where you can join groups with shared interests, social gatherings or walking groups. Have a look on Eventbrite, which has a really eclectic mix of events, many of which are free, and which give you a great opportunity to meet new people and try new things.
Slow London Resources
There is no shortage of websites and papers dedicated to listing places to go, what's on and where you can find the things you need. The Evening Standard is a free paper you can pick up from various locations around town at the end of every day (or look at the online version), or you can try TimeOut London. These are staples of Londoners to keep up to speed with what is going on in the city.
Water bottle refill stations can be found on this free app
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