Visiting a capital city inevitably means lots of shoulder-rubbing. But London is offering a window of opportunity to visit without the crowds. For the crowds simply aren’t there.
London hotels are set to reopen this week but the usual hordes of overseas visitors won’t be there, with many facing stringent travel restrictions.
For those preferring the option of self-catering, Airbnbs are plentiful across London. However, for something a bit different, Home Farm Glamping near Stanmore, at the end of the Jubilee Line, offers plenty of fresh air and social distancing while also ticking the box for a London stay with a difference.
Set on the 150-acre Aldenham Estate, its tents and yurts are done with panache, with proper beds, really crisp bedding, solar-powered string lights and very nice on-site loos and showers.
Wood is delivered to you by wheelbarrow for your personal firepit. There’s charcoal for your individual barbecue and even an option to pre-order a “barbecue box” of meat and imaginative salads and a cooked breakfast for the morning.
Tea and coffee are available on tap in a large barn where you can pop a few beers in the communal fridges and cook on electric rings if you want to. There’s a lake for fishing if the mood takes you, on-site yoga and massage and lots of den-making opportunities for kids in the woods. This is not roughing it by anyone’s standards, but it’s also relaxed so you can happily pad around the long grass in flip-flops – or no shoes at all. Park the car at Stanmore tube station and you’ll be in the West End in about 40 minutes.
You can’t do London without seeing the sights. And, just off Leicester Square, the open-air top deck of the Original London Tour bus offers a socially-distanced way to see lots of them and get great pictures along the way.
Back on ground level, Chinatown is vibrant and fun, with hundreds of red lanterns crisscrossing the streets and restaurants serving outdoors in a big way, with extra seating for take-away too. Shop here for kitsch Chinese nick-nacks, tins of Jasmine tea and ingredients galore for home cooking.
Carnaby Street, the mecca of ’60s Mods, is just a stone’s throw away. Sit outside at Pret A Manger and you can still watch London’s fashionistas strut their stuff. It’s also a good place to listen to would-be Beatles busking where once their idols walked.
Leicester Square is typically a big crowd-puller but the only queue we saw was for The Lego Store, where there was a strict in-and-out policy. Swayed by the lure of chocolate, we ended up in the giant M&M’s World, where you can also print souvenir London-themed strip photos.
For more traditional retail therapy, walk to Liberty London, an emporium laden with luxuries and fabrics from across the globe. Founded in 1875, it’s housed in a Tudor-style building, crafted from ancient timber. The shop was blissfully quiet. And the loos are lovely if you need a quick stop somewhere spotless and classy.
Royal grocer Fortnum & Mason is another must this side of London. It’s home to the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, but you can also shop for your own afternoon tea, complete with cakes and sandwiches and enjoy in nearby Green Park where you can hire a deck chair too.
You can’t do London without touching on the life of a literary great and award-winning Tour For Muggles offers Harry Potter lovers guided group or private walks starting at Leadenhall Market, the film location for Diagon Alley.
“Will Hagrid”, our tour guide, was hairy and cheery, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all-things Harry and an expert on London history. The tour weaves in film locations and inspirational landmarks, and includes lots of historical gems with a link to the books like the tiny George & Vulture pub, a favourite haunt of Charles Dickens.
Laden with shopping, we picked up the tube again at London Bridge for a direct train back to Home Farm.
Feasting on London treats that night, sitting around an open fire with open fields stretching as far as the eye could see, we decided that this is how the capital should be done every time.
If you want to enjoy London at your own pace, now is most certainly the time to go.
If you want an alternative way to travel across central London, Santander Cycles cost £2 to hire for up to 30 minutes. Longer journeys cost £2 for each additional 30 minutes. www.santandercycles.co.uk
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