If travelling abroad this year feels too risky, visit London.
For centuries, the capital has been flooded with tourists – up to 30 million a year by the last count – but this summer, it’s extraordinarily empty.
With wide-open spaces in the heart of the City of London, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get close up to this ancient metropolis.
It’s beautiful and it’s bliss when it’s quiet.
Grab a mask and the hand sanitiser and let’s go Visit London.
THIS IS the top choice (spoiler: it’s only £1!) You’ve seen it on the TV, in films and probably even walked across it a few times. But have you ever been inside? No, me neither! Usually during the summer months it can get up to 4,000 visitors a day but when I arrived, there was less than a handful of people for the hour I stayed. I got there at 10.30am and I waited in a queue of no one even though it costs a quid.
Learn how the bridge was built in 1886 then head up to the Glass Walkway. The views up here are stunning: to the left is HMS Belfast and the Shard then on the right is the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and the skyscrapers of The City soaring behind.
Cost: £1. Yes! During this post-lockdown period for many Londoners it’s a pound to get in. Just show your postcode by taking along your post when you arrive. To find out which are covered visit the site. The usual price is £10.60.
Coronavirus measures: Staff wear masks and sanitiser is available. They have also reduced the numbers allowed in during each time slot. Visitors are not required to wear face masks during their visit.
Fun fact: A bus accidentally (but successfully) jumped the bridge in 1952. This was before there was a barrier – back then it was a chap with a rope!
The Thames Clippers is the River Bus that shuttles up and down the Thames. One comes along about every 20 minutes. They’ll take you from Woolwich, in the east, out to Putney in the west. You can get off at 23 stops including the Tower of London, Canary Wharf, Westminster and Waterloo.
Cost: You can pay with an Oyster card or tap with a debit or credit card. Like the Tube, the price depends on which zone you’re in. The cheapest journey is £3.30 and the most expensive £12. Check the site.
Coronavirus measures: Passengers are required to wear masks for the journey as are staff. They have cordoned off a seats onboard to allow for social distancing.
Fun fact: You can pretend you’re on a mini river cruise and sip a glass of wine or beer while you sail down the Thames. Post lockdown, the Clippers were up and running before pubs were allowed to open so they became one of the few places in London you could buy a drink. You don’t get this service across the rest of TfL!
Once one of the busiest rivers on the planet, the River Thames now it’s as quiet as a stream. The boat too was empty – which was great – and they blast out pop tunes while we speed up to The O2 arena and back again.
We start in front of the London Eye, pass under Waterloo Bridge, sail along the Embankment, on to London Bridge, past HMS Belfast, under Tower Bridge and on to Greenwich. If you pay a bit more, you’ll get a longer trip that’ll take you to the Thames Barrier.
Cost: The Early Bird price is the cheapest at £35.40 with a £3.95 booking fee for a 50 minute ride. Check the site.
Coronavirus measures: There is hand sanitiser available at boarding and life jackets are sanitised after each passenger.
Fun fact: There is a strict 12 knots speed limit through central London which means you travel at only around 13mph before they can really put their foot down.
St Paul’s Cathedral
If I told you how long the queue usually is to get inside St Paul’s, you wouldn’t believe me because this morning no one is here. It’s unreal. It’s surreal!
At 9.30am the guides shuffle around in the background, a cleaner mops the floor under the dome – he gets in most of my photos actually.
I learn how this Cathedral has been the backdrop of London for hundreds of years – even before this iconic design, famously rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666. There are two important bells: Great Paul and Great Tom, which will toll when a member of the royal family dies.
The audio guide also talks me through the artwork, the architecture, the weddings, the memorials and the bodies that lie deep in the crypt. Wren of course is buried here. He died aged 90 in 1723. St Paul lies in Rome.
Then I gladly step upstairs into the dome and outside to the Stone Gallery for a 360-degree panorama of London. It was worth the winding 367 steps – whew – the view is heaven.
Cost: The tour is £17 if you book online, £20 if you turn up on the day. Check the site.
A spell-binding organ recital takes place every Sunday. It’s free to go inside to listen. The doors open at 4.30pm and it lasts about half an hour.
Coronavirus guidance: If you arrive on the day, they’ll take your name and phone number for track and tracing. There’s hand sanitiser at the entrance and you’ll be expected to wear a face mask throughout the visit.
The Whispering Gallery was closed due to Covid.
Fun fact: The Cathedral has ghosts. There have been many strange goings-on and sightings over the centuries including moving furniture and even today the hauntings go on!
Museum of London
This place will give you a good idea of what’s been going on in London since….the Flintstones!
The museum is laid out in a timeline and starts way back, well before the Romans arrived about 2,000 years ago. At the beginning there are archeological finds from when life was about stone, spears and survival.
As you move through the exhibition and into the last few hundred years, it comes alive and more engaging with an abundance of artefacts from the wars, displays of bygone fashions and a replica market.
A great bonus is that once you’re back outside, the museum stands beside a well-preserved piece of the ancient Roman wall, which once enclosed the square mile – today it’s the City of London.
While parts of of the wall have vanished over the centuries, small areas have been rebuilt and preserved. This is easily one of the oldest sites in London at almost 2,000 years old. Should be the eighth wonder of the world! (In case you’re wondering the Tower of London is 1,000 years old; Stonehenge is 5,000 years old).
Coronavirus guidance: Visitors hare required to wear masks during their entire visit. There is a lot of hand sanitiser dispensers around the museum. To allow for social distancing some small areas have been closed off . Visitors must book a time slot for their visit.
Fun fact: This museum is always moving: it’s currently at London Wall but it’s been at Kensington Palace, Lancaster House and the Docklands.In the next year or two, it’ll be on the move again – down the road to the famous and 800-year-old Smithfield Market.