London is consistently ranked amongst the top three cities for tourism in the world – so why shouldn’t we treat our beautiful and exhilarating capital as if we were visitors?
Many Londoners have just been tourists, soaking up the Mediterranean sun or exploring the culture of European cities. Those who stayed home have been experiencing the usual frustrations with tourists. We all know that they walk too slowly, backpacks jutting in the way of faster-moving locals; they talk loudly on the tube, sometimes even standing on the left side of the underground escalator.
But we could, and should, adopt their different approach to the capital in the coming months.
Travel abroad, as many of us have just found out, is more expensive than ever, with flights and hotels costing more as the pound falls and as operators ratchet up prices to make up for lost profits during the pandemic. Travel agency Kayak reports that the 36 most popular routes from the UK increased in price by 30 per cent on average. Plus, these days a short trip abroad seems to involve bigger risks of cancelled flights and lost luggage. In fact, between April and August, the number of flight disruptions to our members in the UK increased by 116 per cent and British Airways has recently announced it will cut 10,000 flights from its winter schedule. Increasingly, we expect to see people who would usually book early Autumn trips opting to stay in London.
Consider, for example, spending a night, or two, in one of London’s most prominent hotels. This feels utterly luxurious – the crisp cotton sheets, room service and perfect showers will bring on the holiday spirit. If you’d consider a decent hotel in Paris or New York then perhaps book one on home turf – after all, you can even afford an upgrade, given you have saved on flights. Thomas Kochs, MD of the Corinthia hotel near Trafalgar Square told me this week that he is seeing strong demand from residents in the capital, saying “There seems to be a trend for Londoners to rediscover what they already know from a different perspective”.
If you live West, then go East. If you live North, travel South. This is a new experience for most Londoners. East Londoners are more likely to visit Rome than Richmond; and Notting Hill residents are more familiar with the Balearics than Battersea.
You could also change your commuter timetable to enjoy the city at a more relaxed visitor pace mid-week, or away from peak times. Portobello market is less crowded on Friday than Saturday. Galleries and museums are more enjoyable mid-week than the frenetic weekends.
Get up high. Tourists are drawn to views. But Londoners rarely take advantage of the many far-reaching perspectives of the city. Popular options include bars and restaurants like Aqua Shard, Endo at the Rotunda, Decimo and Seabird; or the spa at Shangri-La The Shard.
Finally, change your pace. Many Londoners are creatures of focused urgency when in town. But London can be experienced in a more observant way. Try walking slowly and look around you. Loiter and speculatively “pop in” to random places – you may well discover a niche retailer, see an impressive street performer, or enjoy a culinary pop-up.
It’s crazy that we live in the world’s leading tourist destination, yet many of us work too damn hard to really appreciate it, partly so we can get on a plane and explore places elsewhere. We could instead decompress right where we are, and take in our wonderful capital, just in a different mental and physical mode.