There’s no city like London.
Pub gardens, Hyde Park and West End plays are some of the city's well-known attributes, and a visit during summer ensures visitors will see the city at peak vibrancy. Hectic at the best of times, London travel has become even more unpredictable thanks to the knock-on effect of the pandemic.
If you're planning to visit in 2022, here are some questions and key things to consider:
1. Have you checked that Tube and train strikes aren’t happening?
The UK saw the biggest train strike for a generation this summer in June, with thousands of workers staging a walkout in protest of poor pay and job losses. Half of all rail lines were closed and the London Underground service was disrupted too.
While no further strikes are officially planned - yet - hundreds of staff at British train services London North Eastern Railway and c2c voted to strike further, suggesting this summer could see more industrial protest.
If you plan to visit London and are relying on train services, we recommend double-checking for any planned strikes and considering alternative transport such as coach, cycling or car. If you happen to visit during a train strike, be aware that all other forms of travel experience delays and increased crowds from the knock-on effect. Take extra time for travel if so.
2. Have you checked if your flight is okay?
UK airlines are canceling thousands of short-haul flights due to staffing shortages causing thousands of holidaymakers to re-plan their trips.
British Airways (BA) has cancelled 10,300 extra flights between August and the end of October, bringing their total to 30,000 canceled journeys across London Heathrow, Gatwick and City airports, while easyJet similarly cut thousands. Thankfully, further BA strikes are on hold after an agreement was reached in negotiations this week.
But travelers still face disruption from the aftershocks of Covid on the travel sector. Heathrow aviation fuel staff voted to strike over pay last week, meaning further disruption could be coming.
If you’re planning to fly into or out of the UK with one of these airlines in July, August or September, keep an eye out to see if your flight is canceled. Make sure the company you booked with has all your up-to-date contact information as they will usually send a link to rebook flights if the flight is grounded.
If your travel is time sensitive, it might be wise to establish a plan B just in case. If you do book a second flight you will only be able to get a refund if the flight is canceled however so bear that in mind.
3. Are you allotting enough extra time at the airport?
So your flight looks good to go; you’ve gotten to the airport and suddenly spot a snaking queue for bag check-in that looks like it could take hours. Twitter is full of terrifying anecdotes from holidaymakers who have found themselves close to missing a flight. Don’t fret.
Staff shortages have also led to hours-long queues to check-in or get through security - but you can plan accordingly. Heathrow looks to be the worst affected by travel chaos so maybe look to a different airport if possible.
The next best thing to do is check in online, if your airline allows it, as this streamlines the airport process and means you can go straight to security if you don’t have a bag to check in. If you do need to check in a bag, allow for extra time. We would recommend an extra hour minimum just for this queue.
Also baggage havoc is, unfortunately, a reality if you enter the UK too. If you’re coming into a London airport, be prepared for long waits at baggage claim due to…. staffing shortages.
4. Have you located the city’s best rooftops (especially the ones less central)?
London rooftops are some of the best places to relax and unwind (especially after any airport trauma). The city is host to several spectacular bars where you can see the skyline and feel a moment of calm in the otherwise bustling city.
The problem is: Everyone has the same idea once the weather climbs anywhere above 17 C.
We recommend getting to one before 5pm if it’s a work day and staking out a spot before the work crowd descends, as most places don’t take bookings. Some of our favorite spots are Frank's Cafe at Bold Tendencies in Peckham, Madison in St Paul’s, Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch, Pergola in Paddington and Jin Bo Law in Aldgate.
5. What are some of the amazing new shows or exhibitions happening this summer?
How could you come to London and not explore the incredible culture on offer? This summer promises to immerse you in a dizzying display of art, theatre and music. The highly anticipated theatre adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro starts 8 October at the Barbican. Tickets can be found here. Also, Emilia Clarke (known for playing Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones) makes her West End debut in The Seagull at Harold Pinter theatre. Tickets can be found here and are available from £15.
Or what about Abba Voyage, the critically acclaimed virtual Abba concert at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park? Concerts go on from July to May next year, with all of the band’s best hits promised for those who join. Tickets are still available for July here.
If you fancy a futuristic, out-of-body art experience make sure to check out Future Shock at 180 The Strand. The exhibition presents a truly immersive visual and auditory experience through digital technology and is on until 28 August. Tickets are available here and are £20 for adults.
Alternatively, celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee by visiting a special display at the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. It is on from 22 July to 2 October and explores the Queen's accession to the throne in February 1952. Included in the exhibition is a special diamond tiara gifted to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, then Queen Mary. Tickets are available here.
6. Why not try swimming or an urban beach?
You’ve seen all the tourist sites and are lost for something to do. Why not try an urban beach or swim in one of the city’s outdoor lidos?
No, an urban beach won’t match Mykonos but it does the job in London. Ruislip lido beach is a great option and easy enough to get to. It’s less than an hour via the Piccadilly or Metropolitan line to Ruislip then a bus. For something closer to home there’s London Secret Beach in South Kensington. We recommend booking ahead to ensure you get a spot.
London is also host to a handful of outdoor swimming venues. Some of our favourites include the Hampstead Heath ponds (£4.05 for adults and £2.43 for concessions for a single day ticket. Book here); Brockwell Lido in Herne Hill (£8 for adults and £5 for concessions for a 50-minute slot. Book here) and Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park (£5 for adults, £3.80 concessions, and £1.80 children. Book here). It makes for an amazing hot-weather activity.
7. Have you booked ahead for restaurants?
Self-explanatory but London is host to some incredible restaurants and their popularity never wanes. Getting a spot at some places is impossible even a month in advance, so plan ahead and target your spots as soon as possible.
Lunch times are slightly easier than evenings and some restaurants such as Hoppers in Soho, a frills-free Sri Lankan restaurant, or Dishoom, a great spot for Indian food, particularly loved for its brunch menu (try the bacon naan roll if you're not veggie!). Dishoom has spots all across London's popular spots - Shoreditch, Kings Cross, Carnaby Street, Covent Garden and Kensington, making it a great addition to sightseeing as you'll likely be in those areas. They both take walk-ins at certain times but be aware everyone will likely have the same idea during peak dining times. If you fancy a fan-favorite for pasta, Padella - also notorious for huge queues - then you can join an online queue and grab a drink nearby. Padella has spots in Shoreditch and London Bridge and is known for classic but fresh pasta dishes. Padella has become a cult food institution in London because of its growing fanbase. Just scan the QR code on the window and keep checking your phone for updates.
8. Have you considered grabbing the Elizabeth line?
Why not catch the Elizabeth line - London's latest rail line unveiled in time for the Queen's Jubilee? The project cost £19 billion and once unveiled was a novelty for Londoners and tourists who haven't seen a new completed underground line in 30 years.
The project delivers new stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House and Woolwich.
If you land at Heathrow (any terminal) jump onto the Purple line and you'll be taken to Paddington where you would need to change to go further into central. At the moment the line is split into three separate sections but plans are to make it one route in 2023 from Reading/Heathrow to Paddington, Paddington to Abbey Wood and Liverpool Street to Shenfield.