London is in a state. At this point in the labored lead-up to the Olympics, many Londoners would probably tell you, if pressed, that they would prefer that their city not be hosting the Olympics in the first place. The tenor of the local press has been largely negative – sluggish immigration processing at Heathrow, security firm screw-ups, anticipated traffic and public transit delays, and a general crankiness have all contributed to the overall mood. Of course, many Londoners are looking forward to the big shebang, which begins on Friday. They’re just quieter about their feelings.
Beyond the Olympic pageantry, London is still London. This week, the city is actually threatening to be glorious, with summer appearing finally to have arrived. Here are ten suggestions for taking advantage of summer 2012 in London: new amusements, old standbys and summer specials.
1. Ride the Emirates Air Line (£3.20 with an Oyster Card; £4.30 flat fare). Opened in late June, the Emirates Air Line sails across the Thames in East London, traveling a distance of one kilometer at a maximum altitude of 305 feet. It’s gimmicky but fun – literally a cheap thrill.
2. Eat at Shrimpy’s. Reservations at the sister restaurant of Bethnal Green’s fantastic Bistrotheque have been tough to get, which is no reason not to try to get in. Tip: The bar seats walk-ins.
3. Go to Bristol. Bristol is a cute, hilly city, right next to charming Bath but with much less expensive hotels, about an hour and 45 minutes from London by train. Advance round-trip train tickets can be purchased for as little as £20.
4. Take an Unseen Tour. These tours, led by homeless and former homeless Londoners, reveal corners and aspects of the city that don’t make it into most tourist literature. Most tours cost £10.
5. Visit Broadway Market on Sundays. East London’s best weekend market sells fresh produce, artisanal organic food and various essential hipster lifestyle goods every Saturday; during the Olympics, the market will also operate on Sundays.6. Enjoy free entertainment. Through the end of September, More London Free Festival, a popular festival will provide free quality amusements at the Scoop. Through August 5, the focus is on theater, with performances Thursday through Sunday. Music takes over as primary focus from August 8 through 31, with free performances Wednesday through Friday.
7. Take a nap under a tree at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This beautiful park with plenty of tree cover is a stone’s throw from Soho. Best of all, it can be nearly empty on weekend afternoons.
8. Look at photographs. Another London, an exhibition of international photographers capturing the capital, opens Friday July 27 at Tate Britain. Admission is £10.
9. Walk Regent’s Canal. Start at Limehouse and walk until you’re ready to rest. The canal’s path is particularly lively on weekends. It passes through some of London’s most dynamic neighborhoods, too. Stop at Towpath Café in Hoxton for a delightful snack.
[Image of Regent's Canal: Ewan-M | Flickr]