London at your leisure

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Part of the appeal of our city is the breakneck speed of life here, but it’s still good to decelerate now and again. Whether you’ve got an hour or several days to spare, here is a selection of satisfyingly slow ways to enjoy London

  • London at your leisure

    Enjoy London life in the slow lane © Richard Dawson


  • 1 hour | 2-6 hours | More than 6 hours | Time no object

    1 hour

    Hire a deckchair

    Hire a deckchair in Green Park for £2 and chill out for an hour. Alternatively, using the Royal Parks Foundation’s Deckchair Dreams scheme, you can buy a fancy one decorated by an artist (anyone from Tracey Emin to Raymond Briggs) for £86 and then spend 43 hours in it trying to get value for money. www.deckchairdreams.org

    Go round to Dennis Severs' House

    Move so slowly you actually go back in time at Dennis Severs House, a time capsule in which visitors are immersed in a unique form of theatre. Guests are escorted, in silence, into candlelit chambers from which, apparently, the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century inhabitants have only just withdrawn. A real release from the twenty-first century’s culture of speed. Denis Severs' House, 18 Folgate St, E1 6BX (020 7247 4013/www.dennissevershouse.co.uk). Liverpool Street tube/rail.

    Take a blimp

    The Star Over London airship continues to fly till August 21. Bag a ticket for the one-hour flight (£360) and see London in a way you haven’t before. www.staroverlondon.co.uk

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    In the DLR, London boasts the slowest roller coaster in the world

    Ride the Docklands Light Railway

    So much more pleasant and relaxing than the tube, train or bus. Great views, too. www.tfl.gov.uk/dlr

    Make cocktails

    Not only do you require masses of ice, which takes planning, but each individual drink requires extended prep. For example, a good ten to 15 minutes of stirring to dissolve the sugar in the whisky if you are making a caipirinha with sugar, lime and cachaça (Brazilian rum). Even a martini, if it’s a proper one, involves freezing everything – glasses, vodka etc. And something that takes so long to make shouldn’t be drunk at anything other than a glacial pace. www.cocktailmaking.co.uk

    Walk in Peace

    A monthly meditative walk in peace, for peace, that starts on the first Sunday of the month at 11am from Speakers’ Corner Café in Hyde Park, south of Speakers’ Corner (look for the ‘Walk in Peace’ banner). No talking. Or fighting. Or running. www.walkinpeace.co.uk1 hour | 2-6 hours | More than 6 hours | Time no object

    2-6 hours

    Lawn bowls

    Ah, chess on wheels, the prince of lazy sports. There are loads of bowling greens in London parks and many of them are free (the perfectly kept, rarely used green in Brockwell Park, for instance). The Francis Drake Bowls Club on Hilly Fields in south-east London is particularly pretty. A decent set of bowls will set you back £114 from www.mastersgames.com. This is one slow sport itching to be made fashionable. See your local council website for more info.

    Scuba dive

    There are a number of courses for aspiring divers in London, and one of them, London Scuba, also has a pool near Gatwick that allows qualified divers to practise their skills in weekly sessions, fuelled by a barbecue. www.londonscuba.com

    Knit

    Very relaxing, once you know what you’re doing. Learn the basics at the I Knit London shop on Lower Marsh, where a two-hour beginners’ knitting class will set you back £55. On September 6 they are organising a whole day of celebratory knitting at the Royal Horticultural Halls. www.iknit.org.uk

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    Time-wasting at the Clockmakers' Museum at Guildhall

    Watch a clock tick

    At the Clockmakers’ Museum at Guildhall. It’s the oldest collection of clocks, watches, sundials and other horological equipment in existence, you know. Alternatively, go hunting for stopped clocks via www.stoppedclocks.com. Clockmaker’s Museum, Guildhall Library, EC2P 2EJ (020 7332 1868/www.clockmakers.org).

    Go to the Poetry

    Library

    All libraries are relaxing as long as they aren’t full of children and homeless people, but some are more relaxing than others. The Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre is one of the most peaceful and contemplative we can think of – boasting the most comprehensive collection of rhymes in the UK. Poetry Library, level five, Royal Festival Hall, SE1 8XX (020 7921 0943/www.poetrylibrary.org.uk). Waterloo tube/rail.

    Write a letter

    Thanks to the internet, nobody writes letters any more because it’s inconvenient and takes time. Learn to rediscover the art at one of City Lit’s calligraphy courses. A ten-week course of evening classes starting in September will set you back around £164. And you’ll get to write on vellum! www.citylit.ac.uk

    Spot stuff

    Go trainspotting at King’s Cross. Or cloudspotting on Primrose Hill. Or birdwatching at the wonderfully diverse London Wetland Centre – the most recent spots were a red-chested pochard and a green sandpiper.London Wetland Centre, Queen Elizabeth's Walk, SW13 9WT (020 8409 4400/www.wwt.org.uk). Hammersmith tube, then Duck bus.

    Candlelit recital

    Held most evenings at St Martin-in-the-Fields. On August 12, the Belmont Ensemble of London will be performing Mozart. Visit the website for details of upcoming recitals and to buy tickets. St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square WC2N 4JJ (020 7766 1100/www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org). Charing Cross tube/rail.

    Get in the garden

    Despite the best efforts of the Guerrilla Gardening brigade to make horticulture fast and fashionable, traditional domestic horticulture really is a pursuit that’s best appreciated at one’s leisure – and, for the sake of your back alone, at a suitably languorous pace. If you haven’t got a garden of your own, see if you can get hold of an allotment, or even spend time in a community garden in your neighbourhood – have a look at your local authority’s website for details. Alternatively, you can come round and mow my lawn. www.londonallotments.net

    Snooker clubs

    Given that one frame can take highly trained professionals up to an hour, half a day can easily be frittered away by the hapless amateur. And that’s just the first game. Give yourself at least three-and-a-half hours for a decent match but expect to blow that timeframe spectacularly as the evening goes on. There’s a reason so many snooker halls are open 24 hours.Jono’s, 315-317 Camberwell New Rd, SE5 0TF (020 77030501). Camberwell rail.
    King’s Cross Snooker Club, 275-277 Pentonville Rd, N1 9NL (020 7278 7079). King's Cross tube/rail.

    Golf

    As good a way to waste four hours in the great outdoors as has ever been invented, if you don’t mind having to walk and wear ridiculous trousers. Try the course at Beckenham Place, where if you’re lucky you’ll get stuck behind some swearing cabbies who relish the chance to take their time. www.glendale-golf.com

    Cinema

    Take in a weekend afternoon double bill at the Phoenix cinema (which recently ran a Bruce Weber special that included ‘Let’s Get Lost’ and ‘Chop Suey’ back-to-back) or the Riverside Studios (which had a Hitchcock special, with ‘Notorious’ and ‘Spellbound’). Phoenix, 52 High Rd, N2 9PJ (020 8444 6789/www.phoenixcinema.co.uk). Esat Finchley tube.
    Riverside Studios, Crisp Rd, W6 9RL (020 8237 1111/www.riversidestudios.co.uk). Hammersmith tube.

    Slow dancing

    Wedding Dance UK offer a package of five one-hour lessons for £240 to teach you and your intended a bespoke twirl for your wedding day first dance. Remember, you only get one go at this (theoretically), so take your time over it. www.weddingdanceuk.com

    Fishing

    London has a few angling venues, from the urban eel-haven of the canal to the bucolic beauty of the Syon Park fishery. This six-acre lake in the grounds of the stately home – the London seat of the Duke of Northumberland – has year-round fishing for rainbow trout and seasonal fishing for brown trout. A day’s fishing costs £7 and you can have an hour’s tuition for £30. www.alburyestate.com
    1 hour | 2-6 hours | More than 6 hours | Time no object

    More than 6 hours

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    Lethargy bargey: enjoy a trip on the canal

    Canal trip

    There are plenty of day trips available in London from different marinas, but the most popular are the one-and-half-hour central-London round trips between Little Venice and Camden offered by companies such as Jason’s. However, if you are feeling more adventurous, you can hire a boat from the London Waterbus Company for a day and go further afield – east, through the Islington tunnel to Limehouse, or westwards towards Horsenden Farm. www.londonwaterbus.co.uk; www.jasons.co.uk

    Cook

    The Slow Food movement has made some inroads into our fast-food culture, despite Delia’s recent efforts to encourage the expensive cutting of corners. Check out the Slow Food London website (www.slowfoodlondon.blogs.com) for Slow Food markets all over the city. If cooking slowly seems too much like hard work, you can watch other people doing it at the Hampton Court Palace kitchens, which have Tudor cooking demonstrations on the first weekend of every month. Recipes begin: First find a small boy to turn the spit for six hours…Hampton Court Palace, East Moseley, Surrey KT8 9AU (0870 7515 175/www.hrp.org.uk). Hampton Court rail.

    County cricket

    Spend a day relaxing at Lord’s or the Oval watching Middlesex and Surrey’s county trundlers. Very little happens, very slowly. See Time Out's Sport section for more info.Lord's, St John's Wood Rd, NW8 8HN (020 7432 1000/www.lords.org). St John's Wood tube.Brit Oval, SE11 5SS (020 7582 7764/www.surreycricket.com). Oval tube.

    Walk the Thames

    It’s 26 miles along the Thames Path from St Paul’s to Hampton Court, so walking it is like doing the marathon very slowly but with much better views. Or you can do the Green Chain walk, which links 40 miles of green spaces across south-east London, or the Capital Ring, a London circuit that sticks to green spaces (find it at www.tfl.gov.uk). Alternatively, walk anywhere in London with a toddler in tow. It’ll take twice as long, as they stop to look at every crisp packet, wave at every bus and jump in every puddle. www.thames-path.org.uk; www.greenchain.com

    Make a handbag

    Yes, it really can take as long to make a handbag as it can to find a something in it. The weekend workshops run by Katherine Pogson & Monisola Omotoso cover design and construction, and you end up with your own unique finished product. www.designercourses.co.uk/courses/handbags.shtml1 hour | 2-6 hours | More than 6 hours | Time no object

    Time no object

    168 hours:

    wait for the sloths to poo at London Zoo

    The two-toed sloths at London Zoo only defecate once a week. Hang around to see if you can catch them in the act.
    ZSL London Zoo, Regent’s Park, NW1 4RY (020 7722 3333/www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo). Camden Town/Baker Street tube.

    8,681,160 hours:

    hear ‘Longplayer’ at Trinity Buoy Wharf

    This sound installation by Jan Finer has been set up to play for 1,000 years. Just 991 to go… www.longplayer.org

    1 hour | 2-6 hours | More than 6 hours | Time no object

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3 comments
Tim Grah
Tim Grah

I am going to spend my week in London watching the sloths poo at the zoo!

Drew Loftus
Drew Loftus

What great suggestions! My visit to London last year was mostly filled with sightseeing, running around, theater and opera but my best time was an entire day leisurely spent at Windsor. I hope to visit again this spring and this article will be my guide!

Patricia Donaldson
Patricia Donaldson

OMG !!! This is the best idea you have ever offered ! It,s like being given permission to actually relax on a vacation. Ive been (doing) London for years and it has been constant GOGOGO SEESEESEE SHOPSHOPSHOP RUN HURRY DO IT ALL...I,m a wreck when I get back to San Diego. Can,t wait to get back there to STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES !!!!!