It may be an odd thing to say with all the hassles of going out, but right now is absolutely the best time to visit those places you keep meaning to visit but never get around to.
The museums and galleries, the grand houses, the cultural centres that are always there. The places you keep thinking to visit, but there’s always something interesting happening in London, so you put off the permanent venues for another day.
They’re not the places you want to talk about on a Monday over the (virtual) watercooler for the slightly embarrassing admission that yes, as a long term resident, it was the first time you had ever visited the place.
What? You’ve never been to the Tower of London? But we kept meaning to, but never have time, but it somehow just never happened.
Now though is the right time to visit, for two very good reasons.
Firstly, many of the sort term events and pop-ups that you would talk about having been to are not happening at the moment, so there’s a dearth of things to do in London.
But the main reason is the magic hour — the magic hour is happening all day.
The magic hour is that wonderful moment when you’re some of the first people to get inside when the doors are opened, and the building is empty – just a few security guards and the cleaners hurrying away. Vast open spaces all yours to explore in peace and quiet. The magic hour slowly fades as more people crowd in through the doors.
But not at the moment.
Venues are typically limiting visitor numbers to between a third and half of what would normally be allowed in, so the magic hour lasts all day. The crowds are gone.
It’s wonderful to be able to stand back and see things without needing to squash up because people are all around you. No need to wait your turn to read the small description card. No queues for the loos!
OK, there are some tourists, but people who live in tourist hotspots can sometimes be a bit sniffy about tourists, even though a large part of our economy is dependent on tourism. All that money spent in London’s museums, theatres and restaurants transforms into taxes that then funds the services we use once the tourists have jetted off back home.
But not at the moment.
For me, one of the delights of the bigger venues is to be able to wander around at my leisure. Maybe I have come for a specific exhibition, or just to soak up the atmosphere, but just ambling around the rooms is a mindfulness delight. And to wander around half-empty galleries at the moment gives it added magic with the quieter rooms feeling larger and more open than they have done before on a weekend lunchtime visit.
All those places you thought you’d visit one day, maybe, sometime, when the family visit, they are still there, still open, still needing to sell the fewer tickets that they can sell.
And yet they’re also far more enjoyable to visit at the moment.
If you want the best late summer/autumn holiday, stay local and visit all those museums and galleries you’ve never quite got around to visiting.
OK, you need to book in advance, and wear face masks, and some of the exhibits are closed, and the cafe might only be doing takeaway, and don’t touch things in the shop.
But right now, you’ll never have a better time in a museum or gallery as they will never be as quiet again.
Don’t miss this unique opportunity.