Slow London: 10 ways to take your time in the capital

The slow movement is gaining ground for city-break visitors

London may be many things, but slow? Yes, even in the UK capital some of life's simplest pleasures are there to be enjoyed. The "slow" ethos is about celebrating everything local, sensory and natural; not just food but people, places, traditions and experiences. Exploring the city slowly is a great way to escape the hurly-burly. And you can take the concept of "slow" beyond Borough Market (although it's worth a stop for a roast-pork bun with crackling; ; open 11am-5pm Thurs, noon-6pm Sat; 8am-5pm Sun) with this guide to engaging with London's art, its wildlife and its communities this summer.

Ride a bike

Nothing opens up the city and creates as close a connection with one's surroundings as a jaunt on a bike; you become part of the scenery and absorb smells, sounds and sights in an instant. Sustainable transport crusader Sustrans ( ) plots routes to rouse the inner explorer: try National Route 4, which follows the Thames from Hampton Court through Richmond Park and along the South Bank to Greenwich. This is London at its finest: regal, urban, historical and leafy.

During the London Festival of Architecture in June and July take a guided tour of the city by bicycle ( Download the London Cycling Campaign's free maps at

Go swimming

Nothing washes stresses away like, as Keats wrote, the "moving waters at their priestlike task of pure ablution". Hampstead's poet might have known there is no better spot for wild swimming than London's three Highgate (or Hampstead) Ponds, off Millfield Lane (020-7485 4491).

Several wonderful art deco lidos have been a part of the city's summer culture since their 1930s heyday. At the south end of the Heath is Parliament Hill Lido (020-7485 3873; ), a good spot for a meditative lap.

Shop for vintage

The thriving scene in vintage clothing is cheap and lots of fun. And thrift shops reflect their locale better than any chain store. Savour the rummage: try on something hideous from the Eighties for a laugh and then browse for hidden gems.

Thrifty tip: trawl the charity shops in areas like Kensington and Chelsea, where old Yves Saint-Laurent gowns could be cleared from wardrobes. Or hit the monthly Vintage Fashion Fair (; the next fair is at Hammersmith Town Hall on 16 May. Winning bids often end up in places like This Shop Rocks (131 Brick Lane; 020 7739 7667), a tiny shop at the heart of an area packed with vintage stores.

Visit a museum

The museum that sits most comfortably with a slow philosophy belongs to a fictitious family: Huguenot silk-weavers in Spitalfields. Their 18th- and 19th-century home was created by an American artist who lived in 18 Folgate Street in the 1960s and 1970s. Dennis Severs' House (020 7247 4013; ) is open every Monday from 6pm-9pm. Behind its shutters the rooms are as if someone had just left them by another door, while indulgences strewn around the rooms suggest that the weavers imported a little French joie de vivre to London. (Admission £12, reservation essential.)

Slow art

The favoured art gallery for lovers of all things slow is the Dulwich Picture Gallery (Gallery Road; 020- 8693 5254; ), the nation's first purpose-built art gallery. It hosts workshops and courses throughout the year. "Art in the Garden" runs over the summer holidays for families. Outside these months, ArtPlay takes place on the first and last Sundays of the month and allows children to make masks, screenprints and pictures. For adults, the gallery regularly hangs some of the most interesting exhibitions in the capital alongside its world-class collection of Old Masters. (Open Tues-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm; admission £5.)

Follow your nose

The Bengali new-year celebrations close Brick Lane on 23 May. The narrow street fills with the scent of black mustard seeds, cardamom, fenugreek, curry leaves, cumin and coriander.

Equally evocative is the RHS Chelsea Flower Show at the opposite end of town. Some 400 varieties are in bloom at this time in the Queen Mary's Garden in Regent's Park, emitting a romantic haze.

Elsewhere in May, herb and apothecary gardens, like the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett on the South Bank, are in full aromatic bloom.

Street art

With a diverse population and a unique energy, London is at the centre of the world's street-art movement. The liveliest hotspot is the Leake Street tunnel beneath Waterloo Station.

Further off the tourist trail, Hoxton, Shoreditch and Hackney offer the best street art in the capital. Explore the "golden triangle" of Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch High Street and Old Street for an array of cultural styles and messages.


Bats feed over the lakes of Hampstead Heath and Kew Gardens, stalked by the batarazzi (amateur batspotters). Kenwood House ( ) issues very technically titled "magic black boxes", which translate their inaudible squeaks into sound we can hear. There are more than half-a-dozen species in the capital, including pipistrelles, noctules and Natterer's bats, and the London Bat Group ( ) organises bat-spotting walks during the summer.

Pet a pig

Animals bring out the best in children and city farms offer a wonderful dose of the natural world. Most city farms are free: Mudchute Park and Farm in the shadow of Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs (Pier Street; 020-7515 5901; ) is home to more than 200 animals. There's always something to do, whether it's taking morning horse-riding lessons at the stables or helping to round up the Gloucester Old Spots before closing. All this against the backdrop of the tallest towers in the country? Magic.

Now, have a beer

If Alastair Hook has his way London could once again be the brewing capital of the world. The city's most creative brewer, on a mission to banish tasteless fizzy lagers, founded the Meantime microbrewery in Greenwich. Inspiration for Meantime's brews comes from the city: the recipe for porter used Dickens as a source. For his latest project Hook has resurrected an old brewery at the Royal Naval College (020-3327 1280; ). Another place to savour Hook's beer is the stone-flagged, TV-free Greenwich Union pub on Royal Hill (020-8692 6258; ).

Robin Barton and Hayley Cull are the authors of Slow London, published by Hardie Grant with Affirm Press (£12.99). For more information, see

For more ideas about the perfect city break in the capital, watch 48 Hours in London at