From exercise to art: 5 of the best ways to relax in London
Words by Katherine Hodgson
There’s no doubt about it, London is a frantic city. It’s a hotbed of tension and (for many) a sprawling metropolis of pent up anger. While there are plenty of spas and pubs to unwind in after a trying week; they’re not always the easiest, most convenient or preferred option.
But relaxing in London can be a bit more creative. It can be informative and it can even be low cost. So here’s the definitive guide to letting go in the capital – whether you fancy a change of scenery, want to discover something new, or simply don’t want to fork out for expensive spa treatments and drinks.
1 – Picnic and swim on Hampstead Heath
It’s regularly touted as one of the best day trips in London; but a visit to Hampstead Heath isn’t just for those looking to channel their inner Anna Scott. Home to some iconic scenes from Notting Hill (1999), the north London park is also a tranquil and peaceful destination if you go at the right time. On a quiet sunny morning, a swim in the ponds, followed by a picnic on Parliament Hill will guarantee you a relaxing few hours and the chance to catch an impressive view of the capital’s skyline.
2 – Exhale, Third Space
Fancy a bit of supervised meditation and gentle stretching? Well, Third Space – one of London’s premium gym chains – offers just that. Unlike its other classes, Exhale will not challenge or make you sweat. It’s neither complicated nor exhausting. It’s just straightforward stretching followed by 20-30 minutes of meditation in a quiet, dimly lit studio. Truthfully, you could do that in the comfort of your own home. But why not try the class one evening after a rigorous workout? It’s the perfect way to release some endorphins and unwind.
Third Space have branches across central London with memberships from £100 a month.
3 – Visit Richmond
Journey west on the long, but delightfully air conditioned, Overground or District Line and you’ll find yourself in picturesque Richmond. This well-heeled suburb is bursting with families, shoppers and tourists at the weekend – making for a remarkably un-relaxing place. But venture there during the week and you’ll find yourself in one of the city’s most pleasant outposts. Just five minutes walk from the station is Bridge Street, straddled by restaurants and a grassy embankment where you can lounge, watching punts and boats float by. Gorge on nutritious Hawaiian-Japanese food in Maki & Bowl or indulge in something richer, and more alcoholic, at The Ivy Cafe.
Afterwards, stroll across the bridge into Twickenham and wander along the leafy streets dotted with quirky boutiques and cafes, before reaching Marble Hill House – a stunning 18th century villa, where Henrettia Howard, George II’s mistress, lived for more than 30 years. Have a gander inside before taking in the peaceful, well manicured grounds around it. Then, top it off with a well-priced drink in the tasteful Royal Oak pub on Richmond Road.
4 – Permanent collection at Somerset House
Overlooking the Thames, this former royal residence is open to the public and home to multiple events throughout the year – from an outdoor cinema to a festive ice rink. One thing that is constant at this neoclassical structure is the impressive art collection at the Courtauld Gallery.
Here you can unwind among Impressionist and post-Impressionist, housed in bright, beautifully maintained Georgian rooms. Take in Monet, Cezanne and van Gogh before enjoying a drink and a bite to eat on the southern terrace.
Admission to Somerset House is free but certain exhibitions charge entry fees.
5 – Coffee making class
Mastering the art of coffee making is not everyone’s (ahem) cup of tea. And it’s hardly the first thing that springs to mind when trying to unwind. But just as that morning cup can relax and focus you, so too can a one-day crash course in making the stuff. The London School of Coffee in Fulham provide a wide range of classes, for both novices and professionals.
Have a go at their day long latte-art class, where you’ll learn to pour the perfect cup – complete with a quirky design on top. The team also offer a half-day version, for those tight on time, and limited evening classes if you fancy letting go with a beautifully brewed cup of joe after a long day in the office.
Classes from £75 + VAT.