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Situation on the ground: London

I'm debating rescheduling a canceled 2020 mother-daughter trip to London in early December. I recognize that no one knows what the COVID situation will be in London then (or here for that matter), but I'm eager to hear what those who are visiting or living in the city now are experiencing regarding safety protocols, museum/cultural site access, testing strategies etc. By December, I'm expecting that restaurants will no longer be serving outside (correct me if I'm wrong). Do performance venues require proof of vaccination? We are both fully vaccinated, but do not want to risk a breakthrough infection. Is the tourist experience diminished? We have both visited London several times, but there is still much we haven't seen or would like to see again. Thanks in advance for your reports!

Posted by
5693 posts

Julie, I’m going in November and an old friend who lives there and I trade emails daily.

He was out today for a pub lunch and to see a film.
After the film walked outside to find it pouring rain.
Grateful he’d taken his brolly.

Things are back to normal. Have been for awhile. More people wearing masks but not everyone.

Posted by
4873 posts

I wouldn’t describe things as back to normal. Certainly many (wreckless IMO) people have discarded masks completely (look at the 35,000 average daily infections for proof), but many others are still being cautious and staying away from crowds and public transport. Few people are back in the office full time, so many are still working from home out in the sticks. City centres and office districts are therefore quiet.

I haven’t used public transport in 18 months and won’t be doing so whilst infection rates remain so high. You are must wear a mask on London public transport (not a legal requirement in the provinces, just a request) - a BBC report a few days ago said that mask wearing on London transport was waning and they are having to remind people of the legal requirement.

December means you are going to be spending more time indoors, presumably. Few central London restaurants have outside space for dining and December won’t be eating out weather anyway.

There has been much speculation as to whether vaccination passports will be introduced in England for entry to venues, but no decision has been made as far as I am aware and will depend on the winter infection rates.

It’s your trip, not mine, but would I (a) get on a train and travel the 40 miles into London from my home and (b) spend a few nights there (c) eat out and (d) go to museums/galleries etc in December? No to any of those options. Far too much Covid risk for me. Others will disagree. I am double vaccinated, but I have recently heard of 3 people (in their 50s) that have been ill with Covid, all of whom are double jabbed and one has had to spend several nights in ICU as she couldn’t breathe.

It is impossible to predict what the situation will be in December.

Posted by
348 posts

I'm doubled vaccinated and will get my flu jab shortly and my Covid booster is due in November.

I'm happy to travel on London transport. I still wear a mask (which is mandated) but numbers are increasing of those who have obviously decided they're not going to. On the commuter trains into London only a few have stopped masking, but on London transport the numbers not masking seem to be growing - about a quarter weren't masked on my travel yesterday.

I mask up when going inside (shops, galleries etc), and many others still do, but this is optional. I feel comfortable with my choices. I still try to eat outside, but once or twice have eaten inside.

Have never been asked for proof of vaccination, don't think this is government policy for anywhere (yet), but hard to keep up with what they're doing (or planning).

There are plenty of things I plan to do in London in the next few months - eg there is a Faberge exhibition opening at the V&A in November, which I plan to go to (but will mask inside). And this weekend the new 007 film is opening, so going to see that locally (again, will wear a mask inside).

So, think it depends on how you view the risk, what mitigations you think are sufficient etc. Don't think there is a right answer for this - very much how you feel about it all.

Posted by
189 posts

Regarding whether it will be possible to dine outdoors, I think it’s entirely possible you’ll have that option. In the last year and a half, councils have changed zoning laws to create more space for outdoor dining, and in many areas of central London, have pedestrianised whole streets for this purpose. These decisions are reevaluated every few months so it’s possible they won’t be doing as much of it by December, but as of now there are many outdoor dining options. In terms of the weather, restaurants invested heavily in heating lamps last spring when only outdoor dining was allowed and it was freezing cold. So if restaurants have kept those, I can see them continuing to offer outdoor dining in a reasonably comfortable way in December.

Posted by
348 posts

To add to what Margaret says above, yes heating lamps are a thing now. As are canopies. As is the current increase of outdoor dining space.

eg Was in Eataly - newish Italian restaurant by Liverpool Street - last week, eating on their terrace and it felt warm with the lamps.

Posted by
10026 posts

l will be in London in 13 days. I plan to go about my business wearing masks and carrying hand sanitizer. I will avoid public transport as much as I can during rush hour, but I'm really not that concerned. I will probably be back in December, as I have in previous years, and enjoy the lesser crowds.

I'm fully vaccinated and don't think I'm taking my life in my hands by being sensible.

What the Covid situation will be like then is anyone's guess.

Posted by
57 posts

Thanks to everyone for their responses. Given what I'm seeing here and elsewhere - as well as a healthy dose of caution - I'm thinking that 2022 (preferably Spring/Summer) will be a better choice for us. Good luck and safe travels to those who are traveling now!

Posted by
29 posts

It's all down to ŧhe individual. I went to London for a few days several weeks ago, Happy to use public transports, went to shops, museums, restaurants and pubs and had no adverse effects.
Usual suspects not wearing masks and very little social distancing. It was evident that many overseas visitors were missing.
Would I go again in December, probably not, due to it being busy, not because of the risk of infection.

Posted by
49 posts

I just returned from a week in London and it was honestly a lot like my home here in northern Virginia. Outside you rarely see masks being worn, but going into stores I’d say it’s 50/50. Shopkeepers and staff are wearing masks. Masks are required for actual trains, but I’d say it’s probably 80% compliance. On the tube, while masks are requested, I’d say it’s more like 50/50; buses I’d say more like 80%. For indoor tourist attractions, masks are requested and I’d say it’s 90% compliance. The show we saw in the west end (Six! - it’s fabulous by the way) said they required vaccinations, so we had our cards, but they didn’t check them. It was a full house and masks requested (again, about 80%). We weren’t asked for them at restaurants or pubs either - we ate inside quite a bit and the restaurants were full (without much distancing).

We wore our masks whenever inside and on public transportation and I felt fine about it. Never experienced or saw any pushback one way or another. People were very accommodating. I would say all of the places we went were going the extra mile to clean everything too.

I’d say if you want to go in December, you’ll be fine. And right now it’s so much less crowded to tour things - I fear all the crowds will be back next spring/summer. Our biggest issue the whole week was figuring out how to take our Day 2 and return tests, which we’d purchased ahead of time and brought with us.

Posted by
18 posts

https://community.ricksteves.com/users/44408
Lisa-sorry to hijack your post Julie!-do you mind me asking what tests you brought with you from US? We will be in Ireland prior to London so hoping we can take one test on day 2 that also gets us the 3 days needed for US return. I haven't investigated the details yet for Ireland arrival or Ireland/London testing so feel free to provide any advice! Thank you.

Posted by
5078 posts

We’d originally scheduled a trip to Italy for October (right now, 2021), flying British Airways from the USA, connecting at Heathrow to Italy, then ending with a week in London on the way home, late October. The only thing that kept that from happening was the now-cancelled Italian policy requiring any passengers connecting thru Britain to quarantine 5 days upon arrival in Italy. That policy has changed, and Italy has lightened up on people flying in from the U.K. But it was too late, we’d already rescheduled flights, and are spending that last week in Rome instead, and not flying through London.

Being vaccinated, using hand sanitizer as much as practical, having a mask at the ready to wear, and doing what you can to keep 6 feet from others, especially if they’re not wearing masks (properly, or at all) is what will let you go on that trip -unless something severe happens. If that happens, you’ll know, but as long as London is letting you in, then i you’re good to go into London. Not that it isn’t still somewhat unnerving, some people in masks and others not. People wear masks into restaurants, but take them off once inside. Proof of vaccination is asked for in many restaurants in Italy, but not always. I wonder what’s the situation in London - which is what you’re asking, of course. I wonder what performance venues haven’t yet reopened? They should be able to provide details as to what safety protocols they are requiring.

Posted by
73 posts

According to the regional map put out by the UK government the weekly rate per 100k in greater London is mostly under 250 now. Oddly areas in the west, Wales and Northern Ireland are pulling up the national average. My perception is that the UK tests a lot, facilitated by the NHS. They probably test more per capita than many other countries. Anyway, 250 per 100k means 1 out of every 400 people people over the course of a week. A large percentage of it is mild cases. Some people are more tolerant of risk than others. I just spent two weeks in Ireland and went into many pubs. In Italy now and feel healthy. I'm vaccinated.

Posted by
261 posts

My wife and I were in London the last week of September. Generally speaking, folks were respectful. Biggest thing we noticed - the lack of tourists. Places we know that are normally heaving were open, but not busy as they usually are. Indoors, our experience was that more than half of the people wore masks. When outdoors, we noticed mostly no masks. Train to and from town was fine, public transport was fine, and generally felt safe on our trip. We did the Churchill War Rooms while we were there and felt fine. Again, approximately half of the people wore masks - but it wasnt nearly as busy as it would normally be.

Posted by
10026 posts

I'm in London now.

Mask wearing is not very well respected. Even where it is required, people ignore the rules.

Crowds are around but nowhere near pre-pandemic levels

Posted by
89 posts

Since 19th July there is no legal requirement to wear a mask. We have been left to determine risk on an individual basis and ‘use common sense’. The government have only stated that masks should be worn in care and medical settings.
Some transport companies have made mask wearing a condition of carriage but unless someone is there to enforce it some people will not comply for various reasons.

Posted by
11 posts

I'm in London right now and have been for four days and both of us are fully vaccinated. Mask wearing seems to be done only by tourists like ourselves. Everything we've wanted to see has been open: no request for a vaccine card, mask, etc. We've eaten both inside and out and both areas seem to be very clean. The typical tourists sites are still crowded but we've been able to obtain walk-up entrance tickets to museums even though their websites indicate 'sold out'. Do check their websites individually, however. We did the second day test at $75/per and thought it was to be an administered test but turned out to be just pick up a swab kit, do it yourself, drop it in the box. The entire COVID testing bit before and after arrival is quite confusing as the UK government site gives you zero help with finding a site near you, even though you have to enter your hotel name and address. Then it gives you about 12 pages of testing centers which was meaningless since it just shows addresses instead of neighborhoods. You have to complete a Traveler Form before you can enter the country BUT they don't tell you that you can only do it less than 48 hours before arrival. So don't be like me and think you're being efficient by getting it done ahead of time.

I know they just changed testing protocols two days ago so maybe it will be easier for you. Enjoy your trip!