IIt’s taken 11 years, but Crossrail’s opening date has finally been confirmed. From May 24th, you can take the east-west train journey from Shenfield in the Essex suburbs or Abbey Wood in south-east London across London and on to Heathrow Airport and Reading. (And back again if you feel like it.)
There may be some issues with your contactless payment on Paddington and Liverpool Street, where transfers are yet to be made until the full through route opens in May 2023, but that’s just part of the haphazard charm we’ve come to expect from London all the time developing transport network.
Aside from the endless travel options Heathrow offers, let’s take a look at what else is going on along the route, from beautiful green escapes to historical tours of ancient sites. Here are the best things to do along the Elizabeth Line.
A short stroll from Reading Train Station brings you to the Thames Lido, a Grade I listed Edwardian swimming pool converted into a heated outdoor pool right on the banks of the River Thames. Non-members are welcome – book a 2-hour session which gives you access to the pool, sauna and jacuzzi. If you’re still craving water, stroll along the Thames Path here or cross the river at Caversham Lock to View Island, a peaceful wildlife haven in the middle of the Thames.
The drab, gray business parks from the TV series The office You might be avoiding the commuter town of Slough, but it could be the perfect getaway on a rainy day. Head here to the Slough Ice Arena where you can skate on and let your inner Brian Boitano or Jayne Torvill out on the ice. You can also experience ice karting here – these modified go-karts are an even more exciting way to whiz around the ice rink. Across the street is the Salt Hill Activity Center where you can bowl, climb, hop or play on the soft play.
“Zoo” might be a bit strong for the cute little animal sanctuary at Hanwell Zoo — known locally as Bunny Park — but it has a small collection of exotic creatures, including lemurs, capybaras, porcupines, and margay (South American jungle cats). as well as birds and reptiles. With adult tickets for just £4.50 and children for £2.50, it’s great value. Then challenge yourself with a visit to the adjacent Millennium Maze.
Behind the cafes and fast food outlets outside Ealing Broadway Station lies Walpole Park, a vast square that was once the home of Pitzhanger Manor House. Designed, built and occupied by British architect Sir John Soane, this Regency-style mansion reopened in 2019 and is restored to its former glory after a three-year conservation project. The library building has been converted into the Pitzhanger Gallery, which houses the work of contemporary artists, designers and architects.
The historic Smithfield Meat Market, just minutes from Farringdon Train Station, is one for early risers – best to visit before 7am when the stalls are still open and the trading takes place. Monthly 90-minute tours delve into the approximately 1,000-year history of the site. Stop nearby at the 12th-century Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, which somehow survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz. If you’re craving more local history, head to Postman’s Park, where plaques at the Watt’s Memorial honor the sacrifices of ordinary people who died trying to save someone else’s life.
Relive the thrilling days of London’s 2012 Olympic glory by defying gravity at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Artist Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit is an unusual combination of sculpture, cliff face and fairground ride that includes not only the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide, but also an 80m rappel experience. Afterwards, calm down with a cup of coffee and some retail therapy at the massive Westfield Mall.
The volunteer-run Havering Museum in Romford celebrates all things local with artifacts from prehistory. Through its roots as a community project – and with the support of a Heritage Lottery Grant – it also indirectly recognizes the achievements of the local historians and librarians who created this little treasure trove in the old Romford Brewery building. Round off your trip to Romford at the Greyhound Track, which hosts six races a week. The handy betting guide can help you understand the meaning.
Disembark at the end of the Elizabeth Line’s south-east branch to visit Lesnes Abbey Woods, home of – surprise! – old forest and a ruined abbey. Amateur geologists of all ages will love digging around in the fossil pit (no deeper than 2 feet, thanks) that forms part of this Site of Special Scientific Interest. You might find old shells or even a shark tooth. Otherwise, the paths around ponds, through gardens and past sculptures will make you forget you’re in London (until you hit the city skyline lookout point).